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28.05.15 - on release of Radial





Q: Radial and On the Edge Of Forever were released together - how did you come to separate the tracks into these two distinct albums?  

When I was previously working on a release with a label, they were favouring darker, more contemporary electronica material rather than the more psychedelic chill sound. Even though I didn’t end up releasing with them, there was a core of tracks developing around a slightly different, darker, groove based, electronica style. When I made the decision to self-release and began to sift through all the unreleased material from the past few years, I started by creating playlists in a very useful program called Vox. It took quite a few attempts to get it right, and certain tracks were jumping around even after the mastering stage. But all in all, I could see 3 albums emerging through the fog. Radial in a darker electronica style, On The Edge of Forever in a psy-chill /global mood, and Encrypted Transmissions as another darker electronica album, which I will probably release at some point later in 2015. In some cases the differences between On the Edge of Forever and Radial aren’t that great and there were a few tracks that could have gone on either album but core difference is there and that helped to give each of the albums a bit of an identity. I think when you factor in the artwork when you’re working on tracklisting, you just get a feel for what should go where.

  Q: What were the deciding factors in choosing tracks for Radial?  

Tracks with a darker atmosphere, more minor chords and a slightly more hypnotic feel. I did move over Squelchy Eluchqy from On the Edge of Forever at the last minute because I just felt that that particular album was running a bit long, but I thought that the move worked well. I’m not a fan of overlong albums and tried to ensure that neither of the two recent albums dragged on too long, even though there was some excess material. Although there are no hard and fast rules, I feel that 55 minutes for electronic music is somewhere round the sweet spot. Any longer than that and you start to lose your concentration and the album just becomes background music. There are so many albums I could point to in the past few years that would stand as stronger pieces of art if they lost 2 or even 3 tracks, and I didn’t want to fall into that trap with these releases. I’m guessing that the gradual extension of album lengths is due to increased medium capacities, wider access to recording technology, a culture of musical internet “glut” and the slow death of record companies which acted, in effect, as musical editors

Q: What would you expect to be the main audience/purpose for the music on Radial?  

A combination of chill out rooms at clubs/ festivals and home listening. The original idea from the label I was working with was that it would crossover a bit from the psy world into the electronica world, but I think that Radial still has, on the whole, a pretty festival style sound and I think it would probably get a good atmosphere and groove going in a festival chill out tent / club. With regards to the audience more specifically, I think the main member of the audience to please is me. When I’m listening to music I often feel myself wanting to hear something spacey and musical, with plenty of interest, but not too glitchy and with a groove. Something like a downbeat, synth based Ozrics track.

  Q: Are there specific instruments/techniques that are more prominent on Radial than on other releases of yours?  

Not really. The instruments and techniques on the 2 recent albums are broadly similar, I’d say it’s just a slight tweak of implementation. If I take an overview though, one thing I would say about Radial is that it does feature quite a lot of Arturia Prophet 5 and VS (wavetable synth) pads, pads which form a deep backbone to the track and if you took them away it might sound a tad empty. That’s the beauty and subtlety of the analogue emulations. The Roland JP-8000 (Virtual Analogue) gets used for the primary synth sound on quite a few tracks, particularly on Koog and Zalem and Dimensions. The JP-8000 isn’t the greatest synth in the world but it’s got a decent user interface and a playable keyboard so it’s good fun to hit record and go wild with it, and then sift back through the recording, sampling the best bits. Logic’s Auto Filter has a distortion algorithm which, at low level, can roughen sounds up nicely. Check out the main synth sound on koog and Zalem. That was a JP-8000 with the amp and filter controlled by the S/H LFO, sampled off and fed through Logic’s Auto filter and distortion.

Q:  What would you say is the key to the high technical quality of the Spatialize sound?  

That’s a nice compliment in itself. Thanks.
I think that, as with all music, you have to start out with the right sounds and the right sequence / arrangement before you consider too closely the whole production process. I think that people view creativity and production as different animals, and they are to certain extent, but I really feel that getting good, initial, raw sounds sitting together in the first instance with well written, musical sequences is the key to the end production sound. So while I am building up an idea I don’t do a great deal of mixing or production for quite a while as I think that it not only gets in the way of the creative process. I do think that if a track is sounding initially good without compression or too many enhancements then you know that the production process will only serve to make it better, the knock on effect being that your production tasks further down the line will be simpler. Once I think a track is gaining momentum and has an arrangement layout of different sections I will do an initial mix. This comprises compression and eq on the individual tracks and then bussing them all out into my 8 categorised sound groups, and also pulling down the volume of the track to preserve output headroom. Then I will go back through the track working on different sections until the music is 95% finished. Then I will add compression and eq, stereo widening, exciting etc to the 8 mix busses which I where I tend to stack my premium, cpu eating plug-ins. It’s quite useful to be systematic as you don’t get overwhelmed by the options available in a modern DAW.

Finally there can be a fairly long period of what you might call polishing the mix and this is where I typically add a lot of the little sounds that top off a track; backward sounds, fx automation, glitches, cymbal crashes and filter sweeps. Then I listen over and over again making adjustments (lots and lots of volume automation) until you can make it the whole way through the track without feeling the need to make any adjustments, a process which requires patience and application. Or tinkering. I think I could sum the whole process as a mixture of luck, judgement, experience and sheer bloody minded persistence.

  Q: Can you tell us something about the artwork for your music?   For a start the artwork for anything since the debut album Dryad’s Bubble is not specially commissioned, it is the result of sifting through online image sites where you can make a one off payment to use an image to promote a product. Firstly I try to find an image that clicks with me and that I feel represents the music well, and then I fit an album name to the artwork afterwards. That may seem contra instinctual but it allows you to choose an image based on its own properties and not how they relate to a word or concept, as you could be searching the web for weeks to achieve that. Obviously it would be great to employ a designer to work to an initial idea or concept, but that elevates the budget. And at a time when the margins are so small on releases, the artist often has to take charge of this side of thing and personally I regard the mastering as a much more important process to spend money on.

With regards to the Radial cover, I immediately liked the image as it reminded me of the Orb’s U.F.Orb, which is fitting as 90’s ambient music was a most influential period for me. I felt that the dark background reflects the darker electronic edge of the music and that the radiating wheel emphasises the overlaid spacey, psychedelic vibe. When I came to fit a word to it, “Radial” came up almost straight way, which I liked also because it was a little shorter and pithier than “On the Edge of Forever”.

Q: Since both Radial and On the Edge of Forever are digital releases - do you see yourself leaving physical discs in the past?
  At the moment I would say yes. I’m not totally against cd’s and I would never say never but given that this is such a niche genre of music and, given the downward trend of physical cd sales, it just doesn’t make too much sense at the moment. I do also like the simplicity of just selling digitally, just receiving notifications of purchases and not having the constant search for jiffy bags and trips to the post office. There are other advantages too. People can access it easily and immediately, and with bandcamp you can offer high quality 24bit FLAC downloads too, which trumps 16bit cd quality anyway. Digital downloads don’t require a plastic jewel case either which has to be better for the environment overall. I do however miss certain elements of cd’s and vinyl but on the whole I prefer the convenience and flexibility of digital.
  Q:  In another interview with us you talked of Experiments in Silence - what can you tell your listeners about this project?   The project, as a concept, was inspired initially by the experimental nightly builds of the Cloudcycle project (Mauxuam, Greg Hunter, Master Margheurita) on Soundcloud. I really liked the concept of using Soundcloud as a way of throwing ideas up online, with other interested producers as a sounding board so I created a Soundcloud account using the name for an ambient track I wrote years ago. I also liked the challenge of using the skills I have developed in a very concentrated way to produce in a compressed time period. I have always been a big fan of Biosphere, Eno and beatless atmospheric soundscapes and indeed a lot of Spatialize tracks start off with sometimes a good couple of minutes of atmospheres. So it seemed like a very natural extension and I decided to start off a project in this style.

I also received a bit of help from Matt Hillier (of Ishq fame) who also lives in Cornwall UK. I would play him something and he would say “take that out, take that out and take that out” and helped me strip things right down. He encouraged me to work without a click track and to completely remove rhythmic structures and instead focus the interest on the slowly shifting atmospheres themselves. Simple advice, hard to follow. But after a while I got it and found that I could write, record and produce soundscapes tracks, sometimes within just hours. I have found that working only when I feeling really inspired, and often in the very fragile silence of the early morning, is the key. I was quite surprised by the reception that the first Experiments in Silence album “Hidden Harmonic” (CD release on Txt) got. It seemed that a lot of people really clicked with it so I was very happy and it continues to sell well with people frequently discovering and buying it on bandcamp.


Q: Having recently worked on music ranging from the Experiments in Silence release to the more gutsy Radial - do you have a preferred leaning when writing or performing?

  I enjoy both styles. With Experiments it’s a bit like the ambient music equivalent of doing a zen painting where a spontaneous, well placed brushstroke fills the canvas. This is the opposite to the Spatialize approach where, after an initial creative flourish with the core structure of the track, I will spend a long time building sequence layers, crafting song sections / transitions and then spend a good amount of time fine tuning and polishing the mix. It is definitely refreshing with the Experiments approach, not thinking too much and just allowing the music to come out but there’s nothing quite like it in Spatialize writing mode when a groove is really gelling, the music is loud and you’re laying down a deep bass line or a cool synth break. So both approaches have their advantages.

With regards to performing, Spatialize is good to play live too as there’s lots of tempo synced fun to be had and lots of synth lines I can play live. Moreover from the 4 albums, there’s a good 2 hours of fairly upbeat / funky chillout material to play so I imagine it should get a good groove going. I haven’t performed Experiments in Silence live but I imagine, given the right ultra-chilled atmosphere, it will be quite a special experience to emanate some delicate harmonics towards a horizontal audience. There’s something special about really deep ambient music played on loud PA speakers; it gives the music a presence and power that it might not have on a domestic hi-fi or headphones.

  Q: What was the most recent piece of music that you have been developing - what did you last have your hands on?   At the time of writing it’s an extended experimental generative piano piece for Experiments in Silence using piano samples from Shostakovich. Initially it’s quite in the vein of say, Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, but it drifts into soundscape / drone territory and back again. It’s really a rather pleasant piece of music to work on. Drifting drifting, in a neo-classical way.

Thanks to Neil for allowing us that interview.
More from Spatialize here.