Obscurer: Familiar Unfamiliarity?

Posted on Posted 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!

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