Christopher Willits playing live at San Francisco’s Public Works in October of this year. Photo courtesy the artist.

Sound and light artist, guitarist, Max patcher, and all-around sonically-fascinating guy Christopher Willits has opened up his “Tiger Flower Circle Sun” record on Ghostly to remixing. Halfway through the project, we talk to Chris about what’s going on – and what the results so far sound like. And we share, from earlier this fall, a composition in which you can recharge.

The project begins not with stems, but with samples, the raw materials on which the album was based. Christopher walks CDM through the audio highlights, one sample at a time. Along the way – as with all these samples – you begin to appreciate the process by which Christopher makes his decisions, how he moves from samples like pieces of wood to the finished structure. And of course, by opening these up to remixing, you have an opportunity to hear the work differently in his finished, released form, as well as to find your own, distinct decision-making process. It’s perhaps obvious in a remix project, but what this does is to allow the sounds a life separate from the fixed set of decisions that produced the album.

And that can even change Christopher’s own view of the work, he says. He tells us:

I think it’s fun to play the set like an album. I’ve heard these pieces so many times that it’s really refreshing to me to hear them alone. Now I hear the pieces differently.

That was actually one of the thoughts behind sharing all of these sounds, so people can hear the layers, and if they wish, tune their ears to the subtleties and intention I wanted to create in the mixes.

You can find the remix project at:
http://willits-sample-library-vol1.herokuapp.com/

“The stuff i’ve heard so far is AMAZING,” Christopher tells us. “I can’t wait to feature the best of the best. We’ll be releasing a free comp on [Christopher's experimetal label] Overlap and Ghostly will feature my favorite remix on a free comp, too.” Winning remixes get Ableton and SoundCloud prizes.

Let’s hear a few words from Christopher about the sounds he’s produced.

A Tour of the Sounds

Christophers’ setup at Stanford in October – minimal but effective, with a Mac running sound and a PC running Touch Designer for visuals. And yes, that’s one little Line 6 POD in there, plus some three KORG nanoKONTROL controller devices. Image courtesy the artist, used by permission.

A lot of the samples are about variation of common materials, so there’s plenty to explore. Christopher tells us that just one sample – like this guitar solo – can take on very different meanings with different processing, heard in two variations.

Guitar process solo1-Sun Body-Willits-120 by Willits

Guitar process solo2-Sun Body-Willits-120 by Willits

This tone is created from a custom-made Big Muff > BOSS distortion > Fender Twin with a couple power tubes removed for low volume and max distortion. This is a trick that ted from Flipper showed me around that time, and it created the exact orange laser beam i was hearing in my imagination.

Guitar solo long noise-Sun Body-Willits-120 by Willits

Guitar solo-Plant Body-Willits-120 by Willits

The whole piece “Plant Body” came from this guitar improvisation. With releases like “Folding and the Tea” and “Seven Machines for Summer,”

I set the process to be only the guitar recordings. With this release, I gave myself a new set of constraints and permissions, allowing my imagination to add whatever comes up for me. No judgement on which one is better to me, they are just different. There are infinite possibilities within any process I determine, yet discerning the process that resonates with my true intention is what creates the shapes and forms and colors that feel like love.

Guitar process4 fold-Plant Body-Willits-120 by Willits

The drum samples come from:

…my great friend Jeff Pierre – one of the best drummer I’ve ever worked with, and the youngest, as well. All of Jeff’s takes were one take; this sample is shortened from the original length, but you get the idea.

Drum2-The Hands Connect To The Heart-Jeff Pierre-Willits-120 by Willits

Drums distorted1-You Are Always Surrounded By Stars-Jeff Pierre-Willits-120 by Willits

I just love the lightness and feel of this sound — like the funkiest insects in the jungle, getting down.

Perc1-The Hands Connect To The Heart-Willits-120 by Willits

Someone please make a disco track out of this.

Synth arp-The Heart Connects To The Head-Willits-120 by Willits

Me and my friend Reiko were messing with patterns; then we would find a loop. We were laughing so hard as we were playing this stuff.

Perc-Intend-Evolve-Willits-120 by Willits

Check your volume for this one — probably should have exported it at a lower volume for this set! The heat of this, the crushed distortion, is from a technique called input flipping on the SSL. This is an input flip with the preamps cranked, with odd harmonics.

Ryan (Ryan Kleeman) and I just about lost it when we first input flipped like this for a distorted sound. It became a theme in a sense that resonated with this orange laser beam electromagnetic sound that much of the work stems from.

Synth arp noise-The Heart Connects To The Head-Willits-120 by Willits

You can also hear it here- and a few other places on the record, to a less extreme degree. There is something about this texture that has a cleaning function to me. Washes things off, away, cleans the ears out. Resets your space.

Branches Into Flowers-Willits by Willits

“Could hear many more strings and horns in this piece.”

Guitar2-You Are Always Surrounded By Stars-Willits-120 by Willits

“Love this floating feeling.”
Guitar lasers-You Are Always Surrounded By Stars-Willits-120 by Willits

“This pattern makes me want to get down.”
Perc distorted1-You Are Always Surrounded By Stars-Willits-120 by Willits

“Love this kind of generative sound.”
Subconscious Transmission-Willits-120 by Willits

Two samples that were not used in “Light into Branches.” Made the baritone thing in one mode of listening, came back and asked myself, why did I put a baritone guitar solo in the middle of this song? Did I really think that’s what it needed, or did I just want to play my baritone along with this song for fun? The answer was the latter. But here it is anyway. :)

The ambient layers sample was to create more depth of field in the mix, have it floating behind at a low volume, but it was not doing was I wanted it to, so I cut it out.

Baritone solo unused-Light Into Branches-baritone-Willits-75ish by Willits

Guitar layers unused-Light Into Branches Willits-75ish by Willits

Videos

From the original record release:

More information:
http://ghostly.com/releases/tiger-flower-circle-sun

Soak in a Sound Bath

Another release from this year revealing Willits’ musical approach, “GOLD” is an ambient piece in you can inhabit, in which you can restore yourself, according to its maker:

GOLD is a 24 minute and 17 second sound bath / ambient piece to soak into. Listen, relax and recharge. This harmonic weaving of sound was created with the vibration of affinity, love.

Made with voice, processed guitar, and a low-frequency oscillation out of a Nord Lead synth, Christopher actually encourages people to share how they “used’ the piece and how they made it felt, a kind of design experiment for spiritual being in sound. Have a listen or pay-what-you-will on Bandcamp:

Read up on what he has to say about this release:
New Release – GOLD [Sound + Light - Chris' blog]

Infinite

It seems only appropriate to close with this reflection from Christopher:

After working on this project, I’m realizing so tangibly what I’ve always known — that any mix is a sonic photograph of vibrational affinity, and even with a grounded intention behind any mix, and a very clear outline for a process in which you allow that intention to emerge, there are infinite possibilities of expression. Infinite. It is so beautiful.

  • Zoopy

    I'm still pissed that this contest expects you to dig through 100+ samples individually on SoundCloud and download them 1 at a time… has no one put all of them up in an archive somewhere? This is 2011… we are lazy. 

    • peterkirn

      As it happens, I've already complained to SoundCloud about that very issue. It's a SoundCloud thing, not a Chris Willits thing. At the moment, it's just not possible on their system.

  • Zoopy

    Shut up Zoopy, you are a moron. here is the link :&nbsp ;http://bit.ly/pvk1kY

    • peterkirn

      RIght, they're just hosting the full archive elsewhere (in this case, on Amazon S3)

      Corrected link:
      http://bit.ly/pvk1kY

    • peterkirn

      RIght, they're just hosting the full archive elsewhere (in this case, on Amazon S3)

      And, heh, I was about to berate you for not being more courteous to your fellow commenter, before I realized you were talking to yourself. ;)

      Be nicer to yourself!

    • peterkirn

      Corrected link:
      http://bit.ly/pvk1kY

  • tohm

    Random question, but what type of guitar is that?  I've been looking for a new way to interface… and that looks like it has lots of nicely placed pots…

  • http://johnp.net John Pallister

    “Christopher’s experimetal label”? Excuse me, I think I’m going to pinch “experimetal” to name a new music genre I’m about to invent…

  • http://johnp.net John Pallister

    I think the guitar is actually one of these: http://www.playawayguitars.com/play_away_guitars_shop.php?itemID=1127

  • gbevin

    This is a Traveler Guitar: http://www.travelerguitar.com/

    I have one also (the exact same one), really awesome for on the road and it sounds great. You can also plug in a headphone directly into it for playing without connecting anything else. I also use it when I go to jams since it's easy and light to just keep around in case of.

    For those interested, here's a video of how I travel when taking the Traveler Guitar with me, using AmpKit, the iPhone and small battery-powered speakers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AT82mZP_u0

  • John Z

    Very cool sound and creative use here.

  • WTF

    david beckham sound artist???? Whats trhe world come to???