Mesmera: The freedom of independence

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Album 3, And All Is As It Should Be, Distant Activity, Distinctive, General, Icarus, Lightfields, Mesmera, Music, Obscurer, Pieces, Reason

Mesmera is, much like every one of my solo releases since 2014, an independent release. For most of my solo musical career I’ve written and released music independently, and I figured I was overdue talking about why that’s been the case.

When I first started out I, as I imagine a lot of musicians do, had this idea in my mind that getting signed and releasing an album through a label was kind of the “big goal”, this nebulous idea that somehow being signed to a label would validate my musical output up until that point. I had already released a bunch of music for free on-line, and in retrospect I don’t think I fully appreciated the following I’d acquired by doing so. While this seems to be less of a big deal nowadays, releasing music independently to an international audience in the late 00s was a bit of a daunting prospect – especially to someone who had never put out a “proper” release before, and had no idea of what to expect or even what to do. It wasn’t my initial intention to release my first album independently, but that’s how things worked out.

Album #1: Distant Activity

In 2008 I released my first album, Distant Activity. This album was comprised of tunes written between 2006 – 2008, and I’m still incredibly happy with how it turned out. It was written and produced in a variety of bedrooms and student houses in totally inappropriate acoustic conditions using a laptop, Reason, a microphone, a guitar, and a Behringer audio interface. Once I had a mostly-finished version of the album to hand, I set about sending out demos and copies of the album to as many labels and individuals as I could think of. I must admit, I’m still pretty atrocious at the whole “blatant self-promotion” aspect of releasing music independently, and I can only surmise that I was probably worse at it in 2008. I received a lovely response from the good folks at Magnatune, but outside of that – nothing. Nada. Not a “thanks, but we’re not interested”, not a “good lord this is awful, go away”. Not a thing. This was initially a little dis-heartening.

A little time passed and I had a completed version of Distant Activity ready to go. The record was mastered, the artwork was ready, and I was just sitting on it. Rough around the edges, very much a product of its environment, but I was really pleased with how it turned out. One day I started thinking “you know what? I’m really happy with this, why haven’t I released it already?”. It was done, and I was sick of sending e-mail messages and CDs out to a seemingly ambivalent world… so I started taking steps to get it out there myself. I had a small run of CDs duplicated, I signed up for digital distribution through CDBaby, and because independent digital outlets weren’t much of a thing back then (to my knowledge) I decided to start selling it through my own website.

I had no idea what I was doing back then (some things never change!) – I hadn’t even figured out a proper release date for the album beforehand, it just came out when it came out. All that said, I was thrilled to see that people were buying CDs and checking out the album through Magnatune / CDBaby / iTunes / whatever. I was getting frequent feedback both directly and on forums, people were leaving messages on Myspace (yes, this was still a thing), it was an absolute blast. All of this was going on when I probably should have been paying more attention to my final year of studies at university, but I loved the experience. All of this was also going on while I was still getting my toes wet with the world of music licensing, which would prove to be a much smarter direction to go in.

This was a pattern I repeated somewhat with Lightfields, which I initially released independently in 2010… albeit this time I actually had a release date in mind before I released the damned thing!

And All Is As It Should Be

Fast forward to 2014, and I’d had a few label releases by this point (a topic I may delve further into in the future!). Distant Activity and Lightfields were re-distributed by Distinctive Records, And All Is As It Should Be was released through Lost Language, and my follow up Icarus was released through Distinctive Records. All of these are albums that I am incredibly happy with, and in retrospect I feel a large part of my experience in producing Icarus comes down to my own personal attitude towards it rather than anything on Distinctive’s end.

Icarus was a slog to complete. Distant Activity and Lightfields were two totally different albums stylistically, and rather than writing whatever felt natural I spent too much time thinking about audience and label expectations. Should I lean more towards the style I established with the former? Should it sound more polished? What if people are expecting something more like Lightfields? Why do all of my mixes sound awful? I ended up going through a multitude of album revisions, with the first rough cut being completed in 2011. I couldn’t bring myself to move on from it, and it was drove me nuts.

Following the release of Icarus I realised I needed to try a different approach, and I remembered how much fun I’d had releasing music independently – at this point, it had been over three years since I had done so. I also figured that if I was going to do that, I wanted to take the opportunity to try out new ideas. I had come to love the idea of rewarding fans for purchasing my music rather than punishing people for having the audacity to seek it out. I also loved the idea of working on a release that didn’t have an over-arching concept, that didn’t impose any kind of expectations on myself, and that felt completely natural to write. That release was Pieces, and I absolutely thoroughly loved working on and releasing it. People responded really well to the pay-what-you-want approach. As such, I decided to adopt a pay-what-you-want model for all of my independent releases, and rewarding fans while encouraging listeners became my go-to model for releases. This is a model I adopted for subsequent releases Obscurer and The Broken Divide and now Mesmera (whew, at last – bringing this back around to the album at hand!).

Mesmera continues in this tradition. In many ways I consider it a bit of a spiritual successor to And All Is As It Should Be (which I considered a spiritual successor to The Dawn EP at the time…), but it’s what I wanted to write. It came together naturally because it scratched an itch I’d had for quite a while, and that’s why I was able to bring in ideas from 2016 despite having only “properly” started working on it in 2017. It was wonderful to be so hands-on with every single aspect of the creation process, as in many ways creating the music is only one step (albeit a large one) towards completing an album. I went through several artwork revisions (with my incredibly patient buddy Tom Pritchard), track-list orders, mix approaches… but it never became obsessive or manic, and it never felt like a slog. It always felt like I was working toward something I wanted to create at the time, and that’s something I feel I lost sight of while working on Icarus. Again – can’t stress this enough – I am 100% totally and absolutely thrilled and happy with how Icarus turned out, but I’d rather not repeat that creative process again if I can help it!

Mesmera is available NOW through Bandcamp. You can listen to it in its entirety and download it from my Bandcamp page. Bandcamp subscribers also get access to an exclusive audiophile master, along with a beatless arrangement of the album. It’s also available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

Mesmera: The blank canvas

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Geekery, General, Mesmera, Music, Obscurer, Patch design, Pieces, Reason, The Broken Divide, Tom Pritchard

Starting a new personal project is frequently a rather daunting prospect, and in my case is something I tend to fall into rather than something I tend to sit down and consciously decide upon. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I may have written Mesmera’s formative tracks in late 2017, but I certainly didn’t set out with the initial end-goal of creating an album. Sometimes it works to carefully consider everything beforehand, and that’s how I generally approach my production music – but when it comes to solo material, I like to see where it takes me.

…oh boy

So where on earth do you start with that approach? Well – as long time listeners/followers may have noticed, I have a bit of a habit of rotating which instruments and sounds I use on any given project, and how I approach the process of composing and arranging the tracks themselves.

In some instances, these decisions are carefully considered beforehand and are directly informed by the type of music I’m attempting to create. In other instances, these decisions happen quite naturally and, by contrast, directly inform the music I have yet to create. The former approach is generally the one I adopt when I’m working on a particular project to a specific set of guidelines – for example, if someone’s asking for a collection of epic cinematic production tunes then I’m probably not about to bust out my collection of time-stretched wind-chime samples (which totally isn’t a thing but I feel it should be). The latter approach is frequently the one I adopt when I’m staring at a blank canvas and need a place to start – frequently, but not always (see also: Obscurer, where the choice of instrumentation was very deliberate and directly affected the sound and style of the album). Mesmera definitely falls into the latter category.

Following the metaphor of approaching a blank canvas, this selection of instruments and sounds is something I frequently refer to as my “palette” and, while there may be shared elements between projects, they tend to shift about from project-to-project. In the case of Mesmera, I can break down the palette into a selection of very specific elements – some of which I’ll go into here.

Europa in Reason 10

Europa. Lots and lots of Europa: more specifically, Europa patches from Europa Relay. I created this sound-bank shortly after the release of Reason 10, and my heavy use of it had a very direct impact on how my ideas sounded right from the start.

Polysix. This has become a staple of my music since around 2014 or so, and I use it way more than is healthy for things like synth arps and bass drones. It’s straight-forward and always sits nicely with whatever I’m working on. I’ve been considering rotating this out of my palette for bloody years and it still hasn’t happened.

– Acoustic guitars. In this instance, I ended up re-visiting the idea of using lots of simple plucked arps in a similar manner to how I ended up sprinkling acoustic guitar parts all over And All Is As It Should Be. There are a couple of parts where I strum out a few chords, but I really liked adding an extra sense of rhythm with guitar arps, sometimes layered up with other acoustic instruments to vary things up a bit.

– Acoustic percussion. This was something I naturally gravitated towards while working on Mesmera, and is something I used in tandem with the drum sounds from DrumSpillage (below). I realised that I had a habit of relying primarily on electronic kits and traditional acoustic drums in a lot of my music, so I decided to broaden my horizons a bit for Mesmera and ended up bringing in a lot of ensemble percussive elements. This is particularly evident on tracks 1 and 3 (Standing On The Precipice and Everything Felt New, respectively), and runs throughout the album.

DrumSpillage

DrumSpillage. I’ve been using DrumSpillage to roll my own electronic drum hits since I first picked it up a few years ago. I had always struggled to find a really shit-hot drum soft-synth for solid drum hits, and while I have a few favourites that I still use for percussion (namely MicroTonic, love that drum synth!), DrumSpillage was the first where I really thought “woah, this is EXACTLY what I’m after!”. I tend to rotate this into and out of my palette purely because sometimes I just want to drop a sample into a track that I know is going to work without going through the process of rolling my own sounds – but that’s entirely on me and has nothing to do with the instrument.

This is by no means a comprehensive selection of everything I used on Mesmera, but a lot of these particular instruments and sounds find their way across a multitude of tracks. The fun thing about this is that I tend to naturally gravitate toward different instruments and rotate different elements out of my palette almost immediately upon completing a project. Right now I seem to be gravitating towards a different set of sounds, and I have no doubt that this will somehow inform the next personal project I inevitably end up working on.

One thing I like to strive toward when creating an album is a sense of cohesiveness throughout, and gravitating towards a palette in this manner is one way of accomplishing this, even if it tends to happen almost by accident in some cases. Another good example of this is how I ended up creating a lot of the tunes on Pieces – because I was so utterly reliant on the sound-banks of Tom Pritchard Sound Design at the time, the tracks sounded somewhat connected despite some of them being written years apart.

But it’s not necessarily just the sounds that reflect how an album shapes up, but how I get those initial ideas down and arrange them into something resembling a complete song. Going back to Pieces, I ended up using Reason’s Blocks functionality an awful lot to get a semi-complete 8-16 bar loop going, and then work backwards from that. This is a nice approach to take because it means you already have a destination to work toward – from there you can decide how to build towards the destination and, upon reaching it, decide where you want to progress from there. This is also an approach I tend to adopt for a lot of my production music, and it’s an approach I adopted when working on my live-stream music making sessions.

In the case of Mesmera (and The Broken Divide before it), I took a much more linear approach to arrangement – starting from the beginning and going from there. This approach tends to lend itself to a more “progressive” arrangement (in the sense of “things progressing”, not “15-minute prog epic”) in that the journey informs the direction you’re going to take. I tend to follow this approach when working on a lot of my own personal projects because it means I’m less informed by pre-conceived ideas, and it gives me a little more flexibility to go off on a tangent if I decide to explore a different direction.

Mesmera is available NOW through Bandcamp. You can listen to it in its entirety and download it from my Bandcamp page. Bandcamp subscribers also get access to an exclusive audiophile master, along with a beatless arrangement of the album. It’s also available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

Mesmera: The past inside the present

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Ambient Project, Geekery, General, Mesmera, Music, Reason

As has become something of a tradition, I thought it would make sense to write a few blog posts regarding my upcoming album, Mesmera, which is due for release on the 8th August. Given that this is the first of several posts, I thought it would make sense to start at the very beginning… but then I had to pause to think, “well… where did it actually start?!”.

As a concept, Mesmera didn’t really start to take form until late 2017. Winter had properly taken hold, and having spent a huge amount of time over the past several years experimenting with different genres and writing production music (most of which focussed on a dynamic range that I can only really describe as “ON ALL THE TIME”), I decided it was time to take a step back and return to what I can best describe as “my creative comfort zone”.

Despite knowing that I should have been in a pretty good place mentally, 2017 was a very trying year in a many regards. I may elaborate on this in a future post, but – suffice to say, by the end of the year I just wanted to be in a comfortable, creative place. I had been listening to a mixture of electronic/acoustic chilled/atmospheric ambient music at the time, and I realised that it had been a very long time since I properly visited that particular domain. In retrospect it all seems incredibly obvious, but the time felt right to venture back into that comfortable space and find some creative perspective… and wow, was it a comfortable space to step back into!

I initially had no plans for these tunes, but it served as a perfect creative outlet for that particular time. It was also a chance to apply some of the creative & technical tricks I had learned over the past few years to something more comfortable. Over the course of several months, I had the makings of six of the tracks that now feature on Mesmera. Once I looked back, I realised “…well, I might be onto something here”.

In many regards I consider Mesmera to be a spiritual successor to And All Is As It Should Be, as they both explore similar moods – though Mesmera definitely has a bit of a dash of Pieces in there as well, which was another record that I found particularly comfortable to work on. In some regards, Pieces and Mesmera share the same accidental beginnings.

All that being said – that wasn’t the true beginning of Mesmera. Two of the tracks featured on the album were written in 2016, one year prior to this creative burst – but there’s one track in particular that has them all beat, hands down. That track is “You Have To Let Go”.

“You Have To Let Go” is based on an idea I first started in 2008. At the time, I ended up writing about 6 minutes of the track in its original form and hit a gigantic creative brick wall. As for why I hit such a brick wall… well, I think it comes down to a combination of changing tastes & intentions (which eventually led to me releasing Distant Activity), and also because I had no idea what to do with the percussion. In my work-in-progress version of the track I actually sampled a drum-loop from Sasha’s “Baja” (which is kind of funny because I’m pretty sure that’s an Autechre sample), which perfectly captured the mood & progression I was going for at the time. (note: that sample is most definitely NOT in the final version of the track!)

In 2018, having realised that this ambient project I had started might have legs, I ended up putting together the skeleton of an album. There was one big problem, though – the ending was totally underwhelming. I struggled with the idea of writing an extra track to use as an ending, but nothing was really sticking. I genuinely believed that the time of Mesmera as my “creative happy place” was well and truly over, and so I decided to leave it as it was for the time being.

Oh boy. This is going to be fun…

One day, I decided to dive into my old archive folder. A couple of years back, I decided to bounce every single unfinished track I had written from 2004 – 2010(ish) as audio, so I could refer to these ideas at a future date without having to open up a bunch of old song files. On this particular day, I came across my original 2008 version of “You Have To Let Go” and had a bit of a Eureka moment – THIS is how I wanted to finish Mesmera! It was so damn rough around the edges, and that Sasha sample absolutely had to go… but I knew I had the makings of something useable here – I just had to beat it into shape.

The problem is that the song was a goddamn mess. Evidently habits don’t change, and my old song files are just as messy as my new ones. After trying to simply extend the existing material, I realised that the only way this was going to work was to rebuild the entire song from scratch. I’d had a little experience of doing something similar with my Archive 01 release, but this was something else entirely. Instruments needed replacing, elements needed swapping, recordings needed re-recording, and I also realised that I wanted to change the key. I used the original as a reference, but I ended up ditching most of it.

Although quite a daunting process, in retrospect it was absolutely the right call – not just because there were a lot of things I wanted to change, but because it also meant that the final version would fit more comfortably alongside the rest of Mesmera as I was approaching it with the same mindset & toolbox. Hearing it all in a new context provided me with the creative push I needed to finish the track, and so it was that “You Have To Let Go” was finally finished after ten years of languishing on my hard drive. And, let me assure you – finding that kind of creative resolution after such a long time was an absolutely incredible feeling.

It seems kind of strange to think that the first and last tracks on Mesmera were borne from ideas written in completely different times, but I think that kind of journey is ultimately quite symbolic of what Mesmera turned out to be for me – a creative journey experienced through a sense of mixing the familiar with a more modern, less familiar frame of mind.

Mesmera is available NOW through Bandcamp. You can listen to it in its entirety and download it from my Bandcamp page. Bandcamp subscribers also get access to an exclusive audiophile master, along with a beatless arrangement of the album. It’s also available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

Archive 01: 2003 – 2004

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Archive, General, Music, Reason, Subscribers

Last week I released an album exclusively to Bandcamp subscribers called Archive 01: 2003 – 2004 which, as the name would suggest, is a collection of tunes originally written and produced between 2003 and 2004. However, me being me I decided to give them some much needed love and attention before giving them a proper release, and I figured I’d write a bit about why I decided to release these tunes now and the process involved in putting the album together.

Although I’ve been writing music since the mid-90s, I wouldn’t really say I “properly” got into writing music until 2002 when I purchased my first bit of music software. Up until that point I’d been using free software pretty much exclusively, along with one or two sample discs I purchased along the way. In 2002 I picked up Propellerhead Reason, and spent the next few years trying to find my musical voice, so to speak.

2003 was a particularly interesting year for me to revisit as it was a time when a lot of things changed in my life. My friends had started heading off to university, and I had come to the conclusion that my own future lie somewhere with music. I had originally planned to go to university to study music production of some sort, but after some arguably rash thinking I decided to put off my plans for university in an attempt to get a better grasp on what exactly I wanted to do. While I ended up working a couple of jobs in this time, I was in a bit of a personal limbo.

Up until this point I had been working almost exclusively with samples, so while I had a really firm grasp on the fundamentals of digital sampling and audio manipulation, it’s not much of a stretch to say I didn’t have much of a handle on synthesis techniques, effects processing, or even mixing, really. I had already started messing around with VST effects – and it didn’t take long to get to grips with the fundamentals of subtractive synthesis (thank you, Subtractor!) – but I was still much more focussed on getting ideas down than sound design at this stage.

It’s also worth mentioning that, prior to this period in time, I hadn’t been particularly interested in a whole lot of commercially available electronic music. The furthest I had delved up until then was in listening to a ton of video game music, and picking up a couple of albums by Frontline Assembly & The Alpha Conspiracy (Epitaph and Cipher, respectively). I listened to these albums endlessly. I was getting more into select film soundtracks as well. I wasn’t really sure how to categorise the music I was writing at the time, I just knew that I was having fun writing it.

During this time, I started posting more and more of my music online – specifically, to the now defunct Propellerhead Music Forum. This was awesome because not only was it a place for musicians to share their music, but they could also share read-only versions of the actual song documents for listeners to check out. Through this forum I got a ton of amazing feedback, learned a ridiculous amount by dissecting other peoples’ tunes, and even made a few friends along the way.

One such friend, whose music I also had a huge amount of respect for, introduced me to the likes of Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Biosphere, Freeland, Cliff Martinez, Massive Attack… well, the list goes on. This was a HUGE “holy shit!” moment for me as I started to realise that not only was there was this huge world of music that I had previously ignored or even shunned (I was very much a “dance music suxx!” kid at school), but it was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to focus on. Now… I feel I should probably mention that I’m certainly NOT comparing my music to these hugely influential artists, but this was really the first time I started listening to music and thinking “just how the hell did they put this together?”. I heard so much music and listened to so many sounds that, up until this point, were pretty much alien to my ears. It was amazingly inspirational. I still attribute my love of fusing organic instrumentation with electronics to my pre-existing tastes of the time and this sudden infusion of electronic music.

I still jokingly refer to material from this time as a bit of a “golden era” for me – not necessarily because of the actual music I was writing, but more because I was just starting to find my feet through experimentation, and I was really starting to expand my horizons as a result.

More recently, one of the things I had really wanted to do with the whole Bandcamp subscriber thing was to start releasing some of this old, forgotten material. I’d actually been toying with the idea of putting together a collection of old tunes for quite a while, and I figured that I now finally had a “proper” outlet for it. I decided to focus on re-mixing tunes from specific time periods for my archive releases, and 2003 – 2004 seemed a logical starting point. Anything before this point would have been pretty cringe-worthy I think, and I figured starting with a time period that I held such a strong personal attachment to would be quite interesting.

So… in late March 2017, I started putting together playlist ideas of tunes from 2003 – 2004 to release as an EP. I had settled on an EP as I thought any more and the whole thing wouldn’t really work as a coherent collection of tunes… but I started running into problems with this approach. No matter which songs I picked, I’d always end up changing my mind a day or two later, or think of something else I wanted to include. I figured the only way forward would be to just sink my teeth in and start working with these tunes. I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to include Contact (written in 2004), so I opened up the old song file and had a look.

Now, the great thing about Reason is that it has amazing backwards compatibility. Contact – like many of the tracks here – was written in Reason 2.5. I still had my old sample collection with the 2004 folder structure intact, so opening up these tunes in Reason 9 was as simple as finding the old song files, opening them up, and Reason would take care of the rest. As soon as I opened up Contact, I knew I was going to have to properly re-mix these tunes. Just to clarify – when I say “re-mix”, I mean that in a very literal sense – not in the typical re-interpretive meaning of the word remix, but in the “I need to break this mix down and start again” meaning of the word. At the same time, I wanted to preserve the old feel of these tracks. So… where to start?

The first thing I did was to disable all post-mix processing in these tracks. A common mistake (which I still come across these days with great regularity!) is that people tend to think they can fix the deficiencies in a mix by applying crazy effects to an entire mix. This is generally a bad idea. A lot of these tunes had heavy EQ/compression/distortion effects placed on the entire mix. In some cases, simply turning these effects off had a huge impact on the overall sound. The reason I make such a big deal of encouraging people to get the mix right before even thinking about “mastering” is because I’ve been down the road of thinking you can fix anything in mastering, that mastering was the one thing stopping my tunes from sounding great. With a good mix, yeah, that sort of makes sense. With a bad mix? It’s a bad idea. Don’t do it. You can make a great mix shine with a light touch at the mastering stage, but you can’t fix a broken mix with tons of effects.

One of the major differences between newer versions of Reason and the older “classic” versions (as I like to refer to them as) is that Reason 6 onwards has a really, really nice mixer. When you open up old tunes in these newer versions of Reason, this new mixer remains unused as the original rack devices perform that function. As such, the first thing I needed to do was to figure out what each track in each song file corresponded to (not easy when you consider that my labelling system was pretty much non-existent so you’d end up with tons of tracks with names like “PEQ-15”, “Malstrom 3” and so on), and to route it to this new mixer along with all the appropriate aux send effects intact. Essentially, what this meant was that the first thing I did with each of these tunes was to re-route each individual channel to a new mixer and try to re-create the original mix in the new mixer. This was oddly cathartic.

Once I’d re-routed everything, I started to re-EQ certain instruments and tweak certain effects. I wanted to do this with a light touch as I didn’t want to totally change the feel of the music. At the same time, there were some tunes that had masses of mud for no good reason, painful highs, drums that would disappear under the rest of the mix… you know, fun stuff like that. A lot of the time this was easily rectified by utilising the filters on the new Reason mixer – carving out space for bass and kicks in certain tracks was generally pretty straight-forward. In certain tracks, rolling off the lows on the main reverb aux-send made a huge difference. Dialing back the release time on certain synths made little discernible difference to the feel of a song, but had a huge impact on the space available for the rest of the mix. Carving out space was very much the name of the game here.

In a couple of instances, I ended up layering some additional drum hits over the top of the existing drums. This was generally a last resort, and usually happened in tracks where I’d relied on a single heavily compressed REX loop for the drums or something equally silly. It’s hard to stop the drums in a mix from disappearing if you’re relying on something that sounds completely flat at the source. Thankfully I only had to do this a couple of times, and in each instance I was able to match the new drums quite closely with the feel of the original track.

The final part of this process was mastering. This was done with a light touch – I ended up just using a single limiter on each tune and leaving it at that. The bulk of the work had already been done at the re-mixing stage, so I didn’t want to jeopardise that. This was more about level consistency than anything else, and I really didn’t want to over-cook this release.

I repeated this process a few times and started thinking “well, I’ve got a good process going, I’ll just keep working on tunes from this era and worry about the track-list later!”. After a while I ended up with a selection of about ten tunes. I took these tunes out of the studio and listened to them in a variety of environments, and I was really pleasantly surprised with how well they sat together. The feeling of the era was intact and, thanks to the re-mixing and light mastering process, they sat really nicely together. Without really realising it, I had started to put together a decent collection of the music I wrote during this time period. At this point the EP idea went totally out of the window.

A few more re-mixes later and I had a collection of music from 2003 – 2004 that I was happy to release, a definitive album of works collected from this particular time period. Now all I had to do was figure out what to do about the cover art.

I played with a couple of ideas, mostly based on photography from time spent in Alaska in 2004. Visiting Alaska was a hugely inspirational time for me – I’d spent some time in 2003 & 2004 working in a small village pub to save up for this trip, and it truly is an awe inspiring place. It made sense to use artwork from such an inspirational place, especially given that a lot of the music on the album was written after returning from said trip. I ended up with two main ideas – one was a photo from Talkeetna lakes (which is what I ended up using), and another was a night shot that ended up looking like something from a dark ambient album. I fully intend to use the latter at some point!

All this said, returning from Alaska was the start of a more lonely time as my friends had found some stability in either university or work, and I was unemployed and pretty much broke without a clear plan for the future. I ended up coasting for longer than I really should have before getting a full time job and figuring out what I wanted to do with my future… but, during this time of lessened responsibility, I ended up sinking my teeth more into writing music and discovering new sounds. I ended up writing tunes like Contact, Neon, and Where Do I Go From Here during this time, most of which I’d say lie on the more introspective/atmospheric end of the spectrum than some of the other tunes on the album.

The last tune I wrote in 2004 was Aeroplanes & Fireflies, which I figured would make for a fitting opener as I felt it really captured a sense of things to come, which provided a nice warm-up and contrast to some of the more introspective tracks throughout the rest of the album.

It’s a wonderful feeling to finally have these tracks out there. It’s an incredibly personal collection of tunes from a defining point in my life, with several tunes having never truly seen the light of day up until this point.

Archive 01: 2003 – 2004 is available exclusively to Bandcamp subscribers in the format of your choice, along with a whole host of other subscriber exclusive content including October Sessions, Apparitions, Traces, and Call Of The Void.

October Sessions: Out Now

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in General, Livestream, Music, October Sessions, Subscribers

October Sessions is my latest Bandcamp exclusive release. If you’re already a subscriber, you can download it immediately in the format of your choice. If you’re not, then I’d say with three albums, one single, and a ton of other exclusive goodies in the bag that now is a pretty damn good time to check it out! (this reminds me, I really ought to upgrade that crappy video at some point)

October Sessions is an album consisting of previously unreleased tunes written and produced entirely during October 2014.

I’m really happy with how this particular release turned out, though between PiecesObscurer, and The Broken Divide all coming out between 2014 – 2016, I never really felt like I had an opportune moment to release it… until now!

As with Traces, I’ve also put together a preview mix for non-subscribers if you want to get a feel for the album in general.

On a related note, I may or may not be continuing my October Sessions tradition this October due to some pretty big circumstantial variables (i.e. “I might be moving house & studio”), but it’s something I’d really love to re-visit again and see what pops out. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds 🙂

I’ve been focussing on writing a lot of production music this year, which has seen me trying out some heavier styles than I guess you’d typically associate with me – it’s been a ton of fun to work on those, and I’m looking forward to seeing where those tunes end up.

I’ve also had a few people asking me about my lack of live streaming lately – I haven’t given up entirely on those, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to give the usual “I’ve been quite busy” excuse with regards to why I haven’t done any for a while now. It’s definitely something I’d love to get back into – right now I feel like I should at least do one final live stream from my current studio before I move, but I’d like to get moved and re-settled before I really get back into those.

Live stream tonight, new Neffle, and new subscriber goodies!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Apparitions, Collaboration, General, Music, Neffle, Reason, Subscribers, Tom Pritchard, Traces, Tutorials

Hey all, just figured I’d post a quick update here to let you know that I’ll be doing a live-stream TONIGHT (17th Feb) at 7pm GMT over on Twitch. My plan is to write a quick & rough song, so come on over and feel free to pester me in the chat while I’m making some noise 🙂

Watch live video from adfielding on www.twitch.tv

Also, there’s another Bandcamp subscriber-exclusive goodie out there – ApparitionsApparitions is a series of abstract ambient sketches written during January this year, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Always nice to start the year off in a productive manner, I feel! You can listen to a few tracks from Apparitions here:

If you like what you hear, feel free to susbcribe to my Bandcamp page. There are currently TWO releases (Apparitions and Traces) available exclusively to subscribers, with more to come later in the year.

….aaaaaaand there’s a new Neffle release, called Assistance which is available to download RIGHT NOW. Neffle, as you may or may not know, is my ongoing hardware jam-collaborative project with Tom Pritchard, and we’ve been sitting on this one for a little while now. After much deliberation, we finally agreed to release Assistance in its current form. I hope some of you enjoy it!

Hopefully I’ll see some of you over on Twitch later on. Should be fun!

Traces: Origins

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in General, Reason, Subscribers, Traces

Thanks to everyone who’s been listening to Traces, and thanks to everyone who’s decided to subscribe! I just hope that you’ll enjoy what else I’ve got in store for the rest of the year 🙂

I figured now would be an opportune moment to go into a little bit of depth as to the origin of each of the tracks, both for my own sake (I think getting everything down in one place would be a good thing) and so you can have a better understanding of where all of these tracks came from.

I’m normally a little loathe to talk about the exact meaning behind my music, but in this case – being primarily made up of production tracks – I think it makes sense to talk a bit about each track individually.

So, let’s start from the beginning- track 1!

You Can See The End From Here (2014)
This is actually the newest track on the record, and was written for a pretty charged pivotal moment in a short film with a sci-fi twist. I actually wrote a couple of revisions, but this is the one I preferred. Unfortunately, it didn’t click with the film-makers for whatever reason and it went unused… hence its appearance as the opener here.

Insignificance (2009)
In late 2009 I had only recently finished university and I hit a bit of a creative funk. To counter this, I started a practice which has become a regular trend for me. I decided to try writing one “sketch” per day, just to run with any idea as it formed regardless of my own perceived satisfaction. This is the first such sketch, written after a night of stargazing and feeling a little insignificant (hence the title).

Midnight Spirit (2011)
I’d only recently started working on music as a full-time venture at this point, and was in the process of writing production music as a means to sharpen my skills a bit. I was trying lots of different ideas and genres, and figured I should have an attempt at something with a more atmospheric, almost dubstep-y feel to it. I liked the idea of pitching my vocals down a bit to see what would happen, and was delighted with how un-cheesy it sounded!

Survival (2013)
An acquaintance of mine was studying video game design at university and needed to make a pitch of his game concept to some industry heads. It was a cool idea, and I thought it’d be a unique way to get my music heard by some people in the gaming biz (and I love me some video games), so I decided to write some music for it. I ended up with two tracks – this is the first…

Beneath The Surface (2013)
…and this is the second. While Survival was more of a thematic piece, I wanted this track to be a more atmospheric/background piece. In retrospect, it’s a little more overbearing than I had first anticipated, but I was really happy with both of these tracks. They never really found a home outside of the initial pitch – and now they have. Nice!

Behold (2011)
This was written during the same burst as Midnight Spirit. After writing a fair amount of downtempo/atmospheric music to try and beef up my output a bit, I figured a change was in order. I wanted to write something production-friendly with a more dramatic flair to it, and this is what popped out.

Tread Carefully (2009)
An unusual one, this. I had recently finished my university degree and was due to graduate in a month, so I decided to visit my parents at the other side of the country. I’d brought my laptop with me and this popped out while goofing around in the living room one day. I seem to recall playing quite a bit of F.E.A.R. at the time, so I guess that explains the ominous mood.

The Old Tower (2012)
I was working on a production album with a focus on really chilled, downtempo numbers – all of the tracks I wrote for that project were picked up, except for this one. I suspect it may have been a little too ominous for their tastes, but it’s always been one of my favourites from that project so it’s nice to give it a bit of attention here.

Sweeping Junk (2011)
Yet another track from my 2011 production music binge, I’d recently picked up some nice acoustic drum loops and thought it’d be fun to chop them up and play with silence in my music a little bit more… hence the stop/start/stuttering nature of the drums. This one was a lot of fun to work on!

Counterbalance (2012)
In 2012 I wrote a lot of music with a view to using it as production music, though a good chunk of it would later end up on what would become Pieces. This track didn’t really sit well with me in either camp – it was too scatter-shot to work as production music, and didn’t seem to fit the flow of Pieces… but I really liked it, so I thought it deserved a proper place on Traces.

Traces (2009)
Ahh yes, the title track – and a continuation from my sketch-a-day session which spawned Insignificance. I really felt like I hit upon the central theme of my 2009 sketches with this particular track, which is why I thought it was particularly fitting for the title of the entire release. The entire sketch-a-day sessions form a very personal diary-of-sorts for me, as it was written at a particularly pivotal moment in my life. In many ways this track represents the introverted precipice before a particularly joyous point in my life.

Picking Up Where We Left Off (2010)
This is another continuation of my sketch-a-day exercise started in 2009 with Insignificance. I had a break over the Christmas season, and came back to it in 2010 for a brief spell. This was the first track from the second session, hence the title – I was trying to re-connect with the feeling I had during the first session, despite a lot of things having changed for me in that interim. It was nice to re-connect and, well, to pick up where I left off.

Communication (2009)
This is an odd one. A friend of mine was running for student union president at university at the time, and was focussing on a neat digital campaign. He asked me to write a track and overlay some audio from an interview over it, and this sort of popped out. After the campaign was over I removed the speech, sent it to a few non-exclusive libraries and it got a bit of use. Which was rather nice, actually!

Another Yesterday (2011)
The final track written during my great 2011 production music writing binge. Structurally it’s very simple, but I wanted something that just built up to a really nice finish, and I think this is a nice showcase of a lot of my habits (good and bad) of late 2011, so I thought it would make a fitting end to Traces.

…and that’s it! If there’s anything you’d like me to explain in more detail or anything, feel free to drop me a comment or send me a message 🙂 Don’t forget that you can still grab Traces by subscribing to my Bandcamp page here.

Bandcamp subscriptions

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in AdFi, Distant Activity, From Out Of Nowhere, General, Lightfields, Music, Obscurer, Pieces, Production music, Subscribers

So… I realise it’s been quite a while since I last posted a proper update here.

To be perfectly honest, I had been planning on waiting until I gave this site a complete overhaul, but I figured it had been such a long time since my last update that I should probably elucidate some of the ideas I’ve got for next year. So – here goes!

2015-12-17 17.03.21

Starting in 2016, I’m going to be using Bandcamp subscriptions. Basically, what this means is that – for an annual flat fee – you’ll have access to the following.

  • Immediate access to my entire Bandcamp back catalogue, including all bonus extras. This means that you’ll get access to my independent solo albums (including Distant Activity, Lightfields, Pieces, and Obscurer), along with all the tasty bonuses – i.e. for now, the audiophile & extended versions of Pieces.
  • Full access to all future Bandcamp releases (including all extra bonuses) while your subscription is active. As soon as I release anything, you’ll be notified and will receive full and immediate access to the music in your format of choice.

“But Adam!”, I hear you say. “All of your Bandcamp music is Pay-What-You-Want! Why would I pay for an annual subscription when I can already download your music for free?“.

That’s a fair question – and I guess besides the obvious “I like money and I need your support to sustain my extravagant Fabergé egg addiction“, I should probably throw in something extra… which leads me nicely onto:

  • Access to an ongoing series of SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE releases.

“But Adam!”, I hear you say. “What the hell. Why are you going to lock future releases behind a paywall?”.

That’s another fair question – again, I guess besides the obvious “I like money and I need your support to sustain the lifestyle to which my cat has become accustomed”, I should probably explain what sort of thing I have in mind for these exclusive releases, and what that means for my future album releases.

First up: All of my future “main” albums/EPs will still be available as PWYW releases to all non-subscribers. The extra content (bonus tracks, alt. masters, instrumentals, etc.) will be subscriber only, but the main meat of the albums/EPs will still be available in the exact same manner as before.

The reason for making this bonus content subscriber-exclusive is two-fold: obviously, there’s the aforementioned “I like money” angle. Also, my current process of manually e-mailing out codes to people is pretty archaic, and it’s only going to get worse as I release more bonus content (which I absolutely assuredly will be doing). By doing this, it’ll automate the entire process. For anyone who’s received a dodgy code or couldn’t get the bonus content to download properly, this will probably come as a welcome relief.

Secondly: I should probably explain what sort of thing I have in mind for “subscriber exclusive” releases. Here are some of the ideas I’m working on:

  • Previously unreleased production music
  • Unreleased, re-mixed/re-mastered archive material
  • Music from my “October sessions”
  • Hardware jams and extended sessions

…and so on. Basically – music that I’m really, really, really happy with, but wouldn’t fit into a “standard” release.

I understand that, right now, it sounds like this requires a bit like a leap of faith as there is no guarantee of the kind of material I’m going to be releasing as exclusive content. That’s totally fair. What I will say is that I have at least three releases planned for next year, two of which are going to be subscriber exclusive. As soon as I release some sort of exclusive content, I’ll make it available for non-subscribers to stream so you can at least get a taste of what to expect.

Onto the pricing: Annual subscriptions are going to be set at £15, but until the first exclusive release I’m going to enable early-bird annual subscriptions at £10. The first exclusive release will be coming in January. So.., right now, grab yourself a nice Christmas treat 😉

On a personal note, this is all a bit of an experiment for me – much like the unorthodox release of Pieces, I want to try something new out. I want to make sure I’m not standing in the way of people who want to listen to my music, but I want to say “thank you” to people who choose to support me. For most people, the appeal of Bandcamp subscriptions is in gaining access to a musician’s entire back catalogue – and I guess that’s still the case here… but I really like the idea of sharing my less heavily publicised output with people who really want to check it out. So, that’s the plan.

You can check out my Bandcamp subscription page here.

Obscurer: Out Now

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in General, Music, Obscurer

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

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Geekery, General, Music, Obscurer, Reason

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