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Chosen Waves 021: MOWUKIS – Anything With Colors


Title: Anything With Colors
Album: Was this part of what you believed?
Year: 2020
Label: MARE NOSTRUM Records

How was this track born?

MOWUKIS: If I recall things correctly, this track came out of two completely different jam sessions. One was about trying out ideas on the piano, which was one of the centerpiece instruments I wanted to explore on the EP. The other one was a completely unrelated one, with the Elektron Digitakt sampler used as both a drum machine and a synth. It’s pretty common for me to try and merge different ideas and musical improvisations together and see what comes out. Here my process was taking advantage of the fact that the Digitakt was stand-alone hardware, to write little projects and sessions on it, away from the computer. Then launch these on top of different live sessions exploring completely different sonic ideas in the studio. It’s a fun way to do things, because the patterns and modulations will play at different speeds and it can influence the resulting sounds a lot. This means you might discover things you didn’t anticipate.

So what happened here was that my initial piano session was very poised, slow, and melancholic. I liked it as an atmospheric and textural experimentation, but it didn’t have much of a drive to it. The collision with the Digitakt made me reinterpret it completely. It added some kind of swing, weight, and unpredictability to it. I didn’t expect these to work so well. It forced me to reinterpret the piano parts more as “sample elements”, like a DJ or a beatmaker would approach them. I would reorder them around the beat, to create a constant feel of imbalance. The lyrics came pretty quickly after that. Some early elements were written during the original piano experimentation phase but there was now a new space, carved halfway through, between the chaotic and the profound. This made coming up with the final melody and words more natural, since the rest of the music suddenly had such a strong attitude. This is usually the moment when I know a song is actually worth finishing.

The set up, photo courtesy of the artist

What was your process when creating this piece?

MOWUKIS: My process is often multifaceted because it truly depends on whether or not I’m satisfied with the overall “flow” of a song from start to finish. So if it doesn’t feel natural to me, I just keep experimenting until this sensation of things being pieced together disappears and the whole track feels coherent, a discourse of some kind. One that is not relying on one or two strong elements but is really the sum of them all.

Interestingly, I think that, out of the whole EP, “Anything With Colors” is probably the track where most of the tools were used in a meaningful way. Some other songs rely more heavily on one or two of them. Here, since the overall structure is relatively simple, it fell in place pretty quickly. What I was most interested in was the evolution of the sonic texture of all the elements, the pianos, the drums, the synths. I wanted them to be constantly shifting and evolving, so that the space inhabited by the voice is always both familiar and unsettling.

So, what I did is: I set myself to “play the effects” on every part from start to finish, as physical takes more than mouse-drawn automation, directly in the software. The core of the track is composed of three parts, where I essentially “played” the texture variations from start to finish, but through very different processes. First, I wanted the piano to not sound like someone actually playing a piano part all throughout. My goal was for them to sound more like notes from multiple pianos resonating in confusingly different spaces. So I sent the piano track to three different aux busses in Ableton. These were all different variations on a space, created through delays, reverbs and frequency shifters. I automated those four tracks throughout the song, while listening to the vocal takes, so that it’s always changing and evolving with the voice. For the synth, most of the “little synth things” that appear and fade out here and there, came from two different jam sessions sequencing the Volca Modular directly on the backing track. This roughly ended up on the song, without much “post” treatment, except volume automations. I only wanted them to appear at specific moments for more dramatic effects. For the drums, I mostly used simple effects like filters, drive and volume controls on the Digitakt, and had an aux buss connected to an external delay effect unit. During the verses most of the morphing and interactions happened on the Digitakt, while during the chorus it was automated by modulating the parameters directly on the delay unit.

So there’s really a whole lot happening at once, and playing the effects was a way for me to regain control over the human feel of the entire arrangement. I think there’s always the danger of losing that, when you pull together a lot of different processes.

I feel like I should also mention that there was a lot of work on sound-designing noise. I looked for a lot of different noise sources to feed and sequence into the Digitakt. I went to some websites looking for multiple sources of radio static, bird sounds, field recordings and any noise source I could find and articulate into music, really. The buzzing sound at the beginning is an actual ground loop I couldn’t get rid of during some of the recording sessions, “that I decided to work on and integrate into the track.

The cover for the album Was this part of what you believed? Graphic design by T1W2

How did the tools used for this piece affect the way it came together?

MOWUKIS: Throughout the entire EP, I think the tools have been central to how the music came to be. It was a conscious process too. I took a lot of care in choosing the few selected boxes and software, which I would use for the creation of these five pieces of music. and I dedicated a lot of my time to understanding them and the process they were implying for the type of song writing I was after.

I mentioned a few times how I used an external delay for the piano and the drums, and most of this was achieved through a deceptively simple delay / looper / sampler application created for the Monome Norns called Otis. The wonderful thing about it, was how focused it was. The parts I sent to it were all pretty rich harmonically or rhythmically. This meant that having an elegantly-designed set of tools to reshape them, organized around the manipulation of a simple delay simulating digital tape, almost felt like playing an actual instrument. Its core texture being the original sounds of my initial jam sessions. Most of the rhythmic textures of the chorus come from the Digitakt, being fed into the Norns, and me playing with the parameters in real time. The same goes for the piano looping on itself and creating variations on the verses.

Similarly, the Digitakt and the Volca Modular are both extremely opinionated devices. Both, at their core, want you to have hands-on control of the parameters, to bring your own sounds and mangle audio in real time, for them to really breathe and express their whole potential as musical tools. They were instrumental to the idea of actually playing takes rather than editing parameters after the fact and made it easy to think of the songs that way.

What’s your favourite and least favourite thing about the track?

MOWUKIS: I think my favorite aspect of the track is the sense of space it conveys, and how all the elements; vocals, rhythms, and harmonies, move together almost organically. There’s a cohesion between the meaning of the song and how it feels and flows, something elemental about the various textures and patterns. I feel this embodies the collision expressed in the lyrics, between the body as an inner landscape that you’re trying to shape and the telluric forces that move it, and which it tries to feed from. It’s hard to put that feeling into words. That’s usually why I write music, to avoid words, but it’s definitely what I like most about the song. It’s both intimate, in that it expresses simple feelings, and spacious and wild, because those feelings are experienced inside a gigantic chaos that’s slowly slipping out of control.

I don’t think there’s a “least favorite” thing about it as I don’t usually approach my work from a success or failure perspective. It’s more about fixating a specific point in time, to inform my own thought process and keep on refining a unique language out of my own music. This song is a step in that direction and it already feels like a lot.

I think the one thing that drew me most to this track is the somehow dramatic and cinematic nature of the arrangements. Did you have any pictures in mind while writing this song?

MOWUKIS: I both did and didn’t. I’m very aware of the cinematic and dramatic nature of my work. It’s not something I typically try to achieve, but it seems to be something I subconsciously like, because it’s present in most of what I do. I think to some extent, if it’s cinematic in any way, it’s a sort of pictureless movie theater, where you’d sense everything except the visuals. The way I tend to relate to my sounds and the stories they tell is more “sensory” than “narrative” or “descriptive”. Sometimes I’ll try to replicate the sensations of scraping rocks, or waves overwhelming you at night, or the sound of a chaotic and undefined army marching that you can only guess at in the distance. It’s rarely something I properly see. What I like about connecting sound to all the other senses, is how various ideas can then happen all at once, and create some sort of “poetic picture” that’s nothing in particular, and still carries a meaning. With visuals you can distance yourself more easily and put things at arm’s length. Maybe it’s a natural thing to do, vision and sounds are both more “distance related” senses. Maybe it’s because we’re so constantly saturated with visuals that we’ve got a whole corpus of meaning attached to images, so they’re easier to dissect. For me though it might just be easier to not think with visuals in mind first, because it helps me cultivate the power of abstraction that sounds can have. Once you put a cinematographic image on them, they lose part of it, because then you know what they say and you might relate to the image you visualize more than to the sound.

But if you don’t and keep the audience “blindfolded”, if it just suggests sensations like touch and smell and taste, it remains a guessing game. There’s a dramatic tension between the dread, the relief or the energy you feel coming from the song, and the fact that you’re uncertain of what it really means. I actually have a very similar approach to the concept of “meaning” in my lyrics, where I mostly avoid having my intentions too clearly laid out, at the risk of antagonizing people who want to hear or read something they can immediately understand. I hope in a way that it’s unsettling, that it makes you question the song and your perception of it, to the point that if you connect to it, you don’t connect to “its meaning”, but to some deeper understanding, past the images, past the words. A deeper understanding that comes from the sensations we both shared through listening to those sounds. This to me would be quite an achievement.


Graphic designer, illustrator and soundmangler. He makes music as kurodama and as part of the electronic music duo kvsu. Together with his wife Elizabeth he runs Papernoise, a small design studio located in northern Italy, specialised in graphic design for the world of music.

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