LAYERS: Breaking Down The Ambient Parts Of "Climax"
Check out Ricky Eat Acid’s bandcamp page and you’ll find that for each release, the artist includes a little story about the process of making it. Each note is personal and humanizes the music that you’re browsing, setting it apart from a lot of bandcamp pages that rely on clever track titles and color schemes to make them attractive. It’s really nice to get a little communication from the artist.
His tendency to explain things to his listeners makes him the perfect subject for the LAYERS column, and now that he’s left behind the alias Ricky Eat Acid and adopted the moniker Heroin Party, we’re going to break down one of his tracks. “Climax” is an ambient number, a real atmosphere-builder with distant voices emoting from the ether. Often when hearing an ambient song, the separate parts don’t jump out as you as much as they do when there are drums contrasting with melodic instruments, so this is a breakdown to follow closely.
Let’s do this.
This was taken from the ending of the deer leap song “(Take Time).” You can clearly hear the tone at the end as it appears throughout “Climax.” I reversed the last couple seconds of “(Take Time),” and then slowed it down to have it change chords like it does. There’s some reverb and delay on it and I also sidechained it to an 808 which I then silenced after. That will go on to be a theme throughout this song, as the different gates created by that make the whole thing kind of pulsing and weird.
So the major part of the song is probably the Usher sample, which is taken from “Climax.” Climax is one of my favorite songs ever and I saw some kind of remix contest put up the acapella tracks from it, so naturally I grabbed them in hopes of doing some kind of remix. There’s not much I did to the vocals besides cut them up, slow them down a whole lot, and then add reverb, delay, and another sidechain to a silent/near silent 808 just to make them slightly more interesting in the mix.
This was actually seven tracks condensed into one for the sake of space, but it was one really long/deep kick from a Lex Luger drum kit my friend gave me a while ago. I changed the pitch/speed a whole lot until it was this weird crystalline kind of sound that echoed in a really strange way. I added seven tracks of it in a couple different octaves and panned them differently throughout the end of the song.
This was just static from a weird bunch of drum samples I’ve had forever. I don’t know where they’re from or what the static is from originally, but I took the actual drum part out of this one and left the static and then sidechained it to another 808 so it would increase/decrease volume throughout the song.
This was, as the name implies, a weird 808 kick. It just gives the track some weird depth for me. I never intended for the song to have drums but I liked how this fit in it.
Vocal Chord Side Chain
This was again as the name (sort of) implies, a dyad made out of Usher’s voice. As it changes, the “bass” of the dyad descends chromatically each time, which fits the structure of the rest of the song. This is, again, sidechained with really slight delay and reverb and it isn’t until the end of the song when most of the other sounds/layers start fading out that it’s really apparent. Also, this was two tracks that I bounced together for efficiency, since they’re meant to be played together as one “instrument” or whatever.
How to Dress Well Talking to You Sample
This was a sample from How to Dress Well‘s “Talking to You” from his new album. It’s a really short section from the beginning of the song, only a couple seconds or less, looped. It’s cut up and slowed down to fit into the song and I pitch shifted it to more or less change along with the Deerleap sample. It’s side chained to another 808 which is more lively. There is a lot of reverb, and it’s probably the most rhythmic part of the song, along with the synths.
This was a super abrasive, awful sounding two second clip of a synth sound that came with a really awful set of rave/hardstyle drums I don’t remember downloading. While I was working on the song I realized that along with these really awful (and kind of awesome) drums, there was a folder of synth sounds. I took one of them and looped it over and over throughout the song. Then I went about pitch shifting it into a really basic kind of melody in the interest of creating a sort of repeating drone. Next I added a huge amount of reverb and a few different delays to it until it was completely changed from the really abrasive, awful sound I started with. I sidechained it to another 808 that I silenced (as is the case with pretty much everything in this song) and I gated the whole thing post reverb/delay. This was the part of the song I was happiest with probably. I turned this really annoying sound into something (I felt) was kind of haunting.
Pretty much exactly the same as “Synth One” but creating a harmony/hinting at a chord later on. Expands on “Synth One,” same effects, different 808 pattern/gate. Adds a layer to the original synth drone by not only creating a harmony but adding a slightly different rhythm than the original.
Building on the drone thing with the synths, I added a sub bass that literally just drones one note continuously throughout the song, as the chords change from major to minor (sort of—part of the fun of working on this song was working on something without a strict chord structure or composition). It’s also got reverb on it and it sort of blends in with the synths as a low end complement to them.
Put them all together, and here’s what you get. “Climax” by Heroin Party.
Special thanks to Justin Staple and Ounce.