How 'Music Of The Future' Was Made
It's sometimes difficult to have a conversation (except with other musicians) about how you do what you do, so with this track I decided to let you in on some of the details. Read on if you're interested...
I've been listening to a lot of Western music with African roots recently - Miles' 'Bitches Brew' being one - and it has given me a lot of new ideas. I started to come to the conclusion (and the subject of this song) that the transfer of musical ideas over time between Africa and America is more complex than I'd considered.
Take for example, James Brown. A lot of his works in terms of the basic groove are very close to African music in style. It's so clear that you can almost see right back through the slavery trade to a time when Brown's predecessors in Georgia might have brought traditional music with them from the subcontinent - as was the case in the very birth of American Black music of virtually all styles in the 20th century.
But around the early 70s, the compliment seems to have begun to be returned. You maybe know that in Jamaica from the 60s there was a healthy trade in vocal groups (The Wailers being one) who took their influences from Motown and the Black dance music scene of the USA. Listen to albums by, say Manu Dibango or Fela Kuti from that era and you begin to see the way in which they are actually borrowing Brown's grooves and reinventing them with a local twist. I'm sure this was happening all over Africa at the time - at time at which Brown, Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley all came over to play; and of course a time when the Black Power movement was helping most Black Americans to discover their own roots, possibly for the first time.
So this idea was my starting point. Fittingly, I felt, I therefore began with drums. I discovered the work of Mike Davis, formerly of Kool And The Gang among others, and discovered his amazing ability to play in a variety of styles. I chose an Afro-Cuban vibe as a nod to the influences of the 'Americas' and began to cut it up and reassemble it in the Miles Davis tradition. What I came up with then was a series of grooves within grooves, which would take the intensity of the music up or down - something you find equally in the extended jams of Fela Kuti and Isaac Hayes. I really like the idea of a song building to a plateaux and then dropping down to a more skeletal form, then back up again.
I decided I would build up a multi-layered rhythmic section featuring several instruments (one of which is actually a Hammond organ, a really percussive instrument.) I'd been trying unsuccessfully to do what Miles accomplishes with 2 drummers on 'Bitches Brew' - namely to pan one kit hard left and another hard right; rather than placing the drums semi-centrally as they are generally found.
This at first sounds disjointed, especially in sections where one or the other drops out, so I had to carefully balance the other instruments in-between, using a theory called the 'Harman Curve' which is a really great way of getting a balanced EQ. So I placed the bass centrally with a monofilter (as I'd learned to do at Abbey Road) and then started in on the Rhodes parts. If you haven't read about my new prized possession, there's lots in other blog posts, so I won't go into it here.
Using the envelope and drive filters, I aimed for a similarly percussive sound and set about creating a counterpoint rhythm and a sequence of chords. These were placed within the arms of the percussion arc, and inside of these I put two guitar parts, one again rhythmic and the other more melodic. (I have a Fender Jazzmaster Bass and Telecaster guitar and I use Orange integrated amp cabinets for both.)
If you've heard 'In Blue' you might be aware of the technique I used with the vocal samples. That album saw me painstakingly go through hours of old interview material with Grace Jones, picking out interesting phrases and the cutting them up, Bowie-style to arrange them into complete lines or sentences. I then got Jamaican VoiceOver artists to re-voice them to the rhythm of the songs. I applied the same technique here by searching for interesting spoken material from African artists, poets and singers who would have been active in the 70s. Once I'd found some, the main difference here was that I decided to run the vocal lines through a quantizer running at a 16th A swing, meaning again the words would have a percussive effect to fit the rhythm.
Then I added the sax samples from Snake Davis and mixed it all up, using some of my favorite Kramer and Abbey Road analogue tape and reverb effects to once again give it the feel of a 1970s recording studio. This also meant putting many instruments in mono, or 'bussing' them together to create space in the mix, in the same way that 70s engineers would work with more tracks than they actually had channels for on the mixing desk.
I take advantage of many of the nice balancing and limiting tools there are available, and as I've always been taught, listen to the track through a variety of media, from big speakers to mobile phones. Then one last tweak to widen the stereo field slightly and I'm very pleased with the result. I hope you are too and that you enjoyed reading this. If you did, please leave a comment and let me know what you feel about it!
Attached is the video I also made which is available on my YouTube channels. At the moment you can only stream and download the song from Bandcamp, as I reserve releases there for the people who are kind enough to subscribe to me. I hope you'll become one. Here's the link https://hakimjamal.bandcamp.com/track/music-of-the-future
Otherwise, the song is slated for release on all other platforms from around the 12th June.
Thanks for reading!