Because I’ve been adding loads of songs to my new external drive recently, I’ve been listening to iTunes on my computer in shuffle mode quite a bit…and so it was that a couple of older songs came up which I hadn’t heard for a while, “The Boiling Boy” by Wire and “The Overload” by Talking Heads. Curiously, the two songs reminded me of one another…and as it turns out, they’re even in the same key.
So naturally, I thought it would be fun to crossbreed them. Of course, the original versions are in two rather different tempos, so I had to Strawberry Fields them together, slowing down “The Boiling Boy” and speeding up “The Overload.” The Talking Heads song took speeding up much better than the Wire song took slowing down, so I slowed it very little and sped up “The Overload” to match.
The next step was to figure out how to work them together. I ended up splitting “The Overload” into a series of instrumental sections, followed by a series of vocal sections – while “The Boiling Boy” was left largely intact. I figured I could simply repeat some of the instrumental sections under the long instrumental intro to the Wire track, and counterpoint Byrne’s vocals to Colin Newman’s. This didn’t quite work: first, one difference between 1988 (when the Wire song was recorded) and 1980 (the date of the Talking Heads song) is the pervasiveness of programmed rhythm tracks. Either that, or Robert Gotobed simply is a much steadier beatsmith than Chris Frantz. The result was that if I layered the two tracks without alteration (aside from the already mentioned tempo match), the beats on “The Overload” were constantly going out of whack. So into the manual quantizing machine I went, cutting up what were originally 8-bar phrases into shorter units, so as to keep the wayward Mr. Frantz in line with Wire’s machine rhythms. A few other tricks were involved, including making “glue” from a particular sample, and stretching and layering the opening ambient noise to make a less noisy bed during the vocal sections. (I also made a drone but ended up discarding it.)
The vocals were a huge pain. Unlike 1965, the eighties found producers neglecting to slam all the vocals into one channel and all the instruments in the other, and even messing with putting things out of phase didn’t do much to isolate the vocals from the surrounding instruments (that was, in fact, one intention behind the discarded drone – to mask those instruments dropping in and out). I ended up filtering Byrne’s vocals to eliminate most of the instruments…although, conveniently, when a guitar is audible at the beginning of phrases, they’re all in the second and third verses (of “The Boiling Boy”) so it works alright.
Didn’t turn out quite as good as I’d hoped…but here’s “Boy Boiling Over” by Mesh Skulls (arranged by Monkey Typing Pool, of course).
Earlier experiments along similar lines: flying in string parts from the Kronos Quartet arrangement of “Marquee Moon” to fit atop Television’s original; and in a fever dream, deciding that Neil Young’s “Soldier” made perfect sense stuck in the middle of the 4th untitled track from Labradford’s E Luxo So album (extended via manufactured drone). And of course, Segway Army’s “Are Higsons Electric?” – Robyn sings Numan.