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Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Cattlegrid Suite: Vangelis, Ministry, Wendy Carlos, The Pixies, Skinny Puppy and Philip Glass

So, now then, then now. ZooFights has reached the Losers' League this year: Brutes that lost in the opening round get one last chance to survive in the competition.

Bull Market - for which I had previously cobbled together an intro mashup - had seemed a strong contender from the start but now, reanimated as Cash Cow and without an upgrade beyond brute strength, faced a version of Playing Mantis that existed almost entirely in cyberspace.

As Mantis never had an intro from me for the first round and, given the potential of the cyber-themed fight and my want to do something a bit different with the mashups this time, I started putting together a soundtrack.

Initially, the idea was entirely to make four or five pieces mashing the Tron soundtrack by Wendy Carlos (meta-reference: like Bull Market, Carlos also had a gender reassignment since composing the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange as Walter Carlos) with The Land Of Rape And Honey by Ministry, with its anti-corporate-America and ironic-plastic-smile sloganeering, to create a suite that choreographed fight.

Vangelis 'Bladerunner (End Titles)' v Ministry 'The Land Of Rape And Honey'; Written by Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, Alain Jourgensen, Paul Barker; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) EMI 1982, Sire 1988

In the end, despite listening to The Land... six times in a row one day for inspiration (a lot got done in the gym, btw), I only used the album's title track. There's not much to say. Bladerunner was another influence on the fight, Vangelis' end titles weren't too much faster than Ministry's track and they were already in, roughly, the same key.

I chopped out any music from The Land Of... that had a voice over it, replaced it with that which didn't and had a pretty workable four-minute mashup done in under an hour. I then spent a couple of days tweaking the levels, giving myself an exercise in volume control to get the excitement building.

I like the track, it's one of my favourite mashups so far. I won't claim I did much, I didn't. I was just lucky enough to discover that these two pieces of music work really, really well together. I think.

Without much reference to either fighter or any incident within the melee, but very much carrying the arching theme and aggression of both, I thought it'd fit as an overture or theoretical opening credits theme.

Free MP3 download: IronicHide - Where Is My Pray.mp3

The Pixies 'Where Is My Mind?' v Wendy Carlos 'Tower Music / Let Us Pray'; Written by Black Francis, Wendy Carlos; Arranged by IronicHide; © Rough Trade 1988, Walt Disney 1982

Have you ever listened to the Tron soundtrack on its own? It switches time, uses horrible synth sounds, clashes orchestral tones with electronic dissonance and is, perhaps, the furthest a piece of music can get from being a children's movie soundtrack as you or I could find. Go on, listen to it right now. It will send you mental. Even as an intellectual exercise it is deliberately cryptic and unintentionally schizophrenic (given the insistence of Disney to bring in the London Symphony Orchestra). Making a mashup of any of it is a pain.

Not that you don't have a varied palette to work with. The two pieces I eventually used - The Light Sailer and Tower Music / Let Us Pray - are each mini-rhapsodies, changing tone, time, key and instruments several times over within a few minutes. The longest single passage in either that has a consistent piece of music constructed from non-conflicting sounds is about a minute long. 

The Let Us Pray segment lent itself to Where Is My Mind? by The Pixies immediately with the reverberated choir stabs and the meandering beginning. I started by taking the Pixies' intro, duplicating the bars several times over to lengthen it and let the thing roll. (If you're listening on headphones, you'll hear the acoustic guitar fade left, then right, then rise up in mono before the other instruments come in.)

The early crescendo between Carlos' work and the snare-drum count in from Where Is My Mind? sealed the deal for me, it wasn't arrange by me, the tracks just ran like that. I worked together the final chorus from The Pixies, doubling up the etheral voice using the acapella from the end of it, with the tumbling glissando from Let Us Pray, then stapled the two together using the lead-in to The Pixies' chorus.

The idea of placing the mashup close to the parallel searches of Cow for Mantis, and Mantis for the nerve of the computer, was suggested first by the title but kept because I liked the triumphant muted brass in it, making the piece sound like a noble search.

Free MP3 download: IronicHide - The Draining Light.mp3

Wendy Carlos 'The Light Sailer' v Skinny Puppy 'Draining Faces'; Written by Wendy Carlos, Kevin Crompton, Kevin Ogilvie; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) Walt Disney 1982, Nettwerk 1987

The Light Sailer was different. It had two distinct parts I wished to use, the delayed chords at the start and the 6/8 synth thobs. I was casually listening to Skinny Puppy, as I do, when I heard the potential in the two different beats used in Draining Faces.

The chords were overlaid on the first beat, adjusted slightly for timing and the 6/8 throbs stuck together with the field samples used by Skinny Puppy, just to introduce the listener to the change of instrumentation and key.

Most of my time on this piece was recutting those throbs in to a 4/4 time, taking individual notes and sticking them together in bars. I programmed the bass and gain to fluctuate throughout the 24 bars I created to give some texture and, again, adjusted the tempo to fit the second beat from Draining Faces (note: probably my all-time favourite industrial beat, even ahead of The Becoming by Nine Inch Nails and NWO by Ministry). If you listen carefully, you can hear the bassy throbs fall out of time and then recover.

The finished piece was intended to accompany the moment when the holograms of Mantis finally disappeared.

Carlos' work is played in mono (with The Pixies and Skinny Puppy in stereo) in both mashups just to bump up that odd '80s feel.

Free MP3 download: IronicHide - Grid Collapsing.mp3

Philip Glass 'The Grid' v Ministry 'Faith Collapsing'; Written by Philip Glass, Alain Jourgensen, Paul Barker, Chris Connelly; Arranged by IronicHide; (c) Sire 1989, Antilles 1983; 'Faith Collapsing' also contains samples from Nineteen Eighty-Four, (c) 20th Century Fox, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451, (c) Universal, 1966

Lastly, there's Grid Collapsing. I'd moved on from The Land Of... to Ministry's next album, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, and wanted to use Faith Collapsing for either Cow or Mantis because of the sample from Nineteen Eighty-Four, "haven't you got a head?" (both contestants having lost part or all of their melons in the first round). I also wanted to use the cold female voice announcing "spontaneous demonstrations" to reflect the female contestants and the "system will eat itself" quote to refer to Mantis' aims to break down the computer system.

By this point, I was sick of Tron but still needed a reference to it. Luckily, Koyaanisqatsi - Godfrey Reggio's time lapse, wordless, documentary of the early 1980s - had a track in the score called The Grid (used at a point in the film when Reggio match-cuts a microchip in close-up to the streets of a metropolis by night). Finally, I would get to use some Philip Glass (I am a Glass freak, as should you be, and there was an aborted effort to squeeze him in to this mashup).

The trouble was Glass' piece was 21 minutes long and, like Carlos', made a few tempo changes (from 6/8 to 8/8). Faith Collapsing has a very constant, repetitive and forgiving beat, though. If you're a Glass nerd, you might recognise the three segments I used from The Grid are from the end of the first movement, the middle (around 12 minutes) and the very last minute.

The extreme quiet to the start and the rising sound is also deliberate and an experiment in volume. There are some pretty harsh jumps throughout the mashup, patched over by Ministry's drums.

The mashup was made as a closing credits mock up but was unfinished at the time of the fight, so it's an exclusive here.

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