'Delectable Machinery' - Individual Song Breakdowns


Individual Song Breakdowns

...But first, a bit about 'Delectable' in general. Although I began composing this in late July in the same year of the record's release, the genesis probably came about several weeks earlier and is the overall result of several things converging. Firstly, I had hired an old high school pal named James Bratten to play bass on a tune that was to be featured on another solo EP entitled 'Fall and Response'. This particular tune had an R&B'ish, neo-soul sorta vibe and I wrote really barebones bass parts; I needed a player who could decorate it and make it sound authentic. Jay not only did this in his choice of notes but also in his incredible tone. He really blew me away, so much so that it stuck with me and made me want to compose more stuff just to hire him!

A few months prior to this occurrence, I was on tour in Europe with my band Darkest Hour. We were sharing an extremely crowded bus with three other bands+crew, one of which were the headliners, Havok. After some late-night lounge hangs, I found that Dave—singer/guitarist—and I shared a lot of common musical interests. Since high school I had known about this band called Zapp and their principal songwriter Roger Troutman because of a hilarious skit on Chris Rock's 'Bigger and Blacker' CD, but wasn't terribly familiar with their actual music. One night, Dave was dancing to his boom box-phone outside of a closed venue awaiting bus call and I was struck by a song that I later found out was "Dance Floor". After I got back from said tour, I made it a point to begin digesting the Zapp discography and fell in love. 'Zapp II' is an especially perfect album in my eyes; I purchased this later in the same month of receiving Jay's bass track.

A necessary, related sidebar: I've always had an inexplicable attraction to the sci-fi subgenre/aesthetic that is 'cyberpunk'. Video games or movies—hell, it could be the campiest flick (ahem, Johnny Mnemonic, ahem) and I'd still adore it. However, when it came to the literature, I was remiss and embarrassingly unscholarly. I sought to rectify this and purchased William Gibson's Neuromancer along with 'Zapp II'. Not only did I absolutely love it, but it prompted me to re-listen to some old cyberpunk video game OSTs: in particular, 'Snatcher' and 'Rise of the Dragon', both games I experienced during my beloved Sega CD gaming days.

At this point, I could begin to feel the creative juices bubbling over; it becomes nigh tangible at times. I was experiencing a lull in session work while waiting on tracks from other musicians for 'Fall and Response' (so I could start vocal pre-pro). I was keeping myself busy in the interim, and one night—while rehearsing for my Miles Davis "Dr. Jackle" cover/interpretation—I stumbled onto a groove that became the lit match thrown onto all of the aforementioned 'inspirational kindling'; this is the groove that starts the album, in "The Opulence of Static".


"The Opulence of Static" (tempi of synths prior to entry of drums: 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 102, 106, 110, 114, 118, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 106, 108, then 110 at 1:01, 1:12 at 1:40, 100 at 2:41, 'linear decrease' to 98 from 4:07 to 4:17, 96 at 4:26, 114 at 4:32, 110 at 4:57)

The album opener begins with the closing accentual sound effect of 'Silly String II' and fades into two blended noises. One is the sound of water filling the toilet in my studio; it's a very peculiar sound, and it was sped up in Pro Tools then filtered through a Soundtoys EchoBoy effect. The other is a field recording from somewhere on tour—probably from the inside of a tour bus speeding down the road while everyone but myself is asleep. This segues into the first riff/progression of the album, something that is quoted again later.

This A section is underpinned with the faint sounds of birds chirping (taken in Naples, Florida while mixing 'Finite II' with Patrick Campbell) and various machinery/factory sounds; the right channel seems to be in key with the pitch of my ride cymbal, an inadvertent delight. The B section/chorus features some blended synth sounds from the Minimoog Model D app, a tool that I used all over this album. I had to actually perform these parts in real time on a small iPhone SE—excruciatingly difficult in some moments! Jay's bass fill-in at 2:04 is stank nasty.

Skipping slightly ahead, the C section sees yet another tempo change along with a feel change, from heavy 8ths/16ths to shuffled 16th triplets. I manually snipped the audio of those synth notes to shorten then lengthen. There's some beatboxing that leads directly into a 'metric-modulated' groove on the drums, then a lo-fi breakbeat with a filter sweep that leads into a heavy double bass shuffle groove. This culminates when it segues into the full-on double bass at 3:29. I had to pay homage to Neuromancer by reading a few lines during the bridge, plus it adds a patina of drama. The high synth melody throughout this whole C section is critical, and another component that's later quoted. The last chorus/B section also contains some bits that are reprised in the very end of the record.


"Brief Grief" (147 BPM)

This is the first of three interlude pieces. As mentioned above, my re-delving into old video game OSTs inspired this approach to writing; I hadn't ever before. I ended up using nearly the same combination of instruments/synths on each interlude track, and all three are the same tempo (although with differing feels and time signatures). This one is chiefly inspired by "J.U.N.K.E.R. HQ" from the 'Snatcher' OST.


"Bolas Calientes" (109 BPM, 104 BPM at 2:21, 109 BPM at 3:38)

Being that their albums served as a wellspring of inspiration for this, I had to have a Zapp throwback. This one borrows from "Dance Floor": the vocal emphases, the clap/stomp track (along with the huge reverb on some of the hits), and obviously the Moog synth. This tune is the reason I purchased the Model D app to begin with, haha. My original bass track in the A sections basically just followed the synth and Jay really livened it up. I don't think he usually slaps/pops but this impelled him to do so, hah! Jeff Siegfried played my sax arrangement beautifully, with a hint of playful rhythmic reinterpretation in the first solo.

The B sections are based around a drum groove I stumbled onto one night whilst improvising. The polymetric relationship between the drums/bass and synth brass/Moog are the right amount of interesting, without being excessive. The first B section is capped off with the same pattern on all of the instruments, played faster at their appropriate, respective triplet subdivision.

The C section progression was inspired by late 90s southern 'bounce' hip-hop: the first track on Hot Boys 'Guerrilla Warfare', in specificity. I told Greg to let loose and cut a solo there. He gave me multiple takes, so I panned one portion entirely to the left channel and buried it slightly in the mix—subliminal soloing! The bass solo is a combination of both Jay's and my own ideas.

The outro is obviously from where the title is derived, and I don't really have much of an explanation for it other than a funny phrase that popped into my head. I remember being on the phone with my best friend Elliot, just after I cut the original vocal. His wife Hazel is Spanish, so I figured that I should maybe consult with her on the proper pronunciation. Her aid was vital in removing some of the Whiteness and spicing up my approach, hehe.


"Rampant Inspection" (147 BPM)

The second interlude piece. The title is an allusion to representing a tense search for clues or a suspect.

"Iridescent Polygonal Reveries" (125 BPM, 'linear decrease' to 120 BPM from 1:47 to 1:52, 118 BPM at 2:02, 125 BPM at 3:03)

Perhaps one of my more melodic songs, I am not sure if I can pinpoint a main source of inspiration as I can with some of the others. It starts with a lick culled from some drum improv I filmed on my phone. I notated and repeated this one excerpted lick for three bars, then finished it out in the song as I did very similarly in the clip. Much later, I added the 'swirling' panning trick with the filter sweep.

The transitional sections from 0:55 to 1:12 as well as the 'blast' pattern at 1:14 are all also taken from some random improv. Sub drop at 1:14 for emphasis, hah. I added some character to the charang lead with Little Alterboy at 1:41 - 1:46—such a wild plug-in! The D section/bridge was inspired by some moments in the 'Rise of the Dragon' OST. Oh, and I even used Neuromancer to record the rapid page turning effect that starts at 2:39. Finally, the low, rumbling sound underneath the bell solo is from a field recording taken inside of an airplane sitting on the tarmac. Headed back to the last A section, the sound from 3:03 - 3:10 is an op amp in my bus compressor dying.


"Cryptodearth" (147 BPM)

The third interlude piece. I snipped a lot of audio in the drum tracks to create a jarring effect, and there's another good ol' filter sweep at 0:31. I like the one rascally synth lead—in the right channel—that I re-amped with a patch from GarageBand.


"Disturb a Deterrent" (86 BPM, 82 BPM at 5:29)

Figuring that I wanted another funky tune on the record—so that "Bolas" wasn't the only jam—I recalled this ancient Guitar Pro demo that my friend Jacob had composed, and my positive memory of it. Surprisingly, it was still in my e-mail, so I downloaded it and found it to be as enjoyable as before, but it needed a solidified arrangement and maybe another part. Jacob was highly generous and let me do my thing. He actually had another revised demo of the song with a different feel, and sent that along to me. I ended up using each approach and every part in both demos, adding the drum solo/vamp section at 2:52 - 4:18 and lots of other various little layers and decorations. This is a very ornate mix—lots of fun ear candy!

The conception of this lies in an utterly insane story, although it's pretty standard fare for Jacob. He was hooking up with some chick while on tour as the vocalist for Divine Heresey. One night, they were both high on meth and beginning to come down. In order to procure more drugs, someone had the bright idea to call the dealer over (Jacob would leave), and she would seduce him. At some point, he'd burst back in and catch them, rendering the dealer so unnerved and mortified that he would hopefully scramble to leave and forget about the drugs/payment. While he was away from the scene, he started composing the first draft at an internet cafe of all places (he later initiated the second draft when in more of a 'normal'/sober state). The plan was a success, by the way.

This track features my ol' standby Cameron McLellan on bass guitar. I was ruthless in my arrangement and knew he'd knock it out without blinking (he also added two slick licks at 4:26 - 4:28 and 4:57/58). Also featured is the same guitarist from "Bolas", Greg Loman. I've known Greg for many years, as he was Thomas Murphy's—the original bassist in Periphery—pal (another fun fact: he also played guitar and bass on "Lollygag (Clown Nose)" from the original 'Silly String' EP). Greg added some double-tracked harmonies on the acoustic guitar as well as the mandolin arrangement—from scratch—that I LOVE. Another 'Orbin standby', Ben Rachbach, is on the piano. Because of scheduling on both ends, I did not allot much time to Ben to rehearse this one, so kudos to him! Finally, Sinha Fürbeck is on vocals. I found Sinha on Instagram randomly years back, and also met her briefly by total chance in Europe while on tour. In Jacob's original demo, he used a synth programmed with very high notes to represent a female vocalist. I sought to replicate his original vision and took to Instagram to post a short clip of the highest notes in the tune in search of a vocalist. Sinha responded and was a consummate pro, providing double-tracked portions and harmonies and even video of her doing so! Jacob also provided some screams for me for the end, which I filtered through a bunch of various effects; it ended up sounding wholly brutal! The square synth lead at the end was re-amped through like eight different filters/effects and layered for tons of character. As for sound design decorations, I tracked a strange vocal thing to accent the snare at 5:03 - 5:12, threw in some sub-drops at 5:39 and 6:31, added the sound of a giant metal apartment complex door (it's from my friend Elliot's place in Brooklyn) slamming shut to further emphasize Jacob's scream and the second sub-drop, and also 'played' a dog bowl full of water and cut up the audio to follow the closing bass riff... well, as best as it could sound, haha. Highly interesting texture, methinks.


"My Machine Dreams" (82 BPM)

The outro tempo and the final note of "Disturb a Deterrent" are used as segues into this song, which has the distinction of being my first stab at ambient music and as well as the lastly-composed piece. Long after I had finished my role in "35 Going on Infinity" and saw it begin to come together, I experienced one last sudden burst of inspiration to craft this, which would serve as a prelude to "35". This mix is even more embellished than "Disturb", with tons of various synth patches, some Model D synths, various little sound bytes recorded with my phone, and a few things that I recorded especially for it. I'll inventory some of them: giant bucket of water being poured into a bathtub at 0:00, various people/crew from Darkest Hour snoring in the left channel at 0:10 (and sporadically throughout), my dog Opie snoring in the right at 0:27 (and sporadically throughout), the sound of a dog's collar when it is shaking at 2:23, and my own nonsensical vocals at 1:32, 1:47, 2:52, and 3:38.

This piece is comprised of a mere four chords. The fourth/highest is only present twice, in its most climactic moments; most of it is three chords, the same progression from "The Opulence of Static" and the same three that run throughout all of "35". I also referenced some of the low synth progression from "Opulence" and "35" at 1:53 - 2:08, and the high synth progression that first rears its face in the bridge of "Opulence" at 3:00 - 3:22.

Appearing on vocals and guitar are Minou Alirezazadeh and Alina Levanova, respectively. I met Minou by chance on tour and later found out she was a very talented singer. I wanted to collaborate with her and told her she could do anything she wanted with this. She enlisted the help of her friend Alina (whom I've never met) to write some sparse guitar. When I received their tracks, I cut up what they did and sprinkled it in as I saw fit. I greatly enjoy their contributions; they added more character and texture and elevated the general dynamic. Bravissimo!


"35 Going on Infinity" (drum chart - click to see tempo markings)

My original intention was for 'Delectable Machinery' to be an EP. This song—or whatever you want to label it, heh—changed that. The initial plan for this was to loop the low-synth-driven progression (along with the chords) that opens "Opulence", and I'd play a drum solo over it for an 'undesignated' amount of time. That's pretty much it. The song had (has) a very brief intro and about a forty-second-long outro, but the crux of it was to be the drum solo.

Over four nights, I tracked and filmed myself playing about a half-hour of improv each night. On the first two nights I utilized the setup that's on most of the record and improvised at the following tempi: 102, 122, 142, 164, 175, 180, 190, 204 (with a mostly 16th-triplet feel). On the third night, I switched to a higher-pitched snare, pitched up the tom-toms and kick, and removed most of the cymbals. On the fourth night I drank an entire bottle of red wine and removed the toms and all but the ride and left-side hats and placed a tambourine atop the hats. I improvised without a click on the third and fourth nights.

After racking up such a wealth of material and being inundated with choice, I figured it'd just be an 'extra-long-song'. But it just kept growing and growing and growing. Then, I happened to look at a text document of dumb song titles I had saved and noticed the one that is now the title of this chaos. I kept plowing forth. It took ten days of staring into a computer for 12-18 hours.

I began corresponding with my pal/associate Greg Greenberg while I was knee-deep in editing. His playing with Instar always struck me, and I wanted to hire him for something at some point. Because his role in this became so pivotal and such an anchor for everyone else to base their parts around, I requested that he chime in:

"When Travis asked if I'd care to supply a bass track for his next solo LP, I was suitably gleeful.

I figured 5-7 minutes, memorize the feel of the craziest fills, accent every kick and snare hit, steer clear of the flams and ghost notes. The early directive was: dirge-like, psychedelic. I can do that.

So I get the files and some more extensive notes and am confronted with 35 minutes of material; 10 different tempos, frequent tempo changes. There's also some synth parts, in particular four chord swells that snake their way through the whole thing over and over.

The thing is, I'm a full-time graduate student, and my free time is pretty slim.

The challenge here was how to get it done in 7'ish weeks with very limited tracking opportunities; and how to make it sound both coherent and engaging. Dividing total track time by 7 weeks told me how much track needed knocking out per day. Given how eclectic the drumming is, and knowing in advance that it would feature at least two soloists, I opted for a "less is more" approach. I constructed a 16-bar template progression and ran it in 4 variations; leaned heavily on add-9 and 7 voicings so some passages were jazzier, other spots leaned on voicings that sound more brooding (Mj 6). Other areas, I subtracted out most of the roots to create more space. The constancy of the bass parts in contrast with the variety in the drum parts felt like a gamble, but in the end it felt like it paid off.

I'm very grateful I got to be a part of this. Also grateful that Travis nudged me towards throwing in some more active, foreground type figures, those slap parts were fun as hell."

While Greg was doing his thing, I was feeding his output to my buddy and Darkest Hour band mate Aaron Deal. Deal has a very synth-heavy solo project and is another musician I've had my eye on, collaboration-wise. I decided he'd be perfect for this. You can check out the gear he ended up using in this post. I had also begun scouting—with the aid of my friend Gabriel Riccio—for a saxophonist, which proved to be a mini-tribulation to lock down.

By the time I had finally found Patrick Kelly, Deal and Greg had a good chunk of the song drafted. I sent what they had over to Pat and Gabe and they tracked together at Gabe's apartment. Pat did FOUR takes of the entire 36 tune—wow! I had two days' worth of work ahead of me, comping a master sax track and doing a quick mixdown for the other guys. As soon as that task was finished, I got Mr. Rafael Trujillo on the Instagram-horn and asked if he'd be intrigued. Praise da lawd he was! I sent him all of the materials that I had and he sent back a dazzling, masterfully-performed guitar track.

This song, this experiment, this THING could've easily turned into a disaster or been relegated to a giant Drum Masturbation Fest, but because everyone involved has such a high degree of musicality and is such a damn pro, we now have something that I think will be both interesting and inspiring to listen to forevermore. Seriously. This is one of the coolest things I've ever done, and it wouldn't have happened without the these guys.

"35" ends with a slower reprise of the last chorus of "Opulence", with an added bit of bedlam to appropriately cap off the end of the album. Thanks for reading.

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