The Broken Divide: Instrumentation

Posted on Posted in Music, Subscribers, The Broken Divide

Something I’ve always been quite keen on in electronic music is the fusion of organic instrumentation with electronic instrumentation. There’s an oddly humanising feel or grounded sensation to be had when combining precisely sequenced synths with recorded/performed instrumentation. It’s something I’ve really strived for since Lightfields in particular – in that instance, I was fusing live instrumentation with electronics to give a more energetic, spontaneous feel to the album. With The Broken Divide, I thought it’d be interesting to use some non-traditional instruments and sound sources to aid with the sound of something recognisable and inviting, yet unusual and kind of unfamiliar at the same time.

The first track (“The Beginning And The End”) is a good example of this. There are guitars buried in the mix, about 2/3rds of the track make use of a piano – which is heavily processed at times, the percussion is formed from a mixture of drum synths and odd recordings, and there are field recordings all over the track. Even the frantic synth-type sound used during the crazier part of the track (you’ll know which part I mean if you give it a listen) was based on a recording of me sticking my finger on the end of an amped up cable. The recorded percussion is a mixture of rubbing hands, clicking batteries, scissors, shakers… I really wanted to give the percussion a strangely loose, human feel to it underneath the precisely timed electronic kit.

Of course, this is just one track. Although there are plenty of guitars and pianos across the album, I decided to avoid using strings and orchestral elements. Although I’ve used orchestral elements extensively in my work before (and still do!), I felt like there’s such a strong automatic association between orchestral instrumentation and “cinematic” music that wasn’t really representative of what I was shooting for with this particular album… I didn’t really want to invite that comparison through my choice of instrumentation, so I decided to avoid it entirely for The Broken Divide. I was incredibly tempted to use some strings in the penultimate track (“Time To Go”), but decided against it in the end. I think it was the right call, as the fusion of sparse electronics and piano/vocals complements what I was going for with the track on an emotional level. The only time I decided to use anything approaching orchestral instrumentation was in the title track, which uses a heavily processed and frantically bowed (read: abused) violin layered up with a stretched version of itself to give an ethereal-yet-familiar sound to it.

I guess one of the key reasons for my decision to avoid orchestral instrumentation was that I wanted the instrumentation & production to be in service of the music and emotional component itself, and not the other way around. There’s one track on the album where I used the sound of rattling keys to signify a transition, running with the theme of travel and unfamiliarity I was basing the song around. There’s another track that makes use of my first acoustic guitar (which is an old, battered thing I picked up from a charity shop that I’ve been meaning to give away for years) which tied in quite nicely to the memory referenced in that particular track, which really complements the personal connection I was going for.

There was a certain point during the creation of the album where I started to think “this is probably going to be an instrumental album. I need to focus on writing some vocal tracks to round it out, or just add vocals to the stuff I’ve already got written”. In hindsight, this was a really stupid idea. I started to make the mistake of comparing The Broken Divide as it was with my previously released albums, trying to fulfill some kind of audience-expectation quota with regards to vocal tracks rather than just letting it happen naturally. The vast majority of the instrumental tracks on the album just didn’t click when I started experimenting with adding vocals to them and, consequently, took away from the underlying memory or emotional state that I was trying to convey. That said, as I started working on the final third of the album or so, I ended up writing a few vocal tracks that fit the overall mood of the album pretty much perfectly. I also ended up writing one vocal track that didn’t fit the mood of the album, but I thought it was a really nice track… so I decided to include that with the extended version of The Broken Divide (which is exclusive to Bandcamp subscribers). In fact… thinking about it, the main hurdles I seemed to encounter when putting the album together were when I started to do things that went against the nature of the album as it was shaping up, or other things that simply didn’t fit the natural flow that ran throughout the production process. Lesson learned!

I guess that’s quite indicative of the album in general, really. The entire production process seemed to come quite naturally once I stopped trying to force it. Although I wanted to keep things interesting from a production and sound design point of view, trying to force it toward a particular direction was distracting at best, and contradictory to the album I wanted to write at worst… and I think the instrumentation is quite indicative of that. Every layer has a particular purpose and a particular role to play, and it was nice to be able to serve the emotional flow and theme of the album through the instrumentation itself.

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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.