Production Notes: “Drifter”

My latest full-length album, Drifter, is available as of today as a digital download and limited-edition CD (100 copies, signed and numbered). I thought I’d share some notes on how the album came together…and use this as an opportunity to go into more details on what’s coming in the future. (This post is unashamedly inspired by similar posts made by Surachai.)


The period of recording that resulted in the Dissolver album yielded a lot of tracks that just didn’t fit that album, but which sat together nicely as a collection on its own, sonically and thematically. They were rhythmic but beatless, and more ethereal in nature. This theme begat new material, and over time that new material displaced almost all of the older sessions. And thus Drifter was born.

Drifter is the second release in an album trilogy that I’m unofficially calling the “Form Cycle.” The third and final album in this series is described at the end of this article. (The Dissolved remix EP isn’t part of this trilogy.) During the recording of Dissolver, the pieces really started to explore three related elements, aspects, and themes, and time and again I’d keep hearing these relationships between tracks, emotionally speaking. For the first time, I realized that I had ideas to explore that wouldn’t fit in a single, time-constrained release.


Dissolver was written during a time of great change for me; a number of big changes really left a lot of open questions as to what a new normal would be. Exploring this in-between space, where old forms are gone and new ones have yet to be formed, were the direct impetus for all the tracks on Drifter.

Technique and Instruments

Technique-wise, not a whole lot changed from Dissolver: The tracks are a mix of sequencing and improvisation on both hardware and software, mixed in the DAW. However, there are a few differences from the last album.

This album has very little in the way of percussion. The tracks span a range of compositional techniques from sequencing, unedited real-time performance, and aleatoric or randomized events, often all within a single track.

There are many fewer virtual instruments on this album. I used pretty much everything I had in the studio at the time: old favorites like the Waldorf Pulse Plus, newer tools like the Teenage Engineering OP-1, my modular Eurorack synthesizer, and my collection of wooden Ciat Lonbarde synths. I believe there is only one track with guitar material, but admittedly by the time I’m mixing a track, the original sound sources become a bit murky.

Field recordings make up a lot of the original sound sources: electromagnetic interference recorded by coil pickups, shortwave radio transmissions, rain dripping off the roof of an English manor house, creaking piers near San Francisco, metal pie weights, and much more. Sound processing is done, as usual, through any means necessary: plug-ins, boutique effects pedals, cassette tape, and granular synthesis.

The Crying Bowl interludes were unique in that they were created with a Tocante Phashi touch-plate synth played through a transducer connected to a metal bowl; transducers don’t push air like speakers, they make other surfaces vibrate. I recorded this using a cassette tape recorder with a speaker, which played back the incoming signal; this created feedback that I controlled by moving the recorder closer or farther from the bowl. My arms and shoulders hurt for a day afterwards; those old cassette field recorders aren’t the lightest-weight things. In fact, while it’s hard to tell, my cat accidentally contributed vocals to one of these interludes.

What Comes Next

My next release will be the final one in the Form Cycle, completing the trilogy. It will be called Deceiver and will be available in the fall of 2016. I look forward to sharing it with you soon.