The first version of Fancy Mike‘s “Ramachandran” I heard was a remix by Pixelord which blew me away with its 8-bit style arpeggio pattern that goes on for years. Upon hearing the original on Madison Square Gardener, released by King Deluxe, I found that Pixelord had built his arpeggio over Mike’s sentimental melody, one that sounds a lot less crazy and hectic than the remix and has this big fat snare/clap on the twos and fours. In retrospect, I wish I’d included it in my “Best Drum Sounds Of 2011” article. In lieu of that, I asked Fancy Mike to break down this gem.
This track is an “old” one, and in recent days Mike has taken up a creative endeavor apart from making music. He’s written a book called Mastodon Farm, due out next wonth, a fictional tale set in a world where there is no distinction between New York and California (perhaps a geographical allegory for Mike’s native Minnesota), and of course, a reality fraught with music.
All right. Now let’s jump into “Ramachandran.” Here are some words from Fancy Mike about the track.
“Ramachandran” was the last song I made on Madison Square Gardner, and it took forever… mainly because I sort of wanted it to be my raison-d'être for the album, my unofficial official statement, like: "This is what I am trying to say." It was the first track on my first release so—it just had to be perfect, for me, and since it was the first thing people were going to hear, I had to spend as much time on it as possible. The track was completed during the summer between my junior and senior year in college. And the song went through many many versions.
This is true probably for most, if not all of my tracks, but I was trying to make movie music that didn't sound like movie music, if that makes sense. “Ramachandran,” up to that point, for me as an artist, was the epitome of the type of music I was trying to push and create. I rarely use samples and sort of just make everything myself, so I call this movie music, but you'll definitely notice things, like how there is no string section per-se, or horn section, or real orchestral element really, but I use other instruments and sounds to sort of re-create that grandiose/sweeping feeling/emotion that comes from listening to good film scores. But also, I guess you could say “Ramachandran” is more 8-bit than… I don't know, traditional. That's fine.
All my music, I make in Reason. Fruity Loops XXL, Ableton—those programs are just impossible for me to use (or I just don't have the patience, maybe). But for people who use Reason, a lot of sounds in “Ramachandran,” they'll recognize. I mean, some of the instruments sound so good I feel bad tweaking them. And with electronic music—and this, with Reason especially—I know that there are 100+ instruments to use but I treat each one like I would an electric guitar—yeah, it's got that stock sound that hundreds of others can emulate, possibly, but if you just play with it and buy a different amp maybe, or add some effects and change this and then play with that, you can totally get something new and original-sounding. So that's what I'm all about.
The very first sound is the "In Mysterious Ways" Thor instrument, slightly tweaked of course, but it's a lovely sound. Here, I played with the mod wheel to get that "sweeping" feeling I mentioned. In the end, it sounds, to me, like the beach: the sound of waves, and just that, waves, with no crash. Waves, constantly rolling in, forever—sort of creates this I'm-floating-on-water sensation, I think—no? The second instrument I use is the NN-19 digital sampler "Female Ahh." I love choir samples. And here, I created a sort of panning-in-and-out effect, without actually using a panning effect, rather, side-chaining and other things. If you listen closely, you can actually hear the choir fade in and out through most of the track, which isn't that evident, and that was the point. This was mainly done because I only wanted one vocal element to be present at any given point. With the drums carrying most of that, I felt it was unnecessary to have two vocal elements competing. It was tricky making it all work together, but it was fun figuring out how to make it work, and it definitely adds to the track I think.
For me, these are the best drums ever. They totally changed the track, and let it be known, I'm no drum genius. In the earliest versions of “Ramachandran,” it was more of a generic, boom-bap type beat, which is usually what I do when I start a track, but after I was finished with everything else, I sort of felt lost and didn't know where I wanted to go with the track in terms of drums (also, I was totally burnt out from working for so long). It took a few months but eventually I realized I wanted some drums that sounded mysterious: chopped up vocals, whispers—all that, but I wasn't sure how do that. And this is when I realized, "I need help." So I sent a demo to best friend Raw Stiles, we talked on AIM for a good while about my vision—it was like I was talking to Rick Ross or something—and two weeks later, and several sleepless nights, we got to a point where I was able to say, "This is it."
The low-end. Very simple stuff actually. No effects either. Just bass, paired with a multitude of compressors and maximizers. Originally I was going for a straight 4/4 bass-type deal, but then I heard Balam Acab's “See Birds (Moon)” and decided I absolutely needed to throw in some bass stabs, which start around the 0:51 mark. Another life-changer for the track. Ha.
04_8 Bit Tones #1 (Melody 1)
Squares and saws, basically: the melody. I love melody and I think that not enough tracks have (good) melody. While I was working on “Ramachandran,” for some reason I kept thinking "NES game endings," and all the arpeggios and 8-bit sounds that went with that. This was actually the first part of “Ramachandran” I ever finished. I just kept playing different chords and notes until something stuck. After a good three hours, I remember, in the original save file I had around 32 different variations of the same theme. Initially I was planning on making “Ramachandran” this epic 21-minute faux-orchestration of a track with different movements and all that, but then I was talked out of it and just picked my three favorite variations and implemented them into the track.
05_8 Bit Tones #2 (Melody 2)
This is the "Wobble Lead" Thor instrument and another saw. Definitely not a lead track, just an accompaniment to "8-Bit Tones #1," and nothing more. Essential to the track though!
Put ‘em all together, and here’s what you get: “Ramachandran” by Fancy Mike.