The Drop: Electronic Music With Nuance (And Saxophone)
When it comes to electronic music production, there are a bunch of ways tracks can be made. There's the "arranging digital samples" approach, where producers layer pre-recorded sounds or loops to compose a piece. There's the "analog to digital" approach, where a producer will play analog synthesizers or program drum machines and feed them into a digital audio work station like Ableton. And there's what I'll call the "organic to digital" approach, where producers record more conventional instruments and then process the results in a computer. Most producers employ some combination of these techniques. One who uses all of them in really interesting ways is the 27-year-old producer Brian Allen Simon, or Anenon.
Inner Hue, Anenon's full-length debut, out next week, maintains a sort of astral narrative for just over half an hour. Created mostly on a Rhodes keyboard, Roland 909 and a tenor saxophone (as detailed in this wonderfully geeked-out interview on XLR8R) and then arranged on a computer, Inner Hue is two parts dream to one part beat. Sometimes Simon's Roland 909 drum machine runs under glistening bell-like timbres, sometimes under what sounds like effervescent clouds. Oftentimes beats give way completely to expose ambient voices or his tenor saxophone. The title track, "Inner Hue," has a shuffled rhythm backing echoing guitar plucks, and steady Rhodes atmospherics.
Here's what Simon had to say about making the piece.
"Early mornings and late nights spent toiling over timbre and feel, weeks and months to perfect. My entire body going deeper and deeper into the sound of the Rhodes (which makes up the entirety of the harmonic and melodic material of this track) with each stare into the computer screen."
When I read this email, I thought of a conversation that I've been hearing for as long as I've followed electronic music, the one where people question or laud a producer's methods as a way of undermining or celebrating their product. Recently, Spin.com writer Philip Sherburne addressed this issue in a piece about the revelation that Steve Angello's 2010 smash hit, "Knas," was the product of a pre-recorded sample. Some listeners felt cheated.
I must confess, I dig that song. When "Knas" blasted through the speakers at Electric Zoo in 2010, I raised my hands, stood on my toes waiting for the drop, then jumped up and down madly when that infamous sample kicked in.
"Knas" resonates with me in certain times and places in ways that Anenon's music never will. But when I'm sitting home alone in my small apartment in Washington, D.C., and have time to unpack the nuances in Simon's reverb, the patterns he tapped out on his Roland 909 drum kit or the lilting melodies he found in that Rhodes, this is the kind of music I prefer. When I hear Inner Hue, it's clear that this is not a work that's been patched together from sample kits; I can hear that its been meticulously fine-tuned, and that it's something very personal to its creator.
There's no right way to make a song, but in the case of Anenon, you can certainly hear that its been done right.