I first heard this album at the peak of quarantine in April. Sirens were a constant in Brooklyn as a reminder that death could come to your door at any moment. While the specter of death has somewhat subsided and the world has shifted in different ways, this album Dance Music Volume II: More Songs For Slow Motion from Toronto composer & percussionist Joshua Van Tassel still feels as powerful. I may not be constantly cooped up in my apartment looking to music for any sort of solace in my lonely existence, ambient music still can be a powerful force for our semi-open lives.
Van Tassel produced this album using Ondea, Therevox, piano, vibraphone, field recordings, electronics, while also working with The Venuti String Quartet who recently recorded with Alessia Cara and Drew Jurecka (of the quartet) who did all the strings on Dua Lipa’s album. This all combined to create lush and complex compositions, which we wanted to get more information about. In a new How It Was Made feature, Van Tassel goes into detail about the various pieces of gear used to make this new record.
Stream it now and get Dance Music Volume II: More Songs For Slow Motion here.
Audities Studio Ondea
The Ondea is both a faithful reproduction of the French synthesizer the Ondes Martenot and a furthering of the instrument. I've been fascinated by the Ondes since seeing it played on Saturday Night Live by Johnny Greenwood as a teenager in rural Nova Scotia. We had no internet and I couldn't find any information about what it was that he was playing for years until I moved to Toronto. I was finally able to play an actual Ondes at the National Music Centre in Calgary 6 years ago and immediately fell in love with how you interface with the instrument (a finger on your right hand goes into a ring attached to a string to control pitch while your left hand controls volume and tone).
Acquiring a used original Ondes is VERY expensive and difficult to find, and then maintain. Through the NMC I was able to make a connection with David Kean at Audities who had a spot available for one of his Ondea's and I jumped at the chance. The Ondea is at the heart of every piece on the record, and for "Eternal Turtle," and "Muttering Spells" it's the only instrument used.
Chase Bliss MOOD
I use effects pedals extensively in my work, whether it be recording or mixing. I think of them as very strange and tactile instruments unto themselves. The MOOD was partly designed by a friend of mine named KNOBs, and it was created to be a self contained little musical chemistry set. It's a looper that's always listening and recording as you play, so you never really can be sure what's going to come out of it. It's a very deep and fun pedal that's extremely musical and ended up all over this album. The sound you hear at the beginning of "Muttering Spells" is a good example of the Ondea into the MOOD.
The Nagra tape machine is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. A very good friend bought it for me at a CBC Radio inventory sale for $50 and it was an incredibly lucky find. All the strings and Ondea groups passed through the Nagra, sometimes more than once. There's an irreplaceable sound that tape can impart onto recordings: a sense of nostalgia and color. I'd also use it for recording instruments and lines at full speed and dropping them down to half speed for rich and low textures that the computer just doesn't seem to do as well.
A very large part of not only this album, but also most things I produce is the arrangement work of Drew Jurecka and the Venuti String Quartet. Drew is a literal genius. He's an unbelievable violinist, arranger, woodwinds player, engineer, and strangely Bandoneon player. While the Ondea layers and effects are overdubbed, the string quartet parts were played live from top to bottom with no editing. The sessions took place at night after the quartet had been rehearsing for hours, and the fatigue of the players and pacing of the arrangements along with night time worked perfectly together. In a lot of contemporary electronic music I'm missing a human element that emits feeling, and the quartet helped to keep those emotions at the forefront.
Eurorack Modular Synths –
Modular synthesis to me is a marriage of the tactileness of effects pedals and the power of computers. There are a number of bizarre effects units that I used for the record, and most heavily leaned on was the Make Noise Morphagene. It's a tape style sampler/music concrete machine that allows me to mangle and transform loops in ways I hadn't really thought of, and technically still haven't. The beauty of the modular rig is that things can go from very controlled and predictable sounding to completely strange and chaotic very quickly, but there's always a path back to where you started.