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.

The Broken Divide: Fragments

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Music, Neffle, Obscurer, Pieces, The Broken Divide

I started writing what would eventually become The Broken Divide towards the latter half of 2013. This was coming off of the back of the release of Icarus (which was released in April 2013) and a couple of other production albums. For the first time in a long time, I was working with a completely blank slate. Being in a similar situation right now (although, as of writing, I’m currently working on another project which is keeping me very busy and sounds amazing), that particular feeling of starting fresh and working on something completely new is both incredibly exciting and daunting.

Generally speaking, when I’m working on a production album or doing some other kind of freelance work, I’ll be working to a very particular specification or purpose. That’s sort of the whole point. Over the past several years I’ve taught myself to be flexible in the face of stringent specifications, and nowadays I actually find having a place to start to be hugely beneficial. I’ve never experienced a creative block while working on a job, and I think having that initial direction is a huge part of why that’s the case.

This was definitely not the case with The Broken Divide.

In a strangely similar fashion to Pieces, a lot of the writing process for The Broken Divide was fragmented into clusters of tracks. Over the course of writing the album, I stuck to the same general source of inspiration (which I detailed in a previous post) that drove me to write the title track way back in 2013, but it was a tough process.

When the ideas were coming, it felt completely natural to want to express these ideas and emotions. It’s also worth bearing in mind that I was working on a lot of other audio-related stuff during the creation of The Broken Divide… I knew I wasn’t tied to a particular deadline, so I wanted to let it all happen naturally. I experimented a lot with different ideas during the creation of the album, which is why I ended up with releases like Pieces and Obscurer. It was a real reminder of why I enjoyed releasing music independently so much – when you’re working with audio for a living, there’s a wonderful sense of freedom in having a completely open creative outlet.

When the ideas weren’t coming, it was frustrating. I knew I was onto something that I wanted to release and put my name on, and after writing what I would consider to be the second “cluster” of tracks, it was particularly frustrating because I knew for sure that, with what I’d already hit, there was at least an album’s worth of further exploration in the source material. The clusters were almost forming their own narratives, and that was something that really excited me.

Having a clear idea of what you want to do and knowing that you’ll get there eventually is fantastic from the point of view of having something to strive toward, but it’s creatively frustrating in the sense that you just want it all to be out there. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely adore the creative process of writing music. I love it to bits, and when I’m really into it… I’m really, really, really into it. That’s why I do it! But there’s something incredibly satisfying about getting these ideas out, taking a step back and realising “yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted – and I made that”.

After completing this second “cluster” (which was around mid-late 2014 or so), things slowed down

This was nearly a thing.
This was nearly a thing.

for The Broken Divide. I did some more production work, was busy with sound design work, released Pieces, worked on the Neffle material… it was a fantastic time creatively, but during this break from The Broken Divide I started to doubt whether I would be able to complete it as an album. I started thinking about alternative release methods and, towards the end of 2014, gave serious consideration to releasing what I had as a series of EPs.

“So why didn’t you, then?”, you may be wondering. Well… for the past few years, I had an annual tradition of writing a load of music in October. I called these sessions “October Sessions” – original name, right? The idea was to write a load of sketches, and just see where it took me. It’s how I got started with Pieces, and in 2014 I had another really good burst of creativity during October. I started experimenting with the idea of mixing some of the ideas from these sessions into what I already had for The Broken Divide, and I liked the results… initially. I even sent this weird mish-mash of an album to a few people and said “hey guys, this is my album!”.

After a couple of months had passed and the new year had settled in, I realised this was a terrible idea. I love what I already had for The Broken Divide, and I loved what I already had for my October Sessions – but the two were not supposed to completely co-mingle, and it was tonally jarring to listen to it like that. But! It made me realise that I knew for sure that I could finish The Broken Divide, and that the parts that worked as an album worked really, really well for me from the point of view of continuity and narrative. It just needed one final push. Knowing that I wasn’t in a rush to release it, I made the decision to hang onto it until it was a complete album. As far as I’m concerned, that was a good idea. As a whole album, there was a really solid sense of coherence and progression that would have been missing from a series of EPs. That said, I still like the idea of releasing EPs while working on an album – I’m glad I held off this time around, but next time around it might be cool to release a series of EPs in advance of an album… as it transpires, albums take a really bloody long time to write!

In any case – the final push came in 2015. I ended up with a mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks during this final push, and once I slotted those into the existing collection of tracks it just brought everything together in a ridiculously satisfying way. I started sending out this pre-mastered version to a few friends, and I knew this was it. At the end of the year, I set myself a release date that would give me plenty of time to get things finalised – after all, I still needed to sort out mastering, artwork, bonus materials…

The Broken Divide 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 bonus tracks and instrumentals.

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

Obscurer: Familiar Unfamiliarity?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Geekery, Music, Obscurer

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

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in General, Music, Neffle, Obscurer, Tom Pritchard

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

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Music, Neffle, Obscurer, Tom Pritchard

“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