Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dialectical Observations


A year ago, I released my first EP after Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Elemental was - and remains -  an EP I was extremely proud of and excited about. It may have contained three relatively old tunes, but it also contained three new tunes, two of which started my journey toward this album. "Signor Fancypants" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy" represented, to me, a raising of the bar in my abilities as a composer. When I isolated a single note in the persistent piano track that had been bothering me - the change prompting the altering and rerecording the metallic guitars - an Alternate Spin of "Fistfuls of Whimsy" was created, and I counted it among my most epic achievements, alongside the now-dated Selenophilia Spin of "The Cloud Walkers," and "Passage Through The Veil." I was very pleased when it was accepted by, and put into rotation, on both indie and mainstream radio stations.

Matching the quality of those two songs set a challenge that I met head-on, crafting two Patreon-exclusive B-sides to Elemental, which were tacked onto the end of an extended Elemental Artist's Edition - the first EP to have a running theme through its track art, all of which was derived from works by Cyril Rolando, whose generosity in our trade arrangement remains a massive contribution to my covers and Artist's Editions. These songs were "Movement" - a song that remained solid in its original form for almost an entire year - and "Less Sinister Cousins," which has evolved ever-so-slightly in each of its subsequent publishings. While the former was the best example of what I call piano-metal (but is more accurately described as an industrial-metal/piano-rock fusion) that I had written in quite a while, the latter captured my heart. I felt it was the best example of the odd combination of neoclassical and industrial elements that I often seek to achieve.

Those two songs were eventually made public on the EP Counterbalance, somewhat at odds with a sociopolitically-themed record. I blew smoke out of my ass to explain how they could be interpreted as being part of that theme, but I was mostly taking advantage of its release as an excuse to publish them publicly. However it was with those two songs, along with those two fine achievements on the prior EP, that made it feel appropriate to start crafting a new EP or album. I started with a track list of "Signor Fancypants," "Fistfuls of Whimsy," "Movement," "Less Sinister Cousins," new song "Familial Germs," and the bonus tracks from the Artist's Edition of Counterbalance - an instrumental version of its title track and a more acoustic, intending-to-be-balladic version of "Matriculating." I also had two more songs that were still under construction but looking promising, "Butterflies on Ganymede" and "Fleeting Fractals." However, the softer and more ambient songs "Quietly Matriculating" and "Butterflies on Ganymede" were shoved to the side of a track list that was wildly in flux, as was "Counterbalance (Sin Palabras)" for being too electronic, though I tried it as the album's (yes, it was pretty clear I was constructing a full-length album) finale several times.

I was being more focused and deliberate than I had ever been before as I was crafting "Ganymede" and "Fractals," and they took much longer than any song had before. The mastering process was grueling, not helped any by trying to nudge the volumes on isolated sections of two tracks - on each song - only to find that some idiosyncrasy of my DAW was preventing me from doing so. It took forever to find a way around that, but I believe my extreme attention to detail was quite successful on "Ganymede," which became a must to be included on the album. It was one of the first concrete new songs. However, I thought that "Fractals" was more of a crowd-pleaser, with trip-hop and post-industrial elements that were very apparently inspired by How To Destroy Angels, even though it turned out to be more of a piano-pop song. I made it an advance single to try to generate enthusiasm for the album. Unexpectedly, I think "Ganymede" accomplished that goal to a greater degree, especially among fans of ambient and neoclassical music. Still, I was able to get "Fractals" in rotation on my most supportive radio allies.

During all of this, I was playing around with a much more somber composition of cello and piano over recorded rain. Yes, I recorded rain specifically for an ambient-rock song, because it seems as though pretty much all composers of ambient music inevitably use rain in one of their songs. Hell, even Tool has done it, as they lean more and more toward ambient and atmospheric styles. Anyway, what I found myself writing and recording was an evolving theme of a neoclassical/ambient style, eventually accompanied by throbbing, sustained bass kicks and muted hand drums, bringing more familiar elements in my music into a melancholy ballad. This song, of course, became "When Anchorage Became An Island." Although the title was originally inspired by the SyFy series The Expanse (as was the title for "Butterflies on Ganymede") it took on a very intensely specific meaning for me, when applied to this tune. Anchorage was the site of a double-homicide within my family, and it was a very divergent event for me. It was split from the rest of my life, a separate world. So you see, this gracefully sad song's atmosphere was a natural fit. And I think the cello of this song could also turn into a recurring theme, such as "Jade's Theme." Fun fact: there actually is an uninhabited Canadian Arctic island named Anchorage. Anyway, this song seemed natural for the opener of an album; I immediately made its position concrete, even though it was still an evolving composition.

All of the songs that made it onto the album turned into continually evolving tunes in order to fit together, and were remastered, cropped, extended, rerecorded, altered, or otherwise "improved." In the end, there is not a single song on here that is as it was previously published. "Familial Germs" had two measures cropped; "what if"s that were subtle in theory evolved into a new Alternate Spin of "Movement;" "Signor Fancypants" had a guitar chord added and was cropped into an abrupt ending in order to be deliberately cut off by a new intro to "Less Sinister Cousins," which had a small section rerecorded with slightly adjusted levels. Even "Fleeting Fractals" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy (Alternate Spin)" were remastered for this album, the latter having its opening piano chords rerecorded. Then there was the comically-named straight-up ambient-rock tune "Man Seeking Cocoon (For NSA LTR)" - No Strings Attached Long Term Relationship, for those who don't get it - that had so many "concrete" versions, I'm surprised I ever felt confident enough in it to make an incarnation public.

So here we are, a year later, with an album that - albeit short - has been meticulously constructed to be what I consider my finest album yet. I like to think of it as a "cinematic" experience, and I hope you all have an opportunity to listen to it from the beginning, to the end. Its construction has been an emotional roller coaster for me, and I hope that it has such an effect to listeners. As of now, it can be streamed on YouTubeSpotifyGoogle PlayApple Music, and TIDAL. I've also posted a playlist at my YouTube channel. You'll notice that "Signor Fancypants" and "Less Sinister Cousins" are combined on my playlist. It's because "Cousins" intentionally cuts off "Fancypants" with its new intro, and I wanted that effect in there. I'm also considering changing "Anchorage" and "Cocoon" into a single track, as the snare-edge tapping at the end of "Anchorage" flows nicely into the synth that runs throughout "Cocoon."

This album can also be purchased at GoogleiTunes, Microsoft, and Amazon, but you're better off purchasing it directly from me at my Snail Tunes store, where you'll find it for its lower price. Purchases include a download in a format of your choice - from standard MP3 to lossless audio - as well as unlimited streaming on Bandcamp and the Bandcamp app, which are worthwhile in themselves. An Artist's Edition (see previous article) is also available through my Patreon.

Now, because I always like to end with something special, I'm now letting everyone download the single version of "Fleeting Fractals" for free! Or you can tip anything you'd like to support me and art...

I hope y'all enjoy the music, and that your inner snails remain resilient and determined.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dialectical Artist's Edition

Well, folken, I've done it. After giving it a test run last night, I confidently called Dialectical Observations finished and flung it out into the world as a Patreon-exclusive Artist's Edition, almost a week earlier than the album's public release date of July 30th. My hope had been to make it an actual week, but the gods laughed at me and threw some kinks - mostly in the form of technical difficulties - in my plans. I had all the artwork ready. I had the songs uploaded with the track art in place and I had all the pages for the PDF booklet ready to merge into one file. And then, of course, it took four tries to upload and then download the booklet, as I realized that I hadn't flattened the artwork into a single layer for the pages, and therefore the pages looked all screwed up once I had downloaded the booklet. It was a lot more time-consuming than it should have been. Also, my Internet connection slowed to worse-than-dial-up. One of the drawbacks of living ten miles outside the middle of nowhere. My plan (ha!) had been to download the Artist's Edition for its test run and listen to it while uploading the remastered-for-the-album version of "Fleeting Fractals" to YouTube, which I would then share in my almost-nightly Jukebox post on Facebook and Google Plus. Yeah... The download took over two hours, and uploading "Fractals" at the same time was out of the question.

I did test run the album in its entirety last night, which kept me awake until five in the morning, but it gave me the confidence that I had done my best - that this was my best work yet - and it was time to make it officially done by publishing it. So the Artist's Edition that I had been hoping to release in advance of the public date was put out into the world at around nine o'clock this morning. It felt really good to get it out there so I can turn my attention to other promoting the bastard, then publishing it publicly and doing the promotional circus for that release. Still, I've been allowing myself such a relaxed pace to make the most intentional and perfect piece possible that I was able to upload the public edition to my distributor and make it a single click away from being published at my Snail Tunes store. So hopefully this means that it will pop up everywhere at midnight on the 30th. I've been warned by my distributor that it might take it longer than a week to pass through the internal review processes of certain stores and streaming platforms, but that's mostly to avoid angry emails, I think. It's been my experience that most of the time a release is in all stores in the first week of its distribution. This is my first time getting it all out there this far in advance, so we'll see how it goes!

Meanwhile, I'm going to be really pushing for people to pledge at my Patreon. Any amount pledged before the end of the month will gain access to download the Artist's Edition, on top of the rewards in the three tiers. This Artist's Edition has been painstakingly crafted: In an unusual turn, I designed the album cover myself, from one of the tree photographs that I took for the "Fleeting Fractals" single. That led to the track art, for which I strayed from my usual formula. Instead of creating a uniform background with uniform text placement, I took sections of the cover image and flipped them or inverted the values, and then overlaid them with modified artwork by Cyril Rolando to keep with the theme of Elemental and Counterbalance, the two EPs leading up to this album. Again, the images are grayscale, sometimes with inverted values, and I've played around with the brightness and contrast to best suit them as such. Then, the titles are in shades of gray, placed where they work best and shadowed where appropriate. This took a lot more effort on my part than usual, and there were some cases where I had multiple goes at the track art entirely, or spent a significant amount of time playing around with the elements to see what worked best. The end result is that unique images are displayed for each track on media players when possible. You can see two examples of them in the previous article.

After that was all done, it was a matter of converting them for the book and, of course, creating additional pages. In addition to hi-res PDFs of the track art, the booklet includes the cover image, a track listing, and credits and acknowledgements pages, all with the same Dialectical Tree design running through them. For this booklet, I also took a new artist photograph; in all the previous booklets, I still had short hair in the photos. Well, I have shoulder-length hair now, so it seemed a new picture was overdue. Then, like I said, merging the PDFs into a single booklet was a bitch; I'd forgotten that the images need to be flattened (instead of the several layers that each is comprised of) or the PDFs are rendered out-of-whack in some way. In the end, I had to revisit each of the images to merge all of the layers and reconvert them to PDFs. Then there's the uploading, merging, and downloading process that is the consequence of doing it through a free online program. Have I ever mentioned that I had to switch to doing all of the artwork on GIMP instead of PhotoShop long ago? It was a whole new learning experience, but it's more than adequate for my purposes.

Artist's Editions usually come with a bonus track or two, but it was more important to me to work on my existing material and release the album on the anniversary of Elemental, which contains the first track published that is included on Dialectical Observations. Also, I felt that I'd want any bonus tracks to match the quality of the rest of the album, for which I'd have to give myself a lot of room to work with. So instead of up-front bonus tracks, I'm going to do what I did with the Elemental Artist's Edition and publish Dialectical B-Sides further on down the line, free of charge for all Patrons that contributed to this campaign. As with the Elemental B-sides, they'll undoubtedly be merged into a new expanded Artist's Edition, also available to Patrons free of charge.

You can expect further behind-the-music and song-specific details when the release article is written for the public edition of the album. Until then, I'll leave you with the album version of the first track, "When Anchorage Became An Island." May your inner snails remain resilient and determined!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dialectical Release Date - July 30th

I can't believe it's taken me this long to get around to posting this on my "official website"... I'm just terrible at keeping up with this. You'll find the most in-depth reporting on my music here, but it's much easier to keep track with what's going on by following me on Facebook and Google Plus. Hell, I'm even getting better at remembering to post all the important shit FIRST on my Patreon, as well as offering all the previews (and sometimes downloads) that others aren't privy too. Mostly, my Twitter is just ads, song posts, and the occasional tidbit. If you'd really like to know what my daily life is like, and to keep track of everything that's going on in my musical world, Facebook and Google are the way to go.

Back to the subject matter: Yes, a release date has finally been set. July 30th will be the one-year anniversary of the EP Elemental, which was the first stepping stone toward this album, introducing "Signor Fancypants" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy" to the world. Now, it's going to be the Alternate Spin of "Fisftuls" on Dialectical Observations; it's the version that's been on radio rotation on multiple stations, and it's been remastered for its inclusion on the album. "Fancypants" has undergone more minor changes, not quite earning the Alternate Spin qualifier, but does have an abrupt ending for a creative transition into a new introduction for "Less Sinister Cousins," which is another song with some changes. For the original versions, you really should get your hands on Elemental and Counterbalance, respectively. Or add them to your streaming libraries.

Pretty much every song on the album that has been released before is not as it has been heard in previous publishings. Not even "Fleeting Fractals," which has been remastered (I believe to its benefit) for the album. "Movement" is the only song that has remained untouched, but I'm planning on going over its bass guitar track today; there may be an Alternate Spin offered. I know I've been saying that I want to use that qualifier less, but sometimes art is never really finished - the artist can obverse places they would like to touch-up/modify the longer they spend with their works. Artist's prerogative. It's why I've been spending more time with my songs before I release them to the world, but it seems I just can't leave them alone. I still believe it's been beneficial to let them breathe longer, but you may hear slightly different versions of most every song that finds itself published on multiple releases, even without being an Alternate Spin. I just don't think it's always necessary, as sometimes the changes are really minor, and I simply don't want to use that label all the time. But be aware that, in this case, there will be varying Elemental, Counterbalance, and Dialectical spins.

Oh, look, a humming bird! Sorry, I tend to write these posts outside, no matter the season or weather.

I pretty much have the album finished right now, even its Artist's Edition, which most always takes longer with significantly more effort put into it. It's how I make them really special. I took several cracks at designing each track's artwork this time; usually a background gets established and a formula is created. It still takes a long time, but it's been far easier than what I've done this time round. The backgrounds change, as well as the positioning of the song titles; the images borrowed from Cyril Rolando have been changed multiple times, and each has been changed to grayscale with varying brightness/contrast; and there's varying inverted values. It took two days to design them all, and they still may be subject to change. Here's a couple of the previews I've offered on my other social media accounts:

And to leave y'all with something a little special, here's the version of "When Anchorage Became An Island" that was on the demo I sent out to Fluttery Records - I love everything they release and still have yet to be picked up by them; sigh... - but be warned, it's been changed since then. Of course. Until later, may your inner snails be resilient and determined!