I’m so excited to share my first album, Learning to Run, which is up on Bandcamp and will be streamable imminently.
I started writing this album in January, in Manhattan. Of the apartments that I’ve lived in for one year, that one takes the cake for sure—I wrote waver and the norns port of bitters there. My bedroom had an absurdly large window spanning most of one wall and I did a lot of thinking, coding and even some musicking sitting on my bed, looking out that window. Anyway, I mention it because my desk was in my bedroom too, so I had to put away most of my instruments. After a while I even put away my modular in order to have a little more room on the surface of the desk.
Starting in the winter of 2020 and continuing into the summer of 2021, I had started making music seriously in a way that I hadn’t since high school. After making bite, a FM drum synth, I realized that it was possible to make whole tracks using only it and my other M4L devices, bitters and onebit as sound sources. “Breaking Philip” is one such track from that summer that felt like more than a proof of concept (although in a different way it is—I’ll say more below).
Partly because of the lack of space, I decided that for the album, I would work solely in the box, using only these sound sources. I say “partly” because of course I also realized that this process was what was working for me.
Aside from “Breaking Philip,” tracks on the album appear in the order that I wrote and recorded them. I started the album in Manhattan and finished it in Brooklyn. Along the way sacred cyborg harmony blew me away, just after I had accepted that maybe I could sing on the album. Even though I moved away in 2020, the album also has a bit of Boston on it—“Your Way Through Mine” is a cover of my favorite song by my favorite Boston band, The Owens. I broke my constraint on “They Gave You Bones,” recording my MS-20 for one of the lead parts.
It’s 10 pop songs, and clocks in at just over half an hour, both numerical markers I set out trying to hit. It was mixed and mastered by the very talented StephTheGirl, who honestly blew me away with what she pulled out of these tracks. In particular she took “Push It Through” from a moody ditty with a bit of syncopation to a banger, and somehow transformed “Not Quietly” from a track that I had put everything into and still came up disappointed in into the beauty you hear.
Here are some more thoughts about each track:
I wrote about this song in the orchestration thread. It’s inspired by “Beacon” by Clark as well as Ravel’s Bolero. At its core, it’s one synth line repeated with no tonal variation, only timbral. I’m very proud of the bright metallic echoes I got in the middle section.
Around this time I was listening to a lot of Polinski’s album Labyrinths, which I love to bits, for inspiration. I noticed that most of the tracks on that album actually only really have a 4-on-the-floor kick pattern, which was really gratifying, because I had in my head the idea that drums needed to be complex to make a song good. This song’s main function is to modulate from E minor of “Me” to the F minor of “It’s Not Him”, but it does so by starting in C minor (sort of a minor “flat six” of E minor? maybe?) and progressively falling by thirds, first to A-flat major and then to F minor. I kind of liked the cheesey, Pokemon theme melodies I came up with.
It's Not Him
I think this might be my favorite track on the album. It was almost finished—starting with a sequencer-y bass ostinato and building up to a climax using a technique I learned from my younger self: setting up big chord stabs with complementary synth textures filling different roles in the stab—when I realized that it needed something. Something kind of in the mids. Maybe not a syn—oh, it needed vocals. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I don’t hate hearing myself sing with the fiery passion that I once did.
The idea for this song was very simple: what if I take my best impression of Philip Glass (I think my two biggest touchstones were “Dance VIII” and “Opening”) and threw a breakbeat on top of it. I did a combination of recording in notes played live and clicking things in—particularly for the last section, where the melody jumps and blends between previous iterations. The, like, juiciness? tealness? color? how do you describe synths? of the lead part really made me believe that an album of this stuff was possible.
I think I set out to write a song not in 4/4 for this track and settled on 3/4. Emboldened by “It’s Not Him”, this song was written with vocals in mind, although it centers around the interesting oscillator-sync tone that comes in after the “verse”. Somehow I was never happy with how it sounded until I got the master back—I’m blown away.
Sacred cyborg harmony made me buy a mic stand. I recorded this in one take just sort of improvising around with the script. As a result I don’t know what the chords I used were, which should make trying to learn how to perform this song interesting…
Push It Through
I wrote this song after moving to Brooklyn. I remember having Ableton open and writing out the opening chords that transition from whatever major-seven chord “Nowhere” ends on into a minor key, just sitting on the couch and then noodling around some more until I hit upon the syncopated bass line—that got me to get up and go record. Steph called this the “lead single” of the album, and it’s been the song that those who preordered it got to download first. I was really blown away by the love she showed it on the master.
Your Way Through Mine
In Boston in 2016, I developed this enormous, largely fruitless crush on the drummer of The Owens shortly before he split. This drummer later sold me the MS-20 that got me back into music making and into hardware and eventually here, talking to you all on Lines, so I have a lot to be grateful to him for. Anyway, I saw The Owens play often enough that they started including this song in their setlist because I told them it was my favorite. I think I first had the idea to cover it back in 2016 too; if so, the project file traveled across three laptops and countless updates to Ableton to be here with us today.
They Gave You Bones
I wrote the lyrics to this song in 2020, inspired by a kind of delusional misunderstanding of Deleuze’s idea of the “body without organs” as explained to me over the phone by one of my best friends. My misunderstanding centered on the thought of “what if you don’t have organs until a doctor gives them to you so that you can cope with some aspect of life”—they gave you bones so you could break them. By this point, I was getting a little sick of the constraint of using only my M4L devices and decided to record the lead synth on the MS-20.
Honestly? this song could be three times as long, I’m obsessed with it. The skippy, bounciness of the main synth line comes from a stutter plugin—ShaperBox, I think, but it reminded me of my days in FL Studio using Gross Beat on a Justin Bieber sample.