In the Studio with PC Muñoz and Engineer Willie Samuels - EMusician

“When I’m through burying children, who will bury me?”… Musician PC Muñoz says that his latest project, Physical Science, stems from his desire to create “something serious for serious times.” The result is a series of songs that are complex but raw. One of the most heaviest musical elements in play is the voice of Bryan Dyer of SoVoSo. He sings the repeated, reverberant, spiritual line of “Who Will Bury Me?” Dyer’s voice rises above electronic buzzing and drum and cymbal hits that evoke the chaotic world surrounding the singer.

All of the tracks on Physical Science utilize artfully arranged acoustic and synthesized sounds. The intense ideas expressed in Muñoz’s music are further revealed in an accompanying chapbook of poetry: Inside Pocket of a Houndstooth Blazer.

This digital-only album from a highly inventive artist will move listeners and inspire musicians to seek new sources of sounds and inspiration. EM spoke with Muñoz and engineer Willie Samuels—who recorded a handful of the songs in his former San Francisco facility Studio Trilogy—about the process and technology behind Physical Science. Follow the embedded links to hear the songs.

PC, how do you get started on a project like this?

Muñoz: Because I’m a drummer, I’ll very often have certain rhythms or rhythmic concepts already in mind and text that is already fixed—a poem or lyrics or a title I know I want to work with—and I’ll see how those fit together and decide whether I’m going to turn all of that into a song or a more experimental spoken piece like some of the ones on the album.

Physical-Science

Can you describe the concepts behind these songs? “Who Will Bury Me?” is extremely powerful, for example.

Muñoz: “Who Will Bury Me?” is something I initially made for the choreographer Robert Moses. He asked me to make some pieces about the myth of color-blindness in America, and these days I’m finding it really resonates with people in relation to school shootings and violent incidents with police.

The title song “Physical Science” deals with the idea of what happens to a segregation-era sign: The physical objects have been taken down, but the ideas don’t disappear. They break down and they turn into legislation or they remain as inherent bias. The ideas continue to exist when the physical object is gone. 

“Big Winner,” the second track, deals with people who are in desperate times. The person in the song feels like winning the lottery is the only way he could possibly be a winner in these times…that’s as big as his dreams are at this point.

How do your sound choices express these ideas?

Muñoz: I thought the best way to express this kind of angst that people feel was for things to be raw and minimalist but also sonically jarring. For instance, in the title track, there are primordial electronic sounds moving, heaving throughout the piece. I generated those sounds through a Moog app called the Filtatron.

In another piece called “Ricochet,” it’s just free improv drums: frenetic stuff happening underneath as I’m reciting.

Above and below: drum miking in Studio Trilogy.

Above and below: drum miking in Studio Trilogy.

Do you create demos in a home studio?

Muñoz: I don’t have a home studio. I do very bare-bones stuff with my iPad or my laptop, just so I can hear how the sounds work together and I make notes about how I want to do things once I get into a studio with an engineer. Willie knows me really well, and if I send him my notes ahead of time he’ll know which equipment will be right.

Samuels: With PC, getting sounds is very experimental and he’s into improv. For example, on one of the songs I recorded, “Rugged Individual,” he came in with a little electronic loop he made on his iPhone. We tweaked that out with Soundtoys plug-ins and then he said “I want to do a drum solo.”

We miked up the drum kit and he started to improv a drum solo, and then he said, “I have words for this.” So, he did some of that, and then we went back and forth between the spoken-word stuff and the drums. In a sense, he was improvising with himself.

How was PC’s drum kit captured in the studio?

Samuels: The work that PC and I did together in Trilogy was in Studio B. The main drum sound there was from an overhead mic: a Manley Stereo Gold. It was placed over the center of the kit, about six feet up, in Blumlein configuration. We had some close mics on there, too: a Neumann 170 on kick drum, Audio-Technica 4033 on snare, and an AKG 414 on toms. I also had a pair of wide-spaced Schoeps CM6 room mics in the corners of the room, and almost all the sound came from the overheads and the room mics.

drumsintril2

PC also did some work on his own in Studio C, which was a smaller in-the-box kind of room with a Pro Tools rig, an ICON console and a couple mic preamps. In there, he would cut vocals or do overdubs with synths and percussion.

What about some of the other percussion instruments?

Muñoz: On the song “Fish & Crab” I used a lot of different percussion instruments. There’s a belembaotuyan, which is the Micronesian version of the Brazilian berimbau. I also played some cymbals and gongs and put all of those things through a Moogerfooger. I love using ring modulation and other effects on percussion.

Samuels: We used the Soundtoys plug-ins a lot as well. Everything’s treated to some extent, whether it’s to make a normal instrument sound less normal, or just to make it sound cooler.

I didn’t work on “Fish & Crab,” but I’ve recorded cajón with PC quite a bit. I use a couple of Coles ribbon mics in almost a triangle pattern behind the cajón and down on the floor, back about five feet, as well as a Neumann TLM 170 on the bass part of the cajón, and a KM84 for the slap part.

One of the other tracks I recorded was called “Abyss.” PC explained that it’s about someone falling from a building, and they’re hearing snippets of audio while they’re falling. 

Kyle Bruckmann

Kyle Bruckmann

Muñoz: “Abyss” has Kyle Bruckmann, who is an English-horn and oboe player in both the classical and avant-garde worlds. Kyle and I developed that piece and a bunch of others for a choreographer in Hong Kong, Allen Lam. It’s mostly woodwinds and the cajón, so there’s a lot of air coming through—layers of air from the oboe and English horn, and some crazy high-frequency loop stuff that’s also from the woodwinds. And there’s just a smattering of samples to give the listener idea that they’re briefly encountering something and then it’s gone.

Samuels: “Abyss” came together fairly simply. PC went through our libraries in the studio to find sound effects and weird synth sounds and drum sounds. He would pick and choose snippets that he liked, and then I helped him place them properly and do a mix. From an engineering or mixing standpoint, the approach for this one is more like sound design and spatial placement than a normal music mix.