Eus, Postdrome & Saad: Sustained Layers
Posted In: BLWBCK, Charles Sage, Charlie Floyd, Eus, Jose Acuna, Postdrome, Postdrome & Saad: Sustained Layers, Romain Barbot, Saad, Sustained Layers
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In late 2011, the members of EUS, Postdrome and Saåad came together to create Sustained Layers, a shared introspective work combining three visions of carefully assembled drones, field recordings and blurred melodies. The time zones separating the artists (who were located in France, Costa Rica and the UK) played a large role in the development of the record, as did the experimentation and improvisation used to create the dark, detailed and crisp sounds.
A warning: for those suffering drone fatigue, this particular album will not represent a significant break from that affliction – however, the manner in which it is executed and produced lift it well above many similar offerings in the genre. For one thing, it’s dark and weighty, not a tentative morsel of a thing. For another, the album was mixed by a set of ears not accustomed to drone, so the placement and sound design is strikingly balanced and well handled.
The album would (if in need of a pigeonhole) slot into the “dark ambient” category fairly neatly, but that description would be reductive – the whole piece is more than that. The contributions from each musician push the sound into unexpected places; traces of modern classical on “Limbo”, synth worship on “Inner Cold”, the choral boom of “Drone Me Tender” and the lo-fi piano and vocal by Molly Anne Donahue on “Dawn” mean the project isn’t sunk under a wash of similarity. In terms of weight, the tracks hum with a solid reassuring bass presence and there’s quite a healthy crackle at the periphery to give it life.
We approached the artists involved in this notable collective to give us their recollection of the process, and to share some insight into how the project came about:
How did you all come to work together on this?
Romain Barbot: It started when Greg Buffier officially joined SAÅAD, just after the Delayed Summer sessions. We thought that a collaboration would be a good start for him. At the time I had been chatting with José for weeks; we shared an eclectic vision of music, beyond the ambient and drone genre, and the idea of doing something together naturally came up in our conversation. At this point, Greg and I couldn’t stop listening to Postdrome’s Never Without and when Charlie approached me, I couldn’t hold myself back, and so asked him to join us on this project.
How was the workflow managed with three parties in different places and timezones?
Jose Acuna: Actually it wasn’t very difficult; there were moments when all three bands/projects were awake and connected at the same time, and there were moments when we had to wait some hours or even days to get a response from the others. Apart from that, it was kind of easy because for the recording process we worked independently; I mean, we didn’t need the others to be right there at that moment…we took our time to record each of our “layers”, inspired by each other’s ideas.
Charlie Floyd: I think this way of doing things gave us a chance to create something that worked well together while maintaining our individual styles and recording processes as individual artists.
How long did it take to finish everything?
Romain: It only took us 3 months to compose and record the music but we came across some difficulties when we had to edit the tracklist and mix everything; it was the first time we had to explain our choices and describe what we wanted to do with our music.
After two months and over a hundred e-mails, often lost in translation, we decided to let someone external work on it. It wasn’t easy because we were used to having complete control over our music, but Nico Guevera did an amazing work and without him, I guess we would be still talking about it. We did the mix in March and it was mastered in Paris by Gregory Hoepffner in April.
Was there a discussion about an “aim” or a shared sound before starting, or did it develop without guidance?
José: Not really. We created it freely and using our own personal style, also we had the freedom to try new sounds. I think “Dawn” is a good example, it’s a type of song that I don’t think any of the 3 projects had done before. It was more like “Why not?”. But of course we wanted a Drone/Ambient album, so our efforts and creative process was oriented in that way, and we wanted to create a coherent work.
Romain: I can only talk about Greg and me but as Delayed Summer is a rough lo-fi piece, we wanted this album to be more “spacey” and “clean” (even if I hate using that word). We used my cheap webcams microphones for some vocals and additional guitars but we were more focused on the sound velocity. There wasn’t a clear concept or guidance except for the fact we are dispersed around the world and split into time zones, but that was inspiring enough.
Charlie: I don’t think there was an aim as such; it was more of an evolutionary process. The only limitation we started with was the method of recording. We had a set order to the recording, which varied each time. Each of us would start a track and then pass it around in a certain direction and as we each added our own ideas it would build and transform into something else. I don’t think we shared a sound before starting either, no one compromised we all added our own style and I think that amalgamation is what makes the album so textured and interesting.
How did Nico Guevera come to be the one to arrange and mix it?
Jose: I’ve known Nico for a couple of years, he has his own studio near my house so it’s very easy to work with him. At first Romain wanted to do the mix but he was very busy, so I told the guys about Nico and after a while we all agreed he should do the final mix. He is not used to working with this kind of genre, but he did a great work; he made a big improvement, but at the same time he respected our previous mix.
Do you feel that there was any difference to the way Nico mixed the record if he wasn’t used to working with the genre before? Do you feel he brought out any elements that you may have not?
José: First, he did a much more complete mix; trying to balance all the frequencies, but the result was very different from what we expected. Before his first mix, we did a previous mix where each of our layers had a very specific place, volume, etc. So we asked Nico to do a second mix but this time try to respect that previous mix. Luckily, he understood what we wanted perfectly and did a great mix; he’s not used to Drone/Ambient, but he still had the abillity to “feel” what we were searching for. We had the idea, but Nico had the experience and knowledge to mix it professionally. Without him we would not have the final sound quality we have now.
What do you feel you learnt from each other, in terms of approach and ideas?
Romain: I’ve improved my English!!!
Jose: I feel like my English hasn’t improved very much!
What I learnt most of all is to share creativity. I’m an individualist, that’s why I don’t have bands and like to have my own personal projects. Same with extra-musical stuff, I like to work alone. It’s difficult for me to work with other people, but this time was better than I expected and It revealed what I already knew but I didn’t want to admit: Two (in this case four) minds work better than one! I will continue with my tendency to work alone, but I’m more open now to work with more people that share a similar point of view about a musical product.
Charlie: I think that I’ve had most to learn on this project as I think I’m the least experienced. I’ve only had one other release and I created it purely by myself with no idea what I was really doing. With this release I think I’ve picked up a lot of stuff, especially when it comes to general production, getting this album properly mixed and mastered especially so. Also, like Jose, I prefer to work alone on projects generally but I think that feedback while working and having to describe my ideas constantly really helped me to think about what I was creating a lot more than if I was just working by myself.
At what point did Molly Anne Donahue become involved in “Dawn”? Was it early on in the piece, or towards the end?
Romain: I was so happy when Molly agreed to sing on ‘Dawn’. She’s a very good friend and an incredible musician; she has one of the most beautiful voices I know. I first met her when she was singing in The Love Story and since then I have been waiting for an occasion to collaborate musically with her.
She added her voice when the track was almost finished but she totally transcended it.
What instruments, software or recordings did you all use to create the sound?
Romain: For this record we used a lot of guitars and vocals…we also used a series of keyboards, plugged in guitar effects and my webcam recording system for few crispy overdubs. We like to record live because it lets us improvise and keeps the energy flowing; unexpected things keep happening, and we can capture the way a drone is moving in the air, the way it almost breathes. It adds this fathomless beat and life to electronic sounds. After the recording process I usually pass it through many softwares, depending on what I’m looking for: Garageband, Reason, Logic, or Ableton Live…
Jose: I used guitar and synthesisers that were processed after recording. I also sometimes grabbed the other guys layers and then modified them, adding this new modified layer to the original, rather than replacing the original with the modified one.
Charlie: I worked a lot with samples. I mean the sounds came from all over the place, a few came from records I own and a lot from field recordings and vocals of mine that were heavily altered. I used primarily Audacity to tie them all together and occasionally Ableton Live. I think my process is completely different to Saåad’s; it’s a lot of building of layers slowly over time as apposed to this capturing of the moment, slowly manipulating and layering these recordings into something new.
Where was the concept for the artwork developed?
Romain: We were looking for something abstract and dark. In the same way as the music there wasn’t a clear concept to it. I like this picture because it’s like a door to another world, there’s a lot of mystery hidden behind this massive black rock. You need to dive under the surface and hold your breath to discover it, and I like to think that drone / ambient music is like that; it’s a journey to an unknown place.
Where did the picture on the cover come from?
Romain : The original picture is of a place called The Devil’s Hole, it’s a very old picture I found in a public domain database. I changed the colors and some elements to add darkness and mystery.
Sustained Layers is available from BLWBCK records for preorder now, as a name your price digital download or in a very reasonably priced 66 copy run of fluorescent green C50 cassette. Well worth your attention.
- Charles Sage for Fluid Radio