July 1 2016
The room I describe in the article below was designed to be a professional studio quality room for electric guitar amps. Before it was built, I had my Marshall stack in a closet or a bathroom, and I would listen to Ziggy Stardust or Black Sabbath and was frustrated that my guitar sounds were never as good as those. This room was constructed, and that problem was solved. Putting a stereo set of speakers in there and sending sounds from my computer into the room was an afterthought. It is not a very resonant room. By the time the room was finished, I had it in mind to use it for this secondary purpose, and I clapped in there for the first time and was disappointed. It sounded almost dead, with no real bounce to speak of. But when I sent very loud sounds into it and placed microphones in specific positions I became very excited. I’ve been able to make that room sound like reverb by being creative. It’s not a reverb chamber. It’s also not a very large or high-ceilinged room, but I’ve managed to make it sound like one by being resourceful. This is kind of like getting a synthesizer or drum machine to do things the manufacturers didn’t know could be done with them; the old “When Leo Fender invented the Stratocaster, he had no idea it would ever make the sounds Hendrix made with it” type thing, but to a lesser degree. My omission of the intended purpose of the room in the following written piece was an oversight, so I thought I’d mention it.
June 16 2016
I have put my instrumental mixes of all the tracks from Black Knights album The Almighty, on which I made all the music, up on my Soundcloud and Bandcamp, where they can be streamed or downloaded for free.
The artwork for this online album was done by Aura T-09.
I played digital and analog synthesizers, digital and analog drum machines, samples, acoustic and electric guitar, and early 1980s guitar synthesizers. The guitars are the only instruments I played with my hands in the traditional manner. The rest I played by programming, which one also does with they’re hands, though not in real time; the point is, I didn’t play any keyboards or drum pads.
My live room, created by contractor Jacques Lacroix, acoustician Vincent Van Hoff, and my studio manager Anthony Zamora, was the main place I got room sounds, reverbs, and atmosphere on these recordings. I sent sounds and performances from my computer into the room where they would come through a speaker, making the room reverberate, which would then be picked up by a room mic, the cable of which would bring this sound to my mixing board, from where it would return to the computer, where I would combine the rooms acoustics with the source sound. I’d generally do a certain amount of subtractive eq on my computer when sending the sound into the room, then on my mixing board when the sound came back to me, and also on the computer again when fitting it into the entire mix. These are two pictures of the room, each from opposite angles.
Those of you who do not have the space or means to have a live room built, can certainly use a bathroom for the same purpose. You’d be surprised how much you can tune a room by creative application of subtractive eq.
One room technique I used from time to time, was to send a recorded performance backwards into the room, record what the room did, then flip that around backwards, and place it slightly before the source sound, exactly positioned so that the highest volume of backwards reverberation ends exactly when the source sound begins. This created the effect of the sound seeming to come from the room, rather than the room sound coming from the source sound; the reverse of natures laws which govern acoustics.
I also did this same thing with my AMS digital reverb, the only other source of reverb I used on the record. A good example of this is the tune Techniques And Shockwaves, where midway into the song, the only drums are just a series of tom hits which are all preceded by a long backwards reverb, as if each sound was coming from thin air; a natural, forwards reverb then follows.
Due to years of experience with my live room, I was also in the habit of making imitations of room sounds from outer space, by triggering modular synth patches with the attacks of a kick or snare performance, often then sending these sounds into the live room as well. This made for some huge sounding drums in the places I did it.
I’m very proud of this music, and think it works very well as an instrumental album, though it wasn’t intended to be one. There’s a lot going on in these tracks that gets virtually lost on the original vocal versions.
My thanks goes out to Crisis, Monk, and the other vocalists for doing the performances which inspired me to mute and unmute tracks in the specicific ways I did. That’s their hidden contribution to The Almighty Instrumental Mixes. It has resulted in some very interesting instrumental song arrangements.
This stuff was recorded throughout the first half of 2013. As always during the last 9 years, I made this music to learn, and because it was what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear slow grooves, and explore the different kinds of subtle off-timeness which make grooves flow in different ways. For several years prior to this I’d been very busy on the drums, making them a lead instrument, and so here I avoided playing super fast or extremely off-time, or doing excessively odd time signatures, partly out of musical consideration for the other vocalists, but mainly because I just didn’t want to show off on drums at that time. Now, however…
March 31 2016
On April 16th I am releasing an EP on the Acid Test label. It consists of 4 electronic pieces of music recorded in 2009. This was the period when I started recording my machines and synths onto a computer, using the program Renoise. Though I was still using the TB-303 quite often, I had moved away from making strictly Acid House music. There is no stylistic genre which this music fits into. I was just pushing my machines really hard, and constantly trying things which I had never done before. I would just describe it as adventurous electronic music. Throughout this time, I was also making a great deal of music with Speed Dealer Moms, and those experiences definitely informed my experimental approach. In fact, one song’s programming began in a hotel room in London, with the intention of performing it with SDM at the Bangface Weekender rave in 2009, but we ended up having to cancel due to faulty rental equipment.
Some of the programming and production techniques were inspired by people like Venetian Snares, AFX, Squarepusher, Gescom, DMX Crew, The Railway Raver, Ceephax Acid Crew, Luke Vibert, and Autechre. Martin Hannett’s production of Joy Division, and things like Depeche Mode, Heaven 17s first record, New Order, and early Human League, were also influential on this stuff. But musically, it is my approach to synthesis, my sense of melody, and my sense of rhythm, which give this music its style, whatever one wishes to call it.
The EP opens with a song called Foregrow, and this is the only tune on which I sing. The lyrics concern a vivid pre-life memory, in which I was a section of outer space. I used a midi guitar to play a DX7 synthesizer, in order to make these kinds of falling and whooshing sounds, by bending strings in a way that a person could never use a mod wheel or pitch bender. The sound of the guitar itself was never recorded and is therefore inaudible.
The second song is called Expre’act, and this was the first time I’d ever had the pleasure of programming machines to a tempo which is continually slowing down and speeding up. This song has a guitar solo, played through an Electro Harmonix Microsynthesizer. The song’s introduction is one Monomachine, using a lot of parameter locks. When the 303 comes in, I use its internal synth, while also using its sequencer to play many different synthesizers, one after another in rapid succession, sometimes using just CV and Gate, and other times using a CV to midi converter.
The 3rd track is Lowth Forgue, which, as I mentioned earlier, began as music I intended to play live for British ravers. But when that didn’t come to be, I took it home and it went in a variety of directions. Like a lot of tracks I’ve made these last 8 years, it goes through several different sections which are wholly unlike each other in instrumentation, mix, style, and so on. This idea comes from groups like Genesis and Yes, who made long songs comprised of sections which were totally distinct from one another, by means of editing. In the case of Lowth Forgue, there are 4 sections in a row which have nothing in common with one another, except that they share the same tempo and flow nicely from one to the next. This track has no guitar at all. However, it does have sampling, which all of the other songs lack.
The EP ends with Unf, which was the first tune I’d made in 4/4 for quite some time. It contains a guitar solo which is heavily treated by a modular synthesizer which my friend and bandmate Chris McDonald built for me. There are also a few other guitar parts, including a funk one and a Siouxsie & the Banshees type one, but this song, like the others, mainly consists of drum machines and synthesizers, especially the MC-202. There’s a hell of a lot of 202s in this track, including one section which sounds like someone playing a Wurlitzer electric piano but is actually six 202s programmed to sound like a guy playing keyboards.
I think of this EP as fun music that was fun to make. Overdubbing, in electronic music, was a pretty new thing for me at that time, and much of this music was developed live (i.e. with many machines playing together), and then recorded as individual instruments, each with their own respective track. This gave me the ability to be way fancier with my production than I was on the Trickfinger Acid House stuff, when I had only machines, synths, a small mixer, and a CD burner. This EP was the beginning of the studio setup I have continued to use, refine, and develop ever since. Here are four pictures of it, taken a couple of years ago.
The Foregrow EP is a compilation of tracks chosen by Oliver Bristow of Acid Test. Other tracks from this period are on my Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages, JF Directly From JF.
The cover of the EP is a sculpture conceived by Marcia Pinna. It is a visual depiction of the lyrical “rules” which I adhered to in the song Foregrow. We were driving one night, and I told her, at length, of the connection between Aleister Crowley’s Book Of Lies(falsely titled), and Ian Curtis’s lyrics, which I first perceived in 1997. My explanation of these rules inspired in her mind a vision, which became a drawing, then a miniature sculpture, and then an 8 foot tall, twenty foot long sculpture, which she and Sarah Sitkin built in Sarah’s art studio, where it was then photographed. A day later, the whole thing came tumbling down and shattered into a million pieces.
November 24 2015
I now have a Bandcamp page and a Soundcloud page and have put up a bunch of unreleased music of my past. My own name has been taken by several people, so one is called jfdirectlyfromjf.bandcamp.com and the other is called soundcloud.com/jfdirectlyfromjf.
At present, I have put up a 19 minute group of 6 songs recorded on 4-track cassette in May 2010, the instrumentation being 3 guitars and one drum machine. It is a bunch of weird anti-rock star guitar solos, played mainly on a Mosrite Ventures guitar, and a Yamaha SG, accompanied by an Elektron Machinedrum, excepting one song where I used a Roland TR 707, and another where a 707 was used, but is not in the mix.
I have also uploaded a 37 minute collection of tunes made between 2009 and 2011 which were all recorded in my main studio during various stages of its development, as well as various stages of my devopment as an engineer.
Furthermore, you will find in these places the full 20 minute version of Sect In Sgt, my all-sample piece, in its entirety. The version which was online before, under the name Trickfinger, omitted the first 5 minutes of the piece.
In addition, there is an interpretation of the song Fight For Love from the movie Casa De Mi Padre, recorded one sunny afternoon in November 2013 by Omar Rodriguez and myself, plus Medre, a track recorded in 2008, and a vocal and guitar only version of the song Zone, from my album Enclosure.
This music is all free of cost to the public, and can be downloaded or streamed on Bandcamp and Soundcloud. With the exception of Zone, this is all music which was made purely for the sake of making music, rather than for having it released and thereby sold. In other words, Zone is the only song which was intended to be on a record.
When someone releases music on a label, they are selling it, not giving it. Art is a matter of giving. If I sing my friend a song, it goes from me to her, at no cost. That’s giving. If I sell you an object, we do not say that I gave you that object. Recording artists have been “giving” the public music by selling it to them for so long that we now think of sell-outs as dedicated musicians who love their audience so much that they aggressively sell them products, and sell themselves as an image and personality to this audience on a regular basis just as aggresively. Sell-outs is an antiquated term which, when I was a kid, referred to artists who love making money more than they love making music. The word indicated a lack of artistic integrity. Sell-outs suck, in my opinion. Its a shame its become so normal, expected, and acceptable to be one. When I was a teenager it was very common for people who loved music to insult a recording artist for being, or becoming, a sell-out. I believe that this was a very healthy instinct on the part of music lovers.
Giving people music for free online being so common these days is a good reminder that artistic expression is always a matter of giving, not taking, or selling. Selling is the making money part, and artistic expression, creation, is the giving part. They are distinct from one another, and it is my conviction that music should always be made because one loves music, regardless of whether one plans on selling it or not. Creation is the source of life, while making money is what people do for food, clothing, shelter, necessities, and comfort in some cases, and to exercise their greed in others.
It is my pleasure to give you this music. Sometimes I will announce here on my site that I have posted music in these places, and other times I will not. Any music I stream from here on my site will now be linked to my Soundcloud page.
I also must clear something up. I normally don’t read my press, but I heard about this quote, recently taken out of context by some lame website and made into a headline, in which I said “I have no audience”. This has been misinterpreted, and by no fault of the excellent journalist who interviewed me for the fine publication Electronic Beats. Ever since I quit my old band in 2008, I have made music specifically to learn and to make the music which I want to hear, without an audience in mind. Nevertheless, between 2008 and 2013, every time I recorded a track, I sent it to Aaron Funk and Chris McDonald who are my Speed Dealer Moms bandmates, and often to a few other friends. Early on in this period, I realized that whoever I sent my music to or played my music for had become my “audience”, ie the people who I aimed my music at.
Even when you make music purely for the sake of doing it, as I do, it sometimes helps to have friends who’s ears and taste you have in the back of your head when you’re making it. But this can also put you in a straightjacket, just as aiming your music at the masses can. Therefore, in Jan 2014, I decided to stop having an “audience” in this sense, and so I stopped finishing songs or sending what I was doing to friends, and started making a lot of songs at once rather than one song at a time. This freed up my mind so that I could make music purely to hear it and live with it, in order to grow in a different direction for a while. This was not a permanent decision. In fact, I’m already past that phase. Trickfinger is not my final record, and I never said it was, as was claimed by that silly website.
Obviously I have a public audience. I am aware of them, and they know who they are. When I said “At this point, I have no audience”, I meant “audience” in the figurative sense of people who I have in mind when I am creating, who I intend to send my music to or play it for. In the original interview I had made this clear in an earlier sentence which was not printed, in which I recall saying, “There I was(in 2009), trying to make music without an audience in mind when I realized that Aaron and Chris had become my audience.” So when I later said “At this point, I have no audience.”, the journalist knew I was not referring to the public. In the context of the Electronic Beats article, which was in regards to an album of music which was not originally intended to be heard by the public, I believe my meaning is clear.
Reduced to a single sentence, it would have been accurate to say that, at this point, I have no particular audience in mind while I am making music. Thinking this way gives me a certain freedom and stimulates growth and change. It is a state of mind that has been extremely useful to me from time to time throughout these last 27 years of being a professional musician.
I am grateful that I still have an audience, considering that I do not make music preconcieved to conform to “what people want”. I don’t think people know what they want, except that the general public thinks that artists should sound as their audience expects them to. The general public did not “want” Jimi Hendrix’s music before 1967. They did not know that such sounds were possible. How could they have wanted it before they heard it? Did the public “want” Sgt. Pepper before it came out? That would have been impossible, because no album had ever sounded remotely like that. Yet musicians who aim at becoming or remaining popular have gotten into this stupid habit of attempting to give the public “what it wants”. I made a good living doing this for years, and in 2008 decided that I would never cater to people who believe its a musicians job to give audiences “what they want”, ever again. I have excellent relations with the two independent labels who release my music, and like me, they are not aimed at the masses.
In mainstream industry jargon, an artist who has a small audience is said to have “no audience”. I’ve always despised that expression, because it implies that audiences with uncommon taste are nonentities, rather than actual people. I certainly do not talk that way. I love people, and do not like to see them devalued. I’m glad that the people who continue to follow what I do have kept their minds active and open. And I’m pleased that rock fans are not the only people listening to what I’ve done. Thank you all for existing.
June 2 2015
By Black Knights
Produced by John Frusciante
Free hi res downloads below in MP3, WAV and FLAC formats:
April 23 2015
John Frusciante + Black Knights = The Almighty. Out June 16th, 2015 on Record Collection.
Preorder Here: www.blackknightsmusic.com/store/
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