“You can see infinity in one sound, it can totally change your perspective,” says Patrick Keller, the sonic explorer behind Oscillator Sunshine Machine. It’s this exact notion that plays out through all of “I Am King of the Wizards,” Oscillator Sunshine Machine’s just-released, hour-long song.
“It’s true though,” Patrick continues, “like one frame in a movie can change your life, so can one sound.”
“I Am King of the Wizards” began as Oscillator Sunshine Machine demos recorded in Pennsylvania during August 2013, then took shape in Austin throughout 2014. The result is surprisingly fluid. A one-hour song could easily turn into a mess; this isn’t. Rather each idea spirals into something completely different all while retaining the same sense of sonic curiosity. Although it exhibits a spontaneous spirit – this is a product of keeping an “open ear” – it also leaves an impression of deliberateness. “It didn’t happen by accident. I sat on this thing for fourteen months until it was as good as I thought it could get,” Keller says.
“I Am King of the Wizards” was released as a free Halloween treat last Friday at oscillatorsunshinemachine.bandcamp, and is also streaming below (via soundcloud.com/oscillatorsunshine). The wonderful artwork is by Melted Vision (trippy art extraordinaires Katie Snider and Hannah Snider – check out more of their work at facebook/Meltedvision). Read on for The Future Heart discussion with Oscillator Sunshine Machine on how an hour-long is created, and “like” facebook/Oscillator-Sunshine-Machine for updates on future releases and shows.
The Future Heart: Did you conceive “I Am King of the Wizards” as one piece, or a suit of smaller segments?
Oscillator Sunshine Machine: When I made the first demos I had it in my mind as a long song, I think the original demo is something like fourteen minutes. It wasn’t until later that I realized that it could actually be the beginning of something much bigger. I didn’t want to do an hour long jam. From the time I realized it could be a long form song I knew it would be many different pieces, with one hour as a sort of goal.
Were the individual sections written in sequence?
A lot of them were, a few of them were rearranged, and a couple little things were already recorded and just sitting on my computer not doing anything so I found a place for them. There’s also a few sections that just didn’t cut the mustard, so I had to re-order things several times. The first three parts were the first three things recorded.
Once you realized it could be something larger, was the goal specifically to have a “one-hour song?”
I had in my mind that one hour was the limit, any longer and it would start to get ridiculous, even though it already is! But yeah, there were a couple earlier drafts that were too long. Not sure why but 60 minutes is too much, 55 minutes is just right, at least to my ears. It was all a challenge. At first I didn’t even think I would show anyone, so the thought was “Wouldn’t it be crazy if…”
Were The Flaming Lips’ six hour or 24 hour songs an inspiration?
Yeah totally, in spirit at least. I don’t think any of the musical ideas specifically made it into my thing. Originally there was supposed to be this grand orchestral part like in [Lips’ six hour song] “Found a Star” that I never got around to figuring out. But yeah, if the Lips can do 24, surely I can do one. That was my attitude when I started, but once it got rolling I didn’t think about that too much.
I’m also reminded of Tobacco quite a bit, the section that starts about six minutes in for instance.
I love Tobacco. His influence is sort of taken for granted almost, like it’s so much a part of who I am that I barely even think about it. I can relate to that dude on a weird level. We’re both from Pennsylvania. The Lips have been around so long and are such an institution that to aspire to that is silly to me. But I can grasp Tobacco’s world. I admire the way he’s conducted his career.
To get more specific though, I love the way he treats synthesizers. He has a very definitive way he structures a lot of his synth lines as well. You know a Tobacco line when you hear one.
Can you give a specific example of a line you presented in a way learned from listening to Tobacco?
The synth line you mentioned was absolutely inspired by Tobacco. I don’t know too much about music theory, but the way he almost always will end a phrase is by going to the high octave of the root note and then down one half step. That’s pure Tobacco to me. There’s a line around the thirteen minute mark that is also very Tobacco-esque.
Around the eight minute mark there’s several layers of synths. How did you get that sound?
All of those synth sounds, including the bass, were made with a Korg M-500 SP Micro Preset. So there’s basically four synths on that. There’s the bass which just hops octaves, and three different lead type lines. One of them is the “Voice” setting on the Korg fed into an analogue delay, with the feedback at around three o’clock, and I’m just adjusting the speed of the delay randomly to create that squelching sound. Then there’s the one that comes in when the drums and bass drop out for a second. That is just a simple LFO type preset with a delay. And then there’s the monster lead, which was created with a very specific setting on the Korg. It’s been so long I probably could never replicate it. But It’s panned with reverb and delay so it just sounds massive.
Listening back now I really don’t know how I made the sound of the lead. It’s a mystery.
Is that the synth equipment used on the whole piece?
Yeah, that’s the only analogue synth I own. There’s also a Bleep Labs Pico Paso light sensitive noise synth on there towards the end, and a few synth apps as well. The Korg m-500 is absolutely key to a lot of what I do.
How did you make the sounds in the 21st minute?
Yeah, that’s an interesting one. So there’s really four things going on there. Hard panned to left and right is a drum machine where I just put in random toms in no particular pattern and maxed out the tempo so its unnaturally, impossibly fast and then filtered it with crazy distortion for one and washed it out with no bass on the other one. Then there’s the screeching sound that sounds like a demon trying to rip out your soul. That’s the same drum pattern with distortion and reverb put through a crazy high pass filter that I manipulate. And then there’s this distorted beyond belief guitar playing a C chord with an old Morley wah all the way down, and a delay, so each subsequent echo just gets eaten more and more until it totally dissolves into that horrible feedback.
Were there other influences?
Sleep was an inspiration. At the time I didn’t have a working electric guitar, there is no electric guitar on this record except for one little overdub that was recorded much later. I had this idea in my head of using the slow tempos of doom but not being able to rely on heavy electric guitars. Instead I used acoustic guitars and synths. There’s this guy called Chris Rehm who plays guitar and sings in a band called Caddywhompus. He releases noise and drone stuff on his own, that definitely influenced some of the more chaotic parts.
How d0 you compose a one-hour song?
Some parts were about the music [chords and melodies] first, the first two parts especially. And then it slowly section by section it gets deconstructed to where it becomes more and more about the sounds first.
Chords usually come to me first.
About thirteen minutes in it sounds like it started with a chord progression on guitar and developed from there. Am I right?
Yeah that chord progression came and then it was game on. That could really stand on it’s own I think.
It could be the basis of a conventional song on its own, more so than most any other part.
Exactly. I’m thinking eventually maybe it will. I like that part a lot.
How did you write the first few minutes?
The main melody that opens the song is actually super old. I wrote that little melody with that guitar chord behind it years and years ago, and I was saving it for the right time. But I knew that couldn’t be the whole thing so it switches to just a plain E major, and I just started playing guitar leads – which is not something I normally do – and this melody came out which became that squelchy synth lead that fades in around the 5:30 mark. One idea became another which became another.
Your singing is obscured during the sections that are sung. Are there lyrics?
There are lyrics, but only in two sections really, and they were both recorded quite awhile ago, when the name of the game was “How can I hide my voice here…” which is a habit I’m slowly trying to change. But yeah, there are actual lyrics, I think five lines in the whole song! Once again, Tobacco can get away with having one line per song and still have it mean everything. He can say, “1,23,4,5” and I’m like “Yeah, totally dude…”
What are the lyrics?
The lyrics in the first section are:
“The trees told me we live and then we die”
In the acoustic part after that they are:
“Wearing geometry I found one day in hell/I don’t know if I can explain it real well/I don’t know if I’m crazy or just laid out plain, I think i’m going insane”
I Am King of the Wizards: what were you getting at with that?
As far as the wizards are concerned, I tried to build my own world with this song, where anything can happen: fourteen minute drum and noise synth freakout, you bet; twelve minute arpeggiated synth solo, go for it. In this world, I get to make all the decisions and determine what happens next, no matter how absurd. So yeah, on one level it’s very personal, on another it’s about magic and wizards, and mystery. I love that kinda stuff!
The way I’m hearing it, somebody is loosing their mind yet they are stuck in a world created in their mind. They come to a realization that they are the king of this world of wizards, which exists only in their crazed mind…
Yeah that’s pretty spot on. Like yeah, “You’re King of the Wizards, but who gives a shit wizards aren’t real”. Well, I give a shit!
I’d honestly never thought about that before. I tried to make it not about me, but it totally ended up that way anyway.