I interviewed Brooklyn’s Calmer not long ago and wrote a piece for PopMatters about his recording techniques and his rich, interesting debut EP. After the jump, read about some of the things we talked about that I edited out of the feature, and download his “Open Source.”
Collin Palmer, aka Calmer, is a multi-talent. He played everything on his Past Is Present EP, outside of a couple of things. When talking to me about his production techniques, he discussed a time where he grew a bit weary with using perhaps too much “automation” in his recording. Along with borrowed beat machines and ’80s synthesizers, Palmer was leaning on a couple of applications in a Mac that one of his older brothers gave him when he first began working on music at 14 or so.
“At that point,” Palmer explains, “I was mostly experimenting. As I progressed, so did the tools I was using to make music with. I was still practicing percussion everyday and making music with sequencers. It felt great to make arrangements in the computer and analog gear, having control over how everything flows. As time went by, I felt like I was missing what gave me the inspiration in the first place…live music. So little by little, I started to experiment by recording into my computer with mics and trying to fuse the idea together.”
“Rotation (Take One),” the jittery final track on Past Is Present, launches modestly, with all of these airy swirls chasing each other from channel to channel and some arpeggiated guitar. It’s not heavy on any particular instrument; “Rotation (Take One)” is mostly a fitting comedown track, moody with rich shifts in tone. (Listen here)
“It differs from composition to composition for me,” Palmer says of the inspiration for his work. “For example, sometimes a synth patch will inspire me to write a whole new piece, or a drum beat that I came up with will inspire me. ‘Rotation’ came about from me playing a few chords on my guitar and really being inspired by the colors and sounds those chords brought out.”
A great deal of hiss sits on the hi-hats during “Rotation (Take One)” while more swirling sounds come and go — twinkling, micro tones and snare rolls, also channel-jumping at a ludicrous pace, give way to a piano-and-upright bass coda. It’s meticulously produced, as is every piece on the EP, and all of the perpetual attention to hard stereo-panning here probably owes to Palmer’s interest in ’60s-era psyche records. It translates well to his devil-may-care, seemingly groundless structure in the studio.
“The process, for me, is listening,” says Palmer of his studio methodology. He offers some counsel for the burgeoning bedroom producer. “If you listen closely, you will find your path. Things seem to fall into place. I have a sketch of an idea when I walk into the studio, but I don’t have a plan. I tend to let myself follow what I hear. Start simple, and play it by ear simply because you could be ignoring so many little mistakes or weird spontaneous things that occur when you just improvise. That is how I approached things.”