After a long time of sitting on fragments I recorded over the years, I decided to combine as much as I could into coherent whole. That whole turned out to be an album of ambient electronica entitled PRISMAL SUBSTANT.
Though I explain PRISMAL SUBSTANT as an experiment in representing mental flow states, I should note that for these tracks I did not begin with specific ideas in mind that I wanted to convey. Therefore interpretations in my descriptions of the music here are me explaining myself after the fact, sometimes long after the process was started.
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Hi Mom, Hi Dad
The metallic sounds in this track— you can hear them clearly in the bass around the one minute mark— are made by a Yamaha FS1R. A while ago I was very much into what I perceived were stranger or more unusual forms of synthesis as opposed to the “standard” analog subtractive model, and the FS1R’s combination of Formant and FM synthesis really captivated me. Prior to this I had conceived of FM sounds mostly as DX-style electric pianos and bells, or the strange, plastic-sounding attempts at the General MIDI soundset found in PC sound cards from the early nineties.
I don’t have that FS1R anymore and I miss it. It was a fun, unique instrument and my subsequent experiments with more standard software-based additive synths like Native Instruments’ FM8 have never quite clicked for me in the same way.
Reality Distortion Wave
I’m attracted to the idea of music as a series of waves— not as in audible waveforms, but waves of a periodicity akin to ocean waves or other very slow infrasonic waves. Reality Distortion Wave exemplifies this approach in the way it gently but regularly laps at the shore before receding back into the ocean. Throughout, you can hear it breathe.
The quote in this track is from the great early CD-ROM-based adventure game, The Journeyman Project.
This track was difficult to balance. I wanted a darker feel, but didn’t want to get into territory that would make it too oppressive. The track was originally harsher-sounding, but I pulled back and added more layers. I hope I didn’t tone it down too much.
Amy’s Brain is about a storm of complex thoughts and emotions, a mind that races forward into difficult territory before it’s entirely ready. Then a summation of all that feeling boils over, and the thoughts fade away.
Whereas some of the other tracks on this album are more introspective or inward-facing, Living Structures has always brought to mind an environment filled with colorful organic shapes, each with its own independent consciousness. We’re fully in space now, playing among strange forms.
The bright, glassy feel of this piece is made possible, once again, with generous use of FM-based synthesis with the FS1R and other equipment. In fact, I’m not even sure what elements of this track are made without FM... maybe the cymbal crash.
Probably the most placid piece in this set. Sometimes I wonder at myself for producing a piece that feels so patient, so content to wait and take its own time— the real beginning of Desert Robot is more than three minutes in— while I’ve wrestled with impatience my whole life. It’s possible that making this kind of piece is away for me to practice those feelings, though I somehow doubt my goals are really that lofty.
I named this piece Desert Robot because I pictured an ancient dormant intelligence, buried underneath a wasteland, waiting for the right conditions to activate it.
A far more upbeat and cute piece than anything else on this album, Amanita pulls us out of the deeply meditative mood of the previous piece into something far more active and playful.
The filter-sweepy bassline that begins around two minutes and twenty seconds in is an Alesis Andromeda A6. The “opening” and “closing” versions are actually the same patch with a velocity-based switch on the filter envelope.
The Andromeda was a lovely but somewhat temperamental beast of a polyphonic true analog synthesizer created by Alesis in its last days as an independent company, where I was a contract worker for a short time. Though I can’t say I understood the business rationale behind the decision to create the Andromeda, I do love that it exists and feel fortunate to have made a small contribution to its development.
Rather unusually for me, this marathon eighteen-minute track was made in a live setting, so it’s simpler on a technical level but more improvisational than the other tracks on this album. The primary instrument is an Access Virus.
Though it is stretched out over a period of time, there is a basic thesis, antithesis, synthesis structure present in X-UNKNOWN which sums up the theme of the album itself.
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Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed this look at the making of PRISMAL SUBSTANT!