Inspiration and thoughts behind the making of 'Woo'd Early' by Free Dust
Tascam Portastudio 414 MKii / Creative Constraints
The Free Dust project is built on a creative constraint: everything I make for this project is made by recording electric guitar through a few pedals to cassette 4-track. I am devoted to the Tascam Portastudio 414 MKii. My wife found this specific one, I call it “SCABS” (see photo), in the attic of one of her old apartments a decade ago… a former roommate must have left it behind. I took it into my care and have been obsessed with it for years. I have used it for all sorts of projects… it was featured heavily on Catch a Blessing. In that case I recorded things to the tape machine and then manipulated and mixed them there before bouncing back to DAW to do more editing and layering. In Free Dust projects, it is more simple… everything goes to the Tascam, I write and record everything there, and then bump it back only to do final mixing. Having a limitation for the number of tracks I have to work with helps prevent option paralysis, and sometimes tend to over-work files by adding too many layers. The 4- track system creates a need for economy. I sort of see the Tascam like a poetic form, like a haiku. It is limited but powerful. Part of the power comes in the limitations.
the ol' Tascam
Morning Recording / Routine
I was a night owl when I was younger and I spent a lot of time recording between 11pm and 3am. As I’ve gotten older and settled into my career as a teacher, I have grown to love early morning recording sessions and having a very reliable routine. I often have 2 days a week without classes and on these days, studio days, I will wake up at my normal time, 7am, and do my morning stuff: shower, eat breakfast, etc. Then I go down to the studio and will work for an hour or three. I find there is a kind of clarity that comes for me in working in the morning. The world feels quieter. My dreams from the night before are sort of lingering there. It is peaceful. That is a space that fosters rewarding studio time for me.
I also think having a routine has become a very central part of my practice as an artist. I really thrive on knowing I have allotted time to go into the studio and work on music, as I also thrive on knowing I have allotted times that I will be doing the work that I need to do to pay the bills. Having both of those spaces in scheduled times throughout the week has made them more separate and also more rewarding.
an image from inside my studio during a morning session
The “3 Times as Much” Rule / Voracious Listening
I love ambient and experimental music, but I often try to listen to anything and everything BUT ambient and experimental music when I can. I find things I love in basically any genre of music and I feel that the more I listen to outside of the genre I am working in, the more ideas I can come back to my own work with. I had a poetry professor in college, Dan Beachy-Quick, who insisted that if you want to be a great writer, you have to read 3 times as much as you hope to write. He said something to the effect of: “If you are going to write a poem, read 3 poems first. Don’t just read them, study them. Try to learn how they work as best you can. Find usefulness in learning about their engineering.”
I love that this rule basically demands that in order to be creative, you are expected to absorb and study work just as much as you are expected to create it. Being a creative person can relegate people to a cult of originality, but I love that this rule demands the opposite. Studying how others do their work, learning from that, and then making your own thing with different techniques is… brilliant, resourceful, practical, studious. So, I am always listening to all sorts of music and I am always scouring for ideas in what I am listening to. A voracious ear hears things everywhere like casting a wide net catches all sorts of fish.
Having Fun! / Loving “errors”
Making music can be a serious matter for some folks. If that is how they want to approach it, I am glad it works for them that way. After many failed attempts at making music like that, I have learned it doesn’t work for me to think too much about what I am making. For me, when I get very serious, which is to say, very cerebral about what I am making, I often find that I stop having fun. When I stop having fun, I stop making work I love. There are many musicians I admire who make work that is full of complex thinking, but for me, I have to work in a place that is more built on impulse, on playing around, on joy. Even in the sleepy slow motion songs as heard on Woo’d Early, I have to come to the session looking for joy and lightness and humor as often as possible.
Sister Mary Corita Kent and John Cage have a wonderful list of rules to be used in the creative classroom (if you are unfamiliar with these folks, please check them out!). Rule 9 is “Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think.” This has also meant, for me, to relinquish control at times. Allowing errors to find their way into musical recordings has become a way for me to maintain that lightness. Loving an error is loving the truth, which is to say, nothing is perfect but everything deserves love. Even a few sour notes here or there. The more I try to do this the more human my music feels to me and that is a quality I am enjoying trying to put into my songs.
Chicago is a complicated and beautiful place. Economically, politically, ideologically… it is all over the map. Mega rich, super poor. Diverse but profoundly segregated. Colorful but persistently gray (especially in the winter!). All of these converging and complex qualities have undeniably shaped my music and my life in the 7 or so years I have lived here. We live on the Northwest side and have grown to love this area of the city because it is close enough to the city center to go there when we can, but also close enough to some really wonderful forest preserves and natural spaces. I don’t think people often associate Chicago with nature, but the city and surrounding areas are littered with natural spaces. Wild coyotes roam the outskirts of the city and can often be seen on the wooded shoulders of the expressway. Deer thrive in the woods that rumble in the wake of low-flying jets landing just miles away at O’Hare, one of the busiest airports in America. It is a place that demands a certain kind of tenacity to thrive here, but also a place that has its own kind of radical hospitality. I love it.
'Woo'd Early' by Free Dust
Limited LP / Digital
For a year, in 2015, Matthew Sage (aka M. Sage) cataloged near-daily recordings made with a very narrow creative constraint; electric guitar and a few pedals, all recorded and mixed directly to cassette 4-track. Eschewing the often complex studio gadgetry and computer editing that he relies on for his primary project, Free Dust became a respite that offered room for technique to fall away and for pure expression to surface. He collected and released more than two-and-a-half hours of this material throughout the year as quarterly digital downloads; this body of work was then re-released as a double-CD in 2019 on his now-defunct label Patient Sounds.
Now, Past Inside the Present presents a new collection of Free Dust material, the first proper LP for this project. Woo’d Early is a succinct diurnal counter to the sprawling dusk-settling realms of Archive; these fluttering dawn-oriented guitar works, using the same constraints that originally defined the project, were recorded in the very early mornings of late Summer and early Fall 2019. Instead of cerebral evening ruminations, these are billowing guitar atmospheres as casual morning ponderings. Where Archive was a diaristic account of acclimating to a new life in a new city, Woo’d Early is mornings having adapted. Reveling in the constraints presented by restricted gear, Sage explores melody and texture with an inquisitive, sensitive, and casual curiosity. Not without their hiccups, complications, and delightful quirks, these mostly-docile reflections are a mottled silver sliver of the complicated peace that mornings and maturation present every day; the tender and gray midwestern sky, chalky and pale before the rustling of the day has shaken off the evening’s inky dust.
Written, recorded and produced by Matthew Sage
Recorded in Chicago, Illinois in 2019
Mastered at Schwebung Mastering (Germany) by Stephan Mathieu
Photography, design and assemblage by Matthew Sage
Created using electric guitar, electronics and magnetic tape design
© Past Inside the Present
This is PITP-V013 | MMXXI
Inspiration and thoughts behind the making of 'Process' by Tobias Karlehag
Prior studies and touring as a percussionist
A huge section of my musical career was just that: making a musical career through a more set path through music studies. I’ve spent 10 years studying across the world from Sweden to New Delhi. I’ve developed a musical repertoire in Swedish traditional music as well as Middle Eastern meditation and percussion. My education gave me a sense of a secure career path, but throughout it I felt like I was shutting off a part of myself creatively. Over the years I had the opportunity to dip into electronic music, electroacoustic composition, and sound design while playing with friends, doing a few film jobs, and working within performance art. These moments playing brought out deep feelings that I had been missing artistically in my normal work. Through more and more consideration over my school years, I was more inspired to do something with this other side of my musicality.
Then came a breaking point when I was set to begin my master’s education in Spain. It was a dream set up. Perfect teachers, perfect school, everything that I needed logically to continue my classical education career. I decided to take a jump in a new direction; to leap into something unknown: this creative part of me that had been growing all of these years.
The following autumn after leaving my masters program, I found myself with all this time that I previously gave to school and to helping other artists realize their dream projects. I started to look for inspiration. Eventually I stumbled across ambient music through this amazing podcast called, “Sound and Process” by Dan Dirks. This flame, or better said, forest fire, sparked within me. All of this new music. All of these new artists. I had never heard of any of it but it felt like home. That fall, I got deep into modular synths, algorithmic composition, and generative music. This combination grew up into my own approach to ambient music. I would love to give a shout out to a special few that opened this new world to me: Marcus Fischer, Federico Durand, Elaine Radigue, and Emily A. Sprague. Thank you for your music. Also Dan Dirks, thank you for your amazing work on your podcast, as well as everyone involved and creating the lines forum.
I would also love to mention a really special memory right within this musical and personal change for me. In September 2018 I attended an artist residency for ten days in Alsace, France. With six other artists branching over several artistic disciplines, we stayed in this beautiful wooden house on the mountainside outside of a small village called Metzeral. The residency was artist-run and lacked any specific agenda. Nothing waited to be presented or reviewed which I think was crucial to the experience and atmosphere. We started each morning with an exercise, game, or activity, led by one of us to start the day.This gave us a chance to get a glimpse into someone else's world and expression. The rest of the day consisted of individual artistic work, conversations, walks along the mountain sides, and meals among friends.
The Change, PROCESS
With all this, the album has come to represent a transformative process for me both creatively and personally. It’s been an adventure, discovering new creative depths within me, as well as taking scary steps in exciting directions that left my comfortable career path.
It’s been a humbling process. Though I dedicated years to classical and traditional music, it feels like I have started back at the beginning in some ways. I’m still grabbing all the past parts of me and now composing my own music. It’s such an exciting process, as now all artistic decisions and the outcome are on me. I think that this realization in unison with my change of artistic direction humbled me greatly and really changed who I am today. I would say that this period of time was the start of PROCESS.
Behind the Music, A Spotify Playlist
Limited LP / Digital
Tobias Karlehag is a multi-instrumentalist and sound artist from Gothenburg, Sweden. With his solo project he creates spacious ambient and drone music through algorithmic compositions and improvisation.
In his debut album 'Process' he shapes a still and meditative state with modular synths, electric guitar and various electronics with underlying narratives. The music is the result of a shift where the inspiration for his work comes, partially from field recordings, chance and his own reflections on flow and break-up.creditsreleases January 24, 2021
Artistic idea, composition, recording and mixing by Tobias Karlehag
Mastering by Linus Andersson
Photography by Anton Alvin
Graphic design by Julius åsling
This release is possible through funding by KulturRadet
Vinyl pressed at Spinroad Vinyl, Gothenburg, Sweden
Thanks to Zach Frizzell & PITP, Jacob Snavely, Rasmus Persson, Anton Alvin, the community at Vrångsholmen and Statens Kulturråd. Special thanks to my friends and family from near and far, you know who you are, both for what has been and for what is to come.
© Past Inside the Present
This is PITP-V029 | MMXXI