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LIMINAL DRIFTER The X-Press Interview

Liminal Drifter
Liminal Drifter is the project of local electronic producer Dr Simon Order, who has been creating music under the moniker since 2013, after he moved to Australia from the UK in 2005 assuming a position as an academic and expert in music technology and production at Murdoch University. After releasing the video for first single Choir on Mars last month, he is on the cusp of unveiling the full album Connected, on Friday, May 29. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Liminal Drifter to find out how becoming a father gave him a new perspective on life, technology, and even science fiction, making it a core inspiration for the release.

We last spoke when you released your previous album The Dreams two years ago. What’s changed in the world of Liminal Drifter since then?

Oh my, the biggest awesome addition to Liminal Towers has been the birth of my son, Charlie, just after I last spoke to you guys. He’s a mad one, nearly two now and into everything like his mum and dad…full of beans. Both my partner and I are quite physically active and he’s certainly inherited those active genes.

I’m sure most parents will tell you that parenthood is one of the most significant journeys to travel, but these early years seem far more intense, focused and life-changing. I can’t underestimate the impact that being a father has on me. I didn’t have clue as to what my new priorities would look like. My opinions about the world, its leaders, and the directions we’re travelling in as a planet, have become much more pertinent since I had a child.

And has that shaped your music as well? How is this album different from what you have done previously?

By far the biggest change on this album was the initial writing process. I set myself the task of writing an album in the six months proceeding my son’s birth and the eighteen months after. I knew deep down that being a father was going to be a huge deal and I wanted to capture some of that. I wanted the album to be an emotional imprint of my journey during early fatherhood.

I had no idea how that was going to happen but I made a lot of song sketches during that period. I always had my tablet next to me and I would always be throwing ideas down. For instance, once Charlie was born, I was doing a lot of feeding and nursing and he would often fall asleep in my arms. It was in those quiet moments when I would stick my headphones on and work on sketching very quick and dirty song ideas.

The big difference to other writing experiences was the time continuity. I would often only get 20 to 30 minutes at a time and then it would be time for Charlie’s bath, bottle, sleep, pooh and repeat…and then I might get another 30 minutes the next day, and so on. I would have always forgotten where I was in the writing process so what we think of as “quality writing time” was missing.

I had to embrace that way of writing as the new normal, rejoicing in the happy accidents that came from this haphazard process. There were about 25 sketches that made consideration for the album. I ended up with eight for Connected, but some are potentially brought forward to the next album.

Were there any artists in particular you felt inspired the sound on this release?

I collect music like I eat meals. Every day new music is being consumed. My only way to keep up with it is let Spotify collate my ever-expanding playlists. I’ve recently started trying to assign moods to my selections and share them on Spotify. Check out my Spotify profile for all my current faves. I think that’s best way to get a sense on what artists are influencing me at the moment.

Obviously without there being lyrics to these songs…are these tracks still tied together thematically and if so how?

The album is an emotional imprint of a period in my life – early fatherhood. The pink and fluffy scene of new parenthood was certainly not my experience. Rather, I felt like, we as a family, were on an emotional rollercoaster in those early months. There were trials and tribulations. I’ve tried to sonically imagine that journey with all contrasting light and dark moments.

Each track is tied to an idea or theme that occurred to me during that period. Choir on Mars is about wondering whether my son will ever get to go to Mars and what he will find there. This is from Earth, is about wonderment at the process of human birth and what that might look like from an alien perspective. Braxton, is fairly obvious, written while my partner was having those very experiences. We Funky, is a celebration of the diversity of humanity, particularly the untainted funkiness of childhood.

Happy Garden of Life is a happy-to-be-sad ironic reflection of what might await my son when he grows up. Sheep Radio is about how he loved commercial radio music, particularly Smooth FM, and sometimes it was the only way to stop him crying when he really young and teething. I’ve been a long-time advocate and researcher for community radio in Australia so this was difficult to take…in the funniest way. Each song had a distinct connection to that period.

Do you feel like teaching music provides more opportunities for ideas that you come across working with so many people?

I don’t teach music as such, rather I facilitate the creative and professional use of audio technology. I’m a music technology nerd so I’m always keen to see how technology can democratise music-making or spark creativity. Everyone interfaces with technology in different ways so watching people work with technology and listening to their creative outcomes is always a joy.

I remember the first MIDI class I taught. We were using the visual MIDI notes graphical editor in a digital audio workstation. It essentially looks like an Excel spreadsheet. You drop the notes into the cells. I asked the students to write a simple melody by dropping the notes onto the graphical grid, rather than playing the notes in with a keyboard.

At the end of the class, one student played me this bizarre, dissonant composition. I asked to look at the graphical notes editor and he showed me a smiley face he had drawn with the notes. Awesome! Now that’s a different way to work with technology! Very humbling indeed, so sure, working with students obviously generates ideas for all involved.

How do you think the current crisis might affect how music is produced? Do you think it is going to speed up the pace of online collaboration which has been a trend for some time now?

Any more concentration of people working online and from home will add more content to our mediascape. The challenge of always being connected and available for collaboration can be daunting. I’ve been reading things about Zoom burnout already. I’m finding it difficult to switch off from work because it’s in the room next to me.

On the plus side, I have already found some creative fun with Zoom virtual backgrounds. I’ve been doing interviews about my new single with my trippy Choir on Mars video playing on my virtual backgrounds. Lots of video fun to be had there. That’s collaborative content and sure, that will be online a lot quicker than face-to face interviews, plus you get a crazy video.

And are there any other developments in music technology you are keeping your eye on that might influence how you create music in the future?

There is a growing trend to design music technology interfaces that control many parameters at once, shielding users from deep-diving into complex variables. This software gives instant gratification in the way of awesome sounds and compositional aids. The software developers are definitely catering for a quick and effective sonic fix.

Some of these, I’ll call them object-oriented apps, are simply awesome to play with. Everything sounds good. Folks can get a good start on the creative curve with less technical understanding. It’s a further democratisation of the content production process. It’s also very empowering. I don’t see any downsides to this. If you want to dive deeper into music technology you can.

The other big change is the move away from local sample libraries to cloud-based sample libraries and content providers. For a small monthly subscription, users can access almost infinite sounds and content. It’s quite perplexing for some because of “options anxiety,” it’s like blank piece of white paper. Where do you start when you have so much choice? Martin Ware, from The Human League, talked about this recently in an interview. His solution was to ask students to make a complete track using one synth only. Great exercise. I’m going to use that one!

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