That magical piano layer

The complexity of those studio decisions when committing to a stylistic idea resembles chaos theory: unaccountable layering variables like what Albin Zak describes as ‘resonance’. This (piano overdub just recorded) is another moment of—in his words—a ‘phonographic ephemeron’. I came to this piano layer, the part, the miking decision as a response to the previous layers, decisions, auralities.

Why is this worth mentioning? Producers have been doing this since the advent of multitrack tape. But coming at it from the perspective of what’s samplable—and having to construct something that answers to that ideal—I have to take a moment and, first, celebrate the phonographic ephemeron when it presents itself and, then, understand its sonic variables and the conditions behind its construction. Furthermore, it’s not just the phonographic I’m trying to define, but the phonographic that’s samplable (read: attractive and inspiring for a sample-based music creation process).

(As I’m recording layers of percussion over yesterday’s and today’s tracks) I feel I’m building this three-dimensional phonographic object by reinforcing the shared space with every layer, the shared signal flow and timbral colourations… The moment-in-time (ephemeron), the unique set of recording/production conditions, is reinforced, made more explicit with every layer.

Isn’t that what’s making the interaction with samples magical? Isn’t that what gives them a sonic footprint (spatial, timbral) which turns them into unique ‘sound worlds’, makes them ‘other’? Isn’t this featured otherness what defines sample-based music forms? The chopping of other sound objects with unique phonographic signatures, the result of their production stories, journeys, narratives.

I guess I’ve been trying to give the forces of chaos (Deleuze and Guattari) a statistical chance for magical ephemera to materialise; by recording long multitracks, with many instrumental layers—not only am I trying to create a rich sample base, but also to conjure up the musical and sonic conditions for such moments to crystallise: somewhere, sometime when a mandolin scrape compliments a ukulele improvisation, while a fretless, chorused bass glissando lands right on it, augmented by and merged with the former by the master tape and Neve compressor ‘glue’—while an instinctive send of both into an AKG spring reverb just extends their tails long enough for a magical little spatial lingering to provide an echo of the good moment, cementing it to memory…

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