This month, let's talk about expanding your sonic senses. I have an unorthodox new organ trio called Kürrent which uses an array of analog synths and circuit bent electronics. I want to show you some of the ideas that went into the new music. (Circuit bending is a technique pioneered by Reed Ghazala in 1966 where electronic instruments are "broken" or manipulated by having their circuit board connections shorted out or interrupted. Check out the video below for the story). My group takes these wild sounds and pairs them with a traditional Hammond B3 organ trio. Let's take a closer look at my approach on the new album.
1. Gimme a Beat
Listen at /Portals/2/Ex. 1.mp3
In my band, my drummer, Jordan Young plays live beats mixed with loops and a little vocorder. In Ex. 1, I have programmed a very simple beat for us to build our tracks on top of. The plugin I used for the drums was a great free plug in from Beat Skillz called Beat Factory Drumz. I played the beat on my midi keyboard using two hi hats, a bass drum, and snare from the drum and bass kit on the plug in. I recorded the hats first, then the bass drum and snare. I quantized the beat to 16th notes to get it tight. I then compressed the loop to make it loud and punchy and added a little distortion for some grit.
Listen at /Portals/2/Ex. 2.mp3
The backbone of Kürrent is the Hammond B3. When I'm playing live, I use the great SK1 or SK2 keyboards from Hammond Organ USA, or a real Hammond B3 when possible. For Ex. 2, I used great virtual B3 the VB3 from GSi. This plug in sounds incredible and is under $100! For my bass line, I use the drawbarr setting 808000000. For the right hand part, my drawbars are set to 888800000 with the 3rd percussion ON. Both manuals have C3 vibrato and the Leslie set to STOP. I also have a little distortion on the sound. All of the notes for the organ part come from the C Blues scale (C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb, C). The part is very simple and leaves lots of space for the addition of more keyboards. Notice the little "rub" created when the F# grace note rubs against the G in the right hand stab. In constructing the groove, I usually try to line up the bass drum and bass line together to get cohesiveness.
3. The Rhodes Scholar
Listen at /Portals/2/Ex. 3.mp3
The minimal organ part in Ex. 2 leaves a lovely space for our fourthy Fender Rhodes track that makes up Ex. 3. Most of the notes here come from the C Dorian Mode (C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C), voiced in fourth intervals. This jazzy sonority sounds great against our blues-based organ. Ex. 3 has a syncopated 16th note rhythm that "side steps" up and down at the end of the 2nd and 4th bar. On the last 16th note of bar 2, our G fourth voicing slips up a half step. At the end of bar 4, just the lowest two notes of the voicing go down a half step. The top note stays where it is. This kind of shifting was popularized by the great jazz organist, Larry Young. The Rhodes sound here is from Native Instruments and has a little tremolo and distortion added.
4. Bachelor Pad
Listen at/Portals/2/Ex. 4.mp3
On top of undulating rhythm tracks, I usually like to put a dreamy pad sound. The plug in used for Ex. 4 is a great new product called Pads from Swedish based sound company, Klevgrand. This plug-in is a very simple and inexpensive grain table synth that makes great pad sounds that gently evolve. In addition, I've added a tape delay with the reverse function and flutter effect on for added motion. I use the same chords from the last example, this time with the washy delay that makes the voicings bleed into each other. The last bar has a root position F triad that creates the 11th and 13th extensions to add a mysterious color.
Listen at /Portals/2/Ex. 5.mp3
Electronic music is sometimes accused of being overly exact and inflexible. What we try to do in our group is to examine the interesting peculiarities created by placing our circuit bent samples on the downbeat of each bar but not locking them into time. We let the bent sample create its own rhythm and vibe against the track. The sheet music for Ex. 5 is obviously very easy; we just place the sample on the downbeat of each bar and let it play. I'll usually have a whole bunch of these loops ready to go for each tune. Live I use a Roland RC3 pedal, my computer, and a thumb drive on the back of my Hammond SK 1 to play the samples. It's not an exact science at all and half of the fun is not getting it perfect.
Here's a cut from the new Kürrent album so you can see all these concepts in action, with Ben Monder on guitar and Jordan Young on drums. All the music is live with no overdubs.
Find out more about Brian Charette and Kürrent at www.briancharette.com