Composing The Belfer Suite

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CS² Recordings released my EP, The Belfer Suite, today, after three years of it sitting in an ironic limbo. I was originally asked to compose the music, for the video series which emerged out of Syracuse University’s Replay Symposium on Sampling, for which I was a participant. Because the event was coordinated in association with the school’s Belfer Audio Archive, home of one of the country’s finest collections of Edison Cylinders, it was thought to be a good tie in to compose music using samples from the collection.

I spent over a week going through the wide assortment of songs and performances from the early twentieth century. My ear for sampling is a bit different than I think even they anticipated. I wasn’t looking for the standard four bar loop sample which could be repurposed vis a vis an 808 and some hi-hats into the sound of today. Rather I was listening from a sound design perspective for a collection of timbres that would be fun to play.

This was well after I had (for the time) perfected my heads process of composition and was transitioning into the performance side of the practice. As such I needed samples to perform with. In the end I had collected less than a dozen different sounds from variety of the Belfer sources, and began tuning my other performance instruments around them. These are the first two steps in the heads process, where composition begins with the selection of instruments to suit the overall tonality.

From there I went through a couple of days practice just playing with the sounds in their new unified context; flushing out how they worked together, experimenting with how they move with and into each other, and discovering the first touches of what would become the four heads that comprise this suite.

After a day or two of more practice I finally began tracking live takes. Over three hours of takes, multi-tracked so that each of the sounds in the palate would have their own space to be mixed later. Those takes were edited down to fifteen minutes and the multi-tracks taken to Takuma Kanaiwa’s studio where we overdubbed guitar, synare and other live electronics which were all mixed down into the suite presented in this release.

The goal with the suite was to present a complete work for which the use of sampling to the ear is subtle but was essential to the composition. All of the melodies, rhythms and even harmonic relationships here are attributable directly back to those collection of samples, even when the samples themselves aren’t readily identifiable. For me that is at the core of transformative sampling, and the results here I believe speak to the creative possibilities.

The Belfer Suite is out now on CS² Recordings.

Written by avanturb

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