Rabbits Full of Magic

06 November 2011

 

Super Madrigal Brothers and the Elizabethan Glitch



Once upon a time, when I was 19 or so, I had a dream of making the world's first chiptune album. I was getting heavily into purchasing LPs at thrift stores of exotica and lounge music; not the easy-listening kind so much as the kind with wild cartoony stylistic shifts. Things like The Three Suns and Esquivel inspired me to try my hand at arranging old songs with new sounds, so I decided to make an album and give it to Bjork, who I loved dearly and was just making a comeback with Vespertine.



The album I came up with was The 8-Bit Christmas, and I didn't get it to Bjork but it did end up in the hands of Scottish recording artist Momus. In 2001 I was signed onto his label American Patchwork and contracted to make up 1/2 of a conceptual duo called Super Madrigal Brothers. It was all Momus's idea. Basically we have free reign to do what we wanted with the project, so I researched mountains of MIDI files of music written in the 14th-16th centuries, and arranged songs with my catalog of sounds. My alias was Oliver Cobol, and my partner's was Fashion Flesh. His real name is John Talaga and he lived in Michigan, making homemade synths, remixing things, creating a psychedelic sonic soup out of the clockwork arrangements I had put together. We released an album together called Shakestation that outlined the way we work: one track by me followed by the remix version by John.



The whole band existed only online and through the mail, so when American Patchwork decided to go on a month-long US tour in 2002, it was the first time I had ever met him in person. The tour showcased all the artists on the label, us, The Gongs (spooky post-folk done on homemade synths), Phiiliip (Syd Barrett-meets-early Beck gay art-pop), Rroland (West Coast synth-fueled tone poems) and Momus himself (theatrical post-Bowie vaudevillian avant-pop). The tour was a success but afterwards the label had to call it quits and we took a break. For a few years I was pretty busy with Die Slaughterhaus-related music in Atlanta.



One day Drew Daniel of Matmos emailed me to say that Bjork had heard my album and loved it! It was the happiest email I have ever read in my life! In 2004 Drew also helped us get the ground running on a second album, put out on a small label called Fever Pitch, called Baroque In Voltage. There was no tour, but we did play a single show, flying up to northern New York state to perform at Sarah Lawrence College. Ever since then we have done the odd track online and continue to operate in our own musical worlds. I've just started uploading these tracks to youtube because most people have no idea I did any of this stuff, and the albums are very hard to track down.





Here is a review that Drew did for one of our 2nd album songs, for Pitchfork:

"What Wendy Carlos hath already joined together, let no music critic tear asunder: baroque compositions and analogue synthesizers go together like coconut milk and lime juice. It shouldn't work, in fact it should be fucking terrible, and instead, hot damn, it's delicious. The quasi-mechanistic intricacy and speedy tempos of early modern galliards and inventions seem to find both a hilarious foil and a delicate sweetness when played on warbling, cranky electronics. Wendy proved the staying power of this formula abundantly with Switched On Bach in 1968, and Momus redoubled the historical-overdetermination sweepstakes by going all retro-Carlos in 1998 with The Little Red Songbook.

On their latest album, Baroque in Voltage, Momus brethren the Super Madrigal Brothers (one half of which, the suavely named Fashion Flesh, had a hand in some production work on the eyepatched-one's last album) continue this fine tradition, sculpting a miniature Versailles out of acid washed circuit-boards, lo-bit gamer chips, and tinfoil. Though they are widening their historical scope considerably (the album even includes Bizet's "La Habanera" from Carmen), it's the baroque pieces that weather the Brothers' electrical storms most gracefully, and in particular this composition by Henry Purcell. It clings closest to Carlos' territory (it was an eerie Purcell work that served as the centerpiece of her soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange), but the skittering pitter pat of grainy white noise synth snares underneath give off the faintest whiff of acid house, and will keep the listener on their toes. Twinkling like an LED chandelier, Purcell's melody twinkles and flits across the synth-patches, quivering in and out of tune, but stays musically bulletproof, and oddly noble, throughout."

-Drew Daniel of Matmos for Pitchforkmedia


Pitchfork review of 1st album "Shakestation"







These last three songs aren't on any album. The Chopin piece is one of the last SuperMad things I recorded, and honestly it doesn't sound like any Chiptune music I've ever heard. It's more in the vein of Perry & Kingsley, or Carl Stalling. I think it's one of my favorite things I have ever recorded. "Roadd Rashh" is an improvized dance track using only samples from the Sega Genesis game of the same name. Many ambulances, car crashes, and people yelling. Finally, we have my SuperMad remix of The Beatles song "She's Leaving Home", featuring the vocals of three promising singers John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney

Everything I do for SuperMads is made with FruityLoops, with a little help here or there on CoolEdit. The first album was pretty much constructed on a strict diet of Nintendo-only sounds, most of them from the 8-bit system but a few from the 16-bit. By the time I was on album 2, I had amassed a much larger library of sounds, mainly through collecting videogame emulators such as ZSNES and MAME. We changed the rules as well, because of a Maria Callas infatuation, I wanted to include more recent pieces like songs from the Opera "Carmen". That was in 2004, a year or so after started the similarly-minded musique concrete group #Phonepunk#.

Will Super Madrigal Brothers ever come back? Who knows?

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