Machine (Electric Groove)


Composed entirely around layered rhythmic patterns, Panoramia‘s “Machine” puts percussion front and center as it draws inspiration from a rather unusual source: the industrial fixtures of a waterworks facility in Holland. This is one of a handful of completely melody-less songs I wrote, but the bass line almost acts as a kind of melody, giving what would otherwise be a very noisy piece some grounding in tonality.

Year Composed: 1988

About the Song

There are several things that I remember about visiting one of Holland’s waterworks facilities during my trip to Europe in the summer of 1988: it was surrounded by fields of gloriously vibrant tulips, there were some very vocal cows standing guard nearby, and I found myself unexpectedly fascinated by the large industrial pumps and turbines thrumming away inside. I had no idea what these machines actually did – I assumed it was something relating to moving water from here to there – but I was instantly struck with a song concept that would become “Machine (Electric Groove)” upon my return home.

The core idea was to portray the operation of an industrial machine, from startup to shutdown, using various percussive and non-percussive elements. In the end, I used every single note of polyphony in every keyboard I had available to me at the time I recorded this song, relying on some quick sound changes mid-performance to further extend my palette and incorporate more sounds that I would have otherwise been able to use at one time. My new Yamaha drove most of the instruments, using a series of patterns and short sequences that I switched in realtime, and a fully-programmable Casio provided some of the more electronic-sounding textures and additional percussion lines.

The song is built up and then dismantled in a fairly linear fashion, with each part or instrument being either added to or stripped out of the entire arrangement as it moves along. The intro and outro showcase the Casio’s random waveform generator, which contrasts nicely against the strict, pattern-based structure of the song’s body. A mid-song breakdown was intended to offer a moment of respite from all the activity, as well as portray the machine in its plateau state, chugging along at full capacity. If I had recorded this track using today’s “slice and dice” technology, I’m sure I would have clipped out the first bass note that I triggered and replaced it with the correct one, but the more I thought about it after this take, the more I decided that it actually kind of fit the character of the song, almost sounding as if the machine had suddenly dropped into gear at that point. Perhaps more importantly, after recording multiple (I’ve lost track of how many it was) takes, trying to land all the cues and switches and finally nailing most of them, I was more than a little hesitant to press my luck by giving it another go…:)

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