The theme behind this album was inspired by Erik Davis’ essay “Roots & Wires remix: Polyrhythmic Tricks and the Black Electronic” published in DJ Spooky’s book Sound Unbound. The essay opens by introducing and contrasting Marshall McLuhan’s concepts of “visual space” and “acoustic space.” There’s room to criticize McLuhan’s specific terminology and his arguments about how these relate to history, culture and media, but it put me in mind of two ways of understanding and mapping space.
One can think in terms of architecture, of positive and negative space: solidity vs. openness, obstacles and possible paths, navigation maps for computer game pathing systems, lines of sight, confinement or openness as a function of topography. Any given point in Cartesian space is either solid or not, empty or filled, black ink or none, and no two objects can occupy the same space. We tend to simplify this space into two dimensions, taking the third as given. Tally marks, written language, and many diagrams all use this sort of representation.
Or one can think in terms of energy fields, mixed colors, permeable and permeating gasses and liquids, and even ideas and trends. The sound of car traffic in a given space does not prevent hearing birdsong (and traffic itself is not really one “field” of sound, but very many layers). Solidity is irrelevant and there are no distinct “objects”, but reflection, refraction, absorption, diffusion, and emission all have parts to play, as do perceptual phenomena such as masking and habituation.
I recognized that the mental imagery I have of my music is, by default, in terms of caverns, tunnels, chambers, ruins, and so on — or somewhat less explicitly but still in a space-vs-walls way. With this album I set out to remind myself there are other ways.
I chose “Passing Through” as the title because it can refer both to traversing a corridor-like space, and to permeation.
In a practical sense, sometimes the album’s theme was simply in the back of my mind as a guide to the subconscious. At other times I intentionally chose particular synthesis techniques or compositional elements to fit. Examples include feedback loops with shifting allpass filters as a metaphor for reflection and refraction within a space, and the use of harmonic oscillators to represent overlapping fields of compatible energy.
Throughout the album
As usual, my DAW is Native Instruments Maschine 2.7.7 with Maschine mk2 controller hardware. My audio interface is a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40.
I regularly use ToneBoosters EQ4 and Barricade limiter, HASound MSLR for mid/side conversion, Unfiltered Audio G8 noise gate and Native Instruments Transient Master while recording, and don’t mention them in my notes.
Post-processing is done in Sound Forge Pro 10, and in addition to its built-in tools frequently involves ValhallaDSP reverbs, u-he Presswerk compressor, and Melda mSpectralDelay (for FFT-based level adjustments).
My patch notes may not always mention specific modulation sources and routings or common utilities.
The first voice is two oscillators from the Synthesis Technology E370 Quad Morphing VCO, in stereo into Make Noise QPAS, with The Harvestman Kermit modulating QPAS’ radiate input, Make Noise Maths modulating the base frequency, filtered noise from a third E370 oscillator modulating its Q. Valhalla Room reverb.
The second is Mutable Instruments Tides (2018 version) into Chase Bliss Dark World (which is patched in a gentle feedback loop).
The third is both of my Mutable Instruments Rings in mid/side, with my own Horse chorus VST and Audio Damage Ratshack Reverb.
The main voice is Mutable Instruments Plaits through the Doepfer A-188-1B BBD, which is clocked by an E370 oscillator in cloud mode modulated by Kermit. Cockos ReaFIR filters some of the BBD’s artifacts, and u-he Runciter adds distortion and character filtering. Layered with it is the aux output from Plaits through ToneBoosters Reverb 4 and AudioThing FogConvolver.
The second voice is my custom complex oscillator unit in Orthogonal Devices ER-301, through Xaoc Tallin and Valhalla Plate reverb.
The drone is noise from the E370 through both Rings in sympathetic strings mode in stereo, with Valhalla Vintage Verb and AudioThing Speaker.
The “choir” at the end is Arturia Analog Lab 3 through Sugar Bytes WOW2, layered with two instances of Plogue Chipspeech, through Valhalla Plate.
Generative sequencing from Mutable Instruments Marbles.
03: No Sudden Moves
The single voice in this piece comes from Plaits in waveshaping mode, with an LFO over its level, feeding into Rings in inharmonic string mode and then a cross-feedback patch in the ER-301.
One channel of the ER-301 consists of three Schroeder allpass filters, with their frequencies manually controlled via 16n Faderbank, and a lowpass ladder filter. The second channel is a granular delay with its time also control via Faderbank. There was also a touch of Valhalla Room.
04: Alpha Channel
The main voice was Rings into the BBD, with the BBD feedback loop through Instruō tanh with wet/dry mixing in the ER-301. Klevgrand Brusfri and ReaFIR removed unwanted noise, going into Valhalla Room reverb.
QPAS pings went through Make Noise Erbe-Verb, with some feedback through QPAS, into Audio Damage Vapor, u-he Twangström, Fog Convolver and u-he Uhbik-F.
Pulses from Monome Teletype were treated as audio through Valhalla Vintage Verb, Ratshack Reverb and NI Replika delay.
Algorithmic sequencing was from Teletype. Heavy pumping compression was applied in post-production.
05: Through Topography
This was simply a feedback loop involving Dark World, Red Panda Tensor, and the ER-301 maintaining infinite sustain at safe levels while I manually controlled (or perhaps “influenced”) the two pedals. The loop was tapped in stereo before and after Dark World for recording.
The primary voice was a Korg Volca Modular through Sonic Charge Permut8, Unfiltered Audio BYOME and TB Reverb 4.
Background drone was from Kermit through Rabid Elephant Natural Gate with Valhalla Room. Personal recordings of ham radio and a noise sample from Detunized, heavily processed, were layered in. One of Maschine‘s factory samples was filtered and individual hits assembled into the windchime-like sound near the end.
07: Sine Cobra
The first voice was joe_biomassa’s Scannable Harmonic Oscillator unit for the ER-301, through QPAS, Melda MWaveFolder and Valhalla Vintage Verb.
The second was the internal clock output of the Doepfer BBD through Doepfer A-196 PLL, with Valhalla Vintage Verb.
The third was an E370 oscillator through the BBD, clocked externally by a second E370 oscillator, through Valhalla Room.
08: Inharmonic Collision
The main source here is the ER-301, where three voices are mixed in a wavefolder, go out through Erbe-Verb, and are fed back into the ER-301 through a delay. Two are simple triangle oscillators with skewed sine envelopes sequenced via Teletype and Sputnik 5-Step Voltage Source; the third is a synced pair of triangle oscillators manually controlled by the 16n Faderbank through a quantizer.
Kermit‘s two oscillators in stereo through Valhalla Plate act as a drone, and Volca Modular through Replika joins for a few notes.
The first voice is an E370 oscillator in fold mode into QPAS, whose Q is modulated by a second E370 oscillator. Fold, morph and radiate are LFO modulated. Runciter and Floodverb.
The secondary voice is Plaits‘ filtered noise model through the ER-301, where a feedback loop contains a dub looper, granular stretch, grid quantizer (for bitcrushing) and lowpass filter. ToneBoosters Reverb 4.
This is the Arturia Microbrute through u-he ColourCopy, Twangström and Valhalla Room, plus a drone from the Volca Modular.
Plogue Chipsound through Permut8, D16 Frontier, Valhalla Room, Cable Guys ShaperBox and my own Potty Mouth experimental chorus plugin.
Heavy post-processing with my Elitist FFT filter plugin, MSpectralDelay and Valhalla Plate.
12: and then gone
The Scannable Harmonic Oscillator unit in the ER-301 under 16n Faderbank control, with FM from Kermit, and my Wavefolder2 unit.
Slight saturation from Tallin VCA on the mid and Dark World on the side. ColourCopy delay.