There’s not much more I can say about Suki Sou’s outstanding Notes on Listening that I didn’t already say on Foxy Digitalis Daily. Still, her breakdown of the album here opened up new meanings and contexts, expanding my appreciation for it. Her openness and consideration – vividly on display on the album – shine through in this write-up. It is a joy to read. Notes on Listening is out now on Curious Music.
This track is a reflection of my initial foray into the realm of modular synthesizers. It was an exhilarating time, brimming with tons of excitement and endless discoveries…You can probably hear the insatiable curiosity fizzing throughout. It all came to life through improvisation over a long period of time; I didn’t want to rush and really took my time to let these ideas unfold naturally.
One of the key elements in shaping the sound was using the Knas Ekdahl Moisturizer Spring Reverb. I employed a long decaying loop, using that as a foundation to layer sounds from different synthesizers, each with their own unique pitches. The result was an intriguing blend of contrasting sections with free counterpoints; it was an unpredictable aleatoric surprise.
When it came to the rhythmic patterns, I wanted to have a diverse range of textures. To achieve this, I began with three Synthi percussion patterns, including one that had a rolling djembe-esque quality. Manipulating the joystick allowed me to open and close the “skin,” while the X function brought in dub influences. To add further variation, I played these patterns on different scales to gain a dynamic and engaging experience.
Moving on, I turned to the DX7 to craft a clean and woody arpeggiated percussion sound. Utilising filter resonance as a sound source, it provided a distinct character to the composition. In contrast, the Buchla Easel allowed me to experiment with different textures. I created a mildly distorted long release metallic bongo sequence, adding a touch of grit, and a rich timbre pulse sequence with overdrive, which brought additional depth and complexity to the track. As the piece progressed, I added embellishments and elaborations. This led to a climactic passage that showcases the virtuosity of the composition.
I name this experiment “Rotating Currents” because it symbolises the cyclical nature of the sonic elements; as they flow and evolve, it encapsulates the senses of movement, continually shifting and growing, a bit like you are stuck in an ever-changing whirlpool.
Velocity of Water
Potatoes – You can whip them, mash them, bake them – there’s like a hundred different ways to cook them up. That’s kind of the same perspective I took with water. I looked at how we interact with water daily, and it sparked a whole flood of observations.
Suzanne Ciani’s Coca-Cola pop and pour, and Sunkist orange adverts were a big influence for me. I loved the playful, wobbly hydrated sounds she created, and I decided to try and sculpt similar sounds from my gear – I ended up building ten melodic motives, each carrying its own rhythmic arpeggio pattern. These melodies converged into ten sequences, each with its own level of roar or whisper, mimicking the highs and lows of water rapids.
The classical compositional techniques – retrograde, inversion, augmentation, and diminution – were similar to the geological forces that shape a river’s course. These techniques dictated the melodies’ direction, sometimes letting them flow backward or upside down, at times swelling them into a crescendo or shrinking them into a quiet trickle.
I’ve gathered a collection of water sound recordings from my stomping grounds in the Peak District: These sounds became the pulse of the composition, infusing it with a rhythm that’s as organic as the landscape around me. To be honest, I had a blast playing with these sounds, altering them into drum beats and flipping them in reverse – mirroring the fluid nature of water as it adjusts to different environments and seasons.
The result: A refreshing tonic when dehydration hits. 💧
You know that swirl of colors and patterns you see when you press your fingers against your closed eyes? It’s like a plummy sparkly chaotic flashes that takes you back to the diagrams in your old-school science or chemistry books. I wanted to capture that in a track. I hunkered down at the piano for ages, crafting chord progressions that felt true to that experience, using techniques similar to those I employed in Velocity of Water.
I ended up piecing together eight distinct rhythmic arpeggio patterns. That was around the time I started dabbling with Pure Data, which opened up a whole new universe of sounds. I was addicted to building additive synths from scratch that I couldn’t resist incorporating them into this track.
But I also craved an element of surprise, something to jolt you awake like an unexpected splash of cold water when you’re deep in procrastination. So, I mixed in the sound of my partner Kyle diving into the water for that bolt of energy. But I didn’t want it to be all about the icy shock. I wanted to blend in a touch of warmth too. So, I added the comforting crackle of frying dumplings in a pan. It’s like a sonic hug, a perfect counterpoint to the electrifying splash – a balance that’s hopefully as revitalising as it is comforting.
Particles of Air
“Particles of Air” was an extremely sober ascetic concert. Made of a continuous, extremely slow series of pulses in a sustained rapid stream instead of constructing a texture through the accumulation of numerous individual musical events. This approach enables the listener to go deeper and deeper inside a singular sustained tone. The intention is to foster a sense of surrender, encouraging the exploration of the multifaceted solitary note. It is a practice of nurturing stillness.
I used an all-analog setup featuring the Buchla Easel, ARP 2600, SERGE, and APR 2500, to record six channels of sound. The original length of this track was 20 mins. Each channel had a distinct character and tone, ranging from the evolving vibrato of the Buchla Easel in the F♯ major scale to the mellow C♯2 of the ARP 2500 to the flowing ripple modulation rate, creates a sense of movement and evolution within the track.
My aim is to cultivate a supportive environment that allows listeners to gradually rediscover their sensitivity to the most nuanced auditory phenomena within the sound. This piece intentionally avoids abrupt changes or disruptions that may desensitise the listener. Instead, it offers a gentle, continuous flow of waves that gradually envelops us.
My auntie, who introduced me to Gameboy and Super Mario, as well as Teresa Teng’s music, was a major influence on me. She struggled with bipolar disorder and severe depression; unfortunately, mental health was not a widely accepted topic in China then. My grandparents would make unfair excuses for her behavior, and I could see that she was suffering. Tragically, she ended up taking her own life while I was studying in the UK. “Petrichor” is dedicated to her specifically –– It has a melody that always reminds me of her and her favorite smell, which was the inspiration for the track’s title. Creating this piece of music was a way for me to process my grief and to find solace in her memory.
This was a happy accident. The creative process involved using two distinct chord progressions recorded on a MiniMoog, which were processed using ⅛ step arpeggios, with one pattern being played at a higher octave than the other tied with a long release delay. The end result was a resonating, harmonic ping pong effect reminiscent of the fascinating Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds, which are characterised by their unique wavy formations resulting from the movement of two layers of air at different speeds.
I’ve been playing with these chord structures for a while. Then, one quiet snowy morning in February, when everything around me largely sleeps, I thought, “I’m going to record this.” Sitting by my window, looking out at the frozen saturated sky with coral sunrise hues, curiously comforting, reminiscent of being enveloped in a cocoon. Time seemed to stand still, stretching out slowly, unhurried, and patient. You can do anything you want and exist in any desired state. Isn’t it freeing how music has the ability to transport you like that?