The simple and most direct answer Is that I don't really know. So his question started me thinking. How does this work? At some level it is just making sounds and then manipulating them and recording the results. There is more to it than that and I can attest from the last video, it doesn't always go smoothly. When I recorded "Unobstructed Time" last month I was well over 5 takes before I had the one that sounded Right. It is painfully obvious when it is Wrong. I can tell one from the other right away. But how and why?
I began playing a brass instrument in band at school. I learned how to read music along with basic theory and composition. Later on in life I switched to drums, playing in almost every type of band that you could imagine. There were rock groups, small jazz combos, high school big band, country... hell I even played in a polka group once. I was young. I needed the money.
So I suspect that when I record these performances my musical background becomes the process on a subconscious level. I begin a project like this by plugging things in to other things and making an interesting sound. Generally there are about four basic sounds in a composition. There is usually some sort of rhythmic element. In this case it is the beeping that comes in early in the piece. This repetitive part was the idea that I had to anchor the piece. At the beginning I "tune in" the signal from the Muse, and then let the inspiration take me where it will.
There are two schools of thought about inspiration. One is that you are channeling your deepest, inner most self through your music, painting or sculpture. The other holds that inspiration is broadcasting from the Universe at large and that the creative person is able to tap these signals and translate them in to a painting, song, or poem. For myself I believe it is some combination of the two. There are times when I have an overpowering urge to get in to the Command Center and explore. There is no way to explain where it comes from or what it is. There are other times when I can tell that trying to do anything will result in frustration. The inspiration is not there. The Muse has gone out for a drink with friends and I have nothing.
I began this recording with 5 sounds. When I played back this take I was surprised at how it flowed with dynamics and evolving layers. There are no overdubs or post production edits. The only thing I did in mixing the audio was add a bit of reverb to one part and do a little level control to keep one part form drowning out the other parts.
The basic sounds are as follows. The beeping part comes from the EMW 200. Then there is a long loop of auto traffic noise on the SP-404 that was fed to the ring mod effect on the 404. An Eico solid state sine generator is being played through a guitar effect chain and amp simulation. A random sample/hold pattern in to a Moog ring modulator, then a tape delay effect. And finally, one patch on the Ensoniq SD-1. As I assemble the sounds for a composition I think that I am sort of EQ-ing as I go. The second sound I make has to work with the first and so on. I end up with all of these sounds running at the same time and I have to be sure that they all stand out in their own space, I try to get the panning and other effects all working before recording begins. Then I play with things for awhile. This is to get an idea of what might happen if I make any radical changes to any of the control settings and how such changes might be used in the performance.
I recorded three stereo tracks. One for the Ensoniq, one for the Eico, and one from a sub mixer that had everything else routed through it. This video performance was take two. In some ways I liked take one very much, but the level of one of the parts was out of hand and there was no way to fix it in post since it was in the sub mixed group.
Once the sounds and audio levels are sorted out I set up the camera, put on the lab coat and hit record. There is a lot going on at the same time and it does take some concentration to keep it from getting out of control. But I am playing this live. Improvising. I once received a very nice letter from a composer in Canada who congratulated me on the "organic quality" of the programming on Creatures from Beyond. He wanted to know how I achieved it. I wrote back and thanked him and explained that it sounded organic because it was me just "playing" the sounds in real time. My process is pretty much the same when I am recording a track for an album or a video.
I have always had a struggle with not taking myself seriously enough. There are so many electronic music composers who write lengthy essays about their Work using lots of words like didactic, metaphysical, and angst. This always comes across to me as pretentious, pseudo intellectual breast beating. As a result I have a hard time using words like art in relation to what I do. I know that it is art on some level, but I don't want to sound like a self important twat. So I can explain in general terms how to set up a project for recording, but once I hit record it becomes a bit more mysterious. Is there something in my head that needs to get out? Is there a feeling or idea in the vast Universe that has to be routed through my imagination as raw sound? Am I just making noise?
I don't have the answer. But in a way, isn't that the point?