The Ad Infinitum album was probably one of the quickest projects of mine to come to fruition, from start to finish it took me almost exactly one month to complete. Well, the audio aspects anyway, artwork, promotion, and writing things like this took slightly longer of course. And what’s most surprising for me, was that I approached this album a lot differently than I have most of my music making the last few years.
Most of my music projects recently have been focused on creating music I could perform live, patterns and motifs that I could use to shape the overall structure of a piece over the course of 30-60 minutes. The focus was on creating performable material, with the performance being the main thing I was worried about capturing. Most of the time with no editing, or any sort of post-production, after the fact. What I performed WAS the end result I was aiming for, even if it wasn’t recorded in a live context on stage, and only in my studio. This time around I wanted to go back to actually shaping songs individually, really crafting songs that stood on their own and not just as a piece in a larger context.
I only had a few rough ideas about the shape of the album when I started, and I planned to let it evolve once I started the writing process and saw where things were headed. However, I knew I wanted to slow things down a bit compared to my more recent work which was mostly 120BPM or faster. A blend of downtempo and what I’ll call modern ambient, mixed with enough sound design shenanigans to keep even the quietest moments interesting. I wanted the album to be very dynamic in terms of loudness, soft gentle sections leading to and from the more drum-heavy songs.
And most of all I wanted to use Ableton Live and Push 2 to do it all.
It’s been years since I really dove in and spent a lot of time working on my own songs in Live, even though it’s something I use many times a week for my studio business. Nothing against Live, I’ve just been exploring other ways of making music the last 3-4 years; hardware, iPads, acoustic guitar, etc. However three things came together at the right time that made me excited to dive back in and bury myself in one application for an entire album.
The first was becoming one of the Ableton forum administrators. In effect I was now working for Ableton and that brings with it certain benefits like access to Live Packs I might not have tried otherwise. The second was getting a Push 2, and being blown away by the enhancements Ableton made to it compared to Push 1. Mainly how we could now work with audio as fluidly as we could with MIDI on the first version. Heck, MORE fluidly since the entire workflow of Push 2 just made loads more sense to the way I think about making music.
The final step that really helped push me (no pun intended) to follow my creative ideas with Live was being invited to Ableton’s first Loop event in October 2015. It’s hard not to come away inspired after spending a weekend hearing musicians and producers you respect share their insights and tips on the music making process. I’m glad Ableton will be posting more of these talks on their blog soon, as I think a lot of people will really benefit from hearing what successful artists go through when they create music. And how often they face the same struggles as someone just starting out when it comes to music production.
To say it was a kick in the pants to just focus on getting things done would be an understatement!
So, on November 7th, 2015, with my wife away on a work trip for 2.5 weeks, I sat down in the studio in front of Push 2 and started to write. All of the songs started on Push 2, sometimes with drums first, occasionally a melody or just mangling a sample led to a song idea, a few times I even used it to help me capture my guitar playing as well. Just being able to quickly record something, hit the Convert button, and then keep on tweaking it into something new was a load of fun. Sometimes I would just throw some random Max4Live devices on the master channel and record audio in realtime as I tweaked and messed about with things that I had no idea how they worked. “Raveere” was one song that was done 100% this way in fact.
Instead of working on the songs one at a time from start to completion, I started a bunch of songs at once. This gives the entire album a bit of cohesion since nothing was created in isolation, I was able to keep the same headspace across the tracks. It also lets me jump around from track to track if one of them is just not doing it for me that day. Rather than stopping for the day and coming back to it later, I could just open up another one of my songs and keep working on something different instead. These were long days, often 8-10 hours at a stretch just sketching and refining my ideas, trying different rough arrangements, fine-tuning the mixes as I went, etc. I was 100% focused on Push 2 at this point, I wasn’t even looking at the laptop most of the time.
By the end of 2 weeks I had 9 songs roughly laid out that I was really happy with. They fit the mood I was going for, and I could see how they would progress as an album through all sorts of different emotions I wanted to draw out. It was at this point that I decided to not just release all of the songs as nine separate entities, but also to combine them into one longer piece complete with custom transitions to make them flow together how I was hearing them in my head. (continuous version of the album available at tarekith.com)
So, I set aside Push (job well done you), and set about focusing on the laptop and mouse to get more detailed with the arranging and editing. In the last few years this is where I’ve started to get bogged down, not for lack of ideas, but more of a “been there, done that” sort of mindset. Mousing in transitions and fills can get a little tedious for me at times, but luckily the time away from such activities let me come at it with more enthusiasm than I had in the past and it actually was pretty fun.
Not having to worry how I’ll be able to pull something off live, and instead just focus on getting it down permanently to hard disk can be greatly liberating I found! Or maybe I should say I re-discovered it, since it wasn’t necessarily a new insight with 20+ years of music making behind me.
It took me about a week to work on all the songs like this. Occasionally turning to Push when I needed to record something new real quick, but often just sitting with the laptop, a mouse, and a pair of headphones at my kitchen table focused on the task at hand. I spent 3-4 days after that doing final mixdown tweaks and mastering the songs, and then 2-3 days taking all the individual songs and combining them together for the continuous form of the album I wanted to release as well.
And then…. I was done.
This sort of realization always hits me suddenly, when I realize there’s nothing more I need to do with the songs. What was most surprising to me though, was looking back at the album back-ups and realizing I finished exactly 31 days after I started. I can’t recall a time I’ve ever written this much detailed music in such a short period of time.
And so, I give you “Ad Infinitum”, my newest album.