LAYERS: The ABCs Of Beat-Making With Alphabets Heaven's "Soul Dancing"
Brighton, UK’s Alphabets Heaven first emerged in a competition called 2999, in which musicians of all sorts attempted to create a narrative soundtrack for David Schleinkofer‘s artwork depicting the not-so-near future. Alphabets came out on top, and since then he’s released some killer tunes for King Deluxe records that walk the line between contemporary stutter beats and some of that downbeat goodness we remember from a past era.
For this edition of LAYERS, Alphabets Heaven breaks down his track “Soul Dancing,” a thudding beat dressed up with some mystical flare, and no shortage of nature sounds. Let’s dive in.
This originated as an Emma Gatrill track I recorded. I was pretty happy with the sound I’d got out of the lever harp that day, so decided to play around with a bit of it. I ended up mapping little arpeggios I liked to my padKontrol and making some patterns. This was then run through some of my favorite compressors to give the part a bit more weight. Live, I tend to hook this layer up to some delays sends and play around with the samples a bit more, but on record it’s pretty straight.
The core of the drums layer is the thudding 4/4 kick. The “snare” is more of a breaks-y clap and stick combination that’s meant to sit on top of the kick. There’s quite a lot of low end stuff working around the pulse: little swung transients and some cut-up reverbed kicks. Adding swing is a variety of guiros, tambourines, trashy hi-hats and time-stretched snares. I played around a lot with the pitch/speed of the percussion, mainly to add little variations, turning the guiro into a scissor-like timber and changing the tambourine rhythm.
This was created on Native Instruments Massive. It’s probably the simplest modular synth you will ever find, which allows me to play around with abstract ideas without getting too caught up with programming (as fun as it is spending hours plugging in patch-leads, I’ve personally never found it to be that productive or musical). As I have to think about all synths as approximating real world instruments, I’ve allowed only one note to be played at a time (monophonic voicing) and played in the lines live, again using my padKontrol. To add some dynamics to the layer, I’ve added some low-pass filtering and dubbed out delay every now and then.
These are mainly quintal-based chords I’ve synthesized, bounced to audio, and then cut up. This gives me the freedom to play around with the attack and delay (using fades) and make sure the two chord lines don’t get in the way of each other. Rhythmically, I was hoping to create a call-and-response type effect with the the high synths and the bass, something I find much easier to arrange with audio.
This was a small birdsong sample I put onto my MPC500. Then using the 12-levels mode set to tune I was able to use the 12 pads on the MPC to play the same sample at different pitches/speeds. Much like the harp I then used this to make a few riffs and patterns. This was then recorded ‘live’, sort of ad-libbing over the rest of the track. Once this was recorded I then ‘played’ low-pass filtering and a delay-send using the x-y controller on my padKontrol. To get the sloppily-played audio to sit in a bit better with the rest of the track I used a fair amount of side-chained compression. This turns down the audio whenever the kick drum is sounding, making sure the birdsong does not get in the way of the pulse.
Put them all together, and here’s what you get: “Soul Dancing” by Alphabets Heaven.