Writing for this album began in 2007 - really, before we had even finished our first album - and recording commenced shortly afterwards. Most of the rehearsals, writing and recording took place at Fine Vermin Studios in San Francisco, but additional recording, mixing and mastering also occurred at Ancrod Studio (Millbrae) and Oakstone Studio (Huntington Beach). We've been working together as ScienceNV for 5 years now; our writing and performance as an ensemble has evolved quite a bit, and we are really proud of Pacific Circumstances!
We love playing ScienceNV stuff, but we don't take ourselves very seriously. Life is too darned short. For our last album we had a lot of folks asking about how we went about our writing and recording. In fact, we were impressed that so many people were listening so closely! So this time around, we are providing some informal remembrances from the last three years of work:
H1NV7 began as a 7/8 figure that Jim dropped into our laps during our July 2009 rehearsals and it quickly became one of our favorite construction projects. David kept hearing a melodic figure that started in the middle of the measure (?!), and fortunately Larry and Rich figured out a way to keep all of this together despite the rhythmic schizophrenia. During the subsequent 9 months, each time we worked on H1NV7 it... well... mutated. Always anxious to make sense of our melodic interchanges, we decided to let the piece morph into a multi-movement monster. Even the middle interlude with applause and laughter seemed to fit in nicely with the acerbic melodies, so we kept building. Jim and David had been experiementing with Absynth and mellotron soft synths; the resulting cacophonic Absynth patch was recorded in a single take during one of our rehearsals - yes, it really makes that much noise with 16 controllers. No overdubs. Many thanks to freesound artists sageturtle, suoho, and lonemonk who contributed discussion, laughter and applause to H1NV7.
Larry - electric bass & guitar; Jim - guitar; David - keys; Rich - drums
Danse Macabre was originally written in 1872 by Camille Saint-Saens for voice and piano, but was expanded in 1874 to full orchestra. We enjoyed developing our prog rock version of Bolero for our first album and we wanted to take on another ambitious classical-ish piece that would really let us expand our sonic pallete. Initial attempts at the end of 2008 arose from Sant-Saens' piano version, but we quickly realized that the orchestral version, with its array of textures and ornamentation, was more familiar to us and much better suited to the flights of fancy that ScienceNV is known for. The final version of this piece resulted from multiple hours of rehearsal while we developed our own orchestration and a dramatic "arc" that would tell a story: Should the guitar be accompanied here? Should the keyboard patches be conventional samples of orchestras, or custom-programmed craziness? If Sant-Saens were alive, would he be upset with us, mildly amused, or ecstatic? And does it matter? What phrases in the original score should be retained, where could we insert some improvisation? Should we truncate some measures? We are proud of the final amalgam; we really dug deep for this. Listen closely to the "fugue" section (beginning around 2min) and you can hear Larry, David and Jim sweating from the "tongue-twisters"...
Larry - guitar; Jim - keys; David - keys; Rich - drums & percussion
Morning Jump was a piece originally written by Jim that became a showpiece for our tour in 2007. We had never made time to work it up in the studio, at least not before our release of Really Loud Noises. Since we were pretty comfortable with our live arrangement, we decided to take it up a notch and especially give Rich a chance to expand on his percussion solos, something he did a bit in our live tour but the recording sessions gave him some time to work up truly novel chops. The main rhythm is very close to a traditional samba, so Rich developed a batucada interlude that worked seamlessly. Jim is playing bass in this one, for those who need to know such things. And many thanks to Betsy who learned David's synth lead and then made it into a remarkable violin solo.
Larry - guitar; Jim - synth bass & percussion; David - keys; Rich - drums & percussion
Jim brought his ideas for Conflicted into the studio in 2008 and the rest of us were pretty intimidated. This thing moves! The great thing about having unlimited Fine Vermin studio time is that we had more than a year to work with the piece, everyone contributing sections, arrangements, and their own special sauce. By the time we had most of it written and rehearsed well enough for recording, we were all pushing the tempo and contributing to the mayhem. We had also gained some weight, as we had lots of sessions and we always eat well when we work... Conflicted actually became an orchestration challenge, not unlike Danse Macabre, as our choices of timbre became so important for the emotional rollercoaster that it became. Thank god for Sibelius and electronic scores in general. Musicologists: the extremely strange harmonies in the "shuffle" section are mostly, but not all, tritones. Percussionists: Rich contributed a record number of drum tracks (40?!) by using two V-drums brains and an excessive number of controllers. Where's his check from Roland? Therapists: Thanks for the memories.
Larry - electric bass, guitar; Jim - guitar; David - keys; Rich - drums
Quadrapole reflects how much we enjoy variety in our writing and recording. Out of all of the cuts from our last album, Violet Sky/Carnival seemed to provoke the widest number of comments and questions. We love these sorts of soundscape improvisations, and in fact we audition a number of them in the studio. Ultimately, however, we believe each of our albums only has room for one spacey piece like this. Musicians familiar with multitrack recording will be surprised to learn that there were no overdubs required after recording Quadrapole: this is pretty much what happened, without warning or planning, on February 15, 2009. Larry is playing bass, Jim is playing guitar and mellotron, Rich is using his Handsonic (another Roland royalty check, please) and David is barely restraining himself with analog drones from his old JUNO-106. And we finally got a video made for Quadrapole.
Larry - electric bass; Jim - guitar; David - keys; Rich - drum synths
Jim began writing Devil in Witches' Toes as soon as we realized we would be embarking on another album voyage. For those of you who were lucky enough to watch us play Devil in Witches' Hands live during 2007, well, this is an inevitable sequel. We were all challenged by the relentless pace of this crazy piece, but... stretch goals are so California, don't you think? Rehearsals began in June 2008. Jim and David are playing two tall stacks of keyboards while Rich and Larry are holding things down with drums and bass guitar, respectively. Once that was all working properly, we laid down all of the basic parts and solos in an inspired single take (early 2009). We then took advantage of the recording paradigm: Rich put down some additional latin percussion and gave Larry a spot for his daredevil guitar solo. Jim and David also made sure they had some overdubs too (just listen to the end of David's synth solo). The result is a very, very dense recording that will reward multiple listens. Those who are melodically inclined will hear all of the themes simultaneously in the finale. And hey, how about that 7/4 opening?
Larry - electric bass, guitar; Jim - guitar; David - keys; Rich - drums & percussion
For the record, Billy Burrough's Brain (affectionately known as BBB) was not Rich's favorite piece. It was part of our live act in 2007 and a riot to perform. It was obnoxious enough that someone in the audience always hated it. It's true that we appreciate small things like this; something to strive for, some might say. Once we started developing it in the studio, however, the parody really started evolving. Our sense of humor is definitely evident here. Even considered vocals for the first time... We actually had quite a few iterations on melodies and countermelodies as we worked this one up; inevitably, many of the melodic counterpoints didn't make the cut. The one thing that hasn't changed since it was first played live is David's bass line. The 6/4 meter keeps things rolling. (Jim would like to apologize to Brian Eno for his synth anti-solo, but Brian won't return his calls.)
Larry - guitar; Jim - keys; David - synth bass; Rich - drums
David started hearing the basic theme for The Ouroborus Variations during a driving trip through Death Valley to Jim's cabin in Utah during May of 2007. At the time, he was reading far too many philosophical texts and had just become a resident of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. The combination resulted in delirium, indigestion and The Ouroborus Variations - seven, to be exact. During the following year we worked up variations on the Variations, with lots of instrumentation choices again, but this series of movements seemed to write themselves. And while the melodies are rich enough for bouts of longing and contemplation, the third and fifth movements are pretty darned enjoyable rock milestones for us. David is playing bass, Jim is on keyboards (a lot of them). Rich is playing drums and percussion. Larry is playing guitar, including the opening movement of loops that was recorded at 3am while his wife slept. And for those of you who listen for odd meters: the fifth movement is written in 15/8! There are seven Variations:
II. The Soul Beckons
IV. The Soul Returns
V. Fifteen 'til Midnight
VI. Personality Defect
VII.The Soul Rests
And we finally got three videos made for these movements!
Larry - guitar; Jim - guitar, synth bass, percussion & keys; David - synth bass & keys; Rich - drums
Our equipment hasn't changed much since our last album, although we've got more of them. If you'd like to know something about our instrumentation, send us a note and we'll be glad to explain (if we can!).
Recorded using Digital Performer and Sonar (no ProTools!). And for those of you who adore brickwall compression, well, sorry, Jim's mixing and mastering efforts took advantage of 24-bit digital dynamics of the new millenium. More listening: