Foundations is a series of posts by artists I like, who write about their musical inspiration when working on their latest project. Untouched or edited by me, an interesting peek into musicians’ worlds
A couple of weeks ago I’ve posted about the beautiful and very special album by Padna. I was curious to know what inspired him and what influenced on his choice of sounds and melodies. So I just asked Nat Hawks, the man behind Padna, and I got a track-by-track list of inspirations. The list is fascinating and here it is in Nat’s words:
Influence: Binaural Beats/Secret Messages in Music
Home Binaural Beat Systems
For years I had been curious about binaural beats: scientifically researched sound frequencies with slight variation between left and right channel. When the human body receives these signals, its own frequency is affected. Supposedly some frequencies help with relaxation, others with memory, etc. Whatever. Fun stuff to think about!
Last year for my birthday my wife bought me a binaural beat home entertainment system. You can play specially coded music that trigger lights in the accompanying goggles, creating an awfully immersive experience.
The opening track for Burnt Offerings is meant to act as a gateway into the album, a palate cleanser. There are binaural beats embedded in the track, but I also wanted to organically explore the idea that sound is affecting the listener in mysterious, secret ways. When science informs music, good things tend to happen.
Influence #2: Carrax/Sound as Language
Another inspiration for “ddiigduggg” is Leos Carrax’s short in the film Tokyo about an odd character who crawls out of the sewer and speaks an unknown language. Playing this song live, I would use a long sample of this, which was greatly trimmed down for the album version.
I’m interested in communication that travels around language. We are designed to translate audio stimulus into a code that informs our reactions. We personify the world around us. It’s quite corny, but sounds, literally, speak to us. Trippy.
Track 2-Caphonic Fog
Influence: Strange Objects/Sad Animal Sounds
Great interview with Eye from Boredoms in which he picks up objects in his home and makes exciting sound with them.
The space where I make Padna music is always littered with cheap knick-nacks from local 99cent stories, thrift shops, and street-finds that I hope will make an interesting sound. In this track the strange, mournful scraping sound is from a plastic cup with a string attached and a piece of sponge tied to the end. Picked this “duck call” up in Vermont at a country flea market from a colorful character who used them to play pranks on his neighbor. He cackled when he told this story. Personally, I think it makes a very sad sound.
Animal Sounds Can Make Us Sad
I’ve been attracted to sad animal sounds for a long time. They are sort of the purest sad noise produced in nature. Human voice sadness is too often too literal. For me, human sadness should be communicated through other sounds, but that’s probably because I can’t sing.
Influence: Crank Sturgeon’s Artifacts/Sounds in Context
Crank Sturgeon live
Now, mix that together with…relaxing music.
I’ve been picking up nifty homemade sound objects from Crank Sturgeon (noise artist/object creator) for a while now. On “pelts” I use one of his contact mics and scrape it on a wood floor. I love how sounds hold shared associations for many of us and also such personal ones. To me this scraping, in this context, is like a burrowing animal that’s trying not to draw attention… or something.
I’m also fascinated by how a purely textural sound that is without note or rhythm, when placed in a highly melodic and rhythmic environment is forced by our minds to be in accord. In another context, this same scraping would be creepy, horror movie stuff. One of my goals with this track (and on this album) was to have challenged that line and that relationship. I want to explore more how these relationships draw the listener in as participant, as ears struggle to make sense of odd juxtapositions.
Track 4-Never Let Me Go
Influence: Autechre-“Known (1)”/Odd Pairings are Psychedelic
Autechre is probably my favorite band ever. I’ve learned so much about sound and composition from listening to them. Super grateful for those guys. I also really, really loved Oversteps and was pissed that others didn’t agree. I particularly like the third track, “Known(1),” with it’s futuristic, Baroque melody and that insane squelch that solos on top. I have never heard anything else like this track.
Anyway, “Never Let Me Go” very much mirrors the elements of “Known(1).” Over the plunky acoustics, the noise solo comes from a mysterious black box I bought at a record fair. I also like how the noise blends into some good ol’ sad animal samples (my go-to’s).
I’m really interested in different forms through which ‘psychedelic music’ can occur. For me it can be as simple as the element of surprise. Presenting unfamiliar relationships to create something new can put the listener into that special territory.
Influence: New York City
Similarly, mix in with ambient…
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for over a decade now, so I guess I can start calling it home. I love it so much. I love listening to demo tracks with my headphones and tuning into the sounds around me that blend in. I take notes of ones I like, then re-create them at home. This track has the sound of a styrofoam cup rolling down the street and a metal rail clanging, both heard while walking the city listening to an early version of this track. I love the idea of adding layers of my own experience with the music (you now hear the cup on the street on your headphones as I did). Hopefully then, too, the listener is more inclined to be in tune with the sounds of their own environment as they listen, and mix them into the experience.
Again, our brain, if we trust the intent of the author, tries to make sense of these disparate elements, finding notes and patterns that weren’t meant to occur. This process naturally makes the listener a participant.
I enjoy listening to the city sound moments that come through the window as I go to sleep. A lot of narrative in those sounds.
Track 6-Never Let Me Go (Reprise)
Influence: Old Keyboards/Rich Sounds from Cheap Gear
(BSC’s Challenger album was a realization for me: DIY aesthetics making something elegant.)
I’m crazy for cheap, old keyboards. This track uses a lot of Casio SK-1, a simple sampling keyboard. It can do a quick, 2 second sample, and mine is broken so I have to hold it at a really specific angle so I lose my sample constantly, which I got used to, and became part of the fun. When sampling house-hold sounds, it has a nice analog-sounding quality.
The closing keyboard used was this oddity I stumbled upon (at a stoop sale buried under broken toys) that has a weird dial feature that warps the sound in a nice, twisted way, adding atypical harmonics.
It’s very satisfying to make something you’re proud of from disposable plastic things. I have long prided myself on championing quantity over quality of gear. Which is probably pretty immature.
Track 7-Green Plastic Prism (G.P.P.)
Influence: Malfunctioning Machines
I really love what Aaron Dilloway is doing these days. This track off Modern Jester has such an incredible broken succession of loops. It comes off as aggressive and abrasive, but it’s just pure joy. It is so intentionally busted, I can’t stand it.
The opening loops for “green plastic prism” are from a skipping Phillip Glass vinyl of North Star. I really love when a sound device malfunctions and something usable comes out. I try to use everything I record in some way.
The squawking sounds are from a green plastic prism-like toy I got at a 99cent shop that acts like a little horn and a light goes off when you sound it, for no reason.
The vocal-sounding wave towards the middle is just a ton of micro loops from the green plastic prism through an old, cheap delay pedal that has a lovely warble, creating a nice effect that mirrors a human chorus.
The otherwordly noises towards the end are from a children’s auto-tune karaoke toy. If you hold the mic up to the built-in speaker you get insane feedback noises.
Trying to make cool noises by using toys wrong. I’m not a terribly proficient musician, so this is one of the ways I try to get around that. Also, as the easily accessible computer sound palette seems to currently value immediacy over uniqueness, having access to your ‘own sounds’ has never felt so empowering.