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Longing for the Sun

music ODESZASeattle-based production duo creates moody atmosphere with effected vocal samples

You take a sound—any sound—record it and then change its nature by a multiplicity of operations.”

So begins Summer’s Gone, the debut LP from Seattle-based electronic duo Odesza, with a distinguished-sounding gentleman explaining the basics of sound editing. “You record it at different speeds, you play it backwards, you add it to itself over and over again. You adjust filters, echoes, acoustic qualities. You combine segments of magnetic tape. By these means and many others you create sounds which no one has ever heard before.”

It is an appropriate prologue to a record full of lush electronic arrangements and the perfect segue into the album’s second track and first full song, “How Did I Get Here.”

The song, like all of the numbers on the disc, is built upon heavily effected, tweaked and twisted vocal snippets. And it was brought here—that is, to Summer’s Gone—by Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, the two young men who together form Odesza. 

Mills says he was never much of a musician before he started experimenting with producing, which he was inspired to do after he began listening to ambient hip-hop. As he became further immersed in the genre, Mills began thinking about how he could make similar sounds and tones to the ones he heard on his favorite recordings. He began tinkering with an MPC, a popular piece of musical production equipment that combines a drum machine with a sampler and built-in effects processing.

Soon he was making beats under the name Catacombkid, mashing up the ambient post-rock of Sigur Ros with the jangly surf-pop of The Beach Boys, along with equally spacey originals. When Mills met Knight during his senior year at Western Washington University, he knew he had found a kindred spirit. Knight was also a producer, working under the moniker BeachesBeaches. And like Mills, he gravitated toward building spaced-out arrangements around heavily effected vocal samples.

“It’s just what comes naturally when I start sampling,” Mills explains of Odesza’s approach to producing. Whenever he and Knight begin putting a song together, they usually start with vocals. When the pair finds a cut they like, they proceed to chop the sample up and push it through a gauntlet of effects—speeding it up or slowing it down, adding echo, reverb, delay and other modulation until what began as a human voice starts to sound like something “no one has ever heard before,” says Mills.

After they’ve crafted a framework of vocal samples, the two producers add drums, bass and other elements. Finally, once they have enough parts, Mills explains, he and Knight apply “subtractive production,” removing unwanted sonic elements. “The negative space is just as important as what you have in the positive space,” Mills says.

The result is a dreamy and nostalgic record. All 13 tracks on Summer’s Gone evoke a feeling of grasping at fond memories. The airy atmospherics and sparse drum programming set the scene, while the heavily modulated vocal samples make it seem as if the listener is in the midst of a dream, where some familiar yet veiled voice is whispering words that while unintelligible are understood.

Mills says that the record’s overall feel may well be related to his and Knight’s surroundings: foggy and cold Seattle. Summers are short lived in Washington, he says. It’s a fact that often leaves him passing the days inside, staring out through the dreary rain and clouds. “I think some of our songs kind of have that (Pacific Northwest) vibe,” he admits. “I think we have the longing for more sun.” 


Odesza will open for Emancipator at 9 p.m. Friday, March 15 at The Catalyst Atrium, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15/adv, $18/door. For more information, call 423-1338.

Photo: Marybeth Coghill

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