Archive for January, 2013

Ray of Light – Madonna – William Orbit – 1998


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The track begins with a clean electric guitar part.

When the rest of the track kicks in it is a surprise as it switches from the ‘natural’ sound of guitars to electronic sounds of electronic drums and sequenced bass and keys.

At about the 3 minute mark it returns to the guitar part of the intro but this time with a vocal over the top.

Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads – Brian Eno – 1981

talking heads

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This production features a consistent bass line that doesn’t change, despite a verse/chorus structure to the song. It is a bass line that leaves plenty of space for continuous bed instruments as well as the lead vocal to work around it.

When the track begins the bass line is reinforced by a low vocal. Underneath the bass line a tinkling synth/keys texture bubbles along while the drums feature lots of off beat tom hits. The bubbling synth part is high in the frequency range and spread across the stereo field while the lower frequency instruments stay firmly centred. There is possibly reverb on the bubbling synth that fills the gaps with atmosphere.

The lead vocal enters, in a spoken style and delivers the first verse.

The chorus is differentiated by a jangling guitar part that replaces the reverbed synth part, and doubled/tripled vocals that thicken the main lyric. Additional percussion joins the chorus. Both the guitar and the percussion drop out again for the second verse. And then return again for the second chorus.

The second chorus ends with a bridge part with the lyric ‘Same as it ever was’. A new synth part enters here – a single note rhythmic part.

The end of the 3rd verse that leads into the 3rd chorus is distinct by way of delayed and looped vocals – ‘Water dissolving and water removing’. This is followed by another chorus but this time it is underpinned by the monophonic synth part. Then another chorus which sees the return of the jangling guitar chords.

Another verse, and then another chorus.

The song ends with another ‘same as it ever was’ section but this time it features a new element – distorted electric guitar droning away.

The production is distinctive because of its minimalist structure that sees the drums and bass holding the same pattern throughout, and the coming and going of melodic parts, and changes in the vocals, to provide the verse/chorus/bridge structure. Space for all the elements is provided more by their frequency ranges than by stereo or depth placement. Nothing moves in the stereo field or from front to back etc. It is only the delayed vocal section that for a moment turns a lead instrument (the vocal) into a texture or bed sound.

Man in the Long Black Coat – Bob Dylan – Daniel Lanois – 1989


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The track begins with a slow fade in of what seems like crickets or night insects but upon closer listening is actually some sort of synth effect I suspect. Soaked in reverb and pushed back in the mix it sits under a steel string acoustic guitar that plucks out sudden figures on the left and a medium delay repeats on the right. Stabs of electric guitar chords are also delayed but they start on the right and repeat on the left. A low murky bass guitar joins in with intermittent notes.

A rhythm begins with some kind of tapping/thumping with a delay, and a harmonica arrives before the bass and guitars begin the main pattern. When the harmonica appears again it has more reverb/delay pushing it back in the mix. The acoustic is close miked (you can hear the squeak of the frets in the chord changes.) The acoustic on the left is more up front in the mix than the electric guitar on the right.

The vocal arrives, sung in a croaky, throaty and surging style. It feels close and intimate, due no doubt to EQ and compression, allowing the words that are almost whispered to still remain audible and clear over the top of the instruments. There is a slight reverb on the vocal that doesn’t inhibit the intimacy.

In between verses there is a subtle keys tinkling, way back in the mix, and later some strings add to the backing. The strings remain for the third verse and build in the final chorus.

Maggot Brain – Funkadelic – George Clinton – 1971


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Epic 10 minute track, it begins with a delayed static click that echoes across the stereo field, and then a spoken word intro, soaked in delay/reverb. It disappears completely for a second of silence.

The music begins gently with a mellow electric guitar arpeggio, the highs EQed out to give it a very soft, almost organ sound. The drums appear on the left and are very far back in the mix, with a heavy delay on the snare. The drums slowly fade out as the arpeggio guitar lifts in volume. (There is hint of drums at times throughout the track and i suspect it is spill into the rhythm guitar mic, so when it is brought up in the mix so is a faint hint of the snare).

The bulk of the song consists of a searing electric guitar solo, full of distortion, wah wah pedal and dominated by a delay effect that is positioned in the left (with the original signal in the right). There’s big reverb on the solo guitar, especially on the delayed signal. It is hard to tell how much of these effects are controlled by the guitarist live and how much have been added in post production. Certainly the volume swells and wah wah are part of the performance but i’d say some of the extreme reverb and delay effects have been added in mixing.

As the song progresses the arpeggiated guitar drops back and then rises again in the mix (particularly at the 2 minute 45 mark where it gets big reverb and a rise in volume). At around the 6 minute mark it is barely there but the hi hat beat returns keeping the beat. By the 6 and a half minute mark the arpeggiated guitar has dropped out completely as the solo slips into a funky riffing style. Then at the seven minute mark the arpeggios return and slowly build in volume. By the 8 minute mark that rhythm guitar as slipped into a strumming pattern as the track reaches it’s final climax.

At the 9 minute mark the intensity has dropped again, and the only vocal appears (reverb soaked spoken word) before the track closes with a final bit of soloing and delay swells. There are clicks and pops that are echoing in the delay as the track is quickly faded out.

Notes: Apparently the track was recorded in a single take, with a full band playing but in the mix, when it became obvious how powerful the solo was virtually on its own, Clinton made the decision to remove most of the rest of the band from the mix.

Let Down – Radiohead – Nigel Godrich – 1997


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The track begins with sweet lullaby-like electric guitar chiming single notes on the left and a glockenspiel or xylophone on the right and a second picked guitar in the middle. Lots of reverb gives this intro a spacey, atmospheric feel. (This spacey feel is accentuated in the middle instrumental section with delay effects shimmering in the background). The metre suggested by this intro is misleading so that the arrival of the bass and drums is a bit of surprise. The drum part includes a tambourine part that seems to be doubled and spread wide in stereo. this in effect works with the vocal because it too is doubled and spread wide.

The vocal is doubled and set hard left and hard right. But in the third verse the vocal appears in the right, and then a second part joins on the left with a counterpoint melody. The hard panning during the first part of the song, which seems odd and unnecessary, makes sense at this point, as the counterpoint adds drama and is all the more interesting and dramatic because it is separated by being spread as wide as possible. There is a harmony vocal added to the centre of the choruses.

In the chorus the chiming guitar plays a call and response role with the lead vocal. The guitar chimes a few notes between vocal lines.

The drum part during the first part of the song is dominated by toms, so that when the snare and ride cymbals comes in (halfway through the second verse) it fills the mix with more drama. During the peaks of the track (the choruses essentially) the guitars are barely noticeable, being buried in the mix, and in effect the track doesn’t sound like a guitar band at all.

The track ends with an acoustic guitar on the left and an arpeggiated synth on the right. The way these instruments just appear suddenly suggests that these elements were there all the time in the mix and have now been revealed by everything else dropping out. (The synth and acoustic do actually come through the mix in the instrumental middle section).

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