Pro/File: Cut, Paste, and Process

Odd Nosdam takes sampling to its freestyle extreme.
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Odd Nosdam takes sampling to its freestyle extreme.

Odd Nosdam Photo: Jessica Bailiff

There's something beautifully off-kilter about the music of David P. Madson, aka Odd Nosdam. At first blush, his adventurous mix of dub and electronica seems to draw from the “audio collage” resurgence led by artists such as Prefuse 73, Four Tet, and Caribou. But a closer listen reveals strangely psychedelic, orchestral, and genre-bending aspects to his sound. Add in a few well-placed guest spots from the close circle of collaborators who orbit the Anticon label's oddball axis, and you've got a taste of Level Live Wires (Anticon Records, 2007), Madson's most radical effort yet.

“I'd say the album is about 90 percent sample based,” Madson reveals. “I'm pretty obsessive about collecting — I try to find really random, unique old records at thrift stores or swap meets or even on the street. Every now and then, I come up with one that has a little sound or a couple of notes that I can sample and create my own melody with. Sometimes it'll be a break that I'm pretty into, but usually I'll just use sounds to come up with a strong melodic line, and then the beat comes after that.”

Madson used to rely on a Boss SP-202 Dr. Sample (he gets by with only a Dictaphone and the built-in mic of his SP-202 for his nonvinyl “found sounds”). From there, he switched gears to an Akai MPC2000XL and most recently an E-mu SP-1200. “I'm really into the tiny details and the textures,” he says, “and that's why I like the SP so much. It just has its own personality. If you sample harpsichords, pianos, or guitars on maybe 45 [rpm] and then tune them down, the SP transforms them into something totally different. Once I start compressing and EQ'ing that through the chain I have, it blows me away.”

The basic chain consists of the mix/EQ section of a vintage Tascam 488 Portastudio (whose trim control also serves as a lo-fi overdrive effect) and two Empirical Labs Distressors, which Madson uses to run a sound through several cycles before committing it to “tape” — in this case, Digidesign Pro Tools. He rarely maintains a Pro Tools session larger than 15 tracks, preferring to bounce down once he's found the right submix.

Level Live Wires

“I think it's very much like Joe Meek or Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry,” he says, citing two of his key influences. “It's just about having confidence in what you're doing. With Perry, if you really start to dissect what you hear, you realize that a lot of it is him pounding on stuff and turning knobs and just bugging out. It's very much about how you manipulate things with your hands, and that's how I see my music.”

Check out the deep spatial spread of “Fat Hooks” (with Jessica Bailiff on vocals) or the hypnotic harp melodies of “Kill Tone” (with Jeffrey “Jel” Logan playing live beats on an MPC2000), and Madson's meaning becomes clear. These and other tracks — the knife-edged “Burner” in particular, rendered even sharper with Madson's distorted Micromoog washes — are raw snapshots of handmade improvised genius, and are as compelling in what they transmit visually as what they do sonically.

“I make a lot of music,” Madson says, “but with Level Live Wires, from the very get-go, I was really moved by something at the core of it. That's always what I hope will happen when I start building up my sounds — you take them completely out of context and make your own thing.”


Odd Nosdam

Home base: Oakland, California

Key software: Digidesign Pro Tools HD

Favorite hardware sampler: E-mu SP-1200

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