Obscurer: Out Now

Obscurer, my album of melodic hardware experimentation, is out right now. You know the drill – it’s completely free, and you can grab it from here!

“Obscurer” is an instrumental album by UK-based electronic musician Adam Fielding, written and recorded in 2014 and released in February 2015.

In a departure from his more densely layered approach to production, “Obscurer” was largely produced using a modest selection of live recorded analog synthesisers & drum machines. This stripped back approach to production results in a deeply atmospheric listen wrapped around an intensely emotive core, reminiscent of Fielding’s earlier works.

From the deeply comforting embrace of “Safety” through to the dark playfulness of the title track itself, “Obscurer” is an album that revels in reflection and introspection.

Obscurer is available to download in your format of choice, thanks to the good folks of Bandcamp. In a similar way to Pieces before it, I’ve written a few short pieces on the creation of Obscurer if you’re interested in knowing a little more about the creative process and ideas behind it.

Once again, I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered Obscurer – with this being such an experimental release it really means a lot to know that people are interested in taking a chance on something a little different, and your support means a great deal to me. Thank you so much, and I hope you enjoy the finished album! Cheers!

Obscurer: Setting Up & Recording

Obscurer was intentionally written using a rather minimal set of instruments. Those instruments and effects include a couple of Volcas, a couple of MFB drum machines, an AKAI drum machine pad/sampler thing, a Mini-KP, a delay pedal, and a Monotribe. One thing I also wanted to avoid with Obscurer was to allow myself to mix everything as part of a separate process, so all of that stuff went through a little mixer.

The mixer itself was a little budget thing that had a whopping single aux send channel. Naturally, this meant I’d have to be careful about what I wanted to use as an aux send – did I want a little bit of reverb, or did I want to use some ping-pong delay to widen the stereo field a little? Or should I record everything I want reverb on first, then switch to delay for other elements? Or should I just use the delay as an insert on one channel? It was always fun figuring out what would work best on a particular song and, while this sounds like it would require a degree of meticulous planning, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t more or less just decide what I was going to do as I went along.

After dialling in some simple EQ settings on the channels and getting a rough mix I could work with, I decided to keep my setup relatively unchanged for the next six months or so while I recorded all of the songs that would comprise Obscurer. Even though I’d recently recorded Neffle material prior to working on Obscurer tracks, I decided pretty early on that in order to get the same full sound and level of control as me & Tom did with Neffle that I would have to bring software into the equation.

As a result, I ended up using Reason to sequence most of the parts. Not only did this help to give me a better idea of what I was going to end up with before hitting record, but it also let me use temporary placeholder synths if I wanted to layer up one or two of the outboard synths. As I mentioned already, though, I was keen to keep the mixing mostly out of the box. Not only would this stop me from obsessing over the final mix, but it also meant I could record several parts at once which was a) way more fun, and b) invited me to be more spontaneous during the recording process.

While some of that sounds like it flies in the face of my more “minimal” approach, there were plenty of occasions where I really wanted to give the song I was working on an extra push which layering synths afforded me. I was still keen to not go too crazy with layering up synths and effects (which, due to the mix I’d already set-up, would have just resulted in a horribly crowded result), but it was nice to have the option of artificially expanding my little set-up if I needed to.

Generally speaking, when it came to recording I would record the different elements in anywhere from two to four passes. So, for example, taking the first track “Renew” as an example – that was recorded in three stages that went something along the lines of…

Lead/Bass/Drums -> Additional Synth/Percussion -> End Synth

So, as you can see, most of the track was recorded during the first pass. You can hear the results of that single pass below.

In this instance, I recorded the first pass and then wrote some additional synth parts over the top of that using a placeholder. When I had something I was happy with, I recorded another pass using the actual synth and would tweak it on the fly – ditto with the third pass. In certain instances I’d record the main percussion as the first pass which would allow me to tweak the drums a little more while recording, and then record the main synth parts as the second pass and, if I wanted to, add more parts during the third pass. That would give me a little bit of flexibility with regards to the final mix, but not too much.

While this was a great approach for the most part, there were definitely times when I’d record what I thought was a good idea only for it to end up sounding out of place or not sitting right with me after the fact. Sometimes, in that situation, I’d go back and re-record everything if I had a good idea of what needed fixing. In other instances, I simply decided to let the idea go and focus on something new. There was only ever really one instance where I thought “nah, this isn’t working” and stopped before I had a complete recording. Here’s an example of one of these complete-yet-rejected recordings – I liked it, but something about it just didn’t sit with the rest of the Obscurer tracks.

Every week I’d set a decent chunk of time aside to record an idea or two, though the way I had everything set-up did mean I could still record material using the built-in step-sequencers on the synths/drum machines I was using, so every now and then I’d record a quick little jam. As I mentioned before, Obscurer was really all about having an extra outlet to get ideas down. It was important to me that it should be enjoyable to work on, and every now and then that meant not staring at a screen and just messing about and jamming live.

This routine continued for about six months, and during that time my external set-up remained relatively untouched. This gave all of my recordings a nice coherence, which is how I was able to compile the results as an album following completion.

…of course, I’ve bought more toys since I finished recording Obscurer

Obscurer: Familiar Unfamiliarity?

One of the things that I enjoyed most about working on Obscurer was the vastly different approach to writing the songs themselves. It was only when I’d put everything together and listened to it completely that I thought not only does it work as a collection of songs, but it really reminded me an awful lot of why I got into writing music in the first place.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate at the moment in the sense that, because I’ve spent such a long time writing complete songs, I’ve got a pretty good technique down in terms of fleshing out ideas and making them sound decent in a relatively short space of time. Pieces is pretty much the perfect demonstration of what I’m talking about – most of the tracks on Pieces were written in an incredibly short period of time, and I got in the habit of rounding them off before they outstayed their welcome. It’s a similar approach I’ve repeated a few times since – trying to get ideas down as quickly as possible, fleshing them out, and leaving them before they outstay their welcome. It’s always interesting to see what pops up as a result. That’s not to say I’m now rushing ideas – I’ve always loved the idea of working with spontaneous ideas, which I guess might be seen as an odd approach for someone whose work relies heavily on computers.

That mentality popped up again to a certain degree with Obscurer and it’s interesting to note that, despite having a completely different flavour and approach to most of my other releases, there is something oddly familiar about it… which got me thinking about something I used to struggle with a lot for an awfully long time. How do you define your own “style” without coming across as sounding like a knock-off of something else? Obviously we’re all inspired by different experiences and musicians, and sometimes it’s hard to get that across in a unique and interesting way. I’ve been through plenty of moments where I’ve thought “oh man, I really want to write a song like X band/musician” and ended up with a soulless copy that doesn’t sound anything like me at all. I still enjoy the challenge of trying to emulate a particular style or artist, but it’s not the kind of thing I’d generally be happy to share as part of a public release.

Anyway – the idea of forming an individual style. This is an issue that genuinely bugged me for the longest time, even after I released my first album Distant Activity – and even that was almost a drastically different album, with my initial rejected idea being released as The Dawn EP instead. But the thing is, despite both releases having a completely different feel to them, I still think they’re both representative of the ideas I was trying to portray at the time, and I’m still incredibly pleased with how they both turned out. And I think that’s the trick to it – once you stop trying to create a particular sound and you’re not comparing yourself to anyone else then your “sound” will naturally follow. For a while now I’ve had people tell me that they’d be able to pick out a song I wrote even if I didn’t tell them that I wrote it, simply because there are things I do that I tend not to be particularly aware of when I’m writing music… it might be something quite major, but I suspect that it’s a collection of multiple little details that make up my song-writing process. And that’s great! I love it. I’m glad to finally be over that particular hurdle.

But what does this have to do with Obscurer? Well, the odd thing about it is that, in a way, Obscurer has a lot more in common with my earlier work than I think I realised when I was actually putting it together. I suspect it’s as a direct result of imposing restrictions on my setup, and maybe the unfamiliarity of working with a new setup just reminded me of when I was starting out with software and didn’t really know what I was doing… obviously less so in this particular instance, but there was definitely an element of re-discovery to play with. It’s hard to quantify the similarities, really, and I’m sure it’s not the result of any one thing. Curiously, it’s that kind of approach that I was really trying to emulate with AdFi, which is perhaps why I tend to associate it more with the sort of thing I would have been listening to in the 90s (which was mainly tracker music) more than anything else.

I think it’s interesting to see how things have come full circle – despite having a much firmer grasp on what I’m actually trying to write and convey these days it’s almost refreshing to be working in a more unfamiliar environment to re-visit that feeling of discovery. It’s also gratifying to know that I’m not completely dependent on any one particular set of tools to write the kind of music I want to be writing.

I always used to be in the habit of saying “this is a bit different from my usual thing” when releasing music, and despite all this talk of finding a particular style and discovery I’m still tempted to say the exact same thing with Obscurer. There’s an air of familiarity to it for me, but it’s still quite different sonically to the kind of music I’ve been releasing over the past year. But, hey, that’s all just part of the fun!

Obscurer: From Play-Time To Album

In the first half of 2014, I decided to pick up a few hardware toys to play around with. My original intention was to give myself a bit of a playground of sorts to mess about with when I didn’t fancy staring at a screen which, given the nature of my work, can get a little bit tiresome. I already owned a Korg Monotribe and had recorded some solo hardware jams over the past couple of years (albeit using software for drums – primarily MicroTonic), and decided to expand upon that a bit. I had no intention to ever release any of the material I wrote using this “playground”, and it was strictly a means to give myself somewhere to have a break from other projects while still remaining creative in some capacity. In that regard, it’s similar to what I had done previously with AdFi, but I wanted to make myself less dependent on software… not because I consider one to be “better” than the other, but because I appreciate having the choice and variety that the vastly different workflow of hardware presents.

Around the same time I was still putting together Pieces – my AdFi project had been on hold for about half a year (and wouldn’t see a public release until the end of 2014), and I was busying myself with various sound design and production work. I was having a lot of fun with my minimal setup, and while the results were a far cry from what I would eventually release as Obscurer , I think some of the tunes had a certain charm to them, and there was no software involved in their creation – which is what I was going for.

Shortly after I’d started messing about with hardware, my good friend and long-time collaborator Tom Pritchard suggested that we get together and spend a week or so writing hardware-centric music. Neither one of us had any idea how it was going to turn out nor, while we share a lot of similar tastes and ideas, did we have any initial plans to release our hardware experimentation. We’ve had live hardware jams in the past (something I can highly recommend with two people – it’s a lot of fun), but we’d never dedicated such a prolonged block of time to focussing on nothing but song-writing live with hardware synths & drum machines. It was a great idea, and it was an amazing experiment… I’m still kind of amazed we actually got anything done, to be honest! A little slicing and dicing and tweaking later, and we ended up with two albums which we released as Neffle. I was thrilled with how it all turned out – it was honest, spontaneous, and hypnotic.

That got me thinking… Neffle seemed to me to stand in stark contrast to my own hardware experiments – it sounded so much fuller and complete, and that’s something I wanted to try for myself. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to record similar material live by myself, so I decided to start sequencing my hardware using software. At the time it felt like a bit of a strange compromise, but I loved the results almost straight away. Again, I had no intention of releasing any of this material.

I started sequencing synth & drum parts which I would then record individually live. Sometimes I’d record more than one part at a time, sometimes I’d stick to recording everything track-by-track to give me a little breathing room for tweaking later on. I still wanted to keep everything going through the same mixer with the same minimal selection of effects, so I tended to record as much as possible as one pass, and then overlay that with anything I couldn’t record at the time – for example, I’d use the same synths for multiple parts, so I’d have to record those separately… well, it was either that or buy more synths, and that seemed a bit akin to breaking a walnut with a sledgehammer.

I started setting time aside every week to record one or two ideas, and not tweaking them too much. Some of the ideas worked. Some of them didn’t. By December, I’d ended up with a pretty healthy selection of tracks to compile into one collection. It was only when I put them all together that I started thinking “you know, I’m really happy with how this turned out”. Despite being written and recorded in a rather sporadic fashion, by sticking to a very particular palette and not modifying my setup during the six months or so I was recording ideas I ended up with a surprisingly coherent collection of ideas. Needless to say, I was pretty thrilled!

Even so, I was still wary about releasing another album so soon after Pieces and, to a lesser extent, AdFi… which in itself is quite interesting, as both of those albums started out as projects that I had no intention of releasing. In early 2015, after much consideration, and in the cold light of the New Year, I decided that now would be the perfect time to release the album. I mentioned my vague intentions again to Tom who, ever the talented bastard, put together a cover art idea for the release. And that was it, the final push – the music was ready, I was happy with the aesthetic, and the cover art was ready to go. How could I not release it?

“Obscurer” – an album of hardware electronic compositions to be released on 28th February

“Obscurer” is an instrumental album by UK-based electronic musician Adam Fielding, written and recorded in 2014 and released in February 2015.

In a departure from his more densely layered approach to production, “Obscurer” was largely produced using a modest selection of live recorded analog synthesisers & drum machines. This stripped back approach to production results in a deeply atmospheric listen wrapped around an intensely emotive core, reminiscent of Fielding’s earlier works.

From the deeply comforting embrace of “Safety” through to the dark playfulness of the title track itself, “Obscurer” is an album that revels in reflection and introspection.

On the 28th February, I will be releasing an album of instrumental hardware-centric music called Obscurer. In all honesty, I had originally planned to release it a little later in the year but, hey, it’s finished, and I think it complements the current climate here in the UK rather nicely. As has become standard for my album releases, it will be PWYW upon release, but you can pre-order it for £1 or more right now and get the first two tracks right away.

This is an interesting counter-point to another project I’m currently working on, which is a much more vocal-oriented album which I’m hoping to have completed later this year. After spending some time with Tom Pritchard last year working on our Neffle material, I was really inspired to try something more hardware-oriented for myself, but I didn’t want to burn myself out on it. If anything, I wanted to keep it as a completely separate project that I could escape into when I needed a break from my more densely-layered works. As such, I spent about 6 months sporadically writing music of varying quality, and this album is comprised of what I consider to be the best picks of the lot. It was incredibly interesting to work with such a different set-up than the one I’m used to – I tend to work primarily in software when it comes to production, so working primarily with analog instruments was an interesting experience. I hope to elaborate a little more later in the month with regards to the ideas and writing process behind the album itself.

It’s a bit of a departure from my usual output, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out as a complete body of work.

You can check out the first two tracks from Obscurer and pre-order it from Bandcamp.

http://adamfielding.bandcamp.com/album/obscurer

AdFi – FREE album out NOW!

AdFi is a side project of Adam Fielding, focussing primarily on using 80s/early 90s-type sounds.

The AdFi album is a collection of music compiled from three EPs, each produced & released under a variety of anonymous guises between 2012 – 2013.

A couple of years ago, I was – as I often am – writing an awful lot of music for various people and purposes, and found myself wanting an outlet that I could work on between projects. A fun project, solely for the purpose of acting as an additional creative outlet. No expectations or pressures. After settling on a very particular palette of sounds with which to work with, I ended up writing an EP and continued working on my more “serious” projects. This was back in 2012 – before I started writing tunes for Pieces, which served as a more open creative melting-pot of sorts.

After leaving this EP for a while, I thought it’d be a fun experiment to release it anonymously. I didn’t want this project to become associated directly with me, so I kept it completely separate from my regular work and released it under the name “AdFi” – hardly a particularly cunning pseudonym, but without referencing it myself I figured it would go by mostly un-noticed. I figured that having it connected to me in any way would take a lot of the fun away from working on it, and would force myself to impose expectations on any future material (should I choose to write any). I got a pretty nice little response from this first EP, and found myself re-visiting this idea over the next year and a half.

As an aside: interestingly, once I had decided to release AdFi, I noticed someone had made a fan-video of one of the tracks from the first EP, Mondial. I thought that was pretty neat!

Over the life of this project I ended up releasing a total of three EPs. For the second and third EPs I dropped the “AdFi” name and went with something else as, at the time, I was thinking of using the AdFi name for yet another project. That didn’t pan out, hence my decision to go back to the original AdFi name for this album release. Are you still with me? Good.

Even after the completion of these three EPs I had no intention of having this particular set of music associated directly with me, and I left it open to allow me to continue writing more music. After about a year or so of not writing any new AdFi material, I decided the time was right to compile the three EPs into one single album’s worth of music and finally associate it with my own name. I certainly wouldn’t say that the project is “dead” or anything that drastic, but I felt as though AdFi had come to a logical conclusion and this seemed like a rather nice way of wrapping things up.

While trying to get people to listen to the AdFi EPs I must admit that I put out some rather pretentious descriptions of the music, and played on the whole anonymity angle a bit more than I probably should have. This project was always intended to act as a fun creative outlet, and enabled me to channel some of the ideas and feelings that have inspired me over the years into short creative bursts. I would never wish to impose a definite “this is what the album is supposed to represent”-vibe, but the sounds themselves certainly gave me a pretty heavy nostalgic hit. They reminded me not so much of the 80s – although there certainly was a sense and awareness of that (I’m a little too young to really get all genuinely nostalgic about the 80s!) – but of the early to mid-90s (and possibly even a little later), back when I was listening almost exclusively to VGM and tracker tunes which, interestingly, tended to make use of samples not dis-similar to the palette of sounds I chose for AdFi. A lot of the seemingly obscure song titles reference very particular distant memories for me, though obviously the whole thing is very much open to interpretation if you so fancy.

AdFi was particularly interesting for me because I’m so used to working on projects quite openly. AdFi was the total opposite of that – a part of me did feel that I was being a little deceitful to everyone interested in my music, which was certainly never my intention. Being able to finally release this material and associate it with my own name is actually a huge relief to me.

AdFi taught me a lot about the importance of having a creative outlet open for experimentation and personal creativity, and – due to the nature of it never intending to be properly released – I think it’s a surprisingly personal album. While it might not necessarily be for everyone, I hope that some of you get a kick out of it, in much the same way as this year’s Neffle releases.

The AdFi album is available right now, for free, from Bandcamp. You can download it in the format of your choice here.

Merry Christmas/holidays/religious or non-religious celebration/occasion of your choosing!

Something for Christmas – coming soon, 21st December

adfi-christmas

…but what could it be? Well… because I’m feeling all festive and that, here’s a cheeky listen to what to expect.

Neffle

Neffle is a collaborative project created by Adam Fielding and Tom Pritchard. Neffle was recorded in a series of jam sessions, using an array of step sequenced analogue synthesisers and drum machines.

Earlier this year, me and my good friend/partner in crime Tom Pritchard decided it’d be an excellent idea to hole ourselves up in his studio for a week, and record as much music as was humanly possible. We had no idea whether this idea would work or not, but we set to it regardless and isolated ourselves from the outside world. After an incredibly inspiring week of recording using a variety of analogue synths, drum machines, and effects, we ended up with a huge selection of music.

The original plan was to compile our favourite material into one album, or potentially an album and an EP. After sifting through the vast selection of recordings we decided that the best thing to do would be to compile our music as two full-length albums, each with a different feel to it. So that’s what we did.

It gives me great pleasure to present the fruits of our week-long collaboration/social isolation/sometimes co-op Halo sesh: Neffle!

While being very different to my usual output, Neffle represents a very particular moodset and, aided by the spontaneity of recording, is a remarkably honest collection of music. Due to the nature of the live recording process, there is no micro-editing, no obsessing over every minuscule detail, no ridiculous production wankery: just a selection of steadily evolving, hypnotic ideas put to disk. We decided an October release would be best due to the heavily autumnal feel of the album, and I’ve got to say… I think it suits the current climate incredibly well. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.

The artwork for both releases was very kindly provided by Charlotte Davis, whose photography is well worth a closer look. Cheers Charlotte!

You can download both Neffle releases via Bandcamp.

October compositions

Wow. I’m still quite overwhelmed by the response to Pieces. Thank you so much to everyone who has checked it out over the past couple of months, it really means a lot that it’s been such a popular release… especially given the experimental nature of it’s release! So far it looks like the audiophile master hasn’t been a massively popular choice (though, I must admit, I suspected that would probably be the case), but I’ve been overwhelmed at the response to choosing to release it as a PWYW compilation. Thank you so much to everyone who has bought it through Bandcamp, and I hope you’re enjoying the bonus tracks!

Anyway, I thought it’d be a good idea to let you know what I’m planning on doing this month. October has been a pretty special month for me over the past few years, and I plan on continuing this semi-tradition this year. But first, a little background.

In October 2011, I started working on a few ambient re-workings of existing tracks. I continued working on new tracks in a similar style once I’d re-worked three tracks. These tracks became And All Is As It Should Be, which was then released in 2012.

In October 2012, I wrote a large collection of songs that would later form the backbone of Pieces. A lot of these tracks were picked up for production use, and a lot of these tracks were used on Pieces. Two of these remain unreleased (last time I counted!), and I’m sure they’ll make an appearance at some point.

In October 2013, I wrote a few songs that… erm… I’m keeping to myself for now. I don’t want to sound cryptic, but I will say that they formed the foundation of what I’m hoping will be a future release. I also wrote some more tracks for Pieces.

And this year, I plan on writing lots of short ideas, similar to what I did back in 2012. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them, and I have no idea what style they’ll take. So far, it’s going in a direction I hadn’t anticipated… which is great! Who knows where this idea will take me.

And this is the first track. Wish me luck!

Pieces: Out Now!

Pieces it out now! Did I mention that it’s free? Grab it now, you fool! :D

“Pieces” is a compilation of previously unreleased works by UK-based musician & producer Adam Fielding, written & recorded during 2012-2014, and released in August 2014.

The main free release of “Pieces” is available to all to download in the format of their choice.

Following directly on from both “Icarus” and his work for TV, film, and commercial use, “Pieces” is an exploration of Fielding’s eclectic range of influences and inspirations. While maintaining a consistent aesthetic throughout, “Pieces” retains an incredibly earnest and varied impression of Fielding’s writing & production styles, resulting in a collection of music that is as honest as it is diverse.

From the euphoric, post-rock tinged opening of “A Call To Action” through to the moody, introspective electronic workings of “Sleepless”, organic instrumentation combines with precise electronics to offer listeners a memorable melodic experience combined with lush atmospheric production on a truly epic scale.

Pieces is available to download now in your format of choice. Everything that you could possibly want to know about this release has been covered already, but I’m still open to the idea of writing more articles related to its creation.

And with that… I would like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to every one who pre-ordered Pieces! Thank you so much, and I hope you enjoy it!

Next stop… album 4. Ho ho ho ;]