Paranoid Shepard

May 9, 2015 8:01 PM

This is an endlessly rising Radiohead cover vignette; a section from Paranoid Android rises a whole step and repeats itself, and does so again, six times total, before returning to where it started, as a kind of large-scale take on the Shepard tone.

The recording here is two full loops of the song, right at the loop point, so if you put it on repeat it'll smoothly loop forever.

This is an idea I had a few years back, when Metafilter did the whole OK Computer cover-fest, but I never got around to it at the time and it's just been sitting in the back of my head. I'm having such a fun time fucking around in Reason, though, that this seemed like a natural thing to try and tackle, and being able to use synths and note tracker data to literally copy and paste a lot of the material from one whole-step iteration to the next means a lot quicker progress toward building a working version of it.

The vocals are my voice + some synthesizers into vocoder modules, to create an electronic voice that would be at least somewhat more consistent while spanning octaves than my actual voice could hope to be. The rest is a bass synthesizer, a mellotron thing, and a sort of boneheaded drum track, plus a bunch of reverb to sort of smear it all together a little.

The original song features a few iterations of the twenty-seconds-or-so 8-bar snippet that this keeps reiterating but while the chord structure and harmonic movement of the section suggests a move up a whole step, Radiohead make the jarring move of bucking that harmonic expectation and just repeating it in the same key instead, before eventually moving on to a different section of the song entirely. My whole conceit here was, what if you run with that harmonic expectation instead?

There's a few different ways you could potentially go with that; I'm not satisfied that I chose the best process here, but this is the process that was reasonable to actually put together in a few hours of goofing around, and so here we are.

I managed the loop process by crossfading the vocal elements from a high note region to an octave-lower copy over the course of one or two iterations, and by having the bass line make a jump down at one point in a different spot and the mellotron chorus fade in a lower version of itself steadily over the course of the loop while also fading out the higher version.

The mellotron in particular seems convincingly smooth to me; the vocals, vocoder or no, are still sort of conspicuous to my ears at the loop points. Getting around that is a bigger engineering challenge than I was up to tonight, so I just ran with it. The bass line jump feels natural enough, but I think varying the actual bass line content from iteration to iteration more actively would create a smoother loop as well.

I think it'd be really interesting to try and do this more as an acoustic project (or even potentially a live performance as a group), using a few different singers in octaves to really pull off the Shepard tone thing more directly with a constantly rising multi-octave unison melody that fades out on the top end and fades in on the bottom, but man that'd be a bunch of organizing to do.

posted by cortex (4 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

oh my god
posted by chococat at 8:08 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is great!! Excited to see what else comes out of this electronic project of yours. Oddly, I could understand the lyrics on your version more clearly than in the original.
posted by Corduroy at 9:31 AM on May 10, 2015

Vocoder tends to eat up the phonetic content a bit so I think I overcompensated by being a lot more crisp and enunciatory than ol' Thom was, yeah.
posted by cortex at 10:04 AM on May 10, 2015

There's nothing I don't like about this. Audio nerdery, radiohead, Mefi Music and vocoders. What a combo :)
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:25 PM on June 3, 2015

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