Avant Garde Techniques: Recording Blind

To kick off the avant garde techniques series, I’m going to describe a simple experimental recording method that might just surprise you. The idea here is to discover some rhythmic and melodic counterpoint that you might never have written otherwise. I call this method “blind layering”. You’re going to need some kind of multitrack recording device, whether a software DAW or an analog machine.

STEP ONE: THE FOUNDATION

Your first step is to lay down a foundation track. This can be a simple beat repeated ad nauseum. Use a drum machine plugin if you’ve got one.

You’ll need to choose whether or not you want your foundation track to include harmonic information. Including some will increase the chances that the final product will be coherent. Leaving it out will be riskier but increase the chance of really strange discoveries.

I’m using “harmonic information” as a fancy term for adding a single note to every measure. So you can just play a C at the beginning of each one. If you’re using a DAW, you can then copy and paste this note over and over.

Your foundation track is going to remain untouched for the rest of this exercise.

STEP TWO: LAYERING

Now that you have your foundation, it’s time to record your first layer. Simply improvise a chord progression, melodic line, sung vocal, percussion part, or whatever while listening to the foundation. When you like an idea, lay it down. That’s layer one.

Now mute layer one and forget it ever existed. Listen to the foundation again and improvise a new chord progression, melodic line, etc. When you like an idea, lay it down. That’s layer two.

Now mute layer two and forget it ever existed. Got the idea? You just continue this way until you’ve built up a bunch of layers.

STEP THREE: SCULPTING THE LAYERS

Now it’s time for some weirdness. Unmute all the layers at once and press play.

Depending on how many you recorded, it’s going to be noisy. Start taking some away. Pull some back while muting others. See what you have there. The hope is that some combination of tracks is going to strike you as musically interesting.

And that’s blind layering. If you come up with something you like, submit it and I’ll add it to the site with a link to your music page.

Next: Composition by Subtraction

 

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John

John Thomas Mumm has been writing and studying music since 1997. He has recorded hundreds of songs and five self-produced albums. His day job is as an academic philosopher, and in his spare time he writes fiction and brews beer. Most recently, he's started studying the fine art of the cocktail. So far he's finding that the principles of balance in drink mixing aren't completely unrelated to the principles of balance in songwriting.

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