Inspiration and thoughts behind the making of 'The Other Side Of Darkness'
TOSOD Production History (36 Perspective)
Me and James have been in contact for a few years now and we've been threatening to do a collaboration for a while. I'm a big fan of his recent ambient work, but also really dig his early 90's techno projects like Influx, Cybertrax etc.. By the way, he's sitting on some unreleased gems from this era, so if any labels want some incredible acid/techno tracks from the 90s to reissue, contact him! That shit is the real deal. Anyway, we started the collaboration proper around June 2020. He sent me some loops he made using his 6 string bass into a pedal-board, all done in one-take. They were really nice and because they were improv pieces, they had a freeform flow, completely un-quantized. Plenty of space for me to add my own synths, melodies, etc.. I sent him some pieces, mostly unfinished, and even though they were already sounding pretty good, I felt like they needed something extra to elevate them to the next level.
Around this time, I heard James' other project Awakened Souls, which he writes and co-produces alongside his wife Cynthia AKA marine eyes. She sung on a couple of tracks like "Paint The Sky" which is a devastatingly beautiful tune. When I heard it, I suggested that we should ask her if she'd like to be involved. Thankfully, she agreed instantly and from that point on, all 3 of us co-produced each track. We'd send each other instrumental tracks and give them to Cynthia, who would write and perform the vocals, and also play guitar on them. We'd then listen back and finalise the arrangement as needed.
Cynthia's addition to the team made a massive difference. You have to be careful when using vocals with ambient music as it can very quickly turn into some really dire New Age stuff. I spoke to her and suggested trying one-shot phrases, similar to how Burial used vocals in his earlier music. Just something short and meaningful, to encompass the emotion of the track, in as few words as possible. However, she had full creative control to write the lyrics/melodies and we ultimately left it in her hands. Of course, she nailed it, first time, every time.
I remember the tune "Past Self" started as a demo I sent James. I think I said something like "the tune has potential, but sounds too much like a solo 36 track and I don't really see a place for it on the album". I'd completely forgotten about it actually. Then one day, they sent me a track they'd been working on, which sounded familiar. Cynthia added the vocals straight over the original demo and I was just blown away. It completely transformed the track. This is the power of collaborating really. It's having the confidence to let others take the reigns and bring it to places you couldn't think of yourself. It felt so familar, yet also completely fresh. Like hearing it for the first time again. As far as I was concerned, the tune was finished. I resisted all temptation to return to the project and change things, because it encompassed something so pure in that moment. This happened a lot during the project actually. I'd produce in the evening here in the UK, send them some tracks, wake up the next day, check my messages and see James and Cynthia's dropbox links waiting. They'd take the previous material, work on it during the early hours in the US, and turn it into something so unique and beautiful. Then I'd do the same to tracks they wrote, until we got them where they needed to be.
The general aesthetic and overall theme of the album quickly came into focus and it was finished in about 2 months. We sent it to Raf to handle the final mastering duty and it was ready. Again, I can't overstate what a pleasure it was to work on this album with them. It was one of the easiest, most utterly friction-less project I've been involved with. It's very rare to have an album just write itself so effortlessly, but that's how it was with TOSOD. I think it's one of the most beautiful projects I've been involved in and I really hope listeners enjoy hearing it as much as we enjoyed making it.
TOSOD (36 After Dark Versions)
When we finished the album, James sent me a message asking me how I felt about them doing some self-remixes for it. I remember thinking to myself that these people are fucking machines. We'd just spent months working on the album (while handling all the other real life stuff that was happening during the time) and they were ready to go again! I always thought I was pretty prolific, but the work ethics of these guys is just something else. Anyway, I told them that I'd love to hear their remixes and I'd consider doing some myself at a later date, after I had a break and caught my breath. About a week later, I started work on my own versions... I guess I'm just hopelessly addicted to this whole music making thing too.
The 36 versions originally started out as pure drone remixes, similar in style to other reinterpretations of my music I've done in the past. I'd use a granular sampler with various pitch shifts, tape delays, filters effects to reshape the sound. I used the full wav mixdowns of the original tracks, which were then transformed into something new. Then I'd use these drone versions as the basis for further original production/composition in my DAW. Each track was written in the same order as the original album, directly influencing the next one. It was designed to be heard as one continuous album, but I still wanted each track to be enjoyable enough to hear on its own, rather than blending into each other aimlessly.
These tracks were written in Autumn, but I kept returning to them and finally finished them late 2020. It had 3 revisions in total. The COVID-19 pandemic was starting to enter the 2nd wave here in the UK and I remember thinking about the first lockdown and how surreal it was to see such empty streets. No traffic on the roads, very few people walking around outside... And the ones you did see were so terrified that they'd cross the road when they saw you, just to avoid getting too close. I'm a pretty introverted person, but even I felt sad to see people become so disconnected from each other. The funny thing is, I use earplugs at night to drown out any outside noise and help me sleep, but because the streets were so quiet, I didn't need to use them for a while. But then I actually found myself missing the sounds of traffic, people talking outside etc.. So I incorporated lots of field recordings of cities, rain.. Basically, everyday sounds I missed, used to fill the space of the music and make it feel alive again.
What I find fascinating about these versions is how different they sound to the original album, while still using the entire TOSOD LP as the backbone for it. The shape of an album is determined by a few decisions made early in the project. It's a butterfly effect that ripples, until the final destination becomes something entirely unique. It's why I like the idea of revisiting music, particularly early versions of tracks, which perhaps had different motifs to the final version. You can take tunes you love and send them to new and surprising places. It got me very excited to hear where Cynthia and James would take theirs. They didn't disappoint!
(TOSOD) Cynthia Bernard
When James and Dennis asked if I would try vocals on a track of a project they were just starting, the muse quickly jumped in. I recorded and arranged the vocals for ‘Past Self’ in an afternoon from our bedroom studio while our kids were doing online school. Soon after the guys heard what I did, it became apparent I was going to be a part of the whole album. I often woke up at dawn smiling that I was even getting the opportunity to make an album with two musicians I look up to. There is a quote from Liz Gilbert that reminds me a lot of how creating TOSOD was for me, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to discover those jewels––that's creative living.” Getting fully immersed in the moment allowed me to go to that magic creative place.
Looping + Sound on Sound techniques:
I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was 16 but it wasn’t until James surprised me with a BOSS RC-505 for my birthday in 2016 that my vocals started to feel like a separate instrument. Although I don’t use it as much as I used to, it was instrumental in my creative path. On TOSOD, I did a lot of sound on sound textures with the Strymon El capistan and a volume pedal using both my voice and guitar. I had just started getting into this style and it is incredibly meditative for me. After I have a session, I always feel like a better human being.
It feels freeing to sit down and never know if I will create wordless vocal textures or be inspired to write lyrics. When I do use lyrics, I usually end up singing one or two line mantras that act as messages to myself or loved ones. The words on TOSOD were meant as reminders during an intense part of the pandemic, often lines I jotted down in my journal- that each day it’s up to us to start again, that we can let life take us by the hand and surrender to the unknown, that missteps are often the path home, that we can brush up against our past self and feel as if it is another person in a bit of a beautiful way, signifying our growth or on the flipside, acting as a nudge to take more time to nurture ourselves and the ones we care about.
Listening and Musical Research:
I’ve always been enamored with hazy, ethereal vocals in shoegaze, ambient and electronic music and was listening to Julianna Barwick, Zoe Polanski (listen to Violent Flowers if you haven’t yet), Thom Yorke (always), Lucy Gooch, Hope Sandoval and Cocteau Twins during the TOSOD sessions. I have always been a music researcher, (I even used to rip library music cd’s just to expand my collection back in high school). I am constantly inspired by our peers in the ambient community, making time to listen to new music regularly.
Being home on a more regular basis has made it increasingly important for me to find healthy ways to get lost in the moment amongst the often busy landscape of family life. Creating and producing music has become my main way of leaning into solo time and creative connection with James. The remix album for TOSOD was the birth of my solo project, marine eyes. These are my first remixes and I fell in love with the process, understanding more about production, chopping samples and creating layers of textures with my voice. Just after these remixes were finished, I couldn’t help but start to work on my first solo album which will be coming out this coming Spring on Stereoscenic. All of the music I made in 2020 taught me to trust my intuition, believe in myself and allow me to identify with my musical side in a way I hadn’t prior.
(TOSOD) James Bernard
Viola da Gamba:
One of my primary influences and how this project started for me is my love of the bass Viola da Gamba. It also influenced my music early on (it sounded like centuries of longing, love, loss and pain in each note). In the mid-90’s, I was at a Tower Records in the village of NYC on 4th & Broadway and they were playing Jordi on the speakers and I had to ask what it was because it moved me so much. The specific album was ‘Tous les matins du monde’ and I bought it on CD that day. Over this past Summer I finally purchased a six string bass, something I have wanted for the majority of my musical career. I started experimenting with six string bass sound on sound recording techniques in the spirit with what I was drawn to from Jordi’s playing combined with Frippertronics, specifically the Fripp and Eno album ’No Pussyfooting’. Some of the bass textures I created ended up being the catalyst for TOSOD to come to life.
The Covid Pandemic:
There is no denying that we all suffered/suffer mental and emotional impact from the Covid Pandemic. Creating this album in the Summer of 2020 was a source of comfort and gave me purpose and direction to finding joy in each day, using music as a way to connect with a friend who lives overseas and instill an even deeper musical connection with my wife.
Ever since Cynthia first introduced me to Dennis’ music back in 2015, I have been a fan of his use of space, sense and atmospheres. We have spent countless drives, dinners and nights listening to 36 and to create with him is an honor I will cherish.
Minimalism and early 90’s ambient:
I am constantly striving to learn how to say more with using less notes. Since my 1994 album, Atmospherics, my approach to ambient has always been one that allows for the emotion to come through with as little distraction as possible. It would be easy to work on one song forever but the real challenge is knowing when to stop, let go and let the song take its journey. I am very inspired by ambient records from the mid-90’s, specifically M.L.O ‘lo’ and Pete Namlook’s early works.
As Cynthia began crafting lyrics/mantras for this project, TOSOD started to take on a sense of hope for where we would be right now. A sense of hope that we would be past some of the truly dark days that we’ve collectively experienced and recognize the possibility in ‘The Other Side of Darkness.’
The Other Side Of Darkness
36 & awakened souls
2xLP / 2xCD / 3xDigital Album
‘The Other Side of Darkness’ is a collaborative album from 36 and awakened souls. The project began with James (awakened souls) sending Dennis (36) a few bass loops he made and quickly evolved into a collaborative project with Cynthia (awakened souls) as well. TOSOD is a contemplation on how holding space for hard emotions is ultimately what leads us towards the light. Amongst a year filled with uncertainty and a landscape none of us have ever lived in, the lyrics and feelings captured in the songs act as mantras reminding us of our common humanity. All of the songs on the album were written in the Summer of 2020.
In addition to the main album, the artists also wrote their own accompanying versions of the entire The Other Side of Darkness album, essentially turning the main album into three unique interpretations. All tracks are collected into one extended long-play for the digital version.
The 'After Dark" versions by 36 revisions The Other Side of Darkness into a rain-drenched neo-noir, reflecting on the bleak backdrop of a difficult year. It is a highly emotional, deeply personal work, which was written to be played continuously from beginning to end.
The ‘Other’ versions by awakened souls uncover the numerous sides of Gemini husband/wife duo, James and Cynthia. Ranging from deep drone, dub and acid to compositional ambient and shoegaze, this album traverses many moods. James revives his late 90’s electronic moniker, Influx for two dance-floor focused versions while Cynthia debuts her solo project, 'marine eyes' for three lush and emotionally raw versions.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Brene Brown
36 & awakened souls are:
James Bernard - Bass Guitar, Rhodes
Cynthia Bernard - Vocals, Vocal Textures, Guitar
Dennis Huddleston - Synthesizers, Strings, Steinway Piano
All songs mixed by James Bernard and Dennis Huddleston
Written and performed by 36 & awakened souls
Mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri
Artwork by John Hobbs
Design by 36
© Past Inside the Present
This is PITP-V039 | MMXXI