Obscurer: From Play-Time To Album

Posted on Posted 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?

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