Interview: Broken Atoms

Ahead of his debut release on Absolute Loss, label boss Irrelevant caught up with Broken Atoms to discuss, music, lockdown, studio gear, experiencing sound underwater and an unexpected shared love of a certain space exploration game.

AL: So first off, the question that no one seems to like to answer…tell us a bit about yourself.

BA: Oh god, well, there’s not much to say really. I used to play in bands quite early on in the metal scene and did quite a few shows doing session vocals, performing and recording. But I seemed to spend most of my time trying to persuade the bands that they didn’t actually need vocals, essentially trying to do myself out of a job! Which I guess sounds strange but here was a lot of great bands around at that time that were making really good music that may have sounded better without vocals.

Eventually I got tired of playing in bands, mainly because it involved relying on other people so much, which, ironically, I kind of miss now! But the complexity of having 4 or up to 6 people and trying to manage them all was just too much.

When it comes to electronic music, I started to learn how to produce it myself when I was unemployed, just after I had finished university. So I just got a day job and started to teach myself. I gravitated towards the more abrasive side of it and a friend sent me a load of stuff like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher which I really got into and I also discovered artists like Luke Vibert and Richard Devine and labels like n5md. I think the initial attraction to the abrasive sound was probably due to my past life in Metal.


Luke Vibert c/o lukevibert.com

Gradually my tastes started to turn more and more to more ambient stuff until I realised that pretty much all I was listening to was ambient.

AL: Were there any artists in particular that helped nudge you down the more ambient path?

BA: I’m trying to think how it happened, I think rock music was moving more toward the kind of ‘background sound’ and I was listening to a lot of Brian Eno and noticing the subtle complexity of the music more and more which meant that you had to listen more carefully to really hear the detail in the music.

I think previous to that the complexity in what I was listening to was a lot more up front and was almost overwhelming. Also, I’d been into post rock for a long time and been a big fan of 65daysofstatic.

AL: That was one of the first things that I really enjoyed about the EP when you first sent it over, I am a massive No Mans Sky fan (PlayStation space exploration game) and it immediately felt like it would fit into that soundtrack.

BA: Ha, that is like my favourite game ever! I nearly had a heart attack when I found out that 65daysofstatic were doing the soundtrack to it. It’s like a mix of both of my favourite things.

There are elements of the game that match up to some of my feelings on music too. This element of randomness or generative stuff actually starts to become repetitive like nothing actually matters. Like you can go to this amazing randomly generated planet, but you get a bit bored of it when you do it for the 50th time. So, oddly, you end up becoming bored of this amazing thing. Then like, in music you set up the same randomly generated thing but it becomes almost too much.

It reminds me of a show called The Midnight Gospel, it’s a set of podcasts about centring yourself in the chaos of life accompanied by these mad animations that consist of these two characters walking through crazy worlds but not paying much attention to what is going on around them.

65daysofstatic

AL: Sounds like a more existentially focused version of Rick and Morty?!

BA: Yeah!

AL: Well, I am very happy to have met another 65daysofstatic and No Mans Sky fan!

BA: Yeah, they are my favourite band. It’s funny because their stuff never really stood out to me before and then I heard some stuff that they were doing with decomposition theory and then hearing the No Mans Sky soundtrack and how they were doing it. Using generative stuff and melding the sound of rock and electronic music. They are pushing the boundaries of this approach now by taking every input and output in their studio and basically connected it all up in one list and made samples and sections out of it. Then using Unity it gradually mixes them all together and is sequenced through Max For Live, which they then live stream as an infinite piece of music, it’s mind blowing!

They are very much on a different level to the rest of us.

No Mans Sky c/o playstation.com

AL: When it comes to your process, do you have a set way that you go about making a track?

BA: When I was in bands, we used to use a thing called Guitar Pro, which was a very basic midi sequencer. Because of that way of working, putting your tracks into a midi sequencer and then going from there, that’s kind of how I go about it now with electronic music, except now I have VST instruments that I can use to mimic live instruments.

And…usually I’ll hate it, because nothing sounds particularly good but ultimately it’s just a blueprint and I have to stop myself second guessing if it’s going to work in the end. Then when I have that skeleton of a track I then rerecord the whole lot on hardware so that everything is played on hardware rather than VSTs.

It does mean that I often have a lot of stuff left over that is never used.

AL: Not always a bad thing?

BA: Yeah, sometimes I will record straight onto hardware but usually the VST to hardware approach is my standard process. Although sometimes you do come up with something interesting when writing straight to hardware because you are just jamming.

Ultimately, I like writing songs so I like to have it where at the end of a session I have something that I can spend time mastering and can listen back to it.

AL: And what would you say is that hardest part of production for you?

BA: There’s a lot, but trying not to get distracted by other things and stopping myself throwing stuff away too easily.

AL: Ah, the creative curse. We are our own worst critics and we are protective of what we put out there.

BA: Yeah, there’s a vulnerability to releasing music isn’t there and it can be hard to get over that. I’m sitting on a load of music that I find it hard to know what to do with because either I have moved on from it or I’m not sure where it would sit.

There’s also that that thing of screaming into the void wondering if what you put out is actually going to make a mark anywhere. The way it is at the moment where there are thousands of people doing what you are doing, and it can be really tough when you get nothing back from it.

Even criticism becomes welcome because it’s a response of any sort and a change to the feeling of existential dread that you get when there’s just silence!

AL: Well, moving onto slightly more positive matters, music that you ARE putting out. How did the Journey EP come together.

BA: Originally they we going to be released on cassette but for whatever reason it didn’t materialise. I had dreams of doing an Aphex Twin and recording an EP from a four track player.

Artwork from the Journey EP by Broken Atoms

AL: You are also part of a collective called Resonance, and you have a show on Oscillate Live (oscillatelive.org.uk), what can we expect from that?

BA: We kicked off with all three of us doing a show but I won’t be back until September. I’m planning on doing my own show too. I wasn’t too sure at first but having done the first show I really enjoyed it as a cathartic experience so being able to do my own thing will be great.

AL: Sounds great! Can you tell us a bit more about Resonance as a collective too?

BA: There are three of us, me, Andrew Wright and Andy Pinkney. We started out as a semi regular live jam/open session type thing at my mate Andy Pinkney co-op workspace. We did a few sessions where people just came along brought some electronic instruments and played some sets. I’ve done a talk on building music for narrative purposes, Andrew has done a live noise set and we’ve had dub sets and things like that. Then we thought wouldn’t it be nice to set it up to do more with and we got some interest form the local council, so we brought Andrew Wright on board, he has done sets all over the place and had some great connections. He also runs Blicken Synths here in Chelmsford and now also one of the founders of Resonance.

AL: And do you guys have any plans post-COVID?

BA: Well we’re trying to sort out some sort of live streaming approach and I have an idea of what I want, but we’re just trying to figure out the best way to execute it.

Somehow, we’ve moved into the more installation type stuff. We recently had an event where we played music underwater, using specialist speakers. We were able to control whether the music was being played above or below the water or both. The cool thing is that when music is played underwater its consumed by humans via bone conduction, so it sounds more like you are dreaming the music rather than just listening to it.

The Resonance founders, from left to right Andrew Wright, Andrew Pinkney and Chris Adam.

AL: Favourite piece of studio gear?

BA: Ha, don’t know? Although one thing I do like at the moment is a custom stereo recreation of the Make Noise Strega delay circuit that my friend at Homegrown Devices made for me. It’s an ET239 karaoke delay and it’s super noisy, it has this cool modulation and it has this offset thing that offsets the delay stereo-wise which is really nice. It’s fucking awesome. Once you turn the repeat up on these karaoke delays, it starts to generate loads of noise. Listening back to some older stuff I feel like it’s too clean, so this lets me add a nice layer of noise that I was missing before.

AL: And what are you listening to at the moment?

BA: Let me just open up Bandcamp…

Oh, some releases that I’ve really been enjoying recently are by Comit, who is ASC on A Strangely Isolated Place. It’s like 90s/2000s Boards of Canada style electronica.

On the rock side of things, sleepmakeswaves and Crosswhen, I played a Crosswhen track on the Oscillate Live show.

AL: And what can we expect from you in the future?

BA: Not much at the moment. I really want to start curated my social media better. But I’m always surprised at the amount of effort that it takes.

AL: Top 5 favourite albums?

AL: Top 5 favourite pieces of album artwork?

AL: Best gig?

65daysofstatic at Arctangent 2019. It was a wash out but they made me forget how cold and wet I was for the whole time because it was so good.

Lots of others but I can't remember, possibly Meshuggah/Animals as Leaders. Maybe seeing Reso play a ridic dnb set in the 2nd room at Hospitality once.

AL: One piece of advice?

Don't be too hard on yourself, you're your own worst critic.

Huge thanks to Broken Atoms for taking the time to talk to Irrelevant and you can grab his Journey EP release on Absolute Loss when it releases on 23rd July 2021 from our Bandcamp.

Be sure to checkout out his other releases over at brokenatoms.bandcamp.com and also at soundcloud.com/brokenatoms.

You can also find out more about Resonance at resonancehq.co.uk and checkout their new radio show via oscillatelive.org.uk

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