Ricardo Donoso has just released his epic second album Assimilating The Shadow on Digitalis. Following last year's Progress Chance, the album takes its cues from a similarly dancefloor-oriented template but expands on this to create a rare sound that is as intellectually challenging as it is physically exciting, combining disparate genres like drone, ambient and dance to stunning effect. Showcasing the sonic expansion that Digitalis has undertaken over the past year, Assimilating The Shadow deserves to be huge, like a From Here We Go Sublime for the 2010s.
This week I had the pleasure of speaking to Ricardo about the album and its influences, his myriad side projects and his ambitions in the film world…
What I would like to get a grip on first is how your music emerges. What’s the process from initial idea to finished article like?[It] always starts at the piano, or with a keyboard patch. Sometimes I start playing around with chords or melody, or a bass line or a rhythmic motif and then [I] just try expanding and developing on it. Throughout the process I will end up bouncing a track – or parts of tracks – many times and listening to it repeatedly, usually while walking. That’s when I gain insight into how to make a track better; what’s missing, what shouldn’t be there, mixing issues, ideas about form etc.
Whenever I read a review of your work they seem to think you’re making post-rave chill-out music. Is this something you identify with?
Not really. I can see how some people would think so though. I think my music is much more tied into the dance floor proper. What I do identify with and try to tap into is a certain atmosphere towards the end of a party. Going to all these outdoor parties in Brazil when I was younger, my favourite time was around when the sun came up. The music got slower, you could see peoples faces for the first time, the floor would be much emptier and, more often than not, you were surrounded by amazing landscapes. It seemed to me like a much more introspective environment around these times and the music played a vital role in that. Some of these events and especially [those mornings] left an incredible impression on me.
Is there any music in particular from those parties that sticks with you and influences your work?
Generally it’s more about the atmosphere at the party, [but] there are a few albums by groups like Vibrasphere and Antix, and artists like Simon Posford that have stood the test of time for me.
As well as running Semata Productions you’re involved with several other music projects including Perispirit and the metal band Ehnahre. That’s a pretty wide spectrum of styles. How do you juggle them all?
Not very efficiently. I recently parted ways amicably with Ehnahre and shut down my label. Luke (Moldof, from Perispirit) moved to Providence, so we are currently on hiatus for a bit. I’ve always been involved in a many things simultaneously and the older I get the more I try and simplify and focus on one thing. I really look forward to focusing on my solo music and film/TV composition stuff for a while.
Okay, so perfect time to talk about your new album, ‘Assimilating The Shadow’. It’s a fantastic record. Tell me a little bit about how it came about.
Thanks for that. I really wanted to make a record that took some of the ideas on Progress Chance to the next level. I definitely wanted to hone in on the club influence and focus on musical development and form. To me, this is the next step from Progress Chance and it takes those initial ideas and themes to a higher level. It was recorded throughout a very fertile and positive time and I really wanted to make a record that touched on this on multiple levels; the record had to be interconnected throughout.
There’s a sample at the start of the album and dotted through some of the songs that serves to add atmosphere. What is that taken from and how did it speak to you?
The sample is from a psychoanalysis lecture given to me by a friend in the field; all the samples came from old tapes he had. That sample specifically appealed to me as it outlines this ongoing battle with this tension that permeates throughout the entire album. The samples speak to me in a number of ways; there is nothing frivolous about them but I really want people to to be able to connect to the record on their own, interpret it for themselves and come to their own conclusions.
It’s great that you inject this personal and emotional side into something you also still recognise as being dancefloor oriented. I think a lot of people would find those two aspects hard to reconcile…
Totally, I agree. I think dance music in general gets this hedonistic reputation, which is fine, but there is definitely much more to it. I mean, some of these experiences I had at these parties were life changing; if you throw a bunch of people out into nature for 3 days, all of them moving around in synchronized body movement, listening to this repetitive music, your state of mind will definitely be altered to say the least. For me, that’s exactly what I’m trying to tap into, this transcendent feeling, and hopefully it comes across in the music.
I think it definitely comes across. I also think the album crosses genre boundaries. Is it your intention to create a sound that has the potential to appeal to fans of drone, ambient and the new wave of synthesizer experimentation as well as fans of dance and techno or is it a natural meshing of influences on your part?
No, it’s really more organic. I had been wanting to do something dance music related for years, but I didn’t know what. I definitely knew it was not going to be straight four-on-the-floor but didn’t know how else to approach it. When I was commissioned to score a film in 2010 I started writing these cues that were really rhythmic and to me felt ‘dancey’ but also cinematic. From then it just clicked and I focused in on that; the whole thing was very natural. I’m a fan of all the styles you mentioned, but yeah I think they are all integrated naturally.
What are your favourite film soundtracks?[There are] so many. Anything Cliff Martinez; Thomas Newman’s score for Meet Joe Black; Hans Zimmer’s epic Inception and Batman stuff; Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo and Cape Fear; Eduard Artemyev’s Solaris and Stalker; Koji Kondo’s video game work…
There are some I can identify in your music. Definitely the Artemyev stuff. But the other things I wouldn’t have guessed at all. What was the film you scored, by the way?
Yeah, I love the Zimmer stuff. [It's] so over the top, but especially effective for those films. I scored a film called The Intensive which still hasn’t seen a release yet – maybe 2013. It was a great experience nonetheless, [and I] really hope to work more and more in that context.
Well Ricardo, I hope it all goes well for you. Best of luck with Assimilating The Shadow. It’s been a pleasure chatting and keep up the good work!
Thank you Steve, it was a pleasure.
Assimilating The Shadow is out now on Digitalis.