After 3 years in the making, I'm happy to finally release synnack v3. This release is an audio chronicle of the past 3 years and somewhat of a bookend closing a period of my life of change and rebirth. This release is dedicated to all those who lived to love yourself again.
When you make experimental electronic music it's hard to tell when something is ever "finished". Every change brings a new idea. The urge to build every sound yourself and not use a preset doesn't make it any quicker. A release of this complexity takes time. (plus, as much as I love making music, I *HATE* finishing it). As this was created and produced over a period of 3 years, a lot of my memory has faded on the actual techniques and gear used on specific tracks but I'll take a stab at it based on what I remember. This release once again features some soundscape by Dave Jones of Attack Sustain. Big thanks to Dave for giving me some of his audio paint so that I can make music paintings out of it (and his patience for letting me take 3 years to finish it).
The release cover is a mashup of over 20 images taken by me during this period, each of which document a particular milestone in my journey. The overall gray image is a grayscale shot of a projection screen from one of the million days spent in this period building Max/MSP/Jitter applications and shooting video for use during synnack live performances. This work was featured by Ableton and you can read more about it on this blog and here: Audio-reactive visuals: Interview with Synnack & 0xf8 on ableton.com. This was all a massive amount of work that took us all over the world talking about the audio/visual integration at conferences. The orange-ish box is the mashup of many moments of important events, both good and bad that led me to where I am now. A pdf of the artwork, including release credits is included with the release when you download it. You can also download it here: synnack-v3-Release-Artwork.zip.
Musically, synnack v3 is the culmination of everything I've learned experimenting with different techniques over the past 10 years of doing music as synnack. Typically I like to alternate each release between whole numbered releases (v1, v2, v3) that combine new techniques I've learned while experimenting to produce the other releases (v1.5, v2.5). v3 combines the IDM/Glitch style I worked with on v2 with the sample-based creative style of v1.5, with the analog modular synth techniques used in v2.5, and the Max programming of custom instruments in effects I've learned along the way into an epic mashup of production techniques.
My tastes and musical interests continue to evolve and I've been getting more and more into my acoustic guitar roots so I expect this is the last release of this style, and hence, somewhat of an end of an artistic era in my life. You'll just have to stay tuned to find out what's next.
Hieroglyph: I don't have a specific memory of choosing this track name but I have always liked the idea of thinking of music as an audio hieroglyph; audio pictures that function like a language of sorts.
Thorium:Thorium is a radioactive chemical element. I watched a documentary (I do this a lot) about the future energy that highlighted the potential for thorium to fuel the world as a much safer and plentiful alternative to uranium. It stuck with me as a metaphor for many things so I used it as a track name on this track that sounds hopeful, at least in the context of the rest of the tracks on v3.
Op-Amp: I visited the Computer History Museum a few years back. I took plenty of pictures of things I found interesting there. I do this a lot when out and about, and I use words from the images as artwork titles. Op-Amp came from a display at this museum. Operation Amplifiers are a building block in analog circuits that results in a signal hundreds of thousands of times larger than the sum of the inputs. Struck me as a fitting metaphor for many important positive and negative things I had been going through.
Napier's Bones: Also from my Computer History Museum visits, Napier's Bones is a system of mathematic calculation that uses slips of ivory or other material divided into sections marked with digits, devised by John Napier and formerly used to facilitate multiplication and division. I like this as a track title in that it combines a sort of techy origin with a "Raiders of the Lost Arc" sounding slant. Given this is an IDM type of track but with an Indian Sarangi on it it seems perfect. The Sarangi played on this track was played by Blaise Serpas; a high school friend I had recently connected with on Facebook where I learned he had been learning to play this amazing instrument. Seemed to add a "what's old is new again" theme that resonated with me.
The Part of Tens: This is a chapter title from the book "Low Carb Eating for Dummies". I was diagnosed with fatty liver in my 30s and had to lose a bunch of weight to get my liver healthy again (it's fine now). This started me off in my real food or "paleo" diet interest that is a big part of who I am today. I remember thinking this chapter title sounded like a song title when I read it. The "part of tens" are various list of "10 most common..." things related to a "real food" way of eating. Yes, that's right. This song sounds like my liver.
Siren: The Boston Marathon bombing was a terrorist attack, followed by subsequent related shootings, that occurred when two pressure cooker bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. They killed 3 people and injured an estimated 264 others. Though I was actually in Las Vegas for work at the time of the bombing, I was all too close to the unprecedented manhunt for the bombers only 4 days later when I actually drove through the pursuit on my way home from the airport while many law enforcement officers surrounded the taxi I was in with gunshots and explosions within ear shot as they hunted down the terrorists. The next day every street was blocked off in my neighborhood with national guard and state police patrolling my street with many large automatic weapons. This song features a recording of a voicemail I got from the "Siren" emergency system notifying me not to leave my house. They ended up catching Dzhokhar Tsarnaev only a few miles from my apartment. That night when they did lift the quarantine and we could drive again, we actually ended up in the police motorcade on accident, seeing the streets lined with other locals all cheering for law enforcement that they had got their man. It was a crazy 48 hour period for sure that I'll never forget.
After Being (in the sky world): In January 2013 I played Planet Myer Day in Leipzig Germany. On that trip I also went to Berlin to meet with my friends at Ableton and do some sight seeing. The title of this track came from a short video promo clip I had made for the song that featured video I took in Berlin. On the way home on this trip I got amazingly sick but was taken care of with an amount of kindness that gave me a new kind of hope that this song never allows me to forget.
Panopticon DV: A Panopticon is a kind of building design originating in the late 18th century that allows all inmates of an institution to be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Lots of bizarre things happened in the last 3 years that put this word in my head as a metaphor - from terrorism to public awareness of government surveillance programs and state-sponsored cyber warfare. The sample at the end of this track was recorded by Jennifer McClain while in Jerusalem, which she then gifted to me as a souvenir.
Ward Eight: In October 2011 I went on a cruise with my mother and (now) ex-wife. I was in an incredible amount of emotional pain at the time. Ward Eight was the name of a drink I had at a bar on the boat nearly every night. The "eighth ward" also refers to an area in New Orleans I spent a lot of time with as a kid and with an old girlfriend. There is a bit of piano in this song that is a nod to the Nick Cave track "Into My Arms". If you add all this together, this track is a kind of allegorical farewell to various loves lost and a lid to close to pave the way for new beginnings. A fitting end to the overall release that concludes that period of my life.
v3 was written, recorded, produced and mixed in Ableton Live and features a combination of a ton of software and hardware devices; custom Max for Live devices, analog modular synths, sample manipulation, my Moog Voyager, the Ableton Push hardware instrument, many iPad music app instruments, and various little sound making toys. Here are any details I can remember or that are obvious from the Ableton .alp files. I use the Ableton "Operator" many times on nearly every track and pretty much exclusively for drum sounds, kik drums especially.
Hieroglyph: I originally made this bass line for a backing track I needed for our VJ demo reel video. This track was inspired by the artist Byetone, who I saw perform at Decibel Festival in 2013. The opening sequence of his set, both visually and musically, stuck in my head for some time. This track features a couple of uses of the Cakewalk Z3ta which had finally been ported to Mac. The main baseline is the Z3ta for sure. I originally used it in a more dance floor style track I did as backing for our VJ demo reel. Watch the video here. Many uses of Ableton Operator for various drums and synths. Some modular drone at the beginning, likely from Dave.
Thorium: This track features guitar recordings I got from Dave (though he doesn't remember ever recording that... The clip name has "fireworx" in it so likely the guitar was run through one of those for that big spacious sound it has), tons of Ableton Operator craziness, Ableton Analog, and sample manipulation. There's one synth bit in the middle I remember playing with a midi controller connected to my Doepfer modular rack using the modules shown on the right.
Op-Amp: This track features samples (in the middle) of cathedral bells I recorded in Leipzig, Germany. I remember playing all the various bell and pad parts live on the Push. The chopped up vocal bit was inspired by Mount Kimble, who I had seen open for Squarepusher and liked quite a bit. The sample itself is from a documentary I think (judging from the fact the .wav is called "docuSyllables.wav"). No clue anymore which documentary or what the person was actually saying that I chopped up. This track features a lot of Ableton Operator and Analog again as well as several custom Max for Live effects I made.
Napier's Bones: Lots of Ableton Operator again and Max for Live effects. As noted above, the Sarangi was played live and recorded by Blaise Serpas with a Zoom H4 in his studio in New Orleans. The bass and pad stuff in the second half is all live recording of the Moog Voyager. I remember this is the first thing I recorded when I got it. It's the one with blue backlighting. Even if I never play this thing again I'll keep it forever just because it's so beautiful. The Z3tA makes an appearance again in one of those bell sounds.
The Part of Tens: This song has the usual Ableton Operator and Analog virtual synths and some custom Max for Live devices. Also features the minimoog virtual synth by Arturia. Funny I used that when I own the actual synth.
Siren: As mentioned above, the sample that concludes this track is from a voicemail I got. I did rearrange the numbers in the phone number at the end to prevent anyone from actually calling in to this emergency line after the release. The drones are all modular synths from Dave Jones. The track is actually called cwejman bass so likely this was made with some of these: cwejman modules . The various bleeps and blurbs were made using the very bizarre and unique Permut8 virtual synth.
After Being (in the sky world): This is perhaps the actual oldest song on v3. The oldest Ableton file for this track has a modified date of December 2012. Long time ago. It started as something on my laptop I did on a work trip while in Alexandria, Virginia (funny what I *do* remember) that had no musical relation to the synnack sound. It was kind of a "sweet" sounding drum and bass track. Even though it didn't fit as synnack I just couldn't let it go and kept banging on it and manipulating it into what you hear on v3, which certainly fits. Lots of Dave modular work on this. I believe some of the pad sounds came from Dave too. Once again many more Ableton Operator instances. This track also has the DrumSynth and Diffuse Max for Live devices in use. The bell instrument towards the end is actually the song "Happy Birthday to you" played on a Kikkerland hand crank music box I got from the Computer History Museum. I pulled it through slow and erratically to produce something that sounds nothing like the actual happy birthday song.
Panopticon DV: This track started as a drum loop made on the iPad with the iELECTRIBE. I recorded it as audio into the computer and beat the hell out of it and added many layers. As noted above, the sample at the end is a recording of a religious service in Jerusalem. This one has more recording of my Moog Voyager too. This one does not actually seem to have Ableton Operator in it. ;)
Ward Eight: This track features drones from the analog modulars and recordings of sample manipulation using the Sample iPad app. The piano is a mashup of two different live recordings I played. The beginning and end I played on an Akai MPK88 (full size 88 key, weighted piano controller). It's actually a derivation of Journey's "Faithfully" played out of order that I kept messing with. The middle piano section was played using the innovative melodic note feature of the Ableton Push. What you hear is mostly exactly what I played. I did tweak some note velocities that were too loud and harsh after mixing but I mostly left in mistakes so that the final result reflects the performance as I played them before combining into one piece. There are some modular drone LFO filter loop things in here. Possibly from Dave and a recording of radio noise.
That's what I remember anyway. William Gibson once wrote "time moves in one direction, memory in another." Sounds about right.
In the words of Dr. Seuss, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go". I'll see you when I get there - wherever there is. Enjoy the new synnack tunes and thanks for letting me exorcise the past 3 years and share the details with you.
If you enjoyed reading this sort of thing, check out the details on the making of prior synnack releases: Katrina, init.system, v2.5, which can all be downloaded from Bandcamp at digital.synnack.com. There's a new feature there that allows you to buy the entire synnack catalog for less than $4 USD or more (up to you).