I recently posted a video of Andrew Bird in the Frukie Forum, really just because I love his music and think he’s an incredible performer. I’ve also been listening to several of his albums, well five out of the ten that I currently possess. He has an incredibly deep awareness of the soundscapes that he creates that make his work experimental and so off the wall. I just decided to go digging around the net to find out whether I could shed anymore light on how he produces his music. I found out two interesting things:
The NYT blog ‘Measure for Measure‘ is quite a clever concept. The five artists that blog each unveil the creative processes behind their work. So in terms of finding out information I hit the bullseye.
Fame brings both rewards and challenges although the more I read about artists who have made this transition the more desperate it sounds. Andrew Bird makes the point that he used to spend a long time driving himself on the road. The solitude and boredom this introduced became an ideal time for introspection and songwriting. He now spends incredible long periods on a tour bus, being driven from gig to gig and has spoken more to Journalist than friends and family. Not all is lost though as he takes his bike with him and gets that special release when he can escape.
He really is a joy to read when describing the sounds he is after:
The record I want to make here and now — the one I wish I could find in my local record store — is a gentle, lulling, polyrhythmic, minimalist yet warm tapestry of acoustic instruments. No solos, just interlocking parts. A little Steve Reich, but groovier. A little Ghanaian street music, but more arranged. Thick and creamy vocals like the Zombies’s Colin Blunstone. The bass warm and tubby like Studio One dub.
He also makes a poignant mention of the use of words:
The sound of the words creates a mood far more powerful than the meaning of the words themselves.
This isn’t a surprising concept. It’s musically primitive and the use of words to create atmosphere or in some cases, human vocal sounds e.g. Gaelic mouth music, is a global tradition. The process he goes through sounds incredibly complex and difficult when trying to fit words to melodies. He describes the fitting of the correct word to a melody as a code breaking program which takes into account the number of syllables, tone of vowel and meaning! He admits to being a man of few words and you get the impression that having to fit words to the melody is often a hindrance and probably the least enjoyable part of the process. He certainly doesn’t appear to have any difficulty in creating melodies as he admits that he has had melodies in his head ever since he can remember and “chews his food to them”.
I’ve heard Wilco’s loft (Jeff Tweedy) mentioned several times in the last few months as a great place to record in. It’s in Bird’s Chicago neighbourhood and he used it to record some material for his new album. It’s an aladin’s cave of vintage recording equipment and instruments, all in perfect working order. Bird seems to know a lot about the technical side of sound production and has an appreciation for the vintage having had special equipment such as horn speakers made for him in the past by ‘Specimen’. I found out this from the Specimen webisite:
This is a 27-inch stand-alone horn that I made for Andrew Bird. It uses Celestion’s new 8-inch acoustic guitar speaker, which has a surprisingly wide range of frequency response. Andrew plays his violin through it, using multiple loops to accompany himself, and the spatial effect is stunning. Various instrumental voices seem to emanate from different locations in the room, as if you’re seated in front of an invisible chamber orchestra. Andrew uses his vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb for power.
He also used a 1940’s Mic (RCA 44) to get the right drum sound from Martin Dosh. If you thought those loops he makes run through the same amp then think again:
the violin sound coming from my bridge pick-up and going through two different looping pedals and other effects into three different amps. One amp is for the rhythmic pizzicato loops; another is for the arco/bowed sound which comes out of a spinning, two-headed Victrola-like horn. The third rig is for the solo violin.
I could go on but you would do better to read the blog. It is well written and even for a non-musician like myself, held a fascinating interest.