I am smitten with Karen Vogt’s new album, Le Mans. As I’ve long been a fan of her work, I was shocked when I listened to this for the first time. Her music is so often ethereal and weightless, built on layers of various instrumentation and, of course, her voice (Losing the Sea is a beautiful example). With Le Mans, her vocals are still a core feature, but she’s replaced the usual, dreamy instrumental arrangements with samples from Le Mans. It’s a wild, incredible trip that’s made me think about racecars in a whole new way. Truly one of my favorite records of 2023 so far.
Le Mans is out today on Waxing Crescent (tapes will be released at precisely 7 pm UK time). Get it HERE.
Last year I attended the 24 hour Le Mans race for the first time. Being in the midst of this thunderously loud event made me want to record the car sounds. The crackling, explosive sound of the gear changes was incredible, and I felt my creativity kick in. When I returned home from the 4-day event, I worked on the car sound samples I recorded on my phone and added improvised vocals to them. Each song title is named after a part of the race track and the grandstands at Le Mans. Let me take you through my new album track by track…
The sound of a car hurtling, screaming down a racetrack, and swallowing up all the natural sounds is both electrifying and terrifying. I was immediately entranced by the sounds and sights of it all. Daytona sets the tone for the album with the looped sound of a car zooming past. This car sample sounds like a bass drum, perhaps because I clipped it on the popping sound of the gear change. All vocals on the album are improvised, but it almost felt as though I was having some kind of dialogue with the cars as some of the words came through…
Let go of the feeling that it needs to mean something
Let go of the meaning that you’re pushing onto it all
Let go of the feeling everything needs to make sense
Let go of believing in the things that you were told
I was exploring a newly acquired Microcosm pedal in this song as part of my vocal chain. During the mixing stage, I spliced both the car samples and my voice to give that choppy sensation of the cars as they race past you. I love splicing sounds. Do you know that trick of just blocking a speaker for a split second or putting your hand over your mouth quickly to chop the sound? It’s the same effect. I love the simplicity of playing with volume to alter your perception of a sound. I had been playing around with the recordings on my phone, putting my finger over the speaker, and I loved how it sounded. So I just simply emulated it with this song.
This song was a continuation of the previous track but without the car sounds. I kept exploring the vocal and playing with the effects. The car has stopped, but the sounds are still buzzing around in your brain. I was thinking about riding the sound waves and about how something can be so deafeningly loud and all-consuming that you feel devastatingly alone when that sound stops.
This song came on quickly and had a mind of its own. Intense contemplation in these improvised lyrics:
You, me, life, death, hoping
You, me, life, death, knowing
You, me, life, death, slowing
You, me, life, death, going
I was thinking about danger, speed, risk, how the cars go by so fast… life goes by so fast. I wanted space between the cars and just having them racing past singularly.
I didn’tdidn’t want the cars on every song. I wanted space between them. I had recorded lots of improvised vocals as I listened to the car samples. So this was a vocal-only moment.
A moment in a dream where the cars infiltrate my mind, but then I wake up and realize it’s real, and at 3 am on practice day, the cars are still going around the track as I am drifting in and out of sleep. I’m in a tent in the middle of the track on a campsite with thousands of other people. I created this slow vocal drone and gradually brought the cars into the dream before fading them out again to recreate this strange experience.
I was going for a next morning feeling of being trackside with the broadcast blasting from the speakers in French and English. This is an audio snapshot of the cars screaming around a corner to give the feeling of what it sounded like being there.
I recorded this two-second car sample and then listened back later that night on my phone. I kept pressing play on the app repeatedly to make it loop. It sounded so good, and this was really the moment where I felt utterly compelled to make music with these samples and realized they could work well as loops. The place where I chopped it at the start of the gear change it sounds like a shaker. I was enjoying the contrast of long vocal ooh’sooh’s aah’saah’s over the top of the loops and thinking of screaming with fear/excitement – we usually express this with an ooh or aah sound. Thinking about feeling that thrill of going so fast… stumble, tumble, crumble.
The car sample I used had this cool gear change of two notes, and I used that to give a melodic element. I went nuts on this one with the splicer. I removed it at the end of the track, and it’s interesting to hear it without it.
This last track is a weird sleep-deprived duet with the cars. Inspired by that sleepy feeling at 3 am in the morning when I was so tired but wired, and everything felt wobbly, hazy, and surreal. Cars were drifting through my dreams.