Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

In conversation with the elusive Ray Incident

23 August 2022, 13:00

The anonymous and experimental musician Ray Incident talks about the creation of debut record The Voyager Symphony - an absorbing study of space, time, and man’s place within it, in conversation with Nick Luscombe, DJ and founder of agency MSCTY.

Ray Incident's The Voyager Symphony is a piece of work that demands an open state of mind; the time to let it unfold, surprise and shock, and a commitment to seeking to hear a piece of work in its entirety.

Influenced by NASA’s Voyager program and the launching of the only man-made objects that potentially could be discovered and examined by an alien intelligence, the record is a provocation that allows listeners to discover soundscapes that stretch beyond prior perceptions of music. Each of the symphony’s 10 movements began as complex walls of electronic sound, generated by algorithms, which were tirelessly whittled down to form distinct audio sculptures. It was during the process of carving each of the movements that layers, tremors, and notches of sound & rhythm were discovered. The identity of its creator is shrouded in Burial-levels of secrecy.

"I wish to avoid any possible confusion of myself with anyone else, real or imagined, as well as any confusion of my music making with any other type of activity, as the music should speak for itself," they tell us. "The music precedes me so I am secondary, regardless of the extent to which I may exist."

NICK LUSCOMBE: What's the background to the album?

RAY INCIDENT: It is following up on an album released last year, Incidentaloma, and it further explores some of the ideas and motifs introduced there. These ideas principally involve the use of designed music to inspire images in the mind of the listener, and thus in some ways are related to cinematic music and in other ways are not. It took one year to create and complete.

The work is very layered and detailed - how did you approach the album?

Patching, coding and editing. In some respects, my process is comparable to that employed by Gerhard Richter in making his squeegee paintings: I assemble audio tracks and data (for sound) from a variety of sources; computers, function generators, natural instruments, and natural sound that have relationships of some kind to one another and then I sculpt the totality into a composition. I want relationships among the studio tracks (prior to their being in a common composition) and one way to achieve that is to create many of them simultaneously as reflected rays that are incidental to one another. This method gives rise to many recursive paths among parallel tracks that require a large interface, in addition to a large Eurorack installation.

The opening track feels like a blend of sci-fi and gothic horror - was the album inspired by these genres of soundtracks?

Not intentionally but everything that precedes us creates context that is likely to be influential. Have you ever noticed how so much science fiction film music apes Gustave Holst’s The Planets or how many western movies remind one of Aaron Copeland? I am certain, however, that Hans Zimmer is not sitting around wondering What Would Holst Do?

As the record develops I feel as if I am passing through a series of science experiments presented as audio architecture…I am curious about the processes you use in your music?

I use both real and virtual musical instruments but also sometimes use a real instrument to drive a virtual instrument in whole or part. In one part of The Voyager Symphony I played a real mandolin in accompaniment to a virtual harpsichord (actuated on a keyboard) and another virtual instrument (actuated by its score) that replicates some imaginary form of a flute that I invented for the occasion. In short, the provenance of a sound no longer makes any difference, issues of copyright aside, and may now follow the requirements and imagination of the music maker.

How important is the concept of physical space in your music?

Enormously so and this is the first time I have been asked this. My essential intention is to stimulate visual imagery in the mind of my listener, and this requires, since vision requires space within which it operates, a projection of physical space.

Is the work influenced by your environment in any way, or did you remove yourself from it?

I try not to be involved with the environment outside the studio, preferring to work in an isolated bubble.

Which module/patch was essential for this work (amongst many)?

No single module is essential, as each may be approximated by a variety of means that employ other modules or computers. This is not to say that they are unimportant, however, for I feel just the opposite about them. I love their quirkiness, the peculiar control features offered over the functioning of each device, and especially the fact that, at best, they are analog computers and thus incapable of ever producing a perfect replica of a former execution (or any future execution of a past performance). For the best of them, everything they do is a unique occurrence, never again to be replicated precisely, across the span of all time. In this way they effectively are the opposite of a digital computer, and their differences to a computer are what make the combination of them with computers so powerful.

Describe what your studio must haves are? How did you arrive at the sounds you used across the album? It's a pretty broad palette.

Lots of quiet and time! Laurie Anderson says “This is the time and this is the record of the time” so a recording device is required as well. The most important gear in my studio is involved in the interface between computers on one hand and modules on the other.

How long has this work taken to create?

One year.

Talk to us about the sculpting element of creating the work? How do you balance the sound design with the more melodic aspects of the record?

Once I decide that I have enough raw material, I listen to various combinations of tracks over a period of days before getting any inkling of a general shape of the piece and then perhaps try some preliminary mixes of some section(s), keeping my mind open to what the whole piece may be about. This can take some days – possibly a couple weeks - if it happens at all. Plausibly, the most important thing that occurs in this period is that I am absorbing a lot of material and, whether awake or asleep, am playing it incessantly in my head. Then suddenly a light may come on and I know what the thing is. If and when this happens, the result is the most exhilarating feeling. Failure, on the other hand, is a frequent occurrence, and, as an artist, I am strongly in favour of canning something if it doesn’t work, even if I love it. Once I know the shape of the composition and am chipping away at the block of stone to reveal it, the work is quite laborious but exciting. Usually, I shall add some additional tracks along the way. Ending is difficult and I never am sure when something is finished which is common among composers.

What do you think of the debate around the value of AI created work versus the role of the composer/creator?

If an AI created work is good then I hope that people will like it and if bad then I hope that they won’t. Is machine learning more artificial than, for instance, humankind’s invention of equal temperament? First of all, intelligence is intelligence and is by definition an artifact, i.e. ‘artificial,’ so I always have hated this term, ‘AI.’ Second, work should be judged entirely by its result and not by its provenance, so I admit my bias for judging things on their merit only.

Where did your fascination with space come from? Particularly the Voyager missions?

Space technology always attracted me, when I was young NASA artwork, including a picture of an imagined mission to Mars, adorned my bedroom walls. I became drawn to robotic missions in particular. As the Voyager Program proves, a purely robotic mission can learn far more than any human mission may and at a ridiculously reduced cost. Of course, Voyager also contains the element of entry to interstellar space, including some nonzero probability of being detected by someone far removed from us in space, time and other existential properties.

What else have you released?

Incidentaloma was released last year.

What other albums or artists have inspired you? / Who do you look up to, musically and artistically?

I admire hundreds of composers but consider Richard Wagner the most successful artist who ever lived, at least according to a thought experiment that would rate artists on a scale of ‘how much the artist changed the world during their lifetime’ multiplied by the audacity and difficulty of the challenge they undertook, all preconditioned by a requirement that the artist must have lived to have seen their work manifest and tangibly enjoyed the benefits accruing to them.

I’ll also mention Wendy Carlos by virtue of her popularization of electronic music and tangible success on account of that and dedicate The Voyager Symphony to her.

What do you have planned for the future?

I currently am working on some songs that follow pop song motifs but that contain some new and hopefully interesting types of material.

The Voyager Symphony is out now via Corpus Callosum

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