For much of the music-producing public, the writing process doesn't begin without first stockpiling as much gear as possible; toiling over how to use each piece; and, of course, figuring out how to pay for it all. But perhaps the most versatile, available and economical studio item comes for free — as everyone from the hip-hop MC to the opera diva will concede, the greatest piece of “gear” is often the voice. That idea is not lost on Dani Siciliano, the vocal talent behind several Matthew Herbert releases, including Around the House (!K7, 1998), Bodily Functions (!K7, 2001) and Goodbye Swingtime (Accidental, 2003). On her debut artist album, Likes … (!K7, 2004), Siciliano uses her voice to great effect, though not always in the manner that a listener might expect.
“I don't really adhere to basic song-structure ideas, as far as vocal performance goes,” Siciliano says. “It's really fun once you liberate yourself from deciding that you need to have a chorus, a verse, a chorus, a verse, then maybe a bridge and then going back to a coda or what have you — you know, anything that's kind of deadly familiar for people.”
That freedom of experimentation comes in not only diverse vocal arrangements but also extensive sampling. Many of the sounds and compositions that populate Likes … — a collection of sparse keys, strutting rhythms and live instrumentation held together by Siciliano's easy, sexy vocal swagger — are vocal manipulations that she created with the few items within her home studio: an Alesis MMT-8 sequencer, a Casio SZ-1 sequencer, an Akai S612 sampler and various effects pedals. “Because I was using a sequencer as opposed to running any software program, I had to get around not having a drum machine and not having synth sounds, which really was a fantastic challenge because it ended up giving me these odd textures and really interesting sounds,” she says.
One of those sonic discoveries became the foundation for the album's closing track, “Remember to Forget 1.” “I was just playing around with [my sampler] as the track was playing, and I got this amazing sample of the track itself,” Siciliano explains. She then took that resampled part and recorded it, tweaking it until she came up with a serendipitous find. “I got this most incredible sound: It was really like Steve Reich — it was amazing,” she says. That sound directed the manner in which Siciliano then wrote the track. “Trying to score a sample is quite a fun idea; you don't generally get that ability,” she notes. “It's quite interesting, letting technology inform a composition.”
For the vocal arrangement of “Remember to Forget 1,” Siciliano looked to house music for her inspiration, though the track does not exhibit a decidedly dance feel. “I wanted to give it a house sensibility and just use a repeated lyric, like a lot of house or electronic music does,” she says. “I kind of liked using the idea of house music as a reference point to a style of music and then trying to do something else with it — taking it out of its environment.”
Beyond displaced genres, Siciliano also employed sounds taken from their surroundings, such as Sony MiniDisc recordings of the Paris Metro, samples of herself tapping a walking stick on a keyboard stand and sounds of cutlery. That spirit of discovery, experimentation and full use of available resources permeates this debut. “Something very important that I learned [productionwise],” she says, “was just to really enjoy the sampler and how you can make sounds out of anything around you and really challenge yourself.”