Set Adrift With Brin and Josiah to Find Bliss

Brin (Colin) and Josian Steinbrick are a bit of a dream team in my mind. Their congruous thoughts and approaches to sound are the perfect playground for their differing approaches to composition to come out and mingle. Both artists are in the foreground of their lush, beautiful new album Bliss Place, and as the sonic forest unfolds from the ether, each leaves a lasting mark. The dense spaces the duo create invite listeners to get lost, to travel inward, and to find solace in the detailed environments. 

Brin and Josiah were gracious enough to answer some questions and send some fun pictures via email in July. Bliss Place is out now.

So how did the idea to do a record together first come about? And what led to this process of taking Josiah’s sound sketches and then having brin process and collage them into these strange, beautiful sonic vignettes?

Josiah: We actually began exploring concepts about a year prior. Colin had just moved to Los Angeles and the intention was somewhat similar to where we arrived with Bliss Place, which was essentially us operating the tools of his percussion system at the time. His blend of software and performance was exciting and, aside from our shared tactile approach, fairly different from how I typically use computers at that stage in composition. So we spent a few scattered nights arranging these incredibly dense layers of rhythms. Sort of still searching for the spirit of it all when initial pandemia forced it on the back burner. 

In the passing time, I was inspired to let go of starting from scratch and asked Colin to co-produce a more collage/mixtape oriented project of mine revolving around sketches. Some were score-related but in fairness, a solid amount also came from three weeks of crudely recording improvisations. I’m just now remembering the plan was to do three 12”s and the hope was getting into a more fluid workflow would result in something more collaborative presenting itself naturally – but by this point, the Brin processing chain had changed radically, which opened more doors within the limitations of solely working with the source material provided. So, unsurprisingly, it quickly became fully collaborative. 

Brin: The earlier experiments were cool and interesting and could potentially be furthered in some sort of live realm situation down the road, but as Josiah mentioned, we were still searching for the spirit. The time between then and when we started the sessions for Bliss Place I think was pretty crucial. A lot of exploring at that time, but also keeping the gear minimal and trying to push simpler sound sources further. We each went full-on into our own worlds, learned what we learned from our separate experiences making and releasing music while still keeping in touch, trading ideas and musical concepts, unknowingly laying the foundation. 

What was the process like and how did you all make decisions on what pieces you’d use to start? Was there some kind of framework you tried to stay in or was it looser than that?

Josiah: The first few sessions were us combing through folders I made of video recordings of drum machine parts and synth streams I had literally whittled down from the hundreds. Essentially finding the most mutually inspiring moments and creating a sample library. There was a degree of rigidness while arranging the first piece on the record, but eventually, we found our own connection to abandon. We would work on something for a couple hours and if by the end we weren’t excited with the arrangement we would just delete it all. A cutthroat hard erase. Even in pieces we continued with we would sometimes cut out minutes worth of material pretty recklessly. Was one of my favorite parts of the process because you’re also erasing a level of taking it all too seriously. 

Brin: It was like once we made a crucial edit on the first finished track, “i feel / new look”, the bust began to emerge from the stone, ya know? The original cut was 6.5 minutes or so, and we kept feeling like we weren’t feeling it. Hence the new look – so we casually chopped the first 5 minutes, and the track magically appeared. We realized that having tons of sonic options/ideas is a good thing, but scaling back to the raw elements that make you feel something was the move from then on. We really got microscopic with some of the edits, but not to the point of cutting the life out of it. It just needed to live and breathe in a particular way, and each track had its own path to completion. 

One thing that I keep going back to on Bliss Place is how there’s this aqueous feeling to a lot of it (thinking about “total dope,” “lexus resist,” and the side-long title track especially), almost like it’s blurring the emotional edge that really exists in these songs to me. It’s nice because it softens those feelings a bit. Anyway, where I’m going with this… how do you think music and sound can be a way to process the world around you?

Josiah: Honestly in this case it was a direct result. From a cinematic standpoint, there was a clear-cut intention of what this record was but we both fell into the roles more as it progressed. The lighting in the room was always the same, the elements of compromise in comfort, the repetitive habits, the utter silence of what is typically a loud surrounding area. We only recorded at night, both usually exhausted before we started. There was a heavily sedated noir quality. The moon, the yellow streetlight, my walk from the car to Colin’s apartment. It’s really rare to have that level of geographical ambiguity here as well. So it was more a murked / subterranean environment than a watery one in my experience. 

Brin: Yeah the creepy barren walks around Echo Park, like being in a Tarkovsky Polaroid, both kinda peaceful and haunted. That scenery and mood definitely crept in, and directly influenced a piece of the overall vibe. Jo had that Bliss Place photo before we started the record, and even though I’ve never been there physically, he described that area to me, the geography around it, the neighborhoods. Finding out that building houses an office park was spiritually jarring to me. So processing the mental impression of that place had an influence on the record. Seeing the floating tinkerbell blanket in Echo Park Lake, which can be seen on the back cover, was definitely a mood that we were trying to reflect sonically as well, and thematically it was like connecting puzzle pieces together. We were just in sponge mode during those months, almost everything we touched or experienced was grist for the mill. 

Somewhat related… Something else that’s been fresh on my mind, especially over the last year, is how music can create entire worlds and these shared experiences with just sound and can take listeners to some new place entirely, almost at an instant. Considering the world in the past year, how has your thinking about the idea of music or sound as a shared experience shifted or changed?

Josiah: As a composer, this is sort of the only way I’ve ever worked. I think the most glaring difference is that escapism is clearly more mainstream when there is a global occurrence one cannot escape. Of course your exteriors are going to influence this but regardless of some of the moods of Bliss Place, or the moods we were in at times while it was being made, or even as broad as the collective mood of the world around us – when it came time to yell “cut!”, we often had a laugh, if we weren’t already laughing. That’s sort of the whole point.

Brin: Because last year was so solitary, I think I spent more time thinking about how I can make sonic ecosystems that provide a comfortable space for myself & those in my immediate presence. If that permeates outward to other people by listening to it then that’s great, but this record kind of felt like it was made in a vacuum. Of course I missed shows a ton, that form of shared experience with music/sound is really important to me, but it was a unique time to go inward and develop new languages of expression. 

Besides the location in the picture, where is your bliss place?

Josiah: Always searchin’, always finding I’ve been there the whole time. 

Brin: My real bliss place is usually reached in my downtime exploring virtual worlds through video games. Also whenever I’ve stumbled upon a new musical idea or concept, still in beginner’s mind mode with it & anything seems possible. Other than that, staring at the ocean seems to do the trick. 

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