qualia: dan derks & zander raymond

on august 7, 2021 at around 3pm, @zanderraymond and i sat in the monome workshop and spent some time exploring sounds together. it’s something i’d wanted to do since we’d played separately at @andrew’s apartment in 2018. zander had queued up our involvement with cached.media, originally intended as a remote collaboration – but during his and nolan’s visit to delhi (we hadn’t seen each other since january of that year, when rocky and i moved from chicago), it didn’t make sense not to try something in real-time.

honestly, this album almost didn’t happen. i hadn’t recorded since 2019 and had only recently started exploring what it’d mean to make music again. as we started the session, i became deeply judgmental of my re-orientation and after a few false starts, i turned my equipment off in a flurry of frustration. a few moments passed and i looked at zander and, exhausted, said, “i’m sorry, i’m really sorry — i’m just not a musician anymore.” he waited a beat, letting this sit in the air, then said “it’s okay” and hugged me.

after a bit, he asked for clarification on what i was experiencing and i described that while i’d spent the last two years consumed with building tools, i hadn’t really spent any time playing them. he considered this and asked, plainly and without pressure, “do you want to try again?” i looked at him — one of my dearest friends, an artist who i so deeply admire, radiating honest caring love — and i realized i was letting my ego sabotage the chance for both us to, worst case scenario, have a nice day together.

i exhaled and stopped clinging to how i had previously pictured the session. we got up and started re-routing cables. zander has phenomenal command over cheat codes and was going to use it to play a small modular synth while simultaneously processing its audio and a field recorder full of moments from his visit to NY — instead of letting that stand alone next to whatever it was i thought i was going to do, i placed my norns at the end of his chain, running my development branch of cheat codes to solely re-sample and re-present everything zander did. we checked back in to see if the vibe was right — it was, so we started.

on the surface, qualia is a highlight reel of a two and a half hour improvisation, recorded as two stereo tracks in a single take. beneath that, it is a document of two friends navigating each other’s positive and painful impulses. listening back, knowing how narrowly + clouded i’d first met its desire to exist, i’m so grateful for this album and our friendship.

about two months later, we each revisited the project files and started trimming toward a reasonable shape to share with matthew sage, a true sweetheart and incredible artist who organizes cached, who ended up lending his incredible ears for final stage mastering. i’m not sure if this is true for zander, but i hadn’t listened to the files at all since we recorded – in a lot of ways, i wanted to let the experience settle before i dove back in. all positively. i just wanted to make sure that my gratitude for the day and the way zander navigated everything didn’t color how i responded to the material too much.

within a minute or two of listening, i couldn’t stop smiling. i let this guide my edits and after a few days, found the album’s shape. i’m deeply humbled to be able to share it with y’all :sparkles:

please feel free to ask any questions about process (either internal or gear-based), arrangement + editing, or whatever compels. and please please listen to and support the fantastic releases in this season – lose yourself twenty-one minutes at a time @andrew + @glia’s absolutely marvelous nimi and get wrapped in a sonic hug by the gorgeously wide arm span of Homage by Natural Flavors.

thank you for listening + reading :revolving_hearts:

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Dan,

Such a beautiful record documenting an even more beautiful moment of releasing ego blockage in the presence of friendlove!

Thanks and congrats to both of you :pray:t2::pray:t2::pray:t2:

And now some mild process inquiry…

Can you say more about what you mean by putting your norns at the end of Zander’s signal path? And was the output TWO stereo pairs, and where did they go to be captured?

And what did mixing involve?

Sorry if this is too much, but I’m fascinated!

Thanks!

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i think you’d be surprised how common this is

i’ve had similar situations in the past year (one which still hasn’t come to fruition) and am so deeply grateful for you & zander recognizing the need to address your feelings

it took courage and honesty to admit it at the time rather than push thru with overwhelming self-doubt clouding the air

so wonderful to hear context which will only add depth to my experience as a listener!

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Beautiful work, Dan and Zander. And thank you for taking us along on your journey, personally and creatively.

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This reminds me of a Dennis Wilson biopic I once watched, with Dennis proclaiming “I’m just not a Beach Boy any more”. I dont remember if someone says this to Dennis in reply, but its always stuck with me - Once a Beach Boy, always a Beach Boy :slight_smile:

Synaptic connections, as I’ve been led to understand it, never die, they just atrophy/lay dormant (one of the issues with autism is that an autistic brain doesnt go thru a synapse pruning phase during teen years, leaving it with the childish overload of synaptic connections, firing away, means I’m so thankful I found meditation/self hypnosis at a young age). Humans really are habitual creatures neurologically, cementing those neural pathways for good or ill.

Anyway, once a musician, always a musician. It can just take a little time activating those neural pathways and getting the electricity flying around them again, to get them warmed up. Ego and attempting to rationalise all this can mean we really get in our own way.

Nice one for powering through it, Dan! I look forward to listening to this :slight_smile:

EDIT: Thats a great album cover too, btw.

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@dan_derks thank you for your honesty, openness and vulnerability in being willing to share your experience with us.

I for one am grateful that you pressed on and how @zanderraymond’s warm embrace allowed you both to move forward with this incredible project.

It’s been a joy to listen to over the past day, and even now as I type.

As @glia shared the creative void coupled with bruising ego is something we all suffer from, I’ve felt it deeply of late and your words were a reminder to go easier on myself, being kind in those moments and just acknowledge them as just that, moments.

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just :heart::heart::heart:

thank you for sharing this story and for a beautiful and mesmerizing album. i love how these pieces evolve, the subtle details and the calmness.
the gritty/noisy synth tones (just friends?) are sooo nicely balanced !
love the field elements in there as well !
i feel this album will evolve on each listen.

really appreciate the openness. i feel like i’m in the middle of a similar situation at the moment myself and it’s sort of calming to hear of your experience - an artist I so deeply admire (and not just for the musical tools). the music is in you

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this is really a treat to listen to. thank you for sharing your art, and your story behind it. wonderful work! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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thank you for all the positivity, everybody. i’m so so heartened to hear that the album is landing for folks. it really means the world <3

just to follow-up / clarify, i’m not entirely sure if the artist ordering was an alphabetical consideration from matt’s perspective, but zander really drove this session. his compositional decisions are at the heart of the explorations – my contributions were always in response, to highlight and feed his gestures back, as a method of reinforcement. this was perhaps the subconscious driver for placing myself at the end of his chain. on this topic:

@zanderraymond should absolutely correct/confirm, but he ran a compact modular system (from what i remember: just friends, crow, three sisters, a serge vcfq, and a make noise mimeophon) using the ‘pad to note’ functionality of cheat codes. he also had a dictaphone which he’d been using to record snippets of his stay with us, which he also used as an instrument. he ran the system + dictaphone into a small mixer, which he fed back into his norns through one aux output and then we ran his norns directly into mine. i was running my cheat codes development branch, which has a ton of lfos and automation options, so it was a wonderful opportunity to test things out by focusing on filling in the stereo field with mutated repetitions.

this routing helped keep my mind occupied, to get over the distractions that had derailed me at the start. by being able to focus on processing and re-presenting his audio, i was able to occupy a supporting role – this also, from zander’s reflections later on, freed him to make as many bold decisions as he wanted. since i was contributing from his recent past, permanence was a shared responsibility – i could easily clear the buffers if something went wonky, but mostly i think that having someone else co-managing the persistence of his expressions emboldened his sense of play.

in concrete terms, we recorded his full chain mixed down to stereo and then my norns output into ableton live via a zoom h6. so, we ended up with two stereo files from which the editing began.

i was talking about this with a friend the other day, and i mentioned that i entered the session from a space of ‘let’s get this fuckin’ thing done!! amirite!’ – which while certainly motivated toward an end-goal, isn’t a very self-forgiving mindset. personally, it detached my from my curiosity – our reconfiguration thankfully facilitated its return. but it’s funny to consider that, in the moment, i thought that being honest about how i was feeling before my mini-meltdown would somehow dispel ‘the magic’. i’m very thankful that zander met me with as much grace and openness as he did – if anything, recognizing this need earlier would’ve saved some embarrassment, but i’m really grateful for the way things went.

@zanderraymond , the source imagery is nolan’s photography, right???

yes yes yes yes x10000.
the ‘let’s get this fuckin’ thing done!! amirite!’ energy sometimes feels like the best (or only) way through, as our egos often codify the alternative as some sort of unproductive stasis. but being able to cross the divide of acknowledging what was actually happening, in a way that wasn’t make-or-break, was really freeing and energizing. naming the internal experience + sharing it with a person who would meet it with kindness and patience and wouldn’t latch onto it as something they needed to fix, brought me to a witness space where i could see that my feelings were more a clear indicator that the logistics of our session was what wasn’t working – rather than me or my ability to engage in making music with one of my dearest friends.

tl;dr: it was really nice to know that there’s an option in between creating from a distressed place or not creating all. receiving the thing that’ll tip you off to this is the hard part – i’m so humbled and thankful that zander helped me get to the space where i could.

:star2:

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Ah, the old “productivity” goblin…

Tell a field sleeping through the winter that it is in a period of “unproductive stasis” and it will tell you that it is instead laying fallow so as to be re-energized to bring forth wonderful life come spring!

What is wrong with our collective conditioned worldview that we no longer recognize the need for stillness and regeneration? We need to heal that shit, and quick…

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Austin Kleon writes nicely about this:

Creative work has seasons. Part of the work is to know which season it is, and act accordingly.

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This wants to be on a cassette :slight_smile:

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Thats certainly aint true and you are an inspiration with your music and scripts. I learned so much during these last 2 years and developed my own techniques using some of your teachings in those cheat codes workshops :slight_smile:

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I have been listening to both of your corpuses recently and this collaboration is such a treat! Thank you for sharing your journey, it feels really relatable and inspiring :evergreen_tree:
Piles and Knowing the Picture hit just the right spot!

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hey all!

it’s been about 17 days since qualia entered the public sphere and i am just getting the chance to circle back on some of these sentiments shared + kind words! it means a ton to have had the chance to make this record with dan, they really are such a careful listener and dangerously amazing improviser.

dan knocked it out of the park explaining the gear i utilized to make it all happen!! one thing is that i had a w/ in the mix and alternated the bottom two banks of cheat codes to sequence w/synth and jf independently! this workflow has been a constant for the better part of 2 years! there is something really lovely about smashing the grid buttons and letting the tools sort of make their own sequences – or rather just leave as much up to chance as possible

one notable reflection i had after the experience of recording this was that i found myself far more comfortable with my ability to take command of the overall chord information etc!

thank y’all for listening <3

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What a wonderful release! Thank you so much for creating this.

I have been in a bit of a music search period for some days now. I guess it also got triggered by the stress of starting to think of new solo projects as I am finishing the last bits of my album. (the music itself is done).

Somehow this album + description in the first post contributed positively to both of these needs. Got dragged in by the fact that I have a track with the same name on this upcoming album, regonized Dan’s name, pressed play and started reading.

Truly some lovely work! Will give this a real deep dive for sure!

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this album just blows my mind. I’ve listened to it over and over. Its hard to explain why its so good. Its a wonderful mix of casual brilliance, its evocative, its comfortable, its wonderfully surprising, its playful, its heartfelt- all at the same time. my favorite song is the “smallest frog I’ve ever seen” but I also can’t explain why. I like how it ends, it really has the small frogness in it (where did that frog go! I just saw it a second ago!! kinda energy). It was sad to read that this album almost didn’t happen and I’m so so glad it did.

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