I use traditional drum notation in my scores, but Travis Orbin’s drum set transcriptions are written in his own special guitar pro notation. A legend can be found at the top of his transcription of Pixieprog (one of his solo tunes). If you’d prefer to view his version of the notation, you can find it below:
Fear of Humanity
My Alien Father
View Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Curing Somatization’:
Gabriel’s Notes: Here we are – the final song from Interior City, and the most intense and relentless song I’ve ever written. I think it is best to let this song speak for itself, so I won’t say too much about it. This was a tough one that put strain on almost everyone involved, thanks to the difficulty of writing a satisfying closer, time constraints, the difficulty of playing the song, technical errors, and the sheer number of layers. Despite the huge amount of material that ended up in the song, quite a bit was cut along the way. Every song on the album is reprised here, though some are much more obvious than others. I also lifted a rhythm from Messiaen.
I was probably a bit manic while writing this – there are 7 pages of lyrics, and there are almost always multiple texts being sung/spoken at once, often with their own 2-4 part harmonies. I’d write a complete vocal arrangement for a section and decide it wasn’t good enough – but instead of deleting it, I’d turn it down until it was a background detail and write new parts on top of it. I then re-recorded ALL of it in the studio, usually with doublings, resulting in around 60 vocal tracks (including some screams by Travis) and a total of 200+ tracks in the session. Here’s a glimpse of that insanity:
Travis’s Notes: The final and (appropriately) most intense video in the ‘Interior City’ series is “Curing Somatization”. This tune is probably within the top ten hardest I’ve ever tracked, mostly due to time constraints. Gabe didn’t finish the demo until about two weeks before we hit the studio, and between writing parts and rehearsing the rest of the album it was a pretty close shave!
The cymbal setup is the same as “Retreat Underground”, although with my ‘stack’ instead of a splash and a 20″ MDM ride on the right side.
I included a few seconds of “Languishing in Lower Chakras” to try to convey the absolutely devastating segue between both tunes. However, the full effect is best achieved by listening to the entire song, of course.
I also contributed some guest vocals (screaming/yelling), which was a blast. The opening scream is Gabe and myself together in the live room, holding one mic and screaming into it simultaneously. There’s some scattered stuff from 4:30 – 5:17 too.
I’m not gonna bother with notes or highlighting sections – just watch this monstrosity of a piece and enjoy. ‘Interior City’ is one of my favorite sessions ever and I urge you all to purchase the album if you enjoy these session vids. Thank you, Gabe!
Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 90 BPM
Tempo change (1:26) = 100 BPM
Tempo change (5:17 – 5:19) = ‘linear decrease’ to 90 BPM until the drums finish
This track depicts the time the main character spends in the chamber of eternal sleep that he entered in Inner Sanctum. The keyboard parts for this ambient track were entirely improvised, and I liked my demo version so much that I ended up using it on the final record instead of trying to recreate it. This song features reprises of the “choruses” of Inner Sanctum and Arrival in a Distant Land. It includes field recordings from an inner city Philadelphia first grade classroom with a substitute teacher, a high school graduation, the river before a storm, and more, in addition to many processed public domain speeches.
Because it was a home recording, there is no footage of the sessions for this song. Instead, I’ve created a new dark ambient track based around piano improvisation. This off-the-cuff improvisation was performed on an out of tune practice room piano at the University of Pittsburgh into a laptop microphone, but I ended up liking how it came out (sound quality aside), so I turned it into a lo-fi ambient track. Check out the track below:
View Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Inner Sanctum’:
And Gabriel’s piano tracking video:
Gabriel’s Notes: This song is somewhat of a tribute to the ’90s space rock band Failure. For the fast first half, I had a b-side called ‘Mange’ in mind, in which the bass and guitar play different sets of fifths which are dissonant against each other. For the slow second half, their song ‘Small Crimes’ was my main source. However, I looked to other sources for the vocals and solos and included some quite complex rhythms (the ‘chorus’ features a bar of 7/8 on every third bar, which means it falls on a different chord of the 4-chord progression on each repeat). The first part of the song features an 11-part vocal choir (with doublings), including glissandos similar to those included in Bang on a Can’s large collaborative work ‘Shelter’. For contrast, the second half includes a single, very intimate lead vocal for most of its duration, perhaps inspired by Chino Moreno of Deftones. The linear tempo decrease interlude features more Mingus-style simultaneous soloing, and the song ends in free jazz controlled chaos. I overdubbed a piano solo on this section, but evidently didn’t film it, so I’ve created new footage for the picture-in-picture sections of this video (including the solos in the first half, which weren’t piano on the album). The ending noise was also overdubbed – I wanted to bang on the piano with both hands to make the largest possible amount of noise instead of only using my right hand. There were also some subtle overdubs during the slow section, adding doublings at higher octaves and some improvisation.
The opening fast section of this song requires quite a bit of stamina to pull off, and as a result I started out tracking it in small chunks, so you’ll see quite a few edits towards the beginning. As I warmed up to it, I ended up doing most of it in a single take, which generated quite a bit of lactic acid in my arms. You can see my discomfort in my facial expressions in the second chorus!
Travis’s Notes: Next in the ‘Interior City’ series is “Inner Sanctum”, which miiight be my personal favorite. The gear is the same as in most of “Defense Highway”, except there’s a ‘stack’ instead of a splash. The change to two floor toms at 5:11 contributes a dynamic contrast.
The verses of this one feature a fun, energetic drum ‘n’ bass feel, as does the brief sax solo section at 1:19 – 1:31. During the choruses, the cymbal orchestration strictly follows/complements the chord progression, regardless of time signature. The first (full) one is more subdued, but I launch off some fireworks for the second, hehe.
During the ‘dirge’ section, I wanted to play as simple, direct and powerful as possible; there are a few little syncopations here and there to spice it up, however. The 8th-note pedal hats at 3:51 complement the guitar+sax, then the change to the edge of the ride as a time source provides a bit more urgency.
Skipping ahead, towards the end of the tune Gabe wanted a bit more improv on my end, so I jammed around and wrote some stuff just prior to tracking (much like the first drum solo in “Defense Highway”); this comprises 7:03 – 7:08. Afterwards, I move into my original idea of some syncopated double bass, increasing in note value to cap off the song with utmost intensity.
Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 170 BPM
Tempo change (2:20 – 2:47) = ‘linear decrease’ to 60 BPM, tempo remains at 60 until end
View Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Defense Highway’:
And Gabriel’s piano tracking video:
Gabriel’s Notes: You can hear influences from Failure, drum-n-bass, barbershop quartets, Debussy, and more in this 10 minute song which alternates between full band sections and stripped down interludes (mostly solo piano). Thanks to the song’s frequent tempo changes and numerous sections in free rhythm (which are thus of indeterminate length), it had to be tracked in multiple chunks and somewhat out of order. This song contains the oldest music on the album – I actually wrote the piano part in my sophomore year of high school, nearly 10 years ago. It was only the second piece I ever wrote for live instruments, with Inner Sanctum being the third, written immediately afterwards. They were originally conceived together as part of a disastrous 30 minute long solo piano suite, which has also served as the source material for three songs that will appear on the next two TGC albums. While creating a full band arrangement of Defense Highway in the year leading up to recording, I revised its structure, removing some parts (which became another 11 minute long song) and adding a piano interlude based around the chord progression which ends Inner Sanctum.
Travis’s Notes: There’s much to say about this one, so I’ll begin with the gear. The tune starts with the same setup as “Subway Dwellers” (except w/ my flat ride on the right), switches to dual floor toms for the big mid-song climax, back to rack/floor for the first drum solo (more on that later, of course), a hybrid style kit consisting of 12″/14″ MDM hats, my 4″x14″ Pearl maple piccolo snare (same one I used on SD, but tensioned high) and Reference brass snare for the drum ‘n’ bass section, and finally back to the regular kit for the ‘noise’ solo and the rest of the tune.
Once the drums enter at 0:28, it stays upbeat and energetic until the first tempo change. There’s some dual ride stuff at 2:40 – 2:42 and a brief ‘chick – splash’ pedal hat ostinato at 2:57 – 3:04. For the big mid-song climax, I felt that the dual floor tom setup would generate a more powerful and dramatic feel. The cymbal mutes at the close of this part (4:32) complement the very next piano note that follows. (You can see me grabbing the china before as well so it doesn’t bleed into the mics – that one isn’t ‘timed’, heh).
For the first drum solo, I didn’t write anything ahead of time but I figured out what I wanted to do just before we recorded. There’s a bit of improv within the transitioning to each part, similarly to the bridge in Pete P’s “Death Country”. It was important to do it this way, as the accents are crucial to the piece (one on the downbeat of every bar but the fourth, then nothing on the downbeat at the end). When we tracked this I had Garrett loop the click, I went for it several times and we kept the best take. You can see me motioning to Gabe a ‘meh’ sort of hand signal regarding the take I had just completed before launching into the one that made the album, haha. I think those are 16th septuplets at the very end. Anyone wanna transcribe this for fun?
I had a bunch of fun writing parts for the drum ‘n’ bass section. Originally, Gabe wanted a simple part underneath and a crazy part overdubbed, but I made it my goal to write something so bitchen it nearly sounded as if two drummers were playing, hehe. Gabe really highlighted this and brought it out with his amazing use of panning. The transitional sections are played on my regular brass snare and larger hats for contrast.
Skipping ahead to the ‘noise’ solo, this one was also a ton of fun, which is obvious if you watch the unabridged version that I’ve tacked on at the end. I think Gabe originally programmed a bunch of gibberish (apologies if not! haha) and I thought it’d be cool to just throw a mess of sticks on my kit and have him run around the room like a madman, making as much noise as possible. I left my other floor tom set up with some cymbals scattered about on the ground for him, plus there was an old, out-of-tune piano in the live room which was perfect, haha. None of this was timed to the click or pre-conceived, of course. We tracked so much stuff that some of it had to be cut in addition to the whole thing being chopped in half and layered on top of the initial half. It was a bit difficult, but I edited my footage to sync up with the first half as best as I could.
Skipping ahead, the song becomes upbeat and energetic upon reverting to its initial tempo of 132 at 10:02. There’s some flashy stuff once I move to the china, including a floor/snare triplet flam – a Colaiuta trademark. The ride bell at the end is played with the tip of my stick for less abrasion, and I move to the bow when the melody drops. The mute at the end is timed to complement the piano.
And as always, there’s even more complementation present:
0:55 – extra snare on ‘and’ of 4, vocals
1:10 – 1:24 – hi-hat accents, vocal melody
1:38 – 1:45 – cymbal accents, bass/distorted piano stabs
3:03 – 3:26 – cymbal orchestration, chord progression
6:06 – 6:15 – cymbal orchestration, vocal melody
7:47 – pedal splash, piano mash
10:06 – 10:11 – low crash/splash, vocal melody
Full drum set transcription
Tempo (0:28, when drums enter) = 132 BPM
Tempo change (3:34) = 100 BPM
Tempo (5:10 – 5:35) = free, very slow
Tempo change (5:35) = 145 BPM
Tempo (6:17 – 7:31) = free, very slow
Tempo change (7:31) = 100 BPM
Tempo (7:48 – 8:26) = free, very slow
No tempo/’noise’ solo (8:26 – 8:50)
Tempo (8:50 – 9:30) = free, very slow
Tempo change (9:30) = 100 BPM
Tempo change (10:02) = 132 BPM
Tempo change (10:26 – 10:32) = 126/122/119 BPM (ritard)
Here is Gabriel’s piano tracking video for ‘Subway Dwellers’:
For Travis’s tracking video, see last week’s post on Retreat Underground.
Gabriel’s Notes: The chord progression of the opening theme is a reversal of the progression used in Thelonious Monk’s ‘I Mean You’, and the dominant and tritone harmonies throughout reflect that influence – but the texture is drawn more from ’90s garage rock, only with a distorted piano instead of distorted guitars, as this song features no guitar whatsoever. The bridge features a subtle reprise of the album’s opening song. This is the only song where I didn’t give Tom a basic bass line to work with – just a piano part. I recorded three complete takes of the piano part for this song and then spliced the best parts of each together.
The wall of sound / sonic landscape production style used on Interior City is something I’ve always been drawn to – Strapping Young Lad’s ‘Alien‘ album is a great example. This song has a particularly high quotient of ambient noise behind all of the basic instrumental parts, including many speech samples. However, the chattering that runs through the background of Interior City does more than just add texture – it also serves a purpose in the story, highlighting and contributing to the character’s paranoia.
Travis’s notes: In “Subway Dwellers” — one of the few tunes on the album that possesses more of a pop sensibility — I’m playing some syncopated closed hat parts in the first verse (subtle crescendo beginning at 3:11 to provide a ‘lift’ into the pre-chorus), and a marching-esque part in the second, with light pedal splashing on the quarters. The two quick kicks and snare+china complement the vocal at 5:19. I sought to build the section starting at 6:02 by first playing my closed 13″ hats, then a ‘barking’ hat pattern before launching into a fun, colorful cymbal orchestration at 6:37.
On this song, I used my Pearl 4″x14″ maple piccolo snare.
Cymbals: 21″ DRK ride, 20″ MDM ride, 18″ & 19″ MDM medium crashes, 14″ MDM hi-hats, 8″ BRT splash, 13″ BRT/DRK hi-hats, 19″ LTD china (older model).
Full Drum Set Transcription
Tempo = 85 BPM
Here is Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for Retreat Underground and Subway Dwellers:
Gabriel’s Notes: I heard the first part of this little song in a dream I had in the summer of 2011, and the second half was drawn from an old progressive metal demo I had sitting around. It’s meant to be both an intro to Subway Dwellers (and therefore includes a transformation of the opening melody of that song) and an introduction to some of the motives and musical themes which appear in the final song. The idea for a short and fast song leading into a slower and longer song with the same main theme came from the ‘Broken’ suite by Tears for Fears, and the idea to compress Subway’s more rhythmically dynamic theme into straight eighth notes for this song was drawn from the ending of Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’.
Travis’s notes: “Retreat Underground” features a bit of melodic complementation during the transitional 5-4 bars and a hypnotic tom-tom part during the middle section. I launch into an exciting latin-esque groove in 3-4 at 1:43. The parts are further intensified with some double bass and loud crashing afterwards.
On this song, I used my ‘ol’ faithful’, my Reference brass snare.
Cymbals: 21″ DRK ride, 18″ & 19″ ICON medium crashes, 14″ MDM hi-hats, 8″ BRT splash, 13″ BRT/DRK hi-hats, 19″ LTD china (older model).
Full Drum Set Transcription
Tempo = 147 BPM
Tempo change (2:29) = ‘Linear decrease’ to 91 BPM until end
Here is Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘My Alien Father’:
And here is Gabriel’s piano/keyboard tracking video for the song:
Gabriel’s Notes: This song is a tribute to my father, who is fascinated by alien conspiracy theories. The lyrics are drawn from his extensive library on the subject (and are used here to further express the paranoia of this story’s main character), and the music is inspired by sci-fi b-movie soundtracks – particularly that of the X-Files, one of my father’s favorite shows. As a result, it is the only song on the album to use prominent synths. Tom came up with a bass line for this one – a pattern in 9/8, reminiscent of Tool, which repeats twice in full then cuts itself off the third time. I went through multiple revisions of the drum part with Travis, and he ended up tracking it in a single take.
I cannot thank my father enough for making this album a reality. Without him, it would not exist.
Travis’s Notes: This is the tune that I alluded to in the “Fear of Humanity” video description; it was tracked entirely with the dual floor tom setup. In Gabe’s demo, the tom-toms and snare sounded quite big and ballsy, and I wanted to retain those textures/tones. The only discrepancy between the two setups are the 14″ MDM hats instead of 15″ MDMs.
And as always, there’s a bunch of complementation present:
2:10 – triplet on hats, piano
2:19 – 2:21 – hats orchestration, vocal melody
3:40 – 3:43 – crashes/china, vocal melody
3:56 – 3:57 – crashes/china/tom-toms, synth melody
4:09 – 4:10 – accented tom-tom quintuplet melody, synth melody
4:18 – 4:19 – double kick flams complement nothing; sometimes you just gotta play some double kick flams
Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 110 BPM
Here is Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Fear of Humanity’:
Gabriel’s Notes: I think the opening of this was the first lyric written for the album. This is the album’s anthem, the main character’s manifesto… his entire worldview is described in this song.
The processed acoustic pianos which define much of the sound of ‘Interior City’ first appear at the start of this song. The opening chord progression is a six-chord sequence of parallel chords which increase in density throughout the song. They begin as four-note chords, expand into parallel diatonic clusters (featuring 6 of the 7 notes in the diatonic scale) in the second half, then become chromatic clusters where each note contains 10 out of the 12 chromatic tones in the 14-part violin chorale which ends the song. The ‘overtone chord’ voicing of this chorale is inspired by the way Messiaen frequently wrote extremely dissonant harmonies in his orchestral works but made them sound quite pleasing by placing the most dissonant notes in an extremely high register.
I originally wrote that 14-part violin chorale expecting that we wouldn’t get time to track it, but Sophia ended up breezing through all of her violin parts including the chorale in a day! I ended up devising new violin parts for Subway Dwellers and Defense Highway on the spot, replacing all of the string synth parts I had written with live violins – only the mellotron part in Ranting Prophet remains.
Tom added all sorts of cool embellishments to the bass lines in the second half of this song. The lead guitar tones and lines have a definite Failure influence… I even used the same Boss BF-2 flanger pedal they used to achieve the tones on their second album, ‘Magnified‘. Failure was probably the biggest rock influence on this album as a whole, and this is especially evident on Inner Sanctum.
Travis’s Notes: In Gabe’s original demo, the drums were super processed-sounding for the whole intro, but in my head I first heard them sounding gigantic and exaggerated. I opted to use two floor toms (my usual Reference Pure, along with a 16″x16″ Vision on my left) to express this, and further embellished the closed hat groove that follows — texturally — with my chunky 15″ MDM hats and an 8″x14″ Pearl maple snare (stock head).
Many months after tracking, Gabe kindly picked me up from the airport after my Drum Channel appearance, as he was in the middle of mixing the record at Oceanic and wasn’t far away. We were listening to a rough mix of the tune in the car and it was then that an idea/concept of how the second half of the intro could sound presented itself to me. I suggested a weird, crescendoing wall-of-noise affect into a roomy drum sound (2:38) and Gabe was into it. Killer!
When the song comes crashing back in after the brief break (3:30), the gear changes to my more commonly used brass Reference snare/rack tom. The cymbal setup is the same as in “Subway Dwellers”, although I used a ‘stack’ instead of a splash and an 18″ DRK flat ride on my right side.
There’s a ton of vocal complementation is this tune: 2:49, 3:09 (snare flams), 3:58 – 4:00 (cymbal melody), 4:10 – 4:12 (stack), 5:16 – 5:18 (stack), 5:18 – 5:22 (cymbal melody), 5:43 (stack), 6:28 – 6:30 (stack), 7:44 – 7:45 (cymbal melody). There’s also some tricky, syncopated fill-ins and a dual ride part at 6:38.
Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 95 BPM
Here is Travis Orbin’s drum tracking video for ‘Ranting Prophet’:
And my piano tracking video:
Lyrics: The story’s main character observes that everyone surrounding him seems just as uncomfortable with their existence in this realm as he is. They all cope with being alive by engaging in various forms of escapism – television and other media, religion and other frequently dogmatic forms of belief, hedonism and substance abuse…
As he watches others, he realizes the futility of his own fight against being alive. He tells himself that he needs to bring acceptance into his life or he will make himself miserable and waste his energy, but can’t bring himself to act on this, as the negativity in his mind is too strong.
Music: The main idea in this song is a rejected harmonization of a motive from the first movement of my string quartet (Listen to more movements here). This particular more rock-oriented harmonization didn’t quite fit with the piece, so I made a rock song out of it. The motive only appears briefly in the quartet, but it is repeated relentlessly here. It is paired with a tapping bass line written by Tom Murphy and a dual drum part. The left drum set is a 4/4 loop (a sampled ’80s Genesis drumbeat in my original demo, replaced by live drums in studio) which keeps running in 4/4 even when the song changes time signatures in the bridge. The idea of having two drum sets play polymetrically against each other is something that King Crimson explored in some of their dual-drum lineups, but it’s an idea which has been woefully underused in my opinion. The polymetric bridge is followed by a reprise of the piano/vocal opening, this time in a full band arrangement, accompanied by tremolo picked guitars and blastbeats (techniques drawn from extreme metal).
The instrumental interlude following the first verse is a direct quotation of an idea Messiaen used in used in quite a few of his early works (and in one late work). Messiaen detested music with a constant pulse, but I have accompanied the quotation with a jazzy rhythm section playing a clear constant pulse, making the quotation rather sacrilegious.
My vocal approach through much of this song was largely inspired by Trent Reznor. The vocal embellishments at the full band entrance were inspired by traditional arabic music, and they are immediately followed by a section in which the guitar, saxophone, and violin all solo at once (simultaneous solos were common early big band jazz and in the music of Charles Mingus). The violin solo in this group, written and performed by Sophia Uddin, quotes the first movement of Bartók’s sixth string quartet. She plays a much longer violin solo to end the song, in which she quotes the second movement of Bartók’s second string quartet. You can hear a collaborative piece that Sophia and I wrote together here.
Piano video: I apologize that I look so serious and stoic throughout this video – I started out doing more energetic takes, but ended up getting more focused as I went along. The picture-in-picture bits weren’t actually used on the album – I recorded them as guide tracks for the guitar and violin. The line I’m playing in the first PIP continues to run while the second one is playing, but unfortunately there’s no way to make two PIPs play simultaneously in iMovie. My sister sat in for this session, and you can see her sitting in the control room.
Travis’s notes: There’s a drum loop that runs throughout most of this tune that I tracked, but – regrettably – did not film (I included it in the first bar of the transcription). In Gabe’s original demo, the loop was lifted/sampled from a Genesis tune and I stuck pretty close to it. However, I wanted to retain a hand-to-hand hi-hat feel with tom-toms and other cymbal orchestrations poking through here and there, and what came out of me is what you see. My feet are playing a single stroke ostinato underneath, with the right foot moving back and forth between the right-side pedal hat and the bass drum. The ostinato dictated not only where within the bar but also which set of hats I choked.
In the section starting around 1:54, I employed some softer dynamics. There’s a cool over-the-bar polyrhythm at 2:07, then each subsequent ride strike is louder to segue back into the verse. At 2:45, the loop stays in 4-4 while the tune shifts between 7 and 6. The delayed snare backbeat at 3:08 complements the vocal. For the crazy blast-beat-driven bridge, I sought to punctuate it in spots; it usually starts at the tail end of the four-bar progression then bleeds into its repeat. There’s a two-bar tag at the end in which I play a ‘bomb blast’ in the first bar; I came up with the idea while tracking. Thankfully, my feet were cooperative that day haha.
Full drum set transcription
Tempo = 109 BPM
Other appearances: This song appeared on the compilation CD for Zero Tolerance Issue #54 along with a review of the album. Their master of the song can be heard and downloaded below: