The Last Album Before the End of Time is ScienceNV's third - and clearly our most ambitious - album.
Even before we had finished mastering our second album, we had begun working on material for our third. It's true: we're essentially impatient and anxious to perform new music. We always resurrect our version of a classical piece of music, and we already had our hearts set on recording a remarkable ScienceNV-oid version of Holst's Mars. In addition, The Ring Cycle was mostly written. We tentatively agreed that we were likely to finish writing and recording all of our new music by December 21, 2012; the new album's title emerged almost immediately. (We're pathologic optimists. Of course that's not how it worked out.) In 2011, David was beginning to frequent the Prelinger Library in San Francisco, where artwork of the "Space Age" was archived. Many of our new pieces had astronomical or other scientific themes, so we decided to go with the - um - scientific fiction - theme to tie together everything. Not a lot of envy involved...
We have enjoyed creating our own versions of older orchestral pieces; for our first album, it was Bolero, and our second, Danse Macabre. We have known we wanted to have Mars on our third album for a long time. In fact, during our recording sessions from our last album, Rich and Jim would launch into the classic ostinato, causing raised eyebrows and malodorous remarks. We wanted to create a ScienceNV version of Gustav Holst's masterpiece that was primarily derived from his original orchestral score. We felt other bands (e.g., Emerson, Lake and Powell, King Crimson) had only scratched the surface, grabbing the 5/4 ostinato, rocking out, and then veering a long ways off-course. Holst's original has a complex, remarkable interplay among melodies and symphonic colors, something other prog groups hadn't delved into. Jim took on the (formidable) role of reducing the full orchestral score to something we could perform as a 4-piece ensemble, in the wake of Poseidon... There are a lot of keyboards going during this one! He also took on the challenge of morphing the 5/4 theme into a guitar-thrashing debacle that seemed so appropriate for the "Bringer of War." On a very rainy day, he rented a studio at Sound Matrix in Orange County, cranked up the Marshalls, and promptly strained his back. Very painful! At the beginning of this section, just before Holst is derailed by gunfire, Rich gives a "cymbolic" nod to one of his primary influences as a teenage drummer: the esteemed Michael Giles (In the Court of the Crimson King). Of note, in 1974 Mr. Giles was kind enough to thoughtully answer a letter from the awestruck tennager who was suffering from volcanic acne. To this day, his influence looms large in Rich's approach to rock drumming, as he was one of the truly artistic rock drummers of the 1970s. Unfortunately, Rich's other major influences (Bill Bruford and Phil Collins) still have restraining orders in place which require Rich to keep a distance of at least 500 kilometers (575 nautical) at all times! Oh, and also: This is a faux orchestral piece with an immense dynamic range. Turn it up!!
Larry - bass & guitar; Jim - keys; David - keys; Rich - drums & monstrous percussion
Chinatown (Last Song Before the End of Time) came about in the same manner as Number 5 on our first CD, Really Loud Noises, and H1NV from Pacific Circumstances. It is a reflective jazz piece resulting from three mid-afternoon jam sessions. Often rich musical themes pop up unexpectedly during these sessions and, all too often, are quickly forgotten. But fortunately we record all of our sessions to keep track of our "doodling." The opening synth theme vaguely reminded us of the music from the Roman Polanski movie Chinatown. So that became the working title of the piece and nothing else seemed to supplant it for a primary title. Over the course of a year, we expanded on the melodies, chords and moods. We continued to work on this piece until everything seemed... well, sweet and tasty. There are a lot more jazz chords in this one than we typically use, but that's where the flow of the piece went, as we avoided a number of deadend alleys in Chinatown. The police siren and rainstorm were fun bits that Jim added later. Listen close. Honest.
Larry - guitar; Jim - keys; David - keys; Rich - drums
Jim brought a draft of Molecular Super-Modeling into the studio and a frenetic bass line (and tempo) emerged. It was early 2010, and we were thinking about entitling the piece Hiking the Appalachian Trail, to commemorate Mark Sanford's political implosion. However, by the time we finished working out the leads and breaks, and getting the guitar lines down, the world had moved on and we didn't think anyone would get the joke. It took a while to pull this together - it really cooks, and harks back to Jim's school days in Atlanta. Extra points to anyone who can name the source of the chicken noises.
Larry - guitar; Jim - guitar; David - keys; Rich - drums
Curved Space was initially written by David and then tweaked substantially by Jim in a long session with Sibelius. Weird how software scoring can enable novel changes... later revisions emerged, as always, during rehearsals. Oddly enough, the majority of this piece is in 3/4, with only occasional jaunts into the 4/4 realm. The most difficult part of this piece? The silences! This music runs like the wind (~160 bpm) and, after coming to a full stop is tough when you have that kind of momentum. If we ever release a ScienceNV blooper album, the laughter on the discarded tracks from Curved Space are definitely things one should hear with a glass of wine in hand. Other FYIs: For his eclectic piano lead, Jim is channeling Keith Tippett. And the use of a synth subbass became a matter of pride for David, having played a fretted bass in a previous life.
Larry - guitar; Jim - keys; David - keys; Rich - drums
Composing and then recording Cold Sleep was a lot more like meditating than playing music. Fortunately we limit ourselves to only one ambient piece for each of our albums -- otherwise we'd still be in a trance. It's extremely difficult for us to restrain ourselves during these pieces; gee whiz, we've got a studio packed full of nifty machines, and this sort of soundscape forces us to focus very carefully on a minimum of tones and chords. David in fact constructed a single sustained (albeit huge) chord on his Fantom and played it primarily with the lowpass filter. Jim's Korg 10/8 arppegiator was programmed during one of our jam sessions in 2011. Rich later overdubbed an array of modified Chinese finger cymbals, Balinese cymbal patterns and a sprinkling of Indian sarna bells to enhance the dreamy, otherworldy nature of the piece; but otherwise this is what was recorded in a single take on January 28, 2012. Larry's guitar solo is especially dreamy, apropo Cold Sleep.
Larry - guitar; Jim - guitar; David - knobs; Rich - drums
The Ring Cycle began three or four years ago using themes Jim had developed. However, it didn't really mature until after our second album was finished and we had a chance to work on them together as an ensemble. (The first theme was initially entitled SonderKommando, believe it or not.) However, Galileo, Huygens and Cassini appeared to Jim in a dream and asked that he change all of the titles to honor the Saturnian moons. Including our allusion to Mimas (Stella Mortis). They sound as if they're in radically different orbits, but in fact they share some descending chromatic hints. TITAN is a powerful theme that went through several timbre changes; we built some brilliant operatic moments into Iapetus; Enceladus was an extremely challenging, rapid-fire bass and drum piece. And Stella Mortis was created as a challenge: Jim was told by John Boda, one of his composition mentors, that there were no prog-rock pieces that both were quiet (ppp) and rapid (presto). In addition, we wanted a huge dynamic in it, ala Haydn's Surprise Symphony. As each of these movements could also be a stand-alone piece, our CD also includes each of them as a separate track. The creative wackiness in this 15-minute opus includes new patches from David's MX4 and adept application of pliers to Larry's guitar. Fortunately none of us were hungover that day. What a racket! Even Rich, during his enforced (at gunpoint) convalescence from elbow surgery, spent considerable time exploring and programming his Roland virtual percussion (TD-20 and Handsonic) to come up with unusual sounds, including an array of china cymbals that decorate most of the pieces on this CD. (We're still waiting for Roland's sponsorship check.)
Larry - bass & guitar; Jim - guitar & keys; David - keys; Rich - drums
The development of Atmosphere of the Mind was slow at first. Jim had a very nice guitar lullaby (which opens the track) that David built upon, wanting to a) play rock harpsichord, and b) include a string trio. Rich had wanted to have a sequencer effect built into the piece, so that was worked into yet another reprise of the theme. The most difficult bit was creating a recording environment that sounded like an acoustic chamber ensemble, i.e, concerto de camera. Fortunately we had worked with members of the Real Vocal Chamber Quartet on other projects in the past; after consulting with Alisa Rose (violin), and laying down most of our basic tracks, we felt we could pull it off. Many thanks to Alisa, Dina and Jess for their faux baroque techniques (i.e., minimal vibrato), something that ain't easy when playing with guitar (sometimes a bit sharp during rapid sections) and harpsichord (which is equal-tempered!). The mixing of this huge palette was no small feat: it includes a number of variations, more than 40 tracks, and counterpoint with five voices.
Larry - guitar; Jim - keys; David - keys; Rich - drums; Alisa Rose - violin; Dina Maccabee - viola; Jessica Ivry - cello
As before, we recorded using Digital Performer (no ProTools!) at Fine Vermin Studio up in San Francisco. A new 32-track mixer from Yamaha helped bring some new clarity to the hybrid setup. Jim mixed the album using Sonar down in Orange County (Oakstone Studio). It was mastered by Steve Glaze at Tone Freq in San Jose.
Rich is still using Roland's V-drums, although for this album he had two sets of TD-20 drum "brains" as well as the timpani from his older TD-10 module. The handy Handsonic is still pretty cool.
Jim seemed to put together a different setup every time he drove up to San Francisco for our rehearsal and recording gigs. He is still playing his Juno Di and JP8080. During the two-year writing, rehearsing and recording timeframe for LABET, he transitioned from his JV90 to the JP's replacement, the Jupiter 50. Softsynths included Sampletank, Absynth, and the Juno Di. He continues to use a Digitech RP-255 and RP-1000 for his Ibanez 7-string and Carvin Alan Holdsworth (6-string) guitars. His classical guitar remains anonymous (under witness protection). Pared with the Marshall amps in Mars, Jim is playing a stratocaster. Good fun.
Larry continues to stick with his lovable '63 Strat and Gibson ES 135 through a now ancient Johnson J-Station. His Yamaha steel string makes an appearance during The Ring Cycle and Atmosphere of the Mind. To create more of a live electric guitar ensemble sound in Atmosphere of the Mind Larry mic'd his Gibson through the studio's Fender Champ amp. The Champ never recovered after the session and this remains its final performance. Larry uses a Dunlop 212 glass slide for a little change of pace on one of the Molecular Super-Modeling improvised guitar breaks and, as noted above, needle nose pliers as slide for some ambient madness on The Ring Cycle. Continually surrounded by 5-6 keyboards, Roland V-Drums, and all manner of Roland virtual percussion instruments, Larry still refuses to add guitar synth to his meager arsenal.
David has developed a library of MX-4 and Synplant patches, some of which were happily applied in Mars and other pieces. His trusty K2000 is now 20 years old (gasp), and, for the first time, the Korg K5000 was only used as a controller (great knobs, dude). The workhorses continue to be his Roland Fantom and Yamaha CP33. The old Moog and JUNO-106 were also tastefully applied, although those darned things are getting old, they suck up a lotta watts, don't want to stay in tune, and overheat the studio!
All of the tracking, mixing and mastering was done with 24-bit audio. Jim stayed within the Sonar X1 realm for mixing, using a lot of UAD plug-ins (at least the ones he admitted to). For mastering, Steve used WaveLab and some very, very cool outboard gear that he built.
For our audiophile fans, please note: We have retained a lot of the original dynamic range that was present in the studio when recording. There is definitely a difference between the MP3s and our pristine CD!
Many, many thanks for Rick and Megan Prelinger for opening their appropriation-friendly Library to the public in San Francisco every Wednesday. A special thanks to Megan for helping identify sources for our mid-century science fiction artwork that were the focus of her 2010 book, Another Science Fiction. And of course the Prelinger (Internet) Archives are well-known to anyone looking for video content in the public domain; ScienceNV has made use of the Archives in several music videos.