In Waves: The Recording And Production Of “In Waves”

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Geekery, Music, Neffle, Tom Pritchard

In a similar fashion to The Third Space, In Waves began with us both attempting to figure out exactly what sort of mood and tone we wanted to go for with the album. Both myself and Tom settled on a somewhat lighter mood as a counterpoint to the more bleak sound found on The Third Space and, through a series of personal references, we both had a solid aesthetic in mind when it came to actually writing material. It certainly helped that we both share a lot of the same inspirations and influences.

I pencilled in a chunk of time at the end of March/start of April 2019 to spend some time with Tom to actually record the album. Prior to the actual recording sessions, we both started working on a series of loops and ideas to really nail the aesthetic and to get some ideas going. This essentially took the form of Tom putting together a series of reasonably fleshed-out loops using an Elektron Octatrack which he then sent over to me, whereupon I embellished them with my collection of Korg Volcas to round them out and get some sequences ready to roll. After sending several ideas back-and-forth in this fashion, we ended up with eight ideas ready to record – a pretty solid starting point, even if we would eventually drop some of these ideas from the album.

We also decided that, in a first for a Neffle release, we would track the album as a series of multi-track takes – not a revolutionary approach, all things considered, but a change to our usual flat-mix-per-take approach from previous albums. Although this previous approach had been somewhat beneficial from a creative standpoint, it was far more restrictive in terms of what we could change after a single take was recorded; while it’s somewhat freeing to know that, once a take is recorded, you can’t continue to tweak it endlessly after-the-fact, this typically resulted in us spending more time during the recording sessions getting the mix balanced correctly and recording multiple takes. Recording multi-track takes meant that we could separate the mixing process from the recording sessions, and it also meant that minor edits could be made after-the-fact.

As a result of this preparation, as well as the separation of recording & mixing processes, the main bulk of the recording took place over three days. We decided that I would take on mixing duties for the album after recording was wrapped up, though we ended up putting together a series of rough reference mixes along with extensive notes to make that process smoother.

In terms of the performance set-up, we took a similar approach to prior Neffle albums whereby each of us was responsible for a pre-determined selection of devices.

Tom was primarily using the aforementioned Octatrack, which – thanks to its focus on performance and excellent time-stretching capabilities – allowed for a plethora of performance and sample manipulation options: the crossfader functionality in particular proved to be extremely useful, as it allowed for dynamic performance changes during recording without sounding too jarring or out-of-place. The ability to time-stretch elements while preserving transients was also invaluable to the album, and imparts a particular character throughout In Waves that I’m particularly fond of. The Octatrack output consisted of two channels (main stereo output & cue stereo out) which were both fed into stereo inputs on the mixer – one of these channels would typically consist of drums, and the other would typically consist of more melodic elements.

A bit of NeffleStation ’19

I was using a series of Volcas – namely the FM/Keys/Bass, all of which had been pre-loaded with a series of sequences prepared beforehand. The FM was also pre-loaded with a custom bank of patches; rather than programming the patches from scratch on the Volca FM itself, I decided to use Dexed to export a series of patches to the Volca FM via Sysex transfer. Although patches would sometimes sound rather different on the FM, this gave me a solid starting point from which to further tweak the sounds on the synth itself. I had also brought an Alesis Nanoverb 2 with me which I had fully intended to use, but – alas – I’m an idiot and didn’t bring the correct power supply to use with it. Derp. In lieu of this, I ended up using a BOSS RE-20 as an insert on various Volca devices throughout (as an aside: I ended up using the Nanoverb 2 all over my Bandcamp subscriber album Liminal last year, and you can hear it in action here).

Everything was recorded using a Zoom LiveTrak 12. This mixer also operates as a multi-track recorder and USB audio interface, and allowed us to record individual multi-track takes and reference mixes with minimal fuss. Tom’s Octatrack was routed to the two stereo inputs on the L-12, and I was typically using between one-to-three mono channels for my parts. The L-12 also features a series of in-built effects, EQ, and compression. The multi-track recordings were recorded pre-EQ & effects processing, which meant that these would not affect the multi-track recordings – perfect for creating reference mixes without baking anything permanently into the multi-tracks. On-board compression was used sparingly as this was baked into to the multi-track recordings.

Thanks to this workflow, we would typically get a rough mix going before recording anything. All of the tracks were recorded live, with each track typically consisting of one or two takes. Once a take was recorded, we would take some time out to listen back and tweak the mix for reference purposes while taking notes. Once we had something we were happy with, we’d record a reference mix with any required tweaks and move onto the next track. For the most part, these reference mixes were pretty rough around the edges, but were more than adequate for the purposes of providing a frame of reference for the actual mixing process. Thanks to this workflow, we were able to maintain a decent sense of spontaneity in the recordings while allowing us a greater deal of flexibility further down the line.

The first day of recording took a while to really get going. The first track on In Waves, “The Shimmer”, was the first track we recorded, and it was the only one of the three or so recorded during the first day to end up on the final album. Having listened back to the other two tracks, I actually like them a lot more than I remembered… but leaving them off of the album was the right call.

The first session served as a bit of a learning experience and a means to familiarise ourselves with the recording setup, and over the course of the next couple of days things progressed smoothly. We hit our stride on the second day, and once we had finished recording our pre-existing ideas we decided to sequence and record two more tracks from scratch. These two tracks would become “Phantom Channels” and “Lands Known”.

It was around this point that we started thinking about where to take the rest of In Waves. What we had so far was eight tracks that flowed satisfyingly, and we started to think about how we were going to order the tracks and what else we could do with it. After listening to the reference mixes a whole bunch we decided that, actually, the order in which we’d recorded the tracks provided a satisfying pace to the album, and because it was recorded in a short space of time it all sat well together.

After recording two short vignettes (“Under The Red Sun” and “Sleeping Machines”), we decided that we had the makings of an album. Our intention was to record a few more ideas and swap tracks in-and-out of the album as we saw fit but, after some thought, we decided that we were happy with the feel, progression, and tone of the album we already had. In total we ended up recording fourteen tracks, four of which ended up on the cutting room floor. With a running time of just over 40 minutes, we both decided that the recording of In Waves was complete.

From out-of-the-box to in-the-box…

After a bit of a break (during which time we ended up playing an awful lot of Halo and recorded some cool unrelated stuff) I returned home to sunny Huddersfield and started cracking on with mixing the album. As mentioned previously, Tom’s Octatrack recordings were typically split across two stereo channels, with my parts occupying between one to three mono channels. Doesn’t sound like a whole lot to work with, but this allowed for considerably more breathing room than prior Neffle releases!

In contrast to the recording process, mixing was a strictly in-the-box affair and took place entirely within Reason – which should come as no big shock to anyone familiar with how I generally work! One thing I was keen to do when mixing the album was to maintain a natural, rounded feel to it – I tend to take more of a subtractive approach to mixing generally, so I was careful not to make any unnecessary boosts throughout the album unless it was absolutely necessary. The first track I mixed was “Distant Flame”, as I felt with its vast sense of space and deep bass that it would serve as a perfect blueprint for the rest of the album.

The first thing I decided to do was to set up three aux send effects to roughly correspond with what we were using on the reference mixes – these consisted of a Uhbik-A plate-type reverb, a DR-1 space-y reverb, and an instance of Valhalla Delay. I ended up using this as a bit of a template for the rest of the album. Using these three aux sends across the album and across both the Octatrack and Volca channels helped to lend a sense of coherence that was somewhat lacking on the reference mixes. Additionally, although the L-12s effects are perfectly solid, the jump in quality afforded by these effects alone helped to give the album more of a polished sound.

For the most part, I was using the LP/HP filters on Reason’s mixer to scoop out any unnecessary frequencies on individual channels – this is something I tend to do quite frequently, and the built in channel filters are something that I always miss when I’m using a mixer in another DAW. It’s a quick and easy way to sculpt a mix before getting a little more into it, whether that’s via the mixer’s further built-in effects or (my preferred approach) via additional rack effects.

A few regulars during the mixing stage

A little trick I used across the album to smooth out some of the drum tracks while giving them a little bit of punch was to use Kilohearts’s Disperser, which was super useful in this regard. On “Distant Flame” I ended up using Disperser around 60hz to round out the kick a little in the lows while also helping it to pop a little more in the mix. Due to the nature of Disperser, this did not affect the amplitude of the kick – which was pretty damn useful, it must be said!

Additionally, on a lot of the drum channels I ended up applying a very light limiter to tame some of the more errant transients. I figured this would give me a bit of extra headroom without compromising the rest of the mix, and I was careful to make sure I didn’t go in too heavy with it – the last thing I wanted to do was completely squash the drums, but some of the snappier drums on the album needed a bit of taming. For the most part I ended up using Newfangled Audio’s Elevate limiter for this purpose.

I ended up using the DR-1 reverb as an insert across certain parts of the album to help smear some of the more spacey elements, such as a few of the Volca Keys lines. Although I tend to prefer not to rely too heavily on stereo widening plug-ins, I did end up using NUGEN Audio’s Stereoizer Elements to widen a couple of channels here and there as well. All of the mixes were checked for mono compatibility and, thanks to not applying said widening to the entire mix, this was maintained.

One thing I wanted to maintain across the album was a solid low-end presence without the necessity of a sub-woofer – there’s a fair amount going on in the lows throughout the album, but in a couple of places I felt as though the deeper bass parts were getting a bit lost without the presence of a sub-woofer. In these instances I ended up creating a parallel channel for the offending bass part and processing it with some sort of saturation, just to give it a little bit of a crispy touch while rolling off the lows. What this means is that you still have the satisfying subby lows that were present initially while adding a little bit of presence higher up in the spectrum. I was careful to use this effect sparingly, but it helped to give the bass a bit more presence on certain tracks.

On top of being able to help the tracks gel a little better with one another, mixing in Reason also allowed me to add a bit more variety here and there without compromising the original performances. The most obvious example of this is toward the end of “Phantom Channels”, during which I ended up using a DC-2 chorus on the Volca Keys channel to give a bit more of a sense of depth and variety as the track progresses. Another good example is on the title track when the drums drop out, giving rise to a DR-1 focussed filtered reverb insert before everything launches back in again.

I ended up applying a very (very!) light amount of master bus compression on the tracks, just to help glue them together a tad. For this I ended up using Reason’s built-in master bus compressor, which is always a very handy thing to have. If you don’t happen to use Reason, the Waves SSL G-Master Buss Compressor is a pretty solid alternative.

By the end of this process (and much back-and-forwarding of mix revisions and feedback between Tom and myself) I ended up with a pre-mastered version of the album that we were both happy with. Due to having a pretty good idea of what I wanted from the album in general, the mastering stage was incredibly straight-forward. I ended up mastering the album in Studio One which, thanks to its marvellous project view, is perfect for mastering whole projects.

My “mastering” chain (I feel like a bit of a fraud referring to it as a mastering chain, to be fair) consisted of a bit of EQ and a limiter. And… that’s it. Both myself and Tom had decided that we were keen to master the album with a view to preserving the dynamics as much as possible, so I ended up using a pretty light touch at this point. Due to some forethought during the mix-stage, there was plenty of headroom to play around with and very little need for any heavy-handed processing – just the way I like it.

So, that’s a brief overview of the recording & production process of In Waves! We’re both incredibly happy with how it turned out and, much like The Third Space, really scratched a very particular creative musical itch for both of us. If you have any particular questions about the recording, mixing, or mastering of In Waves then please feel free to get in touch and we’d be happy to explain in a little more detail. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the album and we’d love to know what you think of it!

In Waves is available to pre-order now – pre-orders will gain immediate access to two tracks from the album. In Waves will be available to download in the format of your choice as a pay-what-you-want release on the 17th May via the Neffle Bandcamp page, and will also be available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

In Waves: What Is Neffle? (Guest post by Tom Pritchard)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Geekery, Music, Neffle, Tom Pritchard

What is Neffle? In a nutshell, Neffle is a collaborative project created by myself (Tom Pritchard) and my good friend Adam Fielding. We met on the now defunct Propellerhead forums, way back in 2003, and got to know each other through our shared love of electronic music. Over the years we’d collaborate sporadically on the odd track here and there, typically exchanging Reason files back and forth, working remotely.

Neffle’s humble acid-jam beginnings

One weekend in 2011, Adam happened to be visiting shortly after I’d acquired a pair of Korg Monotribes. If you’re unfamiliar with the Monotribe, it’s a small analogue groovebox that’s great for making squelchy acid techno sounds – a particularly hands-on machine that’s perfect for spontaneous jams. Working together with the Monotribes and an MFB-503 drum machine, we spent a solid afternoon banging out tunes for a laugh (one of which, Cellphone Acid, is included as a secret bonus track with the download of Brain Tub). It was great fun to work together in the studio, so we decided to do the same thing again the next year, and in 2012 recorded a mix on to cassette (MONO Side B, another secret track, this time hidden on the download for Futility Son). These recordings have a certain charm, despite their crude quality, and so we figured perhaps it was time to embark upon a more concerted effort.

The first two albums, Brain Tub & Futility Son, were recorded back to back in a week-long recording session in June 2014. We’d start with a simple idea, maybe a bass line or a drum rhythm, and build on to it bit by bit, arranging the parts on the fly as we recorded. Despite working amidst the mild warmth of the English Summer, these tracks took on a decidedly bleak tone, filled with brooding keys and cavernous reverb, in part owing to the constraints of the equipment we were using, a limited palette of small desktop synths and drum machines. Given the Wintery vibe, we released these tracks in October that year – and so Neffle was born! We returned to these ideas again in the second half of 2015, recording late into the night to produce a set of nocturnal, ambient techno tracks, released as Assistance in early 2016. The Soul Anatomy EP followed later that year, an eerie beast with a deeply sinister tone.

Unfortunately, the Soul Anatomy sessions made for challenging recording: despite our best intentions, it felt as though none of the material we worked on would sit well together. The result is an EP with a distinctly loose, improvisational sound, to put it lightly. When it came to recording The Third Space, we took a different approach, working on material separately before coming together to flesh it out – a method that allowed us to work greater structure and depth into the music without losing the spontaneity of recording in jam sessions. The Third Space felt like a significant step forward for Neffle, an evocative lofi exploration of haunting, melancholy spaces. In the space of six years, our work had grown from sporadic improvised recordings into a coherent project with vivid intention.

Building on the foundations laid for The Third Space, we approached our 2019 recording sessions with an intense focus, resulting in an album that is considerably more refined and detailed than our prior efforts. After five releases of spartan, melancholy music, it felt like the right time to change things up a little. In Waves maintains the enveloping textures that characterise our previous work, but shifts the tone to a warm, psychedelic sound, with rich instrumentation and natural recordings layered in dense soundscapes. If The Third Space sounds like abandoned places and swirling fog, In Waves is the sound of warm evenings and fading sun, that ethereal, liminal atmosphere between light and darkness.

In Waves is available to pre-order now – pre-orders will gain immediate access to two tracks from the album. In Waves will be available to download in the format of your choice as a pay-what-you-want release on the 17th May via the Neffle Bandcamp page, and will also be available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

“In Waves” – the new Neffle album, out 17th May

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Music, Neffle, Tom Pritchard, Uncategorized

In Waves is a hypnotic journey through psychedelic soundscapes. Following on from the crusty, decidedly lo-fi sounds of The Third Space, we decided to pursue a similar vibe, but with a lighter mood and a more refined sound. The result is a downtempo trip, perfect for late night listening. In Waves maintains the spontaneity typical of Neffle tunes, but brings with it a little polish, tighter focus and an expansive, enveloping atmosphere.

Neffle is a long-running collaborative project started in 2014 by myself and Tom Pritchard. In Waves is the latest album to be released under the Neffle moniker, and is an album that we’re both proud to be releasing on the 17th May via Bandcamp and most other major streaming & digital services.

In the meantime, you can pre-order In Waves from Bandcamp – although the album will be available as a pay-what-you-want release from the 17th, pre-orders will gain immediate access to two tracks from the album (“Distant Flame” and “In Waves”, both of which can be played via the player above).

In a first for a Neffle release, both myself and Tom will be talking about all things Neffle via a series of posts coming shortly. We took a rather different approach to producing this particular album when compared to prior Neffle releases, so we figured this would be an excellent opportunity to talk about what exactly Neffle is, and how the album was put together – among other things.

In Waves is available to pre-order now – pre-orders will gain immediate access to two tracks from the album. In Waves will be available to download in the format of your choice as a pay-what-you-want release on the 17th May via the Neffle Bandcamp page, and will also be available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

Mesmera: out now

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Mesmera, Music, Subscribers

Mesmera, my new ambient solo album, is out now! As always, it’s completely free, and you can download it in the format of your choice from my Bandcamp page here.

Mesmera is an album of ambient/downtempo pieces by UK-based musician & producer Adam Fielding, written and recorded between 2016 – 2018 and released in August 2018.

Since the release of his first album, Adam Fielding has experimented with a wide variety of genres ranging from ambient to IDM, post-rock to synth-pop, and everything in-between. Mesmera sees Fielding taking on a renewed exploration of downtempo ambience, mixing organic and electronic instrumentation with a heavy focus on deep atmospheres and cinematic moods.

Mesmera is a representation of a daunting-yet-deeply rewarding journey, following themes of exploration, reflection, and imagination. Launching from the energetic expanse of Standing On The Precipice, the journey travels through celebrations of the unknown in Everything Felt New, deep introspection in the title track, through to freedom from the past in You Have To Let Go.

With Mesmera, Fielding playfully mixes the familiar with the unknown, crafting a unique album that is sure to be a rewarding listening for ambient & electronic music lovers.

It’s been an interesting journey to get this album released, especially given its origins as an exploration of a more comfortable space. It’s been extremely rewarding to re-visit a more ambient style, and I hope it won’t be quite as long before I delve back into it again. Thank you so much to everyone who pre-ordered the album and my wonderful Bandcamp subscribers (seriously, you’re the best), and I hope you enjoy the journey!

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 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.

“Mesmera” – the new album, out 8th August

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Mesmera, Music, Subscribers, The Broken Divide

Mesmera is an album of ambient/downtempo pieces by UK-based musician & producer Adam Fielding, written and recorded between 2016 – 2018 and released in August 2018.

Since the release of his first album, Adam Fielding has experimented with a wide variety of genres ranging from ambient to IDM, post-rock to synth-pop, and everything in-between. Mesmera sees Fielding taking on a renewed exploration of downtempo ambience, mixing organic and electronic instrumentation with a heavy focus on deep atmospheres and cinematic moods.

Mesmera is a representation of a daunting-yet-deeply rewarding journey, following themes of exploration, reflection, and imagination. Launching from the energetic expanse of Standing On The Precipice, the journey travels through celebrations of the unknown in Everything Felt New, deep introspection in the title track, through to freedom from the past in You Have To Let Go.

With Mesmera, Fielding playfully mixes the familiar with the unknown, crafting a unique album that is sure to be a rewarding listening for ambient & electronic music lovers.

Surprise! I realise I’ve been rather quiet over the past year or so (and with good reason, which I’ll be getting into over the course of the next few posts), but I’m incredibly happy to announce that my new album, Mesmera, will be released on the 8th August! Although appearing quite different sonically, I consider this album to be a spiritual sequel of sorts to my previous ambient album And All Is As It Should Be, with much more of a focus on atmosphere and texture than my previous couple of releases… albeit with an extra dash of rolling percussion throughout. I’ll be talking about the conceptualisation and production process behind the album on this blog over the coming weeks, so watch this space!

In the meantime, you can pre-order it from Bandcamp – all pre-orders will receive a copy of the Extended version of the album upon release (more on that in a second), though the main album itself will be available as a pay-what-you-want release when it comes out.

As has been the case for my past couple of album releases, I’ve decided to throw in some extra goodies for Bandcamp subscribers. These are as follows:

  • An “Extended” version of the album, featuring beatless versions of all of the tracks found on the main album. These versions feature arrangement and mix tweaks as opposed to just being the exact same tracks with the percussion taken out, and serves as a nice counterpoint to the main version with its present percussion. This version of the album will also be available on other streaming services such as iTunes post-release, and will be made available to anybody who decides to pre-order via Bandcamp.
  • An “audiophile” master of the album. Once again, this will be a Bandcamp subscriber exclusive, and if you’d like to know what exactly this entails then I’d suggest reading this handy blog post which covers the subject quite nicely. The audiophile release also includes the beatless mixes from the Extended version.

One of the tracks, entitled “You Have To Let Go”, is available for streaming now via the handy little player above, and is also available to download to all pre-order customers immediately.

As I mentioned above, I’ll be talking a bit more about how this album came together in the month-or-so leading up to its release, so for now I’ll leave it there and just say that I cannot wait to get the complete album out there! I hadn’t expected to be writing another album again so soon after The Broken Divide, but things just kind of worked out that way. I hope you’ll be joining me for the full journey on the 8th August 🙂

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.