Sen Wisher: “I’ve always liked the idea of limitations”

by: Julia Mahncke

Ben Swisher has made an album themed around the sounds of vacuum cleaners and it turned into a super cool song collection! He started writing music and performing under his artist name Sen Wisher when he lived in Provo, Utah. He was helping out at a recording studio in the house he lived in and eventually decided to go to music school. He now studies and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

You just released a new album titled “Vacuum Sing”. Did you start out with a concept or did it evolve as your were recording new music?

I had some friends who were making marathon records, where they would get together and they would try to write and record music, mix and master everything in 24 hours. That was really refreshing. I’ve always liked the idea of limitations because it’s really easy to overthink everything. That inspired me to want to make a record with two friends, Colin Hatch (aka Lindenfield) and Emily Brown, who are musicians and friends who I really admire musically and I guess we just wanted to get together and work with a concept, which happened to be vacuums. We didn’t have any music planned and with as close to 24 hours as possible we tried to write songs from scratch and record them and I think it turned out really cool.

How did you decided on vacuum cleaners as the theme?

That’s a good question. Because it just sells so well? Everyone wants to hear about vacuums… My mom used to clean private practice doctor’s offices as a custodian when I was a kid. To save money on baby sitting and because I would rather be with my mom than some random mean teenager, my brother and I would go and keep my mom company while she was doing that and kind of help her with certain things and I would do my homework in the waiting room. There was something about certain sounds that I associated with who my mum was and hearing my mum vacuum so much, it started to become very musical for me for some reason. Because I was a kid, I just started making weird sounds – because that’s what kids do – I started to realize that I could imitate the sound of a vacuum and it transitioned into me realizing it was a form of harmony. I basically learned how to sing by harmonizing with vacuums and I always wanted to pay homage to that.

You have sounds of vacuum cleaners on your album. People have figured out how to best record an acoustic guitar, there are experts who have written about how to best record a trombone but how did you approach recording vacuum cleaners?

We didn’t have enough time to really go into it. We thought, what if we had vacuum cleaners and tried improvising three part harmonies over them. We just tried different microphones and I think ended up using a Sure SM7, a broadcasting microphone, which are great. We used those and an Electro Voice RE 20 on a lot of the vocals as well. It was hard to mix the sound of the vacuum cleaner and to isolate the overtones. In person it’s more clear what they are, on the record it’s almost more a noise, which I still think is very interesting. And we used reverb to highlight or recreate what was happening in person.

How do you approach writing music?

A: Prompts are really helpful. Sometimes it’s fun to aimlessly meander through ideas but I think there are times where I say, I need to write something that will cheer me up or I want to write something that’s fun and uptempo. I’m very driven by concepts. Writing an album about vacuums is like a philosophical or emotional representation of a lot of different things for me. I’m driven to tell stories through unconventional means in music. Sounds come to me more like an environmental response. Songs become an eco-system to a concept that I want to illustrate and it has living components.

Q: How does this translate into a life performance?

A: Right now I perform on my lonesome. It’s a discovery process. When you record a song, you capture that idea in that moment but music and songs are living things. For it to keep being relevant that song evolves. I don’t ever get to the point where I think that I’m perfectly representing this idea. I’m always discovering new ways to emphasize an emotion. Right now it’s just me singing and I have a delay pedal, a pitch shifter and harmonist that make my guitar sound glittery and ethereal. If you could hear crystal that would be sound I want my guitar to make. But I’m still discovering it. I’m also working with Ableton and starting to think about using samples to add meaning to things I recorded at one time.

The interview originally aired on KWVA’s show “Umloud Radio” hosted by Julia Mahncke aka DJ Almost Exactly like Julia.

Video and Album Art by Natalie Wood

Whatever Happens on Earth Stays on Earth: Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” Album Review

album review: Jordan Montero

DAMN. captures a concept that plays an ultimate vice in all of our lives: the intrinsic conflict we face at certain decision, trying to keep our values and beliefs intact. Kendrick Lamar, in DAMN., swoons over every line to ensure that his inner struggle is applicable to every individual. The album’s personality is blunt, introspective, and elegant. Lamar cleverly teases his catalysts over an array of fluctuating, modern sounds to deliver an exemplary entry into 2017’s legacy.

On Friday, April 14th, we were able to resume our fandom and were greeted with a gospel-like, synth-y, chamber of voices, provided by Bêkon, that would prove to be a driving force for the record’s development of its core themes. Immediately, Kendrick reminds us that he is a highly introspective individual, contemplating the reason for his faults through the eloquent voices. “BLOOD.”, the western-like, powerfully moving overture, provides a creative first glimpse into the album’s self-contemplative nature; all through the simple telling of a tale and a FOX News sample. Following the introduction, Kendrick performs on the album a defibrillation, filling it with energy. “DNA.” is the harsh, bar-infested framing of genetics as the reason we shine and darken, containing perhaps cleaner raps than we heard in To Pimp A Butterfly. The beat, produced by Mike Will Made It, has in it fast, deep bass, catchy ad-libs, and a beat switch half way through keeping the song extremely exciting, a tactic employed in numerous tracks on the album.

The flimsy, cool-as-all-hell third track, “YAH.”, provides even more insight into Kendrick’s good-hearted spirit. The hook will stay in your head long after you take out your earbuds, and the escalating flutter that happens there makes the same thing happen in my stomach. In “ELEMENT.” Kendrick channels his inner Drake in cadence and subject. Despite compromising rhyme quality and substance, Kendrick’s amazing touch and a beat to keep up makes for great pop music; a recurring pursuit in the album’s sound. The following track is in great juxtaposition with “ELEMENT.”, “FEEL.” is extremely introspective and polished with Kendrick’s great grasp on rhythm and cadence. With a beat slightly reminiscent to Kanye’s “30 Hours”, Kendrick Lamar observes both within and beyond himself to offer justification for his feelings of lament. And in the same line as “ELEMENT.”, “LOYALTY.” is another solid pop entry in the album; bearing a beat sounding as if the soul beats from the early 2000’s were fast-forwarded in development to today. On the seventh track, “PRIDE.”, after the tasteful choir introduction, Kendrick blames pride for the numerous shortcomings in all of us, hypothesizing that in a world without pride, he would be a better, more secure man. In this track Lamar also utilizes fluctuating filters on his voice to provide that extra bit of originality that, in essence, elevates his catalogue to the realm of high art.

Over the next four tracks after “PRIDE.”, Kendrick splits his pursuits into two. Over that span, we find “HUMBLE.” and “LOVE.”. These two tracks put a slight halt in the development in Kendrick’s themes to generate mass appeal. From the hard-hitting piano strikes in “HUMBLE.” to the pop sounds of Zacari in “LOVE.”, it’s music that anyone can put on while turning their mind off. Thrown in between those songs, though, are pivotal parts in Kendrick’s emotional dossier. “LUST.” and “XXX.” expand on Kendrick’s suspicions for his flaws; citing both lust and a short tolerance for violence as suspects, respectively. “LUST.”’s realistic substance and clever verse structure are it’s strengths– joining are the tasteful use of a RAT BOY sample, “Vibrate”-ish drums (long live Andre 3000), and a blissfully disorienting conclusion produced to fully express Kendrick’s feelings on this subject. In “XXX.”, we come across yet another catalyst for Kendrick’s struggles. Lamar finds himself choosing between peace and the defending of loved ones; to his disgust, he chooses the latter. The second half of the song also contains a culturally-dense final verse that shows that Kendrick’s criticism is just as heavy on America.

To round out the album we have three tracks alternating in fashion. The twelfth song, “FEAR.” is the high-reaching grace of the record. Like “LUST.”, “FEAR.”’s verse structures are reminiscent of the great Lupe’s Food & Liquor, in other words: clever, subtle brilliance. It’s also in this track that we may be hearing Kendrick at his most sincere; it’s a beautifully produced trek through the fears that have haunted the artist throughout his life. Closing with an intriguing reading of selected verses from the bible, “FEAR.” is followed by “GOD.”. With another hip-pop endeavor, Kendrick examines his successes and pleads the listener to be sympathetic towards his faults. The closer, “DUCKWORTH.” is expertly-constructed sonic entourage. Opening again with the great chamber choir, the song adventures from old-school soul samples, to a great wall of harmonic voices, to a soothing, snappy beat, and back. Meanwhile, Kendrick is showing off his great storytelling chops until the song concludes by bringing the album full circle, a repetition of the opening line.

Within the context of his career, anything short of outstanding for “DAMN.” would have been a let down. The record isn’t the grandiose piece of art we were half suspecting and half demanding, but it’s still outstanding– especially compared to his contemporaries. The mix of favorable pop music (to an extent which few modern rappers can reach) and original, tasteful hip-hop sounds demands attention. It dedicates half of itself to trendier topics and the other half to serious substance, namely religious allusions, insightful cultural commentary, and the story of a struggle. The sounds are excellent, the rapping is exquisite, and the product is steps ahead of his contemporaries (barring a short list of names), but, all things considered, it doesn’t stack up to the instant classics; both his own and not. 9.25/10.