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Coming Alive: Field Music Turns Everyday Inanimate Objects Into Musical Instruments

March 1, 2010
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“There are certain records that point in a direction that no one has taken further,” Field Music’s David Brewis believes. “Records like The Beatles’ White Album or Tusk by Fleetwood Mac or Peter Gabriel’s third [eponymous] album. Each song on those albums pointed to a new genre of what music could be. We wondered what it would be like to combine all those records but within the parameters of new music.”

0.0000FieldMusic2009creditIanWestField Music—David Brewis (left) and Peter Brewis.

Including brother Peter Brewis, Field Music recorded their second album, Measure [Memphis Industries], in Sunderland, England, at the group’s 8 Music studio, a rented space in the quaint-sounding Wearmouth Community Development Trust.

Equipment used for the album mostly comprised of an Apple Power- Book G4 running Logic Express 8 (along with its Tru-Tape Delay, EXS24P MkII sample player, and ES1 monosynth plug-ins); a Fostex D2424LV digital recorder; Allen & Heath GS3 console; Yamaha DX21, Roland Juno-106, and Hohner Pianet keyboards; Stillwell Audio 1973 EQ and The Rocket compressor plug-ins; and Oktava MK- 319, Røde K2, and ShinyBox 46MX microphones.

Utilizing that small but hardy gear set, the Brewises combine classic British melodies with a modern recording approach and found-sound oddities. “The Beatles productions were always a balance of live performance and studio construction,” David states. “We’re really inspired by that; not using technology to make everything perfectly in time or perfectly in tune. We might combine live organ and reverb with street noises from Newcastle city center and the toilet spinning below our studio—things that can’t coexist as live music.”

 

Measure’s “Let’s Write a Book,” “Choosing Numbers,” and the title track perfectly represent Field Music’s past/present style, reflected in supremely layered vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar pageantry and foundsound textures produced by birds, cars, trains, and the occasional spinning coin. And while the Brewises rely primarily on live instrumental performance, they’re not beyond manipulation, as heard in “Measure.”

“Measure has four different drum parts, two kits in each speaker,” David explains. “We created a floor-tom loop to a click on each channel. Then Peter played the kick and snare live in each channel to the floor-tom loop. It required a lot of editing in Logic because we didn’t figure it all out until the last 20 minutes of the session. Peter became so frustrated editing the left-channel loop that he gave up. So we put it all on hard disk and edited the right channel only. We also deliberately didn’t listen to the track while he was playing the kick and snare just to let those rhythms make their own structure within the song. Because the song is in eight-bar segments, we didn’t need crash cymbals to emphasize section changes; it’s just tom fills.”

Similarly, the ear-twisting effects of “Choosing Numbers” involved more sonic sleight of hand. “There’s a pen rolling across a table, looped in Logic,” David says. “We rolled the pen across a table, tightened it up in Logic, and looped it. There’s also a coin spinning in that track. Different kinds of percussive sounds looped in particular ways can give you a more interesting momentum than what a drum kit can do.”

Field Music’s simpatico sibling harmonies are one of the glories of Measure, often double-, triple-, and quadruple-tracked for a choir (or rousing pub) effect.

“We like using the [Tru-Tape Delay] tape echo simulator plug-in in Logic Express for vocals,” David says. “We have four busses set up: one for longish reverb, one for a shortish reverb, a tape echo with slapback, and a tape echo where the delay time is unnaturally quick to give vocals an automatic double-tracking effect. Eventually we replace the plug-in reverb with chamber echo, often from the women’s bathroom underneath our studio. The men’s room has an automated flush, which we obviously don’t want to record. We can’t turn it off.”

What the Brewises can turn off is the click, which is largely anathema to their “natural sounds” slant. For Field Music, it more than measures up.

“The things I associate with a studio product are mostly things I don’t like, like fake energy or fake excitement,” he says bluntly. “I want that flow in the tempo, which you can’t really get playing to a click. We like natural sounds, but at the same time we will deliberately do something, which is impossible to play live. We want to expose the cracks in the recording process. Is it contrived? It has to be. That’s what recorded music is, and that’s why it’s so exciting.”

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