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.