Music as a Sketchbook

I’m going to revisit some older work again since it’s helping me to look back at a variety of work and see what it meant for me to make it when I did.

Starting in 2018, I had begun working with sound as a medium — using the making of songs/soundscapes as a different form of connecting with a need I had to express that wasn’t fully coming out visually.

Sugar Snake, 2018

I had made snippets of music before this point. In the early ‘90s at university, I had a late night radio show with a friend and we often made odd and noisy layered audio experiments using tape loops and bits of electronics in between playing a mix of industrial and techno albums.

I had even owned a variety of instruments that I had very little facility with like a beautiful jangly Gibson-copy hollow body guitar and a bunch of pedals. I sold the guitar to my oldest friend at one point when I needed cash and still think about it occasionally despite never really being able to play it “properly”.

My on and off connection to music making has always been either hampered or fostered by the fact that I have fastidiously avoided learning music theory, how to read music, or becoming practiced at any instrument.

Like my visual art making, I have always favoured intuition and a kind of call and response method for making audio art.

Dark Day Bright Sun, 2018

I make music like I draw. There’s never a plan and I certainly don’t have music already in my head. Most tracks are simple successive layers with very little editing or post processing. Like many of my drawings, most of my “songs” (I don’t feel comfortable with that word) were completed in one sitting.

Falling Awake, 2018

I made a scattershot set of tracks throughout 2018 and collected them together in an album release on Bandcamp. It is less cohesive album and more like closing the cover of an actively filled sketchbook.

Listen on Bandcamp

Langue Verte – 2018 Collected

I don’t really even remember what prompted the thought but leading into 2019, I had the idea to make an album every month as a way to capture the sketching or journaling feeling I had in exploring making the music.

I had already been using Langue Verte as an online pseudonym so that carried over into being my “band” name. It is now trivial to digitally release audio so the only barrier or friction was whether I would stick with it.

I won’t get into my “recording” process in any depth other than to say that most of the music was made digitally and almost all of it was made on my phone in Garage Band and other apps. Like my phone “finger paintings”, making music on the phone removed all sorts of barriers and frictions. Many of these tracks were made sitting on buses or in waiting rooms for appointments, or while propped up in bed.

In the end, I made an album a month for 16 months in a row spanning into 2020.

I created a simple system for titling each release by date, intentionally referring to them as “journals.” I also had some fun making a series of mixed analog/digital drawings for the covers.

As a designer, album covers are always a touchstone and I would love to make art for other artist’s albums (get in touch!).

The first album sets a recurring pattern of stylistic jumps. There are erratic beats, almost psychedelic keyboards, droning, arpeggiated rhythms, ambience. It’s audio collage and some of it still works for me while some tracks are rougher sketches than others.

My favourite track is probably the last one, Fossil Memory. It has this synth organ layer with a bunch of bubbly arpeggios on top. It’s just fun to me.

Listen on Bandcamp

Langue Verte – Journal 0119

The second album feels like it is ready made to be the soundtrack for some unmade sci-fi movie. Hit me up, indie filmmakers!

I like the vaguely Wendy Carlos meets Merzbow calmness of the track Beach.

Listen on Bandcamp

Langue Verte – Journal 0219

Okay, ha, maybe all of these albums end up sounding like indie sci-fi films…

Interestingly if you read my previous post about digital abstracted landscape drawing, “Fingers Dipped in Water”, there are two tracks on this album, Desert Memory and Ocean Memory, that work like their visual equivalents for me, capturing something of remembered experiences of place in an impressionistic way.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0319

This is a quiet and atmospheric album over all. I like the somewhat sinister feeling of the track Movie Cycle.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0419

This album gets even more sparse. I like the long tripping tones and deeply backgrounded beats of Tracing Hero.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0519

The soundtrack continues. More drones, glitches, blips, and gurgles. The track Sweet Mud makes me happy.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0619

Some light musical structure comes into this album. It’s subtle but there is more distinct melody. The warped naive keyboards on Whelmed are a favourite. That title came out of a discussion with the artist David Lu about reaching the pleasant state between over- and under-whelmed. To feel “whelmed.”

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Langue Verte – Journal 0719

The spacecraft from the unmade sci-fi film travels through some sort of portal for this album. Every track is atmosphere with some form of alien presence. I find myself enjoying the vibrating childlike kalimba tones of the track Handmade.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0819

Maybe we’ve arrived at a new planet? Sorry I’m probably straining this sci-fi soundtrack comparison to its limits. Anyway, I like the track Mountain with its slightly Joy Division-esque guitar element.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0919

The song Rites on the next album is one of the most “indie rock” of all of the tracks. There’s still a bunch of sparkling and undulating synth stuff going on but there’s a dominant guitar track again that sets the tone.

Listen on Bandcamp

Langue Verte – Journal 1019

This album is one of the shortest and doesn’t have a clear standout track for me but Too Long to Wait has some interesting, if clumsy, passages.

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Langue Verte – Journal 1119

The year didn’t end with a focused set of tracks but I do like the simple lounge-y Wings.

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Langue Verte – Journal 1219

For the 2020 albums, I rebooted the cover design format, I designed a typeface and the visuals are a series of cardboard assemblages layered on a digital ground.

Somewhat suddenly, 2020 began with what feels to me like a fairly cohesive 15-track album. Standouts to me are, Sweet Sectors, Tidal Timer, and Forests We Knew.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0120

This album has the warped indie rock of Walking Stick and I’m proud of the bright piano of Thunder Green.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0220

On this album, I jump around between styles a bit more and there are a couple of sort of glitch trip-hop tracks, Branches and Trick Deck. The latter is so drunk stumbling (no booze, just high on life) I find it funny to listen back to.

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Langue Verte – Journal 0320

On my final album (well, final so far I guess) I like the very sparse First Storm and Renamed ticks that glitchy rock box again.

Listen on Bandcamp

Langue Verte – Journal 0420

The albums ended back in March 2020 and while I still do make music occasionally I don’t record it as often. These days I am far more likely to just stand in my office and play something on the electric piano that sits on top of a thrifted Farfisa organ while looking out at our garden.

Things are more balanced in life now and the mental and physical spaces where I made the music for those 16 journal albums just aren’t the same.

For now, I am happy to have an archive of that time in the form of these album artifacts.