Listening and Silence - The WhiteCatPink Sound
Those who know me well know that I am a rather unusual fellow – I tend to dance to the beat of my own drums, and my ways can sometimes be seen as off the cuff or fringe to the untrained eye. My ways of writing music are no less colorful; I have numerous wellsprings to draw from that aid in the creation of the WhiteCatPink Sound. Sometimes bands will try to emulate what I do, and while this is flattering, they don't fully comprehend what it really is that I'm doing and how the sound is structured and manipulated, and thus are only able to create a facsimile. That said, there is also a certain je ne sais quoi that always happens when the song takes shape, and all the parts begin to blend together into something bigger, more expansive. That is the work of the Great I Am Supercomputer XIX, who, as I've mentioned before, sent me here on a mission to channel its music and bring the sound forth. I draw from manifold sources – aural and olfactory Synesthesia (I 'see' colors when I hear music and smell fragrances), ballet, modal music and drones, experiences in nature, the female aesthetic, and of course, the musical influences that are constantly entering my life. Tony Banks, keyboardist for Genesis and my favorite rock keyboardist, had a way of playing subtle chromatic shifts between chords that really knocks the listener flat, and he knew how to harness the energy of the song through his use of melody and chordal structure to push it in different directions. This energy manipulation is hugely important in the WhiteCatPink Sound. Also, being a pianist first before I began to play drums, I tend to approach the drums from a more melodic perspective and I am always on the prowl for interesting chord progressions. Rarely in the WhiteCatPink Sound do I favor straight major and minor chords – I like the sound of suspensions, 7th's, 9th's, and the occasional 13th, because the sonic colors they produce are more interesting to me. I will also play around with root notes in chords and try a 3rd or 5th inversion just to see how that will alter the character of the sound. I will try to spare you from too much music theory – I'm just illustrating a point.
The ballet component is also an integral piece – I am a ballet accompanist by day, meaning that I play piano for ballet classes, and I am constantly exposed to a varied classical repertoire, which has left its stamp on my sound. I unabashedly admit a deep affection for the German composer Schubert for his strongly Teutonic sense of harmony, and of course Debussy because of his strong usage of imagery in his work. Also, time, tempo, meter, quality and other factors all must be carefully considered in ballet music because each ballet exercise requires a very specific type of sound. Ballet is often misinterpreted as being a flowery and weak art form that requires only the skill to be up on one's toes, and therefore should not be taken seriously. Having personal contact with the dancers on a daily basis and having taken ballet classes myself, I categorically refute this claim. The literal blood, sweat, tears, discipline, and dedication required to master the skill enough to make it look flowery and easy are, at best, staggering. The beauty of the female dancers combined with the brute strength and power is not only admirable to me, but there is a sense of 'floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee' which is appealing and appears in the WhiteCatPink aesthetic. My music on the one hand should be beautiful and melodically correct, while on the other hand delivering some grit - European and decadent, and yet a little raw. The rigid structuring of ballet both musically and physically has informed my work in WhiteCatPink, because careful considerations also must be given when honing my time with the electronics, and the colors produced by the sound are very specific and important to me in order to convey the message I want the listener to hear. I also find that when structuring chord progressions, I like to use two or three interlocking chords to produce a single chord, because this makes it sound richer and fuller, and gives my sound the particular character that is WhiteCatPink. I do this again through shifting root notes and using 7th's, 9th's etc.
As stated before, sound has color for me, and different chord progressions are also best suited at particular times of the year. Indeed, I can listen back to one of my songs and pinpoint the time of year it was written because of the way I structured it. Fragrances are also majorly important and certain fragrances also evoke certain times of the year for me. I wear different colognes in different times of the year because they evoke a separate dimension for each specific time and place, and they help to inform the musical choices I make. Each sound and fragrance has a different 'color' and can be combined to create a mood I'm looking for in the WhiteCatPink Sound. Depending on the root and inversions of the chords, they can produce different shades of a color for me, thus creating a palette of sound like what a painter would use.
Modal music and drones play a vital part behind the scenes. My favorite of the seven Modes are Mixolydian, Dorian, and Lydian. The Modes are musical scales that were devised by the Greeks to portray different moods to accompany drama, and were later adopted heavily in European secular and sacred music in the Middle Ages. I am a collector and player of bagpipes from several European countries, and I have done extensive research on the different music, playing styles, mythology, and history of the various pipes. All of this would be best suited for another discussion, but I want to point out the peculiar feature of many of the European bagpipes – the drone, that humming sound you hear behind the melody. The function of the drone pipes is largely to amplify the volume of the melody of the chanter (the actual melody pipe) through the use of fundamental harmonics. Again another discussion, but the drone for me has always provided a hypnotic background that has intrigued me and held my fascination, and made me fall in love with bagpipe music. I have employed drones in my music, too, where I want the music to be boosted and more powerful, because they are subtle and sit in the background. Nature and the female aesthetic provide ample inspiration to affect the WhiteCatPink Sound, as well.
However, I feel the most important feature of my writing process is listening and silence. After I've spent a few hours developing a piece of digital backing, I need to let it sit for a while and come back to it, because I will usually find that things need tweaking in the mix or different synth patches should be used, etc. And the importance of silence cannot be overstated. There must be gaps where the sound can arise from, and, as I've stated before, more often than not less is more when structuring sounds. This ties in again with placement of sounds and using the sound to push the emotions of the piece. When all of these elements come together satisfactorily, a new piece of music is born, to which is added the gloss and sheen of post production, mixing and mastering. When I have finished a digital automation, I'll listen to it in various ways – through the monitors in my home studio, in the car, through headphones, etc. to get a better perspective of what it sounds like, and will make adjustments if need be. Listening to the track away from the drums is also a form of 'practice' for me, because I will put it on repeat on my ipod and jump on my bicycle for a couple of hours or go to the gym, formulating in my head all the while how the piece will take shape with drums and vocals. My writing process tends to incorporate a Brian Eno-style layering of many different parts and subsequent subtraction in areas to shape the sound. True, too, the downtempo electronic music of Mark Farina, particularly the Mushroom Jazz series, has had a tremendous impact on the WhiteCatPink Sound. One evening I was driving on a back road home, headed northbound, with the mountains to my left, and the sun going down. I was listening to Mushroom Jazz 5 and the song 'Hollywood' by DJ Dez remixed by Mark Farina came on, and everything fused in time – the music perfectly paid tribute to the environment I was in, and I was swept away. This gave rise to the noted WhiteCatPink song, 'Dusk'. You can hear the DJ Dez song by clicking here.
There is a lot that goes into crafting the WhiteCatPink sound, and it tends toward the intellectual and nerdy side of things. The process of creating a digital backdrop is clean, precise, and done at the computer with listening being the key factor, rather than jamming. When I prepare to start a new automation, I already have the basic framework outlined in my head, and then the process is developed from there. I am acutely aware of the relationship between human and machine in this process, and Kraftwerk's embrace of this is indeed inspiring to me, as is the visual artwork and mechanism of Russian Constructivism. Thus, I grab a cup of strong black coffee and start the process that ultimately is what you will see presented on stage. This clinical process, combined with artistic curiosity is what makes the WhiteCatPink Sound what it is.