A Star Never Setting

Today’s track is much more in line with what I thought I was going to write yesterday. It combines some of my favorite things: granular synthesis, treated pianos, and long tape-style delays. Obviously, this one is heavily inspired by Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, almost getting into pastiche territory. Not that that’s inherently a bad thing – my track Tyrell’s Balcony was a love letter to the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack, but it’s also something I’m proud to have created.

  1. A Star Never Setting Ray Toler 7:04

Part of my motivation to write these kinds of tracks is because I love the music and want more of it, but there isn’t any. If Eno and Vangelis aren’t going to write it, then I guess I’ll have to do it myself. In addition to getting new music to listen to, I learn a ton of composition and production techniques along the way.

With Music for Airports, Eno was breaking ground, using huge loops of magnetic tape (some reaching 20 feet or more!) routed around microphone stands and chair legs to create multiple, evolving patterns that weren’t synchronized to each other. Those asynchronous moments are something I’ve been working a lot with the last few years. In some cases, I’m using loops of different lengths, or playing multiple parts in different time signatures. I’ve also extended the technique into my mixing, as I did with Dreams of a Distant Shore yesterday.

Modern technology allows this work to be done so much more easily. Instead of running hundreds of feet of tape around my house, I just have to load up a software delay, tweak a couple of things and let it run. I use Valhalla Delay, and it’s phenomenally good. For this piece, I’m just running the piano into the delay, and there are maybe 3-5 repetitions before the line dies out. But the playing is so sparse and the delay is so long, that it sounds more like there are multiple parts being played. By the time the echo comes in, I’ve already moved on to something else, and that’s where the happy accidents of this technique occur. The delay is also introducing some grit and noise, just like tape would, and each repetition is more damaged than the one before.

Technology has also provided one of my other favorite things: granular synthesis. For those who don’t know, granular consists of taking lots of little snippets of a sound, then changing their pitch, timing, length, and so on. The results can be recognizable, as if the sound were just being stretched like a rubber band, or completely alien – I often think of these more radical approaches like hitting a pillow and seeing the dust patterns dancing in a beam of sunlight. The granular synthesis in this track is happening on the quiet vocalish pad and is closer to sound dust side of things. This pad is then run through another effect that’s moving it in the stereo field and also providing a tremolo volume pattern.

Finally, there’s a quiet sine wave solo instrument to add one more subtle dimension to the piece. This is also being sent through a delay, but it’s not quite as radical as what’s happening to the piano. It’s there more to act as a clean form of reverb than to provide noticeable echoes. In sonically dense pieces like this, reverb can make things muddy, and using a delay instead is a useful trick.

Once again, I started and finished this far too late… Hopefully I’ll be able to put a more sustainable writing schedule in place as the month progresses.


  • Piano: Output Signal
  • Vocal Pad: Slate + Ash Cycles
  • Sine Wave Lead: Omnisphere
  • Effects: Valhalla Delay, Output Portal
  • Mastering: Ozone 9

Image Credit: NASA Hubble Space Telescope

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