Dogmatic Impressionism

As is often the case, this piece started off with that very first bell sound and I started building to it. Similarly to the Output plugins mentioned yesterday, the Cycles library from Slate + Ash has become a dark-horse favorite for me – a pleasant surprise because my initial reaction to it was more in the disappointed realm.

  1. Dogmatic Impressionism Ray Toler 5:55

In part, it’s because the library is computationally intense. There’s a lot of granular manipulation going on, tons of controls… it’s challenging to a computer made in the last year, to say nothing of what it does to my poor 2012 Mac Pro. I end up using the loops and arpeggiators more than I do the pure granular sounds, simply because it’s almost impossible to compose with them. They’re saturating the CPU immediately and it’s nothing but static and crackles.

This is a good example of a track that sounds much simpler than it actually is. The loops are constantly changing, and there are a lot of small details that get dropped in here and there. It’s also a good example of how a sound can have a different character when put in different contexts. The bells are tense at the beginning, but sweet in the middle sections with the choir. Allowing myself to dig in and explore these sounds are one of the luxuries afforded by this genre.

I don’t do a lot of sound design in the sense of programming my various synths, but I do a lot of manipulation of the presets or once the sound has been rendered to audio and I start editing that recording, putting it through various effects. I feel more like I’m painting with sounds most of the time – it’s less about finding the perfect sound than finding the sounds that work together in interesting ways.

There’s also some finesse required to make the various instruments do what you want them to do. Sometimes that means a lot of performance while recording the parts in, or drawing in controller movements in MIDI, and sometimes it’s knowing how hard to strike the keys, or when to release them to get the weird glitch that can happen. It’s a puzzle to solve, but with pieces that can change their shape from moment to moment.

I was enjoying the overall groove of this one, so took it out to almost six minutes. Some pieces do what they need to do in three minutes or less, while others require more time. When listening, I like the longer pieces as long as they haven’t become boring, although that’s somewhat dependent on the listener’s mental state. What’s boring one day may be immersive the next. I try to judge the length based on whether or not what’s being said has been said fully.

The downside of making these longer tracks is that, unsurprisingly, they normally take longer to produce. Not necessarily the writing or programming, but when I’m working on a 2.5 minute pop song, it only take 2.5 minutes to listen to the entire thing while mixing it. The longer the piece is, the longer it takes to listen each time, and those minutes add up, especially if it’s a track where I start losing myself in it before it’s even finished. 

This one was just a long piece that required more mixing and more time to ensure that the mix was working across the entire piece. Definitely not a “set it and forget it” mix. I’ve discovered this month that one of my time management issues is that I keep playing things long after I should have recorded them, simply because they’re fun to play or fun to play with


  • Percussion: Rhythmus
  • Bells and Metals: Cycles
  • Kick and all other instruments: Omnisphere
  • Effects:
    • Neutron 3
    • FabFilter Pro-Q 3 and Pro-R
    • Valhalla Delay
    • Output Portal, Thermal, and Movement
  • Mastering: Ozone 9

Image Credit: Detail from Saint-Lazare Gare, Normandy Train by Claude Monet

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