Photo credit: Andrew Strasser
White Williams is the alter ego of graphic designer Joe Williams, who recorded the CDSmoke(Tigerbeat6, 2007) over the past two years while living in a variety of sublets in and around Cleveland, Cincinnati, New York, and San Francisco.Smokeis a musical mélange of original, retro-infused compositions, along with an inventive reworking of Bow Wow Wow's 1982 hit “I Want Candy.” Williams recorded the songs mainly into his Apple MacBook laptop running Ableton Live, but used a variety of mostly analog outboard gear for sound creation.
The music on Smoke, which is strongly influenced by '70s and '80s new wave, is much more pop oriented than his previous material, which is instrumental, electronic, and experimental. During that phase of his career, Williams toured under the name So Red, along with several other like-minded artists, including Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk). Still, there's plenty of cool synth work all over Smoke, including the electronic collage, “Lice in the Rainbow.”
“I started the WW project out of several other computer-based studio projects,” Williams says, “namely working on replicating my high school band with computers, which I failed miserably at. Struggling with the thought of trying to translate a band into a computer-music project slyly trained my ears for other things. I learned a great deal about effects and software in the process. Eventually, I outgrew my software and started educating myself on hardware instruments, microphones, and recording techniques. Once I became familiar with my instruments and studio equipment, songs began to form. My older music was made completely within software, so the biggest difference between my most recent music is that most of the sounds are generated from outside of the computer.”
The instrumental sounds on Smoke came primarily from hardware-based analog synths (including a Dave Smith Instruments Evolver) and a collection of drum machines (including two vintage units: a Sequential Circuits DrumTraks and a Linn Electronics LinnDrum). Williams also adds his electric-guitar and bass parts and a few textures generated from software instruments. All of the songs except for “I Want Candy” were recorded in the computer. “Candy” was a hybrid; it started on a Tascam DP-01 Portastudio and finished in Live. Vocals and stringed instruments were tracked using a variety of microphones, including a Pearlman TM 1 tube mic and a Shure SM57.
Many of the tracks on Smoke were heavily edited and processed. “I used a lot of AI [artificial intelligence] and MIDI effects — on “I Want Candy,” [on] the pianos on “In the Club,” and on the drums in “Going Down” — to generate the drum and synth sequences,” says Williams. “You can do this in [Cycling '74] Max/MSP and Live fairly easily. I like software for pitch-shifting; it's interesting to see how you can treat your voice with certain software effects.” The creation of Smoke was a spontaneous process — one that Williams can't even imagine doing without the luxury of a home studio. “It frightens me to think of studio scheduling, as if an artist could plan and predict when their most interesting work would be created. I am also apprehensive to work in certain studios for fear that they will put their aesthetic stamp on my songs, as they did with their other clients. Most of my sounds are contained at home, although I am collecting a lot of found sounds and field recordings for future records.”
Home base: New York City
Sequencer of choice: Ableton Live
Go-to synth: Dave Smith Instruments Evolver
Web site: www.myspace.com/whitewilliams