Gear Talks: Sow Discord

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Gear Talks: Sow Discord

Sow Discord
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

The organ at the Melbourne Town Hall isn't the usual place you'd find a noisy industrial project... unless you're Sow Discord.

Sow Discord is an experimental project from Naarm. Combining noisy, industrial samples with found sounds, it captures the feeling of depth and despair, most recently in Scale II, the second in the series of albums. Scale II was inspired after working with the organ at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Congratulations on the release of Scale II! How did the Scale series begin and how did Scale II specifically come about?

Thank you!

The Scale records (No Sun and Scale) were more experiments with a less beat-driven sound-world. They are more explorations of dark ambient stuff. When you remove the beat element things can open up a lot more. You can do “off-the-grid” type ideas that don’t need to be synced to anything. No Sun was the first of that series. During that time I was at university studying sound and I was pretty immersed in field recording and sound collage kind of stuff. I wanted to apply those techniques to Sow Discord as a kind of “sidequest” thing. Scale II came about when I was asked to do a work for the Town Hall Organ in 2019 or thereabouts. I started working on it right away and the shape it was taking was definitely more of the dark ambient sound world so it sort of made sense for it to be part 3 of a trilogy.

WARNING: the following video contains bright flashing imagery that may trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. Viewer discretion is advised.

How did the organ sounds from the Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ come about?

The sounds for the Scale II record were a combination of archived field recordings I had on hard drives that hadn’t been used yet, some sketches of unfinished Sow Discord songs and new material specifically for this release. A majority of the sounds are made with samplers. I rarely use synths these days. I like cutting up sounds and running them through things to make them sound like a synth or not like a synth. I was taking large slabs of sound from this sketch, small bits from that project and reworking them and recording bits and pieces as needed. It was a lot of experimentation. 

How do you feel the organs offset the other samples and sounds? Do the organs provide a contrast/dichotomy or a complimentary element?

I think the organ sounds worked pretty well with the Sow Discord sounds. At first I was pretty dubious I could make the two things talk to each other the way it came across in my mind but I was pretty happy with the result. I used the organ as I would a sample I guess.

I like a sporadic use of melody and more using it as a blanket texture to go with and against my sounds. Sow Discord relies on dissonance a lot to create an idea of melody. I don’t play any instruments well so I approached it from the Angle of “how can I make this not work in the best possible way?” I used a clunky MIDI organ to map out all of those parts as lockdowns were in full effect so it was impossible to actually work with the organ on-site. The physicality of the organ is amazing. The bass frequencies it can produce are wild.

How does a Sow Discord song/arrangement/piece begin?

It could start with drums, a sample or listening to the same drone for hours on end. there is never a definitive approach to starting a song. It’s a lot of trial and error, experimenting and accidents. The most important thing for me is to keep the initial feeling I am going for intact, knowing when something isn’t working and when something feels finished. 

My setup is pretty simple. I love the Elektron drum machines for quick bugged-out results for mangling samples and I use a Maschine. A couple of outboard processors and Ableton for mixing and arranging.

How do you record, arrange and mix the sounds you create?

A large chunk of songs are made on drum machines that get multi-tracked into Ableton then I will shuffle things around and add or subtract additional layers and process particular sounds through outboard FX. I have always enjoyed mixing songs as I go. I find it hard to separate mixing from composing. For me mixing is a part of the compositional process. I also like to have a different engineer go over my mixes to polish things up at the end stage. By that time I have listened to the songs a million times so it’s nice to have an objective pair of ears to help to finalise things. 

How has the music you make with Whitehorse influenced Sow Discord or vice versa? Or are they entirely separate avenues?

The making of the sounds for both projects is pretty much the same. Sonically they definitely bounce off each other. The presentation of the two is different. Sow Discord is more meticulous studio experiments. Whitehorse relies heavily on improvisation being that it is for the most part presented in a live context.

That energy is never going to be the same at any two shows. I will use sounds that are on the recordings playing live but they are stripped back so I have the freedom to change them around and build on them in a more improvised way. It keeps things interesting.

How has your work remixing work for The Body, My Disco, Intensive Care, Vacuum and Ploughshare influenced your own work in Sow Discord?

All of these bands have been an influence on what I do for their willingness to try different things and work outside of the box. I find that to be inspiring with any artist.

Listen to more Sow Discord here.