Made In Japan Retrospective-Track 4 “Shrine”

“Shrine” came about as an experiment; just how much could I create with the smallest sample possible?

I had recorded a 1 minute sample of a young boy ringing a bell in a shrine in central Kyoto. The boy ran up and rang the bell for prayer before running back to his mom shouting with glee at the noise.

I thought this may have enough elements that had both interesting textures but also tones that I could turn into melodies.

I went through this small sample multiple times and sliced mini clips out of it, with the intention to turn some into percussion and some into melody. I processed them using different synthesis techniques and effects to produce almost the whole track.

It was a long process to turn it into the track here but I was proving to myself that I could get a lot out of very small samples with the application of some creative techniques. Techniques I develop further on other tracks.

The work of Burial was the main inspiration on the opening of this track. He always uses interesting elements in his percussion to create a pallet of sound that sets the listener into a world he creates. I knew I wanted to use some of those techniques on a track, and I felt that the slithers of audio I had managed to extract from the original field recording would be perfect for this aim.

Originally the track was only percussive and ran closer to two minutes of play time, but it lacked a progression. The early ambience created by the soundscapes quickly fell flat to me, when I returned to it after a break working on other music.

I realised that using the foundations of the piece, but adding a more melodic element to it, could create something that would work over a longer play time.

Finding the melodic element from the original recording was the main problem though. Unfortunately the melodic elements of the boys voice of glee and the bell ringing varied rapidly in pitch and putting them straight into a sampler to play out created an atonal mess. It got worse the more you tried to wrangle it into something that worked.

This had stumped me for several weeks. How could I create a melody that was controllable from a sample with such varying pitches.

I attempted to use melodine (a software a little like Autotune) to force the bell and the boy into a more fixed pitch. But this always ended up sounding robotic, as the pitch correction overworked to try and force a pitch out of chaos. I then tried the PaulXStretch plugin as used on the track “Locks,” but it again created a texture that didn’t fit with the rest of the track.

Luckily I had been developing a technique that was working on the track “Airport Pianos,” which I thought could apply to this one.

If I pitched very small snippets of the sample (all under a second in length) and then fed them all into a fully wet reverb, it would create a sound that was both reminiscent of the original audio and the reverbs used inside the piece, whilst still being fixed in a pitch. I could then turn it into chords and melody. It worked!

I did this with both the boys voice (which became the background chords) and the bell sound (which became the step sequenced rhythm).

I developed the sequenced bell sound out of a desire to replicate the style of the famous Roland bass synth; the TB-303. I thought a 303 would be perfect as a lead for the more melodic track that was developing.

My knowledge of this particular synth was that a lot of its character derives from its filter rather than the fairly simple oscillator. So as long as I used a small sample of audio that was close to a square or sawtooth wave with a squelchy filter with a ringing resonance, I could create a similar effect.

I put the bell sound into Ableton’s sampler and triggered it with a step sequencer and played the filter and a send to a reverb live to create the sound you hear on the track. This technique was certainly influenced by the work of Aphex Twin.

Sadly I had to make one exception to the rule of making the whole track with a single sample, and that was the repeating kick drum sound.

Attempts to replicate a decent thud for the kick from elements of the sample never quite achieved the sound I was looking for. Eventually I gave in and layered one sample of a kick drum along with layers from the field recording to create the kick you hear on the finished track.

Apart from that sample (which is under half a second long), every other piece of audio in this track comes from the aforementioned 1 minute of field recording.

For those who are interested in the original field recording the majority of the track was built from I will add it to youtube as a curiosity. You can hear on this link Shrine original recording:

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