LAYERS: Melting Down Wake's "ButtaBump"
Of all the dudes on the Proximal roster, Wake‘s sound has the most in common with classic hip-hop production. Though there’s nothing typical about any of the artists in the collective, Wake’s beats often lack a stutter and are sample reliant, leaving the satisfying clarity of a boom-bap beat in tact.
Nevertheless, his loops are chaotic, conveying a stop-and-go feel without adding swing or shuffle. In this week’s LAYERS, we dissect his track “ButtaBump” and gain some detailed knowledge on how he makes his productions sound so different.
ButtaBump is a tune that started in 2007 or so and kept itself half done until Proximity One became a project. Every once and a while, I’d open the file up and do some editing. I intended to make a track where each eighth note was hand-edited and unique. Because of this, there are something like 40 separate tracks of audio (the tune sounds simple, but, because of the software I use each variation in volume, a different effect is used every time, and anytime something is offset I had to make another track). I like to think of the song as a wheel, rolling in an empty space. Every time something in the song changes, the wheel changes.
This is the real core of the tune. I have an old roland MC-202 analog bass synth that I love. I traded a semi-messed up MicroMoog keyboard for it about seven years ago. It’s my favorite piece of gear. That being said, the sequencer on the 202 is a real pain in the ass. It doesn’t have MIDI and the CV for pitch and gate goes through a really old and pretty lame digital microprocessor, so you get odd, off-time, messy, and unpredictable results. I usually tape sync the thing by recording the output of the Tape Sync jack into Ableton Live, time-stretching it to tempo, and sending that back out to the 202 as audio. Then, I have to sync Renoise (my sequencer) to Live, which can also get a bit messy. The good part of this is that once it’s all running, I get nasty, off-time, wacky stuff happening. This part of the tune was half sequenced on the 202, using the internal sequencer, part MIDI-synced, part good luck, and a whole lot of hand editing and chopping in Renoise. I love compression and am not all that into washy reverb. Ring modulation and bitcrushing are used to make it a bit more digital and crunchy. Slight off-sets and some randomization went into the sequencing of the harmony parts. I also use a lot of short stereo delay to spread parts out across speakers.
The opening drums are a sample of scratchy vinyl and claps that I pulled from a recording of applause from a concert I played in grad school. I find heavily-compressed concert applause makes the best squishy hip-hop clap. This stuff is heavily compressed and bitcrushed. There are some chopped up break beats (I love chopping up breaks, Renoise makes it really easy—you just enter a 09xx per hit, where the xx references the spot in the loop that you’d like to play). I tried to make each drum hit slightly different, so they’re all offset by milliseconds and decay tails are heavily chopped. I find this helps to add an unhuman but “played” quality to the drums. I really like square sounding sequences, but I’m not really down with just simple drum looping. In addition to the breaks and stuff, there are a bunch of takes of me recording claps in my room to add depth. I also like to record empty space and place it under the drums, to give them a kind of room/preamp sound. Everything is going to a track with some enveloping, so that when each drum hits, you hear all the recorded noise and stuff, but when nothing is there, it’s missing.
The pad/synth at the beginning is actually a recording of some brass from a Stravinsky piece. A tiny section of the sample is looped, put through an envelope, then a chorus, then a delay. The lower, ambient noise that sometimes appears briefly and sometimes loops, is a recording from an old Max/MSP program that I made to make drone music. Most of the other ambient sounds are made with similar Max or Reaktor patches. I tend to make a folder called “ambiance” where I put a lot of odd noises from little improv noise jams I do for fun. I tend to use these sounds to fill out tunes when I think that they could use some more definition. The vocoded sample is a small clip of that Gorillaz song with De La Soul—the chorus “Dont Stop Get It, Get It”—run through the fantastic MDA Talkbox plugin. The one off synth that comes in is an 8-bit triangle sample from my days as a chiptune connoisseur. I doubt I need to mention audio compression again. I use it way too much. I love compression. It’s all over this stuff. The alternate drum hits are sampled from a J Dilla tune. I think it’s one he did for A Tribe Called Quest. I love his drums. I just pulled the sounds and programmed my own beat with them.
This is just the old “chop up a sample from a hip-hop track” trick I first heard on the older MachineDrum records. I grew up down the street from Merck Records (RIP!) headquarters and played as a kid with the Merck Boss, so when I was a teenager I’d get to hear all this exclusive Merck stuff. Pretty much got me into glitch-hop, and made me realize it was potentially a thing I could do! Anyway, that Merck stuff (especially MachineDrum) is still a huge influence! Merck is why I use Renoise (an MOD tracker—all those dudes used trackers) and also why I chop up vocals on my beats. I hate to admit it, but this sample is actually just from a folder I got from MachineDrum back when I did a remix for him in like 2005 or 2006. I don’t know what tune it’s from. It just says “Sound36.” Usually I sample from tracks/vinyl, so that I can be legit, but I guess I was being lazy. It is heavily effected—mostly band pass filtered. I always chop my samples up by hand. I hate beat repeat and those stutter plugins. I think they’re totally cheating and I also think that they sound boring. I don’t know how to scratch (wish I did), but I always loved how DJ Shadow would scratch small melodic parts on Endtroducing and his early stuff. I think this type of thing is my answer to that.
Put all those intricate pieces together and you get “ButtaBump” by Wake.