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