Composer Rod Abernethy on recording found objects for new album The Upward Turn

Rob AbernethyBack in February 2011, we interviewed Rod Abernethy about the virtual instruments he was using in his video game and TV soundtracks with Spectrasonics, Rob Papen, ProjectSAM and Zero-G being among his favoured brands.

We recently heard that Rod had released an album – The Upward Turn – in which many of the ten tracks had been produced using his own recordings of found objects combined with virtual instruments. We got in touch with him to find out more and to delve deeper into the creation of some of the tracks…

Hi Rod, congratulations on the release of The Upward Turn! What made you decide to produce this album?

It was a true labor of love.  I’ve also been experimenting with new sounds and recording techniques and I wanted a chance to explore them.  I had also just moved into a new studio and it was a great way to break in the new room.


How long did the album take to make?   

I worked on the album for about six months before mixing.  Working on my own schedule was a plus, and I could spend as much time as I needed to get the tracks where I wanted them.

Were many of the tracks inspired by music/soundtrack projects you were working on at the time?   

Many of the track ideas evolved from finished tracks that I composed for RAGE.  I’ve also been listening a lot to current electronica like Autechre, Squarepusher, Phlex, Richard Devine and Jon Hopkins… not that I was trying to sound like them but they are a big inspiration for me.

The Upward Turn CoverWhat were the most challenging aspects of recording and producing it?

The most challenging part of this project was sometimes working alone and being my own producer.  When you work alone, sometimes you don’t know when to stop working on a track (laughs).   And it’s hard sometimes being a good producer as well as a performer.   The best thing that I did was send out the mixes to friends toward the end of the project and ask for honest opinions, that was a big help.   Never take the advice from your best friends for granted.

The title track for the album combines found object samples, virtual and hardware synths and mangled, glitched-out percussion samples. Could you break each of these elements down for us and explain what you used?

The very first few seconds of the track are me using a cello bow on a small metal sculpture and then editing it and pitch shifting it down. There’s a video on my blog (see below) that shows how I play this bizarre little sculpture that I found at a local flea market.   Then you’ll hear found object percussion that includes tapping on glass jars, a lot of sample reversing of stuff including a really old zither along with traditional things like a kick drum, shakers and hand cymbals.

Blade 3D screenI guess I’m one of the last guys on Earth using Bias Peak for editing and mastering, I use it along with Digital Performer for my pitch shifting and time stretching.  I’ve used just about every editing software on the planet, but Peak has a sound and work flow that’s good for me.  Sad that they went belly-up last year.  I’m also playing a melody line with live guitar that’s doubled with a beat-up upright piano that I have here in my studio.  I’m using Rob Papen’s Blade for some ambient sounds, and Papen’s SubBoomBass and my vintage OB-X for some low end re-enforcement.

Toward the middle of the track , there’s a big sounding, glitched-out percussion break that’s a combination of found objects including flower pots, metal chairs, table tops, along with big sounds from various Reaktor ensembles and processed with iZotope’s Trash 2 and Fabfilter’s Saturn.

iZotope Trash 2 Distortion Plug-inThere’s also some bits and pieces of sound throughout the entire track that I’ve grabbed from Zero-G’s Dark Skies, Ambient Skies, and Deep Impact Bundle.  In fact, I used ambient sounds from that bundle on a lot of other tracks on the album.  Then I composed an orchestral transition to lift us into the track’s climax that finally trails out with the return of the guitar/piano motif backed by some found object percussion.  My orchestra is a combination of many current sample libraries including some I’ve recorded myself from past projects.

Zero-G Cinematic BundleShort Stories encompasses granular synthesis and drones as well as found percussion samples, can you tell us more about the objects you used and what you used to create the drones?

I did a full day of recording glass… all kinds of glass. Tapping and bowing glasses, jars, bowls, table tops… just about anything I could find. Then I used Bias Peak to pitch and time stretch the samples. For my granular processing I used Grainstates and Travelizer in Reaktor and Granite from New Sonic Arts.  I also played some acoustic guitar and processed that with Peak and Granite.

A Clean Break was the result of you playing around with a melody using bell sounds, can you tell us more about how that evolved and what other sounds you incorporated into the track?

Those bell sounds are a combination of samples and live recording of this little wall plaque I found at a thrift store that I hung and was tapping against the wall.  Then there’s a lot of editing to get those patterns to repeat in time.  And a lot of time stretching and some pitch bending in Peak and Digital Performer.

Some of Rod’s acoustic instrument collection

Which is your favourite track on the album and why?

Hard question. It depends on the time of day that I listen to them 🙂   Since I did all the performing, producing, recording and mixing myself, it’s really hard to choose just one… there are so many moods on the album. I especially like Twisted Truth, I can’t really explain why.  And I’m fond of Later That Night, maybe because it’s so different than the other tracks.

Would you say producing this album will influence your future soundtrack work? For example, will you use found object samples more?

Using found object recording is not new by any means, it’s been around since the 50’s.  For instance, listen to Louis and Bebe Barron’s soundtrack of the 50’s movie Forbidden Planet, it’s them blowing up vacuum tubes and recording found object electronic equipment.  John Cage was using found objects in his experimental compositions in the 60s and 70s.  Even Peter Gabriel used it in the 80s… listen to the beginning of  Lay Your Hands On Me from his Security album.

Found object sampling is something I love to do and allows me new ways to express myself musically.  The way I made The Upward Turn, using the combination of found object sampling along with my traditional ways of making music, is definitely a process that I’m going to continue on my personal projects and in future game and film projects.

Rod-Abernethy-studio-2 So, now the album is released, what’s next in the pipeline?

I just finished composing tracks for an album for West One Music, a great label based in London.  It’s a little bit of The Upward Turn approach combined with more orchestra on all the tracks and more focused on traditional film and television soundtracks.   Its main focus is dark and evolving cinema and I’ll be recording it with live orchestra in Budapest in March.

Thanks Rod!

You can buy The Upward Turn now on iTunes or Amazon

Posted by Melanie Doidge

Having worked in marketing for over fifteen years with experience in various industries, Time+Space and the world of music production continues to be the most exciting of them all. With our brands consistently pushing the boundaries of technology with their products, the terrific DJs, Composers and Producers using them and the feedback from magazines and our customers, there's always plenty to tell the world about. Musical experience? I reached Grade 6 in piano back in my school days and am currently in the throes of trying to resurrect my abilities!


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