Ritual was composed entirely on the Cwejman S1 MKII.
Digital release date: May 12th, 2014. Vinyl ships June 1st, 2014.
After several years of creating complex arrangements and aurally dense albums, I decided to simplify the tools and work with its impact on composition and sound. One of my favorite synthesizers is the semi-modular Cwejman S1 MKII and knew that it was complex enough to shape all the sounds I needed for an album. The Cwejman’s architecture is familiar to existing 3 oscillator systems but its semi-modular nature, filters, envelopes, and even distortion are completely unique. Although using only one sound source simplified the sound I believe Ritual is, frequency wise, the heaviest album I have made.
The signal chain was short. Cwejman S1 MKII output > Eventide Space > RME Fireface UC. The Cwejman was sequenced by the Make Noise RENE. The Dynaverb algorithm in the Eventide Space was the only reverb model used, except 20 (00) where a Tip Top Audio Z5000 delay preset was utilized. The album was tracked into Logic X and like my previous albums, everything was recorded into one large session but this time only 4 tracks were used.
Sync & Editing
Sync was placed by hand – not quantized on a grid or snapped to a BPM. A drifting master clock might be considered “charming” or give the album “personality” but it presented an unnecessary task of syncing audio files that would eventually sound like a train wreck if not reorganized. Although the drifting was unintended, by the end, I grew fond of this quirk, at points, and let some parts go their own way.
The editing, like the clock source, is pretty rough and raw. You can hear cables being pulled out, patched in, crackling knobs, and ground hum – all things I decided to leave in. There are a couple tracks where the computer was not able to handle the buffer size while recording and it resulted in audio files corrupted with a dynamic static effect. While these static infested files were immediately re-recorded cleanly, I ended up using the static files as it added an accidental texture. The most obvious example of this static is all over 03 (06).
Mixing & Mastering
Unlike past albums, I didn’t dwell on the mix for very long – hell, I didn’t even EQ anything! Because of the unique and versatile filters in the Cwejman S1 MKII, I was able to carve out unwanted frequencies during the recording process and simply had to automate volume changes in post. The bass in the Cwejman is very intense, and even with proper monitoring, I didn’t understand its depth until I went to Richard Devine’s studio that has subs. His system revealed frequencies I didn’t know existed in the recordings until monitoring on his system. I decided to leave all this extra information for Shawn Hatfield to play with.
The mastering duties were conducted by Shawn Hatfield of Audible Oddities. My biggest concern was keeping the Cwejman envelope aggression as well as the intense bass frequencies. The references I sent Shawn was Raime’s Quarter Turns Over a Living Line and Grischa Lichtenberger’s And IV (Inertia). As always, he glued it all together, didn’t compromise the mix and extended its volume slightly.
“The thing I loved most about mastering this record was all the rich warm sounds that are unmistakably analog and the seemingly wild nature that comes with modular systems. In mastering these songs for vinyl, it was important to try and convey that as naturally as possible, but with modular systems, things can get unruly pretty fast, and vinyl can complain when it’s unhappy. I found FabFilter’s ProMB a very useful tool for this particular project as I was able to control just the specific aspects that needed control, without getting in the way of the rest of the spectrum. This helped me tame the beasts within, giving them a more balanced end result while maintaining as much of their natural character as possible. Because they had a nice organic feel from the start, I didn’t feel the need to blanket them with additional colors. I went in with clinical tools designed for transparent surgery, and made sure things like excessive treble were in check and low-frequency phase information was centered. But more importantly, we opted for a lower overall level, allowing for clear punchy transients that help the music be felt, not just heard.” – Shawn Hatfield of Audible Oddities Mastering
For my previous albums I’ve worked with some of my favorite artists that I’m fortunate enough to call friends and Ritual was no different. I’ve followed Emilie Elizabeth’s photography for years and have always admired her style, sets, and aesthetic. John Crawford was involved throughout the process and provided his post production expertise that helped the images reach another level of unsettling. John also created the Waveform Gate which is an altered Necronomicon Gate Key with the 7 waveforms of the Cwejman S1 – one of many subtle and original touches this team obsessed over. They made me a bit uncomfortable by asking for my input so often. This is an abbreviated version of Emilie’s responses, the full length article can be found: Surachai.org.
“John and I are typically hired to do more commercial work, despite the fact our personal taste is not very commercial. Projects like this allow me to combine the last 10 years of experience as professional photographer with some of the experimentation that I’ve greatly missed.
At some point in our image research, we began to focus on still life paintings from the “Vanitas” style of the 16 and 17th centuries. John’s been really into H.P. Lovecraft lately, so that was a major influence. We were also leaning towards the idea of incorporating alchemy somehow, especially considering the name of the project.
We’re both really, really happy with the way the shots turned out. We were both challenged in ways we didn’t expect to be, which I believe is the best way to evolve as an artist. However, I’m a little surprised at our inability to work a few cats into the photos. Next time… and probably several times after that.” – Emilie Elizabeth
The Shawn Hatfield mastered files were sent to Roger Seibel of SAE Mastering to create lacquers. The lacquers were then sent to Mastercraft to be metal plated. The metal plates were then sent to GottaGroove who are currently pressing vinyl and printing the jackets. The vinyl release of Ritual is the intended way to experience the album for several reasons but here are the obvious three.
1) Sound. The vinyl mastered files were mastered at 24bit, 48kHz and at a volume that keeps the dynamic range of the Cwejman true. You won’t be able to hear this range with the digital downloads as we opted to make this version louder rather than dynamic. They both sound great and will push any sound system to its limits, but my preference is the vinyl edition that showcases the Cwejman’s aggression.
2) Artwork. The artwork, and I believe most artwork, is meant to be experienced on a large scale and physically if possible. So much attention to detail went into the artwork that when you see it up close, you’ll pick up on a few things…
3) Tip-On Style Gatefold Jacket. The moment this record is in your hands, you’ll notice the difference. The jackets are heavy, sturdy, and tough as shit.
“Tip-On jackets were the standard format of record jacket printing up until the late 1970’s / early 1980’s. Today, they are typically considered a deluxe form of packaging for records. However, ironically, I have been told by folks involved in manufacturing records in the 1980’s that tip-ons were actually considered the low-class option back then; and that direct-to-board was the form of print bands strived for on their releases.
In modern vinyl pressing, the tip-ons are definitely a step up over the tip-ons of the 1970’s. For ours, we use a very thick 30pt stock core. I find that the extreme stiffness of the board provides an aesthetically pleasing “feel” when handling the package and a lot more protection for the records when mailing them.
I know that tip-ons are unlikely to ever become the standard again for most record packages, but I do hope that as more people become aware of their availability, we will see more of them in the marketplace. Being a record consumer myself, I always find more enjoyment when buying a record when it is clear that there was a lot of extra steps taken in the manufacturing and the packaging.” – Matt Earley from GottaGroove Records
BLK_NOISE was created by Moe Espinosa (Drumcell) and I to release music on multimedia formats including obsolete technology. This is the first release for BLK_NOISE and our plans include media projects not specifically limited to music.
The first four tracks of Ritual
Ritual was composed entirely on the Cwejman S1 MKII. Digital release date: May 12th, 2014. Vinyl ships June 1st, 2014. The Ritual Process article covers Pre Production, Recording, Mixing, Mastering, Artwork and Vinyl Preparation of Ritual – and will feature the rest of the album artwork. It can be viewed at TRASH_AUDIO.com
For my previous albums I’ve worked with some of my favorite visual artists that I’m fortunate enough to call friends and Ritual was no different. I’ve followed Emilie Elizabeth’s photography for years and have always admired her style, sets, and aesthetic. John Crawford was also involved throughout the process and provided his post production expertise that helped the images reach another level of unsettling. Honestly, they made me a bit uncomfortable by asking for my input so often. Here is Emilie Elizabeth’s interview in its entirety about how the artwork for Ritual was created. – Surachai.
Surachai hit me up back in December to see if I was interested in shooting something with a “minimalistic black/white occult” feel after seeing the images I shot for DJMREX and the photos for Skinny Puppy I worked on with John Crawford. Surachai sent over some reference images that included various occult-related photography and illustration: figures in cloaks and hoods, illuminati-esque symbols, bizarre Asian illustrations of porn and torture, etc. Pretty much Surachai in a nutshell.
I thought this would be another good opportunity to work with John. He definitely inspires me to experiment and not rely on the same old tricks I’ve been for the past few years. John and I got together and began putting a few ideas together based some of the recurring themes we saw in the initial reference images. I think Surachai also sent us the music around this time, which was very helpful. The goal was to find a story in all of this so that we could create a series of images that made sense together.
We presented three concepts that were esoteric and/or eerie. At some point in our image research, we began to focus on still life paintings from the “Vanitas” style of the 16 and 17th centuries. John’s been really into H.P. Lovecraft lately, so that was a major influence. We were also leaning towards the idea of incorporating alchemy somehow, especially considering the name of the project and the overall feel of the original reference images. In addition to the still life images, John created two comps based on images he found online and these ultimately became the concepts Surachai chose and we based the entire shoot off of. Surachai gave us a few notes, a quick lesson about the Cwejman and we kind of took it from there.
When you have so many variables – location, models, props, wardrobe, concept, style, etc, you can pretty much rely on the fact that some things will not be exactly what you expected in the beginning. For example: We were originally looking for a Shelley Duvall type to play the Witch. The location we ended up using was nothing like the Victorian-style attic shown in the original comps. The scene shown on the inside of the album wasn’t even discussed until a day or two before the shoot. This was only the second project John and I had worked on together, so there was still a learning curve and as with any collaboration, we had to figure out a way to achieve an end result we would both be happy with.
We were both involved with selecting the location, models and props. Wardrobe is more my thing, but before the shoot, I didn’t think it would be very important. My friend Tosh Yanez is a great wardrobe stylist and luckily had a few pieces handy that worked… the long gown designed by Bao Tranchi definitely helped to inspire one of the final shots. We were all on the same page for makeup and hair and Amber Kerns knew immediately what we were looking to achieve.
For the two days before the shoot, we attempted to come up with a loose shot list. We knew we needed to tie the story of the two figures together somehow. John had the idea that one was controlling the other. Since we knew the Witch would be featured more heavily, it made sense for her to be controlling the Alchemist. I also began compiling images that were more specific to the style of photography. I knew Surachai was leaning heavily towards black and white and high contrast, but I felt like we should provide a strong color option as well. At the time, I was looking at a lot of work by fashion photographer Elizaveta Porodina who is brilliant with her use of color, both in camera and in post.
The day of the shoot was challenging. We booked the space for a half day, which was extremely ambitious considering the amount of shots we wanted to get. Somehow we pulled if off thanks in part to an amazing crew of people and some additional time granted by the location. Also, Harwood (the Alchemist) stayed to help us pack up. The man’s got some amazing stories… and for some reason, sunglasses for chickens so they don’t peck each others eyes out. Please, everyone hire that guy because he’s awesome.
The next day, John and I got together to start making edits and to talk about how we should proceed with post. The cover shot was obvious from the start, so we were able to narrow that down to just a few options pretty quickly. John began coming up with some ideas to try in post, partially based on some of the reference images I pulled early on and partially based on ideas he came up with on his own. Most of the images in the digital packaging were included in the original group of edits. We went back and forth until we had 6 images and from there, we narrowed it down based on which images made the most sense together visually.
John and I are typically hired to do more commercial work, despite the fact our personal taste is not very commercial. I do enjoy working for all of the clients I’ve had, but it’s been really nice to have more creative opportunities lately. The first time I fell in love with photography was in 1995 while photographing a bunch of waspy girls dressed in my clothing, prancing around a cemetery in Ann Arbor. I still go back to some of my early work and miss how pure it was. Projects like this allow me to combine the last 10 years of experience as professional photographer with some of the experimentation that I’ve greatly missed. So thank you for that!
We’re both really, really happy with the way the shots turned out. We were both challenged in ways we didn’t expect to be, which I believe is the best way to evolve as an artist. However, I’m a little surprised at our inability to work a few cats into the photos. Next time… and probably several times after that.
Witch – Alli Cripe
Alchemist – Harwood Gordon
Wardrobe – Tosh Yanez
Hair and Makeup – Amber Kerns
Photo Assistant – Adrian Espinoza
Post Production – John Crawford
Layout – Caspar Newbolt
Surachai, this time the music seems to take this savagery to new levels, even flirting with true chaos at times. This may even make his previous works seem controlled and almost linear by comparison.
Because of the intense details of around three thousand lines, printing shirts wasn’t considered as an option because it seemed impossible to capture the intricacies. Offbeat Press took on the challenge and produced an interpretation of the logo that looks incredible. This logo was originally created for the silver inked cards that came with the Embraced vinyl. There are a total of 15 of these shirts in men’s sizes and currently are no plans to repress.
This is all the new music I’ve listened to during the second half of 2013 listed alphabetically. In no way is this list complete, its simply what I’ve come across and liked. This list will continue to be updated as the year closes. The playlist from the first half of 2013 can be found: HERE! What have you been listening to this year?
Abyssal – Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius
Alessandro Cortini – Forse 1/2
All Pigs Must Die – Nothing Violates This Nature
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
Aoki Takamasa – RV8
Ash Borer – Bloodlands
Autechre – L’Event
Bernard Parmegiani – GRM
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
Clark – Feast/Beast
Diamond Version – EP5
Drumcell – Sleep Complex
EDM – A2 / B2 (Various)
Emptyset – Medium (2012, shutup)
Emptyset – Recur
Fell Voices – Regnum Saturni
Generation of Vipers – Howl & Filth (2011, suck on it)
Gorguts – Colored Sands
Grouper & Lawrence English – Slow Walkers
Jackson and His Computer Band – Glow
James Holden – The Inheritors
Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Max Richter – Vivaldi Recomposed
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Nirvana – In Utero (Reissue)
Pharmakon – Abandon
Raime – Quarter Turns Over A Living
Raspberry Bulbs – Deformed Worship
Retox – YPLL
SubRosa – More Constant Than Gods
Tim Hecker – Virgins
TM404 – 303/303/303/606
Ulcerate – Vermis
Vaetxh – Methlab Mix 2013
Wrekmeister Harmonies – You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me
Added but not implemented:
Mika Vainio – Kilo
Mika Vainio / Joachin Nordwall – Monstrance
Vatican Shadow – Remember Your Black Day
DMX Krew – Micro Life
Roly Porter – Life Cycle of a Massive Star
Ryoji Ikeda – Supercodex
Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
Rorcal – Vilagvege
Northless – World Keeps Sinking
Drexciya – Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller: Volumes 3 & 4
Kwaidan – Make All The Hell of Dark Metal Bright
Here’s some US black metal for you that’s somewhat different than what you normally hear on a day to day basis. Usually the sole work of multi-instrumentalist/composer/vocalist Surachai Sutthisasanakul, he’s brought in a few musicians to help out this time around, with the result being a pretty full sounding, eclectic brew of extreme sounds. Non-stop tremolo picked riffs, blasting, and tortured vocal wailing assault the listener on the opening “Ancestral”, and it’s not until the tracks final three minutes that the chaos drops and some futuristic sound effects blip and bleep to close it out. “Embraced” is more of a haunting piece, the riffs keep raging but the vocals are more subdued and there’s layers of keyboards softening up the arrangement. “Surrender” kicks off with those geeky synths before the furious black metal onslaught lurches back in, vocals shrieking about the mix over furious blasting and riffing. Though parts of Embraced are really well done, there’s just a tediousness and sense of monotony throughout too much of the album that brings it down a bit. Perhaps if these songs were shortened a bit, the end result might have been a tad more enjoyable. Worth a listen though if you like experimental US black metal.
Mike Brown of Livewire Electronics was one of the first people I met in the modular community when I started some 8 years ago. The Chaos Computer was more of a myth than an actual module in the 5 or so years it took to develop. It would show up in various incarnations, growing in features and then disappear for years. Then Mike died.
When Steve Rightnour of Monorocket handed me the Chaos Computer this past weekend, I was equal parts thrilled and saddened. Thrilled because of the obvious reasons of obtaining a module that you’ve heard, tested, and lusted after for several years but saddened because its another Livewire Electronics design that became realized, finalized and put into the “done” category in Mike’s legacy. This thing is in for a world of hurt, just as Mike would’ve wanted it to be.
“it must have been late last year that surachai told me he wanted me to work on the artwork for his next record. given he’d already employed the likes of bridget driessen and sarah sitkin to handle such duties on his last two records, it came as a great compliment. he said the record wasn’t anywhere near done yet, and in typical fashion i told him i’m not really much use until i hear something closer to the final music. it’s always the sense that something’s close to done that allows me the chance to fully immerse myself and see what images come.
finally in march of this year i holed myself up in my studio for the weekend, put the record on loop for the umpteenth time and let loose. i remember clearly that i’d wanted to create something close to how it felt to read the end of DM thomas’s novel the white hotel. this was a book i’d recently finished that had an ending so fiercely out of left-field that i’d found myself in tears on the train i was riding at the time. the feeling of despair i’d been left with was quite unmanageable and combined with a photograph surachai had shown me a few weeks before of fingernail scratch marks on the wall of a concentration camp gas chamber, i felt compelled to make him something that would tear the world down. something that at the very least was as harrowing and sad.
however, as i’ve learnt over the years if you go into these things trying to force a thing like that or even start with a visual idea so incongruent from what you were actually hearing in the music and lyrics of the songs, it’s not going to work. i hold the belief that the artwork for a record must in some prevalent capacity be a visual response to the sound. it can speak to outside influences without question – doubtless you and the band will have discussed the many ideas that went into making the songs – but hopefully you’ve not been hired to simply imitate another artist or illustrate someone else’s description. hopefully your job here is to interpret what you hear visually, and in so doing create something that gives people a unique and unconscious taste of what they’re about to hear.
surachai didn’t hesitate for a moment when i sent him the final layouts. in fact i think it was just minutes after emailing him that i got a message from him on ichat saying, ‘i fucking LOVE you.’ still i can’t say i wasn’t terrified as to what he’d think. interpreting someone else’s music with a picture takes a lot of trust, and you just have to hope they really understand what they’re asking when they hire you for the job. in this case i think it’s fair to say we made a good match and i’m still incredibly honoured to this day to have been responsible for producing the artwork for such a fantastic record.”