Happy AmpliTuesday everyone!
With the new Amplitude release around the corner we decided to sit down with Symbion Project and talk about his newly released album Semiotic and more.
We really appreciate you spending the time to do this interview with us! What can fans expect from the new Semiotic album?
Thanks for having me! I've been a fan of the Amplitude fansite since it's original incarnation a decade ago. The Semiotic album is a bit of a departure for me from previous releases in quite a few ways. The past several albums have been a mixture of atmospheric downtempo with vocals (Misery in Soliloquy) or Wendy Carlos-inspired vintage synthesizers albums (Wound Up and Contrapasso). Really the main thing I had been missing was programming more upbeat complex drums. Working with singers is a complicated and lengthy process so I also knew that I wanted to keep it instrumental and really focus on the beats and harder edged synths. The result is an album that is still quite musical and song-oriented but in the IDM/techno genres which is new to me. It's dark, aggressive, moody.
What was your inspiration for creating the music for Semiotic?
I watch and read a lot of sci-fi and find that to be a source of inspiration... making my own Bladerunner soundtrack has always been very appealing to me. There are more than a few moments on Semiotic that I think would fit really well in the Bladerunner, Tron universe. As with many electronic musicians, I'm also very inspired by the gear I use and the complex sounds and rhythms that they can produce. This album really features a mixture of my older vintage synths, like the Prophet10 and Moog Modular, as well as soft synths from Reason, Aalto, and Diva. All the drum and synth programming was done in Reason8, with all the mixes and mastering done in Digital Performer 7. These tools are very inspiring to me creatively.
We know that this album was created in collaboration with visual artist Kevin McGinnis, what made you think of having visualizations for your music? Was your music composed first for the visualizations or were the visualizations made first and the music composed toward them?
About a few songs into the album, I realized that the songs were very visual to me and each created a unique identity and visual in my mind. I've been seeing really great live visuals at shows for years now, but the VJ was always off-stage, in the back or side, doing their thing. I wanted to change that paradigm and have the live visuals be of the same importance as the live music... that meant working with Kevin not only on the static visual identity of the album (album cover) but also integrating him into the band with equal footing. The goal is to have the live visuals be done right from the stage along with the music. Kevin won't be able to join for all the shows so I've created a way for me to perform both the music and visuals from the same computer with midi control simultaneously over both aspects. It's really quite cool, and scary with all the tech needed to pull it off! For the most part, the songs really came first and then Kevin and I worked to create the visual identity for them.
What was your first reaction to hearing about the new Amplitude?
Oh, totally psyched to not only hear they were going to make a new one and reboot the franchise, but also the immediate outpouring of support from the fans who wanted a new, updated Amp experience! Both FreQ and Amp were really ahead of their time, and it wasn't until HMX added controllers to the experience that people really understood the experience of music games in general. But now that there are legions of GH and RB fans from around the world, it's easier to make the leap into the more abstract and strategic world of Amplitude. I also really like the Amplitude experience as it's aimed really at synthetic music and drum machines which is far more my world than rock guitars and live drums.
The song Concept from Semiotic was chosen as your piece for Amplitude, why did you choose this piece and what was your inspiration for this specific piece?
"Concept" is one of the stranger songs on the album, and it's strangeness is also why I chose it to be the piece in Amplitude. It's got a fun, syncopated vibe to it that is more aligned maybe with hip-hop or dancehall beats than IDM/techno, and it's this difference that I hope will make it a fun play-experience in Amp. That game is all about complex patterns and syncopation so even though "Concept" is a bit slower, it's got some really complex and challenging parts in it. This will make for some really fun gameplay!
Komputer Kontroller, DJ HMX, and Cosmonaut Zero were your pseudonyms in FreQuency and Amplitude and each have a distinct style, which was your favorite to compose for and why?
Of all the crazy pseudonyms from those games, Komputer Kontroller was probably the most fun to compose for. I'm a huge fan of the vocoder and KK let me fully embrace that awesomeness. Plus, making straight-up electro/techno beats is super fun. I guess that's why KK has been the only of those "fake" bands that has had a few more releases beyond the initial games. I will have to say, it was amazing getting to work with Naoko (aka Plural) who now has her own band Princess Problems... she and I have been collaborating on a few songs and hope to announce something soon!
Will any of the pseudonyms have a track in the new Amplitude? Can we look forward to another song…s from you in the new Amplitude?
While I can't share any details on that front right now... I will say that I think Amp fans will be happy :) Or maybe we'll just have to wait and see if FreQuency gets rebooted!
For your New Year’s Resolution you decided to quit your job to focus and create music, how has that been going for you?
Quite rewarding so far. I spent a year working at Microsoft on the HoloLens project but really I was getting super frustrated at how little time and energy I had to focus on music projects. I decided that I shouldn't wait any longer, and really give it a go for a few years and see how things go. If people like the music I make, hopefully that will lead to opportunities to make money from it! Thanks to all the fans who still purchase my music, even though I've converted my entire back catalog to free (or pay what you want)... you guys rock. So far I've been spending my time working on finishing Semiotic, working with Melissa (UHP) on the next Symbion Project record which will be conceptually similar to Misery in Soliloquy, and I've started a new baroque-inspired synthpop band called Rocococo which has a debut album coming out on 9/1. So yeah, tons of music! Oh, and I'm working on the OST for an indie videogame called Shard, but that's more of a long-term project.
What advice can you give to other musicians trying to follow their passion for music creation or performance?
It's been an honor to give a lot of advice over the past 15 years to fans of my music on how they can get into making/producing electronic music. It really depends on if the person is looking to get into it as a hobby or a career. And the difference between composing/recording has a huge delta from performing which has all sorts of other complex logistics (moving gear around, easy setup/tear-down). You can get tons of gear advice online, so the main advice I'd give people is to never forget about the song: the melody, the emotional arc, the relationship with your audience. It's far too easy for electronic producers to let the gear make great beats and cool sounds... the joy lies in the ability to craft a song that connects with people, and that has the complexity and detail so that on the 1000th listen it's just as new and interesting as the 1st. Making beats is easy, composing songs is the real challenge.
I had the pleasure of listening to and seeing Freezepop at their Texas Tour in Dallas. What made the performance even more eventful for me was that The Duke made a guest appearance of performing along side them again. How did you enjoy it and can we look forward to more Freezepop performances with The Duke?
It's been really rewarding to be able to continue to play with Freezepop over the years. PaxSouth was tons of fun and it'll be even crazier this year when they play at PaxPrime here in Seattle... can't wait!
What is the speed of dark?
For me, it's really pretty slow... like maybe 12-13kph? or maybe it travels at nice resonant frequency like 666Hz. Actually, darkness might really be going in reverse; never taking you to where you really ought to be, but somewhere unexpected.
How does one calculate the speed of dark?
Stare at the sun, close your eyes, watch the patterns burn on the insides of your eyelids. That's how you'll know.
What is next for you and Symbion Project?
Binge watching Orange is the New Black. Oh, and making mad beatz y'all. The best way to follow my various projects is to subscribe to my email list where you'll be the first to hear about all the latest and greatest:
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for the fans of FreQuency and Amplitude! We love you!
Thanks for having me and all the support everyone has given me over the years... cheers!
A favorite artist among the FreQuency and Amplitude community, Symbion Project has just released Semiotic, his sixth studio album. Click here to order the album and listen to the Amplitude exclusive track "Concept".