“Perfect Symmetry” – How It Was Made
“Perfect Symmetry” was the last piece of music I wrote for Dear Avalanche (Spotify). I thought it would be appropriate to write about how I made it, since I did just that for the first song that was created for the album (read it here), as a way to bookend the entire record.
This song, and how it came to be, was somewhat unusual. The album was technically already finished after 2 years of hard work, and had been sent off to Los Angeles to be mastered. For some reason I always get a surge of creative energy once I am done with a project, and that has been the same for every album that I have wrapped up. Perhaps it is the pressure that has left you, I´m not sure. I had just watched Captain Fantastic in one of my first nights off in a very long time, and I got so inspired from seeing that movie that I went to my studio very late at night, because I felt like I had something to “get out”. I have learned that if you can capitalise on those occasions when you get that feeling, it often leads to something good.
Anyway, the first thing I wrote wasn’t a melody, or even a chord progression (which is the most common way of starting any song or piece of music), but instead I just began painting this very ethereal and floating soundscape consisting of different sounds and textures. I didn’t really use any bass-notes or anything in the lower range, because I didn’t want to “tie it down”, but rather let it stay shimmering above ground, if we can play with that metaphor. It was a very abstract expression, and I still wasn’t sure where I was going with it. After spending a good deal of time filling this canvas with atmospheres and different brushstrokes of sound, I recorded electric bass on it, to serve as the foundation of the song. I felt like I wanted it to be even more experimental, so what I did was that I took that entire piece of music that I had written, and exported it, brought it back up and reversed the entire thing, so that all of the sounds now was playing backwards. That is why, if you listen, the bass has this sucking motion to it, and sort of moves unexpectedly. This is what became the final part of the song, and the climactic peak.
Now that I had my foundation, I recorded some vocal harmonies, which I also processed to play backwards, and for me that created a sense of otherworldly expression, since there is this human element in the song that sounds like nothing you would expect anyone to sing. I also took a choir recording and ran it through a distorted guitar amp, and this became the main ascending melody you hear, alongside the strings that moves in a counter harmony (where one goes up, the other goes down), giving it some nice movement. I played a soft piano at the very end, in order to help the song wind down and land gently.
At this point I felt very happy with how it all came together, but I needed to put it into a context. It felt like the crescendo of a song, but so far I only had the last bit and I was missing the first half. So I sat down at the piano and started playing this very fast arpeggiated melody that counters the chord-progression underneath, in that each time to chord moves up, the melody moves down in the scale, and vice versa. So it almost becomes this little dance. To help give the piano a framing and an identity or DNA that related to the finale of the song, I used some of the same sonic brushstrokes and textures “behind” the piano, but in a lower octave. There is also a sub-bass synth that enters during the second variation, and I really like to play with the height/depth sensation of a section by introducing either higher, or as in this case, lower elements to give it some dynamics.
There is also a string quartet that enters halfway through, and in this case you can hear a solo-viola moving in and out in this swirling motion, sort of mirroring and assisting the piano melody, whilst the violins help with building some momentum in the higher register. Most of the arrangement is acoustic at this point, and I wanted a rhythmic element that would just help propel the song forward. I have a nice wooden panel in one of the corners of the studio, so what I did was put up a microphone and recorded myself stomping my foot in the floor a couple of times, and then once when I dropped my keys to capture some high-frequencies, and then I processed that and made it sound very lo-fi, like an old recording, and placed this low in the mix.
At this point I had my start and my stop, and both of these parts where pretty energetic in their own rights, so I felt like I wanted to bring it down in the middle to create a sense of breath and calm – to let the contrast make both sections speak louder in a way. The interlude is very soft and enveloping, and I almost wanted it to feel like the song was “hugging” you at this point. This I did with very warm synths and some processed strings – and even though you might think that there are only a few elements in this section, there is a ton of smaller sounds bouncing around the soundstage, peaking forward ever so quietly, to then disappear again. I really enjoy creating those eastereggs of sound, because I think that they really help with making it feel expansive and deep, like you are standing and looking out across a vast world. Anyway, this is how I like to view things when I write, and it helps me to navigate in what direction I should go – Everything has a very visual component in my mind, and I often “see” the music as much as I hear it.
Something you don’t really notice in the song is that it changes tempo quite drastically throughout. The first half is at another tempo then the second, and I think it adds to the sense of movement and free-flow of the entire piece. The whole song was basically built on experimentation, and daring to feel free in your expression. At times it is easy to feel the constraints of how you think music should be made, and moments like this really helps with the realisation that it´s all made up, and that there are no rules. I named the song “Perfect Symmetry” because even though it goes through several widely different stages and sections, there is a symmetric feel in the DNA of the song, and how it feels to me. Perfect Symmetry doesn’t necessarily have to mean that it´s exactly thew same, but rather that it is mirrored in it´s differences. As I said in the beginning, the album was already finished at this point, but I felt like this song represented where I was at that particular moment, and we decided to do a recall and include it in the album, and I´m very happy we did.
Thank you for reading about my process, and an even bigger thank you for letting me share my music with you!
Lights & Motion