2) Assembly Line
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Once upon a time when I was still an undergrad at Stanford going by Ry-Man, I came up with this idea for a song called "Assembly Line" that would describe humans in the education system as if they were robots being assembled in a factory. Inspiration for this idea came from meeting many interesting people at Stanford who would proceed to abandon everything that made them interesting for the sake of becoming another programmer at a tech company in Silicon Valley. Even though some people truly enjoy the act of programming, I couldn't help but think that many of these people were pursuing computer science simply because it paid well or because the tech incubator atmosphere of much of the Bay Area was pressuring them into doing so. This caused me to start thinking more broadly about how many people never get a chance to truly discover themselves and, instead, spend their whole life chasing a career, image, or lifestyle that society told them to chase. Thus, the concept for "Assembly Line" had been born and I began to imagine a song with a heavy industrial electronic beat with no or very little semblance of live instrumentation whatsoever. Even though the topic was compelling (and I briefly touched upon it on "The System" in The Bigger Picture), my sample chopping production style at the time never produced a beat that would fit the concept. So, I placed that idea on the back burner and moved on with my life.
Now fast forward three years to when I was a music technology grad student at NYU. During the second semester of my second year, I took this class called "3D Audio" that was basically an introduction to all forms of spatial audio. One of the topics that was covered was binaural audio and one of the assignments for this topic required us to create a composition that incorporated the spatial aspects of HRTFs. The important thing to know about this assignment is that extra credit was given to those who built their own in-ear microphones and used them to record content for the composition. Since my thesis advisor (who was also the associate director for the whole program) was teaching this class, I figured that it would be a good idea for me to go for the extra credit. So I obtained two tiny microphone capsules and some spare XLR parts and, with the help of one of the 8th floor Studio Monitors, soldered together some homemade in-ear microphones that I used to record subway trains at West 4th Street. Afterwards, I took all of my new binaural recordings and attempted to incorporate them into my composition. There was one slight problem though, all of the recordings came out as complete noise and were more or less unusable. Now, the logical thing to do in this situation would be to fix the microphones and redo the recordings. This was not an option, however, since I had waited until the night before the due date to finish it. So, in an act of sheer desperation, I took the recorded noise and pitch shifted it down in an attempt to make it usable. The result was the sound that you hear at the beginning of "Assembly Line."
When I first heard that sound, I was absolutely ecstatic for two reasons: 1) I wasn't going to fail my assignment and 2) I knew that I was going to make a hot beat with it immediatley afterwards. So I finished the assignment and, immediately afterwards, opened a new session in Ableton Live. The instrumental came together relatively fast due to its simplistic nature and coming up with a song concept was easy. Since the sound that the beat was built around sounds like a power tool, I immediately knew that I wanted to resurrect the old "Assembly Line" concept that had been floating around in my head for the past three years. What ended up being a challenge were the lyrics. Since the instrumental has a slow buildup in the first two verses, a slightly different sound in the third verse, and a significant tangent in the outro, I decided to structure the lyrics so that the first two verses were about being on the assembly line, the third verse was about breaking free from the assembly line, and the outro was about complete freedom. The delivery of the lyrics reflect this progression as well, with the first two verses being delivered in a highly structured manner, the third verse containing a more natural flow, and the outro being sung instead of rapped. Adhering to those constraints was difficult at first but it ended up being easy compared to later songs (*cough* Midnight Metropolis *cough*). After I recorded my lyrics, I showed the song to Emily (aka Christina) and she went on to write an amazing contribution to the song's intro and outro. I definitely think that her contribution is what makes this song a standout on the album.