The disabled javascript of Ivan Reese, by type or time.


Just before leaving for Toronto, Mark gave me his old wind organ. No clue where he found the thing. One of the white keys had a burn hole the size of my thumb, presumably from some stray cigarette, or maybe a candle. There were roaches (the weed kind — and I specify because it'll be important in a minute) packed into the little groove where you'd rest sheet music. Some of the chord buttons were caked with a sticky orange residue. The thing was old, but it sounded quite lovely.

The real "problem" with this organ was something else. When turned on, it'd drone out a high F#. If you pulled up on that key it'd stop, but let go and it'd go right back to droning. Now, I do play a lot of music with F#. But having the choice to be without F#, even just for a moment, is a choice I'd like to have. So this past month I took the organ apart.

The actual mechanism — the keys, valves, and air pump — are a lot smaller than I expected. It's all built as a single unit that slides in to the top of the housing. The rest is just empty space, so at some point I might build a smaller wooden frame so that this thing takes up less volume in my recording studio (though losing the foot-pedal volume would be a shame).

There are a few screw-on plastic covers protecting the various springs and valves and other sensitive bits that make the sound. After removing those, you can pop each of the keys off one by one, revealing a plastic tray that sits under the keys and collects all the stuff that has fallen through them over the years.

It's like Hollow Knight in there.

The chord button mechanism was quite a surprise. There are only a handful of valves — 8 bass, and 12 high. So to play a chord (which can get fairly complex and involve multiple valves from across both scales), each button is attached to a vertical wire with various horizontal stems sticking left and right. These stems press on yet more wires that run front-to-back, with several for each valve stacked at various heights. It's like a little mechanical computer, almost. I inadvertently pulled out a little plastic thread and half of it came loose and fell apart. It took about 2 hours to reassemble, but in so doing I had to figure out exactly how it all works, so I'm sort of begrudgingly glad to have gone through that.

The keys were soaked in water for a few days. The rest was vacuumed and scrubbed with an old toothbrush. After putting it all back together, with a few tweaks to avoid putting pressure on the keys at rest, the F# drone was fixed. Playing it also feels a lot less… disgusting. I filled the burn hole with some brown sugru, too.

The song at the top of this page, Never, was the first thing I recorded with the organ. I pumped the foot pedal to give it a sort of sidechain compression feel, and played the keys with a lot of percussive slap. The song isn't really about anything. It's just a joke for the end of FoC 62. But I had a fun time recording it. It's arguably the first actual "song" I've written in about a decade, so in some sense this is me shaking out the cobwebs (literally, if the above is any indication).

Here's what the song sounds like without the main organ chord progression and vocals.

Never (Alt Mix)

And here's a breakdown of what's in the recording. 31 tracks in total, so a little lower than my normal average I reckon. If you listen to the alt mix as you read through this, see if you can pick out each element.

The last layer deserves special mention. It's just a few bars of metronome before the song begins. In the past, I've tried recording with a metronome, but I hate what that does to how I feel rhythm. I like to play with a lot of syncopation, and with a really loose feel, and I like to pull ahead and behind the beat on one layer and then respond to that when I record other layers. So I'd prefer to record without a metronome, but then I run into issues with latency. I've never found latency compensation to work well, whether I calibrate it or just leave it as automatic, but turning it off is even worse. I also like to switch up my recording setup frequently, switching between wired and wireless headphones, out-loud speakers, and various ways of monitoring (hardware, software, etc). So syncing up all my layers is a nightmare.

It occurred to me that what I could do is just put some pre-recorded metronome at the beginning of the song, and then stick my headphones up to my mic (or play the monitoring mix out loud, or whatever) for a few beats whenever I start a new layer. Then I've got a reliable marker I can sync up on every track, which captures exactly the latency I was subject to when playing in that configuration.

This is the first song I've tried this technique on, and I love it. It's not perfect, and there are probably some changes I could make to get an even tighter sync, but it's a big improvement over the previous options.