I've been baptized by your voice that
Screams, from deep beneath the cold black water that's
Half as high as heaven
Half as clear as reason
Cold and black-like silt on the riverbed
Just as neverending
Current's mouth below me
Opens up around me
Suggests and beckons all while swallowing
Surrounds and drowns, and wipes me away
But I'm so comfortable
Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up
You're saturating me
How could I let this happen?
Why don't you kill me?
I am weak and numb and insignificant
How could I let this bring me back to my knees?
Euphoria (x 4)
I'm back down, I'm in the undertow
I'm helpless and I'm awake, I'm in the undertow
I'll die beneath the undertow
There doesn't seem to be a way out of the undertow
Tool —Undertow (1993)
Very few albums have changed the course of popular music in the way that this album did thirty years ago. Long-time readers of Sonik know that progressive rock has long been a topic of joke and derision for some of us. In the end, it is that the medium is ripe for unknowing self-parody within the form, often hard to get right without becoming overblown with faux-pomposity and complexity for the sake of complexity while detracting from the actual music. I geddit, I geddit…my personal favorite genres are bad new-wave/new-romantic from the 80s that have been thoroughly parodied as the formula is so easy to follow. However, even I will admit that ‘prog-rawk’ done right can be timeless.
Undertow was one of these albums. It isn’t even the best of Tool’s repertoire. However, it was the introduction that many of us had while Grunge was taking over the radio. It is the antithesis of Grunge while taking on the same dark themes, the plodding low-end, the visceral guitar that feels as ragged as anything by Nirvana but administered with the precision of a scalpel as opposed to the Punk roots that favored recording in the least amount of time with songs that were designed from the DIY-aesthetic that could fit two+ songs on each side of a 45. This is the mirror universe to Rush’s fantasy/lit-inspired albums.
I can go on and on about this album…it was the first Progressive album that turned my head, and it did it in a way that my ears were demanding at the time. I’ve always been a synth-first kinda guy, but around this time, I was listening to darker and darker themes…Nitzer Ebb had just released their Getting Closer, Ministry was moving from their synthy beginnings and adding guitar to their arsenal of loops, and Nine Inch Nails was following suit with their Broken EP the same year Undertow came out — a band that would go on to have progressive-ish albums without actually following into the genre. No, this album opened me up to the world of progressive music in a form I’d love but rarely repeated. (Tool Live archive)
Notes: I write this in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. One hundred sixty years ago, the bloodiest battle of the US Civil War was fought here on July 1 - 3, 1863. I’ve been out of cell reception for most of the last week and a half in the mountains recouping. Apparently, I missed a lot of news over the last week. But I am trying to get back into the swing of writing once again. I promise that in the next release, I will have snarky references to everything scattered throughout in my way of always being the last person to the party. But until then…
LG Debuts 27” Touchscreen In A Briefcase
For just $900, you can upgrade your perfect studio. My MacBookPro is a paltry 15 inches, and while the fastest thing I’ve ever had in a studio, the lack of screen real estate has always been its downfall. I can hook it into two monitors with only a LITTLE problem —generally, an old iPad giving an ancillary screen for coffee shops or two HD monitors in my office that are picky about how to hook up and if the Thunderbolt-dock wants to play nice on any particular day. I’d gladly have a 27” touchscreen that pops up out of a protective and, more importantly, portable battery-driven case. Shown above in LP mode. HDMI + USB-C connectivity.
The Ambient Machine
“The Ambient Machine provides us with a variety of sounds and music that we can use to design our own background ambiance. White noise can mask unpleasant sounds around us and give us a sense of relief, Natural sounds can provide the feeling of relocating to a new environment, providing a break from the environments we have been confined to, and musical rhythms can provide patterns for us to find stability with.”
For just $1000, you can have a piece of art. Speakers integrated into the back, eight ambient loops, integrated effects for each loop, and a USB-C interface that may be a way to include your own.
Moog is No More
Moog is now…probably still Moog, but brought to by the same people that own Alesis and Numark. InMusic CEO is supposedly a bastard who will rip off instrument designers without thinking about it twice.
A few years back, Moog's management introduced an "Employee-Owned" model, which was initially well-received. However, the employees were only granted a minority stake in the company and had no representation. Upper management retained control and disregarded any requests from the employees. The CEO of Moog explicitly stated that employee ownership did not include voting rights or a voice in decision-making.
"The Plan does not include any direct shareholder voting power. The Plan does not come with any management decision-making authority. Management decisions rest with the Executive Staff and ultimately with the Board of Directors, of which I am the chairman and only member."
Remember, kiddies, if your boss offers you half the company, make sure that you own at least half the company.
Last year, these same co-owners asked for a living wage and, when ignored, attempted to unionize. The unionization was met with a threat to sell the company.
Whether you believe in unionization or not, when a company sells half of itself to employees, makes news announcements that the employees are in charge, and then ignores it —it is time to use whatever resources employees have.
Behringer Clones Moog
In the category of “I Only Care When Behringer Steals From Decent Companies,” Behringer has brought out the Bode Frequency Shifter 1630. For a pre-order of $150 from Sweetwater, you can be guaranteed to wait eight months before you get this. Personal Thanks to Sweetwater for my last pre-order that said they had an instrument in stock and waited almost a year after they had charged my debit card!!! Chuck sold off the company a year ago and walked away a billionaire.
If you want to get the sound of a Moog, look towards Behringer because you already know what kind of a company they are and won’t be surprised two years later!
Blue Mics is No More
Blue is probably not your first choice if you want a great mic, but for something inexpensive, reliable, and works…you could do far worse. My Yetis are thrown around in my car…it records meetings in large rooms clearly and accurately, and we’ve thrown them at guitars and amps without problems. They even work well with many voice types —though they have always seemed more true to male voices than female. The setup is quick and forgiving. The older Snowball was a workhorse. It was ugly as hell, noisy, and without an iso-mount, picked up EVERY VIBRATION IN THE ROOM.
These are also some of the first mics a bedroom producer will pick up. And now, they are going away, lost in the hundreds of products that all seem to be slight variations of one another from Logitech.
This Week In Glastonbury
Elton’s Last Performance
Reportedly the last live performance before retirement, closing out the set with a ten-minute version of Rocketman. No words. Click play.
Seán Finn writes, “Say whaaat???”
Rick Astley also played Glastonbury and performed a secret set to near-universal applause. I love Morrisey’s music almost as much as I think the man is an idiot. This performance made me realize how much I missed listening to this without having to guess if I would get disgusted by Moz before turning everything off.
Who's never going to give you up???
Software I’m Buying: Clarity DeReverb
Recording happens in the most inhospitable locations. Anytime you use a microphone, you will have something in the atmosphere that interferes with the source material. For $29, this isn’t going to be perfect —but a one-knob solution to clean up the uncleanable? One that doesn’t require harsh gating, stripping down the EQ to only a few bands, and editing in copies of cleaner audio that KINDA sounds like it matches. For me, room noise and hard echoes/reverb ruin a recording immediately. This may save things, at least for demo work.
Sylvia Massy’s How to Shoot A Piano
Sonikmatter: Mind + Music + Technology
An occasional newsletter. Barely fact-checked and often wrong.
This was Volume 17b. I’m not counting last week’s issue as a separate issue…because. Now that my time has been freed up, I’ll be able to write these on a more regular basis, however, I am asking for your help.
Share these with your friends. Forward the newsletter to someone. Tell someone to sign up. If you have a product you want to talk about, write a blurb. If you have a new album or project…do the same. If you want to write a ‘column,’ I’d love to see it! I want to see the new Sonik like the old Sonik where we all talked to one another.
I’ll be back home in a week and scouring the web for more interesting crap!
The Sonik line is open — call (415) 683-1381 and sing, rawk, or prog into the answering machine! We will post it!!!
Mail to the Editor: Zampino @ sonikmatter.com.