Dark Ambient technicalities. Michael Barnett interviews Sonologyst about creating dark ambient.

 

(extracted from the Michael Barnett article: Dark Ambient 101: Understanding the Technicalities – http://www.thisisdarkness.com/2018/03/17/dark-ambient-101/ ).

  1. Analog or Digital?

The mix of both of them is ideal.

 M.B.: What do you see as the differences between analog and digital creations of dark ambient music?

S.: There’s no difference from a creative point of view. Obviously there are a lot from the technical one.

 M.B.: What are some of the key instruments/programs that you use to make analog dark ambient?

S.: Analog synthesizers, electrified string instruments, guitars,  samples, editing software and plug ins, percussions, wind instruments parts (commissioned to other musicians), tapes, pedals, dronin.

 M.B.: What are some of the key instruments/programs that you use to make digital dark ambient?

S.: Mainly plugins to work on noise parts and editing softwares.

 M.B.: Do you see one or the other as being the “better” technique for creation of dark ambient music?

S.: Everyone has to develop the better process fitting with her/him attitude.

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  1. Drones?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        M.B.: What are some of the techniques you use to create drones?

S.: There are different ones, maybe infinite. It’s possible to make drones with stratifications of synth pads, by editing acoustic instruments like brasses, winds, string instruments and so on; playing heavily distorted bass and/or guitar; editing samples, using noise from modular synthesizers, editing field recording, recording the washing machine noise and on and on..

M.B.: Do you have a favorite program/instrument to use for creating drones?

S.: Not a specific one.

M.B.: As a beginner did you create drones the same way you do now?

S.: As a beginner I made a lot of mistakes before to find my way.

M.B.: Have you changed techniques/software/instruments for creating drones over the progress of your career?

S.: Yes I did it many times. And I continue to change to make the sound fabric different in any production I do.

M.B.: How important are drones to dark ambient music?

Probably drones are the dark ambient trade mark, as well the violin and piano are in the classical music for orchestra, or the electric guitar solos are in the rock music.

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  1. Field Recordings?

 M.B.: How important are field recordings to dark ambient music?

S.: They are another fundamental component in dark ambient music. They are the ingredient to create visual atmospheres, vivid landscapes, even stories, and forge a solid concept when the musician has something interesting to tell through the music.

 M.B.: What electronics do you use to capture field recordings?

S.: I’m not a professional of field recordings, so I use simply an IPhone when I’m around to catch everything could be interesting.

 M.B.: Do you leave the field recordings raw or do you add effects treatment to them?

S.: I usually treat field recordings with additional reverbs. But the most important thing is to find the right level for the field recording layer in the mix. Mixing is by all means a crucial part in the process.

M.B.: Do you use field recordings in the creation of drone or do you only use them as a secondary layer of sound?

S.: It’s a possible choice to use f.r. for drones, why not?

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  1. Vocals?

M.B.: Do you use human vocals in dark ambient?

S.: Yes human vocals.

 M.B.: How important are human vocals to dark ambient?

S.: It depends of the concept behind the work, but I find human vocals important in my music, especially the spoken words.

 M.B.: Do you create your own passages to recite?

S.: Just sometimes.

 M.B.: Do you use your own voice, hire a voice actor, or use samples from films/television/speeches?

S.: Yes, samples from old documentaries, movies, speeches are my favorite. But I also asked singers to send to me parts for specific uses.

 M.B.: Is it necessary to ask permission of the original copyright holder before using samples of vocals in your music?

S.: No, for they are usually very short samples or free samples.

Apocalypse BC cover

  1. D.A.W.

I prefer to escape all questions about DAW, computer and so on, simply because there are not peculiarities for dark ambient music. The logic of hardware and software is the same for all kind of music. Just I can add that I’m a graduated sound technician, so I learned technique of recording, mixing and mastering through regular courses. But as in all studies, the experience is the most important factor. Do it, do it and do it again. And after some years everyone will find the right set up and process. And for people like me, who don’t have big amounts of money to invest in expensive hardware and software, the experience will help to do more, using less. And this is a big advantage for creativity; when you have poor instruments and have to use your brain to find out something good. Take a few small stones, beat each other and record the sound by using some freeware delay and reverb. Probably you will be very positively surprised of the result.

  1. Samples

M.B.: Where do you go to find samples?

S.: Everywhere: everyday life, music, movies, documentaries, vinyl, VHS, NASA web site, specialized platforms for samples sharing…

M.B.: What samples would be off-limits in a legal sense?

S.: There are a lot of free samples around, or simply usable by asking the owner permission. But for more specific knowledge of the argument I suggest to read the related laws of the source origin country.

M.B.: How do you extract samples from movies, games, speechs?

S.: Through Youtube when it’s possible by a software, but for more original sources by connecting the source (turntable, VHS player, microphones,…) to the audio interface.

M.B.: How important are samples to dark ambient music?

S.: Important, but not necessary.

Unexplained Sounds cover

  1. Instruments

    M.B.: When you use instruments in your music do you play a real instrument yourself?

    S.: Yes I do it.                                                                                                                                     M.B.: If you want to have violin, for exampe, (or any other instrument) in a song, but don’t own one and can’t play one, is there another option? (some sort of program that will create violin sounds for you?)

         S.: I prefer to directly ask other musicians to realize the part, so to have a more natural and warm sound effect.

 

  1. MasteringM.B.: How important is mastering in dark ambient?

    S.: It’s fundamental. 

M.B.: Can a musician master their own album with limited training?

S.: It’s not an easy job without a little of training.

M.B.:What programs do you use to master an album?

S.: I prefer to not tell that. It risks to be a commercial advertising for software companies

M.B.:If paying another person to master an album, what credentials should they have? (ie. do they need to make dark ambient themselves to understand how to master dark ambient?)

S.: It would be better if the mastering service comes from a person with a good sensibility for that kind of music. If a musician who plays himself that music, that’s even better.

M.B.: What are the differences between mastering an album that is digital, CD, cassette or vinyl? Should each have a separate mastering?

S.: There’s a certain difference about mastering a vinyl compared with cd or cassette mastering. It’s related to the output levels that differ, in the vinyl case, depending of the track position (closer to the edge or the center). So as matter of fact, they are two completely different mastering. But for this I suggest to read this article from Sonologyst blog: https://wordpress.com/post/sonologyst.com/168

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  1. General Advice 

    M.B.: What advice would you give to a person just coming into dark ambient as a potential artist?

    S.: Just to work with passion and not to be hurry, releasing huge amount of music, just to show the audience what is going on. That is a mistake many people do, while the process to improve the own style should be something private.                                                                                                                                                                                                             M.B.: What are the best aspects of creating dark ambient?                                                                                                                                                                                                            S.: It gives to you the possibility to be in deep connection with you profound states of mind.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              M.B.: What are the worst/hardest aspects of creating dark ambient?

            S.: There aren’t worst aspect to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   M.B.: What are somethings an amatuer should avoid doing at all costs?

          S.: I replied to this question in the previous point.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           M.B.: How frequently should an artist aim for releasing albums (several times a                   year?, once a year?, once a month?)

           S.: Every artist has to find the own way for that. It’s impossible to give a general                       advice. In my case I found the good and natural rhythm working on one release a                   year. And I don’t exclude to increase the interval between two works. That lets me a              major deepness, awareness and consciousness of what I’m going to do. Basically I                  start a work when I have really something to communicate, and after I’m aware of                  that, I need time to explore how to communicate it.

         M.B.: Should a musician know the history of the genre before creating their own                 music?

         S.: Not necessarily, but it would be a crime to ignore all that beautiful music created in           latest decades.

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Sonologyst-Mixing&Mastering

 

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