Denver artist Kent Barton (aka SEVEN7HWAVE) just released a new concept album called CYBERIA. I met first met Kent at the Ableton Colorado User Group a few years back when he was just starting down the path to create this album so I thought it would be interesting to hear about his creative process. Oh, and Kent is also a member member of the new Boulder Synthesizer Meetup.
First I’ll offer some links to the album, then the interview followed by Kent’s social links. Kent is offering this new album ”name your price” over on bandcamp and as always I encourage a buy to show your support.
Hong Kong: 2050 A.D. You're about to inject a dose of mind-altering nanobots. This is the soundtrack to your trip.
Concept and Production: Kent Barton
Mastering: Tarekith at Inner Portal Studio
Vocals on Brain Zaps: Brittany Patterson
Field Recordings on No Passengers, Kowloon Bay, and Brain Zaps: swuing
Field Recording on 0100000101001001: James Tobin
Muse: Brittany Patterson
Creative Inspiration: Mark Mosher, Marc Wei, Matt Stampfle, and the Denver Ableton User Group
Interview with Kent Barton
Mark: Tell us a little bit about your musical background. What instruments do you play and how did you first get interested in electronic music?
Kent: I had some formal classical training on the violin as a child. Even though I got tired of the instrument by middle school, it did a good job of wiring my brain for music. Fast-forward to the start of college, and I decided to pick up the guitar to emulate my metal heroes. That was my introduction to the world of songwriting, bands, live shows, and the search for the perfect tone.
Back around 2004, I discovered the Trance station on Shoutcast (!). A year or two later I got my first proper introduction to electronic music, clubs, and raves, with artists like Ferry Corsten, Junkie XL, and Infected Mushroom. Eventually my waning interest in playing intricate guitar riffs was replaced by a newfound lust for producing music.
Mark: What inspired you to create an album about “mind altering nanobots” in 2050 A.D.?
Kent: I’ve always been a sci-fi freak with part of my brain permanently lodged in the future. Blade Runner was an obvious inspiration here, along with the cyberpunk movement. But it’s also a commentary on where we are today, and where we could be headed. Technology is a double-edged sword; it can liberate us or imprison us. The internet connects us all, but it’s also a giant Big Brother machine. These two opposing forces will be even more important in the future, as computers get smaller, faster, and implanted into our bodies.
Creatively, I was inspired by Reboot and I Hear Your Signals (editor’s note – I did not bribe Kent to say this :^) ). The idea of a badass album telling a story has been around for a long time (Operation: Mindcrime, I’m looking in your direction), but it never dawned on me to use the same technique for electronica until hearing these two albums.
Mark: What role did Ableton Live played in your creative and production process?
Kent: Occasionally I’d go lo-fi and hammer out a melody or chord progression on my guitar. But other than that, Ableton was the centerpiece of everything, from sketching out ideas to recording to arrangement to mixing. People keep bitching about when Live 9 is coming out. I honestly don’t care; the current version is powerful enough to do everything I want to do.
Mark: What were your go-to synthesizers for this project and what is it you like about them?
Kent: My mainstays were…
Sylenth1: When I think bass, I think old-school West Coast hip-hop smooth-ass warm sub. That’s what I was aiming for, and Sylenth delivered. I also used it for the pad sound on “Vimanas,” which was my obligatory nod to Vangelis.
Peach: This freeware, from Tweakbench, had exactly the chiptune sound I wanted for this album. Pure NES awesomeness…and it sounds even better with some spatial FX slathered on.
Plogue Chipsounds: I re-sampled Chipsounds for a lot of FX, as well as the main bleep lead on 0100000101001001. It’s an 8-bit emulation powerhouse.
Mark: There is a consistent palette throughout the album which helps give listeners a sense of the “universe” the story takes place in. Did you have a sense of the palette from the beginning, or did this evolve as the production progressed?
Kent: Early on, I stumbled across a collection of incredible field recordings someone made while traveling in Hong Kong. This inspired the setting of the album. As I was writing, these served as the “glue” between each track. I also started with a simple equation that I thought might yield awesome results: Chiptune + Strings + Guitar – fusing the organic and electronic. But as the album evolved, I found myself downplaying the guitar element and bringing in more synth.
Mark: I love how you modulated the arpeggiator speeds in “No Passengers” and also changed the glitch speeds in “Brain Zaps”. Did you record real-time automation for this or use automation envelopes?
Kent: The changing arp speed on “No Passengers” was recorded in one pass. I like to limit myself to one or two takes to capture the moment and avoid endless tweaking. “Brain Zaps” was one of those cases where I forget to connect a controller when I’m arranging a track. Rather than stop the workflow, I’ll just draw in the glitches by hand.
Mark: How do you feel composing against a story line helped you keep the project moving to completion?
Kent: Having a storyline was incredibly helpful. It created a common thread throughout the songs, and added visual elements to the creative process. Sometimes I felt like a movie director, rather than a producer. Creating an environment and living in it was also a huge help – especially when I was stuck and didn’t know where to go next.
I can’t recommend this enough. If you’re a producer looking for inspiration that can drive an entire collection of songs, try thinking of a story to tell. You don’t need a deep plot or characters. Just a simple concept is enough to fuel that creative spark.
Mark: What is your next musical project?
Kent: I’m working with an incredible animator/visual artist on a video for “No Passengers.” I’ll be releasing that shortly.
I freak out if I’m not writing, so I’m also cobbling together the building blocks for my next album. I feel like I’ve found my own sound with Cyberia, Now I’m excited to evolve it and take it in new directions.
Links for SEVEN7HWAVE
Electronic Musician, Boulder CO