Sunday, March 6, 2016

What Spotify Fan Insights is telling us (and not telling us) about our meteoric rise to fame

Spotify, the controversial music streaming service, put some new tools into the hands of artists recently, unveiling their new Fan Insights tool (  Timing was good for us, as we started tracking our Spotify monthly listenership as a key metric in 2015.

If you're not familiar with the monthly listening stat, you can find it on the artist profile page for any artist you listen to.  It's right here in the spotify UI. (If you're not seeing it, you might need to install the latest version of Spotify).

When we started tracking, our monthly listenership was in the mid 30s, but starting Christmas 2015 it started to climb steadily.  When we got access to the beta of Fan Insights last week, the pattern became clear.

For comparison purposes, we added our friend Toronto-based singer-songwriter Suzanne Jarvie to the chart.  You can see that our listenership is pretty well matched prior to December.

(By the way, if you haven't heard Suzanne's debut album Spiral Road, you really need to. It's available anyplace you can buy or stream digital music, and if you're old-fashioned, you can even buy it on Compact Disc)

When we compare ourselves with other electronic artists we admire, the picture is a little more humbling, but it gives us something to aspire to.  We're coming for you, FSOL! ;-)

What is Fan Insights telling us?

The new toolset is giving us all kinds of insight into our listeners.  For example, we now know that about half of our listeners are over 45, and nearly all of them are men.  We have a good picture of geographic distribution:

What don't we know?

Of course, a little bit of information only whets our appetite.  There are a lot of things we can only guess at.  Having access to a breakdown of listenership by song would be a great start:  we'll get that data once we have songs that are getting over 1000 plays a month.  For now, we are left with questions we can't answer:
  • What caused the sudden climb in listenership at Christmas?
  • Why are the UK and the US Midwest our top markets?
  • Why is our home region of Seattle and Pacific Northwest not represented in the top 50?
  • Why is the overwhelmingly Indonesian crowd that follows us on Facebook not represented on Spotify?
  • How well does Spotify map to our plays and popularity on other streaming services?
  • Does the uptick in plays have any correlation to our own marketing efforts?
We can venture a few guesses.  For instance, getting regular play on Rocker's Dive Radio has increased our visibility internationally.  Rocker's Dive has a footprint in the UK, so that might be a direct cause.  Making it onto Radio Xenu's 2015 top 40 with our single Laudanum Escapade is a likely booster in the Midwest (you can hear our triumphant moment here).  Once we climb into that all important 1000-play bracket, Fan Insights will be able to tell us more. 

Until then, we're enjoying seeing the numbers climb.  If you're a Spotify artist, check out Fan Insights and let us know what you see!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Producer Lee Christian discusses his remix of Laudanum Escapade

British producer Lee Christian recently released a new remix of Laudanum Escapade, the first single from our Spring 2015 album Seen and Unseen.  We caught up with Lee online and asked him about his process.  You can hear his remix at


Tell us how you approached this remix

i was super excited to do the remix because i had heard CCR chat about how they get their sounds [through improvisation and sampling]. When remixing and sampling, my thing is taking [sounds] and making them as unrecognisable as possible. There's loads of the song in there but almost none of it is as it was.

As i started putting [this remix] together i decided to focus on that one word [“Laudanum”] and the tiny snippet that sounded almost African or tribal:  i grew up in South Africa for a very formative 5 years so am quite drawn to that vibe. I pitched [that word] down and very hypnotic - this ended up informing most of the song - and many parts that would not fit the foggy dub vibe i wrote over the top were jettisoned. i added some beats and effected and cut them up.  [I pushed the limits of the music’s adherence to rhythm to imply] the delirium that the subject of the song is in - the very brink of consciousness and order, before coming back into a more familiar, secure rhythm. This… is there to guide u though her drugged state.

There are serene moments (the acoustic picked guitar passage and the end section with the layered voices) that indicate she has reached some type of nirvana. i wanted the dub vibe to ring heavy and foggy so there are tons of different types of effects to increase this vibe.

Talk some about the artistic influences behind your remix

Tricky - the maverick of the neighbouring trip hop/bristol scene [was one of the two biggest influences on the track]. [He creates] unique music that can be much braver than some of the most talented musos out there … never really diluting himself for mass acceptance. [The other main influence was] Adrian Sherwood's on-u-sound label - home to Tackhead, Dub Syndicate, Gary Clail, Mark Stewart (another local-ish guy) and most importantly for this mix, Skip McDonald's Little Axe. [Little Axe and on-u-sound] make a blues dub hybrid that has had me entranced since i saw Doug Wimbish playing for them live on tv making sounds u would not believe came from a bass! These guys were the houseband for Sugar Hill records so are true veterans of music yet still make some of the most unusual inventive music going. [Check out] Tricky's Maxinquaye and Little Axe's The Wolf That House Built.

What inspired you to start creating musically?

i picked up shitty guitars and keyboards not far off from being toys when i was a teen in South Africa. i guess [I was] inspired by Prince (who i've been a fan of since i was a little kid) but also in a strange way hindered by Prince (and only seeing jazz combos live in bars with my dad) in that i could not see myself becoming a virtuoso, so lost confidence.

Later [I was inspired by] Nirvana (revealing that a good song can be just a few chords and a melody) and seeing bands in youth centres [after moving back to England] (showing me that anyone can have a go)… i tried harder [making] demos on a 4 track tape recorder. That was also when i formed my first band [after] seeing Living Colour in Cambridge. i decided to be the singer because i was really unpopular. [I had] nothing to lose and plenty to gain in terms of attention from the opposite sex as a lead singer of a rock band. [As the singer] i could just about write on a few instruments (guitar, bass, keys, drum programming) and not commit to one! even though i was not very good at singing, i had a lot of energy and a need/ability to do something different.

i just finally started releasing solo music in earnest over the last few years, after being offered a track on a BBC Children In Need Radiohead covers compilation. i did 'talk show host' and was pleased with its reception.  Smilex was originally going to be just me recording and then a dance rock hybrid Iive but after seeing a lot of people doing that and finding great players for a more traditional rock line up and visceral live show , i decided to tap into the adrenaline alternative rock gave me since the grunge era and be a power quartet. The bonus remix on Smilex's first ever EP 'beg for it' (13 years or so ago now!) is actually the original version of that song. 


Is music your only artistic outlet?  

i started back on writing and directing [films] after becoming more involved with making videos. i made my first short Never Walk Alone and released it for a pound a copy download with a monies to survivors trust (a victim support charity for rape and abuse). i'm in the thick of developing several scripts for feature length and shorts, even a web series. i like to work in a lot of different mediums and genres so my forays into film will be as diverse as my music is with any luck. i also dj & compere now and then and have had radio shows for the last 12 years or so - i'm currently between shows but have a hand in 'The Beatdown with Bobbee Browne' (a new comedy podcast) and am starting talks about a new show at the moment so watch this space!

i predominantly do radio shows to share good music the mainstream missed or forgot, to get use out of my extensive library of music, but it's hard to find a station as diverse as my tastes or who does not mind swearing (editing swearwords out is time consuming and not playing swearing really limits the good rebel music one can play) or who does not use a playlist. within music itself i have worked in just about every capacity one can imagine.

What’s up next for Lee Christian?

i have 7 or so albums in various stages of completion so there should be more of those soon. Other than that, more remixes, guest spots for vanilla wafa, death of hi-fi, tiger Mendoza… [plus] various acting/directing/writing pursuits. i hope to be working on new material (and of course, promotional materials) for Smilex and the Prohibition Smokers' Club (my jazz/blues/soul/folk/pop collective) over the next few months for release next year too! so just keep looking at my Facebook or twitter for info on all that as it pops up, i guess!

It's getting harder and harder for original music to get heard since scared labels are loathe to invest in anything risky… so i truly appreciate everybody that supports me (both by buying music and promoting it) in these hard times for the arts.
I wish music was reinstated to its previous position as an influential, meaningful part of people's lives, it has been reduced to background noise that no-one likes but no-one complains about. vote with your cash - it's hard earned and those that ask u to part with it should be working just as hard to deserve it.

Thanks again to Lee for the richly dark remix – please take some time to check out his projects online.  Here’s a few links:

Monday, June 22, 2015

Remote musical collaboration: Part I – the what, why, and how of remote collab

The move from analog to digital music recording and production is certainly one of the most fundamental things to happen to music.  We’ve moved from a world where multitrack recording required a significant infrastructure investment, to fitting an entire studio on a laptop (and increasingly, a tablet or a phone).  We now have an entire generation of musicians for whom nonlinear editing systems are the norm, rather than some futuristic technology running on a dedicated desktop system at that studio you can’t quite afford to record at.

So what’s next?  Well, once you have the ability for music to be encapsulated in digital files and loaded in a Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW), you lower the barrier to collaboration.  However, until recently, collaboration has required carrying or mailing music on a portable hard drive or other physical media, long copy times, and sometimes hours of trolling through hard drives looking for a particular version of a file that got corrupted along the way.  Chances are that if you’re a digital musician, you have people in your town, a town across the country, or another country an ocean away that you would like to share the music making process with.  How do you get started and what should you think about?  Read on!

NOTE: We work in Ableton Live, so we’ll be referencing specific commands and functionality that apply to Ableton, though the principles we’re discussing apply to any DAW.

Our story

For Cats Cradle Robbers, we got into remote collaboration in a roundabout, organic way.  We didn’t have a clear vision for what we wanted out of the process at first.  For us music was something we worked on in person, and huddling over one laptop “pair programming” was the only thing that made sense to us.  At that time, we were learning how to create together, coming up with methodologies, musical forms, and ways of communicating. 

As we worked together, it started to make more sense to introduce some division of labor.  Snake would ask DJSE to copy a project onto a portable hard drive so that he could work on a project offline.  Typically, DJSE was doing the bulk of the sound design and recording, and Snake would work on the broad structure of a track to shape an arrangement, taking the raw samples and turning them into something musically coherent.  It made the best use of our individual skills at the time.

However, copying large projects was time consuming and error-prone.  Files would go missing, especially before we discovered “Collect all and save,” or we’d copy more files than needed, including and ultimately duplicating portions of factory packs.  It was a mess!

So, we thought about harnessing the power of the Internet.  Here are some of the things we tried over the years:

Emailing .als files with changes
Simple - .als files are small, and as long as your changes are confined to the .als, it works fine.
Doesn’t work if you’ve cropped, reversed or frozen files, added new samples, and unless you are working with identical hard drive layouts, always results in having to scan for missing media files.
Real-time collaboration using videoconferencing (Skype, Hangouts, GoToMeeting, + Phone)
Good for interactive communication and show-n-tell sessions.
Doesn’t fit well with remote recording of new audio tracks (for Totally Frigid, which we started out during a Skype session, Snake was recording guitar tracks and emailing the files to DJSE for inclusion: it was a painful process)
File-sharing services (Dropbox, OneDrive)
Fine for small projects
Our projects can get to 3gb or more in size – requires long transfer times and paid Dropbox accounts on both ends to share in both directions.
Version control systems (we tried Github)
Works well for file copy of small to medium projects
We ran up against disk quota limitations when trying to use Github.  We made do by stripping out factory packs, but that was a very hands-on process.  Git is not fond of handling large files (something they are up front about).  Also, the benefits of Git for diffing and merging text files don’t work for .als, so for this purpose it is basically a glorified FTP service.
Private FTP
Can handle arbitrarily large transfers, completely under your control.  Like copying to a hard drive, but you don’t have to be in the same place at the same time.
Like copying to a hard drive, only slower.

The mote in thine eye

One key need of collaborators who are separated in space and time is a way to discuss and agree on changes that need to be made, and to track those changes to completion.  Coming from a software background, we see this as equivalent to the process of filing, triaging, and fixing bugs in software.  It’s also similar to the process in theater in which a director gives “notes”.  In fact, we refer to these annotations as “motes” (short for Music Notes), and it’s a key part of our process:  one of us renders our latest version of a shared track, and both collaborators provide their “motes” or comments on what they like and what they would like to change.  

There are several aspects of this that are important: 

  •          The music has to be posted someplace where everyone can hear it
  •          There has to be a way to communicate the motes
  •          There has to be a way to track the status of the motes

While we have yet to find a system that fills all off these requirements, we’ve managed to make do, using SoundCloud or Splice to annotate precise points in the music that we want to call attention to, and tracking progress against those comments in e-mail and using online documents (typically OneNote and Excel Online with documents saved in a shared OneDrive folder).  Nobody has yet provided a way to combine annotations with issue tracking in a way that would satisfy all facets of our workflow.

Soundcloud annotations provide a way of anchoring motes to specific moments in the track.

Online Community meets Collab Software

Only in the last handful of years has software started to catch up to the need that we’ve been filling using a series of stopgaps.  Here’s a survey of a few that we’ve tried and a few newcomers that we haven’t. 


DJSE found the crew from Splice at SxSW this year, and the Splice software has become an integral part of our production toolkit.   While their DAW support is limited so far (Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro, and GarageBand), we’ve found that their approach to project collaboration matches the way we work to a tee.  We used Splice to build our latest album Seen and Unseen, and we were pleased to be featured in their blog when we released Laudanum Escapade for remixing on their site.
The features in Splice that we find most useful are:

  •           Version tracking (every save in Ableton is tracked as a version, and you choose which versions are flagged as important.  Every version can be annotated and have a separate audio preview)
  •           Unlimited storage (with the sample-heavy tracks that we build, our projects can grow to as large as 6gb!)
  •           The DNA player: a visualization of the Ableton project structure that allows annotation on each track

The powerful and versatile Splice DNA player, showing track-specific annotations

While Splice works for both Mac (DJSE’s platform of choice) and Windows (like Snake’s Windows 8 system), the Mac client seems more robust.  The Windows client can be a resource hog when uploading changes, and the Splice window can’t be minimized when activated.  We’ve also found that the version tree can get confused when working with multiple versions of the same project on one computer.  Still, Splice is the closest match to our requirements, and we’re happily using it today.  We’ve found the Splice team professional and receptive to feedback, so who knows, perhaps we’ll have everything we need within a few versions.


The project list

Before we got onto Splice, we tried out, another collaboration site.  Like Splice, Blend works with standard DAWs – they handily beat Splice in the number of DAWs supported – and both systems allow working with raw stems.  Blend supports versioning as well, though versioning in Blend is not so granular:  a new version is created only when pulling the project explicitly.

Blend seems like a good choice when your main goal is to share music with the community – their system encourages sharing and collaborating publicly.  However, if you are looking to collaborate privately, their hard limit of 3 private projects is a buzzkill.  Also, their version tracking is confusing – it can be difficult to understand which version of a project you’re looking at.  Finally, Blend uses Dropbox for storage and sync, which limits the size of your projects.  If you go over the 2gb space limit in the basic account, then all collaborators using that project need to pony up for the pro account.  Even with small projects, Dropbox’s file locking will block you from saving while files are uploading.  If you save frequently, this quickly becomes an annoyance.

Blend offers no way to annotate the project or the audio directly, so you’ll need another method to track your feedback.

DAWs that come with collaboration build in

Ohm Studio and Soundtrap are taking a from-the-ground-up approach to online collaboration by creating new DAWs that support all of the online collaboration features you need.  While we haven’t spent much time playing with these tools, the marketing materials and into videos seem compelling and for entry-level musicians, this seems like a great option for starting out. Only time will tell whether these tools evolve into something with the complexity and power of Ableton Live or ProTools.  Building a DAW to meet the needs of professional producers is a daunting prospect.  Ohm Studio, a client side DAW, seems closer to that track.  Soundtrap is an online-only tool and seems more oriented to beginning producers who want a quick and easy solution to build loops using prebuilt pieces.

Of course, we can all hope that Ableton and ProTools come up with their own built-in collaboration system, either alone or in collaboration with Splice or another partner who can handle the storage and service layer of the system.  In the meantime, we can count on companies like Blend and Splice to work hard to bridge the gaps.

Doing it in Real time

Where all of the systems mentioned so far shine is in their ability to enable asynchronous collaboration.  But what about synchrony?  Is it possible to link musicians in physically distant locations and work out the complexities of latency so that they can record new tracks in real time? 
While we’ve tried some limited experiments, we haven’t found it necessary to move beyond asynchronous collaboration.  I’ll defer to SoundOnSound for a discussion of the state of the art as of about a year ago: .

Into the future

With demanding day jobs and evolving families (DJSE is in the throes of discovering the joy of fatherhood as Snake types this article), our music is increasingly dependent on software to make everything faster and easier.  Cats Cradle Robbers’ next release will be largely built in the cloud, by two busy dudes who are trying hard to snatch bits of free time when they can.  Splice and other online tools will be a big part of that process.


Next up…

So you have a project and one or more collaborators.  Some of you are on PC, some on Mac.  One of you has a cool new plugin that the others can’t afford.  How do you put it all together?  Stay tuned for our next article!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Gets You Dancing?

Hello to all of our fans! Your response to our new album Seen and Unseen has been incredible. Thank you. We want to hear from you as we prepare for our next album, where we will apply our unique style to various forms of EDM. We want to know...

***What gets you dancing?***

DJSE answered:
"I'm a huge fan of Deep House, Progressive House, Breakbeats, and Broken beats.  And outside of EDM, I love dancing to Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha, and Tango.  I was a latin DJ for years, after all..."

Snake answered:
"I love to zone out when I dance and explore inner space, so anything that has a dark, throbbing beat and a trancey feel with repetitive figures and long filter sweeps really hit the spot.  Drum and Bass and Trance are obvious examples."

What's YOUR answer?

***What gets you dancing?***

Reply below or tweet with the hashtag #MyDanceBeat

Friday, April 17, 2015

Remix Contest: Laudanum Escapade feat. Eliza Heery

As featured on the blog:  Laudanum Escapade Interview Session - Cats Cradle Robbers

The first single on our new album is fully available for remixing - both the Ableton Set and Stems.  Dig in there, tear it apart, and do awesome things with the pieces.

Remix Contest: Any tracks submitted to us by May 31, 2015 have the chance to be featured on one of our upcoming albums.

Laudanum Escapade is about a bored housewife experiencing a luxuriant state induced by self-medication and finding wonder in the everyday moments of the world around her. This track is part of Cats Cradle Robbers' recently released fourth album Seen and Unseen that covers a range of experiences of the spirit, ranging from trance-like states, ecstatic visions, and sacred texts.

We're really excited to hear what the Splice community can do with the funky basslines, groovy beat, delicious vocals, and wild animal samples. New to Splice?  It's awesome and free!  Just sign up and get remixing.

We will feature our favorite remixes on a future album.

Full project and stems on Splice:

Original track on SoundCloud:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cats Cradle Robbers' latest album Seen and Unseen is now for sale.

Our most ambitious and delightful work to date is now officially released.
You can now buy Seen and Unseen anywhere digital music is sold.

Seen and Unseen - the liner notes

Seattle, Washington, April 11 2015

Cats Cradle Robbers are proud to announce general availability of our latest collection of electroacoustic constructions, Seen and Unseen.  Here are a few thoughts about this album.

When we decided in 2013 to polish up and release many of our early musical experiments as albums for general availability, we spent an evening grouping our music into albums using a process called “affinities.”  (See the description of that process in aprevious post in this blog).

One of the groupings, which we called “religious”, included tracks where either the title, or the mood, or the lyrics, or the idea of the track related in some way to spirituality.  This is that collection.

As a part of putting together the collection, we expanded, added, re-recorded, and brought in additional collaborators to make the music new and take advantage of several years of reflection.

As always, we rely on and celebrate our many collaborators, who are partners in creating the music and who inspire us to go beyond our personal creative potential.  And of course, we could not do what we do without the love and support of our families - a grateful thanks to Salome, ParisAnne, Lisa, Payton, and (soon to be born) Ed "Quattro" Essey.

The cover image was created by artist Carlie Reilly of New Jersey, the winner of our album cover contest.  We love Carlie's winning cover - it made us really glad we decided to do the contest!

We hope that you enjoy this latest collection of our creative experiments in music-making!
-          Nick Dallett and Ed Essey, aka Snake and DJSE, Cats Cradle Robbers

It Begins (feat. Lisa Jaffe Hubbell and Vidya Ramarathnam)

Lisa Jaffe Hubbell: Hebrew vocal
Vidya Ramarathnam: Tamil vocal
DJSE: Synth, Sequencing and effects (SSE)
Snake: Wine glasses

Snake conceived the idea of combining two of the oldest living languages – Hebrew and Tamil – each singing the creation story from their culture.  We engaged Lisa and Vidya to provide the raw vocals in their respective traditional styles, and we combined them in the studio.  The Hebrew text is cut into individual syllables for the initial part of the track, and both vocals are sung in full later in the track.

We use the ending of this piece to introduce elements of the rest of the album.

Hebrew lyrics (Genesis 1:1-3)

Hebrew script
Phonetic transliteration
English translation
 בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים
bə-rê-šîṯ bā-rā ’ĕ-lō-hîm;
In the beginning, God created
אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
’êṯ haš-šā-ma-yim wə-’êṯ hā-’ā-reṣ.
The heavens and the earth
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ
wə-hā-’ā-reṣ, hā-yə-ṯāh ṯō-hū wā-ḇō-hū,
And the earth was without form and void
וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־ פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם
wə-ḥō-šeḵ ‘al-pə-nê ṯə-hō-wm;
And darkness [was] on the face of the deep
וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־ פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
wə-rū-aḥ ’ĕ-lō-hîm, mə-ra-ḥe-p̄eṯ ‘al-pə-nê ham-mā-yim.
And the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־ אֽוֹר׃
way-yō-mer ’ĕ-lō-hîm yə-hî ’ō-wr; way-hî- ’ō-wr.
And said God let there be light and there was light

Tamil Lyrics

Tamil script
Phonetic transliteration
English translation
கல் தோன்றி மண் தோன்றா
Kal thondri mann thondra
Before stones and sand were discovered
காலத்தே முன் தோன்றிய மொழி
kaalathey munThondriya mozhi
Before stone age, this language was born
எம் தமிழ் மொழி
yem thamizh mozhi
our tamil language
அகம் என்றும் புறம் என்றும்
Agam yendrum puram yendrum
The right way of living our life both within (inner well being) and external ( outer well being)
வாழ்வை அழகாக வகுத்த மொழி

Vaazhvai azhagaga vagutha mozhi

were artistically written and followed through this language
எம் தமிழ் மொழ
yem thamizh mozhi
My tamil language
எம் செம்மொழி
yem sem mozhi
Our great language
நம் தமிழ் மொழி
nam thamizh mozhi
Our tamil language

Everyone Loves a Martyr

India: meow
Snake: oven door, guitars, piano, flute
DJSE: piano, guitar, SSE

In our early days, we used to try to feature cat sounds in every track.  This is one of the last pieces that followed that guideline (listen to Racoonba Persistante for another example).

Dark and cinematic, this piece features Snake on slide guitar and DJSE on the piano.  The ending section was recorded with a single mic and features DJSE playing one guitar while Snake plays a guitar with one hand and the piano with the other.

Laudanum Escapade (feat. Eliza Heery)

Eliza Heery: Lead Vocal, Bass
Cathy Breshears: Backing Vocal
Snake: SSE, sampled frogs, monk seal, white handed gibbon, guitar, synth
DJSE: SSE, sampled parrot, dog

(ok cool)


It’s raining on my window pane
And I’m feeling no pain
No pain, no pain


Birds are tapping on my window pane
And I’m feeling no pain
It’s raining on my window pane
And I’m feeling no pain


The dog is barking again
In the yard and in the rain
And I’m feeling no pain
No pain, no pain
Said I’m feeling no pain
No pain


Laudanum escapade was originally recorded in a tiny apartment that Cathy Breshears shared with two kids, a dog, and a bird in Issaquah, Washington.  Cathy was nervous and unused to improvisation, so the original vocal of this track was created by Snake improvising lyrics and singing them call-and-response style with Cathy.  We cut Snake’s voice out for the first version of this song.  Later we asked bassist and vocalist Eliza Heery to contribute her own jazzy style to the vocal, and we kept Cathy’s original vocals for the haunting “no pain” refrain.

Everything is embedded in DJSE’s brilliantly composed drum and bass track, to which Snake then added a guitar and synth chord pattern.  Eliza’s bass puts the finishing touch on the instrumental tracks.

Aside from Cathy’s dog and bird, which can be heard in the final fade, all of the animal sounds were sampled by Snake while on a trip to Hawaii in November 2010.  The frogs were recorded in Hilo on the Big Island.  The white handed gibbon calls were sampled at the Honolulu zoo, and the monk seal snorts at the Waikiki aquarium a few blocks away.

Laudanum is a highly addictive opiate compound that was a popular ingredient in patent medicines in the 1800s, and is just the sort of thing that a bored housewife might have used to dull the pain of a humdrum lifestyle.

Seen and Unseen

Snake: Dih, fireworks, berimbau

In 2011, when we recorded the first version of this track on Snake’s back deck, Snake was studying the Brazilian martial art form capoeira, and the unique rhythmic character of capoeira music colored this track from day one.  As the piece evolved, we brought in explicit samba rhythms to carry forward the Brazilian sound.  The berimbau, the single-stringed musical instrument that is specific to capoeira, was an obvious – but late – addition to the track.

The night we recorded this, we had a pile of leftover fireworks, and the sounds of crackling firecrackers is one of the unique elements that works its way into the background of the music. 

Introducing the Dih
The instrument that Snake calls a “dih” is any small wire-stringed instrument where the strings are detuned enough to make the slinky sounds you can hear several times in this track.  The idea of a “dih” was invented by Snake (aka Steve Peanut) and Larry Genuth (aka Eric Butter) as part of their music comedy duo Peanut Butter in the early 1980s.  This particular instance was a small overhand dulcimer, in itself an unusual instrument, created by luthier John Lindsey of Lindsey Guitar fame.

Seen and Unseen was originally dedicated to Jeremy Roberts, our first fan.

Racoonba Persistante (Sharpie's Revenge)

Sharpie: snuffles
Agent K: meows
Snake: Guitars

One night while we were working at DJSE’s erstwhile bachelor pad at the Mosler Lofts in Belltown, Snake’s wife called to say that there was a raccoon lying on the back deck.  It didn’t appear injured or sick and was just hanging out and not going away.  That was the night we started this track.

At the time, Snake’s family had a cat named Darien who had been banished to the back deck after too many things were ruined by cat urine.  Sharpie (as we named the raccoon) became a regular visitor.  She would wait for Darien to be fed, and after he had eaten his fill, she would swoop in and clean out his bowl.  When Sharpie gave birth to a litter of kits, she started bringing them by to visit.  The snuffling sounds in this track were recorded one night when Sharpie brought her kits to visit.

DJSE’s cat Agent K was one of the original members of the band and can still be found on Facebook.  Agent K has since retired from music.   In this track, he tries in vain to find that darned raccoon. 

For this version of the track, we added the (live) guitars and (synthesized) theremin.

Downward Daffodil (feat. Sharanya Viswanath)

Sharanya Viswanath: vocal
Vidya Ramarathnam: vocal
Joe Breskin: Guitar, Moon Lute
Snake: Guitarron, vertical marimba

This track has been through many iterations on its way to this (final?) form.  The first published version was called “Gravity Schmavity,” a title that came out of a long series of word associations between DJSE and Snake.  Another, very different, version of the track was called Demitasse.  The original samples were recorded at Joe Breskin’s Port Townsend home, and included Snake playing Joe’s guitarron, Joe playing a Vietnamese moon lute, and both Joe and Snake striking long rosewood beams that we hung from his ceiling (Snake dubbed this the “Vertical Marimba”).  Joe then played a long electric guitar solo over the groove we created using these elements.  We’ve excerpted only small pieces of each of these things in this version.

The Vertical Marimba

The main rhythm of the piece lumbers like an elephant (which is what spurred the aforementioned series of word associations leading to “Horton taunts Newton: Gravity Shmavity!”), and our association between Elephants and India is probably what prompted us, when presented with the opportunity to work with Carnatic vocalist Sharanya Viswanath, to ask her to improvise to this track. 

The result is something we would like to think could accompany yogic practice, hence the also word-associative name Downward Daffodil.

DJSE setting up shop at Breskin's
Breskin in full effect
Sharanya, relaxing between takes

Tamil Lyrics:
Tamil Script
Phonetic transliteration
English translation
அன்பே எனது உயிரே
Oh anbe yenadhu uyirae
My dear, my life
நீயும் ஒரு குழந்தை 
Neeyum oru kuzhandhai
you are my child too

Joe on the Moon Lute



Snake: Lindsey fretless tenor guitar, Bookmarked guitar, electric dih
DJSE: SSE, Trombone

Dating from 2009, Truesetto features the Lindsey fretless tenor guitar and the electric dih (which has almost no relation to the acoustic instrument of the same name mentioned above).  You can read all about the creation of this track in this blog post from 2009.  

There is also a video of this tune on our YouTube channel.

Listening (feat. Janet Dallett)

Janet Dallett: vocal
Michael and Jane Engle: wine glasses, voices
Snake: guitar, berimbau, piano
DJSE: speak n spell, SSE

Snake’s mother, Jungian Psychologist Janet O. Dallett, passed away in June 2010.  A few days after her memorial service in Port Townsend, her nephew Michael and his wife joined us for a session at Snake’s house.  We talked and played with water and wine glasses, and started a track we called Funk Back.

Back in the 1970s, there was a consumer advocacy show on TV called Fight Back with David Horowitz. Snake once overheard his mother and her friends joking that the show should be called “Fuck Back” instead.  We modified this to Funk back to make it more musical and less PG-Rated. 

DJSE had a Speak & Spell  that he brought along to the session, and you can hear it saying “funk back” periodically in the final mix.

We worked on this track on and off for a month or two and never got very far with it.  Then Snake got the idea to make it an explicit homage to his mom by bringing in phrases recorded at a reading of her book Listening to the Rhino: Violence and Healing in a Scientific Age, as well as other snippets of conversation recorded during her last months. This formed the backbone that we used as the center of the final piece. 

How much longer?
And if longer, how long?

Today is the time of the rhino
(funk back)
If you dismiss it, become possessed by it, or try to destroy it, it will surely annihilate you
It is vastly more powerful than our little egos

I have very complicated eyes

Today is the time of the rhino
He offers his roomy, ancient skin for us to grow into
Do it - it is urgent


Snake: guitar, vocal, fork and nutcan
Cathy Breshears: vocal

One day, Snake arrived at DJSE’s place armed with his Gibson L6 electric guitar and Roland Jazz Chorus amp only to find DJSE burning to do something with a hard rock sound.  He had built the first pieces of Diablita in Ableton before Snake showed up, and Snake put his Gibson to good use.

In China, they say that the ideal woman has 天使般的脸,魔鬼身材, or “Angel’s face, Devil’s figure.”  We played on this idiom in this track, taking advantage of the fact that Snake, in the last stages of a cold, temporarily possessed an unnaturally deep voice.

This track has gone through several phases, including one in which Cathy sang several verses that we co-wrote on the same evening that we wrote Laudanum Escapade, but this mostly instrumental version is the one we liked best.

Angel's face
Devil's body
Saving grace
Salumba parte

Are you ready for me?

One of our most frequently used instruments, the Nutcan.
Snake scraped it with a fork for this track.
First Frost in the Garden and The Immortal Bottle both feature a quarter spun on the lid.

Saints (Feat. Danny Shih)

Danny Shih: violin
Snake: electric guitar, vocal
DJSE: SSE, vocal

Danny was a co-worker of DJSE’s, and revealed one day that he played violin.  In 2010, we were looking for somebody to replace the synthesized violin on Swan Station 5 (released on Jack in the Bucket), so we headed to Danny’s for a session.  We spent some time on that track, and then decided to start something new.  Snake picked up Danny’s electric guitar, and Danny contributed some beautiful violin lines to the beats DJSE laid down.  The result is one of our all-time favorites. 

Danny is a New Orleans Saints fan, and the scant lyrics on this track (Amen. Amen. Saints. / Feelin the Brees.) were taken from the framed newspaper article on the wall, celebrating their recent superbowl win.

The Dry Sound of Atonement

Snake: Maytag washer and dryer with various inclusions, glassware, cabinets, fuse box

On Saturday, September 14, 2013, DJSE came over to Snake’s house for a boil.  A boil is a special type of session that is near and dear to our hearts.  Named for the first such session, Boiling the Ocean, a boil is a session in which we take a specific location, such as a room in a house, and wring as many sounds as we can out of items we find in that location.  We then assemble a piece of music using only those sounds, straight up or electronically processed. 

We often refer to the music thus produced as REAL house music.  Get it?

In this boil, we attacked Snake’s laundry room.  You can hear some AA batteries, a rock, and some dryer balls cycling around in the dryer, the washer filling up, and various cabinet doors being slammed.  Snake sings into the dryer, and we created a virtual gamelan from various pieces of glassware that are stashed in that room.  The beeping sounds created when the washer and dryer are turned on and off supplied a built-in melodic focus.  The overall mood is trancelike and focused, and we tried to honor the idea of atonement, given that 9/14/13 was Yom Kippur that year.

Acid Washed Dreams

Snake: nutcan, flute, tin whistle, balloon, vocals, berimbau, shaker, classical guitar, Lindsey fretless tenor guitar, Gibson L6 electric guitar
Salome: laughter

Acid washed dreams started with Snake wanting to reverse-engineer a Bhangra beat.  We took some time to lay out this traditional Punjabi folk dance rhythm in Ableton, and then we started to add sounds into the mix.  The heavily processed sound you hear at the beginning started life as a tin whistle.  A balloon sounds a bit like a DJ scratching.  The traditional Cats Cradle Robbers percussion staple, the nutcan, came into play.  A tabla sample appears.  DJSE samples his then girlfriend, now wife’s laughter.  Eventually we added synthesized violins, some real guitars, berimbau, and vocals.

The lyrics present an imagined scene, tripping on mushrooms in the rainy streets of Mumbai after a night of clubbing during monsoon season. 

It's not raining, it's steaming
Urchins blaspheming Shiva
And in weaving these visions
To believe is to leave her

Cars and bars and whores amid the Bollywood nights
The lights and the stars making the boulevard soar (sore?)
'Til they lock the doors and it's just me, alone
Walk in the warm rain
Steam rising from the street, in the heat
To be alive in the city of flowers and songs and mycelium dreams

What About That Pasta (Feat. Steven Harry Markowitz)

Steven Harry Markowitz: Piano
Snake: Guitar

Steve Markowitz and Snake, under the name Polyrhythmics, performed improvised music at various open mic nights in the Seattle area in the early 2000s.   In this track, we relive those moments with a pair of free improvisation bookends around an electronic piece tying together their duet with DJSE’s beats.

Steve is a brilliant composer and improviser, and his own music is well worth a listen and can be heard at his page on