Odds are good that you've seen the ad. Golfer Tiger Woods is practicing his swing alone in the driving rain, contemplating the fact that the only person he has left to beat is himself. This television commercial, first aired during last August's World Golf Championship, is part of what American Express calls its “most extensive advertising campaign with Tiger Woods to date.” What you may not be aware of is that the ad's hauntingly appropriate soundtrack is the work of Nashville drummer/recording artist Brian Siskind, a.k.a. fognode.
The backing track, “What a Day May Bring,” is a hi-tech, lo-fi collaborative effort between fognode and his longtime friend, New York City-based engineer and composer Layng Martine III. The piece is the result of what fognode calls a “creative accident.” “I had a song that I was working on,” he remembers. “I had a few parts worked out, but I didn't have the whole thing together. Layng came over to visit at Christmas, because his family lives here”his father is Nashville songwriter Layng Martine Jr.“and he said, 'Play me some stuff you've been working on,' so I put up that thing. He really liked it and it kind of reenergized me about it.”
Using Internet Instant Messenger software, the two then began bouncing raw session files back and forth between New York and Nashville, each adding their own creative touches. The resulting track was included on the debut CD by Martine's band Slang, The Bellwether Project, which was then featured as a director's pick on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday. As fate would have it, an Ogilvy & Mather advertising executive tuned in that day only to realize that the song would be perfect for the agency's upcoming multimillion-dollar AmEx ad campaign. “That's the weirdest thing,” admits fognode, who never imagined he'd add a hugely successful advertising jingle to his list of accomplishments. “When I hear the commercial on my television in the living room and think of all these sounds that I'm hearing, they left out of my garage!”
In addition to this lucrative “creative accident,” fognode has produced two CDs under his own name. His most recent, Beat Hollow, self-released on his Infrasound Collective label, was composed in the same technologically collaborative manner as “What a Day May Bring,” and features contributions by his wife, songwriter Sarah Siskind, as well as Mark Fauver, Daniel Tashian and Mack Starks. “Once broadband Internet came into the picture, that opened the doors for anything,” he acknowledges. “I just put out an open call to everybody I'm musically in contact with and said, 'Hey I'm getting ready to make a new record; feel free to send me any sounds.' ” In addition, the Infrasound Collective Web site, at www.infrasoundcollective.com, features a button labeled “collaborate” that enables interested parties to swap and contribute sounds via the Web.
Using the PC-based digital editing program Cool Edit Pro, fognode processes and slices these live pieces of sound, mixing them with tracks he records “not so live with one microphone” in his West Nashville garage studio. “All the processing I do after the fact,” he explains. “I just want the raw texture. Don't worry about the tone, don't worry about the mic placement, just give me that sound...and I'll extract what I want from there.” Like a high-tech version of early reggae dub master King Tubby, he then programs the essential song elements into the editing program and “live mixes” other sounds and effects as the song plays in real time. “I like to use mixing as an instrument.... I don't like having everything predefined,” he admits. “I put the crucial moves in, so I'm not going to forget to put in a part or take out a part, but then when it's coming out, I just have fun with it.”
Brian and Sarah Siskind moved to Nashville in 1998 after stints in New York City and Seattle, where he served as assistant and drum tech to former Santana drumming legend Michael Shrieve. During his tenure with Shrieve, Siskind began to formulate his own musical vision, one of atonal soundscapes and textured musical space. “He introduced me to other master drummers such as Mickey Hart and Elvin Jones, and it gave me a lot of perspective.... I got to deconstruct my musicality. I realized that I didn't really want to go that far, to be on that level. I wanted to do something more simple, more musical, so I started learning about musical environments and knob twisting.”
It was also in Seattle that Siskind met his future co-writer, Martine. “Layng was the first person I'd met who had a home studio on his computer, sampling and loops and things like that. We started to collaborate on some of his things, and it kind of went from there.” It was Martine who gave Siskind the picturesque nickname “fognode.”
“Layng made it up,” Siskind explains. “He just spread it out among friends as a joke, but it sort of stuck because it was so silly. In the Virtual Reality Modeling Language associated with video games, fog nodes are bits of depth. Everything between the foreground and the backgroundthe textured spaceare the fog nodes.” The nickname, despite its glib origin, describes fognode's soundscapes perfectly. “My music is about the peripheral stuff, the sounds behind the sounds, the depth,” he says. “It's not party music or the soundtrack to falling in love.”
Currently, fognode can also be heard drumming on Sarah Siskind's forthcoming CD, Covered, which features performances by legendary guitarist Bill Frisell and Boston singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball. In addition, he'll be performing his own material live at the Belcourt Theatre on April 13 as part of the Space for Music Festival, organized by local musician Tony Gerber. Future plans include video and film work, and another CD that, he claims, “will be more of an experiential, multimedia, mixed-mode...truly immersive experience.”
When asked if he intends to seek more work in commercial advertising, fognode, who has kept his day job as a computer tech, is noncommittal. “Well, I'd like to think of it that way because it seems to work,” he muses, “but one of the benefits to doing something unique is that I don't have any convention to bind myself to. I don't have a record label that's going to tell me what to do; I don't have fans of some widespread level to disappoint, so if I choose some new direction, I'm completely free. I just have to make music that sounds good.”
Visit fognode's Web site at www.fognode.com.
Best of luck Chris. I'm rooting for you.
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