irOri Blog 06 - Of Frida, Luuli, and the Public Persona

Recently I had a conversation with my dear friend Vyvian aka Luuli about Frida Kahlo. We were hanging out in Mexico City after a gig, and Frida looms large over that city. Her famous home is close to the center of downtown, and her face pops up all over the place, from souvenier-market coffee cups to museum banners to enormous street art masterpieces.

The thing about Frida, I was saying to Vyv, is that she invited you into her life. Indeed, you really have to understand her story in order to really appreciate her work. Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940) is just a painting of an androgynous lady in a chair until you find out that she looks like that because, according to the appropriately-named Theartstory.org, "Scholars have seen this gesture as a confrontational response to Rivera's demand for a divorce, revealing the artist's injured sense of female pride and her self-punishment for the failures of her marriage." 

You may well appreciate her draftsmanship and color choices, but you will fail to grasp the depth of anguish and fury that the portrait contains. Her life was totally inextricable from her work. They were the same thing.

Vyv is that kind of artist. She has transformed herself into an art project. Her look and her lifestyle are the same thing as her music, the same thing as her photography, the same thing as her social media presence. They are all rolled together into one fabulous, beguiling, sometimes terrifying work, and you’ll never really get what this “Luuli” is about just by listening to the music, or following her Facebook posts alone. Every piece of the art project that is Vyv Looper offers a bit more insight into the heart at the center of the storm.

I admire Vyvian immensely for her self-as-art-project lifestyle. I also cannot conceive of doing it myself, and I told her so that sunny afternoon, riding around in the top part of a double-decker bus. “I could never be like you and Frida,” I said. “The absolutely last thing I would ever want is for a bunch of strangers to think they know something about my life.” This was right around the time that I had shut down my personal Facebook page, and done the best I could to scrub the internet of any trace of my name. I had suddenly and violently disconnected my private self from my musical persona.

The problem of course, is that people adore openness in a public figure. They love to feel like they have a personal connection to the artist and their work, like reading that biography or newspaper article gave them a unique insight into the art. Like they really get it in some way that they didn’t before. Like they’re in on the secret. The artist’s life becomes the narrative that links all the various art pieces together, and there is something deeply satisfying about piecing together a life, trying to understand the person behind the work, and the extra depth that understanding brings to the art. I've done it with a few of my very favorite artists, including a decade-long preoccupation with David Foster Wallace. The feeling of uncovering some fellow obsessive’s internet stash of DFW audio interviews is very, very compelling, and drives one to dig deeper, to try and learn more. Further, those same interviews take on an entirely different texture when cut with the knowledge that this charming, brilliant oddball on the tape would be dead by his own hand inside of ten years. 

Long-deceased artists may be able keep some of their secrets, but in our current media ecosystem everyone from your sister to the president of the United States is just falling over themselves to share every gnarly detail of their lives with anyone who'll listen. This is the golden age of the personal narrative, when all your favorite celebrity's personal peccadiloes are at your fingertips, and freely shared. And there I was, withdrawing from public view just as fast as I could.

The sun beat down as I worried aloud to Vyv about my concerns that my withholding access to my personal life keeps people from enjoying my music as much as they might. “Maybe,” she said as she stared out at the city, “but you have your label.”

She had nailed it. This label allows me total creative control from start to finish. I can release my own music with exactly the sound I want, in whatever buffoonish concept-album format I feel is appropriate, accompanied by precisely the visual style that I feel best compliments the music. More importantly, I can use it like a spotlight to bring attention to artists whom I feel need to be heard more widely. I choose to express myself through the choices that I make, not the narrative I have crafted. You, the irOri listener, are -I hope coming to trust those choices, becoming willing to follow me down whatever weird sonic rabbit hole I insist is worth checking out, because it has been so far.

That, in the end, is close enough to the Frida style of openness for me. I can carefully craft an aesthetic and an attitude and release it into the wild when I feel the time is right. Maybe you won’t learn everything about me or my personal life, but I kind of think the anonymity adds to the experience. It lets you project whatever you want onto our art. Think of it like one of those old vinyl releases where there’s practically no text in the whole package. As much fun as it is to pore over liner notes, isn’t it ultimately more satisfying to just put on the record, close your eyes, and zone out for a while?

 

And if you really need to know what I think about stuff, there’s always this blog. ;)

irOri Blog 05 - PRESALES

 As you can see by the photo above, our very first piece of physical media, Okage’s debut CD “Demons” has been sent to the printer! This means that it’s time for PRESALES.

Here’s the deal. There will only be 200 CDs, ever. This is meant to be a very special collector’s item, a big deal, something that confers bragging rights on the owner. So if you want to be absolutely certain that you’re going to receive a copy, go to our STORE and make a pre-order. You will be the very first in line to receive the CD when it releases.

 I know that I’ve always wondered about the process of making a CD, and now that I’m doing it, I thought that a little transparency could be fun and informative. 

My Costs:

Printing the CD + Packaging: $615

Art + Design: $100+

Mastering: (Top secret actual price, but well over $200)

Publicity (FB ads, Paying DoT to make/master a promo mix): $100+

 

So, as you can see, I’m out more than $1000 before we even see a disc. I suppose I could have cut some corners and gotten the price down a bit, but I didn’t want to. The whole point was, if we are going to be producing something as archaic and ridiculous as physical media in 2017, it’s going to be a really special piece, of the absolutely highest quality that we can possibly provide.

 

Recently I've been marvelling at just what an international effort this whole process really is. Check this out:

The music was produced by Maleficium and CinderVOMIT in Tokyo and Atlanta, respectively.

Mastered by Dog of Tears in California.

Art produced by Suture23 in Georgia.

Package design by 4MACK in Mexico.

All that is uploaded to Mobineko, a British company,

who send it to their manufacturing plant in Taiwan

They ship the completed CDs to Atlanta (Cinder’s house),

who then ships it worldwide to you.

All coordinated from my kitchen in Costa Rica.

 

There are five different countries and several US states involved in this process. It is all so super cool and 21st century, and we are proud of our work, but it takes time and effort. We hope you can understand how hard we’ve worked on this, and we genuinely hope you’ll invest in a physical CD.

 

If you’re interested in a digital release, please visit our Patreon page. We’ve made a commercial and artistic decision to ONLY release the digital files to our supporters on Patreon, in order to give our most loyal fans something very special. The 16 and 24-bit files will become available to patrons on the official launch day for the CD.

 

In case it wasn’t clear, a ton of people from all over the world are killing themselves to get this thing in your hands. We really want it to be extra-special, and we are going the extra mile to make sure that it is.

 

Lots of love,

Priapizzm & everyone at irOri

irOri Blog 04 - Expecting the Unexpected

(Small program note)

This is supposed to be a weekly blog, and I seem to have missed a week. But what actually happened was, I started writing, and then I wrote some more, and then the post turned into an entirely different thing, and then I had to edit it all down until it made sense. 

So, here is a very philosophical, kinda abstract thing that it took me nearly a week to write. I hope it is of interest to you, since this kind of “philosophy of psytrance” stuff is important to me, and the act of writing it makes it much clearer in my head.

The good news is, we have major irOri news happening this week, so the next blog post will come out on Wednesday, like it’s goddamn supposed to, and we will be back on track. 

(Finish program note)

Expecting the Unexpected

     As a producer and label manager, and - yes - even occasional DJ, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what exactly makes psytrance so pleasing to me. Yes, there’s the drugs, and the overall hedonistic vibe of the parties etc. That’s fun, I suppose, but what is it in the music itself that keeps me so in love? I never liked dance music as a kid. I mean pop, sure, but music oriented specifically to the dancefloor always kind of turned me off. Keep in mind, this would have been like the 90’s (I am aged) and dance music at that time was, well, fucking cheesy. It was lame and predictable and the sounds mostly sucked. (“But GOA,” you cry! “Twisted Records, brah!” Yeah that was happening in the 90’s but I didn’t know about it then.) Even today, most electronic dance music suuuuuuuucks. Why is it, then, that some time in the early 2000s I became obsessed with psytrance, and haven’t been able to let it go for more than a decade? What is it about this music that is so fucking great?

     The basic conclusion I’ve come to is that it has to do with the balance between anticipation/expectation and surprise/novelty. When we are listening to really any dance music, but trance in particular, there is a certain need for the music to give us what we are looking for. For example, if we don’t have that basic rhythmic structure (kicks on the quarter notes, offbeat hats etc etc) nearly all the time, we don’t really know how to get down. We expect that snare to land in roughly the same place that it has been for the last 4 minutes of the track. We anticipate that the kick will land on the next quarter note, and we shake our collective asses accordingly. In pop and classical and jazz-type music, this question of anticipation goes into western music theory. A chord pattern builds tension and then resolves. We are trained by a lifetime of four-chord songs to expect that when we hear that I->IV->V progression, you can be damn sure that we’re about to go back to the IV, then the I again etc. .

     So then what happens when the thing we expect to happen doesn’t? When the kick suddenly drops out mid-bar, or instead of going to the chorus like we did last time, we slam without warning into some weird kind of bridge? Well, for me, that’s when the music gets really really trippy. That’s the stuff that really pleases me as a listener. A truly psychedelic sound, or track, or DJ set, to me, is one that is almost gives you what you want, then yanks the rug out from under you. Really good psytrance is so great because it’s the fucking best at being sneaky like that. It plays with our expectations, it knows what we’ve been trained to expect from years of parties and decades of music generally, and it acts like it’s gonna give us that, but at the last minute goes in a totally unexpected direction, and we are glued to the dancefloor, sweating and incoherent, laughing and dancing and enjoying our lives.

     So let’s talk about this thing that people say. They say that this or that music is quote-unquote “undanceable.” Of course, other people are dancing to this very same music somewhere on earth pretty much every weekend, so really what they mean to say is, “I don’t have any context for this music. I don’t know what to expect or anticipate, so it is all surprises, and I can’t enjoy music that is solely surprises.” And indeed, who but the geekiest most masochistic douchebags among us would have any fun listening to music that never, ever gave them what they wanted? It’s supposed to be a fucking party, not a torture session. So we shall forgive those “it’s undanceable” people, and remind ourselves that they just meant to say, “I don’t know how to enjoy this.”

     On the flip side, there is cheese. Cheese, in my humble opinion, is music that gives us exactly what we want it to give, all the time, without any surprises. And don’t get me wrong, there are times when I want just exactly that. I am exhausted from a long night of having my expectations challenged, or just home from work, and all I want is to vibe out on some brainless shit. But let’s not kid ourselves. Music that gives us exactly what we want is brainless shit. (I never said it’s easy to make, it takes a great deal of skill and careful work to make brainless shit. But it’s still brainless shit.) This is why people claim to hate pop music, and yet keep on buying it. This is why the top charts of beatport are filled with terrible, boring, repetitive garbage. This is why Big Room House (“EDM”). Because, no matter what they say, people don’t want too much surprise. They want to be comfortable with what’s coming out of the 10kw sound system, jiggling their internal organs and taking over their entire headspace. Especially when they’re totally fried.

     When I was a younger musician, I explicitly wanted to “break psytrance.” I’d go into my studio and just write the smashiest shit I could, with sudden massive starts and stops, weird comical interludes and the weirdest, most arrhythmic sounds that I could come up. I had something I wanted to get out of me, and I did. And I got, shall we say, a reputation. People stopped booking me. When I did get a chance to perform, nobody danced. At best, they all just sort of stood around and whispered to each other. So, I made a conscious effort to incorporate real groove and funk and joy into my music. I also slowed down my BPMs rather dramatically. The sound design stayed super weird, but I started to incorporate some elements that people could recognize as being, you know, psytrance. And guess what? People started dancing. Furiously.

     My point is, there’s got to be a balance. If we, as producers and performers use only sounds, techniques and structures that are tried-and-true (I’m looking at you, Mr. Triplet-Bass-on-Every-Track.) The kids will for-sure dance, but our music will be soulless, boring garbage. At the same time, if we fall too far onto the side of novelty and experimentation, we will spend our days staring at empty dancefloors and angry promoters.

     If I may close with a plug, DJ Jun from Japan is the fucking maestro of this balance. He has this incredibly technical mixing technique where he manages to slam from one track to another in just such a way that you never would have seen it coming, but in retrospect it just makes perfect sense, and more importantly you never lose the groove. I saw him one time while living in Hiroshima, and spent five hours absolutely drooling on myself, feet stomping, booty shaking entirely of its own volition. It was the most psychedelic thing I’d ever fucking seen. My last few months in Japan were spent running around the country, trying to see Jun play as many times as I could, just soak up his technique and style. I think his secret (besides just plain great mixer skills and track selection) is that he plays everything from Parvati to Psykovsky in one set, and he never rests for even one second. Just as you’re (or he is) starting to get too comfortable with the groove, starting to become complacent, he yanks it out from under you, and (and this is the important part) replaces it with something totally different, but even funkier. So the experience is one of nearly constant surprise and shock and joy, but the booty never, ever stops moving. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

irOri Blog 03 - On Loudness (Mastering pt 1)

Welcome to part one of an occasional series on Mastering. 

Soooo.....what's mastering?

It's the last step in the process of preparing a track to play live or release. The idea is that you take your musical idea just as far as you can possibly take it, you make the track as perfect as you can, and then you send it to someone else to finish it off. Sure, you can do it yourself, but the idea is that you pay (and you damn well should pay!) someone with better gear and- more importantly - better ears than yours to make your music sound as good as it possibly can. 

People seem to think of mastering as some kind of a dark art, some magical process that makes your music sound "pro." But that's really not true. All mastering is, really, is making your music roughly as loud as everyone else's. 

Of course that's a wild oversimplification, but that's basically it. Let's take a look. Here's a visual representation of a track from my last EP (Transiant, Jagno Gaia & Priapizzm - Shirime) just the way it came out my computer before I sent it in for mastering. 

screenshot2017-05-18at9.38.16pm.png

For those not familiar with audio software, the left-right axis represents time, while the up-down axis represents amplitude (volume). The top and bottom pictures are the left and right speakers respectively. The blue is the audio information while the white is silence. 

Now here's the same track once David Cohen aka the Dog of Tears got done working his magic on it: 

screenshot2017-05-18at9.41.27pm.png

You can see that the spaces between phrases are just the same, but the peaks go up higher. It's the exact same track, just louder. 

Now for comparison, let's take a look at a track from a (very) prominent producer, on a (legendary) label that is for sure not-irOri:

screenshot2017-05-18at9.42.07pm.png

It looks pretty similar, right? The loudest parts of the two mastered tracks are just about equally loud. They both fill up the image, going right to the top/bottom. So, like, what's the big deal? Why does everyone get so damn worked up about mastering if all you're doing is making it roughly as loud as any other psy track?

Take another look. My track and the famous guy's track actually look pretty different. Yes the very loudest parts are equally loud, but if you look carefully at mine you can see some white spaces up at the very loudest parts between a bunch of spikes. Those spikes are each individual kick drum. On the other hand, Mr. Prominent Psy Guy has virtually no white space. (Yes, I know that if you zoomed in you could find some space between kicks on his, but let me make my point here). 

.....so what?

Imagine a giant speaker playing these songs. It's pounding in and out with every kick drum, and jiggling a tiny bit between those kicks to create all the rest of the sound. The difference between my track and this other one is that David mastered my track so as to give the speaker some space to bounce back between kick drums. This tiny little bit of breathing room makes the next kick sound louder when it hits, because the speaker has room to breathe. You can't have dark without light, and you can't have loudness without quiet, even in the few miliseconds between quarter notes at 150 beats per minute. 

When a track is smashed flat like this famous one, the speaker can't breathe. It can't come back in before shooting out again. It's basically just smooshed out all the time. I'm oversimplifying here, but not as much as you might think. 

So why in the world would darkpsy's most famous mastering engineer take a track that a very famous person has spent months or years working on and just squish it flat like that? Well, as it turns out, the human brain does this weird thing where if you take two of the exact same sound, but make one marginally louder, your brain thinkis that the louder one sounds better. Google "psychoacoustics," "Fletcher-Munson Curve," and "equal loudness contour" if you wanna know more. The point is that while the loudest point of both tracks is the same, the famous guy's track averages 2.6 decibels louder. So when you listen to both of them on crappy laptop speakers, you think "damn, that one sounds way way better than shitty Mr. Priapizzm."

but

On high-quality studio speakers, or on an enormous sound system, Shirime (my track) fucking thunders. Because there is space for the speaker to breathe, each kick abolutely pounds and all the tiny little details between the kicks are crystal clear. The reverbs extend off into space and the leads zip around your head. There is depth and clarity and width, and the whole track seems to live in its own beautiful little space.

The other guy's? Well, it's a hell of a track. It's beautifully written and immaculately produced. But it just sounds flat. Everything is all the way up front, all the time. There's no back-to-front, no side-to-side. And after about three minutes, it starts to hurt your ears. 

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why David Cohen is the mastering engineer on every irOri Music release. Because he has the ears and the gear and the balls to pull back a little and let our music breathe. So if you're listening to one of our releases and you find yourself thinking, "dang, this is a little quieter than the psytrance I'm used to," just reach out to your stereo and turn the volume knob up a little. Your ears will thank you. 

 

irOri Blog 02 - Teaching and Learning

Hi everyone, 

For my second blog, I'd like to talk about education. 

In my professional ("real") life, I teach English as a Second Language. I've been doing this for more than ten years, and I love it. The joy of teaching, for me, is that moment when you see nomething really click with a student. There's nothing that compares to the knowledge that you helped someone figure something out. Indeed I think that at least part of my goal making music is something similar: to push the listener out of their comfort zone and expose them to something new, while making sure that the grooves etc are familiar enough that they can still dance. That look on a punter's face when some little bit of ear candy cuts right to their soul is worth all the hours slaving away in the studio. 

So as I re-think our Patreon perks, I've decided it's time to offer lessons in psy-trance production, mastering, Ableton Live production/performance, DJing and whatever else the burgeoning musican might need to know. These lessons will be available both on-line and in-person here in Costa Rica. Next week I'm going to record an example lesson with a good friend and post it to YouTube, so you can get an idea of what I have to offer.

There are plenty of other musicians offering music and production lessons. It seems to me that what sets me apart from those other (very talented) folks is that teaching is my job. It's my career. I have studied and practiced curriculum design, classroom management, the very nature of acquisition of knowledge in a way that most career musicians have not. I hope that this knowledge and experience will allow me to create a really special and unique experience for my students, a bit differnet from the usual "this is how I do it." tutorial-type lessons.

There's a wonderful quote from William Butler Yeats that has informed my entire educational methodology:

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." 

As a teacher, my job is not to stuff your brain with my "expert" knowledge, but to create an environment where it is possible for you to discover your own way of expressing yourself. This applies equally to music, English, or anything else. Of course there are technical aspects of the software and music theory that must be explored together, but really what I want to do is help you become better than I am at this stuff. Nothing would make me prouder than for one of my students to break the whole mold of psytrance, to come up with ideas and techniques I never could have imagined, and to become a legend.

So if this sounds interesting to you,  watch this space. There's a lot happening in irOri HQ these days, and this blog is the place to learn about it. 

Lots of love,

Cooper Izzm

PS (top secret) I'm working right now with one of ths biggest names in the scene to put together a sort of retreat this winter, in the style of the now-defunct Primitif Workshops, a week in lovely Costa Rica learning how to produce from some absolute masters of psytrance. If you want in, let me know.