virtual programming: space and the ocean

Sub-Atomic Atmospheres

‘Intergalactic-Funk’, it’s come a long way since George Clinton and his mothership touched down on our planet. I guess now though looking back that was only really the tip of a huge musical iceberg. Interplanetary funk for me symbolised not only a new way to look at music but mainly a new way to look at instruments. I mean it lasted full on for more than a decade from the late 60s to mid 80s when ‘space’ was one of the biggest inspirations for musicians, artists and civilians alike. Space represented a whole number of things. To some, it was an excuse to play outrageous keyboards (along with some outrageous grooves!). For others, space was a new landscape and world where they directed their poetic endeavours and lyricism. This in particular drew much comparison to the comics that came before and during this period (Marvel and 2000 A.D. special editions in particular). Finally for some, space represents a much more frightening place, seen in low budget sci-fi films of the period (and Doctor Who!) where technology, robots and bad guys infiltrate Earth’s atmosphere. This ‘penetration’ can also be seen within music. When Mr. Clinton touched down it opened up a wormhole in our solar system, which is permanently skewing our perception of what period of time sounds and visions come from. In this stage of our lifetime, melodies, grooves and synthesisers seem to permeate a sound, which has long been associated with space, but still sounds fresh today (when done correctly! I’m looking at Calvin Harris). This wormhole I feel has not only kept this type of music fresh, but also new artists can look up to the stars now and almost become drawn to it thanks to the music it has produced, and the way it’s affected people.

One genre in particular is becoming the leader of this new generation of intergalactic music, although it is prevalent in almost all ‘genres’ today. House music has always been a blueprint for new sounds, new programming methods and new artists to build upon and create something new. Within this first section I will look at a new artist blending the sounds of space with the looks and lyricism prevalent in early funk pioneer’s live shows, but maintaining a house groove.

The Space Dimension Controller

“Controlling dimensions, loitering in space, seducing astro-bitches”, is what the Space Dimension Controller aka Jack Hammill loves doing. Of course any human caught saying this will probably be locked up for a while. This is of course the persona of an astro-traveller put on by the young Irish producer. Similar to the showmen of funk yesteryear, a SDC show consists of flashy costumes, rockin the mic (look on YouTube to see him doing some cosmic rapping “Space Party”), and playing some lavish synthesisers. One would read this and expect to hear some flashy 70s style funk. Well, the idea is there but SDC is predominately a house music connoisseur.

Sure you have your crisp analogue sounds, courtesy of a Drexciya/James Stinson inspiration, avoiding the over-compression of modern pop music. But SDC is more breakdance electro than Bootsy Collins. His track The Love Quadrant runs along a 4/4 beat employing new sounds which grow and meld together in just under 5 minutes. Sounds like a standard house track right? Well yes, up until the first glimpses of a soft female voice (in this case SDC’s girlfriend) and SDC himself responds to her, asking her ‘where she wants to go’? This one-two conversation harks back to the poetic lyricism explained earlier, showing an interest of intergalactic love. After this exchange the track explodes with a synth melody courtesy of g-funk inc. This continues until the final seconds when the track dissolves into space from whence it came. The inspirations are there and without cramming them all into one big mess, SDC manages to form the track into two sections and show his influence in just over 4 minutes. The synthline in particular is an audacious groove which perhaps could be the soundtrack to a love movie set in space.

Space Dimension Controller – The Love Quadrant by futuresoundstemporary

And it does hark to many nerdy NASA fantasies that in the future, humans will make love in space. SDC’s next single Journey to the Core of the Unknown Sphere furthers the material explored on The Love Quadrant whilst perhaps straying closer to Detroit house than Jupiter’s rings. A longer track but just as satisfying, its build ups and breakdowns start off quicker than the aforementioned single, with spacey synths prevailing from the start. The cosmic inspirations are still heavily prevalent but when the track reaches halfway the mood changes and the inspirations start to turn towards sci-fi soundtracks of the late 70s. Dark synth sounds and harder kicks create a song of two halfs, sort of like a mini odyssey into the wormhole we discussed earlier. It is a rewarding listen but deserves a few more listens before it can be fully digested. It’s a futuristic yet retro sound that SDC can fully call his own.

Space Dimension Controller – Journey To The Core by futuresoundstemporary

Along with the stage persona he seems to have the whole outfit nailed and I personally can’t wait to see him live. All of this and I haven’t even delved into his rapping! It’s all really part of the journey of this young space traveller.

Aquatic Pressure

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the depths of the ocean seem to permeate in the artist’s senses as much as space does. Early examples of this would be sea shanties sung by pirates, sailors and fisherman. These songs contain a rhythm that is almost identical to the motions of the waves upon which they sail. This direct amalgamation of sound and nature is one of the first examples of humans discovering how the two can be blended. The rhythm of the ocean is still a big inspiration for many today, although one can argue it is under the water where musicians and artists find the magic. After the books (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), films (Jaws) and comic books (Aquaman!) of the late 1800s through to mid to late 1900s, the exploration of the ocean contained a mysticism and wonder, which many were thrilled by. Granted most were scared by the darkness but many were excited by new life forms and the wonder of ‘another world’. This ties in with the unknown of space and for many the two are almost alike. In terms of music the similarities are there. The rhythm of the ocean and tidal currents often allow musicians to craft intricate beat forms and time patterns similar to the wash of the shoreline. The depths of the ocean however create a more mystifying musical impression, allowing musicians to form new sounds and ambience directly influenced by the pressure experienced when delving below the surface.

Once again within modern music it is electronica that has mostly consumed the sounds of the ocean. One can argue not as much as space, but still the amount of ‘chill-out’ music directly influenced from the moods of the shore is testimony to its influence. One artist in particular is currently forming a newer sound indebted to not only the depths of the ocean but from a direct descendent of early 90s techno music, crafted in his own unique way.

Scuba

To me Scuba’s sound exemplifies the sound of underwater music. It’s not only in the name but the way in which he constructs his tracks. Each one is like a mini-odyssey starting with plunging into the ocean and then finding a coral reef on the seabed that contains some kind of underwater tunnel system. Each sound in his tracks contains some kind of reverb, delay, echo or filter that is just typically ‘underwater’ sounding. It’s not even funny how all of his shit can literally be ‘the’ soundtrack to the next ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ movie. The start of his RA podcast (check it out) starts with the sounds of waves, I mean come on. Hell, one can compare SDC’s space stage presence to Scuba’s oceanic sound. But the one main difference is, Scuba let’s his music do the talking.

His latest single is a step away from the deep dubstep-techno he is renowned for, but the elements and emotional content of the track remain the same. Eclipse is the latest in a line of newer half-step tracks being employed by drum & bass and dubstep heads recently, notably dBridge and Instra:mental (Loughborough heads will know from the last Dub-Boro). Scuba’s effort however maintains the stride of his contemporaries, without losing his trademark smooth and deep atmospheric sound. As ever, it’s hard to put your finger on it if you’ve never really heard anything like this before, but Scuba manages to release tracks in which subtlety is paramount. Eclipse always threatens to delve deeper and the listener expects a heavy drop throughout the track, however it maintains its pressurized groove consistently for 5 minutes.

Scuba – Eclipse by futuresoundstemporary

Even better is his early rare single on Naked Lunch. Negative is a hugely emotional dubstep tempo track, yet the snares, hi hats and drum pattern is purely techno. Scuba’s signature sound is exemplified in this track and the result of moving to the grey city of Berlin can be heard from this point on in his career. Negative’s 2-step drums and additional echoed emotional female vocal are the mainstays of new dubstep production, and are qualities themselves. However, it’s when the beat stops midway through the track and the chiming bells echo and delay, allowing the track’s ambience, which has threatened to shine throughout the start, come to the forefront. Scuba’s minimal use of the bells allows the listener to focus completely on the track’s emotional content (within the female vocal and rising ambience) and is a masterstroke of subtlety. Descriptions are only so much; one has to simply delve deep into the track to truly hear the sounds and influences of the ocean.

Scuba – Negative by futuresoundstemporary

Simon Kemp

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