LAYERS: Breaking Down Every Wall Of Gohmn's "The Black Room"
The concept of LAYERS was devised so that the average person could crack the mysteries of how today’s producers craft their music. When we got started, we found that lot of producers liked the idea of splitting open one of their tracks and revealing its make up, sharing their process with the curious. But no one has more of a desire to break down this process than Gohmn. To this Phoenix-based producer, the end result of music production is dependent on the value in its process, and the formation of sounds into a song carries a beauty unto itself. That’s why he feels this is the perfect way to convey his art. As a dope producer, as well as a strong supporter of LAYERS, Gohmn is the perfect subject for this column, and here we break down the elements of his song “The Black Room.” Here are some words from Gohmn.
The Black Room" is one of the introductory tracks to my self-titled debut album, but one of the later and more recent songs that I’ve written in general. Going into production, I had a strong predetermined influence of swingy groove pushing me forward. I could feel the 85 beats per minute and hear the sloppy, shoulder swooning cadence of “ki-kick-SNARE-kick” before even sitting in front of my computer. I wanted something that worked well as an entire piece on its own but packed a dense set of well-crafted individual sounds. With that in mind, I sat down, opened Ableton, threw up my first virtual instrument and got to crafting.
All songs start differently. This one happened to begin with a melody progression and expanded outward from there. I design sounds and arrange frequencies as I go, which allows for minimal mixing in the end. If each layer sounds good along side its predecessors then the entire track more or less mixes itself while it gets written and arranged. As the sounds grew together, an obvious mood was forming, but by the time I had most everything written, I knew that it was missing something vital. The discovery and implementation of the vintage vocal sample gave the song meaning and simply finished the track for me. One of my favorite parts about producing electronic music is going into a song and having absolutely NO idea how it’s going to turn out, or what it’s going to mean to you or your audience by the time it gets mixed down. For me, that exact sense of blind but oh-so exciting discovery is what justifies being hunched over a screen and keyboard for hours on end. Any musician, producer, or engineer would agree that it’s near impossible to create a song of substance and meaning without a substantially meaningful process.
This particular song was conceptualized around the simple piano lead you hear right off the bat during the intro. The sound originated inside of Ableton’s “Electric” instrument which emulates a rhodes style electric piano. From there the progression was composed in MIDI and the sound was processed to hell and back. The signal-chain following the virtual instrument includes a delay, chorus, saturator, auto pan, Sugar Byte’s glitch plugin Effectrix, and two compressors, one of which is side-chained to the kick to give it an up-down feel during the parts with percussion. Sometimes the simplest of elements are the most complicated.
After designing and composing the piano lead sound, I wanted to quickly establish the groovy backbone that I’d been hearing in my head. I added a drum rack and threw in two samples from a vinyl-based sample kit I had. The inherent, in-your-face crunch of the samples fit perfectly as soon as I found them. They required little to no processing. I love it when that happens.
Different parts of the song called for different types of percussion, so during the arrangement process I layered a more driving, less swingy electronic kit to beef up the “drops.” Some sizzlin’ snares and phat claps in a wide pan can go a long way in emphasizing the big moments of a track.
The percussion in the breakdown was originally an Indian style djembe loop put through a lot of forward/reverse processing within Effectrix. I like the push and pull feel that came from this. There are also some spacy, distant remnants of the original beat in there as well to add some cohesion.
My noise tracks came from a medley of different sources, and acted as a secondary form of mid-range percussion. The very first thing you hear in the song is a half-note length loop of vinyl static that immediately establishes some subconscious groove. As the noise track progresses, you hear some LFO filtered/delayed noise that builds some tension. Right at the drop, theres a downward sweep of side-chained noise that assists in the transition. Then as the drop continues, there are some crunchy chopped up and layered paper rustling noises that sneak in there to add some subtle drive.
At the drop, I introduce a very digital, talky sounding arpeggiation using a great free VST called Chip32. This is duplicated three times and panned left, center, and right with differing octaves to add even more power and width during the course of the drop. It goes without saying that this is also side-chained along with everything else.
About 70 percent of the song lacks anything below 100hz, with the exception of the kick. The other 30 percent contains my low end track, which is another simple but complicated part of the song that is used sparingly where emphasis is needed. My bass/sub bass consists of a single instance of Sylenth put through the standard filter, EQ, heavy side-chain compressor, followed by a slight chorus and topped off with Dada Life’s Sausage Fattener.
The star track of my song came as a mere afterthought, but I’m oh so thankful it came indeed. The vocal samples were extracted from an episode of the delightful vintage radio show called CBS Radio Mystery Theater. The episode is entitled “The Black Room” (go figure) and can be enjoyed in its full 40 minutes of glory here. Truly fantastic stuff. I listened to the entire thing and picked out the key lines that I thought were going to successfully establish the mood and meaning behind the entire track. These lines were then tediously chopped and time stretched to feel almost as a rap of sorts. I juxtaposed the “lyrics” with transitionary inhale and exhale samples to give the song a strong sense of ominous flow.
Lead Synth Finale
The whole thing leads into and ends with a big shotgun blast of sawtooth buckshot to the dome! The pad synth finale is a pretty basic set of oscillators built from scratch in NI’s Massive with some simple processing. It’s layered on top of almost every other sound you’ve heard up until this point and packs the quick punch that I wanted the song to end on. This is an example not of when a simple element is complicated, but rather, when an important element is quite minimal.
Put it all together, and here’s what you get: “The Black Room” by Gohmn.