Electronic musician Walter Carlos was born in 1938 in Rhode Island and had a big interest in both music and technology. At the age of ten he composed his first piece and at 14 he built a small home computer. Three years later he assembled an electronic music studio and created his first electronic musical composition, manipulated with some tape recording. In 1972, he had a sex-change becoming Wendy Carlos, and has been known the rest of her career with this name.
Wendy Carlos film credits include A Clockwork Orange (1972), The Shining (1980) and Tron (1982) to name but a few. Carlos first came to prominence 1968 with the release of ‘Switched On Bach’. This was a musical album containing the works of Bach composed using a Moog Synthesizer.
Carlos attended Brown University from 1958 – 1962 and studied music and physics. He also taught electronic music at Columbia University form 1962 to 1965 , Carlos held a position at the Columbia- Princeton electronic music centre.
Carlos wanted to develop an electronic sound producing unit which could be called a musical instrument, the synthesizer. In 1963 Carlos met Robert Moog and became one of his first customers. They collaborated together to create the Moog Synthesizer. Carlos convinced Moog to add a touch of sensitivity to the synthesizer for greater dynamics and musicality. Carlos used this synthesizer to perform and record the ‘Switched On’ series and the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange.
She is recognised as one of the great innovators in synthesized and electronic music and is seen by many as one of the most important composers of modern times.
This is an album critique for Gorillaz ‘Demon Days’. The critique is a critical listening assignment for my sound engineering module in college.
The album that I am critiquing is Demon Days by Gorillaz. It was released in 2005. For this critique the sound elements which I have looked at include, the overall sound of the album, the stereo image (mid and sides soloed), an analysis of prominent parts such as the arrangement and structure of the tracks and the consistency in the album.
Gorillaz are a British virtual band that formed in 1998. It is collaboration between Damon Albarn (Blur) and Jaime Hewlett (creator of Tank Girl). Along with the concept of the band, Albarn and Hewlett also created a fictional universe in which the characters live. At the time of Demon Days creation, Gorillaz had four members. 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russell Hobbs.
The album Demon Days is Gorillaz second studio release and their most commercially and critically successful. Multiple musicians were involved in the process. Damon Albarn has said that the is a depiction of a journey through the night in which each track represents a confrontation with a personal demon. Their fictional universe can be explored through their music videos and the webpage.
The producer of Demon Days is Brian Joseph Burton aka Danger Mouse.Danger Mouse is an American musician and producer. In 2004 he released his firstmajor production was ‘The Grey Album’. It was a mash up album combining the instrumentals from the Beatles ‘The White Album’ and Jay Z’s ‘The Black Album’. In 2006 he released an album with Cee Lo Green as Gnarls Barkley.It was his work on ‘The Grey Album’ that caught Damon Albarn’s attention. They discussed ideas for the direction of the sound and Albarn then put his trust in Danger Mouse from that moment on.
The overall sound of the album is quite dark, funky and due to the use of multiple synthes, electronic (but not in a ‘dance’ way). It contains multiple genres such as pop, dub, funk, hip hop and also showcases a brilliant yet at times eerie use of a choir. Damon Albarn’s vocals are emotional and haunting throughout several of the tracks and the addition of rapping and spoken word creates an entertaining and powerful aural experience. From one track to the next the listener does not know where the style is going to go.
The sound throughout the album seems consistent to me. The mix between vocals and the instruments is consistent from track to track. The vocals seem to be low compared to the instrumental but it does not mean that the vocal is hard to hear, it fits. Throughout the album a vast amount of instruments are used from double bass to violas so there’s a lot to fit in.
Each track is very individual but a few particularly stand out for me.
‘Fire Coming Out Of A Monkeys Head’ which features the actor Denis Hopper reciting lyrics is notably individual. The track begins with Hopper reciting the verse, Albarn then sings the chorus. This structure is repeated once more, verse – chorus. Hoppers verses are accompanied by a heavy beat and the chorus then relaxes into beautiful soft acoustic guitar accompanied by light percussion.
This image is the track with no separation of mid and sides.
Using bx solo, the image below shows what is happening with the tracks waveform in the ‘sides’ of the stereo mix. There are four components that are most prominent in the sides. Firstly, the three large parts of the waveform are the humming sounds the next is the thin waveform that is the sound of wind howling eerily. There is a small increase in waveform after the last verse; this is the world “space” being doubled up under the main vocal. It has a lot of reverb added to it. And finally the last part is Albans’ vocal to finish off the track. It has a lot of reverb added to it; it is accompanied by the guitar and wind sound.
When the mid of ‘Fire Coming Out of a Monkeys Head’ is soloed we can get an idea of what is happening in the middle of the stereo image. The percussion, drum machine, synth and guitar are prominent while Albans’ vocals and Hoppers spoken word stand out.
Spectrum Plot of Fire Coming Out Of A Monkeys Head
Dirty Harry is another track that stands out for me. The breakbeat and structure in this track makes it one of my favourite on the album. From the synth to the use of the London Community Gospel Choir each component is interesting to me. The track has to ten distinct sections. The first verse is sung by Albarn. The second by the choir and Bootie Brown raps for four.
The image below represents the same track but now the sides have been soloed using bx solo. The components which are most prominent in the sides of this track are as follows; Damon Albans’’ vocal in the first verse. The choir in the third section, second verse. Both vocals have reverb applied. In the second and fourth section reverb can clearly be heard amongst the instrumentation. The bridge is very prominent with the cello, viola and double bass standing out. Those instruments and melody is then repeated continuously during the rap sections. During the last section, the choir can still be heard but it is now overshadowed slightly by the addition of ambient sounds in the form of crowds chattering, once again reverb is present.
When the mids of Dirty Harry are soloed we can hear what is mainly happening in the middle of the stereo image. The use of double bass and synth is now much more prominent while the drum machine and percussion are now being heard strongly. Claps are also present.
Spectrum Plot of Dirty Harry.
Another track that I feel stands out is ‘Kids With Guns’. As is visible from the image below, the track is quite dense with sound. For me the baseline and the vocal arrangement make this track make this track. But as a whole I think that the overall sound and structure is very interesting and entertaining.
Although the waveform in the sides image does not seem large there is actually quite a lot happening in the sides of the stereo image for this track, more so than either of the previous tracks that I have looked at. Bass, drum machine, synths, electric guitar, steelpan drum and a heavy distortion during the last section accompany the lead vocals, backing vocals and extra vocals added by Albarn. Most of these components are not as loud as they are in the mid image but this side’s image is certainly a lot stronger in comparison to the other side images above. Along with the distortion, there is heavy use of reverb.
The mid image does not sound or look that dissimilar to the full stereo image.
Spectrum Plot for Kids With Guns
The album ‘Demon Days’ has been one of my favourites since its release in 2005. I had never heard anything like it before. In the four days that I have spent critically listening to it I have become even more engrossed in it than before. Through critically listening I have been able to ‘properly’ listen to each track. For the first time I can hear that there is so much more happening within this album than I had previously heard. By using Audacity and BX solo I could separate elements and ‘see’ the sound.
It is pretty obvious to me now that a multitude of equipment, both musical and recording, must have been used to create such a varied and unique work. In my opinion, it all worked. From the use of instruments such as the cello, double bass and viola to synths and drum machines, it all just fits. The sound is consistent throughout and the story of their journey concludes brilliantly with the choir driven, powerful track ‘Demon Days’. A fantastic end, to an adventurous aural experience.
This scene in Stanley Kubricks ‘A Clockwork Orange’ exhibits brilliantly the use of anempathetic sound in film. Anempathetic sound is used to create indifference to what is happening with the visuals in a piece, usually a violent scene. It consists of sound design, music and sound effects.
If this scene is watched with the volume off, the viewer will see a lady that is alone in her house when Alex breaks in. From watching the film up to this point, the viewer will know that Alex is most likely not here to pay her a friendly visit. He enters the room with a wide grin and after a few spoken words they lunge at each other. He attacks her then leaves. The visual suggests to the viewer that something bad is about to happen. Each viewer can use their imagination as to what that bad event may be. The viewer as a result of this may feel nervous, tense and apprehensive about what they are about to see. If you switch the volume back on and watch again, something has changed. The visuals are the same but how you are feeling has more than likely become something different. The music that plays throughout the scene gives a sense of silliness and comedy, not what you would associate with the serious undertones of the scene. With a different sound this scene would have been very tense and perhaps to many, upsetting. It is this use of classical music throughout the film that helps to give Kubricks work its uniqueness.
This is a short film about the Moog Synthesiser. In it the narrater talks about its creation and capabilities.
I am linking this video purely because I find it incredibly interesting. If you have an interest in synthesizers and their inception then you may find this video to be worth a watch.
Moby Gratis – site link
Throughout each of my sound projects this semester I had used this page as a reference to music styles and to acquire a musical piece . It is a resource created by Moby for independent and student film makers. It provide access to an extensive range of tracks from Moby’s catalog, licence free. All you need to do is simply create an account with Moby Gratis and request the track you would like. Your request will be reviewed and within a day or so you will receive and email either confirming or denying the request.