Inside Elephant Micah's 'Genericana'

Rural walks with Elephant Micah's Joseph O'Connell; press photo courtesy of the artist.

Rural walks with Elephant Micah's Joseph O'Connell; press photo courtesy of the artist.

As Joseph O'Connell prepares to release the latest holistic Elephant Micah song cycle Genericana via Western Vinyl; we asked him along with his brother and collaborator percussionist Matt O'Connell about the applied processes of inspiration that contributed to their latest full length. The result provides a view into the echoes of intrigue that were psychically threaded into the fabric of their latest album that viscerally oscillates between the meditative and the mystic modes and moods of modern day American primitive arts:

Joe O'Connell:


reaper digital audio workstation logo week in pop.jpg

Reaper is not a piece of media, and it doesn't qualify for this list. But let’s take a look at the Reaper logo. I think it’s a scythe embedded in a guitar pick. Now, that is a piece of media, and it did inspire Genericana. Because every time I load Reaper (which is audio production software), I gaze upon that creepy guitar pick and marvel at the access it grants me to the world of digital music production. Reaper is cheaper. It’s even cheap enough for me, and I earn only a thin stream of freelance dollars. So, Reaper amazes and inspires me. I’m not totally sure, but I think some cyber hippies in California programmed it. One of the funnest parts of making Genericana was playing with sidechaining free plug-in effects and using Reaper’s parameter modulation features. Genericana is the stuff that America is made of.  And I think right now one thing we’re made of is a plethora of digital media tools. Maybe there’s a critique of that buried in the album.  But making the album was also a celebration of those tools. 

The Best Show live in Durham, NC

This was also not a piece of media!  It was a live performance of a podcast with origins in terrestrial radio.  Radio has a tradition of imaginary places, apparently. One time, on a folklife fieldwork assignment, I spent a few hours at a country music station in southwest Indiana.  One of the DJs there had a running gag with a regular caller who claimed to represent the Stagnant Pond Ballroom in Crawleyville.  Crawleyville, the DJ explained to me, is a patch of sandy, uninhabited land on the Wabash River.  There is no ballroom of course.  Suffice it to say that as a Friend of Tom and a professional scholar of fake places, I was chuffed to see some of Newbridge, New Jersey’s most prominent citizens do their thing on stage.

Joni Mitchell Night Ride Home

This album opens with a looped sample of a cricket, or a tree frog, or some other creature. Then, a chorused guitar arpeggio enters the mix. So right away her production points to the natural world and to acoustic sounds resonating in open spaces. In the same gesture, she also dispenses with any illusions of these sounds’ realness. It’s obviously a loop of a single chirp. And the acoustic guitar has plainly audible studio processing applied to it. She’s not trying to capture an outdoor, un-amplified music performance. She’s just playing with its signifiers. I didn't realize it until later, but that’s exactly the way I tried to open Genericana—with an uncanny, constructed scene of natural beauty.


Matt O'Connell:

Suzanne Ciani, Logo Presentation Reels

Suzanne Ciani is a sound designer and electronic music pioneer who worked in advertising in the 80s. The Logo Presentation Reels is a portfolio of her commercial television spots during that period. Each of these sound logos reads like a haiku, a short ode to the pouring of a Coca Cola or a tribute to a rousing Atari gaming session. In an era where synthesizers were said to be able to reproduce any sound, there is something profoundly human and uncanny about the limitations of these sonic impressions. I was probably channeling some of that while overdubbing the synthesized seagull cries on Genericana's opening track.

Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel, Opus Number One

"Opus Number One" is the song you hear whenever you are on hold with the Cisco Corporation (or any business utilizing its CallManager product). It’s a homemade four track recording featuring a few synthesizers, some Casio handclaps, and a delay unit. According to legend, it sounds best when transmitted over a telephone line utilizing the VoIP protocol with G.711 encoding. I’m not sure how it made it onto so many call hold systems, but I am always happy to witness this small flower growing through the cracks of a never-ending hold session.

Alice Coltrane, Turiya Sings

Turiya Sings is Alice Coltrane’s first album of Vedic chant, and it marks her musical turn from the secular to the devotional. With her voice at the center, she builds an ethereal haze of synths and strings that feels like it has no reference point outside of Coltrane herself. The long glissando synth bends, which resolve over the course of several measures, are the hallmark sound for this collection of songs.  It was also the primary inspiration for the 'Mutant' synth that I built and used on our album.

Elephant Micah's Genericana is available via Western Vinyl.