Zenith Quasar

After yesterday’s diversion into techno, which was a ton of fun, I’m definitely tapping into the bottom of my reserves. There’s nothing inside demanding to be let out, so I’m having to go searching for it instead. After picking Mary up at the airport, I asked her if she had any requests, and she decided on a solo piano piece.

  1. Zenith Quasar Ray Toler 4:20

That obviously didn’t happen. I did try – I even have a saved project called “30 Minutes of Wrong” on my hard drive now. I started recording without a metronome going and just played whatever for 30 minutes. The same aimless meandering that anyone who lived with me has heard countless times. Wrong notes. False starts. Promising leads that simply don’t have legs. Or I don’t have the legs to carry them.

With piano not in the cards, I started digging through sounds, going to my usual suspects again and, again, coming up empty. Then I loaded the Spitfire London Contemporary Orchestra Textures library, which provided that first thread I could follow. This library is fun because it uses Spitfire’s evolution grid interface. For this particular library, you set different note ranges to have different articulations or instrumentation. I chose to put some voices in the top notes, but leave it primarily evolving strings in the lower register.

The sound was pretty dense right off the bat, because my default playing style is big two-handed chords. This is great if you’re playing solo piano, but can be an issue when you’re trying to do a multi-instrument composition – things are all fighting to be in the same sonic space.

Never Tell Me the Odds

Despite this, I added a bass sound. And then another. They had a lot of distortion baked in, and that grit gave them a little presence to rise over the orchestra. I knew I’d be doing a lot of mix work, but the general sound was going in the right direction.

To provide a little more motion, I added an arpeggiated patch from Cycles. It’s very muted, and I slowed down the arpeggiator to just 25% of it’s normal speed to better match the pace of an already slow piece. I also used a trick I learned from one of Christian Henson’s videos and tuned everything down by two octaves. This added a ton of character, because little details in the original recordings became amplified and stretched out. I’ll definitely be trying that on some other things in the future.

With all of the distortion going on, I decided to keep going in that direction and chose a basic, but really nicely recorded patch out of the Spitfire Ambient Guitars library. Initially, this was just a lightly distorted two-note chord, but it was a little boring. Ordinarily, I would address this by adding some plugins on the inserts of the guitar’s channel, forcing its sound through whatever effects were there.

Instead, I set up a new effects chain on a send. This leaves the raw guitar sound intact and the primary thing you hear, but also splits off some of the signal to this massive wash of distortion. The chain is Valhalla Shimmer > Soundtoys Decapitator > Valhalla Supermassive. It’s huge and wide, and just sounds aweome. I lowered the volume of the wash so that it’s acting more like a synth pad.

I really hadn’t intended to provide a rhythmic element on this one, other than the natural pulse from the bass, but with everything sounding all big and thick and heavy, and heading more into, it needed something to drive everything along. It was already pretty dark, with very little high end, but I tamed that even further to keep the clack… clack… clack… bit from being a focus.

The final two elements were just some spice. There’s a simple sample & hold sound that pulses in opposition to the main strikes, but I kept it pretty low in the mix and gave it a slow, but random autopanner. It wanders around the soundstage, peeking out every now and then, but largely sticking to the shadows.

The other spice was a sizzling, buzzy electric sound that comes in on the lower chord. I added a panner to this that goes right to left, but jumps straight back to full right. This did two things – it emphasizes the high note at the beginning on the right, and gives a sense of danger as the electricity moves around.

Crayons and Watercolors

These types of works are my equivalent of sitting down and coloring or painting. Start with one color and create a shape, add some more color, highlights, shadows. And over time, all of these pieces become a sort of large mosaic when put in context with others. This one’s purple, that one’s deep blue, here’s a splash of red, but hang them all on the wall together and it becomes a triptych.

Often, I’ll finish one of these and not be entirely sure what it is. Ambient? Dark Ambient? Something… other? In this case, it’s squarely in space music territory. Sometimes I just find some random words for a title that are suitably mysterious and cool. Other times, I know what I have in my head and the title just naturally goes with that.

In this case, I had already chosen the title and was kind of writing to it. The main bit is quasar, but kudos if you get the reference. The electric sound is maybe a little on the nose, but I like how it all works together, and it would easily fit in my SEEKR space album concept. I keep meaning to recreate (or start fresh with) the first two movements that I lost with the 2018 hard drive crash; maybe this will help spur that along.


  • Beat: Phobos
  • Synths: Thorn, Pigments, Generate, FabFilter Two
  • Sample Libraries: Spitfire LCO Textures and Ambient Guitars, Cycles
  • Effects:
    • MOTU Chorus, Clear Pebble, Autopan
    • Valhalla Shimmer, Supermassive
    • Soundtoys Panman, Decapitator
    • Output Portal
    • AudioThing Wires
    • FabFilter Timeless 3
  • Mixing & Mastering: BX SSL 9000 J, Gullfoss, Pro-L 2

Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada (CC-BY-4.0)

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