Atlas Sound / Broadcast

Waiting for the doors to open. Never heard of the Selmanaires. Broadcast does some cool Lo-Fi stuff. I’m curious about Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound.  He is the singer for one of my favorite bands, Deerhunter.

The venue is a Unitarian church. I’m up in the first pew. Praise the humanistic and benevolent, somewhat secularized deity of the Unis. Hard to believe that they are direct descendants of the Puritans. Put Bradford Cox in a dress (but alas no dress tonight) on your city on a hill and smoke it! Great acoustics, but probably all the natural reverb makes doing sound hard.

The Selmanaires are first up after a long chilly wait for the doors to open. Keys, drum machine with a live percussionist, guitar, serviceable vocals with good harmonies, and bass. Kind of a Syd era Floyd if they had been from eighties Birmingham (England), been signed by Factory Records and had digital stuff.

Atlas Sound’s setup looks like it includes a Super 8 projector at a funny angle, an extension to the stage, and a folding table full of effect boxes off to one side, but maybe that’s Trish from Broadcast’s stuff.  Hmm the thing I thought was a projector is an ancient synth and it appears that Broadcast rather than Atlas Sound will play. And the projector is way better than Super 8. The sound is very loopy sequency psychedelic, as are the visuals. With the vintage gear sound and the trippy visuals, this reminds me of that movie in eigth grade where they tried to to scare you away from drugs by showing a bad trip but it actually looked kinda cool — and this is way better for you than the drugs, and not as campy as the movie. Then out of that comes the semi-sublime (sub-sublime? and what’s so great about lime anyway?) “Corporeal“. Some sound problems are getting Trish frustrated. A little tension in the air. She might smash something. Oddly, you can see the anger in her gestures and hear it in her voice but not from the equipment she hits because all is electronic and the touch never makes it into the sound. Velocity 127 and that’s it. Ahh all seems well again.

Now she has broken out an instrument I’ve only ever seen in my home, a triangular lutey thing tuned and fretted like a plucked dulcimer but played like a guitar. It cuts through a mix like a banjo. I thought they stopped making them, but Trish said after the show that hers was new. They are called strumsticks . The story I heard was that they were made for a few years by a guy in PA who got bought out by Martin Guitars. Martin had made a similarly shaped travel guitar for which they were afraid of getting sued. They took the strumstick thingy off the market and continued to make their not so great sounding travel guitars. All that is hearsay, and Bob McNally, the guy who makes them, doesn’t go into the history on his site, so who knows if I got the story right.  Good to see they are back out. And it appears McNally is making the travel guitars for Martin, so maybe they are not so bad anymore.

Atlas Sound is in fact setting up. It is hard to tell if it will just be him or an actual band or members of the Selmanaires — they are from Atlanta too so maybe they share members. There’ two of them now, Bradford and the keyboard player from the first band. Moody ballad. As usual, interesting words. Uh oh, he’s gotta harmonica. Bad sign. But here comes the rest of the first band to back him. Jury is out…

It seems Mssr. Cox is after a bigger prize than Deerhunter, going for a more Americana, less reverb-drenched psychedelia sound. Oops but now he’s set up a loop on his guitar, a little poppy, a little sickly, and then gone off to play the drums and sing, ending it with a wash of echoed vocals out of which emerged the original guitar loop but backwards. I love when that happens.  More echoey stuff. Ok, now not so Americana as much as Harry Smith weird updated for the new millenium. He does the Juana Molina thing of integrating acoustic and electronica into seemless loopy textures. Maybe he is trying to do the Wilco weird Americana route but starting from weird instead of Americana. Oh, and the music and words are several shades darker, like when he says “this is the last song,” followed by a pregnant pause before letting out “tonight.” Phew, I was a little concerned.

I got to talk with Bradford after the show for a minute. He reassured me that Atlas Sound was in addition to, not instead of, Deerhunter. Phew, I was a little concerned. Great show, in the opinion of someone who started out skeptical.

8 bit lo-fo chipsounds

Just got David Vien’s obssessive labor of love, brand new from over at Plogue.com, Chipsounds. David has been messing with computers and sound since the early 80s and was missing his early love, all the various 8 bit sounds built into the computers, gaming consoles, and arcade games of the day. To work within the limits of the chips, programmers had to resort to a number of musical hacks to get things done, and operating within those limits, they invented a bunch of techniques that were original but tied to the limitations. When the limits went, so did the chip sounds and along with them, many of the techniques. Vien’s has gone through his collection of vintage chips and reconstructed the sounds and some of the techniques, even including chip fails, or the sound of a cartridge when it was only partially plugged in.

Chip sounds are going through a retro hip phase. The first I heard them was in a Beck song, I think “Girl” and then in a couple of great songs by Broadcast, whom I am going to see, along with Atlas Sound, in just a few minutes.

Now I got my first computer only in 1989, and I did not get one with a sound card til 1995, so I’m not a chip geek. Let’s just say I wasn’t doing computers in the early 80s. I’m also a guitarist away from home with just my trusty Godin guitar with a built in synth controller, so I don’t play synth’s quite the same way as a keyboard player. And I am quite certain I break several 8-bit “rules” before I even plug my guitar in.  That said, I kinda like the tune I’m putting up today.

I recorded this song, “phillies in seven not this year” using seven tracks of nothing but Chipsounds played from my Godin guitar’s synth pickup. The only cheat was to run the Chipsound drums through Mokafix’s Mutine and CacoFx’s deceased AffectedME. Its is recorded and mixed in Bidule, although looking back it would have been easier to do it in Sonar, which tends to deal with standard multitracking better. Bidule’s real strong point is as a live instrument with lot’s of routing possibilities. Just for kicks is another version, “phillies in four maybe next time,” also all guitar (except for the drums) and all through Bidule. I’m in Philly for a few months, what can I say! The groovy guitar controlled organ, and the bass, are presets from Cakewalk’s excellent Dimension synth. The drums are from Nusofting’s DK+, an excellent and very reasonably priced drum sequencer/synth. If you listen carefully, both versions borrow changes from an old Gun Club hit, and the Chipsounds version borrows a well-covered Monkees song as well as a little surf rock for the bridge. Can anyone name the three songs? If you name them I’ll post versions of them.

Chipsounds costs a few bucks ($75) and has no demo version, but I have been a happy Plogue customer for a while. Bidule is one of the better few bucks I’ve spent. The plugin is just at 1.0, but plogue supports its flagship project, Bidule, quickly, thoroughly, responsively, and with lots of updates, so I expect some of the clumsiness of the interface will be worked out and a few more features worked in before long.

If I get the time, I will go over the pros and cons of some other chippy Lo-Fi plugins that are free so that the poor can fell the LoFi love too.

Remember if you are on Facebook that you have to come to way music to listen to the songs. And for everybody, don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog and way music. Off to the show, which I also went to last night when it wasn’t!