Oblivion — a chiptune fusion concept album
For the past year I’ve been working on a concept album as a follow-up to my 2017 EP unrelated. Unrelated was in fact the introduction to the universe explored in oblivion, this new album. I wanted to try out different music styles, have fun with different instruments and tell a story while talking about the complex subject of PTSD.
Thanks to BleepLove, this album is now a reality, and available for free or the price you want on their platform or on streaming and buying platforms! You choose how you wish to listen to it and the way you wish to support us 🙂
Since BleepLove did a much better job than me writing a synopsis for the concept, I’ll shamelessly copy it, as it magnificently manages to explain the mood I was going for :
2589. Humanity is involved in a bloody war between two alien races and incure huge losses. A few lucky ones were able to escape on an abandoned ship. What is going on in their hearts, how to overcome the feeling of worthlessness, how to forget all this and start a new life? Nobody knows the answer. And only a lonely ship with the prophetic name Oblivion rushes towards cold uncertainty.
You can read more about the story and the people that helped me make it on a zine made to go deeper in the concept!
Now, since this is also my personal blog, I think I need to clarify a few points about the making of this album. So what follows is a series of anecdotes from motivation to production. It’s not essential to your listening but if you are curious as to how this album happened!
Originally, the project was:
- neither a chiptune album
- nor music for that matter
The original story is called “Chronicles of the Oblivion” and focuses on the adventures of the Oblivion crew in deep space after a catastrophic war. All of them saw hell and try to survive and learn to know themselves again. They also end up fighting for Earth’s liberation and become legendary space explorers in the process. It was originally made as a short series of journal entries written by Ny Aina, the hero, to give another side to the history that is remembered. Some of these entries are actually featured in the zine next to each song. There are a lot more since technically this album is an introduction to the Chronicles : it spans for around 2 years of time following the war, as the crew gets to know each other and their difficulties readapting to the world they were forced to let go. The crew is :
- Ny Aina: OL-91, Oblivion’s captain and leader
- Mendrika: OL-92, Oblivion’s strategist
- Fy Sarobidy: the pilot
- Faneva: the soldier
- Harena: the mechanist
- Gerard: the doctor
- Lucile: the hacker
So what’s up with the names? Some of you might recognise Malagasy names, and you would be right. Apart from Gerard and Lucile, all the main characters have Malagasy names. The reason is that most of the people that inspired these characters are Malagasy themselves. And at one point when writing the album, I also wanted to reconnect with this side of my family and ancestry (hi, I’m French and Malagasy) since I’ve been feeling this part of my life has gone too much in the background. The metaphor is not innocent: I wanted strong roles from Madagascar, because we never get to see this. (and the Madagascar animation series has, big surprise, no relation to the country, even though they are funny)
But since this is all an inception, the main motivation behind the Chronicles is in fact my band, Phonema. The Chronicles are actually a side story of the Phonema universe, on which I’m currently working on new material with JM 🙂 But the Chronicles universe is also a bit more personal, and I wanted to tell it differently. We’re not saying we wont play any Oblivion tracks with Phonema 😉
Composition & Production
Making the songs from this album was hella fun, because I got to work with fantastic artists Krapo, my brother, and JM from Phonema. They all came with their ideas and I’m pretty satisfied by the result. As a note, I’m open to collaborations if you feel like working with me on music 🙂
So what now started as a joke about me wanting to do a trap track, and I had these awesome latin brass samples I wanted to use. In the end, I felt like the heavy bass helped make a crushing atmosphere, which is the point.
Oblivious is actually my ChipWin volume 6 submission from 2017, which didn’t make it (I submitted the full LSDJ demo — track 10, back then).
Stop was a pretty hard song to make, it took me months to motivate myself to sing on it. But all in all, I feel like I’ve gone beyond my fear of singing and did an okay job on the voice. But it also was a challenge to master considering the amount of instruments playing in this track (2 different drumtracks playing simultaneously, 6 lsdj tracks, including 4 PU and 2 WAV, 4 different synths and a distortion guitar at the end). One of the early comments that someone made about the first version was “damn this track is intense, how many million different layers do you have?”. Fun fact : you can listen to this song differently by focusing on specific instruments or listening to it as a whole.
The Artifact tracks are both LSDJ tracks (hold on is 2xLSDJ, memories is 1xLSDJ) that act like retrospectives from Ny Aina herself many years after the events in this album. They were written as an addendum to the Chronicles which are actually studied by humans many years later in the Phonema universe.
Relative and Absolute reflect two sides of life with which I had a hard time: depression and sleep disorders. At the time of writing, I’ve managed to get help regarding both of them, and I can safely say that they are more memories now than anything else. Absolute was in fact written for another project focusing only on sleep disorders like insomnia, night terrors and sleep paralysis. The project itself, Nos Propres Démons, was never released for personal reasons, but the demo version of Absolute comes from that time. Fun fact: if you got the album from bandcamp, you’ll realise the demo track has a 128kbps tag in the name. The reason is simple, I lost the original wav recordings of the demo version and only had a 128kbps mp3 file available.
The “Room” in the demo title of Absolute also is a reference to the old version’s title : la chambre aux mille visages, which translates from french to the room with a thousand faces. It is originally a recurring nightmare I used to have. The demo version was recorded in 2016 with Krapo in Paris, but was never released.
Starting 2:15, Of Space Horses is only a 2xLSDJ (if you omit the glitch at the end, which was hella fun to do with a very short beat repeater and bit shifter). The leads also come from an old song I composed circa 2005 for my then neo metal band with JM. JM found out almost immediately :smirk:
Limit was written about a year ago on a single LSDJ cart (the demo is straight from the gameboy, not even track by track) when I left Paris. I had a weird time back then so this composition helped me make it through summer 2017.
Regarding the tracks that come from LSDJ, they were all recorded on a GBA SP with LSDJ version 4.9.4. Why this version? Because I got too lazy to update my cart. I will probably provide a .sav one of those days (don’t hesitate to ask), for those curious about this.
I’m going to be honest, this was far from a professionally produced album. Regarding physical instruments, most of it was bootleg or really cheap. They were recorded mastered on Ableton Live 9 with mostly free VSTs and a lot of Native Instruments, big thanks to my uncle’s Komplete for that. I used my trusty Prodipe Pro8 monitors and a Fast track C600 (which is dying at an alarming rate, THANKS AVID).
Musically, it’s going to be a lot of Phonema in the coming months. We’re preparing a new demo and testing how we can work out a two person prog metal live set. I will continue the Chronicles universe of course, there is still much to tell!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!
Have fun, bleep safe
Originally published at http://cubeslam.net on June 4, 2018.