Aperus ~ a Journey into Symmetry
Posted April 20, 2018
My favorite story from the book "Art and Fear" is about the pottery class that's divided up into two groups - one is tasked with making the best pot possible while the other is tasked with making the most pots possible. It turns out that the group that made the most pots also made the best pots.
Though I had always hoped to be prolific and make a lot of pots, time moves quickly and I end up working slowly on a few projects at a time. Lie Symmetry was such an album - it came into view and slipped away numerous times over many years and between other projects. But, in the process I decided that making an imperfect album could be a worthy goal and focused on the following guidelines:
1. Explore new territory, expand into areas you're unfamiliar.
2. Continue working to your strengths.
3. Remain curious.
4. Don't think about genre. It's ok if the album is a little bit disjointed and doesn't stick to one particular style.
5. Learn new things. If there's something you don't know take a class, read, watch tutorials, get help from people who do.
6. Enjoy the process, the work is its own reward.
7. Color the sound as much as possible and make it sound like the artwork - use saturation, distortion, chorus, flange, phase, etc.
8. Don't try to be perfect. Don't fix every mistake. Leave some rough edges and imperfections on purpose.
9. Create good artwork.
10. Invite feedback, be willing to accept outside influence and share the process with friends and fans.
11. Be thankful, have gratitude. Give back in any way possible. Thank the artists that influenced you and the people that helped you.
12. Be humble, be a real person, connect authentically and don't try to be cool.
This song fell out of the sky after making a field recording trip to the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Capturing the recordings presented challenges as there were other people walking around, exploring and talking. I managed to capture a strange 20 second mechanical, rhythmic loop that served as the driving inspiration for this song. I also wanted to explore using jazz drum loops to augment a few songs, so the cymbol pattern soon evolved to satisfy that curiosity.
When I showed the early versions of this song to Ron Sunsinger, it also had a jazz snare pattern instead of the electronic drums. He said, "you need to go all out and make this sound more electronic". I scrapped the snare, worked up a heavily colored electronic drum loop and made hours of recordings from shortwave radio which were then used to add some of the electronic sounds and the "CQDX" vocal recording.
Lie Symmetry really started with the track "Frozen, Broken" many years ago when a bell chime loop I recorded was used as part of a soundtrack to Matthew Clysdale's film of the same name. It's also the track that's the oldest on this release and the most difficult to finnish. I recorded a dozen versions early on but struggled to find it's true essence. There were so many layers and voices demanding to be heard. Each time I returned to it, I felt that it needed more space and needed to be simplified. So, that's the course it took - painstaking gradual simplification and finding space. I made over 30 mixes of this in the last year alone until the ebb and flow felt right.
When The Mountains Wear Black Hats
The title is derived from a Tibetan prophecy, "When the mountains wear black hats, the world will end", and interpreted the black hats as the peaks without snow and ice. It's a prophecy about the world ending due to climate change, with the snow melting and water drying up. The song grew from an intro for the track "Ephemeral River" and quickly evolved into a song of it's own. I'm quite fond of the noisy crashes in this one and it took a lot of effort to tune them so they fit.
Mentally returning to the high mountains and Tibetan overtones again, I was inspired by Werner Herzog's movie "Wheel of Time" about the Dalai Lama living in exile in the shadow of the Himalayan mountains. The bell tones were sampled by playing a rhythm on metal sheets, then building a drum loop to augment the timing. Again, I sought to create a jazz influenced hi hat patterns here. My friend Jan Roos told me I needed to improve the kick and snare on this, I scrapped the original and sought other sounds. This song originally ended with a sample of chanting monks from Herzog's movie but I was denied permission to use the sample in a loop. I'm a little bummed about that, but still like this song quite a bit.
I changed the loop used on VLA 1 to explore another mood and variation for part 2. I dug deep into the Dave Smith OB6 synth, programming something that delivered a highly resonant and evocative vibe. This song, like VLA 1, mercifully came together quickly.
Marsh Lake, October
This song is built almost entirely on field recordings from Michigan and the Southwest. In particular, you can experience an incredible display of nature by watching thousands of cranes fly in and out of Marsh Lake every fall as they prepare to migrate. Most of the cricket and crane sounds came from a single mono recording which then had to be creatively massaged to turn into a stereo field. You can also hear samples of water from Flagstaff, bells recorded at Arconsante and a kiln recorded at Cosante. These were mixed together until a cohesive sound narrative came together. Another song that fell into place quickly from start to finish.
This is an older idea that finally came to fruition for this recording. The original version was shorter and took a lot of experimenting to get the effects right for the various noises and hits. This may be the droniest piece I've ever written and I like the sonic minimalism a lot.
In addition to making about 30 mixes for Frozen, Broken I also tried breaking the log jam by recording three different song structures for it. This version came together naturally and focuses more on the interaction between the bells and the warm Juno pads.
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