As an album title, Journey Test sends my thoughts skittering in multiple directions, but as an actual album, I find calm and focus within its gentle movements and warm glow. Cincinnati-based composer Tristan Eckerson has released countless albums of modern classical music, but with Purple Decades, he reveals something cocoon-like and introspective. Using a minimal palette but moving into more electronic corridors than his usual solo work, Journey Test becomes an ever-growing dot on the horizon. This music manages to be close and expansive simultaneously, wrapping us in its beauty while pulling us further into the open. Through repeating passages and emotive arrangements, Journey Test stands out as an album worth spending considerable time with.
For me, Journey Test was originally about making an album that really felt like a creation of art, with no actual goals or expectations beyond that. That might sound strange, but I had kind of backed myself into a corner at the time, making contemporary classical music with the mindset of needing to make money from my releases, as any artist does. And it was starting to become kind of a drag because the desire to make money from my art was kind of driving me to make music that I wasn’t really passionate about. And so I felt that I needed to make something that really just felt good to make and that I would be proud of when it was finished. So I set out to make Journey Test, really thinking about creating something euphoric, immersive, and cathartic- both for the listener and for myself. I took my time in producing this music and paying attention to details of sound design, atmosphere, and textures, in addition to my usual compositional process. I wanted to make something that felt like you were inside of it, really immersed in it, and the process of which would be enjoyable, warm, and effortless.
Throughout the process of creating another piece of music a few years ago, I developed a sort of palette of sounds that I really got attached to. And so I used these sounds, and even the harmonic progression of the piece I had been working on, to develop forest. I really like the idea of tape delay, foley, and ambience creating an immersive and organic sound- something that wasn’t really predictable in musical terms but rather felt like it was emanating from somewhere far away. And then, putting the chords and melody over that in a very washed-out way, I created the sound of Forest, which to me is very deep and ethereal, and really sets the tone of what I wanted to accomplish with Journey Test as a whole.
Most of my music outside of Purple Decades is piano based, and I knew I wanted to have a few tracks on this album that were still piano-centric. Journey Test is the title track of this album because I think this track really sums up the ideas I wanted to convey. This song is a journey, but not necessarily a confident one. It’s kind of that feeling of when you know you need to get out and explore and make a change, but you’re not sure what is going to happen. You just need to test it out. That was really the idea that I had going on in my head at the time I was writing this piece. So, of course, it starts out at a plodding type of pace, super minimal and mostly piano based. And that as it goes on, it kind of splits open and expands into something unknown and keeps reaching until it just eventually melts away, back to where it started. I used a lot of layers and sounds on this track to propel it forward, and I’m really happy with the way it all came together.
Sort of Like Breathing
This track just sort of happened on its own, which is my favorite type of song. I was definitely going slightly more in the direction of psychedelia on this one, trying to make something really deep and chilled out, almost like the harmony was coming at you in waves. I also felt a little bit of Flaming Lips influence when I was making this one. I just wanted it to have a positive feeling, something really comforting and cathartic to listen to. This might be one of the most synth-based tracks on the album as well, as I used a lot of different tracks to create a thick and warm sound, with a lot of gentle distortion and space added around the melody and bass line.
This was the other piano-led track and one of my personal favorites from the album. I was definitely taking some influence from Jon Hopkins and Ryuichi Sakamoto on this one. The piano part is really minimal, so the whole idea was just to create a sonic world for it to live within. The approach was similar to the creation of the other tracks, but for Kagami, I didn’t need it to travel anywhere. It’s not so much a journey as it is a space in time. It’s just kind of floating there and slowly developing, ending in the same way that it began. I really like the interplay between tension and release on this track and how the simple piano part is propelled forward by all of the ambient sound behind it.
This is one of the album’s most drone-esque tracks, where I stripped down everything and just focused on sound design and space. There really is no melody or forward harmonic progression. I guess you could say this is one of the album’s most genuinely “ambient” tracks. I was really just looking to create a large open space for all of these sounds to live within, with shimmering and undulating sounds happening throughout. I think this track also takes you on a journey, but a different type of one. My goal was for you to close your eyes and lean back into this song, and let it take you to some sort of meditative space.
Everthus the Ether
This track was basically a significant rework of a previous piano track that I had released under my own name. It’s probably one of the most melodic tracks on the album. Still, I wanted to take it in a completely different direction than solo piano, really working with synthesizers and ambient to create an alternate world for the composition to live within. The melody and harmonic changes are really minimalistic, but I tried to add a lot of orchestration to the piece to fill out the sound and add more depth. I approached it like I was writing string and woodwind arrangements to the original parts, but then made those parts sound more like organic electronic sounds, where you weren’t sure if it was an instrument or a synth doing the work.
Pathway is what it sounds like- a very drone-oriented pathway that unfolds over seven minutes. The approach here was much like Shinseki Main, but I wanted to take it a step further and really delve into sound design. This is also the only track on the album that really introduces a little distortion. I actually really like dark and intense music, but most of the music I produce these days is really the opposite of that. So I wanted to introduce a little tension and darkness into the end of this track, even though overall, it is still very relaxed and ambient in nature.
This is the last track on the album and was also the last track I wrote and produced for the album. So it really was like the closer for the session. I envisioned this just wrapping everything up on the album. Like everything had already been said that I wanted to say, and now you just had to sit with this track for a few minutes and just kind of exist. The idea of sounds coming in waves, almost like breathing, is central to the structure of this song, with many of the others on this album. I didn’t want you to make any effort to listen or understand it, just sit and experience the song, winding down the journey.
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