Just a dream

Jun 16, 2024 | Posts

For the last couple of weeks, or maybe even months, I’ve found it hard and uncomfortable to spend time in the studio. At some point during late winter, early spring, the joy leached out of making music.

Depressed and dirty

The machines couldn’t excite me, I never found the flowstate, I felt I was repeating myself and I felt empty. I experimented with AI to help me kickstart some creativity, but it was more annoying than anything else and it left me feeling a bit dirty.

Despondency set in, I didn’t switch on the studio anymore and I found myself fantasizing about selling my gear, worrying if I would be able to sell it all before AI would make all synths, drumcomputers and effects obsolete.

Not very diplomatic

Just a couple of months earlier, I was thinking about releasing some of my ambient work, which, for some reason, I never put much effort into releasing. I contacted a netlabel who were interested in releasing the 5 tracks I had selected as an album, and I saw that artists releasing on their label, also released the albums themselves on their own channels. The label was more of an archive than an actual label. Which was fine by me.

I released the album on February 25 2024 and I expected the label to release the album around the same time. They never did. I speculated that maybe they were offended by the fact I had released the album myself as well, which I had neglected to mention to them. It wasn’t very diplomatic of me, but by then I was already starting to feel the sullenness that would only continue to grow over the next months. So I let it go, and I may have burned a bridge, I’m sorry Nik.

I didn’t draw much attention to the release, feeling that there would be not much interest anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I love the tracks that are on here. I just don’t think anybody gives a shit. You can listen to the album here:

Reckless and careless

Around the same time I was looking through the uploads on my Youtube channel and I noticed that throughout the years I had kept a significant number of videos private or unlisted, usually with the idea to preserve them for a release at some later date. Or in some cases these were tracks that had been released on a label and I had taken the original videos offline, to ensure exclusivity and not offend the label, I guess.

Now, looking at the number of videos I had censored, or taken down (if I stop being so dramatic), I got a little mad at myself for being so submissive (cue more drama). It’s how I felt, I am not sure it is an accurate interpretation of things, but it annoyed me a lot. So I made 23 videos public. Not realizing that they would populate my YouTube upload timeline from the moment they were made public, and not be inserted into the timeline retroactively on the date the video was uploaded.

Since I care about curation and keeping things neat on my online channels, this was messy and disorderly. It was a bit reckless and careless, and I decided not to care. Breaking character. Strange.

Reluctant and laborious

The months that followed would be stranger still. There was stuff going on in my life that changed my perspective, but it wasn’t some great insight, or a needed lesson, none of that movie bullshit. It was just a shift in how I saw things. It wasn’t a lot of fun.

Somehow I did find myself in the studio a couple of times in that period, frustrated and angry, a bit sad. Seven tracks in 3 or 4 months. It was a reluctant and laborious process, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to kill myself sell everything and be done with it. I wasn’t being dramatic. It just felt that way.

Oh, by the way, I just want to give you a heads up, this isn’t going to have a happy (or sad, for that matter) ending, the world doesn’t work like that.

Tarpit and clouds

Which brings me to this weekend. It’s Sundaynight now, and a sort of old, worn-in melancholy and its Siamese twin that is the loathing I have always had for Sundays, is with me again, covering me like vomit.

The curtains are open just a bit, just enough to see a smattering of clouds drift past, colorized by the setting sun, over and beyond the trees across the road. I’m trying to refrain from writing about the nightmarish skeletons of emotions that are belched up from the black tarpit inside of me and just finish this post. Fuck those clouds for making me remember, promising things that feel so far out of reach right now.

Glad there’s a problem

I think it was Friday, but it may have been Saturday, I decided to power up the studio and try to have fun. Instead, it wasn’t long before I realized there were some technical issues. Even though I was put out by this, I also felt some relief, because it meant I could focus on fixing a problem, instead of trying to be creative, which was starting to get some really bad connotations in my mind, making me feel quite right-wing, which in turn made me feel uncomfortable.

Crouching under desks, hanging over the console, reaching and fucking around with cables, staring at my connections matrix, unplugging, replugging, realizing that old gear sometimes really does start to malfunction, even in my studio. Up until now, I had expected to be exempt from such pedestrian besognes. I finally figured out a solution and since men are never more happy than when they come up with solutions, I felt quite pleased with myself.

Folding until you get overtones

Perhaps it was this fact that made me loosen up a bit, and I felt my preoccupations and foul mood dissipate a bit, as I found four interesting notes, or actually an interesting sequence of four notes that felt like it had a small hook attached to it, that was pulling at something inside my midriff.

I’m not sure what came first, the sequence or the sound, I think it was the sound, thinking back. I was messing around with the Piston Honda MkIII, a wavefolder oscillator. For some reason I am fascinated with Industrial Music Electronics‘ modules, and I know I should like them a lot, but they are also really hard for me to comprehend, to grasp, to master.

I was folding waves, after first tuning the module, folding waves, after first deciding on how to route the output through a filter, folding waves, after thinking about what effects to put it through, folding waves until I happened on a configuration that gave me some overtones that created the hook that tugged on the thing inside me that made me feel something.

The four notes were made for the sound and the sound was made for those four notes. It sounds a bit dramatic, and larger than life, and the reality is that, yes, it felt something like that, but on a very small scale.

Six hours

I started to add more to see if I could push my luck without losing what I had. The Juno-60, which I never push into high resonance, now started following and doubling the Piston Honda with a whistle. The Minilogue XD, which I had used as an auditory reference next to the visual aid provided by Data for tuning, was left ganged on the Cirklon, which meant that it was tethered to the Juno-60, which surprised me, because I forgot, but I liked it and tweaked the patch so it would fit.

Then I spent a lot of time working on a few chords to accompany the four notes. I have no training and don’t know much about music theory. The times I try to use music theory for finding notes or chords, more often than not, I end up coming up with something that feels artificial and stiff. I feel a need to compensate for what I perceive as an inadequacy, but it doesn’t work. So I literally felt around for the right notes on the keyboard.

It took me half an hour or so, but I found four chords that worked and the D-05 gave me the soft and painful tone I was looking for. I added an arpeggiator from the Digitone. And I used the MS-10 to add a filtered triangle to give it some bottom. Lots of effects, getting the mix right, yadayada and after a couple of false starts, the 10 minute track was recorded. Total time, six hours or so.

Screentime sucks

By the time I had “mastered” the track, I realized I fucked up. At some point in the recording process I tried to be clever and add some spice to the sound by fading up a couple of the synths through a distortion pedal, but I didn’t realize that there was a feedback loop. Now, this would be something that I would normally catch quickly enough while recording and be able to tame the swell before it ruined the take, but because I had bypassed the distortion pedal earlier, I kept fading up, because I wasn’t hearing the distortion I expected.

A high pitched washed out sound, not completely unaesthetic, but hitting 0 dB, messed up my recording. In the original file it sounded ok, loud, but with a bit of gaintweaking, acceptable in the mix, so I didn’t realize that it would sound distorted in a nasty way after mastering. It did.

So I had to either re-record, or do the thing I hated most, edit the file on the computer in Wavelab. I didn’t feel like recording the track again, because I had felt something while recording, which is the point. I wasn’t sure I would feel something again, if I were to do it over. So I relented and started editing to cover up my fuckup. I loathe working in a DAW or editor, screentime sucks when making music.

Just a dream

I was able to fix the error, excising the offending bar. Meanwhile I was thinking about the title I had given the track, Just A Dream. Remember the skeletons from the tarpit? Let’s just say that the name is related to those skeletons and the darkness they come from.

Since I wanted to hide the cut in the track, even though it wasn’t really obvious, I still felt selfconscious and some self recrimination, I was thinking of what would fit there. Coincidence would have it that the cut was in the middle of the track, splitting it in two, like a mirror. Then I remembered the scene from The Doors, “It’s just a dream, Jimmy”. Free association, subconsciousness, and all that.

I ripped the sample, manipulated it and put it in. Remastered and rendered. Ok. Now for the obligatory video.

Looks like a dream

In 2012 I was shooting a video for a French electronic musician, the video was never finished and I never heard from them again, but I shot some very interesting material for the video.

 

For one part of the video, we went out to the rural outskirts, where there are meadows, rolling hills, forests. It was a late afternoon in August and the sun was starting to get low and orange. She was a beautiful sight in her red dress, the dress and her skin contrasting against the green of the grass and the blue of the sky.

The Canon 5dMkII was conjuring magic and it looked like a dream of a summer in the South of France. I asked her to sit in the grass, enjoy the sun and lie down slowly and sensuously. A very interesting dream, indeed.

I was never able to really use this footage, I have a couple of times for other videos, but it never felt right. Because it was the most dream-like material I have ever shot, I dragged it into the timeline and looked at it.

The track repeats the same four notes over and over and I started to think about using this rhythm as a key to the images, or the other way around. I decided to find the moment she is enjoying the sun on her skin, she leans back, and slowly and softly lays herself down in the grass, taking up two bars, then she dissolves into the sitting version of herself starting at the next bar. Over and over. Like a dream you can’t wake up from.

In the middle of the track, where the cut was and the sample is, I mirror the image and invert the loop. Instead of the dissolve, she sits back up into a new world, she crossed over into the mirror world. She has now truly woken up, or maybe she just dreams she’s woken up. The colors are starker, the light is colder. For the second half of the track, we see her dissolve from sitting up, back into lying down. Until the last bar, where she remains seated and the camera pans away as we fade to black. Hold your applause, please, it’s nothing.

Ego and the old computer

I loved my idea, my concept, my cleverness at how it all came together. Even though I realized how it probably wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, couldn’t be considered art or have value to anyone but me. Laughing at myself, since I never get to be part of the “true artists” or “the scene”, probably for a very good reason.

My mac pro is old and temperamental and crashed (just) once during the production of the video. It feels a bit like working with a wild animal, it is very unpredictable and dangerous. So I decided to work strategically and render passes of the video, once I had added another layer. It took me hours to finish the video, I think it was past 4 am when I was able to watch the finished film.

I put the video online the next day and shared it in the places I share these things.

That’s something

Today I got an email notification about a comment on the video. Somebody, for some reason was shown my video by the YouTube algorithm. And for some reason I was able to communicate something to them.

I am not kidding when I say that it is the sole thing I hope for, when sharing my music, to have it be found by someone who’ll feel something when they listen to it.

It’ll seem horrifically banal and I’ll seem an attention-seeking child and maybe that is the way it is, but I felt something during the making of this track, that’s something. I was inspired to do something with material I shot 12 years ago, use it in an inspired way, that’s something.

Watching the video for the first time in the early morning, my thoughts darker than the sky outside, I got a bit scared, because I could feel what I had wanted to convey, that’s something. And then somebody took the time to tell me that they felt something too.

That’s something.

Released 5 years ago today – Summer Of ’92

5 years ago today Shipwrec released my CausaliDox EP Summer Of ’92. In this post I take a look back and talk about what the tracks mean to me.

Sampling into Assimil8or

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A critic in time

Today I spent some time selecting poems I wrote in my early 20’s for the website. It feels strange to critique myself and my poetry 20-some years later.

A synth sci-fi short story

I’m not recording. I’ve decided to just let this happen. It’s been going on for a while now. And I think it is probably too late anyway.

Lost in a memory hole

I’m not sure what happened. I got lost in a memory hole tonight. Well, I can reconstruct it, sort of. And it’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

Bob Knutton – It Sates Itself On Doubt

Ventured into darker regions today, tribal modular drums, echoing and distorted thrust me into the gloom. I explain how I recorded the track and what gear I used.

CausaliDox on NTRFRNZ Radioshow

This past week the track There Is Nothing In The World from my CausaliDox album Between The Leaves Lies Eternity opened the excellent NTRFRNZ radio show in Brasil.

sonOnos – Tomorrow

Got lost in the machines today. It was nice. 

CausaliDox – Cohort Death Signal

I wanted to make the Pro-One sound dangerous. Things started building from there. It sounds like an existential threat.

website redesign finished

Over the past 6 weeks I have worked on redesigning my website. It was hard work, but I am so glad I stuck with it, because I am quite happy with the redesign.