Synthesizers on Sans Parade album

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Although Sans Parade is far from being “electronic” there are plenty of synthesizers on the album – some in  minor roles, some in bigger. For enthusiasts we’d like to present a detailed list here:

Yamaha CS-50

Big Yamaha  CS polyphonic synths are some of the most expressive analog synths ever. Aftertouch and specially the ring modulator attack time can be used to make the synth respond to keyboard playing styles the way only a few synths can.

On “Dead Trees” the chords are played with heavily ring modulated CS-50 thorughout the song. In part C the keys are held down longer so the ring modulation gets worse! On many tracks (“The End of the World 1964″ for example – in unison with banjo-mandolin) CS50 plays translucent melodic lines. “One of Those Mornings” chords are distorted acoustic guitar chords with CS-50 playing fifts on the bottom.

All in all, CS-50 is the most influential synth when it comes to Sans Parade’s music.

Bass sounds: Korg MonotronRoland SH-09 and Roland TB-303

Most bottom-heavy synth sounds on the album are based on this well-known wonderful gritty little box called Korg Monotron. Our Monotron is modded with CV and gate inputs and also features a filter key follow pot (located in the CV/gate breakout box). So Monotron was played on a big midi keyboard, not on the internal ribbon. Often Roland SH-09 was used as a second oscillator and feeded into Monotron filter. Sometimes Steinberg/Waldorf A1 soft synth was used for that purpose – in our humble opinion A1 is a very nice intuitive soft synth that can produce wide variety of sounds but it’s bass sounds lack the raw analog power.

On “The End of the World 1964″ the synth bass is gated (sidechain-gated) with the bass guitar performance by Pekka, so the resulting synth envelope is equal to the envelope of the bass guitar (the synth doubles bass guitar mostly in unison).

On “The Night I Fell Down Like a Snowlake” (not included on the album, listen at http://www.fredperrysubculture.com/sub-sonic/band/7784/sans-parade or download for free at http://sansparade.com/download) the long bass notes are from Roland TB-303 – the lyrics of that song mention this famous acid box so it was an obvious choice. But since the Sans Parade album is performed, not sequenced also 303 was “played”  on its tiny plastic buttons. Amusingly this might also be the only track ever where a 303 can be incorrectly identified as a bass guitar – as supposed byt it’s designers. Of course since the 303 is replaced with a bass guitar in the middle of the song it is easy to make that mistake…

Yamaha PortaSound PSS-260

This 1985 digital keyboard was used on “The Last Song Is a Love Song”. The Vangelis-inspired warm string pad provided more depth to the acoustic high strings.

Casio CZ-101

On “On The Sunniest Sunday” the only synth sound used is an occasional Casio CZ-101 driven through Alesis Quadraverb multieffect unit (probably something based on it’s “Taj Mahal” preset) so loud that the AD input of Quadraverb distorts severely.

Tama Techstar TS-305

Electronic snares on “Dead Trees”. Sounds from Tama drum brain, played live on old russian drum pads and tweaking release time and other knobs live.

NI Reaktor / Steam Pipe soft synth

Reverberated synth sound for example in the intro of “The Last Song Is a Love Song”. On many tracks Steam Pipe sounds double the vocals in order to fill all the space in choruses. Also long heavy synth notes in the “Swept Away” choruses are.

NI Kontakt soft sampler

On “From Leytonstone to Canary Wharf” the chord pad is a combination of a traditional synth pad sound and a short loop created and tuned from a London metro location recording. The track also features some more metro-themed location recordings that were heavily treated with Native Instruments products.

Scanned Synth soft synth

Some strident high notes, on “Dead Trees” for example. An interesting piece of software that doesn’t go the boring old substractive-synth-emulation way.

Also some unusual and unique convolution reverbs were used to treat traditional acoustic instruments but that’s maybe a topic for another post!

Production memo 3 / Guarded Mountain

Production memo 3 / Guarded Mountain

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Composed by: Markus Perttula

Lyrics: Markus Perttula

Produced and arranged by: Jani Lehto and Pekka Tuppurainen

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Markus Perttula: Vocals and acoustic guitar

Jani Lehto: Guitar

Tommi Asplund: Violins

Pekka Tuppurainen: Vibraphone, piano, guitar and bass

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Background

Guarded Mountain was one of the first songs we recorded. It was also one of the last songs we managed to finish: a long struggle, which also describes a creation process common to Sans Parade. Altogether we have 12 different versions of this song, but here we present only “the most dramatic drafts” created during the production process.

Demo

Guarded Mountain has melancholic lyrics and overall atmosphere, but it is not a ballad. The song name is indirectly referring to a place called Vartiovuorenmäki, located in Turku, where Markus got the idea and theme for the song. Though Markus’s composition was fully functional (and in a singer-songwriter format quite ready) the demo’s transformation process to Sans Parade’s context was demanding.

Especially the arrangement of the verse (A) and chorus (B) sections formed musical challenges. Markus’s composition had a wonderful lift and melody in the last section (C) of the song: that was the part, which was always most functional and natural throughout the different stages of the production process. In a way the last part of the composition kept the whole together. Here you can listen to an excerpt of Markus’s first version of the song:

First phase of production

The first “Sans Parade-draft” of the song came in a form of a clearly structured, guitar driven rock arrangement. Nothing especially wrong with it, but it was just too basic to be released on an album. In this version the accompaniment had a salient quarter note (snare) drum beat and a (Neil Young-influenced) strongly distorted rhythm guitar. The chord sequences consisted of:

Verse (A): C – Em

Chorus (B): Am – C – G – C – Am – F

This draft also included some melodic and “ringing” synth-parts and the arrangement grew to the last part of the song, where the string pads (also synths at this point) were added to create dramatic tension to the finale. Here is an early example of the last verse, chorus and bridge (leading to the last section of the song) of this first draft:

As already mentioned: this version was fully functional – just too basic.

Second phase of production

In response to this version Pekka recorded a new draft separately in Stockholm. This version had a “Red Hot Chili Peppers-influenced” clean guitar and bass intro, which also repeated between the chorus and verse. Pekka’s version did not include any drums + both the harmony and the rhythm were quite altered (some said it was not in synch, but there is still some disagreement of this fact…). This version did not receive positive response – resulting as a war of words. Outcome: Pekka destroyed the arrangement and all the audio files. Only a lo-fi mp3-version of this draft remained.

Jani’s response to the ill-fated Stockholm-version was an arrangement, which was inspired by another of Markus’s songs called Illusion (we were working on that song simultaneously). The guitar accompaniment from the first draft lost its distortion and instead of “hitting and accenting” the ground chords, the new guitar part consisted of picked eighth note sequence. The drum track was also edited in to a more onward moving sixteenthnote sequence and some melodic glockenspiel accents were added to the whole. Here is an example of that version:

Third phase of production

At this point we all realised that we were totally lost and the song was left untouched for a long time. It definitely seemed that the song would not made the cut: in this shape it was out of the count. The main problem, which we realised later, was the fact that the earlier guitar tracks reserved the whole middle spectrum – just where Markus’s melody was taking place…amateurs.

During the final recording session we started moulding the song almost from a scratch and few surprises made the song functional:

1. We took the only surviving lo-fi mp3-file left from Pekka’s Stockholm-session and then converted and time-stretched it to fit the project.

2. Instead of electric guitar accompaniment we recorded some spacy piano and vibraphone parts.

3. And so comes the “kind of twist”:

  • Instead of the original C and Em chords in the verse, the new version’s verse used the chords G and Em. This choice provided the song with more “mysterious” quality: the chords were not underlining the atmosphere any more.
  • We played mostly dyads, consisting of perfect 5ths, instead of whole chords: in that way we left the defining 3rds to appear mostly in the song melody.
  • During the second verse there is even an Am-chord between the transitions (back) from Em to G.

4. From Pekka’s mp3 we time-stretched and repeated one single E-note sample over the chorus. This created harmonic tension in relation to the chorus’s ground chords + binds and creates continuity between the chorus and the verse.

5. We re-recorded the acoustic guitar accompaniment originally appearing in Markus’s first version. Even though that guitar track still has different (original) chords, it doesn’t matter: the acoustic guitar part has mostly rhythmical function in the background.

6. We left the drums out.

7. We added a guitar melody, which originally appears on Markus’s first acoustic version, to the intro.

8. We then topped the whole with high pitch noise and recorded some eerie guitar lines to the last part (which were inspired by Jani’s middle draft).

As the melodies in Markus’s compositions have often a very wide pitch range and his vocal timbre has a bright quality, this arrangement (which actually combined and borrowed something from our all previous drafts) had to succeed in supporting these factors (and the atmosphere of the lyrics of course): now there is always enough space around Markus’s vocals and the instrumentation moves aside when required. This is especially apparent during the last section of the song where Markus’s voice raises above all the rest.

Here’s an short example how the last demo version sounded:

Production memo 2 / A Liking Song

Production memo 2 / A Liking Song

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Composed by Jani Lehto

Lyrics: Jani Lehto

Arranged and produced by Jani Lehto & Pekka Tuppurainen

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Markus Perttula: Vocals

Jani Lehto: Acoustic guitar, banjo mandolin, piano, synthesizers and glockenspiel

Pekka Tuppurainen: Electric guitars, electric bass, marching bass drum and glockenspiel

Ville Pynssi: drums

Laura Turpeinen : Viola (pizzicato)

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Background

The forming of Sans Parade was Jani’s and Markus’s initiative, but the outcome has developed to be more “shared”: already 8 musicians have contributed their skills to the project. Jani and Pekka have worked together since 1999 and one of the acts was semi-successful Déclassé (formed and led by Jani and Juha Virta) – a group that can’t be dismissed when describing Sans Parade’s evolving. Liking Song was originally meant for Déclassé, but as the circumstances changed the song ended up for Sans Parade instead. The “Déclassé-sound”, consisting of soaring and dominant synthesizers, is clearly apparent in Jani’s first demo:

Production phase 1

Vice versa as with Sans Parade, the Déclassé productions did not cause so much openly heavy discussions between the participants: all the members were (and are) keen on for example Pet Shop Boys’ and Depeche Mode’s music – a fact quite apparent when listening to the albums of Déclassé. But with Sans Parade the budding electronic influence of those groups can’t be too clearly audible. Usually this causes some flaming discussions between Jani and Pekka: Pekka would like to hear more synthesizers and Jani would like to hear even more acoustic instruments. Actually a strange issue because Jani is more experienced and associated with electronic music production (and instrumentation) and Pekka with acoustic music production (and instrumentation) instead. Markus is a very talented songwriter and a hell of a singer. His role keeps him mostly out of these tense discussions, not least because of the fact of that his takes require the least of editing (because of the high quality he delivers). So: even though creating the most demanding and important part of the production(s), it could be said that Markus goes in and out from the studio (almost) in a blink of an eye. Jani and Pekka stay and twist the arm more often instead.

Jani produced the charming Liking Song on his own, continuing the production in “Déclassé-style”. Both the melody and lyrics of the chorus were remade to have a more positive feeling, which brought some pop catchiness into this song. Then Jani recorded new vocals with Markus. The drums had been already recorded in Helsinki with Ville (on top of the first demo). The newly produced audible outcome, with Markus’s fresh vocals, was a combination of Déclassé’s and Sans Parade’s soundscapes:

Production phase 2

But for once everybody agreed that the song, now rich in fine production details and great sounds, was still somehow sounding too indeterminate: the instrumentation was left in between of the two groups and the result did not sound actually like anything particularly. Jani took a different approach and recorded techno-inspired and constantly beating quarter note chord rhythm with a largely out of tune piano. This changed the piece’s atmosphere totally and hereby also the original drum recordings were shelved. Jani had also intensified the chorus’ with a rhythmic glockenspiel-sequence (adapting the vocal melody’s notes) and added an electric guitar to the verses:

Production phase 3

Pekka arrived for a complementary recording session and got the idea of adding a Jónsi-inspired bass drum stomp to the song. They recorded acoustic bass drum hits from a close distance (played with a soft mallet) and then also overdubbed the digital glockenspiel-sequence with four different acoustic glockenspiels and a vibraphone. These four glockenspiels give the arrangement the childish quality that suits perfectly with the openness of the lyrics. The production was now sounding heavy and stiff: several instruments were emphasizing the same things and we needed to clear up the arrangement. When trimming the thick harmonies they shelved most of the synth-sequences and cut away the existing electric guitars. Instead of the electric guitar, they added an acoustic guitar rhythm on top of the piano rhythm. But still the result gave an impression that something was missing.

Then Pekka played this one tone electric guitar melody by controlling the pitch (portamento) with a vintage pitch shifter-delay and Jani adjusted the knobs at the mixing desk simultaneously. The resulting melodic guitar line consisted of:

  1. Ascending perfect octave (from C#1 to C#2)
  2. Then descending perfect fourth (to G#1)
  3. Finally descending a perfect fifth back to the ground tone of the key (= C#1).

This melodic line proved to be well-related and functional second voice to the vocal melody and appears in the intro and during all the chorus’. The sound also worked in connection with Markus’s voice: this had to be executed cautiously, as the vocals and the guitar were now constantly overlapping each other at the same pitch register (in the chorus). One more accompanying guitar-take (this time in relation to the melody in the verses), few banjo mandolin accents and the whole sounded much better already. As the original drum takes were shelved, Jani and Ville then recorded new drum takes during the last drum recording session in Espoo. This is how the last demo version sounded, before we made the album version (which is better…):

Production Memo 1 / On December 13th

Production memo 1 / On December 13th

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Composed, produced and arranged by: Jani Lehto & Pekka Tuppurainen

Lyrics: Jani Lehto

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Markus Perttula: Vocals

Jani Lehto: Electric piano and harmonium

Ville Pynssi: Drums

Pekka Tuppurainen: Electric guitars, electric bass, piano and mandolin

Laura Turpeinen : Viola

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Background

When compared to other Sans Parade pieces, On December 13th has a different birth story and a crucial role as the first (almost) finished song of the group. In 2009 Pekka was working in Copenhagen and creating music for a contemporary dance performance (choreography by Linnea Lindh). During that stint he made this guitar wall, consisting of five separate guitar tracks and bass line, for the last part of the performance:

Production phase 1

Jani heard the music, considered it to have potential in a song form, and started to develop the material further. The mentioned guitar-cluster had a D major-timbre and ascending bass line (E – F# – A – B – D). The bass line hooked the guitar cluster partly to E (note), but the harmony’s weight was still set to D major – this resulted as a D/E –“timbre”. The cluster in itself created a constant and still soundscape, and the bass line contributed in keeping the whole in movement instead. Also the distance between the guitar cluster and the bass line was so wide, that there was enough gap (in the spectrum) for a melody too.

To mark and clarify the D-major timbre more Jani decided to add descending eighth note sequences (with Rhodes) to the piece. These descending sequences are consisting, varyingly, of the notes B – A – G – F# – E – D (mostly in successively descending order/scale). The sequences work also as a counter-movement for the ascending bass line. This was important, as the draft did not have clearly emphasised chords yet: the new note sequences assisted in transforming the unstructured “cluster wall” in to a song format plus the overall harmony became more clear. Jani then came up with a vocal melody and lyrics. Here you can listen to the first draft with his (very) temporary demo vocals on it:

Production phase 2

Sans Parade-project had now reached the point where we began applying our musical and mixing ideals in practice and seriously. A phase, which wasn’t so easy: Jani had a lot of other work on the mixing table and his vision of mellow sounding acoustic indie had yet to concretize. Pekka had left the group earlier due to differences in opinion and also because of Ilma Records’s time taking activities. Surprise: he returned. Markus had his own thing going on with his other groups Victoria, Despair Academy and also solo performances and recordings. In other words: the group was too split.

It could be also mentioned that common for the three of us is that musically we don’t have almost anything in common. A fact we should appreciate as strength (instead of a good reason to argue). But it (the strength factor) is so easily forgotten during the state of musical war… Anyway, Markus stepped in to the picture again when it was the time to record some vocals. We quickly realised that we hadn’t considered the song’s pitch at all: the key was not perfectly suitable for him. We had to re-record and transpose everything one whole step higher. Amateurs…

Luckily, the new key (which was F#-based) clarified and opened the whole upper timbre, vocals sounded really good and the song started to actually take shape. But it was still all but finished, and the very actual “how it should sound”-discussion was an air poisoning issue. We then travelled to Helsinki to record some drums with Ville and he played a quite basic drum track to the song. During the new recording sessions we also recorded few more rhythm guitar tracks. The result was this guitar-heavy version with constant drum beat:

After some serious discussions we realised that the sound was definitely not what we were after. Jani then made this new mix, where he filtered the drums to sound more blurry and added some lo-fi distortion to the guitar-mix. At least It was a step to the right direction:

Production phase 3

As time went by Jani became even more stressed of not releasing music in a while: during the past years he had been actively releasing records with the acts Star You Star Me and Déclassé. He came up with the idea of finishing a “Christmas present in song format” for the Christmas of 2010. This idea finally gave us a much-needed deadline. Markus’s tender vocals were already finished (and perfect as usual), but otherwise the song felt unfinished. Again Jani produced a new version on his own: this time he pasted Ville’s drumming from another song and trashed the original drums. The new drum track and sound (played with soft mallets) provided the song with a new atmosphere, but the guitar heavy sound stayed:

Production phase 4

There were many (or maybe 3) differences of opinion whether this was to sound we should and could develop further – and it already was late November of 2010. When Pekka came to Finland, to spend his Christmas holiday there, the first thing he did was to go to a music store and buy a mandolin: he’d heard the The Place We Ran From-album (2010) by Tired Pony and was inspired by the sound of the group. He then went to the studio determined to finish the song with Jani.

They ended up cutting away all the guitars (apart from the backing cluster) and filled the resulting gap with totally new harmonium, piano and mandolin parts during a short but effective 5-hour session instead. Jani later re-recorded the harmonium-part, because the original microphone placement had been wrong. We have to especially mention a nice detail regarding the harmonium track: it’s pumping bellows sound like a bass drum beat. This setup came also to be the instrumentation, which would later define many of the songs – a fact we did not understand then.

During the last recording session, the song’s atmosphere and character actually transformed in to a “December”-song: the new arrangement helped to support the “winter atmosphere” and the dark lyrics. Judging by the lyrics: this piece is definitely not a Christmas song – it is a very dark and melancholic winter song. Here you can listen to the last demo version of the song (not final mix or masterd):

About production memos

Sans Parade’s debut album and it’s creation process has been a long and difficult struggle for us. We thought that some of you might find it interesting to hear and read how some of the songs developed during the different phases of production process’.

Here you can find out (every now and then) how few key songs evolved from the 1st draft to the last version preceeding the one (mixed and mastered) appearing on the album.

The lyrics of the first single

Sans Parade’s first single includes two very different songs: “The Last Song Is A Love Song” and “A Ballet In The Sea”. We thought that it might be of interest to read about the stories behind the two songs (written by Jani Lehto). First, the lyrics are presented and then you can read Jani’s comments regarding the writing process.

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The Last Song Is A Love Song

all the incidents that were to be so you could be you
against all the odds
from the big bang
from your mothers arms to here and now

I put my arms around you
we walk away like lovers do, lovers in the night
solemn steady heart beat
shining eyes say it all, loud and clear

and we are no more
and we are no more

so waltz with me
please stand between us and death
waltz with me oh

waltz with me
i’ve stopped dreaming, i’m not okay
so waltz with me oh

waltz with me
i don’t believe in much
waltz with me,
cos this is the last song

waltz with me
it’s so cold outside,
waltz with me,
cos soon it’s too late

i’ll hold your hand
i’ll hold your hand when no-one sees
tell me what you want, that’s what i want
let me hear the sound of your breathing when you fall asleep

teach me everything
show me every hidden detail, imperfections, where the beauty lies
and when i see your naked back
in the morning light lying in my bed

then all is new
then all is new

so waltz with me…

Comments:

The starting point of the lyrics was a dialogue line from a beautifully grey 2008 film “The Reader” (directed by Stephen Daldry). Near the end of the film the imprisoned main character, who is an illiterate woman convicted from war crimes, says to her ex-lover: “Love – what else there is between us and death?”. This melancholic observation leads the film to it’s sad ending. In “Last Song” this line is turned into a plea that opens the chorus. The rest of the chorus is pretty self-explanatory, but the line “i’ve stopped dreaming, i’m not okay” summarizes my own feelings (at the time of the writing) very well.

The chorus and the overall atmosphere of the song also ove a lot to the greatest depressing songwriter of all times: Steven Patrick Morrissey. And especially to his song “Life Is A Pigsty” (from the album Ringleader of the Tormentors ). Oves in my mind, at least.

The verses instead have been inspired by the novel “East Of Eden” (written by John Steinbeck). In the book there is an episode where the main character imagines ideal life with the woman he loves. In “Last Song” this idea of a great true love is also constructed from various bits and pieces I had overheard, been told, experienced or otherwise seen or heard (and written in my notebook) in 2008-2009.

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A Ballet In The Sea

all those shimmering lights
all those shimmering lights, like a ballet in the sea

and the darkest fishes
swim in the deepest of the seas
swim with me

and the water was dark
and the water was waiting
and nothing worth fighting for
nobody was waving

and water was cold
and the water all around me
and nothing worth waiting for
nobody was watching

but all those shimmering lights
all those shimmering lights, like a ballet in the sea

and the brightest fishes
rise to the heavens above
rise with me

and the water was dark
and the water was waiting
and nothing worth fighting for
nobody was waving

and the water was cold
and the water was below me
and nothing worth waiting for
nobody was watching

but m.o.b.s speeding
and searchlights scanning
and helicopters circling
and nothing there to find but the sea, oh sea
endless sea, oh sea, luminous

oh set me free, oh set me free…

Comments:

I have always felt that the best lyrics I’ve written are always the narrative ones. I have also experienced that having a song based on real events makes the musical work much more easier. The musical decisions (e.g. instrumentation and length) can be based on a question: “Does this help to project the picture and emotions that i wittnessed?” instead of just the usual “Is this sounding better or worse now?”. Of course “the format for nice pop songs” is lost immediately when using this method, but that has not been a goal for Sans Parade anyway. Usually I prefer that the subject (of the lyrics) stays behind the curtain. I’m mostly concentrating on describing things such as “how it looked and how it felt” and trying to avoid the “what actually happened”-factor.

“A Ballet In The Sea” is an exception: the story contains elements like a rescue boat and helicopter. These leave no questions.

Though the story is told in first-person point of view, the structure of the music is based on the feelings of an random (outsider) eyewitness:

  • First the beautiful sight to sea from a cabin (calm night and moonlight).
  • Then the creeping doubt that something is wrong (why are so many big ships slowly steering in a circle in the middle of the night?).
  • And finally the spine-chilling understanding of the situation’s hopelessness (a helicopter with a searchlight suddenly passing by at low altitude and a thought of the water temperature in late autumn).

Besides the forementioned events, the one big influence for this song was a impressive scene in Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Porco Rosso” (from 1992). This scene takes place after an air battle and shows how all the dead pilots rise to heaven in their bullet battered biplanes. The only survivor of the battle is not able to steer his plane any higher and has no choice but to let his friends (and also enemies) all go, somewhere, up and away. So, Miyazaki’s extraordinarily beautiful interpretation of the fictional deaths changed, just a little, how I interpreted these real-life events.

But why write such a song? Do I need to deal all the dramatic events by writing them into songs as a some kind of therapy? Or am I banally stealing other peoples tragic lifes just to get some substance into my writings? Or am I nobly trying to find common denominators for different sides of human life and share them to fellow human beings? Maybe somewhere in between. Who knows, the jury is out…