Smithereens is yet another one of my journeys into bringing visual stimuli to sonic fruition. In this case, my prompt and inspiration was Neo-Impressionism, particularly Pointillism. Last year I created an instrumental that eventually went on to be the title track of this project. The song was so complex in nature; I couldn’t even tell you where my mind was when I was arranging it. It wasn’t even a recording that I was sure I liked at first, mostly because of its frantic and composited structure. In an unrelated instance (or maybe it was related, subconsciously) I was reading about Georges Seurat and his role in leading the French Neo-Impressionist movement in the late 1800s. It occurred to me that this style of visual art was the only way I could describe the song that would eventually go on to establish Smithereens as a project. Initially when I began to lay out supporting instrumentals, I made stringent attempts to abide by the complexity of the concept song. I found that it couldn’t be done, and that the beat was truly a moment in time. I then decided to continue studying Pointillism/Divisionism and some of its key characteristics— the progressive yet realistic use of primary colors, lighting, contrast and also very importantly, movement— as my guide in arranging new instrumentals in their own unique way, while still keeping with the prompt.
In music theory, the parallel/counterpart to Pointillism is known as Punctualism. Punctualism essentially gives unique individual life to each note in a piece. Arpeggiated notes of varying pitches, lengths and dynamics take the place of the ‘colored dots’ that you see in pieces such as Seurat’s most famous work, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” The techniques were independently established of course, i.e neither gave birth to the other. Their juxtaposition is largely interpreted perspective.
Aside from accomplishing the unity of visual and sonic cues, an important goal for me with Smithereens is to define new, deliberate ways to use the Roland/Boss SP machines. I used The SP-202, SP-303 and SP- 404 for the project, recorded all of the songs with a unique style that involved recording long, live layering takes of my hitting a note loaded onto a pad repeatedly while riding the pitch effect at various parameters. Sometimes I would use the first note of a longer loaded sample to “tease” the sample in and out of the beat, as you hear on “Televised Chocolate”. This was solely inspired by my research into punctualism. In addition to the pitch effect, I used the time stretch function often for its distorting effects and also the unique pitch parameter in the DJ-effect-looper, all to provide a texture that sounds like a bubbling, composited arrangement of independent tones. Some songs, such as “CSG x CSG”, take a more literal approach to individual tones. Others, such as “Seuratcha Sauce” utilize a more textural ode to punctualism/pointillism. Other pieces offer both approaches.
When I realized this was a sonic-visual project, it was a no-brainer that the cover artwork had to go hard, and that it had to be representative. I was fortunate enough to work with several artists for this project. When discussing the visual possibilities, I received incredible insight from Anna Szymczak, a brilliant painter and activist here in Chicago. She suggested that I also look into the work of Russian abstract expressionist Wassily Kandinski. Kandinksi was a multifaceted artist whose works and styles span many phases, including but certainly not limited to pointillist techniques. He was a pianist and proponent of the unity of sound and color, often assigning tonal and chordal identities to colors. Kandinski’s pieces were more abstract than the Impressionist styles that had been exploring, but I found his work to be so undeniably inspiring, particularly the pieces created during his time teaching at the Bauhaus school in the mid- 1920s. These works were highly geometrical and design-oriented in style, and useful visual examples of Gestalt psychology— a theory focused on our brain’s ability to perceive things as whole as opposed to various parts. Kandinsky’s Bauhaus works were characterized by shapes, lines and strategically-placed colors, appearing initially to be chaotic, but actually quite unified. I found so much similarity to what I was doing with Smithereens in Kandinsky’s paintings, and in reviewing his work I felt a feeling of closure.
RasOm, who created the artwork for my last project, Constant Elevation: Odessa Star, took the reins on one of the two “Smithereens” covers. His work in digital pixel sorting is very similar in nature to the lighting techniques seen in Pointillist arrangements. He was able to chop and screw a great photo of a leaf print on a random sign in Northwest Chicago, taken by Mike Bump, and transform it into a piece that fit the original concept perfectly. Our other artist, Fonte, is a longtime friend of mine, DJ, beatmaker and painter whose works often reflect the sentiments of a roof dwelling graffiti writer born and raised in Chicago. His “Smithereens” piece has a brilliant comic-scene feel, was more of a literal interpretation of the project title, and is surely more Kandinsky influenced. However, the concept of realistic movement that exists in Impressionism holds true for Fonte’s amazingly detailed “explosion portrait”, which is actually an 11 x 15 inch painting of a technicolor plume with depth and texture.
Thanks for listening, visualizing, and reading. Peace and enjoy.
Chicago beat savant and Push Beats resident producer, Sev Seveer returns with a brand new project for the Beats of All-Nations catalog. Challenging the laws of music theory in his latest probe, Smithereens, available worldwide on July 8, 2016! With this announcement we are also very excited to announce pre-orders on a very small run of vinyl (our first) and a free download of the first single, “Circus Sideshow.” Hit play, and we’ll let Sev break it down from there.
“Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque) is the launch point that I’d like to present to listeners of Smithereens. I feel that it’s a well-defined example of the techniques and themes that I’m exploring in the project. With Smithereens as an ode and journey into Neo-Impressionist divisionism/pointillism from a sonic angle, as well as Gestalt psychology as it pertains to visual art, I wanted to portray in the single a sense of fragmented wholeness. Polyrhythms that might initially be confusing; texture, ambiguous harmonies (Is it in key? Is it out of key?) that if listened to enough times start to really make sense, because as explained by Aristotle, “a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Parade de cirque is a painting by Georges Seurat of various sideshow acts playing for passersby at a circus near place de la Nation in Paris; it is among my favorites of his work that I’ve explored for its bold and complex use of lighting to define spatial relationships.
Russian painter and musician Wassily Kandinsky is another artist whose work I explored for this project, particularly his assignment of colors to musical tones. I was inspired to create an instrumental that is the sonic mirror of the contrast of warm and cold colors I perceive in observing Parade de cirque. For instance, how to use reverbs with the digital artifacts of time stretched audio to sonically resemble the painting’s wonderful bubbly glow, used so creatively to indicate contrast between the depth of a stage band and the closer trombonist playing before a crowd standing in the dark. Most importantly, even the glow itself is composed of still tinier plops of uniquely arranged fragments of color. Unified macro/microscopic dissonance.
RasOm, who created the artwork for my last project, Constant Elevation: Odessa Star, took the reins on the first of two Smithereens covers. His work in digital pixel sorting is very similar in nature to the lighting techniques seen in Pointillist arrangements. He was able to chop and screw a great photo of a leaf print on a random sign in Northwest Chicago, taken by Mike Bump, and transform it into a piece that fit the original concept perfectly. Thanks for listening, visualizing, and reading. Peace and enjoy.”
Since our first official release, Constant Elevation: Odessa Star, Sev Seveer independently released the Convergence EP and more recently, Shelfie Baps, a mix of unreleased rap beats. He also had a featured production spot on our compilation Seasons Change and various hip hop projects along the way, including an entire EP with Highest Low, released earlier this week.
Words by Mike Styles:
Chicago Rap Duo, Just Wise and Snotty Pippen, better known as Highest Low, team up with the Sev Seveer on the beats for their latest official release, Life’s A Beach. The EP is packed with punchy rhymes, comedic relief, life’s highs and its lows. What about the beats? Sev has kept plenty busy in 2016, with the recently self-relesead Shelfie Baps and his upcoming project on Beats of All-Nations, Smithereens (look out for the first single this week). No simple shit here. In an interview on the premiere of the record at TheseDays.News, Highest Low expressed “We think our homie Sev Seveer, who made all the tracks for the project, is a really dope beatsmith with a distinct style that contrasted well with us. Plus he’s got the illest head nod in the game!” We think this Life’s a Beach is the a perfect drop for the first day of Summer, enjoy it!
Words by Sev Seveer
This mix is a collection of old rap instrumentals that never quite made it out of the lab, made between 2007-2013. This stuff is mostly a reflection of my early forms (but those forms will always be present!), and to show that I’ve always, from the beginning, tried to keep a solid range of beat proficiency, “Styles Upon Styles” as we say. I’ve avoided trying to box myself, and made sure to maintain my scholarship as a student of beatmaking
Most of these beats were created in software via midi controllers and in-DAW audio chopping from when I first started working in Cubase in 2007; however, there are some very early SP 404/202 beats in here as well.
My next EP, Smithereens, is a journey in using beats to sonically interpret neo-impressionism, specifically Pointillism. The first single, “Seuratcha Sauce”, will be out via Beats of All-Nations in June.
Mogs be in Space
Dont Let A Mastermind Know You Fakin’