Relentless thoughts

Posted 2023-07-14 #music production

Today, I released my new song relentless future (feat. EZGi) and simultaneously announced my "album in progress" Light & Matter. There's a lot I want to leave up to interpretation or otherwise unspoken, but equally as much that I want to say about it all. So, here are my thoughts, organized roughly by subject:

on firsts

This event encapsulated a lot of firsts for me. In no particular order:

  • First album I've announced (let alone truly committed to making)
  • First song from that album
  • First time publishing a song with my own lyrics
  • First time processing custom, non-vocoded vocals (an incredibly daunting task)
  • First completed "drumstep" song (2010s term for half-time drum & bass)
  • First completed song with "chord stacks" as the dominant sound

Some of these firsts might sound needlessly specific, but I promise they are all important to me. I'll expalin some of them in the sections to follow.

on the project file

The FL Studio project file for relentless future is an anomaly in many ways. First, it's the closest I've ever come to running out of mixer tracks: FL gives you 125, and I used 123 of them. I'm actually not sure what I would do if I ever ran out! Image-Line is apparently paying off the technical debt that enforces that limit, so hopefully a future update will make this no longer a concern.

I save a new, numbered version of each project file for every day that I make nontrivial changes to it. relentless future's final version count of 26 seems about average for me, but that number fails to capture the incredible number of attempts I've made at finishing the original 1-hour compo submission from 2021. I had tried four separate times to finish this song, each time taking it in a different sonic direction, each time getting frustrated & moving on. When I decided enough was enough, I exported the "project bones" (MIDI stems, automation, etc.) from each attempt, merged them all into one project, and kept the best ideas from each iteration. Things came together remarkably quickly after doing this, and from there I barely stopped working on the song for an entire month. 26 is only the count for that merged project file.

Nothing Left was debatably my most CPU-intensive project file upon its release, sporting a whopping 22 instances of Phase Plant (a relatively heavyweight synth). But what relentless future lacks in Phase Plant instances is more than compensated for in the sheer quantity of VSTs, both synths and effects. Somewhere around a dozen tracks were bounced to audio so that their processing chain could be turned off most of the time, saving just enough CPU cycles to play the project in real-time without underruns. I've never come anywhere close to this many bounced tracks before, and it's kind of a pain in the ass to manage! I will probably outdo myself later on this album anyway because I'm a glutton for punishment.

on drumstep & chordstacks

I may have been trying to finish relentless future since 2021, but the sound palette I landed on was one I've been trying to perfect since 2018. One of my longest-running project files, starmatter, falls into the exact same genre & style of chord-centric half-time DnB. A remix of Hopes and Dreams that I teased in my 2019 name reveal video was another as-of-yet-unfinished shot at this sound palette. Both of those two projects had a decent number of restarts & do-overs, too, similar to relentless future.

Why "drumstep", specifically? This genre was strongly associated with the record label Monstercat back in the mid-2010s. In those early days, each song upload on YouTube had a visualizer that was colored according to the song's genre, with drumstep being hot pink. The label ultimately outgrew this odd prioritization of genres in the presentation of their releases, but the neurons were already set in my head. Artists like Rootkit, Melano, and Braken produced some of the most iconic melodic drumstep on the label; you can hear little shards of their influence on me throughout relentless future.

It's been a long and frustrating road to this destination, but I'm relieved to finally have released something in this style. It feels more "me" to myself than a lot of the sounds I think I'm known for.

on the lyrics

The lyrics speak for themselves; there's very little I want to say about them that EZGi didn't sing for me. However, I do want to make it known that the lyrics explicitly aren't about "getting older". Bo Burnham already wrote the perfect song about turning 30 and I feel no need to yes-and him on this.

on the song title

Eight years ago, Toby Fox released Undertale, a tunicwilds game that would soon take the world by storm. I played it in the first week of its release and was enamored with it for years to come. There's a particular line in the late-game that stuck with me - no, not the "despite everything" line. After pacifying an amalgam of three monsters from earlier areas, the game offers some status text that's similarly spliced together from strings seen before:

This relentless future finally looks brighter and brighter.

I even put it in my Twitter bio for awhile (and then removed it in late 2016 for reasons you can probably guess).

Five years after the fact, I picked the title "relentless future" when naming the original #mod_shrine compo version of the song. I wouldn't have done this for any old compo entry; this particular one felt special somehow. I regret not saving the chatlog of the other participants' reactions! Their comments stuck with me for years afterward, spurring me to flesh out & finish the song.

on the album name

I think in orthogonalities a lot: two concepts that are neither opposites nor analogies, but rather complements to each other. My simfile pack in progress "beat & flow" reflects this same thought pattern. I consider contrast to be central to all of my creative work, and these orthogonalities serve as a multidimensional space in which to explore contrast: finding all the ways something can be different from itself over time while remaining cohesive.

The specific name Light & Matter has been floating in my head for many years, to the point where naming this album anything else would've felt emotionally dishonest. I'll have more to say about it when the album is complete.

on the "in progress" nature of the album

I wanted to have finished this entire album by today. It was obviously a moonshot, but it wasn't entirely unfounded: I had made Sierpi​ń​ski's Nightmare in a little over 3 weeks in 2021. If I could just multiply that pace by an album's song count, I would have it finished in a year with time to spare! But, Sierpi​ń​ski's Nightmare was a product of my constraints, including an inflexible deadline and a collaborator to not let down. Those constraints weren't present in my life over the last year, so progress was relatively slow.

on working on an album for 11 months and then rushing to finish a specific song from it in 1 month

It's funny, right? It's like a little prank I played on myself (and my peers who helped me get it across the finish line). I had other songs that were closer to done, but when it came down to the last month, I decided that relentless future simply had to be the flagship single. I try not to mythologize my own life, but it was one of those decisions that felt almost out of my control, like instructions from the heavens.

on announcing an album for which one song is complete

Remember those constraints around Sierpi​ń​ski's Nightmare's creation? That's some classic ADHD behavior right there: finding out I can make a 6-minute song in 3 weeks because the task at hand offered novelty & urgency. Really, the same thing happened with relentless future. At some point, I have to accept that this is just how I operate: chasing after motivation like my life depends on it the handful of times it shows up in my life each year. This is how the entire album will get made, and I'll probably release at least half of its songlist as singles along the way.

I've announced and dropped smaller projects before, but I've never felt more conviction in my heart that I have to finish something. The only way I'm not finishing this album is if I die or fall out of grace with capitalism, losing the spare time I have to make music (a fate worse than death).

on a release date

I will finish Light & Matter within the next 6 years, ideally much sooner. I think that's the most realistic goal I can give myself without just quipping "cats don't have deadlines".