We deconstruct the arrangements of tracks to see what we can learn from their structure.

How much can you achieve with no more than a dozen mix elements? We deconstruct Blawan’s relentless ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage’ to learn how in the right hands, simplicity can be brutally elegant.

The track

The arrangement

Blawan Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage arrangement deconstructed

Click to enlarge.

What’s happening

1. ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage’ opens with the track’s defining lead motif – a bubbling, heavily filtered and tape-delayed synth line playing 8ths that gently rises and falls in pitch across the 8-bar loop – against a raw off-beat hi-hat. An overlay of distorted noise, probably low-cut sampled vinyl noise or a found sound clip, adds a lo-fi atmospheric wash.

a bubbling, heavily filtered synth line plays 8ths against a raw off-beat hi-hat

2. Enter the kick and bassline. The bass sound is simple enough – a woozy, waspish square-dominated synth line that follows, for now, the same slow pitch-drift profile as the winding bubble lead. Its genius lies in automation: note the subtle filter opening at bar 17 and again at 25, giving the bass an ever-moving, breathing momentum bristling with oppression. That sense of menace is upped by the heavily reverbed ‘scream’ FX triggered at the start of each section. This is almost certainly a sample of the intro from the Fugees’ ‘How Many Mics’. Note here the more obvious rhythmic shaping of the noise, with the kick drum providing the sidechain trigger for a delayed volume peak that contributes, like everything else in the mix, to the relentless groove.

3. A double hi-hat hit pre-empts a single bar break in which kick, hat, bass and bubble leave the mix to a sparse re-sampled underlay of bubble delays and noise (automated to rise in volume into bar 33).

4. The beat fills out as a raw low-level percussive part enters alongside a barking snare-style hit – we’ll call it ‘dog’ – that plays around the kick and the hats. But it’s the vocals which dominate. “Why they hide their bodies under my garage?” asks the monotone vocal lead, sampled from ‘How Many Mics’, while a pitched-down and re-sampled counterpoint repeats “under my garage”. Again, tape delays abound, with careful automation picking out individual words and spinning them with different EQ treatments and panning placements. Note the automation of the white noise too. It’s still there – but much lower in the mix.

5. All elements are cut bar the hi-hat, ahead of an isolated scream. In a track that almost entirely eschews big dynamic flourishes, these short one or two-bar breaks offer rare let-ups in momentum – brief chances for the dancefloor to catch up.

In an arrangement defined by careful, subtle movement, it's worth noting the fluidity of the structure

6. The percussion and ‘dog’ drum drop away leaving a skeletal beat backing the vocals. In an arrangement defined by careful, subtle movement within an apparently ruthlessly relentless groove, it’s worth noting the fluidity of the structure. Some sections last eight bars, some 12, some 16. Trying to second guess where a section will end is impossible; this mix is about keeping the listener moving – and guessing.

7. Time for the full beat workout as the the ‘dog’ snare and perc return, joined by a new ride (playing the first two bars of each four bar section) which bestows high-end momentum. With the vocals taking a break, mid- and low-end interest is supplied by the bassline, increasing in volume to fill out the mix as its filter is opened and ramped-up delays scatter across the stereo field.

8. The established arrangement is toyed with over this 24-bar development section. The ride pattern that was laid out from bar 65 is chopped and changed, sometimes continuing the opening two-bar pattern, sometimes playing full four-bar sections. Elsewhere the filters on the bass continue their endless shifting, with the pitch rise and fall often drifting out of sync now with the bubble lead. The vocals drop out altogether half-way through their phrase at bar 98 – another unexpected touch – while the scream leading into the turnaround at 105 is pitched at a higher level for a more-than-usually intense FX flourish.

9. The high scream transitions into a one-off movie-style impact stab – with a suitably B-movie aesthetic  – and the first breakdown worthy of the description. Note the regular stop-starting of the noise, now cut loose from its sidechain trigger, and the envelope tweaks to the hi-hat, reducing volume and attack at 105 before increasing both again into 113.

10. It’s all change as the breakdown continues. The hi-hat plays a few regular hits before receding from the mix. Elsewhere, the bassline rises in volume while the chewy bubble diminishes.

11. Momentum returns with the kick and hat, joined by the dog and percussion in a short volume swell into 129. In the FX section, another instance of the higher scream and the movie stab keep delivering twisted ear candy.

With all beat elements in and vocals out, it's time for the bass to take centre stage

12. With all beat elements in and vocals out, it’s time for the bass to take centre stage for an increasingly twisted display of automation restraint, with filters, delays and fine-tuning being pushed to the established limits as the track heads to playout.

13. The kick is low-pass filtered, with nothing but a flabby sub left. It’s not the only part trimmed down – the bubbles have lost most of their high end, skittering around in the lower mids as the vocals deliver their coda.

14. The last of the playout sees all beat elements muted, with low-volume and increasingly shady versions of the bubbles and bassline emerging from the ever-more dominant background noise soup as the vocals end with a final high scream and movie stab.

30th July, 2015

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