Threnody initially was the intro part of a longer piece titled Threnody for N.Y., (where “N.Y.” doesn’t stand for New York, but is a reference to Neil Young, since the piece took a lot of inspiration from his work on the Dead Man soundtrack). Later we realized that the intro was worth standing on its own and reworked it as a separate composition.
Threnody is of course a reference to Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. The reference is more focused on recreating the sound and the feeling of certain passages in Penderecki’s composition, while being very aleatoric about the actual frequencies used.
We mainly used 3 handmade oscillator banks called SML.1 to produce this piece, in detail the setup was more or less like this:
- SML.1 #1: controlled by Michele, processed through a Make Noise Phonogene module, with a Harvestman Malgorithm in the Phonogene’s external effect loop. This one is the most advanced of the 3 SML.1, it contains 4 oscillators and each one of these can also modulate one of the others. A VCA was used to control the amount of bit-crushed signal produced by the Malgorithm.
- SML.1 #2: controlled by Michele. This is a simpler one with only 3 oscillators, processed with a Boss delay pedal.
- SML.1 #3: controlled by Hannes, processed through a handmade Fuzz circuit by Get Lo-fi and a Jomox T-Resonator 2. This is also a 4-oscillator model, but without the modulation mods. We found that the fuzz circuit was behaving very strangely when fed with the oscillator’s signal, producing a rhythmic, percussive sound at low frequencies. By playing with the pitches of the 4 oscillators complex, polyrhythmic textures could be created.
Additional sounds at the end come from a cigar box guitar processed with a granular delay. This is a remnant from the “For N.Y.” part of the original piece.
Our oscillator banks were all made with a small circuit which we had developed when still part of the Secret Media Lab collective (which we had founded shortly before starting kvsu). This circuit is based on the famous (among electronics enthusiasts) 555-timer and is similar to Forrest M. Mims III’s “Stepped Tone Generator” aka Atari Punk Console. It’s also similar to the circuit found in kits by Get Lo-fi and Synthrotek. While the Stepped Tone Generator offers pulse-width control, this simpler design just outputs a fixed pulse wave, but has the advantage of offering continuous pitch control, without the “steppyness”
characteristic of Mims’s circuit. This made it possible for us to create the cluster-like glissandos in Threnody.
Our version of the circuit has a couple of modifications when compared to older versions of the same. Next to the regular pulse out, it also has a
ramp output, which works well as a CV to modulate other SML.1 circuits or bent toys. We took this idea from Get Lo-fi, adding it directly to the PCB.
Initially the SML.1 circuit was developed by us to offer our fellow circuitbenders a convenient tool to add modulations to modified toys, but we later found that it was very interesting as an audio oscillator as well. We had the idea of putting several of these together while holding an audio DIY workshop for kids, since we had a bunch of these circuits, which we had assembled to demonstrate the process.
2. Love Song
Love Song is the second track on our The Malosco Sessions LP. It was born as a purely instrumental, improvisation set called Gipsy Noise. The set was a rather noise-laden one that revolved around a couple of sequencer patterns onto which we had added drums and various improvised noise sounds and drones.
A Live recording of Gipsy Noise: soundcloud.com/kvsu/gipsy-noise-extract
Later, while recording for the album, we had the idea of turning it into pop track with added noise and circuit-bending elements.
This idea was partially sparked by the fact that, in the same period, we had made a cover version of Nine Inch Nails’ song Sin, for the circuit-bent compilation project Pretty Bent Machine.
Our version of Sin: soundcloud.com/kvsu/master-160-1
The main synth sequence is made of 4 descending notes (a diatonic, doric tetrachord): C – Bb – Ab – G and is inspired by the so called “Andalusian cadence” (A – G – F – E). The main sequence is then layered with a second one, which has the same notes, but progresses at double the speed. Later, a simple melody is added to this second sequence, to clarify the harmonic progression.
On the central verse and on the second chorus, the double-speed sequence disappears and is replaced by a three-note arpeggio on the C minor notes G – C – Eb, which underlines the tonic chord on the first three descending notes in the tetrachord and then resolves, remaining suspended, on the dominant.
Lyrics and Vocals
The lyrics in Love Song were written in Italian by Hannes’ wife Elizabeth and later translated into English.
We told her to write us a love song, starting from the sentence “frequently the messages have meaning”, a sentence that originates from a 1948 quote by mathematician and cryptographer Claude Shannon (in its Italian translation). in the Italian version the word “frequently” sounds more like “sometimes”, which explains the main text in the chorus: “sometimes feelings have a meaning”.
Michele’s girlfriend Enrica aka Alias Cornedo then worked on translating these lyrics into a melody and later performed the vocals for the recording.
We chose to reduce the classic pop-song structure to the bare minimum, it’s basically just chorus – verse – chorus.
This is probably the track on the album with the longest gear list.
The main synth sequences as well as all noise sounds were performed using a modular synthesizer (2 oscillators, sequencer, filters, white noise generator). Additional sounds were played on a Chaos Engine diy synth, a Jomox T-Resonator (used both as an fx processor and standlone, modulating its self-oscillation) and a Teenage Engineering OP-1.
A Sherman Filterbank has been used intensively to process most tracks during post production.
The drums come from an old Kawai r50 drum machine, to which we added percussion sounds and various sound effects from a circuit-bent MixMe DJ toy. We also added a bunch of live-played synth sounds performed with a circuit-bent Casio VL-1 and the MixMe DJ was used to create some of the static-like noises, heard in the first part of the song.
This is the only track on the album which has been recorded in a multi-track studio-production-like fashion (all the others are recordings of live performances or impro sessions) and is also the only one that has been heavily edited in a DAW. Most work went into the drum parts (lot’s of beat repeater on those), since we were not happy with the patterns we had created on the Kawai, nor did we like the drum sounds themselves. sometimes a very limited instrument can be a blessing, others it can be a curse. The Kawai was of the second type, in fact we didn’t use that one again after recording this song and replaced it with with a Sonic Potions LXR. The vocals also got quite some rounds of post production treatment and in their last version were heavily processed with the above mentioned Filterbank.
In 2013 we worked on a project called Goaßl – A Noisy Lullaby which revolved around a composition for string quartet, Goasslschnölln (traditional whip cracking) and video projections mapped on the players. This project was developed for a competition, which we unfortunately never won. The project was then abandoned but we finalized the main composition, which Michele had written for the promo.
Lullaby is loosely based on a traditional cradle-song titled ‘Ndormènzete popin, in its version harmonized by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli for the SAT choir.
The track was created completely inside a DAW using string sample libraries and field recordings of whip cracking (which we had made for the promo video), the thus produced tracks where then processed using hardware bitcrushers and analog filters.
Unsinnig is the oldest track on the album and was born as an improvisation set held in my cellar (where we often rehears and jam) and was later refined in subsequent sessions. The name derives from the expression “Unsinniger Donnerstag”, which is the German name for Fat Thursday used mainly in the southern German-speaking regions. Fat Thursaday was the day we made the final recording for this track.
The foundation of the improvisation is composed by a modular synth bassline (made with an analogue VCO and sequencer and a Koma Kommander for modulation) and various layers of noise. We used contact microphones attached to found objects: a computer CPU heatsink, a modified tape player and a bicycle bell, which were used as percussions or in the case of the tape player, to create noise drones. These sounds were then further processed with an OTO Biscuit bitcrusher/filter. Additional noise layers were produced using a white noise generator from the the modular, a Nebulophone (at the beginning of the track). The sounds were further processed with a Jomox T-resonator 2 and another OTO Biscuit.
The pads in the first part of the track were played using a Teenage Engineering OP-1 and the bass drones originate from a circuit-bent Casio VL-1. We didn’t have a drum machine yet at the time, so we relied on the built-in drum pattern generator in the Mutable Instruments Anushri, which was also used to create the percussive FM sounds heard throughout the track.
The original recording was almost 20 minutes long. We then made several edits until we came up with this last, 4-minute-long version, in which only the best parts were kept. It’s an interesting way to work, you could say that it’s the “subtractive” way of composing music. The only part that was further processed in the DAW is the drum track. The Anushri’s drum synth is very lo-fi, so we had to apply some lowpass filtering to remove the unwanted digital noise and add, a bit of distortion, beat repeater and delays to make it better sit in the mix.
Unsinnig – the long version: soundcloud.com/kvsu/unsinnig-kurodama-edit
Unsinnig was later remixed by Finnish noise musician Pentti Dassum. Dassum stripped our track of all rhythmic elements, turning it into a wonderful, yet chilly, sea of reverberating ambient sounds. This remix can be found on the tape release Senseless Bells (released by the Finnish label Kaukana Väijyy Ambient).
5. For N.Y.
As mentioned in the first episode of this series, For N.Y. was initially part of a longer track titled Threnody for N.Y., where N.Y. doesn’t stand for New York, but is a reference to Neil Young. The initial inspiration for it came from his work on the Dead Man soundtrack, especially the more ambient-like, delay-heavy, minimal guitar passages. I had recently acquired a handmade cigar box guitar and we wanted to make a duet where we would put this instrument in contrast with synthesizer-generated noise and minimal glitchy-sounding drums. I’m not a great guitar player (which was actually part of the concept behind the piece), so the guitar parts turned out to be pretty simple melodic lines, which I looped and processed with the OTO Biscuit (bitcrusher/filter).
On the noise side the (mostly modular) gear used was: an ADDAC 001 Voltage Controlled Computer as mostly probabilistic CV generator, two Hexinverter vcNOIZ & Jupiter Storm modules as noise generators. Everything was processed by a Make Noise Echophon and a Harvestman Malgorithm.
We played this piece for the first time in 2013 at the festival Analogica and shortly after at Loco’s Bar in Rovereto (Italy), where we made a multi-track recording of it.
The track on the album is an edited version of this recording. We shortened it to a bit more than 11 minutes (the original was roughly 16 minutes long) and re-programmed the drum track from scratch, since we were not satisfied with the original one.
The cigar box guitar turned out to be a dead end for live performances, due to a series of problems with its built-in piezo contact mic. Apart from all sorts of noise and hum problems, the instrument is really prone to feedbacks. In 2014 we tried to perform For N.Y. live at the festival Sinstruct, but had to abandon the guitar and change the set on the fly due to the aforementioned issues.
The idea of working on duets has been there right from the beginning of kvsu and is closely related to the fact that kvsu is a duo project. Our very first performance started with a duet for circuit-bent Pikachu and bass clarinet. In 2014 we reworked it into an independent piece called Duetto A and expanded our repertoire with a duet for two drum machines – LxJ133 – and one for bass clarinet and Game Boy – Duetto B.
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