Adam Porter teaches dozens of students at Parkland College how to record and produce music, using programs like FL Pro to maximize his students’ possibilities in a digital world where one can create virtually any sound on a computer.
He’s done it for years, and has worked with a lot of local artists and groups in the process, but he doesn’t go near a computer when he’s making music on his own time.
He’s old-fashioned, with a knack for picking out obscure sounds and arranging them into eclectic samples using his MPC sampler.
There just isn’t anything like it for Porter, who has crafted hundreds of samples and turned them into distinct instrumentals.
In 2008, he started recording and releasing do-it-yourself projects under the name Wingclipper and the label, IBW (Inhaling Brain Waves).
But as life goes, Porter was focused on solidifying his teaching career and had three kids from 2012-2015 (to boost his total to four) and didn’t spend a whole lot of time on his favorite late night side project. Early this year though, he knew it was time for Wingclipper to start chugging away again, concocting obscure sounds and rearranging them into original music during the wee hours.
He never wants to make anything that sounds like anything else out, but Porter draws from certain sources, inspired by the boom bap drums of ‘90s hip-hop and by Japanese Kaiju films.
Porter and his MPC
“It all comes from this idea of taking these old, obscure bits of audio that come from all sorts of different places and sampling them, then repurposing them into something new,” Porter said. “The thing I love about the MPC is that it enables you to really manipulate samples in super creative ways. A lot of it really starts with sourcing material and listening for those little golden nuggets you might find.”
It’s hard to strike gold while holding oneself to a high standard and drawing on a deep, rich database of sounds from which to sample.
It takes time, which is largely why Porter didn’t release a single project as Wingclipper from 2012 to May of this year.
After dropping 新緑 [FRESH.GREEN] in October, Porter is still feeling it.
“It wasn't until about a year ago when I finally felt I had everything in order. My classes were going well, I was starting to feel like I had a bit of free time,” Porter said. “That inspiration came back and I was really ready to get creative again and do something on a more personal level. That's kind of where these past two releases in 2018 have come from, that desire to get back into that creative personal space.”
Unlike most artists who push their product hard and insistently, Porter really doesn’t care about how many people or who is listening to his product. It’s not about making a career out of it or gaining recognition. It’s for himself.
At Parkland, Porter is constantly busy, teaching a full class load along with helping to run Parkland’s radio and music studio.
Tapes of 新緑 [FRESH.GREEN]
Wingclipper began with the idea of throwing all of that reality away for a while, simply taking some time — almost always late at night — for himself to explore his own musical capabilities and imagination.
“This is like midnight to 3 a.m. stuff,” Porter said. “I can just kind of get lost in the creativity and fun of it. At the end of the day, I'm making it for myself more than anything else. It's the music that I like to listen to, I'm trying to make stuff that I like to hear and is fun. If other people enjoy it, that's a plus, but it's not really the end goal.”
Porter loves to mix up what he’s working with, digging deep into old music sources for the perfect bits to chop up and bring together. He’s sampled from a lot of old "library music", recordings made by little-known musicians and sold off to film producers and TV shows to use on the cheap.
It’s not what one thinks of when hearing a sample, like the one from Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” at the inception of “Otis”, from Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch The Throne collaboration. Not at all.
On his first-ever project (which isn’t anywhere on the internet anymore), he sampled the recordings of a random man who was traveling throughout Europe. It’s so original, so obscure — no one would recognize them. And that’s exactly what Porter wants.
Though he is a perfectionist when working with his students and artists on the digital front, Wingclipper embraces an off-cuff, tender product that aims to intrigue rather than satisfy a sound engineer. The slight pops and crackles that go along with recording on cassette tapes are welcome. And though the process isn’t obsessive, Porter does have a systematic method to how he works.
“So you get all your bits and pieces [to sample] in there, then it's just a matter of sequencing it all out,” Porter said. “Sometimes I'll sequence it, sometimes I'll just perform it live to take, and it kind of just is what it is and I can't change it. Which is kind of a very different approach to what I teach the students, it's the opposite. They're nitpicking their mixes and going through with very subtle EQ's on every individual track. That's how it's done in modern production. For this, I like to just go at it really raw.”
Contrary to what could be expected of someone managing multiple courses with a variety of students, Porter hasn’t pushed his work in front of his students. As a matter of fact — he kept it a secret from them for years.
That is until recently — as the Charleston resident realized his work could be of interest and an inspiration to those in his classes.
“Honestly, until this past year, none of my students even knew Wingclipper existed,” Porter said. “I never even talked about the fact that I made hip-hop music in my free time. Honestly, I think it was because for a long time I viewed this as unprofessional, not serious enough to even talk about it in a professional capacity.”
It’s partly through his renewed inspiration to create and partly through an appreciation and recognition of the quality of his work that Porter has shared it publicly, beyond friends, family, and Bandcamp. He hasn’t switched the curriculum to analog-only production and recording sessions though, it’s all very much the usual.
At times, Porter has brought up his side project and has shared it with students, to mostly positive results. Porter said it’s been a matter of interest to some, while he also is breaking into new areas where he can get feedback. Plus, it can only benefit students to expose them to more methods of music making, Porter believes.
“I'm much more comfortable now integrating that into my classes,” Porter said. “At least in the specific moments where we're talking about sampling and remixing and hip-hop culture. Those are certain little segments, but the majority of recording class is about how to run a session and how they set up mics.”
Teaching is Porter’s paid passion, but creating his own music has been a fruitful outlet of expression over the years.
Now working on a new project, a heavily Kaiju-influenced follow-up to his 2012 VHS mixtape release, Porter is carrying on his work in the late night hours with a vigor that he hasn’t been able to sustain in years.
Already fourteen instrumentals in, Porter will handle 100-percent of the production, recording, mixing, tape production, and distribution for the project. He does it all that way, selling about 50 cassettes (sometimes 100) per project and making them free to stream on Bandcamp (and available for purchase on iTunes because Apple doesn’t have a free streaming service).
Set to release in early 2019, Porter said some of what he’s shared with his students — and the resulting conversations that have sparked as a result — has encouraged him to keep on producing. Even before sharing bits and pieces of his product with his classes, Porter has drawn energy and inspiration from those at Parkland.
“I love getting up and going to work every day, getting able to be a faculty instructor and working with adults who are interested in making music and producing audio,” Porter said. “It's super rewarding. Every day, I am so inspired by those students and the talent they have. That's a huge part of my life, I care about all of them and they influence me hopefully as much as I influence them.”
But there isn’t anything much more rewarding to the father of four than having the support of his children [and spouse].
“My wife [Rachel] is amazing. I was making music when we first got together many, many moons ago,” Porter said. “She’s always been supportive of that. My oldest daughter, Lily, who's 13, commutes with me every day to school. She hears a lot of Wingclipper in the car. She's actually been giving me some nice feedback on it, that's always cool.”
“My six-year-old, Annie, says that track one on Side B (of 2011 project, III) is her favorite song ever,” Porter said. “Every time she gets in the car, she's like, 'Can you play my favorite song?' So I'll pop the tape in.”