Keywords: Witchhouse, Electronica, Chill Out
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
If you’re a musician / recording artist-y type, it can be a bit of a difficult situation when you’re talking to someone you’ve just met or already knew or work with in the real world and find out that they, too, are music people doing music, making recordings… and then you exchange information, like links to look up, names and stuff.
Because, I’m the type, I’m gonna check it out, and… you just hope that it doesn’t suck, because then you know you’re gonna have to look at that person again, knowing this and getting strange empathetic emotions from it. But then, a lot of people also have that demonic inner voice that’s tells them, “I hope it sucks, then I’ll feel better about what I’M doing, less competition!” and then like, laughs maniacally. But, as a music person, if you legitimately care about the craft, the art, the people… what you really hope is that what you’re gonna hear will be perfect. Flawless. Something that will blow your mind, change the game, make you say things like, “Why didn’t I think of that?” and “How’d they get that SOUND!?” I’m always chasing that feeling, doesn’t matter who it is. You want the art to speak and effect you, maybe cause you to feel like you have to go back to the drawing board with whatever it is you were working on no matter how painful that can be.
So, what’s this music by mdwstrnr like? Which side of the scale of complete crap to immaculate conception does it fall on?
I don’t know. I haven’t listened to it yet. Gimme a couple minutes, gotta psyche myself up a bit more.
I hadn’t really talked to mdwstrnr before the other night, despite seeing him fairly often. I’ll go into that for a sec, to bridge the gap between art and artist.
He’s really nice. He’s always wearing shades, and I mean always… which is not an irrelevant detail here, I kind of want to talk about it. Going around in sunglasses 24/7 is something I believe most people only ever dream about doing, but then you contemplate it thoroughly and realize just how much work it would take to really go for that. It’s a daunting prospect, like getting on a rollercoaster and then staying on the rollercoaster all day and forever and saying, I’m not gonna puke and I’m sitting here and I don’t even care if you throw a bird in my face like with what happened to Fabio, because rollercoasters are awesome. It takes real dedication to the coolness. When I was 8 or 9 years old I remember wearing a backwards ball cap non-stop for 3 straight weeks, I even slept with it on, but I just couldn’t hang any longer than that. Sometimes I look back and wonder what my life would have been like if I’d just kept it on. I’d probably be a real MC by now.
We chatted for a bit about gear, hardware and software. He also has a MicroKorg, and understands that it’s an excellent synthesizer. He’s a fan of Native Instruments, which I thought was great because despite the fact that so many people use it I’ve always felt the stuff they put out is hugely under-rated somehow. We discussed Massive, Ableton… anyway, so I know basically what he’s got, but the central questions remain: what is he doing with it? What does this music he’s making sound like?
I should probably just listen to it.
First track, here it is… it’s titled ‘ˈwēˈkəmˈfrəmˈthəˈsē’, and already I’m enjoying the lush, almost granular panning pad-like sounds emanating from what feels like an endless expanse of ocean, a sky populated by clouds and seagulls. A compressed bassline comes in, as well as a nice micro rhythm, very staccato, giving plenty of headroom in the mix for the harmonic components to fill. There’s a vocal sample, by this point I’m convinced I’m going to enjoy this stuff! I’ll just breathe normally now and relax. Points of reference here… I’m getting a sense of maybe Boards Of Canada a bit, the sequenced arpeggio feels almost like the euphoria of Italo disco subdued for a chillzone.
Next up is ‘ˈjəstˈfēlsˈrīt’, which starts with a low-mid spacial synth. The rhythms here are also very precision-strike, but mellow, with synthetic mechanical timbres. Every sound here feels like it’s part of a melange of robotic melancholy, particularly as it progresses toward the end, reminding me in a pleasant way of Aphex Twin’s ambient work.
There’s a clavi tone sequence with dense gated plate style reverb at the beginning of ‘ˈdōntˈbēˈə-ˈfrād’. Fearlessly, I continue to listen. It’s like an echo chamber filled with bouncing objects, and after a moment I come to a part in which a low sawtooth growling synth bass comes in alongside a lovely choir pad and suddenly the harmonies gel into something uniquely beautiful sounding, like a window has been opened letting sunshine through.
‘ˈri-thəm’ starts off with a low pad, gradually swelling. A deep 4/4 bass kick comes in with a bit of swing, followed by a brittle hat and… oh no! ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’!!! SNAP! We’re gonna have to take a moment to get our jock jam on, hold up…
“It’s a passion”, you could say. “You can feel it everywhere.” It may seem sad, but I’ve been getting down to some of these ’90s club tracks again very recently, the strange coincidence of this happening right now is just crazy. Anyway, so we’ve got a sample of the vocal being sliced, granulized to the point that it sounds like the voice is going through some kind of agonizing cyberpunk cruelty, forced through a cathode tube, every individual sample byte stretched destructively, it’s pretty nice. There’s a break in the madness, and then the pad and kick return, later joined by a haunting choir and then that sample again. Loving it!
This is followed by ‘blō-iŋ ˈəp’, and the first thing I hear is a sickly panning buzz synth, and it seems to suddenly grow, filling up the mix with what is possibly reverb, causing it to sound as if it’s spanning out. I like the rhythms utilized here, and when the effected vocal loop comes in I start thinking this might be my favourite among the tracks I’ve heard here so far. A lead synth comes in, sounding almost inverse dynamically from the ambiance, and I realize how much I’m enjoying the kind of experimentation going on here on a sound level, both with the melodic integration / disintegration and the mixing of levels. It achieves a sense of hypnoticism, and then flows into a space of atmospheric pad harmonies. The vocal sample begins to play here, allowing us to pick up on how slightly alternate atmospheres modify its contours.
There is a sound kind of like an alarm clock (only somehow much more pleasant, almost like chiptune) at the outset of ‘ˈyüˈkantˈkilˈtīm’… and despite my understanding of the pronunciation cues given to me in the track title with this ongoing diction motif, I can’t help but fantasize that this is actually about some guy named Tim who happens to be indestructible. Like, this would be his theme song, maybe. I love the melodies of the pad that comes in right after… then there’s the ticking of a clock. Tim’s mortal clock. There’s some heavy dense bass, a groove I’m really liking which has kind of a funk to it, like you expect this track to go nuts at any moment. It breaks away back to simplicity, like a tease and then right back into where we left off. What you expect the track to do, it refuses to do, and the impression is of an unfinished sketch, but I like it anyway for what it does do.
Next up is the final piece, ‘ˈgit-iŋˈther’. It’s like shining, glimmering modular drips. It goes right away after that into something with a funky, spacy, cosmo feel, which I love. The groove is like some kind of aqua pump, there’s a lot of lovely bass synths, bouncing boinging sounds. This was the main track where I really caught myself saying, “TOO SHORT!!!” You just want more, maybe a section with a chord change-up, just anything to extend it. Oh well! :P
In hearing all of this, I am pleased to say that in total, it was good and an enjoyable listen throughout. The tracks are all pretty short, but on the plus side, you find it easy to remain engaged. I think it gets better as it goes on, too, though the first track was also strong. Like a lot of artists I’ve heard who operate mostly on soundcloud and form individual tracks into albums on the site, I felt less like I was listening to “an album” in a tightly conceptual / cohesive way and more like streaming a collected introduction to the bare-bones capabilities of a particular artist at this particular period in space/time or whatever, which is nice too, of course. There’s a definite sensibility for tone, melody and form. This introduction definitely works to get us excited to hear more, and having also gleaned that mdwstrnr may be going to work in a studio in LA sometime in the near future, it will be interesting to hear what kinds of sounds he’ll be putting together when that happens. Possibly game-changing, influential music, stuff that makes you want to rip everything up and start again I hope! Or at least some more really funky, robo chill music.
Be sure to click on the clicky thing below to hear this music and become a fan. ;)