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11.11.11 - On release of Universal Automation

Q: Can you begin by telling us please what led you into a life of music?  

We both got into music independently for pretty much the same reasons. I would say we both knew music was our primary life direction from the age of around 13-14. We grew up in a remote, isolated location in Western Maryland, USA where there wasn't much to do other than individualistic pursuits. I grew up in a house of music because of my father, who's an accomplished guitarist and musician who definitely put the love of music in me from a very early age.
Mike, well- he just knew 'what was up' from an early age I guess. :)
We were both very angry, rebellious teenagers and at the beginning music was a way for us to explore our individuality and express our frustrations with living in the midst of a...less than open-minded, progressive culture. We were both pretty serious about dark metal music for a few years before we even met. We were both guitarists who spent most of our time practicing and trying to find people to start bands with. This was very difficult as there weren't many people around who were even interested in music. We both started toying around with 4-track recorders and other accessible home recording technology at the time, in order to realize our own ideas. Again, this is all before we met.
Then when I was about 17 and Mike was 15, we happened to meet through some mutual friends and immediately connected in a very powerful way. We understood each other instantly. We then had each other to reinforce our mutual and growing obsession. Through growth, friendship, experimentation and many 'pychonautic' explorations at the time we kept exploring our musical interests. This mutated from very melodic 'post apocalyptic' gothic and thrash metal compositions that we were pursuing... then into industrial music heavily influenced by artists like Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, Velvet Acid Christ, Haujobb, etc.
As our explorations progressed, so did our motivations, tastes and techniques. Both in our lives and therefore our music, we grew out of being so angry and started turning our attention to creation rather than destruction, so to speak. We started becoming increasingly interested in purely electronic music and consciousness exploration through its utilization. We discovered dance music and then experimental/braindance/idm or whatever you'd like to call it. First we were incorporating electronics into guitar compositions and eventually we were so fascinated by synthesizers and non-conventional 'future music' that our guitars started collecting dust...
This was all over the course of several years and it just kept evolving.
It completely turned into an obsession and direction for our lives to come.

Q: How has the project Aligning Minds grown from inception to its current state?  

Ha, it's been a long and interesting journey...
Continuing from the last question, although we were continually growing together musically, until around 2002 we were still making purely our own music. We hadn't been collaborating on the actual music, but more just supporting each other in terms of progression of our own work. We had developed as individualistic control freaks with our music out of necessity. It suddenly dawned on us that it would be doubly effective to work together. We wanted to create a platform that would serve as a joint outlet for our ideas and efforts. The concept was to build something that would gain momentum that was beyond its founding members, simply because of the concept itself. That concept was unity through music. Although a lofty notion, it was what we felt and we set about writing the music that expressed it to us. Until mid-2004 or so, we just incubated and remained very secular, developing that vision in a musical representation. We established what, to us, was and still is the sound of Aligning Minds.
We finally reached a point where we felt the need to break out of the bubble we were in, both in our music and life situations. With that came the need to perhaps finally share our work with someone, anyone, and to allow it to lead us wherever it would. Through a series of fateful meetings with people, we started performing in the Baltimore/Washington DC area regularly at many different events.
At first we just took whatever we could get, it wasn't about profile but just about sharing the music. Then we met several key people who started booking us at events that provided much bigger opportunities. We aligned with the Eighty Eight crew based out of DC and we became residents at several events which allowed us to perform monthly, sometimes weekly with a huge variety of artists ranging from producers, dj's, vj's, dancers, performance artists and designers. We were suddenly immersed in a community of like-minded people who were supporting and encouraging our work. It was quite a difference and step forward for us and to this day was one of the biggest pivotal moments in our lives as artists. We were meeting, performing and working with artists whose work we had followed and admired for years, and the networking that was achieved was unbelievable. From there, we got kind of addicted to performing and connecting with people.
We continued writing and performing and started bridging in new directions, through both collaborating with other artists and touring. Somehow, around this time we were exposed to the psytrance scene through the Gaian Mind festival. Although we had never originally thought of our music as relating to that scene in any way, it seemed to be very well received within it. We were blown away by the culture and ethic, and became increasingly involved in performing at psy events in the down tempo areas. This also led to discovering the artist Bluetech, whose music we immediately fell in love with and reached out to for potential opportunity. He, in turn, connected us with Aleph Zero and subsequently the Beats and Pieces label, with whom we signed with for a full length album release.
We decided to embark on our first tour, called 'Immerse', which was with Kilowatts and The Great Mundane. This was all before we even had a proper, largely distributed release out which was in many ways, over-zealous. This inevitably led to more events, remixes, singles and then - another tour! We were, admittedly, very new to understanding how to structure our work-flow and set a functional agenda. Through some trials and tribulations, we completed the album 'Universal Automation' for the Beats and Pieces label in 2010.
Over the last 15 months or so, we have taken a hiatus from working together, for various reasons. However, now we're back with a fresh stance and outlook on our future as Aligning Minds.

Q:  When you set out to create Universal Automation – what was your vision?

We wanted to create something unique that had longevity. As per our usual desire musically, even within the composition of an individual track, we wanted to create an emotional progression. The concept/statement of 'Universal Automation' was to create through universal design. To us, this means putting aside the logical, rational mind and surrendering to a deeper intuition. This is where truly powerful music comes from in our opinion, all throughout the ages regardless of time, space or genre. It's about surrender and allowing the universal intelligence to embody and speak through you as an artist. Also, playing on the term of 'automation' within electronic music production, it's as if we are simply parameters in the universe that have been programmed/automated to perform certain functions for a specific result. That result is to channel from the source energy. Therefore, we wanted to create an album that really put forth our vision in that regard. Also, we had a deep desire to transcend limitations of genre definitions and all of the associated consequences of that. Deep melodies, rich atmospheres and exploratory rhythms are the components of that language for us.

  Q: How do you write your music? What’s your process?

It's mostly the same for both of us, whether we're writing together or individually. Usually it’s sitting down in front of the sequencer with a craving, for some sort of mood or space. More often than not, a track will start with the beats. We'll put the time in to create a rhythm that creates a 'moving skeleton' that will do well in supporting some sort of sound-scape. Once the basic beat is established and it's interesting enough on its own, a basic element of mood will be the next focus. This could be anything from a weird sample, to a basic melody, to an improvised, live melody played in on the keys... to just a pad sample, basically anything that creates a sense of space and a foundation for a mood/emotion. Then, this and the beat get worked on in tandem, in order to make them really intertwine and interact in a complimentary way. Then, more elements are added in the same way - a melody, a harmony, more spacey bits, anything that will add or embellish it in a complimentary way. At this point we're usually starting to get hypnotized and the other elements just start revealing themselves. Sometimes these will be just sketches at first; other times there will be more time spent realizing the sonic character of each element before moving on. It just depends.
Then, once enough elements are layered together, we start sketching out a basic arrangement and energy progression. The main body of the track and variations, bridges and transitions are all written and dropped into different places to play with energy contour and tension/release. While this is all happening, time is spent to tighten things up and mix the elements properly. The actual mixing/production process is pretty synonymous with the writing/composition at this point. Compression, limiting, EQ, spatial processing, etc. - they're all getting applied in between phases of additional composition and arrangement. Of course, we will most likely come back to that very obsessively later, but at least the basic groundwork is getting laid out for each layer.
Once the track is mostly written and arranged, it’s really just zillions of times of playing it back and getting lost in the vibe of the track - listening objectively and subjectively - and doing detail work. Intro, builds, fills, glitches, added percussion, mixing, etc. It's the detail work that takes the most time honestly. Adding all the little details that keep us and the listener engaged upon multiple listens. We've always admired music that presents something new to hear with each listen, music presenting nanosecond hidden artifacts and subtle characteristics that affect you on a very subconscious level.

Q:  What gear do you use (both live and in the studio)?  

For both studio and live, it’s very simple... We've been using Ableton Live for years and it's our DAW of choice. We use lots of plugins of all varieties that we've collected and are always accumulating...
Pretty much anything Native Instruments related, especially Reaktor, SpectraSonics stuff, Waves, Izotope, native Ableton plugins. Drum racks, instrument racks and effects racks that we've built over the years. All sorts of free and randomly odd things...
APC 40's for control and Novation Remote Sl's for keys. We've been through various models of monitors and headphones -Mackie HR8's, Event ASP8’s, KRK Rokits, Ultrasone, etc. Some tracks were even written on consumer level ear-buds then mixed down later on better gear. We used to use some hardware and definitely want to get back into that more. Software is obviously just so accessible and control-friendly and the potential, quality and design is always expanding.
Live, we just bring out our laptops with APC 40's for control, and sometimes the Novations for keys. For live performance, simple and effective is what we're into really – not getting tied down technically and just focusing on the vibe of the music. At the end of the day it’s the resulting music that matters.

  Q:  How do you create those intricate beats on the album – can you break down the process for us?   Mike and I both have varied processes for this, but the concepts are and results are mostly the same. The main beats are programmed to carry the pronounced, foundation of the rhythm. Kicks, snares, fundamental hit hats and percussion and various other hits. Then, other poly-rhythms and embellishments are programmed and layered with the main beat. These are then run through various effect chains and algorithms, which are automated depending on the desired results. This is all then sampled, multiple times with different automation each time, in order to get different layers of textural, tonal and time variations on the original content. You then end up with your main beats and a huge resource of unique, character-rich rhythmic layers and samples that work with the beats in different ways. These layers are then broken down into chunks, single-shots, etc. These are then thrown into another sampler and programmed again, or simply placed in different areas of the arrangement. This is again run through more chains and the process is repeated, often an absurd number of times.
What you end up with is a handful of very carefully handpicked, well-crafted glitches and rhythms that are programmed to 'dance' with the original, main beats. Then, the main beats are re-programmed to interact with these new layers in new and interesting ways, and often times, EVERYTHING is re-sampled a few more times. In the end, the result is a big soup of interesting pieces and it's a process of elimination and careful placement. The vision of how the beats should sound emerges increasingly throughout the entire process.
Q:  What has inspired your particular style of music?
  In many ways, diversity. For a very long time we were isolated and not in any way involved with any sort of scene and its associated genres, trends, and approaches. We spent years just listening and observing from afar, never going to events or meeting anyone face to face. It was just us, our ideas and all of these diverse influences we were picking up from listening to so many styles and sounds, but never being specifically involved or affiliated with any one of them.
For instance, we were obsessively listening to and therefore being influenced by everything from avant garde idm, drum n bass, breakcore, ambient, downtempo, industrial, glitch, world music. Anything we could get our hands that we thought was interesting. Yet there was no real allegiance to any one style or format. Although at the time, I think we were going a bit crazy by feeling so far away from the world of music that we wanted to be involved in. We compensated for this by devouring loads and loads of diverse music. This really worked to our advantage because we started incorporating all of these different strains of influence into our work. It all culminated in a unique sound, I think. We never understood why there was this kind of 'closed door' policy between genres, scenes and cultures. Also, just life, living it hard and really writing from the heart. We never set out to make a particular genre or style, but just to write music that expresses how we feel- which results in extremely personal expressions. Often, a bit too much – so we end up having a hard time letting go of it.
  Q:  Who does what within Aligning Minds?

  We get asked this a lot and the answer is that it really varies. It depends on the the project at hand and what it needs. There are some things that are just completely one of us. There are other things that are 80 percent one of us, and the other person elaborates on or finishes up, adding their flavor. Then there are other tracks that are complete collaborations. It's very balanced in its own odd way. We both write basslines, beats, melodies, atmospherics - there's not necessarily any clearly defined role in terms of who does what. We just do what the music is asking for.
I will say this: Mike is a mastermind at glitch and all of the really intricate rhythms and edits. His inherent abilities seem to naturally lie around the more downtempo, idm influenced stuff. My abilities are more in the straight ahead, energy-oriented structures. Mike has a knack for the playful, wistful melodies. I have a knack for the really looming, haunting, brooding stuff. We really just try to combine all of these things into forms that interest us, mutually. We feel like the tracks are living entities, unto themselves- it’s what they ask for from us that are important, not the other way around. That may sound strange, but it's really the way we feel about it. In many ways, Aligning Minds is two individual artists who have a common vision and understanding of music, and work to achieve different shades of that vision.
Q:  What are you currently working on – how do you spend your time?   Honestly, we've both had to take a bit of a hiatus from music in order to pay attention to practicality. We're currently working day jobs to pay the bills (IT / Design / Web). I have an 8 year old son and Mike just had a son 3 months ago, so those things are presently keeping us pretty busy. Mike has been playing a number of performances in the Asheville, NC area under the Aligning Minds name.
We have a plethora of unreleased material and are working to sort out a new album/EP, contribute to some compilations, and get our backlog of unreleased tracks out there in some digestible format. We're both of course working on new music at any given opportunity – I’m actually about to self-release an EP under the name 'Deep Subject' and Mike is working on a sound design project with Volvox Films. We also just redid the Aligning Minds website and are pushing our social platforms. You can find all that stuff at -
  Q:  What goals do you have musically for the future.
  The future looks very bright and we have quite a lot in store. The recent break has allowed us to kind of reinvent ourselves personally and now we are working on translating that into what Aligning Minds will become over the next few years. For the next year or so we really want to focus on releases, we plan to get the majority of the stuff we have been sitting on out there for the world to hear. We are looking to link up with some labels based in the US and really push our sound. Expect to see it trickle out through EP’s, compilations, remixes, and when it’s ready a full length album for Aleph Zero Records. This past summer we did several remixes and releases for artists like Emancipator, Invisible Allies, MusSck and currently have a few other in cue.
On the live front, we want to work on realizing a more profound live show that incorporates video, projection mapping and a reinvented live setup. We are currently seeking interactive visual artists to help us develop this further. We will continue to do select performances and festivals in the meantime.
Overall the last year has been a bit of an incubation bubble that allowed us to return to form; now we are genuinely excited to see what new forms and experiences morph out of it.


Thanks to Daniel for doing the talking and to Mike allowing us that interview.