June 11, 2012

Studio Apartment #1: Dominic Cramp

[graphic by Liz Pavlovic]
Introduction: Jon Bernson is the prolific San Francisco based multimedia musician responsible for one of half local duo Exray's, Rays Vast Basement, a collaborative project with Tim Cohen called Window Twins, and a slew of other more or less "conventional" endeavors. Studio Apartment is his first column for Decoder. The column is his effort to document and understand recording spaces; what they are and how they can function in the life of a musician. We couldn't be more honored to have him on the team. Look for new installments roughly every month. -Co-Editor, Dwight Pavlovic

Dominic Cramp has made music under a staggering number of names, each name bound together by his keen sense for divine comedy. Whether he's speaking in sampled tongues, superimposing genres, or dismantling electronic bombs, Cramp's humor disarms and his journeys transport. Begin with Lord Tang (his new beat dub project), then head over to Evangelista (Carla Bozulich), The Talking Book (label-mate Jared Blum and Faith No More's Bill Gould), Borful Tang, Modular Set, Vulcanus 68, and his Oakland-based label Gigante Sound.

1. Describe your living situation.
I live in a somewhat raw warehouse space with 6 other people, a block from the BART tracks and a few blocks from the I-880. Making noise is never really an issue, but trying to get an isolated recording is more or less impossible so I don't try! There are always bits of BART and bouncing truck shocks in there.

Catch the full interview after the jump.

2. Describe the layout of your room/studio.
When I originally moved in here I had one small room with all my gear and my bed, everything in it. Outside the room was a space about the size of the room, walled on three sides between the room and the kitchen, that was not really used but set up as a library/chill zone. I got the blessing of the housemates and built that space out into a second room which is now my studio.

3. What is the main program or device you use to record?
For the last couple of years I have been using Logic almost exclusively in the studio for tracking and arranging. I have some issues but it's basically perfect for the way I work. I used to use a combination of Live and Digital Performer for years, but Logic has replaced them both and now I only use Live for playing out. If I am working with samples I will generally cut them up in Peak and then move over to Logic.

4. How linked is your recording process with your writing process?
Completely intertwined and overlapped. I try to record everything I do in the studio... if I am checking out a pedal or a synth I borrowed or trying an idea, I will record it. If it's no good, delete, but a lot of the time there will be chunk that is useful. If it is something that seems geared to a particular project I will drop that idea into a folder of idea scraps for that project. If it is just something that sounds interesting but I don't know what to do with it I put it into a categorized Sound Library; Electronics, Voice, Traditional Music, Bass, Guitar, Breaks, etc. When I am working on a track I will either start with one of these elements or just trawl through them if I am looking for a certain thing while I am writing. I might not use an idea for 5 years or longer but eventually it will find it's way into something.

Even if I am working on something that is made up of bass, keys, drums, etc., it will usually start with one of these fragments rather than sitting down at an instrument and picking out a melody or a chord progression.

5. Talk about how you're making music right now.
Well I am getting back into some new Borful Tang tracks which pulls from everything and everywhere and starting to mix some unused material from the last Evangelista record to do something with. The Evangelista work is fairly straight forward mixing on Pro Tools and all the treatments and tracking are finished.

For the Borful, I have already finished a few tracks and I'm now in the process of generating and gathering source material for the rest of the record. Working on that is fun because it is a real open world. For example, I was rehearsing for this solo-noise/power-electronics set I did last week and recorded some of it. There were some interesting low tone beating frequencies going on in there that could be useful. My friend sent me a YouTube link about this dude who was forced to eat his own beard...bingo! Will grab that with Audio Hijack. I have hours of shortwave recordings from the last Evangelista European tour that is filled with all kinds of crazy stuff: from Greek rembetico murder ballads, Chinese English language propaganda, bizarre station ID melody things etc. etc. Used a bunch of it already but much more to sift through.

Stream: Lord Tang - My Dub Uncle

6. Can you share a sound bite or a soloed track from something you have made recently?
Sending a minute or so of the first stages of a drum track that I am working on. This is the initial stage after running the ry-30 [drum machine] through the filter matrix.

MP3: Dominic Cramp - Untitled Drum Track

7. Do you draw inspiration from other mediums beside music? 
I would say I get a lot of inspiration from the way that fictional narratives are crafted. Now that I think about it, although I can't really point to anything specific, the idea in abstract art that by repeating an element, that element is then given meaning and relevance in the structure because of it's repetition. I use that concept and play with it all the time, in everything. A lot of what I do is abstract and might be considered strange or "difficult" but almost every piece has an internal logic and structure. It may not be an established cultural structure like "Rock" "Hip Hop" "Witch House" or whatever, but I am still trying to communicate something above all else rather than being willfully strange. That's just the way it materializes. I don't get in the way of what is coming out of me, put it that way, but I do shape and construct it in very specific ways. Any given piece has hundreds of little edits and they are all very much intentional.

8. Describe a favorite item of hardware or software and why it is important to your recordings. 
Well my all-time favorite piece of gear is probably the most boring to talk about, but I love it! It always works.,. I have had it for 11 years now and it just never goes down; the Metric Halo Mobile I/O 2882. It is a firewire audio interface but really more of a "modular audio processing I/O" , as they describe it!

I originally got it as a test unit for testing plug-ins when I worked at this audio software company, Arboretum Systems. The company went out of business, but I held on to the Mobile I/O. It is built like a tank and has a thick detailed sound. They aren't cheap and I was lucky enough to come across it the way I did but if the place was burning down, that's what I'd grab without a thought. As a company they are kind of amazing too. In a world of disposable bullshit and built-in redundancy... where you can drop $1700 on a Macbook Pro and if you are lucky you get 5 years of life out of it, never mind lesser built machines! Metric Halo keep updating the firmware and adding new tweaks and advancements but never breaking the original box. They could have forced their users into all kinds of upgrades and redundancies... remember I got this in 2001 when OS X was a little baby and OS 9 was still viable in the conversation! They now have a 2 channel version and a few other varieties. To be honest, I barely scratch the surface with it. It has an internal mixer you can do all kinds of crazy signal path routing, optional card you can get to give you all these plug-ins they make. Oh and their customer service is amazing too. They answer the phone!

They also make my favorite EQ/channel strip called funnily enough, Channel Strip. It has a compressor in it and a few other things but I mostly use it for EQ. Really organic and deep, deep, deep, It carves like a mother and you can boost the crap out of things if you have too without getting that ugly digital bloat. Can't say enough good things about those guys.

Currently though, the JoMox T-Resonator Time Woven Filtermatrix... that pretty much sums it up! It is at its core, a stereo low-pass filter pedal with delay lines and reverb built-in. But that is only the start..you can feedback each element into any other and then run all that through the envelope follower and the LFO and feed all that back into itself... it's a beast! Tiny knob moves create huge shifts in sound and texture...a real speaker shredder too so you have to be careful! You have to spend time with it and almost get meditative to make it give up the goods but once you get there all kinds of magic happens. I have never played anything like it. A true organic unpredictable little beast. Amazing on drums and breaks! You can feed it the thinnest, wimpiest drum machine pattern and it will turn it into a snarling, belching heifer mover! Love.

9. Talk about the way you like to sequence [the recording of] your tracks.
It really depends on the project. For Borful Tang, there is never any order! This is mostly because it is not structured in a traditional bass, drums, keys fashion so the anchor could be anything... a vocal sample, a modular synth sequence... but they do almost always have some sort of narrative so I guess the starting point would be the idea of a structure, a narrative arc, and then figuring out what the most important elements to build around. The narrative though, could be a conversation between a few tones as much as it could be the literal narrative of a chopped up speech.

With Lord Tang, a new project that is focused on beats and melodic elements, I have been starting with the bass and going from there. I have been using the arpeggiator on the Juno 6 for a few things and also this Akai ax-60 but I try not to make them too "arpeggiator like". The Juno is great because it is a little busted and the arpeggiator is a little cracked out! It holds notes for too long in random places and shortens others so it creates these great unpredictable lurching grooves. I don't quantize anything or use C/V but I will lay down the initial track to a click and nudge the feel so it more or less follows the pulse. I will then play all the other parts by hand and fly in loops... so it ends up being this organic thing that slides in and out of time but essentially follows a beat. Thus far, the beats have been fairly minimal... I don't get all AraabMuzik crazy on it or anything! Mostly a kick and a snare so you don't notice the tempo shifting as much as if you had 16th note hi-hats going all the time or something like that.

[Photo by Lissa Ivy] 

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