Music that resides in the norm has its place, but the compositions and artists that we really remember are those that innovate.
Looking back at the most memorable productions and producers, what comes to mind is George Martin and The Beatles’ manipulation of emerging technologies, Rick Rubin’s melding of genres such as Run DMC and Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, or Phil Spector’s wall of sound approach with artists such as The Ronettes – producers who stepped out of the norm.
The studio is the best place to make this memorable magic happen. Here are three artists I’ve been listening to lately that push the boundaries in the studio for some really unique sounds.
Microtonal maniacs, lo-fi roots and unique mic placement: We look at three new artists taking advantage of the studio to create innovative music.
Hiatus Kaiyote – Unique Use of Mics
Hiatus Kaiyote describes their sound as “polyrhythmic gangster shit”. The Australian four piece makes it difficult to slot into a genre, the closest being a type of futuristic soul. Their sound is achieved by blending their prowess in wielding their instruments with experimentation in the studio. Layers and layers of carefully curated synths create broad and warm textures to sit upon a melismatic voice.
Most techniques the band use are wholly in how they record their established compositions. They are known for distant mic’ing their amps, using a mic set up for the snare sound on vocals, catching melodies of animals outside and inside the studio to harmonise with and a plethora of other creative studio ventures.
Mic placement can make a world of difference to the sound you get. A good sound engineer knows where to place the mic to get the “cleanest” sound, but how about the most interesting? How about using an omnidirectional mic in a reverberant room? Or a directional mic away from the sound source?
The room’s resonance, a mimicking of how our ears reach sounds, or changing the way we hear a performed action in its entirety can make for unique music, making your compositions stand out from the rest. You can hear examples of this below with their interlude Cicada.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Microtonality
Microtonality involves utilising the notes that fall between the Western intervals – so an A that is a little bit sharp, but not quite an A sharp. Spokespeople for this technique argue that we are currently using only a tiny part of the musical palette by neglecting these notes.
King Gizzard is a part of this collective, using the studio to put the music into a rockbound context. They do this by modifying their instruments and synthesiser cent values to play scales similar to the Turkish Saz tuning. The results drives a feeling of uncertainty, a constant dance of consonance and dissonance that is unlike anything anyone else is doing right now.
You can experiment with this in the studio by utilising bought Pro Tools plugins to transpose notes, altering the physical instruments (i.e. fret sizes in a guitar or filing down metallophone surfaces), or pulling a Mac Demarco and detuning a little.
If you use notation software in your composition process, you can compose with these microtones by loading Scala and Finale together. Some research in this could get you painting your music with more than the primary colours!
Jeff Rosenstock/The Smith Street Band – Acknowledging Lo-fi Roots
Jeff Rosenstock has been in the game for a long time now, and punk certainly isn’t dead with the composer/artist/producer. Punk is constantly evolving, artists not afraid of pushing the envelope and the ears of listeners to get the desired emotional rise.
Rosenstock uses the studio in many different ways, emulating punk’s DIY nature by dragging you out of your suspension of disbelief. To do this he utilises clips recorded in production, such as him explaining what he wants out of the tune Factory Song, “I want the song of the American dorm room”, or fusing the demo version of the song into the far more polished recording of Pash Rash.
Rosenstock also produces some popular acts, including Australian rockers The Smith Street Band. With the band, he utilities techniques that dismantle the polished facade of recordings by editing in purposeful misplaced notes, dissonances, technical failures, as well as adding in band member’s off-record conversations, emulating a certain studio presence.