In the studio with Eluvium

Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us how you got involved in composing, and what was your very first piece of gear?
I’m not entirely certain what would constitute “composing”, but I’ve felt connected to music since I was very young. My first piece of gear is hard to remember for sure – I could ask my family, maybe – but it was either a nylon string guitar, a Casio SK-1, or my sister’s piano. Also, at some point early on, my parents bought me one of those DIY electronic kits in a box. The first thing I built was a radio.

How many different studio iterations have you gone through, and what does your final setup look like right now?
My studios have always been in the same spaces that I live in. When I lived in a studio apartment, the piano and mics and stuff were just in the room with me next to the bed. I would sit on the floor and use a folding chair for a table. So it is ultimately a question of when to start counting. Where I write music actually has its own studio space now, but I wouldn’t call this current space final by any means, either. It is currently in my house in the Pacific Northwest. It has a few windows, decent light, a piano, several forms of synthesizers, a closet full of old toy keyboards, and a couple of guitars. I’ve built some simple cabinets and stacked shelving systems with locking drawer slides to hold some of it. There are cables everywhere. Too many books often overflow into the space and are piled up on everything. I try to allow the books the grace that they act as some level of sound dampening and diffusing. I like things just a little bit cluttered and lived in, which it essentially is. It has too many empty boxes. I often reuse them, so sometimes they build up and start to get a little bit unwanted. I take long walks as much as possible through the neighbourhood and various parks. I look at the little creeks and culverts and often visit a grove of trees that I enjoy. I consider the outdoors to be an important part of my studio. An extension of it, perhaps.

Tell us about your favourite piece of hardware.
I think this changes day to day. Right now, I’m actually enjoying my Petrof upright piano the most. If I’m being honest, if all my different answers from each day were added up, there would be lots of great synths, modules, electronic whatsits and noisemaking whatnot doo-dads on the list, but my piano would probably win the most votes. It is a modest glossed walnut tone with an interesting cut to the wood grain pointing towards the center of the front panel. It is very often covered in books as if they were some strange form of moss.

And what about the software that you use for production?
I use Ableton for multitrack recording and mixing duties. Sometimes I use it for its manipulation options as well. I haven’t really delved much into any of its actual synthesis options on offer really, but I’m intrigued and will one day look into them. I’m usually not up to date on the latest software, to be honest. I have some standard stuff… Native Instruments, some Spitfire and other orchestral stuff, and lots of random VST instruments / computer junk built up over the years. All the usual stuff, I guess. I keep meaning to update things to newer versions and also work more with Logic and Pro Tools, but I just get busy with projects and it gets set aside. I have made several things entirely “in the box”, but I guess I keep things a little stripped back as this helps me focus on the synths and pianos and strings I have in the studio rather than focused completely on software, which is where things ultimately live and die at the end. It’s nice to mix them together and go back and forth. To take things written in the box back out and vice-versa. The software can be so easy to use sometimes, but I actually find the tactile feel of physical instruments more inspiring. The more time I can spend not looking at a screen, the better, but this is just the way it is sometimes.

Is there a particular piece of gear that you’re just dying to get your hands on, and do you think one day you’ll have it?
Not really. I mean, if someone was giving them away, I’d probably take some Buchla stuff, a Synthi of some kind, and how about a Moog One 16-voice while we’re at it. I have a love/hate relationship with “gear”. On the one hand, it creates a little bit of fetishism and acquisition syndrome in a manner I find can become more frustrating and rabbit-hole-y than helpful, which is actually quite boring in a way. Many of my favorite compositions have been created using pretty simple and relatively cheap tools. I scored a film entirely using beat-up and broken toy synths from Goodwill, for instance. Having said that… there is always a unique level of inspiration that can come from the “beginner’s mind” that a person can have when first interacting with a new instrument that might be hard to find otherwise. So I think it is nice to constantly change one’s approach, technique, or instrument choices. I just have to watch out and make sure that I don’t begin to think the gear is more important than the music made on it.

Can you please share some aspects of sound design in your work?
I try to listen to the world and often incorporate the world I hear at any given time into my music in some manner. I tend to blend this with an emotional resonance bubbling within me. I also like to fiddle with EQ a lot.

Any particular new techniques that you tried out for your new album?
I used algorithm generators and automation quite a bit. I also worked with an orchestra and recorded with multiple individual performers from around the world via teleconference during a pandemic. Each of these things were new to me.

What does your live setup look like, and what do you bring with you when you travel for an extensive tour?
This hasn’t happened in quite some time now, so… if you’d like the version that is in my head instead… maybe an orchestra mixed with electronics and some stage actors moving around in a shifting visual space for some reason. I would be in a backroom, or off to the side somewhere, adding in electronic influences – or perhaps even just be in the crowd enjoying the performance.

What is the most important environmental aspect of your current workspace, and what would be a particular element that you would improve on?
Nature and having more access to nature.

What can you tell us about your overall process of composition? How are the ideas born, where do they mature, and when do they finally see the light?
The process is pretty much constantly evolving. It is sometimes fickle, and other times not, and ever-nebulous. I make lots and lots of things. Some of them are interesting to me, and others are not as much. I tend to really enjoy them privately, as something to sometimes work on and listen to, or just enjoy for what they are – but then also the time comes to consider them more intentionally and think about an album release. Certain things just start getting more of my attention than other things, until one day I’m deep into one area of focus.

After the piece is complete, how do you audition the results? What are your reactions to hearing your music in a different context, setting, or a sound system?
When working and mixing, I tend to listen on my studio monitors, as well as through my extremely awful computer speakers. Then eventually, I begin to listen on the various speakers around the house (bookshelf speakers, the proper hi-fi in the living room, little travel speakers, and of course, the car). I go for lots of walks and listen on headphones. I can be very intensely focused during this time by trying to get the various tones specifically dialled in. This can be frustrating at times, but I’m learning to just give it space and time and not be rushed about it. These days I try to know it will get there when it gets there. Ultimately, there is just too much variation in speaker and headphone technology (let alone an individual ear) for me to ever feel truly gratified in all settings without allowing for some people to never hear it the way I would wish. So it always helps to work with other people you trust to find the best balance between what you want and what translates to a listener. I think this was easier on me with my more experimental, noisy, or ambient records as those sounds tend to have a greater allowance for variation in tonality, but with piano and strings and orchestral pieces balanced with various electronics – with so many moving parts – I have tended to be a little more strict with the definition and tonality of the instruments. Sometimes this feels slightly less fun, but I try to honor the intentions of their existence. It helps me to practice my focus if nothing else.

Do you ever procrastinate? If so, what do you usually find yourself doing during those times?
I don’t technically have a schedule that I must adhere to with music when making my own work, so I’m not sure if procrastination is possible in this scenario, but I do sit and blankly stare at things and think a lot. It feels like I am thinking about music almost all the time sometimes. I don’t know why. Maybe this could come across as not doing much. It is probably my way of processing. However, if I am working on a film score or other sound project for someone else, I tend to buckle down and focus pretty intensely. It would be improper not to. I definitely procrastinate on tasks needed done around the house, though. I enjoy the different mindsets that come with fixing things on the house – simple carpentry tasks, etc.… but I am not often enough in this mindset. I think maybe I tend to bounce back and forth in between these states – resting and trying not to think about anything, working on the house (woodworking / building / fixing things), and intense focus on composing music. Sometimes I can jump easily from one to the other, but they usually exist more often as individual states of being, which can be a little frustrating. I do not multitask my various states of being as well as I would like.

What gets you inspired?
Living life and looking at nature. Being in nature. My partner is of great inspiration to me. Lots of films and books. It’s endless, really. Being thankful and trying to be helpful. The beauty and strangeness of others. Existence itself.

And finally, what are your thoughts on the state of “electronic music” today?
I haven’t ever considered this before. I hope it is doing well.