Metamorph – Blocks

Metamorph Blocks

As I was gathering the “Metamorph” source files for backup, I started listening to some of the half finished, in-progress ideas I had rendered out for consideration, as well as a few that were completely finished but didn’t make the cut. After hearing them with fresh ears I found it a little easier to discern the elements that I’d originally been developing in them before over-listening to the point of boredom (this kills the spark of inspiration.)

I ended up re-listening a few times and, feeling fairly certain that I wouldn’t revisit them in the future, decided to upload and share some of them instead of letting them rot hidden in the cloud for eternity. And maybe share some thoughts about them and where they fit in the path to the album. I’m going to sort these more or less chronologically.

This was started shortly after finishing “Observer” and feels to me like it would be more at home there than on “Metamorph”. Sort of a Burial x Microfunk vibe. The vocal sample seems like too much of a focal point to me, despite mixing it in at a low level, and it didn’t feel right basing the most interesting part of a track on a stock (or maybe sound pack, I forgot) Maschine sample.

Sampled some classical music here in the vein of Susumu Yokota’s lovely “Symbol” album, but ultimately felt like my sample use was a little too straightforward and not particularly creative. The vocal sample did end up granulized in “Voice of the Zodiac” though.

Prior to playing Celeste, it had been a long time since I’d stumbled across a game soundtrack that I not only enjoyed but also really connected with. I think Lena Raine‘s phenomenal work ended up inspiring parts of this; I was impressed with her use of the Monologue in the OST it got me inspired to have another go at Monark, which I previously hadn’t really had much luck patching myself. While I enjoyed this result, ultimately I don’t think this track particularly fit the broad picture sound and technique I wanted to pursue.

More “practice” patching and utilizing Monark without it dominating the track. Hot off Observer, sounds like I was still riding Maschine’s Grain Hold effect pretty hard here. Still too same-y.

I think I was pursuing two main impulses here: focusing more on negative space and minimal use of notes, and making more use of some of the softsynths I hadn’t used much in production yet. While I had a blast exploring Native Instruments’ Form and made a decent number of my own patches/presets with it, I hadn’t really featured it on a track yet. So here I was trying to build something up using mostly my own sounds.

Still trying to find a voice here, but too close to my old habits again. I worked on this with headphones one night while Marissa was watching Black Mirror S3E4: San Junipero, so it ended up as a weirdly muted background inspiration (or at the very least, a filename.)

I really enjoyed the sparse piano work in the Zelda:Breath of the Wild OST, so I think that inspired me to experiment with some playful, staccato piano here. I was also listening to a lot of Frederic Robinson around this time, so there was some inspiration from his amazing work as well. Unfortunately I don’t think this hit anywhere near the mark of either of those inspirations, so I shelved it.

Just an experiment in “virtual modular” ambient with generative melodies, plus a couple of chords granulized through Antonio Blanca’s DRON-E. I still kind of like the minimal-ness of it, but didn’t think it was interesting enough to stand on its own.

Another attempt at generative melodies (courtesy of NOD-E,) minimalism, and trying to utilize softsynths in my collection that hadn’t seen much use yet. As the title suggests, this was an attempt to make more use of Kontour. Despite being successful at all of these aspects, I don’t think the end result ended up all that interesting.

Mostly an attempt at glitchy ambient IDM in Maschine. I think absent a driving emotion during production, the whole thing ended up just sounding cold and lifeless to me.

This was part of the prototype that led to finishing “Tornadogenesis”. One sunny Saturday morning I just felt like making some crunchy, funky minimal beats. I think I knocked out like 10 or 12 a la carte drum patterns, and eventually added some of these sparse hypercompressed delayed synth lines, but wasn’t totally happy with them and how much they distracted from the drum patterns. Nevertheless I had fun recording this by shifting around the drum and synth patterns and using Maschine’s Perform FX in realtime.

Probably one of the less melodic explorations here, but one of the early sparks of direction for “Metamorph,” utilizing more generated sequences and focusing on modulation. It also felt good to break some molds and do something a little more bold, at least at he beginning. I think the title came from the Newscool preset I started with for the initial sequence.

Here I believe I had gone too far into the “make a whole song with modulation” methodology. Aside from the background ambience, it’s entirely made from my own Reaktor Blocks patches (plus one instance of TRK01 on bass duty trying to keep things orderly.) It ended up being kind of pain to control, and I think it even sounds a little out of control. By the end of it, even my OC’d 8700k was having trouble keeping up with low latency playback.

After spending a good few months with the Analog 4, I felt a little sorry for my dusty old minilogue and decided to use it for the main synth sequences on this one, plus some synthetic drums from the Reaktor Clonetonic ensemble. Sorry minilogue, this one didn’t make the cut (though you did get center stage in “A Growing Uncertainty”.)

After buying and learning Massive X I had an initial slump of disenchantment with it; it seemed like whatever I made with sounded too complicated and demanding, and few of the factory patches were inspiring (though there are some awesome ones in there.) Here I tried to tone things down and make some more simple, useful patches. I actually like how it turned out and think I found a simplicity that worked here, but didn’t feel right selling or including it on the album with the vocal sample (and also feel like the vibe wouldn’t be the same without it).

Speaking of Massive X, this one’s featuring an awesome Massive X patch that came in with a new set of factory presets. I felt this ended up a little too on the nose and predictable to fit on the album, and wasn’t sure where else to take it after a couple minutes.

This one I was working on alongside “Abiogenesis” and initially thought I might just release the two together as single. Ultimately this one felt a little too predictable and similar to warrant its own spot on the album though.

Started as another early experiment with generative melodies, this time using Reaktor’s factory Newscool ensemble (which made it into like half the tracks on the actual album). It turns out, tuning the pitches on the generators at 1px per semitone is a bit of a pain in the ass on a 4k monitor. Anyway, as the track started coming together I was happy to hear a bit of resemblance to one of my enduring favorite 90s drum&bass tracks, Technical Itch – Can’t You See (Dub Mix), and ended up intentionally taking it in that direction. But it wouldn’t be complete without a little vocal sample, would it? This one almost made it, (indeed it is finished) but again, copyright law completely aside, part of me felt wary about prominently using such a well-known vocal sample.

Making heavy use of the Analog Four & Rytm here, along with an instance of Reaktor Skrewell which until this I had never found a practical use for. Another one that almost made it; it is finished and fits thematically with a few of the other tracks. Ultimately though I think there’s a fine line between minimalism and boredom and this veered further than I would have liked into the latter, overstaying its welcome.

Went hard on a couple of impulses here: utilize underused softsynths (Reaktor Spark, in this case) and channel late-90s netlabel IDM. Despite finishing it and initially thinking it had promise, I thought I fell back into too many of my standard habits here.

Metamorph – Out Now

Album Cover

“Metamorph” is available now for streaming or purchase via the following outlets:

Firstly, I wanted to express gratitude to my supporters and listeners so far; it’s been motivating, heartwarming and reassuring to read your comments, and I appreciate each one. As I’ve written about previously, the internet has become such a huge place and releasing new work can feel like emptying an eyedropper into an ocean of music. As of this post there are something like 50 million songs on Spotify alone, so having anyone listen and enjoy enough to drop me a note feels truly remarkable.

I wrote a bit about the album in the preview post but figured I’d elaborate further on some of the themes and influences.

As parts of this are somewhat inflammatory, I feel like I should qualify my thoughts by stating that they’re completely subjective and result from my experience largely as an armchair listener, bedroom producer, overall outsider, and certainly not a professional. That said…

I think a major part of my renewed interest in IDM comes from the current state of electronic music in general. An extremely brief history of my interest would start in the early 90s with Rave, Techno and Demoscene music, closely followed by Hardcore Rave evolving to Jungle, early Drum&Bass and Trip Hop, which led me to Atmospheric Jungle/DnB, which branched off into ambient (which of course had been around for decades,) and then by the late 90s, IDM – some of which combined my favorite aspects of all of these genres.

From the early 00s to 10s I still mainly followed Drum&Bass, but also branched out into some more mainstream and accessible sounds, lounge and disco house, 2-step/garage, stuff I could listen to in the car without weirding out new friends. At this point I think I fell out of the more niche experimental genres as I had personally associated them with a less mature, more introverted part of myself that I felt I’d grown out of or wanted to leave behind.

So here we are in mid-2020, and I feel like the unfortunate mainstream adoption of electronic music, its commercialization and commodification into predictable, polished, festival-friendly frameworks and the cult of DJ personalities has drained so much of what was interesting about it in the first place. Looking at Drum&Bass in particular, to me its origins and spirit were about forward-thinking and innovation. (As an aside, my impression of most of the “Future ____” genres implying innovation seem the most straightforward and resistant to experimentation, but I digress.) As the structures of its subgenres solidified, they became increasingly predictable and boring. Early Atmospheric/Intelligent Drum&Bass was such a mind-bending fusion of cleverly chopped high energy breaks contrasting with the stillness and beauty of ambient music, but after 20 years of solidifying its framework to the point of paint-by-numbers YouTube tutorials… today the beats just sound so bland and mindless to me, blurring together into a light sludge of hihats, shakers, gutless kicks and mushy snares at the most obvious intervals, lazily repeated ad nauseum for the duration of the track.

So I’ve been asking myself where that leaves me and what that drives me to create, my creative roots having been appropriated by the insatiable machine of capitalism and eroded to banality by an endless stream of producers trying to do the same thing.

I think that’s why I’ve had a renewed interest in IDM these past few years – a genre I ironically steered away from because of its inaccessibility, its esoteric and obtuse qualities. It seems to me these aspects also make it innately immune from being clearly defined and iterated into monotony. While it certainly can have qualities of Jungle, Drum&Bass, Acid, Techno, House, Ambient, Downtempo and of course purely experimental sound, it isn’t any of those things in particular. It’s nebulous and flexible by nature, and that’s what makes it so interesting and full of potential for artistic exploration.

And that’s also why I’ve tried to look back to said roots without creating purely for the sake of nostalgia. While there’s certainly some nostalgia in the form of break selection or patches that harken back to the genre’s progenitors, my goal was to try to extract the essence of what made those things so inspiring at the time, present them in a fresh form, making the most of the contemporary production techniques at my disposal.

I guess one could also say it’s fairly reactionary to all of these things – broadly the state of electronic music and its connection to my own identity, as mentioned, but also the state of the internet and social media: connected to millions of people around the world but more isolated than ever, increasingly fast machines saving time through automation, but still busier and working harder than ever, uncertainty and fear looming as we cope with this pandemic, and the desires that all of those contradictions and issues lead us to reach for.

Well, I’m not sure if I entirely succeeded by any of those accounts, but I certainly tried, and to that extent I’m satisfied with the result.