Behind the Music: Breakmaster Cylinder


Hi there! i’m Breakmaster Cylinder. i write music, i live in space, at least one of those is true for you as well so let’s be allies.

The fine folk at Catpockets asked me to talk to you about some of the themes i wrote. How i wrote them! What i think of them! Such!

#1. Reply All

Here is the theme!

Songs For Broadcast: part I by Breakmaster Cylinder

Here is how i made it!

Hell yes moving on.

#2. Outside/In

Songs For Broadcast: part II by Breakmaster Cylinder

This show is very good and funny. Listen to it lots.
The producers asked me for ‘Appalachian hip hop’ and fortunately i assume that’s not a thing yet so there are no rules. i won’t look it up because i don’t even wanna know the rules. It’s been like 5 years so maybe now i could look it up.
i will not.

Now for this theme i ran after a bee with a little tascam recorder, that bee is in the intro. There wasn’t time to sign a release, please find the bee.
i played a little melody on the guitar. Then i played some chords.
i chopped them all up and rearranged them in a way that sounds realistically enough as though it’s being played in one take.

If it’s going to sound chopped up and fake, it should be on purpose.

Hey taking some sliding string instruments and glitching them is wonderful, by the way. Listen to The Books for a lot of this. ‘Lemon Of Pink’ album, maybe?

Oh what else. This track is just a little explosion of nature. The trees have a million eyes. Birds are erupting. Your friends are asking if you’re alright but it’s hard to hear them over so much grass.

#3. Big Think: Think Again

Songs For Broadcast: part III by Breakmaster Cylinder

This is a great show where they find a specialist in one field and ask them questions in another they don’t know about. Things are discussed, ideas pop up, surprising connections are made.

So we made the melody a little thread which hops from instrument to instrument, like an idea might find a home subject to subject. Play each instrument quickly and in order and now it’s a song, all tied together. Little disparate snippets forming a big picture. God i’m getting good at explaining these things away. School teaches you to think up things like this very well.

The childish flute melody juxtaposed against those 8bit sounds are a statement on the amount of time children spend in front of screens vs honing a tangible, real-world craft and the hopeful suggestion of a collaborative balance between the two. See what bullshit?

The melody is a smash of piano, flute, 8bit synth, horn honks, and oh what else. Does it matter? Let me be hyper-focused and you just relax.

The instrument hop was achieved by exporting the full melody through different vsts (virtual instruments) and layering them over each other. Mute them all. Pick which instrument plays what by chopping the melodies into little pieces and muting / unmuting pieces at a time. String them together in a pleasing fashion. This is hard to explain in text.
Find me on twitter and i’ll explain some stuff better possibly.

Anyway, then you just work on smooth little tweaks in the transitions for extra glue. Wear a mask, it’s worked for me.

#4. Girl’s Girls Podcast

Songs For Broadcast: part V by Breakmaster Cylinder

A list of my theme requests and how they were handled would be incomplete without this paragraph from the Girl’s Girls Podcast’s initial request email:

“I don’t really know. Something fun and girly, but powerful. Like Sex and the City, and 90’s Veruca Salt, and if our vaginas could play an instrument… but also, we’re feminine. Like we go to church, but we don’t wear underwear there.  Also we’re in a coven.”

So where does one go from there.

It seemed like we should land on the nose since i don’t presume to know anything about these women’s vaginas. Or their likely instrument preferences. Maybe if i’d heard every episode.

So within the first round of drafts i included both a Sex & the City-style ditty and a Veruca Salt-style ditty. They ended up going with Veruca. That one had appropriately good energy because i play guitar badly. i love the fact that i don’t know anything about the guitar. You cannot buy that kind of ignorance.

That last sentence is probably not true. How much is a brick.

Ok in the Girl’s Girls draft folder just now i found:

GirlsGirls_01f No Panties In Church ’96 (loop).wav

so please know that i tried.
It sounds like early Cypress Hil with the occasional huge pipe organ stab. i’m very pleased to see i’m always on the job.

#5. Yes Was

Songs For Broadcast: part VI by Breakmaster Cylinder

This is a Polish podcast where two incredibly handsome men (i’m copying from their website) talk about technology. They wanted a history of technology in their theme, so this is the same song jumping decades from 80’s to 90’s to 00’s to 10’s. Both the musical style and the technology sounds in the theme switch with the decades.

80s is synth pop bounced off a (real) vhs tape, 90s is west coast hip hop, 00’s is pop punk because those handsome men enjoy pop punk, 10’s returns to the original 80’s theme by sampling it back into some vaporwave. Full circle.

If that didn’t make any sense would you please trust that i’m being clever? i truly believe it myself so decide what that’s worth.

For the punk section i listened to Blink-182 and figured out their panning situation. If that section feels at all realistic it’s mostly that, i think. Clean guitar plays a broken chord kind of thing over on one side. Distorted guitar plays frantic blocked chords over on the other. Doubletime your punk drums. Make the melody loopy and simple. Turn the lights off. Carry me home.

#6. The Soak

Songs For Broadcast: part V by Breakmaster Cylinder

This was a show all about bathing and its history around the world, so we hit the watery sounds hard on the nose. Children splashing and playing, water and waves rushing, all that good stuff. But really, rushing water is just some deep white noise and if you throw that over a hip hop beat with no bass in the kick you’ve got yourself a lofi/chillhop track.

This girl has been doing her homework for years. Does someone need to go check on her?

Sidechain the kick drum to the water, which means every time the kick drum hits, the water drops down and comes back up. You’d recognize the sound if you heard it. It’s just beautiful hiss creeping up under everything.

It’s always a touch cheesy to hit the theme so on the nose like this, using bath sounds for a bath song. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, but you’re aware of it.

So here when the water plays the part of the more usual vinyl hiss, it blends in well enough to have gone back to being subtle. Rollercoaster of emotions, i tell ya.

The melody is pentatonic and on the flute; i’d guess that’s because ‘the history of bathing’ immediately makes me picture Japanese onsen.

Play nothing but the black keys on a piano, that’s pentatonic. You only have 5 individual keys to choose from, and every combination is nice-sounding. Do it with a friend, it’ll blow your mind.

#7. Bleeped

This show is about censorship and i learned that the US censorship bleep sound is aset 1000 hz tone. Which is a high, kinda sharp B.

So the theme is written in the key of B-ish major. Every time the melody plays a B (which it will inevitably have to, given the key) it gets bleeped out at the same frequency. It makes a little melody out of censoring itself. Cute, right?

#8. Pakistani Reactions

At the time this Youtube channel already had a theme which was just a short sample from the Sholay soundtrack. The Sholay soundtrack is a gem. So much so that i immediately recognized the sample and already had a Sholay sample pack i had previously cut up for a beat battle. None of those samples are cleared but good god go make music with them now. Makes a weird little playlist as well.

So we took that same sample he was already using and we messed it up. You know. i haven’t had the pleasure of playing the bass-heavy B-section live yet. I’m looking forward to it.

#9. Time Well Spent

Songs For Broadcast: part V by Breakmaster Cylinder

Hey wait we’re going to need to paste a snippet of this email also. Big Ron from Time Well Spent was trying to pin down (nay, was expertly pinning down) what needed to be changed about the newest draft. He had this to say as guidance:

“Can you play with the bass a little more to make it heavier? Think along the linesof Warren G Regulators in terms of the bass feeling good and just supporting you sinceyou were a child all the way through college. If that makes sense :-)”

It does.
What requests have i gotten that were actually insane?
i don’t think many. I’m down for most anything.

#10. The Secret Room

Songs For Broadcast: part II by Breakmaster Cylinder

The two original hosts and i whispered our own secrets and baked them into the theme. i banged out the slow stride bass and melodies on QWERTY, which i actually use more commonly than a piano keyboard. i’m a robot on the go, what do you want. The piano sound is Iowa Piano which is free and very nice, texture-wise. Especially the low-velocity notes. Don’t like the little clicks but it’s manageable.

i am sitting here undecided as to whether those key/lock sounds in this intro were ones i recorded myself. Let’s say no. Or whatever say what you like. i’m listening again and now suspect i did.
i know some doors like that. i record things a lot and don’t remember later.
Seems reasonable.

#11. Serial

i didn’t do this one.

#12. Today, Explained

i didn’t do this one either.

#13. The Daily

The daily what.

#14. Welcome To Spider Hell

Releasing this would be a mistake.

#15. Today, Explained

Wait i did actually do this one.

Songs For Broadcast: part VI by Breakmaster Cylinder

#16. All Things Considered

Ok who is this?


Where have we even gone.

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