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Re-release notes: Aprosody’s Ignition Etudes (and beyond)

Posted by r on February 21, 2012

“Chafing may result from extended exposure. This is intentional.”
– From the original liner notes, Aprosody – Ignition Etudes, 2000

(edit cleanup 3.19.13: This post is a Behind the Music post all about a relatively unforgiving ambient-drone-metal album I recorded in 2000 under the fake band name Aprosody and “reissued” in 2012 on my main music-releasin’ website, As usual, I have a lot more to say about it than most people will probably want to read.)

One of the first old projects I’m putting back up on is the Loss Foundation’s very first formal release as a fake label, a record I made under the fake-band name Aprosody in 2000. It’s available once again, as in right this very second, for download and online streaming. The downloadable versions (with separate versions in FLAC and v0 MP3) also include the full original album artwork and lyric sheet in the .zip files.

Titled Ignition Etudes, this not-exactly-metal record was a full-length experiment with a relatively rigid set of compositional and timbral rules, and was actually released in very limited numbers on very-official-looking CD (even reviewed once long ago in actual hold-it-in-your-hand print, by an ultimately quite perplexed reviewer). It hasn’t been available for download since 2004– mostly because I tore the whole Loss Foundation site down for silly reasons at that time, and just didn’t have the archived IE files handy in front of me when I put things back up online in characteristically slapdash manner 4.5 years later.

Ignition Etudes requires a fair amount of precursory explanation and a relatively specific set of listening conditions before it can be semi-enjoyed. That’s always been kind of the whole problem with this record, of course, if not a great deal of art or quasi-art music out there. Having to read things in advance to “get it” is a big turnoff for a huge segment of the potential listening audience.

I stand by IE and still very much enjoy the music on it, at least most of it… but it was definitely an experimental record in some senses, and I’m aware that it’s a little unforgiving and self-indulgent.

12 years on, I don’t really even know where to place this thing genre-wise; I’m torn between just calling it an “experimental minimalist metal” record and namechecking all the sonic elements and subgenres (trip-hop, shoegaze, grindcore, lo-fi, vintage musique concrete / acousmatic styles, ambient…) that are, to me anyway, equally important ingredients in the blend.

(More explanation / history and a bunch of individual song links, both from and outside the record, after the jump.)

Godflesh was probably the most obvious influence on the finished product (in opening the source files back up for the first time in years, I laughed to find my working song directories were often named along the lines of “godflesh lives 3”). But I still find that band’s influence on IE more, uh, spiritual in nature rather than anything truly palpable on the surface. I doubt Justin Broadrick would accuse me of ripping him off.

Ignition Etudes is hardly Metal Machine Music to me; it’s (usually) got way too much of a head-nod groove and directed sense of pitch for that comparison to hold any water. But I can see how someone might feel similarly toward this record as they might toward MMM regardless, and I had at least one brutally honest friend who made that direct comparison around the time of the project’s creation.

Aprosody began like so many of my other “projects”– as a single morning’s dumb experiment in February 2000. This was to eventually be released as the album’s second track, “Fluorescent Lights.”

The elements of “Fluorescent Lights” came together entirely by accident, starting with my willful misuse and abuse of a brand new guitar effects processor. Through purposely-incorrect effects routing, I stumbled upon a unique, harsh, lo-fi, stupidly thick ‘n’ sludgy guitar tone that I really enjoyed.

After jacking about with this newly-created guitar tone for about 30 minutes, I set about making a short / lazy goofball demo with just a drum loop, this ridiculous guitar tone, and a minimalist riff. But I discovered quite quickly that I had to equally distort and digitally mangle just about everything else in the mix too, or else it all sounded way too squeaky clean in comparison to the crusty digi-chuzz guitars.

The song was basically done in a few hours. Even though it was really just a goof, I really liked certain aspects of the end product, and immediately continued sonic experiments in a similar vein. Soon I had come up with a basic recording formula for those experiments proceeding logically from the multiple happy accidents that generated “Fluorescent Lights”:

1. Take a vintage funk drum break, slow it down, and decimate / gate / distort the ever-living shit out of it. Let run forever.

2. Power up the effects processor and turn on the Magic Accidentally-Generated Chuzz Sound. Come up with a huge dumb guitar riff or three that sound(s) decent over the top of the loop.

3. Add layers of carefully controlled ambient / incidental noise through higher-pitched guitar tracks, live sound manipulation through crazy knob-laden effects, and/or my personal favorite “sonic fragmentation” program Granulab (using previously-recorded guitar tracks as a source for Granulab).

4. Add (largely spoken) vocals, with lyrics generated by feeding important / personal texts to anagram generators and through multiple Babelfish translation / retranslation passes (to parallel the Granulab fragmentation of sound; one important thing to me in retrospect is that so many of the songs are effectively about my pining for other, older relationships in the midst of an actually-ongoing one with someone else, but their “meaning” is totally covered up by the “Babelfish-magnetic-poetry” approach to lyric writing).

5. Dehumanize the vocal recordings as much as reasonable through automated pitch manipulation / modification (yes, this record has plenty of Autotune! it wasn’t totally played out in 2000), distortion, and/or ring modulation. Mix them so low that you can barely perceive that someone is talking / singing in there somewhere.

It was the last element that inspired the “band’s” name. I was taking a course in music cognition at the time, and shortly after I began these home-studio experiments, a rare condition called aprosody had come up in class… definition: a neurological disorder that prevented any pitch inflection of the spoken voice to parallel or convey one’s emotions. Well, whaddaya know.

And so, Aprosody the “band” was born!

I set about trying to create more of what sounded to me like the dystopian metal of the empty, emotionless future… scratch that, an Impressionist’s rendering of the dystopian metal of the empty, emotionless future.

…Or at least that’s as close as I can come to describing the intended aesthetic of early Aprosody to someone else. I was going very much for a particular conveyance of atmosphere as I worked, and I’m not good at putting it into words… the feeling of headbanging in a dust storm while stuck in a K-hole? Something like that. I’m rarely terribly synesthesic, but I was definitely seeing lots of ugly earth tones– browns, dull / soupy greens, hazy tans– as I worked on this music. And seeing them, I chose to pursue them.

Now that I had my basic parameters / sound / aesthetic, the rest of the tracks were not nearly so fast in the making as “Fluorescent Lights” had been. “All Frequencies”– probably the single most accessible song on the record– took the better part of two or three solid days. Work on most of the tracks was begun in February / March but not fully completed until August as I tried to solve various problems, particularly with the mix.

That, by the way, is worth pointing out; the mix on Ignition Etudes was a total bitch, probably the single hardest mixing project I’ve ever taken on.

The liner notes for Ignition Etudes instruct that the listener should set up their stereo without EQ and for a volume of greater than 90dB in-room. This is not because I WANT EVERYONE TO ROCK OUT etc.; it’s because the mix– specifically, the listener’s ability to actually consistently perceive pitch and instrumental separation within that mix– is really, really fragile on this record. Things often fall completely apart and become pure noise on Ignition Etudes if the bass / treble is boosted from baseline / flat levels, or especially if the volume is too low.

This “fragility” and requirement for high volumes is pretty much the opposite of what you normally go for with a mixdown. With the v1 Aprosody sound and intended “aesthetic”, though, it was seemingly unavoidable. Either I totally ruined the intended effect / atmosphere of the music by removing some of the noise-haze, or I had a mix that only worked when played flat and loud as hell.

I hadn’t heard Ignition Etudes myself for many years until yesterday. On the first listen, which I took on at a typically moderate volume, I kept thinking that I should really go back and remix at least half of these songs before re-release (which would be a huge pain; they were recorded in a program called Vegas that I haven’t used in years, and since the file format for that program is proprietary, what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas).

On the second re-listen, I gave the volume knob on the car stereo a good hard turn to the right, and suddenly nearly all of my complaints about the mix went away completely. It really was an entirely different beast at 90+ dB, and the music was a lot more enjoyable. Tracks like “Malaise,” which sound more than a little like sheets of white noise at lower volumes, suddenly sound like music again. I don’t know what it is about the layers of digital noise in these mixes that make it difficult if not impossible to perceive proper instrument separation and pitch at low volumes. It’s a problem I’ve never had before or since.

I would definitely, however, recommend listening to IE on good speakers rather than headphones or laptop speakers. Headphones are likely to get too harsh / unpleasant to wear at the prolonged high volumes really required to make it work… and between the persistent guitar detuning and the sheer amount of aliasing noise in the mix, I doubt you could even perceive any pitch / harmony on this album on a set of built-in laptop speaks.

Now, of course I still insist that this record was meant to be experienced start to finish. But my favorite songs on IE— and the ones that are probably the most immediately accessible– are “All Frequencies,” the reprise version of “Small Conversion” that closes the record, and particularly “Ego Felon”, which is an especially minimalist number that I find the most hypnotically brutal noise-chug-funk on the album.

Aprosody – Ego Felon (2000)

While there is a long, ambient / minimalist instrumental bonus track that follows the album closer and was always meant to do so (probably the closest thing to a direct Godflesh ripoff on the album, I should note), I’ve also included a second bonus track with this re-release that wasn’t on the 2000 original release. It is a quick, dirty demo of two sections of a song I was working up to insert between “Nachtmusik” and “Malaise.”

If I’d actually completed this one, which sounds from this demo more than a little like “Kashmir” with a helluva lot more faux-polymetric restlessness and tone cluster-fuckery, I suspect it would have been a real barnburner. But I ultimately decided at the time that the song was a questionable fit against the deeper, more trance-like sludginess that typified most of the rest of the songs on Ignition Etudes, and decided to leave it totally off the record.

Aprosody – Untitled demo (2000)

There are about five other demos that didn’t make the cut either, none of which I can currently hear as I never mixed them down and no longer have the software used to record them.

I very much wanted to create a second Aprosody record, this time with a more “commercial” sound, maintaining the guitar-chuggery-and-fragmented-loop approach, but this time using drum loops that I played personally, and with much more clarity / brutality, less sonic haze overall. I was about halfway there when I had a hard drive crash in ’02 that wiped out nearly all of my slow-going work on this followup.

The sole survivor of that crash is a very rough mix of a song called “Gently Down The Stream,” intended to be the new album’s closer, which I really like a lot but desperately wish I could remix. (I can’t; the actual multitrack data itself didn’t survive the crash, so all I have is the working mix– which has tons of problems and doesn’t nearly do justice to the carefully-sculpted swooping multitracked guitars in the latter half.)

After recording a one-off (and frankly pretty shitty) song called “Yes, I Had Gallstones” under the Aprosody banner in ’02-’03 as “commissioned” for a disease-themed compilation, I then started again on a new effort toward a second Aprosody full-length in the spring of 2003.

The sole suriving products of that effort are the very clean- but also rather dated-sounding “Loss of Sangria” (intended to be track 3 on the record), and the instrumental beginnings of the laboriously-reconstructed album opener I’d already begun working on before the crash. I never quite finished the latter, largely due to lack of an song ending I was happy with (here’s a sample of the instrumental second verse and chorus— it was definitely promising!).

And then I gave up for some reason. I was getting so focused on elements of guitar timbre, sample manipulation, and clean- / commercial-sounding mixdown with all these crazy sharp-edged noises that the work was taking forever, with hours of trial-and-error work often going into dumb little one-second elements, and I got disheartened pretty quickly.

I don’t know if I will ever make a project under the Aprosody name again, but I still think about it every now and again. I would definitely move back away from the weirdly-conceived intended “commercial” direction of ’02-’03 if I did so. I currently think it would be fun to make another unforgiving record directly exploring the ground first touched on in the hit-and-miss Ignition Etudes. I also think I might be the only person in the world that would feel that way.

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