I Am Not Here

I started yesterday’s entry discussing how the song I had been working on felt rushed and would benefit from some finesse instead of being the blunt instrument it was becoming. That turned out to be correct, though it happened in a way that I didn’t really expect.

Going into the studio, I had intended to open the previous project, rework the lyrics a bit, and try again, but with much more time to shape and polish. Instead, I opened a new, blank project and brought in a bank of tracks routed to some of my hardware synths. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it just felt like the right thing to do.

  1. I Am Not Here Ray Toler 4:42

Once again, this is a sound-driven composition, with the opening synth being the first patch that made me stop browsing and start playing some different patterns. I was set mid-tempo, but that didn’t feel right, but neither did moving up into the faster registers. It didn’t seem to fit the mood I was in. One of my favorite tricks as a DJ is to mix or overlay two tracks that are double of half the time of the other: a house track at 130 bpm with a vocal ballad at 65, that sort of thing. It’s not something you can do all the time, but it’s impressive and sounds great when it works.

Part of me wanted to do a quiet, slow, contemplative piece, and another part wanted something a little more dance-tempo and feel. I ended up setting the tempo at 120, roughly double the tempo of the timing of the delays and echoes in the synth patch, but composed as if it were a tempo of 60.

The synth (a Dave Smith Instruments Tetra) was doing 85% of all the work that would need to be done – it’s got a wonderful oomph in the bass register, with that lovely mid-range warble going on a little higher. I hummed a bit and my voice seemed to fit nicely inside the frequency spread, so I opened up a new document for lyrics. In the sections that start “In a…” I doubled the synth an octave higher and played a little louder. It’s a subtle thing, but it helped change the energy a bit.

And here’s where that whole finesse thing came to pass, but not in a direct way. As far as I was concerned, I had abandoned the previous song for a new one. I certainly wasn’t thinking about the other song any more. But when I finished writing the lyrics, I started to wonder if they were actually about the same thing I’d been writing about the previous day. I’m not positive about that, but there’s this odd internal connection for me. It’s difficult to explain – just a vague feeling – but I can’t discount it either.

Sometimes when writing lyrics, I have a story in mind and am trying to find the words to express that specific story. Other times, the story emerges as I write, or even emerges after everything’s written. This song is more in the latter categories. I’ve been trying to use stronger visual imagery in my writing, so “Standing on the summit” is a good starting point. Everything else flowed fairly quickly and easily from that point. There was very little editing. It’s not quite the writing equivalent of a one-take recording, but it was in that zone.

I recorded the vocals next, with only the Tetra patch as accompaniment. On the two or three practice passes, I felt like I was actually in good form, not pitchy, enunciating, and ready to record. As soon as I pressed record, though, everything fell apart. I did a single pass through the entire song and immediately deleted it when it was finished. Missed notes, incorrect phrasing and meter, it just wasn’t a good take.

So I recorded another. Same thing. Finally on the third take, I decided that I would use it as a temp track and punch in on any phrases that needed help. That ended up to be most of them. I’m pleased with the overall performance, though, and when I went in to do tuning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there wasn’t much that needed to be done. I used Melodyne more to undo over-exuberant vibrato and make tiny tweaks to sub-tones than pitch correction.

Next, I went back and added the bell synth (Virus TI). It’s a dull bell, also with a big warbly tremolo. I alternated between single notes and octaves, which was a nice counterpoint to the variation I was using in the main synth line.

The Waldorf Streichfett is awesome.
So much 70s in a tiny little box.

The next bit to get added was the string line. I love old stringer synths, and the Waldorf Streichfett has been one of my favorite toys since I bought it just prior to starting Song-A-Day in 2016. I was initially just playing the single-note lines, but improvised that big 70s string line at the end of the second chorus and loved it too much to take it out.

It still needed something, though, so I turned to Omnisphere for the slight feedback tone that appears early in the song. It also had that lovely, granular sprinkling of broken glass frequencies to provide a little more top end and some random noise.

Now here’s where paths diverge. The song’s still not done for me from an arrangement point of view. My inner mix has a drum track coming in along with the string synth after the first chorus. This first beat would be at 60 bpm, sparse, and more of a mechanical percussion, but over the course of the song, additional parts would slowly build until by the end of the third chorus, it’s almost a house beat. I did attempt to find sounds and program some things for about 20 minutes, but it wasn’t going where I wanted it to, and I felt the version of the song I had completed already was powerful enough to stand on its own, at least for the purposes of this month. It would definitely be enough for the “quiet mix” on an extended single.

Up to this point, I had done nothing to my vocals other than the small corrections here and there. I thought about leaving it entirely unaffected throughout the track, but that removed the impact of the final line. I ran Nectar 3 to get some rough EQ and compression starting points, tweaked that a bit, then added effect sends for echo and reverb.

For some reason, the mixing process on this was full of gremlins. Weird fader movements, an intermittent thing where the beginnings of my vocals would cut off, but not always. I almost spent as much time trying to track those things down, making substitutions, rebalancing, than I did writing the song in the first place.

I’m pleased with this one. It’s in the same emotional and production family as Ghosts, The Lights, and even Cascade. The lyrics work for me, and there’s nothing glaring that I want to fix. There are some things to add, some mix choices to make, but this isn’t one that I’ll skip very often when it comes on.


Standing on the summit
Breathing in the memory of you
I walk across the mountains
Wondering if the memories are true

In a crush of people
I am the only one who hears the sound
I think there may be others
I can’t feel them, they may have gone to ground

Fewer and fewer
We slowly disappear
Fading into nothing
I am not here

Collapsed into the fire
Consuming all the fuel that I can find
I step into another
It hurts them, but I don’t know if they mind

In a swollen desert
I am the only one who hears the sound
I’m looking for the others
But I cannot see anyone around

Fewer and fewer
We float into the air
I am not here
You are not there

In a glittering wasteland
I am the only one who hears the sound
I thought that there were others
But there’s no one to be found

Paler and paler
I slowly disappear
Fading into nothing
I am not here

Copyright © 2019 Ray E. Toler, Jr. All rights reserved.


  • Dave Smith Instruments Tetra
  • Access Virus TI
  • Waldorf Streichfett
  • Omnisphere
  • Vocal effects: Nectar 3, Valhalla Vintage Verb, SoundToys Echoboy

Next up: Grey Boats

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.