RGB — Ceramics Class [colorwheel but an album]


Spotify
Apple Music
YouTube

pathos (or... "why is this shit so weird?")

I’ve been doing this since I was 14.

I’m 27 now.

What took so long?

….

When I was 16 and first peeked past Madvillainy into the seemingly-infinite DOOM catalog, I got hung up on his use of third person pronouns. What protagonist refers to themselves in the third person, except Snarf?

Then it hit.

DOOM plays both narrator and protagonist. All emcees do.

Expanding on that. Thinking of literary form. Terminology from high school English class. What are the other big ‘literary elements’?

Exposition.

Where are you from? What does that place sound like?

Many emcees have enough common context with the sacred scrolls that they don’t necessarily have to answer these questions in order to render effective work. If you hear Nas or Cam or Del and find yourself reflected in their art without hesitation, you have, at the very least, a blueprint for how your environs might be rendered in sonics.

But what does it sound like where I’m from?

Where am I from?

Rest stop motels off I-8. Off-res residential compounds populated by people from all over the world who wait tables or deal cards or clean rooms at the nearby resort-casino. Thick bamboo surrounding the shower heads at my favorite beach, where we fished our way through long swathes of couch surfing.

I have so few models because virtually nobody makes it out of those contexts with enough excess energy to pour it into a creative practice. Early, ultimately abortive, attempts at Cutting My Teeth were difficult to pull across the finish line, because I was willfully suspending this line of inquiry in service of ‘getting something out there.’ That dissonance, that sense of displacement, was not just evident but overwhelming in the few works I managed to complete*.* Paralyzing, even.

I started playing piano to recall my context. I started playing basketball to recall my context.

I broke my hand playing basketball. Even after recovering, the lingering pain was too intense to continue playing piano.

There was a house near the courts near my apartment. They always left the door unlocked for me. I’d lay on the couch and watch Emily Sprague’s old YouTube videos (most of which are now unlisted). Pre-Water Memory. There was something restorative there, something grounding. I dug deeper. KAS, Lightbath, Subotnick, Ciani, Barbieri, Made of Oak, RAAL, Stars of the Lid, Meng Qi.

The challenges of marrying the affective conceits of environmental music with hip-hop, particularly my angular, breathless approach to hip-hop, were more numerous than I could have imagined, but I was and am dedicated to bridging those discourses as fully as one may in a lifetime. Years of practice and study, under Lightbath’s guidance, as well as that of my friend Max Bowen, have put me in a place to at least articulate the paradoxes for which I have taken responsibility.

Early last year Tyler Etters relayed to me the parable of the ceramics class, and I set about making as many pots as I could. One beat a week that I could stomach rapping on, rapped on, mixed. He and Ryan Laws kept me honest. I took breaks. To mourn my father. To build colorwheel. To rest.

All told there were 14 pots made in about as many weeks, with four times that many left unfinished. Ten of those made it into my bones, and might make it into yours, if we’re both very lucky.

I played my first show in five years in September. Dilla beats. Pete Rock. Alchemist. A very talented engineer, Jared Marxuach, approached me afterward. We made two songs together, and he agreed to pull this project into the light with me.

It’ll be here soon.

This is a prospectus, not a dissertation. I understand that what’s earth-shattering about it to me may not be so revelatory to others. I have scoured the canon and can tell you in good faith that nothing like this exists.

Even if it’s not for you, even if it’s not for any of you, there will still be more.

That’s a promise.

[more to follow]

ethos (or... "got anything more.... regular?")

In September of last year one of my dearest friends, Chucky BLK, put together a show funded with a grant from the city of Austin. It was shot by Pillarboxed. It was my first time performing since 2017, and one of the songs I played was from that year. None of the beats in the set are the beats on the record. I met Jared, who engineered the record, that night.

Three of these tracks are on the record, two are not. Here’s a playlist of all the live videos, professionally shot, three cameras, good sound, the works. Alternate instrumentation, mixtape style. If things are too slooshy or bloopy or “the vocals are too low” on the record but you think the rhymes may be tight, this supplement is for you.

logos (or... "what does Colorwheel have to do with this?")

Yeah yeah, the nerd shit.

I had the same misunderstanding that a lot of people have when getting into modular synthesis. The thought is something like “I make the patch, the patch makes the music — if I know what to plug in where, the thing plays itself.” Really a synth only plays itself the way the overtones of a piano play themselves. There’s gotta be a root intention. Still, generative systems are interesting.

If you have ears, you may have noticed that nearly all generative systems are harmonically identical — they work off pentatonics, offering very little opportunity to shift the harmonic impression of a piece while it plays (think Marbles button-presses — not exactly a performance gesture!).
Colorwheel is the antidote to that. Still those familiar pentatonic shapes (although you can now program custom scales instead), but outfitted with 17 controls that facilitate movement through different harmonic zones.

The record and cw came into being at the same time (I recorded nearly all of the vocals for the record the same week I released cw). As a result, only tracks 1 and 10 feature a release version of Colorwheel. Seven of the others make use of prototypes of the thing (that’s how I was able to finish both in such proximity; each informed the other). The only track without any cw representation is “Interstate Trips.”

I’ll say that what I did with cw here is a massive underutilization. Basically I didn’t have the ears yet to actually make use of the tool for its main purpose: harmonic motion. As a result, the record trades almost exclusively in static harmony (the big exception is “Rain Gutter Collar Bones,” which is a reharmonization of Stella by Starlight).

46 Likes

This is exciting. I’ll be looking forward to updates.

3 Likes

:red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle: :red_circle: :green_circle: :large_blue_circle:

6 Likes

OUT NOW ON BC

streams at midnight

please talk to me about this thing that ate 18 months of my life

6 Likes

listening now. it sounds amazing.

3 Likes

just as i needed new mp3s to put in my sansa.

reviewing while still listening is bad karma, but i will risk it anyway.

:strawberry: :green_apple: :blueberries: / 10

awesome work dude

5 Likes

Just listened and I’m really taken with this! the synths are so lush and complement the rest of the vibe beautifully.

You said “yeah, yeah the nerd shit” but I want a lot more nerd shit. Tell us more about bits about the production. Were there any breakthrough moments? Any synth that deserves love/hate?

A second time through and the lyrics are starting to stick. “blink and die” is great, for instance.

4 Likes

wow that was good; thank you for sharing your work and your exposition

2 Likes

haven’t made it all of the way through, but enjoying it so far! thanks for sharing your work :cowboy_hat_face:

2 Likes

@eigen I used to have one of those in middle and high school! Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins records for daysssssssss.

Also props for all the late night dev support. Totally invaluable. Really glad you dig the thing you had such a big part in making!

@alanza @Justmat you two started influencing this project before Norns was released. I just want you to know that.

More than half the tracks are built around 1 (one) sample. Process was: cut a loop, usually containing both a rhythmic element and a tonal element, then add drums (mostly stock ableton 909s). Compress them together (BOUM) and use that as the basis for a thing to rhyme on. I’d start one of these, and if I didn’t want to rhyme on it in 90 minutes, I’d go on a walk and come back. I usually had to restart 3-4 times for each thing that actually got rhymes on it.

Once it was tempting to rhyme on, I’d record a demo take. and send it to @tyleretters @license. Minimum one a week. Three some weeks. 17 in total with rhymes, some weeks I’d just send loops cuz I was exhausted for other reasons (I started and finished colorwheel, got my undergrad, lost my dad, and the longest romantic relationship of my life, changed jobs twice, all while making the record — some weeks a loop was all I could send over).

All of those things went in a playlist, and then I’d circle back to think about what to add, invariably finding a pitch and firing up cw, usually through the Summit.

Bass lines are mostly Mangrove, JF, DPO, and Summit. Fors.fm Pluck was the only VST synth I used.

Biggest ‘a ha’ moment was with bass lines, most evident on the bass line for Rain Gutter. I tend to program pretty busy parts, especially with cw. Lots of randomness, too. I’d record out a few minutes of pretty random stuff, then listen back. Any part that didn’t make me go ’UHHHH’ I’d delete. Then, I’d set a loop length (usually 4 or eight bars), and move all of the parts I preserved into that loop space. (so if something happened on bar 11, it would be moved to bar 3). Then listen back with the whole track, and edit it down, experiment with starts/stops, etc.

Also, using simple wave forms (JF!!!) makes it really easy to pitch shift and process stuff. That meant I could take a simple progression or riff (also talking about rain gutter), cut a whole track, then go back and edit it pretty extensively without worrying about degrading the sound overall.

Interstate Trips is the only track without synths. The first and last tracks have no samples. Foreign Angle (“For an Angel”) was cut from a 5 minute modular improv. JF (bass) + DPO (rest) only, same patch as my Flash Crash set. Before we broke up, my ex would come over and lay on the floor while I improvised with that patch for, sometimes, as long as 6 hours. The TT scene for that patch became colorwheel.

Is… this enough nerd shit?

14 Likes

beautiful, thank you for more peeks behind the curtain :slight_smile:

4 Likes

that is a very nice amount of nerd shit :partying_face:

5 Likes

I have so many irons in the fire rn that I didn’t mention something very very important.

@fourhexagons (Lightbath) has been my teacher for the past four-five-ish years, and colorwheel was designed to meet his performance needs when other modules failed. Many of the summit patches used are his. The others used originated with @stripes. I wasn’t programming my own sounds on the Summit very much on this project, because the single goal was to GET IT DONE.

ok my ride is here and I need to go play this release show like… immediately.

6 Likes

so humbled. this is such an obvious technique… but i’ve had it articulated like this to me. it just let a whole bunch of things click. thank you.


this album is a total triumph. :clap: REQUIRED :clap: LISTENING :clap:

4 Likes

Just got all the streaming services up and running, so now you can listen without managing files or paying me.

Fresh off that release show high. It went better than I could have imagined. Someone fly me somewhere, please. I wanna rock your backyard / living room / what have you.

9 Likes

Listening through a few times via evil Spotify and loving it so much. Going to share this with all my friends, and I find the whole thing inspirational.

Nerd shit question – can you talk about what you did/used to mix/master? You pull this all into a DAW and layer it up, or do it all right on the norns, or what?

5 Likes

Awesome, thanks so much!

Jared did the mixing, officially.

But the unmastered versions he had were pretty similar to what I had sent over, usually with some aggressive resonances EQ’d out. The bulk of the mixing for this record really happened at the sound design stage — since it’s all synths, except for the samples, I just tweaked the sounds a lot so that they fit with whatever was going on already. Since I started with the hardest thing to “mix” — the sample — the synth parts usually came together very quickly around that, and didn’t take much tweaking.

My goal for the sample was always to beef up its percussive parts in a way that sounded natural, so I’d compress the sample with the drums through OTO Boum, EQ it lightly in Ableton (usually just a low cut), and call it good.

Coming from modular land, fx are really just part of the sound to me, so there’s only just barely a discreet mixing stage (except for vocals).

I did not, however, even try to mix the vocals myself. That’s all Jared. He uses Nectar for vocals. No clue what he did mastering wise.

Really would not have been able to pull this one over the finish line without his help.

1 Like