Silk Screens: Birkwin Jersey – “Tall Like Gulliver “
In the 11th installment of Silk Screens, the beloved Brighton (UK) based craftsman Birkwin Jersey guides us through the planning, re-thinking, and final construction of his song “Tall Like Gulliver”. “Tall Like Gulliver” is the first we hear off of Birkwin Jersey’s next LP, to come later this year.
The intro came about completely by accident, I usually start by recording some sort of guitar part—normally improvising around a certain idea for five or six minutes, which I then go through picking particular bits out and chopping them up, moving them around. When doing this I tend to throw the offcuts and samples that I’m not using yet to the side of the arrangement window in case I need them later. When making this track I had a few pieces scattered about, and when I played what I had through I didn’t stop the playback and found that these randomly placed samples were scattered in such a way that gave it a kind of disjointed but gentle build up, so I decided to put them as the intro, with the main guitar line coming in after about 30 seconds to link it into the next section.
The vocal sample at the beginning is of Kirsten Flagstad discussing how to effectively sing Wagner. I found it interesting that someone of her stature would still have been shy about practising (the sample itself being from 1950, towards the end of her career) and thought the message mixed with her scandinavian accent made for a nice sample. The sung vocal is also from the same sample, of her preferred warm-up piece from “The Valkyrie”.
Something I enjoy about this track is the combination of gentle guitar notes mixed with the precision of the sharp, crunchy drum samples. In a lot of songs I tend to use “found sounds”—recordings of objects from around the house, but for this one I felt it better to use one hit mpc samples, giving it a bit more of a punch than previous tunes.
When making tracks I spend a fair bit of time digging around on YouTube (which is where I found the Flagstad sample). There are a few noises throughout the song, some of which are from a Moog promotional video presenting their Polyphonic Theramin. At first it is used sparsely in the background, to add to the disjointed feel of the first half of the track, before using a smaller, four bar loop for the main section. Towards the end I added a synth line played on the MicroKorg. I use the Korg a lot as another layer when doing live shows, but recently I have tried to incorporate it into the original songs, and in this case I feel the arpeggio towards the end accentuates the fidgety feel against the smoother background guitar notes. I love the sound of having both electronic synth noises and more organic acoustic instruments in the same song.
The majority of tracks that make it onto releases are usually completed within one or two days. I’ll probably go back a few times to tweak things, but I find the better ones are done in one go, when the main elements are all put down whilst in the same frame of mind.
Although I use a Mac and Ableton for live sets, I still use an old version of Logic Platinum (5.5) when writing songs, on a custom built PC that my housemate made for me to use as a studio computer. The main reason for this is that I’m a stickler for the familiar, and have been using this same version of Logic for about ten years, so the prospect of upgrading to a newer version someday is rather daunting, albeit inevitable!
The names for songs usually come after they are completed, which causes me an endless amount of grief when trying to find original song files! (although I usually try to remember to make a note of the names on the desk, I often forget!) The original saved name for the track was “Lime”, then around the time I made the song I had met several people who upon introduction said “Oh, aren’t you tall!”, so “Tall Like Gulliver” came about.
(Curated by verb/re/verb)