Photo: Brian Deutsch
Home base: London, England
DAW of choice: Digidesign Pro Tools|HD3 (running on Apple Mac G5 Dual)
Key software: Tascam GigaStudio 3, Propellerhead Reason 2.0
A film score, even when there's no film attached to it, usually provides insight into the working style of the composer who made it. Technically speaking, Ant Neely's Not Fit for Human Consumption (Creative Commons, 2008) doesn't flow in its entirety like a score, but there's plenty in its overall sound and unifying concept to suggest a wealth of imagery, much of it from a time of innocence in American culture.
That might seem a bit inauthentic considering Neely's British roots, but rest assured he knows the terrain. For a number of years, he called Los Angeles home, writing music with his group subthunk, which made waves on the KCRW radio show Morning Becomes Eclectic and attracted film and TV producers from shows like Six Feet Under and Las Vegas. After three albums, a tour, and several more TV track placements, Neely moved to London to begin work on his first solo effort. All he needed was a direction.
“Very early on, I had a groove that I was messing about with,” he recalls, “and I thought what would be perfect for it was a 1950s educational song. I had a look around the Web and lo and behold, I found the Prelinger Archives [archive.org/details/prelinger], which hosts all these film and audio clips that are in the public domain. I found a whole coloring book full of ideas.”
He began his work on the album (which can be downloaded for free from antneely.com) by remixing the 2005 subthunk hit “Scratch,” which he gave new life with a more beat-heavy arrangement and low-end synth bass line. Retitled “Scratch Redux” (see Web Clip 1), the song was beefed up in Propellerhead Reason using ReDrum and the program's Scream Sound Destruction Unit (the Damage section's Tape function in particular) to subtly compress the rhythm tracks. The same effect is applied to the bass line on “Lucky” — the first of a suite of tracks on Not Fit, including the 1941 swing-era throwback “What This Country Needs” and the hilarious Post Office send-up “Springfield,” that feature voice-overs and samples from the Prelinger Archives (see Web Clip 2).
The collage approach smacks of late '80s Coldcut, but what sets Neely apart is that he also imports hefty amounts of strings, brass, timpani, and other orchestral elements from libraries he has loaded in Tascam GigaSampler. Using an M-Audio Axiom 61 keyboard to trigger whatever he needs, he has access to virtual concert halls full of musicians — as well as the quick MIDI-editing capabilities of his GigaStudio and Digidesign Pro Tools setup — that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable without blowing a hole in his bank account.
The payoff by far is the album's title track: a riot of John Barry-like orchestral atmospherics that gradually morphs, with the help of a Korg Kaoss Pad-bent glockenspiel and the Morse code-based rhythm that spells out not fit for human consumption, into a slick drum 'n' bass theme reminiscent of a classic James Bond film (see Web Clip 3). Neely embraces the nostalgic reference and hopes to explore the old school even further from a gear perspective.
“I love the digital world,” he says, “but I also love gear with knobs you can twiddle. I guess a lot of people just coming up now are purely digital, so they wouldn't have ever played with tape, for instance. I wouldn't go back completely, but my ideal studio would have those elements. It's the forerunner to what we're doing now, and across the board there's a lot to learn from what people have done before us.”
Ant Neely''s site