Cruel Diagonals on "Fractured Whole" and Ownership of the Voice

For our second stem pack drop in The Zone, we are thrilled to have vocalist, composer, and producer Cruel Diagonals stop by to share some sounds and reflect on the process of working solely with voice and studio processing to create her latest LP, Fractured Whole. Join the Zone to access the complete stem pack from the first track off the LP entitled "Penance".

Can you tell us about the song you chose to share your stems w/ for Klang from your recent release regarding your composition and production process?

"Penance" is the first track off the new album, and I chose this one because it is representative of the more 'pure' vocal tones and approaches I took in composing this album, as well as the more mangled and unrecognizable ones. The entire album is composed of only my voice as source material, which was my self-imposed restriction that forced me into a more creative production terrain. Anything that sounds like a saw wave bass, a textural pad, or a rhythmic accent are all derived from my voice.

For this track's composition, I drew a great deal of inspiration from Rosicrucian chants. My mother was raised in the Rosicrucian tradition, and my grandparents were very involved in that community. I never knew much about it, but wanted to educate myself to understand that part of my family's history more, especially once my grandmother passed away. I listened to a number of these chants and started riffing off them, recording voice notes on my phone while I was out on my multiple daily walks. These eventually evolved into the layered vocal lines you hear in this track.

I'm also obsessed with the juxtaposition of my conventionally pretty singing voice and harsher tones and textures, so that has become one of my hallmark compositional tricks as well. All the mid/low tones were processed using pitch manipulation, rhythmic modulation of filters, and granular synthesis.  

Photo by Aaron Giesel

How do you feel about remix culture, especially online where music has become so decommodified and demonetized? Are you comfortable with people taking your tracks apart piece by piece now for their own work?

I kind of don't see much of a line between overt remix culture and just existing within a socio-cultural context where music and ideas are constantly being exchanged, recycled, reimagined, and are in dialogue with one another. I find the concept of 'ownership' of a sound or a process to be tied up in capitalist ways of perceiving art and music, and as an ardent leftist and anti-capitalist, I do actively try to find ways to divorce myself from this ego trip. My ideas do not, and cannot, ever exist in a vacuum. Artists are always subconsciously or consciously 'remixing' someone else, so why not just be direct about it?

Are there any words of encouragement you can give folks when approaching your work as a remixable project? What do you hope for us to hear? What do you hope for us to find useful?

The times I've remixed other people's work, I often end up using only a fraction of what they've provided me with, so don't be afraid to completely reimagine the structure of the track and reuse as little or as much as you like. Think of the stems as more of a sound pack, as opposed to an opportunity to throw beats on the existing composition (though go ahead and do that, if you're so inclined, but I have deconstructed them and kind of placed them outside the context of the composition, so they're truncated....So good luck doing that!).

I would love to hear how others might process the more 'pure' vocal stems in this track to something unrecognizable from the source. I've exhausted all the ways I know how to do so, but I'm certain there are methods I'm missing out on and would love to learn what those might be.