Futurepast Mix 08 – Cleymoore

 Futurepast Mix 08 

— 
Cleymoore

Imagined as the sonic counterpart to an imaginary sci-fi film, Cleymoore’s submission to the Futurepast podcast series is an exercise on how sound and space can interact and transform into something deeply ‘parasonic.’

Hovering between otherworldly textures, lush soundscapes, and low-swung rhythms, the Pluie/Noir head honcho takes you through his interpretation of Futurepast’s sonic identity.

Pluie/Noir Interscapes 07

Pluie/Noir
Interscapes 07

“Ventilated & Reflected”

Sound mixed and compiled by Walrus
Visual interpretation by Max Binski

Welcome to the new Pluie/Noir podcast series. 8 years after our debut we decided to press the reboot button and return to our roots. With a new format and back to a regular monthly schedule, Pluie/Noir Interscapes will feature audio collages, mixes, live interviews, and live recordings from P/N artists, friends, and other collectives we admire.

 

For Interscapes 07 we welcome Walrus – Brussels-based DJ, promoter, producer and head honcho of the superlative Basic Moves label – to bring forth his very personal way of presenting ambient music. Abstract acrylic painting on film by Max Binski, the head-honcho of Pluie/Noir, also known as Cleymoore. We interview both for the occasion:

walrus pic

INTERVIEW — WALRUS

Hi Michiel, such a pleasure to have you at P/N. How have you been, all things considered?

Hey Bruno. I’m still rolling through life and feeling alright. Thank you.  

The current pandemic has proven quite challenging for the music business as a whole. Considering you are both a DJ and a promoter and record label owner, how did it affect your work? 

My head doesn’t stop pounding-out ideas, but my legs are in urgent need of dancing! 

I hear you’re good at woodwork? Was this one of your “hobbies turned business” activities during 2020?

So happy there has been a lot of demand in the last few years towards the furniture I design and produce for DJs and collectors. People who’re collecting records had some time to be with their collection and imagined new furniture and setup, so I’m making the Clauset & Dekeyser planning for 2021. It’s looking like a lot of fun with several versatile projects ahead of us. I limit myself to two furniture projects a month, like that I keep some free time for musical projects, Crevette Records, and my personal life. So the people reaching out to me for collectors or DJ furniture need to have some patience. Slowly but surely, we’re building together. 

“there’s been a lot of demand in the last few years towards the furniture I design and produce for DJs and collectors”

Your work for Crevette and Basic Moves has been going on since 2017 now. Do you also work on the distribution part of the store? What are your current plans for Basic Moves after Adi’s (stellar) release? 

I work one day a week for the shop, and I’m taking care of the second-hand records. I’m managing the backstock and looking out if the crates are filled up carefully with used records. My Wednesdays are the busiest days of the week – very blessed to be part of Pim Thomas‘s team (DJ Alfred Anders), where I can meet so many people from different generations and with so many other music styles and sharing the same love for vinyl. Even in these uncertain times, we still hang on to those black circles full of culture.

Crevette Distribution is growing slowly. We’re searching and finding our position in “the industry” thanks to Jakob and Pim‘s hard work. They are real believers. Soon we’ll have a proper distribution website out of Brussels/Belgium, like back in the ’90s! Not 50.000 copies tho… haha… rather between 300 and 500 records, out of love for the music and the format for sure!  

“Crevette Distribution is growing slowly. We’re searching and finding our position in ‘the industry'”

 Oh, and great you dig the album from Adi! It has been a very fun journey to get this release together. Intuitive for sure. Raquel is an amazing artist with a bright future ahead. Basic Moves is continuing to release double maxis until catalog number 20. After that, we’re throwing ourselves into another adventure: artist compilations — In the vein of “K7 DJ Kicks,” etc. — a whole new world when it comes to licensing work and music rights clearance… we’re still looking for an internship lawyer specialized in artist rights. anyone who can help, don’t hesitate to get in touch. (contact@basicmoves.be).

Also brand new is the label that Raquel Rivera-Lys, aka Adi, and I, will start in 2021. Sporadically originated on an afternoon of music listening in Berlin, ‘For Playful Manners’ is based on friendship and a shared sense of what makes club music fun — pointing towards the tradition of dancing, clubbing, and of the future. New music is the message, each time delivered through split EPs and making sure there’s a healthy gender balance: male/female, robot/alien, or flower/tree. The artwork will become a crossword puzzle, where you will have to guess the tracks who own them.. fun! The kick-off is expected in April 2021, with tracks by Raquel and myself. The second EP will come just before the summer and will feature Ludovic from Lima/Peru, and Lisbon-based, French-native Penelope.. all very exciting. 🙂

“‘​Gems Under The Horizon’ is a new chill-out division of Basic Moves”

 
Screenshot 2021-02-14 at 16.42.58

I’ve read you had a particular desire to start an ambient label. Is this coming to reality any time soon? 

Yes! ‘Gems Under The Horizon‘ is a new chill-out division of Basic Moves inspired by the Sunday Afternoon events that we have sporadically hosted in Brussels in recent years. Artist Dieter Durinck has carte blanche for the complete design of each release. The logo is, just like that of Basic Moves, designed by Camiel Hermans.

The label will debut with 2 compilation EPs (vinyl + digital for the first time) from very different artists, from Lithuania to South Korea. Belgian Ambient wonder Bernard Zwijzen aka Sonmi451 will do the honours in a split release with Brussels deep-techno-cat Dylan Thomas Hays. More news soon! 

Why, when and how did you record this podcast? 

I recorded this mix at my new flat in Brussels, accompanied by two record players, one old skool hi-fi cd player, and a Rodec MX1800 mixer, somewhere during a rainy mid weeknight in November 2020. I wanted to demonstrate my way of approaching ambient music — no musical boundaries and a personal choice of sounds that make me feel grounded and at ease between my ears and through my veins. 

Your performance at CCINQ, based on the modern gestures Josef Albers produced sixty years ago, was quite remarkable. What exactly did you do? Do you intend on promoting further this kind of cultural interaction? 

Over three days I experimented with the possibilities offered by the ARP2600 synthesiser (an American instrument I had never played before) and imagined a sound drawing from it, freely inspired by Josef Albers’ squares and grid points. Each evening I presented a different performance, in which art was transformed by the links between artists. Through this research I managed to capture different ambiences, sequences and sounds, which were uploaded to the internet in the form of open-source samples, available on the CCINQ website.

It was a lot of fun to compose and perform at CINQ, especially in the context of a gallery and during several performance nights in a row. I will definitely continue to create music through artistic residencies and similar settings, but not always with public performances. Hopefully, the next one will be in Ghent experimenting on the EMS Synthi 100 at IPEM: Institute For Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music.

“Each evening I presented a different performance, in which art was transformed by the links between artists.”

 

Short, medium, and long term goals for 2021 and beyond? 

Focussing on Basic Moves (and its side labels), digging into the neverending universe of music & hopefully.. dancing again.. one day.

Tracklist: 

Franz Falckenhaus – No Morality (Strange Life Records, 2010)
Square Fauna – A Sense Of Meaning (Firecracker Recordings, 2020)
Michael William Gilbert – Other Voices / Other Rooms (Gibex, 1978)
Romano, Sclavis & Texier – Sur Le Lac (Label Bleu, 1999)
Mohammad Reza Mortazavi – Tears Of A Fakir/ opt1 (Latency, 2019)
Pretty Sneaky – C (Mana Records, 2020)
Masomenos & e/tape – The Sound Of The Earth Pt2 (Hôtel Costes, 2020)
Takagi Masakatsu – Re Pia 1 (Carpark Records, 2002)
Seungmin Cha – 지금은 우리가 (Now, We Are) (Tonal Unity, 2019)
Sonmi451 – Steady Drop (U-Cover Transparente, 2006)
Max Loderbauer– Prinzessinneneselfroschgänseteig (Bruchstuecke, 2003)

Buy the music you love — don’t stream your life away !

cleymoore pic

INTERVIEW — MAX BINSKI (aka CLEYMOORE)

Hi Bruno, welcome back to the P/N Interscapes series. How have you been, and how are things in Berlin?

Hello Denise! It’s nice to be back to the series. Always a peculiarly warm feeling — working for a series I curate myself and being interviewed after — it’s like, cooking for your own family while discussing your culinary ideas. 

I’ve been relatively ok. I feel somehow lucky to live in Berlin at a time like this; things were more or less under control, the government thinks responsibly and offers a lot of support for those in need. I also have a “normal job” with a permanent contract for a few years now, so it kept me grounded and secure; otherwise, living as a full-time musician, DJ, and label owner would be impossible. In the meantime, I put Pluie/Noir‘s releases more or less on hold last year and devoted my free time to new things and creativity: music, design, modular synths, photography, video and cooking.

You are a multi-talented artist, can you give us some more insight into what you do?  

Well, I do have a bachelor’s degree in Design, so at heart, I’m a graphic designer. I think I’ve been doing freelance design work since 2008. A couple of years after I finished my studies, I realized it was very tough for me to work for creative directors with a vision different from mine, so freelance was the only way, and that’s what I did. During this period, I also worked in the music industry through my Cleymoore moniker and the Pluie/Noir label management. I became particularly interested in working with Graphic Design for the music business, and it became second nature. Been doing visuals and design for record labels and event promoters ever since.

“I became particularly interested in working with Graphic Design for the music business, and it became second nature.”

When I moved to Berlin 5 years ago with my boyfriend, I decided to look for a job as freelancing can be quite exhausting – especially not knowing if you will score enough to pay your rent at the end of the month. Things changed a bit from there, but it grounded me, having a job. Berlin is exquisitely inspiring but quickly becomes a monumental trap if you don’t have a schedule and something steady in your life. Having a job gave me security and provided me with a reliable enough status to get a cozy and quite central flat fast in a city with an oversaturated real-estate situation. Today, I juggle my time between a full-time job, my private life, freelance design work I still do for friends, digging records, making music, managing Pluie/Noir, and now Rings of Neptune with you. I built a little office/studio space at home where I can be creative and productive; that’s where I’ve spent most of my “quarantine year.”

So did this pandemic influence you and the way you work?

I think it did, yes. I’ve tried to look at it as an opportunity to create and try new things, but especially to learn. Considering there are so many things I like and want to do, the quarantine boredom didn’t get to me. I needed some ergonomics, so I’ve turned a small room in my apartment into a place where I now can work during these successive lockdown periods — it’s tiny (about eight square meters), so I consider it as a sort of panic room for music and design.. I’ve made tons of music and many artworks during this period, re-discovered my entire record collection, and re-aligned both my music taste and my professional ambitions. Was deeply introspective, and optimistic. Together with you and our team we also created, developed, and expanded the Rings of Neptune project during 2020 (find out more about the project here); I guess in this sense, it kept both of us quite busy.

This period also made me more politically and socially concerned, so I intend my audio-visual art to carry a political voice of some sort from now on. I’ve started questioning many things about myself and the people I share my life or work with and ultimately re-evaluated my pre-conception of what humans are and how they behave during unprecedented times. But I guess this mental and emotional drift happened collectively, on a global scale.

“being away from clubs and DJ trends also helped, and today I feel utterly unbounded by club-music and its setting’s expectedness”

What kind of projects kept you busy so far?

I have a recent obsession with modular synths and started studying music theory, which ultimately led me to create music in totally distinct ways. Being away from clubs and DJ trends also helped, and today I feel utterly unbounded by club-music and its setting’s expectedness. I’m ever more interested in music’s left-field side, growing closer and closer to new-age and proto-synth music and, quite inevitably, closer to the so-called Ambient genre in all its forms. I believe it can be a ‘metaphysical transportation’ tool rather than a simple musical backdrop — and viscerally cinematic. That’s the world I want to explore under the Max Binski alias; it’s no longer only about visual art. 

And now I have two full-length albums almost ready to release — which will hopefully happen soon on Pluie/Noir and Klangstudie (a new label I’m starting only for my music). I’m also composing a film score for a project I can’t disclose yet, but excitement is an understatement. And because modular synths are now an integral part of my creative process, I’ve taken the challenge of a good friend, and I’m designing his module’s faceplate in euro-rack format.

Oh, and painting! I’m finally back to canvases and inks after several years! I think it’s mostly because of David Surman. We became friends last year after I invited him to do the artwork for Rubi‘s podcast. Following his work weekly re-kindled my will to paint again. His painting style is, to me, both an inspiration and a delight.

“I believe ambient music can be a metaphysical transportation tool rather than a simple musical backdrop”

Why did you decide to end the P/N Podcast and start this Interscapes series?

Pluie/Noir is a long-running project, and long-running projects require some changes at times to keep the boat afloat. The original series ran for nine years, and 84 podcasts later, I felt I lost control over the series. I wanted to provide an expressive platform for all the talented people I encountered on my artistic path, but in the end, it longer had the format I wanted. I got an increasingly absurd number of podcasts and not enough visual artists to cater to the project’s needs. And because I curate and manage the imprint on my own, it was becoming very tough to schedule, interview, gather visuals, and plan the podcasts as I envisioned them in the first years while simultaneously working for a company full-time. I stopped interviewing the artists, and I also stopped making the teaser videos, and the series slowly lost its strong primary identity. My digital persona isn’t as methodic as it used to be when working as a freelancer. I’m increasingly phobic of social media’s algorithms and nuances — one of the biggest and most challenging paradoxes of my life.

Precisely one year ago, I had a great podcast from Evano and CP-AK for P/N in my hands, and because the original series started with Evano, I decided to press the reset button and return to my roots. Created new design templates and a video format for the Instagram age and started doing in-depth interviews with the artists I invited to the series. My original intention was to go back to a regular monthly schedule, but the whole pandemic got in the way. The core idea is still the same but slightly expanded: feature audio collages, mixes, live interviews, and live recordings from P/N artists, friends, and other collectives I admire, all personally invited so that the curation would be absolute. Unfortunately, I closed the door to mixes sent by fans, but it’s the price I had to pay to regain some control over the project. It’s hard for me to say “no, thank you” sometimes, and it got me in trouble on several occasions throughout my life.

And because less is more, instead of the usual triptych format, this series now features only a single visual interpretation by a graphic artist. I intend the artwork to be available to purchase in a limited printed poster format on our rebooted Bandcamp after episode ten, in a pack together with the mixes recorded in tape. Rings of Neptune became the “parent” label for Pluie/Noir, so having a website to properly present the Interscapes series is also something I always wanted, and that’s why you are reading this here! 

“the original series ran for nine years, and 84 podcasts later, I felt I lost control over the series”

How did you make the artwork for this episode of the Interscapes series?

I developed a series of acrylic paint techniques in transparent film layers with visually striking results about six years ago. The possibilities for visual deconstruction are quite outstanding. I started using acrylic like I use photoshop: bit by bit, adding or removing textures according to my intentions.

Over the past six years, I did about 15 of them, took very high-resolution photos of each (including close-ups), and I’ve been using those textures and paintings in tons of my artworks ever since. I created this artwork for Walrus out of digitally manipulated and heavily layered close-up photos of one of these paintings. The original was a thick, transparent film-based painting in white, red, and blue I did four years ago. I intended it to be as mellow, organic, and fluid as Walrus’s music selection and mixing are. Opted to manipulate the original colors into a warmer and fuller palette, giving vibrant life to brutally abstract shapes. That’s the beauty of abstract art — it’s purely subjective. Let your imagination fly.

“I’ve also re-started reading comics, concretely mangas, which I always liked to do but never did enough”

What are your favorite sources of audio-visual inspiration?

Films, series, and video-games are still my favorite sources of inspiration. Avidly collecting music in physical formats like vinyl or tape is also inspiring because I get bombarded by audio-visual ideas. I’m not only buying a record; I’m also acquiring a physical product with a unique design and artwork that I’m supposed to experience in full. Labels like Light In The Attic or Music From Memory understand and truly explore this very well: music as a complete sensory experience. 

I’ve also re-started reading comics, concretely mangas, which I always liked to do but never did enough. I appreciate the medium even more now than I did when I was younger, especially Japanese manga artists like Inio Asano, Junji Ito, or Makoto Yukimura, or the American author Neil Gaiman (creator of the fantastic Sandman series). I lacked the maturity needed to understand their depth fully. They inspire me deeply, not just visually but also intelectualy.

And modular systems, of course. They opened a pandora’s box I didn’t know I had inside me. There’s nothing quite like it: they’re complicated and at times unpredictable, frankly temperamental but infinitely inspirational. I fell in love with Make Noise after trying it at Orbe‘s studio in Madrid. I studied and learned all I could learn about modular systems for an entire year before taking the lunge. I wanted to be sure about it and use my money responsibly. A year later, I built a customized Black & Gold Shared System, and I’m now expanding my system to an Intellijel 7U Stealth Case. All things modular are my primary source of musical creation, together with Ableton’s underestimated Wavetable engine and Max MSP instruments and effects. But that’s a long story for another time.

“modular systems opened a pandora’s box I didn’t know I had inside me.. they’re complicated, frankly temperamental but infinitely inspirational.”

Short, medium and long-term goals? 

My shortest term goal was to get a cat, which is already a reality today. I had cats in the past, but unfortunately, I had to give one away. The other stayed with my sister, and I can’t take him anymore as they bonded deeply. I adopted a cat through the MJM Dogs Foundation of the Netherlands (thanks, Masha). He’s a cross-breed between common-euro and Russian Blue, has emerald green eyes, he’s super cute, and seems to like my music. 

Medium to long-term plans: reboot Pluie/Noir‘s label side as I currently have four releases on hold, finally finish my first solo Pluie/Noir club-driven release, start Rings of Neptune‘s label and sub-labels, explore some artistic residencies around the globe to culturally activate the cities in the circuit, and much more I can’t disclose right now. And hopefully, dance in a club, as soon as possible? (..) What’s a club? 

Remember to donate if you can during these trying times, not only to your favorite clubs and music promoters, but also to social and health organizations that stand for the things you believe. Some countries also need external help due to oppressive regimes. If you can’t donate, spread the word, activate their voices if you use social media — it’s the best use you can give it. And don’t forget our planet.

Thanks, Denise, for helping me talk about myself.

Links:

www.basicmoves.be
contact@basicmoves.be
www.maxbinski.com


Whttps://pluienoir.tumblr.com
M: info (at) pluienoir.com

Bipolar Signal #2 with Cleymoore

Bipolar Signal #2 with Cleymoore

Bipolar Signal is a podcast series curated by Amadeo Savio
A one hour episode where guests are free to experiment with all of their bipolar musical influences

#2 with @Cleymoore (@pluie-noir)

First broadcast :
18.11.2020
16—17:00
The Word Radio

The MUDD Show – Cleymoore and Eris

The MUDD Show is a media platform and event series, hosting livestreams and physical gatherings at carefully selected intimate venues. Highlighting and elevating artists on the periphery is central to our mission.

Berlin’s well esteemed club Hoppetosse/CDV facilitated & allowed The MUDD Show to bring the club to your screens during these unprecedented times, inviting incredible talents both old and new.

Cleymoore and Eris played during different MUDD Show Streams earlier this year. You can check out both their sets below, now in HD. Don’t forget to support the The Mudd Show guys by sending a little donation. Follow The MUDD Show to stay up to date with their next endeavors: http://themuddshow.tv/

Break The Glass: Kit I

 

Break The Glass

In Case of Emergency 

Personalised mental health tools from the Rings of Neptune staff & artists

Tool Kit I: Cleymoore

C15F9F1D-FF6D-4A56-AED4-4BB86E623E99-AE2D00B3-AFE6-4930-AEDE-E3D478C6CBB9

Unprecedented times we are living. 2020 has been a year full of unprecedented challenges on a global scale. Not that humanity hasn’t lived darker times throughout its tumultuous evolutionary past, of course. Still, the viral loudness of social media and the sheer extent of our overpopulated capitalist culture makes any catastrophe seem like an omen to the end of times.

Global Warming, Mass Pollution, Politics, COVID-19, Racism, White Supremacy, Police Brutality, Cancel Culture, Big-Pharma, Conspiracy Theories, Nuclear Competition, Unemployment, Inflated Real-Estate, Patriarchy… the list could go on. All these issues play a role in creating an ever-growing ball of anxiety that weighs on our shoulders, a weight that can be extremely toling to one’s psyche.

Depression and anxiety are very much rampant among humans and are as deadly as most airborne viruses. And even though the degree of stigma surrounding mental health has been decreasing, it’s still very much a taboo for most. Its silent character separates it from typical physical illnesses, so we tend to devalue the pain it afflicts. A good friend of mine took her own life back in September. She was a beautiful, sweet, and extremely creative person, and none of us will ever know what kind of pain led her to commit suicide. It made me realize our most threatening global pandemic might be, in fact, depression.

During this summer, I’ve made a list of 52 albums that, throughout the years, helped me find my light and see hope in the despair. They did, and always will, save my life. This selection, spanning from ambient to experimental electronica, classical to new age or even post-rock, is purposely un-ordered as I can’t precisely order their emotional significance to me. The records I chose are all executed and recorded in a state I consider beautifully pure. In their vast majority solely instrumental, they provided me the capacity to appreciate life when life itself seemed insufficient.

I hope this selection can bring you some light in these dark times and slow up your mind’s pace. We need to slow down to listen to slow music.

This is my “Break the Glass — In Case of Emergency” kit to you:

Hiroshi Yoshimura
‘Green’ (1986)
AIR Records Inc

Ash Ra Tempel
‘New Age of Earth’ (1976)
Isadora

Biosphere
‘Substrata’ (1997)
Biophon

R. Lovisoni & F. Messina
‘Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo’ (1979)
Cramps Records

Voyage Futur
‘Inner Sphere’ (2020)
VILL4IN

Brian Eno & Jon Hassel 
‘Fourth World Vol. 1/2 ‘ (1980)
Editions EG

Tangerine Dream
‘Phaedra’ (1974)
Virgin

“there exists a field known as music therapy, but for now this record may be useful for those who may be suffering from insomnia.” 

— Hiroshi Yoshimura

Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie & Eraldo Bernocchi
‘Winter Garden’ (2011)
RareNoise

Fennesz & Sakamoto
‘Cendre’ (2007)
Touch

Geinoh Yamashirogumi
‘Ecophony Rinne’ (1986)
Invitation

“’Sleep’ is my personal lullaby for a frenetic world – a manifesto for a slower pace of existence

— Max Richter

Fennesz
‘Endless Summer’ (2001)
Mego

Daniel Schmidt & The Berkeley Gamelan
‘In My Arms, Many Flowers’ (2016)
Recital

Midori Takada
‘Tree of Life’ (1999)
BAJ

Phillip Glass
‘Glassworks’ (1986)
CBS

Matthias Frey
‘Onyx’ (1982)
Rillenwerke

Disasterpiece
‘Hyper Light Drifter’ (2016)
Iam8Bit

Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto 
‘Summvs’ (2011)
Raster-Noton

Brian Eno
‘Ambient 1-4’ (1978-82)
Polydor

“Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.

— Brian Eno

Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek
‘Bird, Lake, Objects’ — 2010
Faitiche

Oneohtrix Point Never
‘Returnal’ — 2010
Editions Mego

Murcof & Vanessa Wagner
‘Statea’ — 2016
Infiné

“We’re suffering from brain fade. We need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information… The flow is constant… Only a catastrophe gets our attention.” 

— William Basinski

Visible Cloaks
‘Reassemblage’ — 2017
Rvng Intl.

How To Disappear Completely
Mer de Revs I/II/III’ — 2017
Withinwithout

Harold Budd 
‘Luxa’ — 1996
All Saints

Boards of Canada 
‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ — 2013
Warp

Bohren & Der Club of Gore
‘Patchouli Blue’ — 2020
[pias]

Yasuaki Shimizu
‘Kakashi’ — 1986
Better Days

Laurel Halo 
‘Quarantine’ — 2012
Hyperdub

Jun Fukamachi
‘Nicole’ — 1986
Nicole Company Limited

“I have been trying to express ki-do-ai-raku (the four emotions; joy, anger, sorrow, and happiness) through music. I would like to express even one’s hidden emotion with reality. It’s my eternal goal”

— Susumu Yokota

About Cleymoore:

Bruno Santos is a graphic designer, DJ and producer based in Berlin. He’s also the owner and curator of the Pluie/Noir collective, and co-manager of Rings of Neptune.

— More info here

Dynamic Range: The 9th Passenger Aboard the Nostromo

Dynamic
Range: 
Unveiling the Invisible 9th Passenger
Aboard the Nostromo 

Words by Bruno Santos aka Cleymoore
Reading time: 16 minutes


 
This is an essay on the role of sound and music in our inherent perception of fantasy films, taking 1979’s “Alien” as the main subject.
Although the article contains no spoilers, at least one viewing of the movie is recommended before reading. 
 

 

Celebrated and admired throughout history, cinema is a peculiar but expansive source of both wonder and outstanding inspiration. Being exposed to a world different from our own can be a mesmerizing experience, one that has the power to influence entire generations. Audio-visual experiences that transcend time & space.

Consider the Science Fiction genres: We were used to marveling at a reality that was different from ours, but ever since we landed on the Moon in 1969 our cinematic depictions of space started to seem ever more uncanny. Back in 1979, the science-fiction horror film “Alien” directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon hit the cinemas with moderate success. Dubbed “Alien: The 8th Passenger”, it follows the crew of the commercial spacecraft Nostromo, who encounter the now-iconic Alien, a deadly and primal extraterrestrial being, in an unknown planetoid after receiving a distress signal. It was undoubtedly the most terrifying film I’ve experienced during my childhood. 

Fast-forward to 2020, and SpaceX is also shooting people into space in a commercial aircraft, and I can’t help but wonder how familiar it all seems. But science-fiction is a hefty topic. Instead, I want to explore and dissect the role of sound and music in our inherent perception of fantasy films and explore why “Alien” was, and still is, a terrifying Sci-Fi tale.

Alien is a film about primal fear – namely, the fear of the unknown – and every character and set piece in it has a life of its own. The visual aesthetics adopted by Ridley Scott for the spacecraft Nostromo and its interiors are quite grim: Massive engines and weirdly shaped structures, hulking pieces of unstylish sharp metal, long dark corridors, hanging chains everywhere as if looking into metal gibbets, bizarre hypersleep gear and obsolete CRT display screens. These are shockingly contrasted by bleak interior design structures of the purest white, reminiscent of the sterility found in most of “2001 Space Odyssey” spaceship scenes, providing a powerful dynamic range to its visuals. The look and feel of the planetoid LV-426, The Derelict and the ominous Alien itself were all H.R. Giger’s creations. The interior of the Derelict, by comparison, resembles more a living organism than a spacegoing vessel, with bony walls, circular gangways, narrow passages, and extremely sexual undertones. 

“every character and set piece in it has a life of its own”

Giger’s perversion over nature and matter echoes throughout the entire film, and it’s arguably one of its most unsettling elements. It’s also a quite visceral film, depicting violence that’s not only graphical but also profoundly symbolical: there’s allusions of rape in the Alien’s highly sexualized attacks or the Facehugger’s forced impregnation, grotesque depictions of childbirth agony in the famous Chestburster scene, and nods to extreme sexual transfiguration in the Alien’s visual motifs and artefacts, often shifting the whole setup to the Freudian realm. But there’s another element in particular that drives this discomfort to new heights: the sound, and it’s outstanding dynamic range.

Composed by Jerry Goldsmith, Alien’s soundtrack is one of the most chillingly effective horror scores in film history, and most likely one of his most outstanding achievements. From the ghostly trumpet & flute melodies of its central theme to the sleek, spine-tingling textures and long-decaying echoes of its most suspenseful arrangements, Goldsmith’s craft relies on a carefully executed orchestration to full effect. It juxtaposes the cold emptiness of space with its stellar, awe-inspiring beauty.

Although, Jerry Goldsmith didn’t precisely score Alien’s opening credits as heard in the film. His take on the opening credits was a much calmer, romantic take on the vastness of space and its alluring grace – miles away from the straightforward and obscure version you hear in the film, which carries a slightly menacing and dissonant tone. Goldsmith originally intended these incongruous moments to be used later in the movie. Still, Ridley Scott and editor Terry Rawlings decided the film needed to convey horror right from the start. Which of the two opening themes was more appropriate? I think it boils down to cinematic taste or vision. The rather romantic motif, classically composed in glorious harmony that subverts the audience slightly; versus the horror inducing theme, focused on 2 major/minor chords played back & forth in a hexatonic scale, which amongst ghastly textures evokes instant dread.

Alien’s bony-chilling opening sequence is drenched in mystery and an overwhelming sense of dread.

Regardless of its brilliance and/or effectiveness, the music editing process of the film was, in fact, a complete disaster, and suffered from a colossally controversial post-production stage. From temp tracking to the final piece, both director and editor saw fit to chop Jerry Goldsmith’s music into bits and pieces, and even replacing it with cues from other scores he composed in the past, specifically 1962’s pseudobiographical movie “Freud”. Goldsmith’s ending theme for “Alien” was also, quite pointlessly, replaced by Howard Hanson’s opus “Symphony No. 2 – Romantic“. 

But however badly his work was treated, the effect of the final score on one’s psyche is quite a nerve-wracking, unforgettable experience. And while it may not quite compete with the Satanic heights of the composers score to “The Omen”, which was the composer’s only Oscar thus far, Alien’s sound structure conveys a very unique horror in itself. One that is both familiar and otherwordly, often blurring the lines between music score and diegetic sound (sound fx/foley). It expands our understanding of the world within the film itself in a game of tone and contrast. 

“A score without a range of different moments and moods will more often than not result in a movie soundtrack that has little to no dynamic range.” 

And while the theme of science fiction concerns a grasp of the known, horror is usually defined by the human struggle with the unknown and our quest to survive horrifying circumstances. Unless, of course, we talk about the likes of Jordan Peele and his cinematic depiction of real-life social horrors. Music in horror films plays an extremely critical role in establishing the requited amount of mystery, trepidation, and fear. In conventional horror movies, this seems quite a straightforward task, but when the mysterious beauty of space is a character on its own, quietness plays a fundamental role. That’s where the dynamic range of sound becomes extremely important, and an indispensable tool for emotional support.

LV236
In cinematic photography, the dynamic range is the difference between the darkest and lightest tones of a scene, what one might consider pure black and pure white. In sound, it describes the ratio between the quietest and the loudest noise in a musical instrument, musical arrangement or piece of electronic equipment.

A score without a range of different moments and moods will more often than not result in a movie soundtrack that has little to no dynamic range. Alien is a beautiful example of a soundtrack that has been carefully designed to have moments of calm quietness, often evoking a mixture of fear and awe, versus moments of intense action that result in high volume sound, music and dialogue.

It creates a structured experience, and the audio-visual dynamics grow from these structures as well, building the intensity of a moment before that specific intense moment actually occurs, driving the audience. Junji Ito comes to mind: page after page of his mangas usually grow slowly in tone and dread, only to deliver enormous shocks or to drop the reader into the uncanny valley after a simple page turn. Using such dynamics, he subdues the reader, and masterfully controls the narrative.

Uzumaki-eyeball
From right to left, the masterful subdued shocks of Shunji Ito.

Most of the film’s alien settings use quietness as a tool to elevate its otherwordly sounds and enable razor-sharp emotional manipulation. Long moments of calm allow clarity and provide the space and headroom needed for delicate gain staging, from the quietest wind to the loudest echo of strings and drums. These elements ebb and flow in a very dynamic and organic manner, and inject subconscious themes of gripping bodily invasion, attack and infection. But there’s a constant melodic cue that cuts through the film, evoking different emotions depending on its tempo, volume or tone.

Goldsmith’s known to employ flexible secondary motifs in addition to the central theme by using smaller repeated musical statements throughout the whole score  and in Alien there are specific timbres and melodies recurrently recalled. Virtually every cue has a life of its own that is born from the same core, something which assists the score’s musicality and motion. The Alien’s leitmotif, the 2-note and sometimes 3-note flute arrangement, is a constant: it continually reminds you everything alien, and the fact that it’s employed in its most introspective moments mutates it into something all the more terrifying.

“Long moments of calm allow clarity and provide the space and headroom needed for delicate gain staging”

32d5a61bb41209e681d1ec2515ff698a
Maestro-Echoplex-EP-2-Tape-Echo-Cover-3-1

The scoring on LV-426 and the discovery and subsequent investigation of The Derelict ship is a great sonic representation of everything Alien. Goldsmith used his familiarity with acoustic and electronic elements to create an engaging atmosphere of atypical nature. The famous “alien wind” effect was generated using the Indian instrument Shankha run through the Echoplex tape delay machine – an industry standard for this effect at the time and the successor to the EchoSonic, one of the earliest magnetic tape delay & amplifier machines from 1959. Cues like “The Alien Planet” and “The Shaft” are an accurate depiction of incoming horror and aggressive action through the innovative use of echoes and reverbs on its orchestral and percussive parts.

To create the sound for the alien and its world, Goldsmith used an array of intriguing instruments, including a Didgeridoo, original from the Australian Aboriginal tribes, and the Serpent, a unique wind instrument originally from France that resembles a giant snake – and a distant ancestor of the modern tuba. Goldsmith also used detuned wind and string effects to convey stress (influenced by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki). The wise use of magnetic tape delays on drums or these unusual instruments represents the terror of the unknown world and its ominous central creature. 

Some pieces like “Facehugger” or “Breakaway” demonstrate some of the composers most aggressive and challenging writing, making full use of the dynamic range by carefully mixing foley with instrumentation under precise volume shifting. These quiet moments contrasted by nervous sounds very quickly break-the-nerve of the listener and subconsciously implant ideas of severe aggression. It becomes a very feral experience.

Understanding dynamic range is key to achieving a good sound, just like understanding contrast is key to achieving the right image. Goldsmith’s soundtrack has vast differences between the loudest peaks in its cues and its quietest sounds, resulting in a very unique dynamic range – one that eventually requires a specific sound system to fully enjoy. 

“Understanding dynamic range is key to achieving a good sound, just like understanding contrast is key to achieving the right image.”

Considering the cinema nowadays is becoming more and more a living-room thing, such a soundtrack could feel either too loud or too quiet at times, primarily when heard in smaller sound systems / TVs. If we were to apply severe levels of compression to the soundtrack to achieve higher volume and a shorter frequency window we would gain an overall feeling of increased ‘loudness’ and virtually making it sound better in such environments. At the same time, loud moments would be toned down, and quietness wouldn’t be so mysterious, severely impacting the whole emotional articulation of all its parts.

I do believe, although, that such a score wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic nowadays; this is mostly due to the approach most current musicians and audio engineers have towards volume. The loudness range of the sound before mastering or even mixing has increased at the same time as compressing/limiting has been getting more dramatic, a tendency born out of the stylistic changes in music during the era of the ‘loudness war’ — aka the ’90s. This quest for volume became an industry standard, with platforms like Spotify employing Loudness Normalization with the use of digital limiter algorithms that quite often break the dynamic range of a track. These platforms state louder tracks have often been cited as sounding better to listeners, so normalization was employed to avoid unfair advantage between songs with different volumes or dynamic ranges.

“The loudness range of the sound before mastering or even mixing has increased at the same time as compressing/limiting has been getting more dramatic.”

I’m often puzzled by such perceptions of loudness and sound quality in music. They make me wonder if, for instance, ambient music mixes should be mastered or normalized. Virtually everyone would be able to listen to it clearly, even on lo-fi speakers, and accessibility should be a concern. But moments in the mix that should ebb and flow, be it in emotion or volume, would probably be spoiled and taken miles away from the original intentions of its creator.

In 2017, Mondo re-issued Alien’s OST in a gorgeous special edition 4xLP package that included both Goldsmith’s original vision and Scott’s edits, transferred, remastered and restored from the original multi-track tapes, and its native dynamic range impeccably preserved. But, however remarkable, the original soundtrack album, also re-issued by Mondo, remains the best way to listen to the score as envisioned by the composer: an utterly authentic soundscape of atonal motifs bookended by its Romantic theme. It elevated the original material from overblown b-movie to interstellar artistic heights and serves even today as a perfect example of pioneering sonic artistry full of character, where its details and dynamics make it a character of its own — the 9th passenger aboard the Nostromo.

Interstellar Travel Guide – Volume I out now on Bandcamp

Rings of
Neptune

Interstellar
Travel Guide
Volume I

To celebrate our debut, we gathered all our artists and challenged them to create music unbounded by genre-specific constrictions. “Interstellar Travel Guide” is a two-part compilation featuring the agency’s 24 artists, and showcases a versatile array of music ranging from spoken vocals & ambient drones to exploratory techno. ‘Volume I’ is the compilation’s most experimental part, assembling 12 compositions of calm, awe-inspiring moments fundamentally aimed at contemplation, and meditation. Volume II will be released shortly after and will gather tracks from the other side of the spectrum, exploring rather beat-driven arrangements.

“Interstellar Travel Guide” is exclusively available on Bandcamp in both digital and limited-edition cassette format. In solidarity with recent protests against police racism and brutality, and in honour of the Stonewall riots of 1969, we’ll also be donating our revenue during the next two months to black-, trans- and queer-led anti-discrimination organizations committed to long-term systemic change, political education, and engagement within the communities such as NAACP, Black Visions Collective and Queer Refugees Germany. 

“12 compositions of calm, awe-inspiring moments fundamentally aimed at contemplation, and meditation.”

 

Links:

official webpage
soundcloud
bandcamp