Making: The Insanity Clause
The Insanity Clause mix had its start on May 1, 2015 and was originally titled May Day Mix. Expressing a need to "do something" Steve handed me a collection of well over 500 songs and a load of spoken word bites he had been collecting all loaded into Ableton Live. He had been hoarding the tracks without any forethought of how they might be used. At the time he was dealing with his ailing mom (as well as I) and wasn’t available to spend time on a project. It was an enormously stressful time for us both.
As I started going through the collection I soon realized I was getting nowhere fast. I couldn't assimilate all this audio quick enough. Creating a good mix comes from familiarity with the pieces you choose. Like being conversant in your native language, you must be able to divine the appropriate musical phrase or voice bite from your subconscious. The connections happen mysteriously as if there is someone whispering in your ear directing you to 'use this next'.
Inspired by John Cage techniques I set up Ableton Live so it would randomly choose a new sound clip every 4 bars in layers of 3 to 5 songs at a time. I walked away from the computer and hours later had a brand new mix to listen to. Some of it was garbage but I was able to trim it down to an interesting 20 minutes. After listening few times and grooving on it I sent it on to Steve. He and his wife were digging it so I started experimenting and arranging.
I worked on it most days during the summer then took a break around Labor Day before I jumped in to the final mixing stage. I feel more comfortable finishing up a mix in Pro Tools HD so I bounced out all the tracks without eq and efx and loaded it all into Pro Tools 11. The HD version has all the bells and whistles when it comes to automation and I really needed it especially with the eq changes and delay and efx going on.
May Day Mix was finally finished October 11 almost 5 1/2 months later. And boy do I have a collection of mixes along the way, I lost count at 150. Some day I’ll go through and pull out some ideas that didn’t work.
During this time I would go for hikes in beautiful Nyack Beach State Park just 10 minutes away. It gave me lots of room for imagining and hearing new possibilities in my mind. Sometime I would even listen to mixes up there - something I normally frown upon. When I'm outdoors I love to listen to the ambience and quiet, save the music for another time and place.
It was a random process I applied to the bin of music and bites that created the base for the mix and I used a subtractive filtering process to carve away and leave the best bits. I had never created anything in this manner though I recall what a lot of producers did on remixing and extended mixes back in the 80’s: which was to fill up the 24 tracks on the master tape completely, leaving way too much music going on at one time throughout the tape.
Now I was using a subtractive process and cutting away what isn’t wanted and leaving (hopefully) something desirable - okay, it can work. But it’s an unstructured way to go about arranging that doesn’t typically work for me: I hear something in my head and create it. If I wanted to make something out of all this material in a quick manner I needed to use a different process. In many cases Steve had already marked a good section in a song or bite. Other songs weren’t listened to in advance so I left Ableton to automagically find the first beat and tempo. Sometimes it was a disaster.
Here's where I should mention my "problem". To make a very long story short, throughout the previous winter depression and SAD beat my ass down. And during the following as the days were getting longer I was experiencing racing thoughts, extreme anxiety, sleep disruption and a building fear of what's going on in my head. Crying uncle I found a shrink and started using a medication that saved me from another dark winter. A lot of sleep was lost but that energy was the fuel for the mix. When I couldn't sleep I'd just get up and power up the computer to put the energy to work.
The great thing I discovered about working in that state was I was more accepting of odd ideas and exploring what would otherwise be thought of as a dead end. Instead of thinking "why" I would ask "why not?". And I felt no need to second guess what a listener would enjoy, I could experiment without recourse. It was my private party. I was making this so I would want to listen to it and dig it as much as any other of my favorite music, so it was natural using my ill mind to color the selection of bites. I wasn't intending to mock mental illness with the title but to call attention to it.
The theme of the mix seemed obivious after I thought of using the opening sound bite of Candice Hilligoss in Carnival of Souls. That allowed me to choose Eddie Murphy’s "Keep it together" from Bowfinger. From there I pretty much threw in everything but the kitchen sink.
You may recognize all or none of the references included. Someday I may list all the ingredients. If you're inclined to listen more than once you may be rewarded discovering bits you previously missed. I will say that some audio has not publicly been heard before. Don't bother to ask where they came from. We'll just say "white label”.
Every so often during this process I would send an updated mix to a very approving Steinski who had suggestions here and there - especially helpful during the final mixing stage.
The bottom line is I still love hearing The Insanity Clause. I enjoy it as much as my favorite music! I can even remove myself from the memories of the 100's of hours spent creating it. I haven’t found anything I’d like to change or remix so I was successful in my attempt. And even though I built it solo, it is very much a true DDS collaboration. Steve picked a majority of the music and I built on top of that. I recommend listening to the May Day Mix Outtakes to hear the original iteration of The Insanity Clause mix.
The sad memory I'll always have of The Insanity Clause was the unexpected passing of an old acquaintance and client Peter Dougherty. He was a part of the original NYC hip hop scene and friends with many amazing artists.
During his stint at MTV he brought some heavies to work with me in the studio producing various MTV Art I.D.s., such as Rick Rubin, The Beastie Boys, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab Five Freddy, Arto Lindsay.
I remember uploading Insanity Clause on a Saturday night in October waking up to see a growing collection of likes from friends and fans - one being Pete. A few days later I learned he suddenly passed in his sleep the following morning. It’s with mixed feelings I have for that last like from Pete, so this one’s for you!
p.s. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health problems please do something about it. Do it now! There are many methods of dealing with mental illness that don’t even involve medication. Luckily I found something with no undesirable side effects (for me) as well as some great benefits.