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Synthesizing A New Sound (Ocean Bound)

Sometimes it's hard to get a good grip on a song. Ocean Bound is one of those slippy ones for me. It was written just over a decade ago and people generally seem to like it. It has been on the repertoire of most of the bands I've played with and has been recorded several times. It's a song that always seemed fine when I played it alone on an acoustic guitar or ukulele. But I've never really been happy with any of the arrangements I or others came up with for a full (rock) band.


That's why I thought Ocean Bound would be a good platform to try out my most recent acquisition, a Moog Grandmother mono synth. You can have a listen to the results right here.

Semi-modular bliss

I have to admit that I'm not much of a keyboard player. I approach the instrument more like Sonic Youth approach guitars, looking for new textures and colors that I can add to my arrangements. The fun part is that there are no presets on an analog synth like the Grandma', so you have to tweak the modules yourself to find what you want (and quickly jot down where all the knobs are set and the patch cables went once you find a cool sound - no presets means no saves).


Anyway, I began the recording with a basic acoustic guitar track and then I doubled it, thinking that it would be nice for some sort of stereo effect in the mix. But as I kept adding the bass and guitar parts, the song started to feel overloaded and stale. To free up sonic space, I decided to ditch the acoustics and the lead guitar part that had a big solo in it at the tail end of the song. I was left with a bass track and the wobbly electric guitar backing I put on there for a cartoonish, watery sound (I used my wonderful Jam Pedals RetroVibe).


The first thing I did was to add a second, more melodic bass part an octave above the original. This compensated some of the void left by the deleted acoustic guitar tracks. Then, I decided to recreate the intro section of the song using the synthesizer, so I came up with a sort of low, woodwind-type of sound for a bass line and a higher, modulated tone to play chordal harmonies above it. The latter was especially fun, as it allowed me to accentuate some of the weird, chromatic changes that, I think, make the song interesting, like the alternation between an A7 dominant chord and a C7 dominant in the pre-chorus section.


I tried a bunch of things to round out the intro and ended up using the vocal melody with a fairly conventional lead synth tone, as well as the delay trails from a descending part that I eventually threw out to give it some atmosphere. I ran the Moog into a Boss DM-2 analogue delay and played around with the echo and intensity knobs to keep the effect on the edge of self-oscillation.


As far as guitars, recorded an overdriven rhythm part with a slow rotary effect to add some punch to the last third of the song. Since I already had quite a few things going on on the track, I opted not to have a guitar solo at the end, replacing it with a little harmony line in the last four bars. Both of these guitar parts are processed through my Strymon Lex pedal.


As for the vocals, I tried to go for a more relaxed tone and brought back the "Get on my wave" backing vocal in the chorus that my friend Mel Goulding used to add when we played the song together. I doubled the lead vocals from the bridge section on to compensate for the increase in the density of the instrumental backing from that point.


Using a new instrument in the arrangement gave a completely new feel to a song that I have played thousands of times and produced the first recording of Ocean Bound that I'm actually happy with. :) I'm really looking forward to seeing how it will change my approach to other songs and what kind of impact it will have on my sound.

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