'onaniershow'

'onaniershow' was the tentative title for the incomplete and unreleased second Fourth Man CD. Most of the songs were written between 1994 and 1995, and were recorded and mixed over the period of a week in 1996. The digital masters for all but one of the tracks ("Tasteless Killing Spree") were lost, recorded over, or given away. By the time I decided to dust these recordings off and archive them in the mid 2000s, the only copy I was able to find was a mistreated and unlabelled cassette. As much as I was able to clean off some of the analog audio crud, there is a periodic wobbly and jittery lo-fi cassette “charm” to these tracks, much like the 1994 release, but possibly worse.

Of the differences between 'onaniershow' and the 1994 CD, the most significant one was that Gabriel was not involved. For better or worse, it was all me. Other than playing drums for live shows in late 1994, Gabriel and I worked together on new material less and less, and by 1995, he was essentially no longer involved in T4M. Sometimes, people need to take a little time off from each other, like a decade or so. The vocals were processed a bit more cleanly, and mixed much more up front than the 1994 material. Quite significantly, the lyrics were more in the mode of the later songs from the first CD – direct, and considerably less serious in tone, perhaps to the point of being downright goofy. Half the time I felt like I was doing a comedy album, but in the context of the mid 90s, “industrial” music had become so commercially viable that it was verging on if not surpassing Spinal Tap in taking itself too seriously. I suppose I decided to preemptively drop the mini Stonehenge on myself. Also, instead of being recorded and mixed in a patchwork fashion over a period of years under a variety of different conditions, the tracks for 'onaniershow' were pulled together and mixed all at once in a small home studio – specifically the humble but effective studio used by the band Numb.

But let's go back to 1994, the beginning of the end for T4M…

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1993-94

The Happy Song, Artman, High Plains Castrato, Citizen/Tastless Killing Spree

In 1993, The Fourth Man started doing live shows around Vancouver – the typical entry-level type of gigging that most aspiring musicians slog through, stapling up posters, pretending we’re really cool, and then playing somewhere to a handful of our friends for a cut of the "door". Our first show was at a club called "Notorious", which had been in operation for over a decade. Shortly after our show, the club shut down. We figured it was a good sign. Canadian national treasure Geoff Berner, observed that our first show was like a car crash – you had to slow down and look, as awful as it might be. The quote immediately went into our bio.

A large percentage of T4M live shows had at least one thing go fundamentally wrong, or at least memorably askew: sound and equipment issues, physical injuries, missing band members, and various rip-offs to name a few. The most amazing thing was that we kept at it as long as we did. There’s something to be said for the endorphin rush of being on stage.

As an “instant encore” to our set (a term I applied to coming back on stage for one more song, like it or not), I tacked an old song onto the end of our set, which later became part of 'onaniershow': “The Happy Song”.

“The Happy Song” was initially written and recorded back in 1989. It had been intended more as an exercise than anything else, based on someone once telling me that depressing songs were easier to write than happy songs. I wanted to test the theory. I’m not sure if “Happy” was true to its title, but most people seemed to at least find it more amusing than the other stuff I was doing. I considered it pretty stupid and downright embarrassing. In a way, I wrote it to commemorate the recent collapse of a relationship. I had also recently gotten my teeth loosened but not quite kicked out by couple of thugs (for lack of a better word). I think I spilled coffee nearby them, and then apologized. I also may have smiled at them. In a sad, self-pitying way, “The Happy Song” could have possibly been therapy when cigarettes and beer weren’t enough. The song was no more stupid than anything else I was doing at the time.

I’d never intended to air it out in public, but years later, perhaps to clear the palate after 45 minutes of industrial sludge, I started working it onto the end of our set. Possibly due to the novelty it seemed to put a pretty nice button on the show.

By 1994, “The Happy Song” had devolved into a mix of noise, Christmas bells, Laibach-inspired drums and horns, and Sesame Street. Also worthy of note were the inclusion of some sloppy covers of “TV Eye” by the Stooges and “Lust for Love“ by Images in Vogue.

 

In the fall of 1994, Andrew at Factoria Records started distributing the first CD. I had put two more songs together for our live set - “High Plains Castrato” and “Artman”

 

The live arrangements and performances for many of the older CD tracks had evolved from the original CD versions. For various reasons (our own lack of equipment and experience, an unwilling house sound guy) the vocals were free of the heavy processing used in the first CD. A combination of minimal rehearsal, triggering live samples, weird home made electronic drum controllers, and guitar made for a loose show.

To say we were a good live band would be a lie, and we instinctively fell back on the not-so-trade secret of many electronic industrial bands – the backing track…or as I like to call it “industrial karaoke”.

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1995

 Belgian Sock Fite, Filler, 'onaniershow', Boo

Also significant around this time, I had joined the more established industrial band Numb in October 1994, first as a fill-in vocalist and later as a full member in terms of song writing and production.

During this period, Gabriel and I experienced some issues that soured our collaboration. T4M material started to take a back seat to Numb, which increasingly took over as a priority. I started to find Numb far more compelling and rewarding than T4M. As far as the "issues" that soured things, let's just say that Gabriel and I found our own separate ways to repeatedly burn our fingers touching the stove element.

Numb had been a pretty big influence on T4M during our early days, and due to the similarities in the way Don Gordon and I worked, it became difficult to differentiate the evolution of T4M from my work with Numb. In a way, Numb sort of ended up "absorbing" T4M between 1995 and 1998. It was sometimes tempting to use my association with Numb to help market a T4M release, but I tried to keep them separate. Eventually, I willingly allowed Numb to eat the weaker twin in the womb.

If the material for the first T4M CD was made during the courting period, the material on 'onaniershow' was more like the dull tarnish of a post-honeymoon marriage.

As we started playing gigs and getting reviews, I started to find industrial music to be a bit of a hard sell, particularly to myself. The parallels to Spinal Tap were more than casual. Understandably, most of the public face of the music/entertainment industry is about packaging and illusion, but I couldn't comfortably get behind the killer cyborg, gears & bats, spook & death fest and keep a straight face, particularly after seeing what looked like the same guys in every city, wearing pirate shirts and leather pants, moodily doing the funky chicken at the front of the stage.

In short, not only was I starting to feel like I was perhaps too silly to sit at the grown ups table, but on some level, I also didn’t believe in the "product" anymore.

There was much face palming by Gabriel in T4M and Don in Numb, as I consistently made an ass of myself onstage. I sort of enjoyed the disasters that T4M live shows turned into, blowing opportunities and dissolving the glue that had held the band together in the first place. I started to tell people that T4M was doing "Fundustrial", which often tended to result in a 1000 yard stare, and what I have come to fondly call "the space alien feeling". I would frequently express what I called "a healthy disregard for our target audience". I mean, who really wanted to purchase and listen to this crap, and why did I bother? Our logo should have been a guy shooting himself in the foot…laughing AND crying.

With Gabriel completely out of the band by early 1995, I started working on new material and refining the older stuff. The material came together pretty quickly, the only stumbling block being indecisiveness in terms of what I wanted to do stylistically. Essentially, I went on autopilot to a large degree, and continued the process that I had gotten used to doing on the first CD, but this time with a bit more experience with the equipment, and without Gabriel and Martin as a creative foil.

The 'onaniershow' material was assembled in the same bargain basement fashion as the 1994 CD. Money was spare at this time, so even though the recording industry saw a slow and steady beneficial shift in terms of digital multi track equipment and software, I was not quite financially ready to upgrade my own "studio”.

The core set-up was pretty much the same as for the previous CD, perhaps even a bit more stripped down – the Yamaha TX81Z synth module, my samplers (the Yamaha TX16W and a terminally ill Akai S900), and the Creator sequencing program. Without a functioning 4-track, recording vocals and putting together a somewhat finished song idea would need to wait until an opportunity came up to do so.

In late 1994, I had changed the live arrangement of “Citizen”, one of our older T4M tracks.

During the process, an alternate version developed, and this became the band track for a new song, charmingly entitled "Tasteless Killing Spree".

Shortly after that, the live version of “High Plains Castrato” got a bit of a re-fit in terms of the arrangement. Lyrically, I’m not really sure what I was trying to get at, but I suspect that it starts with heavy drinking, and then the hallucinogens kick in. If anything, it probably came from exposure to serial killer movies and anything inspired by John Woo – something that seemed to be sort of hip back in the 90s. Instrumentally, I was pleased with the results, and in it’s own way, I thought it was pretty “hooky”.

“Belgian Sock Fight” was a reaction to a charming quirk of most industrial music – unintentionally hilarious lyrics. Admittedly, I am well aware that I was and am one of the worst offenders in that regard. If you spun a random wheel of T4M lyrics, you’d be hard pressed to find some that actually didn’t embarrass me. Still, it was often a saving grace that industrial vocals were processed so heavily that the lyrics were mercifully unintelligible. English as a first language or not, there was often nothing more simultaneously disappointing and exhilarating than an industrial or goth band that decided to include a lyric sheet.

Somewhat cynically, I had intended to put together a cranky generic “industrial” EBM track with the intention of writing some really fucking “serious” industrial/cyberpunk lyrics. “Belgian Sock Fite” was born. Here I stress that of the European countries I have been to, Belgium is great, and I think the song title came from a vague recollection of accidentally buying a pair of extra small socks in Belgium…actually, that sounds more like something I would have done in Amsterdam. Regardless, the title was kind of pulled out of the air, and I sort of thought that a “Belgian Sock Fite” would be more like a kinder, gentler version of a “Mexican stand-off”.

Filler” was exactly what its’ title indicated, sounding horribly dated with sampled guitars and break beats. Thematically, it was also a muddled, vindictive jab at my ex-T4M band-mates as we became increasingly distanced from each other. I was still pretty pissed off that the band dynamic had changed so much, and I was ready to deal with it by dipping into my handy bucket of petty immaturity.

In early 1995, I was hanging out with Gabriel for one of the last times I would see him until the 2000s. He was miserably talking about how he didn’t have any talent, and how he should quit the band. If memory serves, Gabriel was pretty high on my shit list at that point, so I wasn’t really about to give him the “buck up li’l camper” speech - quite the contrary. I had a little micro-cassette dictation recorder, which I kept in my pocket to grab random sounds, and I got a nice snippet of Gabriel’s final T4M monologue. “Filler” has a sound byte of that, as well as a sample of Andrew from Factoria losing his shit at one of our more regrettable gigs. On the plus side, with no one to stop me, I was finally able to achieve my dream of putting some bongos into a T4M song.

I had also accumulated a variety of semi-finished instrumental tracks, either included as set openers for T4M gigs, or simply gathering dust on floppy disk. One idea, a simple sort of ambient one called “Boo” was interesting enough for me to ear mark it to be included on the next potential T4M release.

The title track, 'onaniershow', was strongly influenced by being in Numb. One could easily say that all of the 4th Man material was derivative of stylistic decisions established by our industrial predecessors, but I had developed some intimacy with the Numb material, having sung a hearty chunk of the back-catalogue repeatedly on tour, and I’m fairly certain that with 'onaniershow', I was consciously trying to emulate the more “Shakespearean” approach to vocals that Conan (the previous singer in Numb) had taken. I also tried to leave more “space” in the music, partially for potential ideas that might crop up during the intended mix-down process, but also a conscious adjustment to T4M tracks in the past, which had often been perhaps a little too dense and busy in terms of sequencing.

The title to 'onaniershow' (which had nothing to do with the actual lyrical content - partially grieving a dead hamster, and partially poking fun at that easiest of targets: Goths) was taken from a bit of oddly translated text in a porn magazine we found on the sidewalk in Copenhagen during my first Numb tour. In and amongst the usual ESL butchery, one phrase jumped out at me and stuck in my head: “the women present a lascivious onaniershow”. I had a pretty solid notion as to what an “onaniershow” was, but the word itself seemed simultaneously goofy and alien, like an H.R. Giger painting wearing a birthday hat. In theory, the self-indulgent “hey, look at what I did” aspect of electronic music (and in creativity itself) lends well to such a term, so when I was considering an album title, it really was a “toss” up to either devalue the album as empty by calling it “Filler”, or to devalue the album as masturbatory and call it 'onaniershow'. Monkey spanking won out over emptiness – go figure.

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1996

Mixing and Recording

As of 1995, Numb had become the priority focus for me in terms of music, but I had also accumulated this handful of T4M tracks archived on disk in various stages of completion.

I’m not sure what the precise circumstances were, but sometime around the Spring/Summer of 1996, Don generously suggested that I use his gear to put together the newer 4th Man material while he was away for a week or so. I determined that I had about 45 minutes of new material, so it made sense to take advantage of the situation, hole myself up with the gear, feed Don’s cats, and see how much I could get done. This was, at the very least, a great chance to dig into the Numb equipment. It was also my first chance to work on T4M material in a reasonably proper mixing situation.

Besides having access to an unprecedented 32 mixer channels and multiple outboard effects devices, Don was using "Logic" as his sequencer, a far more advanced version of Creator, my sequencing program. Thanks to backwards compatibility, Logic would load my Creator disks – almost flawlessly.

I finally had a chance to record the vocals in a slightly more professional manner. On the previous T4M CD, we usually recorded the vocals "wet" through effects onto the typical 2 track allotment on our 4 track in order to free up our one effects unit for mix-down. In this case, I was using an 8-track digital recorder, keeping the vocals clean until mix-down. Factoring out the rough band track and SMPTE, that left me with a whopping 5 tracks to record alternate takes and double the vocals, etc. In short, more options.

Having mentioned SMPTE, this seems like a fantastic time to take a stumble down memory lane and discuss that wonderful artifact from the past – the process known as "striping the tape". For those of you who don’t know what I'm talking about, get ready to be bored and misinformed. For those who do, bear with me while I lie to these other people.

First, think of high speed internet, and then compare that with two empty soup cans connected by a string. That’s what striping tape is like. More specifically, in the days of analog tape, prior to the common use of having audio recorded digitally, there was the mechanical issue of analog tape stretching and small variations in the speed of the motor controlling the tape reels. This on its’ own was not an issue, but as I discovered back in 1988, vocals or instrument tracks recorded onto analog tape will quickly go out of time with instruments being played by a MIDI sequencer unless there is a way to synchronize the timing between the tape tracks and the MIDI tracks. Enter the world of the "sync tone".

The principal of a sync tone is similar to dial up modems and fax machines. A digital signal is converted to an audible signal that can then be transferred over the then limited bandwidth of a phone line. In the case of a sync tone, a series of specialized audio tones are recorded sequentially onto one of the tape tracks. On play back, these tones can then be routed to a device, which will then convert the tones to MIDI time code so that the MIDI sequencer (controlling the digital instruments) can match the small fluctuations in speed on the tape. Sounds great, right? I hated having to piss around with time code.

As much as the recording equipment was an improvement over the entry level gear we used for the first CD, I was once again contending with the gear being located in a residential apartment with all the contingent issues connected to that - thin walls, neighbours to consider, and (as usual) my own crippling self-consciousness. As a result, the vocals for Artman, 'onaniershow', Boredom, High Plains Castrato, Filler, Tasteless Killing Spree, The Happy Song, and Belgian Sock Fite were finished in one afternoon, doing about 3 takes per song and then quickly moving on. The entire process took about 4-5 hours.

This process had good and bad aspects to it. On one hand, there was little time for hemming and hawing, the result being that shit got done. I had to commit to the (*cough*) performances as they were. The down side was that, excluding a few of the live tracks, I“d never actually vocalized the lyrics for these songs before, so I was unsure as to how they were going to work. The result was that the performances were less than nuanced. Instead of taking the time to perhaps pull together a more dynamic performance, I fell back on my old party tricks of shouting and growling, hoping that I could "fix it in post", which essentially meant running the resulting vocals through distortion. This changed nothing in terms of the usual method T4M had always used as far as vocals went – print 'em and don't look back (maybe later, with regret).

There was another issue with the time factor. In order to take advantage of a mixing board with significantly more possibilities, a large chunk of time was required to configure my sampler for multiple outputs so I could mix the virtual tracks. If you don’t know what I'm talking about when I say "virtual tracks" and love to be bored, then you just got lucky, because I intend to explain the now moot concept.

It's Everything is Virtual Back in the "day" (before the cheap ubiquity of digital multitrack recording and VST instruments – oh, say, the 2000s), most MIDI devices could be synched up to the tracks recorded on tape using my favorite dubious ally, SMPTE time code, and be played back live by the sequencer and run through the mixing board with the rest of the recorded tracks. These MIDI generated outputs were often referred to as virtual tracks. There were multiple advantages to virtual over tape. It freed up the then-limited number of tape tracks for other purposes, and it also meant that the signal was cleaner. As much as people crow about the charmingly warm sound of analog tape, it tends to bring up the noise floor, and in the wrong hands (mine), things can really turn into a hiss-fest (to this day, even when dealing almost entirely in the digital domain, if there is a point where noise from analog circuits, tape, or microphone leakage can feasibly be accidentally introduced to a recording, it will happen on my watch). Another advantage to virtual tracks is the flexibility in terms of being able to change sounds and notes, something that isn’t really feasible once you’ve recorded it onto analogue tape.

In the past, since we’d usually only had a 4-track (and in some cases a "no-track") recorder, almost all of the tracks from the first CD were initially "virtual", however, due to the limited number of adequate mixing channels on our equipment, we'd never been able to properly take advantage of separating the song elements and mixing them in the traditionally effective method studios used. With access to the Numb studio, I had this opportunity, which takes me back to the original challenge.

The basic rerouting was theoretically a simple process, but I was once again working with the Yamaha TX16W as my core sampler, and as I mentioned in the liner notes for the first CD, the Yamaha TX16W sampler's operating system was a bit awkward to use. I have heard the term "pig", "beast", and/or "piece of shit" used to describe operating the 16W (depending on who you asked). As comfortable as I was with it, routing the instruments to separate outputs was time-consuming. In some cases, it couldn’t be done, and re-sampling to another device was required. This basic and unglamorous librarian work was 20-30% of the process.

Once the librarian work was done, pulling it all together and making the creative decisions of mixing was kind of an anti-climax. This was before the days of unlimited vst effects chains on every track and user friendly mixer automation. Cutting and pasting variations of the mix in retrospect was possible but not really on the radar yet for me, and I only had two shaky hands for the mix-down process. In retrospect, I possibly would have not made some of the choices I did, but it was really triage work, particularly since the clock was ticking. Add to it my dyslexic approach to all things goal-oriented, and you’ve got a real tuxedo and gum boots sort of a mix.

For all my supposed knowledge in terms of audio recording, I was a long way from being effective in terms of practical application in 1996 (that could also be said at the time of this writing in 2014). One of the fundamental major errors I made was in determining my reference mix. Be prepared to nod off again…

When mixing in a new environment (and in general), it is good to have an example of a mix you are familiar with which has the qualities you would like to emulate (or avoid). As an extreme example, if you want a recording to have similar sonic qualities to Abbey Road by the Beatles, you would not want to use a recording of Louis Armstrong from the 1920s as a reference. A common mistake (or at least the mistake that I made) is to use songs that appeal stylistically, but not in terms of overall eq and dynamics. Much of the music on popular radio might not have been to my taste, but the mixes can be and usually are fantastic compared to many of the bands I was inspired by.

So right from the start I was referencing to mixes by industrial bands from the 1987-1991 period that were often not quite as clean and punchy as what was being done in 1995. Later, when hearing my mixes next to the latest by Numb, Front Line Assembly, or pretty much anyone else I didn't use as a reference, I was a wee bit disappointed. That being said, were I to be slightly dishonest, I could have said I was showing a "punk" mentality to mixing.

Most of the songs got at least half a day's worth of work before committing to a mix. Since "Boo" was such a simple track with no vocals to contend with, a large number of elements to the track were worked out during the mixing process, with plenty of live knob-twiddling, something I’d only had limited capability to do prior to using the Numb gear. It was like being a kid in a small but reasonably well-stocked candy shop, and in a way, my glee might have surpassed my attention to detail in terms of the final product. I was also perhaps a bit overly enthused at the constant Blade Runner-esque view of Vancouver’s Robson Street, squirming with people filing in and out of the tourist traps.

I ran out of time towards the end, and was unable to pull Artman and Boredom together as full mixes. They were quickly run straight out as two channel mixes with some basic "industrial" effects processing slapped on the vocals – much more like the process done for the first T4M CD.

For better or worse, it ended up sounding like 4th Man material, with heavy reliance on the then-woefully unhip fm synth sounds from my Yamaha TX81Z, plenty of mismatched sound elements, and typically trashy sounding lo-fi vocals. It was perhaps cleaner sounding than the 1994 CD, but all said, I was skeptical to consider the songs "finished". With Gabriel and Martin no longer involved in the project to function as a glee club, I became biased by my own self-doubt. If left alone with my head, I tended to deem most material unfinished or too substandard to release.

It was entirely likely that Don would have allowed me more time to refine the songs after he returned, but I felt that I had at least put together some decent demo versions, and I didn't want to push my luck in terms of the hospitality, still being new to the band. Besides, moving forward, Numb was starting to work on new material, and Don had much better equipment for me to play with.

Around this time, there was some minor renewed interest in the original CD, as well as potential to put out the new material. Tasteless Killing Spree and a quickly remixed version of Dare ended up on a compilation. Because I didn't have easy access to a multi-track for the Dare remix, I ended up doing the vocals live while I was recording the band track onto the master. The remixed version, 7 years since the original had been recorded, took mercifully less time.

After this, a Gabriel-less T4M did one or two more live shows (which actually turned out really well for a change), and then I ceased to work on any more T4M material. By 1999, when I could have feasibly returned my focus to it, most of the original T4M gear was in various states of non-functionality, and new equipment still seemed either too expensive or too clunky for what had become basically a hobby. The idea of really pulling ideas together started to become feasible again by the mid to late 2000s, when multi-core systems, DAWS, and vst plugins significantly came down in price. This was also around the same time that a certain Mr. Abney suggested that maybe we could consider kicking the tires on the old T4M jalopy again.

Mr. Abney and myself will most likely be wearing adult diapers by the time we have assembled the equivalent of an albums worth of new material. On that subject, I am of two minds simultaneously – too little, too late, AND better late than never.

 

Feebly drooling and mumbling,

David Collings, 2014

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