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Keyboard Choir - The Electrical Unity Blogs Pt. 3 - Stagger [Jun. 3rd, 2009|12:41 pm]
Keyboard Choir

Part 3 of Keyboard Choir's Electrical Unity Blog reveals their use of lightning strike as a drum sample on 'Stagger', and how important sonic texture is to the sound of the band. You can download the song at last.fm.

'Mizen Head To Gascanane Sound' artwork by Simon Minter @ nineteenpoint

Ady: With Keyboard Choir tracks, it'll often be the atmosphere and texture that come first, with the chords melodic parts following on as the piece evolves. This was certainly the case with Stagger.

I'd recently brought a new synth, Alchemy, and had been been playing around programming up some sounds. I came up with a sweeping, almost orchestral swell based on a sample of an guitar note played with an e-bow, and after some noodling a chord progression emerged.

We then built on this together, adding various parts, but it wasn't feeling right - the problem was that the drum parts just weren't working. We'd worked on previous piece where I'd created a drum kit from recordings of storms and tornadoes. This piece had hit a dead end, but Seb suggested we could lift this drum part and drop it into Stagger. Bingo, everything started to fall into place.

The vocal part was taken from a single note, with the melody being created by pitch shift, cut and paste and envelope manipulation - all done in Ableton Live, a superb piece of software that feels more like an instrument than a computer application.

The final section is also derived from another tune - a chord progression James originally came up with for his other, decidedly non-electronic, band - We Aeronauts. There's a flute/organ part that Alex plays in this section that I really enjoy, emanating from the humble MicroKorg. The MicroKorg also does fine work for the bassline that runs throughout the tune.

I was pretty happy with how this one turned out as we preserved the original mood and texture, whilst developing the piece in an interesting way.

James in the studio / photo by Ady

James: This track is brand spanking new. Initially I was convinced it should have a big noisy ending, a la ‘Macondo’ from our album or ‘Electrical Unity’ itself. However, the restrained and calculated version we finally recorded does the job well. Random arpeggio from my trusty MicroKorg gives it a nice fluffy feel to it after the disembodied speech and operatic vocal of the opening minutes. I’m amazed that Ady appears to have created a ‘shoegaze guitar’ patch for this track.

Sebastian: As Ady says, a big part of what led to the development of Stagger was the various samples that we had been playing around with, prior to coming up with a chord sequence we were happy with. The drum hits in section A come from an explosion, a lightening bolt and a penguin. Seriously. I'm a really big fan of using interesting found sounds where possible when producing percussion tracks, there's more to life than 808s! Me and Ady are big fans of Murcof and I guess one can hear his influence in the way we've used the operatic vocal sample. For another example of us fetishizing and mangling classical samples check out Skylab from our Mizen Head album.... It's chock full of choirs, strings and drum beats made from vinyl crackle.

Better than your average snare:

Another aspect of the composition that I think it quite interesting is how Ady tends to program drum patterns in terms of the rhythm. You can tell an Ady beat from a mile off cos it'll drag behind the beat, in a similar way to how Chopin drags things back... Beats made by the rest of us tend to be a lot more scatty and all over the place. To be honest, I've been obsessed for ages with doing a really mental woodblock piece, but Ady won't let me, one for the solo album I guess.

Chopin... He was pretty good at keyboard stuff…..

In terms of the theme of the track, it's fairly bleak, but the ending coda definitely suggests more than a hint of hope. It's a recurrent theme in our music, total bleak catastrophe contrasted with almost giddy glee and joy. I try not to watch the news any more, North Korea this, swine flu that, environmental meltdown inevitable, bastard politicians stealing our tax money to clean their moats. Things can easily seem totally fucked. So I don't watch the news, I go for a nice walk. Have a chat with a friend. Stroke a kitten etc etc.

Why get bogged down with masses of existentialistic crisis, when you can go for a lovely walk in the Welsh countryside?

Download the track free from last.fm. And come by for the next journal entry tomorrow!