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Esoteric, Ambient Experiments

Updated: Oct 22, 2021


Way back in the dim and distant past (October 2014) I released a four track EP under a new alias, KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE.

Until that point most of my electronic music had been released under the psuedonym Somatik, but generally speaking the Somatik oeuvre tended towards a harder, more up-beat sound, usually centred around the Drum and Bass or Broken Beat genres. The material I was making for the EP had more of a downtempo, ambient feel, with much less of the hard EQ-ed drums and squelchy basses, and much more in the way of huge, washy reverbs and slowly evolving soundscapes. Thus, KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE was born.

The name was inspired by the psychedelic aspect of the music, swirling effects, slow modulations, and some fairly abstract sound design. A little cliché perhaps, but sometimes it's best to not resist the obvious! Of course, putting in some asterisks to emphasise the play on words brought it into GoldHill territory: I've always loved featuring weird punctuation or non-letter symbols in names for things (see also star*key), although the challenges of trying to create filenames for mp3s and achieve good search rankings in Google using said symbols have sometimes made me wonder if it's actually a really bad idea! But my determination to twist names away from the obvious and give them a unique visual character (no pun intended) won out, and so KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE became the project name. And yes, all caps, because why not.

I always intended to follow up that 2014 EP ("The Death of Paper") with another KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE release soon after. Somehow, seven years have slipped by in the meantime, but at last the sequel has arrived! "Esoteric Atmospheric" is now available on the GoldHill Bandcamp page as of 21st October 2021.

To be fair, some of the tracks on "Esoteric Atmospheric" were created somewhere towards the early part of that seven year gap. The second track on the EP, "5D", was in fact made not long after "The Death of Paper". Track four, "Hibernation", came about a few years ago, and then the last three were produced much more recently. Both "Tetrahedroid" and "Point of No Return" were forged using elements of older, unfinished tracks started around the same time as "5D", though they needed to be completely overhauled as we are now so many versions of Cubase along the road, and the original projects failed to open properly when I tried to open them this year. The lesson I took from that is to try to avoid leaving half-cooked projects for over half a decade before returning to them!

How is KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE music created?

KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE is essentially me having fun in the studio. Those rare times when I can find a day or two to experiment in Cubase, purely for the sake of self indulgence, with only myself to please.

Over the years I've accumulated many plugins for Cubase. Music software plugins are extra add-ons which can be installed to work within a Digital Audio Workstation like Cubase. Kind of mini apps that work within a big app. In music production software they tend to be either virtual instruments which will generate/reproduce sounds that you can play using an attached USB keyboard, or virtual effects which emulate familiar (or not so familiar!) effects processors such as reverb, delay, distortion and so on. Cubase itself comes with a fairly extensive library of both virtual instruments and effects of its own, but there are countless others available which have been developed by many different companies, some free, some fairly pricey, but all increasing your sonic palette. Native Instruments, Waves, Arturia and SoundToys are some of the main plugin designers I favour, and as I say, I've amassed a fairly extensive library over the years. One can never have too many plugins, as I often used to say to my Music Technology students. I hope I wasn't too bad an influence on them!

Some of the virtual instrument plugins I use frequently in the KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE project are emulations of classic synthesisers. I recently invested in Arturia's V Collection which contains a staggering amount of emulations, everything from early Buchla synths through to 80s classics like the Fairlight CMI and beyond. Such a stunning palette of sounds! A distractingly huge amount in fact... Check out Arturia's ad for the latest version of V Collection here:

The other types of virtual instrument plugins I most commonly reach for while creating ambient soundscapes are samplers. Digital sampling technology has been around commercially since the late 1970s, but has evolved considerably as audio processing power has advanced. The principle of the sampler is to allow you to record or import any kind of sound and manipulate it in magical ways to create new musical ideas. Some artists use samplers to capture sections of existing songs and reinterpret classic musical moments in a new context - a particularly popular technique in Hip Hop and some House music. However, in more abstract genres like Ambient, the approach is often more akin to the Musique Concrète pioneers of mid 20th Century France or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960s, where 'found sounds' were manipulated in dramatic ways to create highly original soundscapes and textures. I love both approaches to sampling, but the latter is definitely more suited to KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE. I've used all sorts of samples in the project from drum hits to street ambience to vocal snippets (see if you can spot a little bit of Voyager's Captain Janeway in "Point of No Return"!), and I've have had much fun processing and retriggering those samples in all kinds of creative ways. Native Instruments Komplete collection of plugins contains a fabulous virtual instrument called 'Form' which allows you to mutate a sample into something absolutely unfamiliar but sonically fascinating! 'Form' is rapidly becoming a sound design favourite of mine. It should be noted that the further you bend a sample from its original, recognisable state, the less likely you are to be in trouble with the copyright owners! Here's hoping Paramount Network Television never catch up with me regarding the afore mentioned Star Trek snippet...

Effects-wise, KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE uses a little of everything. I've already mentioned the huge washy reverbs, which are some of my favourite effects, creating the illusion of sounds being playing inside the most gigantic of spaces. I also love tempo delays, which replay echoes of a sound in time with the track and result in some great rhythmic tricks. Since making "The Death of Paper" back in 2014 I've become increasingly obsessed with distortion effects. There is an incredible range of distortion plugins available now. Cubase alone has a healthy selection built in, but I also love SoundToys Devil-Loc Deluxe, and Native Instruments Supercharger GT, ostensibly designed for guitars but so much fun to apply to pretty much everything! Distortion is often more associated with 'heavier' music, such as Metal and Dubstep, but it has infinite potential applications which work equally well in the more spacey arena of Ambient music, bringing lo-fi character and uniqueness to synth- or sample-based timbres.

To add to the fun, instruments and effects can all be manipulated in real time as part of the compositional process. Many USB keyboards nowadays (such as my M-Audio Code61 pictured here) feature assignable pots and sliders, which can be connected virtually to any parameters on your instrument or effect plugin. It's then possible to capture a performance, adjusting the pots and sliders as the track plays changing the texture or intensity of a particular sound in any way imaginable. This adds a distinctive organic-ness to the creative process and allows the producer to shape the music spontaneously.

You might have heard it before...

Since starting the KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE project, the tracks I've made have become a go-to library of useful instrumentals which are fabulously useful when creating other art across different media. I've certainly used them while devising in the theatre domain. Music is a wonderful tool when workshopping theatre ideas, but it can be quite tricky to find music which doesn't have a really obvious existing meaning. Most popular music has lyrics which very often distract when trying to create work with different meaning, so having instrumental music with an abstract character is often much more useful.

However, the application where I've used KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE tracks the most is when editing my YouTube nature vlogs. I have a separate YouTube channel where I upload edited highlights of my many adventures in birdwatching, and Ambient Electronic music just seems to sit so well with the visuals! Many vlog editors use music from YouTube's copyright-free library, but I feel that by using my own material gives my videos a unique, characterful edge. Of course as time goes by individual tracks start reminding me of very specific moments on particular hikes, which I actually love! The music takes on a whole new life in an unexpected part of my brain. Check out the vlog I made of a birdwatching adventure upon which my parents and I embarked recently, and see if you can spot early versions of several tracks from "Esoteric Atmospheric":

I hope you've enjoyed discovering a little more about what KAL*EYE*DOSCOPE is all about! If you want to check out the EP, you can listen to it on my bandcamp page, and if you really like it, the music is available to buy as a download to listen to while you're meditating, cooking the dinner, or devising your next theatrical masterpiece. Enjoy!

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