COLLEEN 20TH ANNIVERSARY: CAPTAIN OF NONE, 2015.
December 25, 2022 § Leave a comment
I’ll be the first to admit with a huge smile that the alliance of treble viola da gamba and dub influences doesn’t sound just unlikely: it sounds downright scary and like a terrible idea. And yet if I was forced to choose just one album of mine out of all the albums I’ve made, Captain of None, my 5th – and first for Thrill Jockey – would probably be the one. I think I hit upon something then which I will never hit upon again – and that’s fine by me: I’ve never even tried to replicate or prolong the experience, aware that some things (most things?) can only exist at a given point in our lives.
Over the course of making the preceding album, The Weighing of the Heart, I fell in love with my modified, fingerpicked treble viola da gamba. For the song I worked on last, “Breaking up the earth” (which actually uses the bass viol, not the treble one), I finally started to loosen up (The Weighing is a very “written” album) and realized that if there was one way my music should go, it was towards more improvisation and less control – or perhaps more accurately: a kind of controlled improvisation. I had fallen in love *again* with a genre that had been important to me from childhood onwards, Jamaican music from the dub era (I have repeatedly mentioned the highly unlikely story of my parents picking up a cassette compilation featuring some of Lee Perry’s best work from 1976 which we listened to on countless car trips when I was about 5 to 8…). Thanks to Arthur Russell’s music (World of Echo especially), I had also drastically changed opinions on the use of extreme effects with acoustic instruments. Suddenly most of my mental barriers had been lifted.
I happened to go through a mid-life crisis right at that moment (I was 38 in 2014 when I recorded the album) and the lyrics for the album just poured out me, finally giving me access to much more intimate lyrics that tried to reflect the emotional chaos I found myself in (“Captain of none” really is about the inability to control and understand oneself), as well as sweeter feelings such as the one expressed in “I’m kin”, of feeling one with the animal world and nature.
The album is still available in all physical formats, here on my Bandcamp (shipping from the US only), here at Thrill Jockey’s online shop (shipping from Germany or the US) or at your retailer of choice.
CAPTAIN OF NONE, 2015: A WAY OUT OF CONVENTIONS.
Captain of None benefitted from a massive upgrade in my work conditions and tools. I convinced my landlord to replace the antiquated doors and windows with triple-glazed versions. I invested in a Focusrite Scarlett soundcard, Blue Sky nearfield monitors and sub, Beyerdynamic DT770 and DT880 headphones, a large monitor, a Moogerfooger MF-104M Delay – still a favourite, and my introduction to the joys of analogue gear and the Moog sound – and an EBS Octabass octaver pedal to turn my tiny viol into a bass.
I recorded the treble viola da gamba in a totally different way to The Weighing of the Heart, aiming for a woody, percussive sound. It took a lot of trials to reach the solution: hard-panned stereo takes with 1) a DPA d:vote 4099 guitar mike held close to the viol’s opening, going straight into the Scarlett 2) a Schertler cello pickup inserted between the lower part of the bridge and the top of the body, going through its own preamp, then through an Art Tube MP preamp, then into the Scarlett. For basslines, I used just the Schertler pickup, with the octaver pedal inserted before the Art preamp.
The Beyerdynamic MC834 recorded all the rest: vocals, melodica on “Salina Stars”, muffled floor tom on “I’m Kin” and “Captain of None”, natural skin frame drum on “This Hammer Breaks”, assorted percussion on “Eclipse” (Indian ankle bracelets, chopsticks on tall Ikea glass + Indonesian metal printing block + old cowbell).
I went in search of the most convincing tape delay emulations I could find at the time: The Interruptor’s Bionic Delay is all over the album, sometimes coupled with the Line 6 DL4 Tape Echo emulation. I also used the DL4’s looping and speeding up functions on “Holding Horses” and the end of “I’m Kin”, as well as two Overloud plugins: Markstudio2 for bass parts and the Spring Age spring reverb emulation.
The MF-104M is responsible for the more extreme production on the album: “Holding Horses”’s flickering pulse and mounting dirty delay explosion, “Salina Stars” and its shiny melodica trails, “Eclipse” and its reverberating vocals and percussion homage to Lee Perry.
NB: I started to document my work process right at that moment, so the following photos are from the actual recording sessions. I also wrote more extensively about the album’s recording in the My Studio section, which I don’t update anymore, since I’m basically writing about my studio the whole time now!