Justin Vernon founded the band Bon Iver in 2006. Bon Iver’s released four albums and won two Grammys, including Best New Artist.
The most recent album i,i came out in August 2019, and in this episode, Justin breaks down a song from it called “Holyfields,.” He’s joined by producers Chris Messina and Brad Cook. We spoke to him in July, from his studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where the song started. They finished it at Sonic Ranch studio in Tornillo, Texas, on the border between the US and Mexico.
Chris Messina figured out the perfect combo of software and hardware that lets Justin Vernon sound the way he does. “But here’s the thing,” Messina says. “It’s not a thing.”
A few days after the Pioneer Works show, Chris Messina was on the phone; he was willing to offer a simplified version of what goes on with his machine. “Onstage, Justin is singing a song, and he’s playing a keyboard that can create harmonies simultaneously,” he said. “Normally, you record something first and then add harmonies later. But Justin wanted to not only harmonize in real time, but also be able to do it with another person and another instrument. The result is one thing sounding like a lot of things. It creates this huge, choral sound.”
When I asked Messina to describe what The Messina looks like, he responded, “Here’s the thing — it’s not a thing. There’s a laptop running software, and then that software is run through a physical piece of hardware, that is then doing another thing,” he explained. “It’s many things working together and none of them are ours, but the product is. Basically, we used things the way they’re not normally intended, and we put them together. That’s how we get the sound.”
On the upside, the rise of AI tools could spur entirely new genres. Fresh music technologies often do. The electric guitar gave us rock, the synth helped create new wave, electronic drum machines and samplers catalyzed the growth of hip-hop. Auto-Tune was a dirty little secret of the record industry, a way to clean up bad singing performances, until artists like Cher and T-Pain used it to craft entirely new, wild vocal styles. The next great trend in music could be sparked by an artist who takes the AI capabilities and runs with them. “Someone can make their own and really develop an identity of, I’m the person who knows how to use this,” says Magenta project engineer Adam Roberts. “A violin—this was technology that when you give it to Mozart, he goes, ‘Look what I can do with this piece of technology!’” exclaims Cohen, the Orchard co-founder. “If Mozart was a teenager in 2019, what would he do with AI?”
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Daft Punk’s debut, the duo’s greatest illusion yet.
Certain DJs use certain techniques to mix. So it’s not always pod up pod down. Some DJs use the EQ to filter out the frequencies and thus the audio. Some DJs use the crossfader because it’s a very literal way of going between tracks. Some kind of feed and tease the line levels. Some DJs work in a way of, I suppose, amplitude, where they mix by building sounds together, but not so much attention to subtracting and deleting.
Do you shop for music much?
Not as much as I used to. I would first try to make it. Or I would alter someone else’s track, just for me to use, not to sell it. But if say, I like someone’s track, but just the bassline and the drums, I’ll make a special version of that just for me.
This reminds me of Mark Ronson’s album Versions, which he produced in order to use in DJ sets.
Another word that Mills uses is ‘programmer’. This is in reference to the connection between the DJ and the audience:
To be a programmer, you have to put yourself in the audience’s position. Not only that, but you have to really know your audience, and you have to anticipate what they want to have, and what they need to have, at what time. When I think of these type of things I think of DJs like Larry Levan. He knew his audience, because he was part of his audience. He knew exactly what to do at what time for those people. There was no division between what was happening in the DJ booth and in the audience.
Jeff Mills also provides an insight into the curative mind of the DJ. He explains how he only listens to the last quarter of songs, because that is usually where all the parts have been mixed together:
So when I buy music, I typically focus on the last quarter of the track. And when I’m DJing also, it’s the last quarter that I’d prefer to play more than the beginning. The track breaks down in the last quarter and becomes more solidified. That’s where you find the better mix between sounds, that’s where you find the real groove of the track, and the most important elements of the track. All in the last quarter.
From Parliament to Devo to Dr. Dre, the synth sounds of the Minimoog are as famous as the musicians that have used the analog wonder to such great effect. Your faithful captain, William Kurk, is back in the studio today to explore the #SynthSoundsOf…the Minimoog!
William Kurk unpacks the sounds of the Minimoog associated with a range of artists. More than just modelling these sounds, Kurk walks through the construction of these sounds. This is what is missing in videos such as Moog’s Sound Lab series.
vice’s motherboard channel heads deep into the bowels of moby’s manhattan apartment-studio, where he unveils his prized assemblage of rarified gadgets, bizarre synthesizers, and outré drum devices.
What I like about drum machines is that they are awkward
Kimbra gained international fame when “Somebody That I Used To Know,” her duet with Gotye, hit the airwaves back in 2011. But prior to/since that single, Kimbra has crafted her solo career as meticulously and beautifully as her tracks, using a deft hand for live sampling, looping, and synthesis to build fascinating soundscapes.
Kimbra demonstrates the way in which she uses sampling within her music. In particular, she uses the Kaoss Pad 3 to sample and add effects.
Leon Theremin. Sly & The Family Stone. Prince. Drum machines have influenced our music and the way we perceive rhythm since the Rhythmicon popped onto the scene.
William Kurk takes a walk through the development of the drum machine to the use of applications, such as Ableton and Fruity Loops, today. Along with the discussion of the fault that produced the 808, this video provides a useful overview of the way technology has evolved over time. It is also interesting to think of this alongside Brian Eno’s discussion of technology and music.
Here’s a podcast on the history of electronic music, suitably called A History Of Electronic Music.