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01.01.15 - on release of On The Edge Of Forever





Q: Can you give us something of your musical background - what led to your interest in music?  

I was always interested in piano from an early age, having learnt some classical piano from my gran and taught myself some jazz pieces. But the strong interest in creating music started when I heard Dark Side of the Moon, The Doors and then Erpland by Ozric Tentacles in my early teens. From that point on, it was all about synths, pads, samples and trying to work out how the Ozrics made those weird and wonderful sounds. Moreover, the late nineties was a great time for trance and ambient and I was well placed to enjoy it as I grew up in Birmingham UK, with all the Megadog and Oscillate club nights. Oscillate was an electronica connoisseurs club, part run by HIA, and I think the sounds of HIA, Biosphere and Banco de Gaia got inside my blood stream during this time. Inspired by all this, by the age of 16 I had started to build a very basic studio with a Roland D-5, a Juno 06, a four track tape recorder and an Akai S01 sampler, and then added an Atari and Korg O1R/W after a couple of years.

I also play bass guitar and have played prog/metal/funk bass in a few friends bands for fun. I shared a flat with a drummer for a couple of years and we would disappear to his drum locker to jam just bass and drums for hours on end. This is a big help when it comes to writing basslines for Spatialize and it gives the whole project a slightly different dimension of musicality. When I’ve built up a drum groove and synth part groove I will often plug my bass into the mixer, have a good old jam and when I’ve come up with a bass riff that I like I switch over to synth bass and play it in with a keyboard instead. I do find that I can get more punch out of a synth bass and that it’s easier to mix.

  Q: How did Spatialize come about?  

As a teen I was often involved with other people musically and acted as an arranger / recorder / keyboard player in a couple of projects and played bass with other people. But when I suddenly found, for one reason or another, that most of my musician friends had left Birmingham, I began filling the arrangements with my own synth parts and samples. I quickly realised that I enjoyed spending time on my own in the studio, being absorbed and creating whole tracks from start to finish with no one else to consult. On top of that I was very influenced by trance / ambient / electronica so as I came to write my own music, it simply never occurred to me to try and make any other style of music. But I was always slightly more into the spacey, explosive intensity of Ozrics so I think that’s where that multi-layered, full sounding Spatialize synth style has its roots. It’s probably also why, along with the bass playing, I often favour a live drum sound or at least a loose, human style groove.

My friend and fellow musician Jez Plester came up with the name Spatialize after playing a computer game where the character was called “The Spatializer”. At first he wanted it for his own electronic project, but I loved the name and we agreed that the first person to write some sort of decent EP could use the name. I managed to pip him to the post so we agreed I could use the name but Jez did end up playing synth bubbles and fx at Spatialize gigs in and around 2006.

Then the whole thing really started to solidify into a project in the early 2000 era when I got a demo featured in the electronic music production magazine Future Music and won Top Tape in Sound in Sound. I produced quite a lot of material in that period, quite a lot of it just formative, but some of it actually quite good. So I’m going to release a collection of the best of this early material (2000 to 2003, pre Dryad’s Bubble) at some point in 2015, probably more an album more for people who’d be interested in a back story.

Q: What has been happening in the period between In The Midst Of Myriads and On The Edge Of Forever?  

In 2006 In The Midst of Myriads was well on the way to becoming an album. However I was working in forestry at the time and unfortunately got Lyme’s Disease from a tick bite. Luckily it was spotted early and treated with heavy anti-biotics but it still floored me and really took the steam out of the creative period that was leading towards an album. So I just released In The Midst of Myriads as an EP / mini album and sat back and licked my wounds for a while.
After that there wasn’t really much impetus to get going with recording again because although Myriads had done well within the context of a self-release for a pretty unknown artist, the state of the music industry was looking pretty bad at the time, CD sales were tanking, file sharing was rampant and Bandcamp wasn’t a main player. Making an album (a good one) is a major investment of time, effort and money so I wasn’t really sure that it was worth it trying to take it to the level beyond a pleasant creative hobby.
Within this context I kept tweaking away and improving my production skills (finally with proper studio monitors!) purely for my own interest and pleasure. That continued for a few years with no special plan and I was spending a fair amount of time doing yoga and regaining my health anyway. Then, after a bit of encouragement from family, I spent some time developing a music production for television showreel and then started working on new Spatialize material in 2009, picking up the embryonic “Indelible” which was started during the Myriad period. It took off a bit creatively speaking and between 2009 and 2013 I produced 3 albums worth of Spatialize material, an Ooze remix and an Experiments in Silence album. I also moved down to Cornwall during that period.

  Q: So how did it come about that you decided to release two albums at the same time?  

Well I got involved with a record company in about 2011 who had plans for my existing material at that point and asked me to write another album, but in a slightly different vein; a little less psy-chill and a bit more electronica. However, after a couple of years, the label appeared to be evaporating before my eyes, nothing got released and communications from them dried up. So I ended up with a large amount of unreleased material and when I sat down and sorted through it all a few months ago there was clearly one album worth of psy-chill (On the Edge of Forever), one of darker, groovy electronica (Radial) and one of dark, ambient electronica which will come out in 2015 called “Encrypted Transmissions” which has some crossover appeal for fans of the Experiments in Silence project.
The primary reason I released the two albums at one time was frustration I guess. I felt that the music was just so incredibly delayed by my involvement with a label (some of it almost delayed by a good 4 years) that I just had to release some music into the world to stop mould growing on it. It’s a strange sensation to have all that unreleased music, it’s the equivalent of artistic constipation and it’s a bit of an energy release to finally make it all available. With Bandcamp it’s just so liberating to be in control of releasing and anyway, it’s just so difficult to get people’s attention online, the psy-market is so niche, and with me being so bad at self-promotion, that I didn’t really think it mattered too much if I released two albums at once. At the very least I thought that the odd decision might at least get a few people’s attention! Moreover I also wanted to try to use it as a way to generate some live gig interest and show that I had enough material for festival slots.
In the days of CD’s I might well have released the two albums as a double album under one name, but I don’t think the concept of a double album translates quite so well to the digital bandcamp age. Much easier and clearer I think for people picking up passing sounds on the Facebook shares and Youtube snippets to have an obvious album page with dedicated artwork, not part one and part two’s. There was always that slight stylistic difference to the albums anyway and in a year people will just see two albums in the discography. So far, the majority of people have actually bought both albums from Bandcamp at the same time, very encouraging that people want to catch up with what I’ve been up to.

Q:  How would you describe the main differences between On The Edge Of Forever and Radial?  

I would say that On the Edge of Forever is classic, unabashed global psy-chill and is essentially an album for a festival loving audience. It’s full of global sounds and spacey synths and it’s very much the music that I enjoy producing and has quite a strong positive vibe to it.
Radial was in fact a conscious decision to try to make something a little less obviously psy-chill and a bit more electronica style. However, from that point of view it didn’t quite succeed as it still pretty much sounds like a psy-chill album, only just a very slightly darker one! Although Radial is a little more atmospheric, electronica and synth based it still shares the same DNA and has that recognisable Spatialize sound with the same production techniques at the core. The difference is just the choice of sounds on Radial really; slightly darker chords / more brooding synth atmospheres and samples. I enjoy both albums very much, I think they are both growers, and I’m pleased with how the mixes and mastering are translating so far.
I think that the Encrypted Transmissions album next year will really be the album that showcases something much more different from Spatialize. I was always a big fan of the early ambient electronica style, particularly Biosphere’s Microgravity and Substrata albums, and always wanted to make something with a much more minimal sound and with purely electronica beats. So Encrypted Transmissions will be about doing less, being more minimal, with a starker sound, more downbeat and a much less global feel. The album really keys into the Experiments in Silence vibe (my beatless soundscape project) and is almost a bridge between the two projects. I think it will add a little bit of texture and interest to the Spatialize discography.

  Q: What was the inspiration, fuel or vision behind On The Edge Of Forever?   I think it was probably a determination to finish the job that I started with In The Midst of Myriads. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like Lyme’s disease get in my way! It was also a determination to complete a good album that I could enjoy listening to, in the style of music that I love listening to and that I could enjoy producing along the way. Also I felt that my production technique had moved on a bit since In The Midst of Myriads and I felt that this album was my chance to do justice to the sound and style that I had already developed.
But the background fuel to the whole thing was being in a position for a little while where I could spend full days working on music, something that I had never really had before. You can put together good music on evenings and weekends but to produce something a little extra special you sometimes need the space and time to experiment, spend time with the mix and be ready for the inspirational moments to strike and capture them. Having that time to develop made quite a bit of difference and since that lift off period I can now produce in a faster, more focused way to a higher standard.
Q: Would you like to share with us something about your recording methods?
  The albums were produced completely within Logic 7 running on a Mac G5. Generally speaking my main plug-ins are Stylus RMX and EXS24 for drum sounds, Trilogy for Bass, Arturia Prophet V and Logic EFM1 for synths, EXS24 for sampling and Logic and UAD card for effects. There’s a fair bit of use of Supertrigga, a glitch plug-in, which I would run on random when bouncing down drums or synths to audio, and then sift through for the best bits. I’m not a fan of overly glitchy music but as a tool for adding a little bit of interest or variation here or there, it’s great. Another great plug-in for me is Vierring, the multiband synth sequencer from Reaktor. However, I don’t use it as a synth. You can insert it as an audio effect and run any audio sound or synth through it, creating a chopped / gated sound with quite a metallic quality.
Funnily enough one of the more essential plug-ins used on these albums is an unassuming little number called the Roland CE-1 Chorus pedal, an emulation of a guitar pedal which runs on the UAD card. I used it on so many sounds as, when used pretty dry, it just imparts a subtle ‘real life’ feel onto the source sound, so useful when using digital VST synths. Somehow it helps certain elements to ‘sit’ properly in the mix without adding an obvious chorus effect, although it of course does that too when needed. I tend to use compression quite subtly, to impart a glueing effect to the sound and then to use further volume automation to control the larger dynamic ranges in volume. Too much compression can sound not only a bit natty but it also can also raise the volume of parts of the mix that you don’t necessarily want to hear. I have also developed quite a neat workflow for bussing the elements of my mix together (usually 8 group busses) and have found that the UAD buss compressor can make a very satisfying difference on these busses.
Synth-wise I also use a Roland JP8000 which excels at sounds in upper mid ranges and highly resonant sounds. Also, having kept a well ordered sample library catalogue over the years, quite a few of the synths that I have owned such as the Roland Juno 6, Yamaha CS-5 and Korg Prophecy have made their way on to both of these recent albums. In fact one or two of the samples used from my library on these albums date right back to some of the very first sounds I ever made or recorded. Nowadays, samples are ten a penny and you can pick the most amazing atmosphere, synth or fx sound pretty much out of the box. So it’s satisfying for myself to have to have something personal and meaningful in there. There’s obviously quite a lot of global samples on this album though and these invariably come from sample libraries.
One last word on synths. The Arturia Prophet V plug-in analogue synth was one of the main revelations though on this album. It was recommended to me by Tom Green (Another Fine Day / Orb) as he reckoned it to be a great emulation. And so it is. Up to that point I had never owned a quality analogue. Budget analogues like the Roland Juno 06 have a great sound but it was not midi controllable with only the arpeggio being clockable to midi. So, suddenly having a proper, midi controllable, proper sounding analogue synth, albeit in plug-in form, helped to class up the sound a fair bit and it is used for bass, drum sounds, pads, riffs, and fx. Everything really.
A lot of people use Ableton but the main way I have used it so far is rewired into Logic, in effect acting like a sample editor / time stretcher within Logic. For instance, Ableton allowed a Yamaha CS-5 LFO pattern recorded onto 4 track when I was 20 to make it’s way, synced up, onto Hancock Entity. Ableton really opened up another world and allowed me better access to my pretty well organised sample library and the old 4 and 8 track sounds that I had backed up to audio files over time. When I’ve finished warping and syncing the samples in Ableton I then bounce them into Logic. The new Logic X has this facility to stretch and warp audio so I imagine Ableton will now be consigned to live use on the laptop.
My general track creation workflow is this:
Build core of track with the main drum pattern, bass riff, synth riff, main motif / Create 4 or 5 sections with different variations / Sketch out a very rough arrangement, placing sections where I envisage the track will flow / Mix session on what I’ve got so far / Set up drum, synth busses / Build up the sections and hop around the arrangement working on whichever part takes my fancy / Build transitions between sections / Add all those little backward cymbals, filter sweeps, voice samples etc / More Mixing and fx automation/ Sift through track, tweaking here and there until you I can listen all the way through without reaching to make any adjustments.
  Q:  Do you have any interesting anecdotes around the creating of the music?
  The majority of this music on this album was written when I lived for a short period in Somerset, near Wells and Glastonbury. I think that producing good quality electronic music is not just about inspiration and skill but also about putting in the time and effort. Externally the life of someone producing an album is probably pretty boring. But The Mendips in Somerset is a really atmospheric area to live and quite inspiring for music making.
At the time I was pretty obsessed, from dawn to dusk, with producing and I fell into a bit of a daily pattern: getting up very early and going straight into my studio having had no breakfast, with unkempt hair and wearing a shabby old dressing gown; not a pretty sight! After lunch I would walk the countryside in and out of Wells, musing on the track was going, and then I’d put those ideas into practice as soon as I got back. Charles Dickens used to walk for many miles whilst mulling over his novels and I would have to agree that a damn good walk, in terms of inspiration and creativity, is worth its weight in gold. It gives you a chance to think, mull and ponder. I feel that to really improve at anything, a period of complete immersion is a good idea and can help to take you to the next level. I think that some of the really strong, stand out tracks came from this period in Somerset.

Q: How did the collaboration with Krusseldorf happen?

  Well facebook is not only a good medium for hearing about music, it’s also a really good place to make informal contact with other producers. I could see that he was a contemporary producer on the scene and I think I asked him advice about record companies and we just got chatting via facebook messaging. He’s got a dark, dry sense of humour and we got on well. He heard my music, I heard his and we decided to write a track together. He’s very communicative and writes sounds very quickly. In fact, at one point he was writing sounds and uploading them while he was messaging me!
At the time Simon was in his dark ambient mode and had a few Krusseldorf loop / sketches that he wasn’t doing anything with at the time. So he sent me 4 or 5 sketches and I chose Great Prayer. He had written the glitch percussion part, some piano chords, a couple of synth parts and the bass line. So Simon had really got the ball rolling and I ran with it in terms of sequencing and production, by adding the main drum groove, the dubby elements, synth pads, filtered santoor, synth solo and extra electric piano. I passed it back to Simon, he liked it and he added a few extra special fx and made a few mix suggestions. I think our sounds and styles blend very sympathetically together; possibly because we’re quite different people. The strange thing is that a couple of months after passing me the initial audio parts, Simon’s hard drive died and he lost all the original files. So that track would have died too, had we not developed it together. Overall it was a flowing and easy process and I think we’d both like to do some more again in the future.

  Q: Now that the album is complete - where do you see yourself heading next?   My main aim for this music for now is to take a selection of the most upbeat material and go and gig it out at festivals and chill-out rooms. It’s been a while since I’ve stepped foot in a club or festival so I’m more than ready to get out there again. In particular I’d like to get out to some of the European festivals and maybe even to the USA as they’ve got quite a burgeoning electronic scene out there. I’ve got a laptop and portable synth all ready to roll, but I’ve been out of the loop a long time now and need to start building a few contacts again; so if anyone is reading this in early 2015, please get in touch ;-). I can bring good value as I can offer a live set of beatless ambience from the Experiments in Silence project to fill those delicate dawn slots. We’ll see how it goes.
In terms of what I record next, I find that I go through different phases of creativity and I can never quite plan what I’m going to do next. However, at the moment I’m doing some new Dreaming Tree material (global / acoustic / synthy / slightly new age ambience) and I would like to get back into the Experiments in Silence headspace and probably write a number of albums in that style. I do find writing the deep, abstract ambient a fast flowing, intuitive and peaceful experience. But I’ll probably return eventually back to Spatialize at some point, I always do!



Thanks to Neil for allowing us that interview.