Liner notes: Sonant

Robin

Right after we released Shadow Planet, it was clear that the track called Sonant was an early favorite. Its path from a couple of VERY weird cassette tapes into a coherent, cinematic song is emblematic of the Cotton Mods process, PLUS, everybody seems to like it … so let’s peel back the layers.

(Remember: the Cotton Modules process called for Jesse and Robin to trade tapes, each of us making selections, layering our own contributions, and sending a new tape back.)

A figure made from cutouts of several different photographs, lending him a jumbled quality

Robin

I invite you to put yourself into my shoes. You receive a cassette tape, no idea what to expect; you push it into your deck, press play; a parade of musical ideas marches out, and in it, there’s this:

Tape 3, 2021-01-18, Jesse to Robin
Title: RESONANT GARDEN
Jesse

I don’t recall why I made such an odd piece of music. The first part is stately, corny, and quirky all at once. The string arrangement that follows is lovely, I think, but then it gets into a “you just died and this is your life” vibe. Anyway, here you go, Robin!

Robin

I fed the AI the lovely string arrangement. Below, you’ll hear the machine recapitulate that bit, and then … go in a different direction:

Tape 4, 2021-04-13, Robin to Jesse
Title: RESONANT REACTION
Jesse

I really like this material but/and it’s a jumble of unrelated stuff! Like, none of it makes any sense. But, nothing I gave Robin made any sense, so it serves me right.

The vocal parts (tap this link to cue that section) were the most obvious starting point. They reminded me of the angelic choirs from Disney animated classics, like Cinderella and Snow White, but of course far stranger. The “singing” has such a raw feeling of urgency and yearning. I saw an image of someone running headlong down a corridor in a sort of dream-state.

There’s also a tiny, almost whispered sound (cue) that I really liked and, as was often the case in this project, I wished there was more of it. The AI system always drops little gems like that and moves on. So, I decided to start Sonant with that sound. Then, I created a little percussion loop to keep its ticking momentum going:

We return to that sound again, later in the track, just because I love it so!

Robin

I will interject to say I love it too: the way it sounds maybe vocal, maybe percussive, or maybe like a piece of faulty machinery.

Jesse

I also LOVE the strange almost-yelling sound in the middle of Robin’s AI tape (cue). The AI produces things like this often; it’s one of my favorite artifacts.

Robin

Yeah, sometimes it will even mix the sound of applause, or the roar of a crowd captured in a live recording, into the music in an uncanny way.

Jesse

My only comparison is hearing the muezzins singing from the mosques in Cairo. It’s so intense and lo-fi.

The middle section of Sonant has a sort of brittle piano part playing over a tense drone. To make that drone, I looped and layered two bits of the tape where the AI’s angelic choir is fading out. Here’s the first part:

And the second:

Together, they sound like this:

Then, I used the “tape muezzin” to build and swell out of this piano/drone section. It doesn’t make any sense … but energetically, it works! It’s super fun!

Robin

When I hear Jesse pull off beautiful stuff like this, I realize it’s just the fine art of sampling … except he gets to go “digging in the crates” of music that never actually existed.

Jesse

What else? Robin’s AI tape had a scratchy but discernible drum sound (cue) and of course, because it’s from the AI, it doesn’t repeat and doesn’t make sense rhythmically.

Robin

Hey now.

Jesse

So, I cut it up and made it into a beat I could work with:

With the addition of strings and horns in that section of Sonant, it feels quite cinematic.

Robin

Okay, now that you understand where we started, it’s time to learn (or remember) where we ended up. Here, once again, is track four on Shadow Planet, titled Sonant:

Sonant3:52

This track is, of course, available on Spotify and Apple Music, just in case you’d like to add it your playlist titled “Soundtrack for a Sci-Fi Movie Yet to be Produced.”