Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Corntuth, Brooklyn-based ambient musician whose latest album is Letters to My Robot Son.
I wanted to make a kind of sci-fi concept record. The idea is a bit much, but bear with me. Imagine that, in the future, near the end of mankind’s time on earth, people have robot kids. These children, like some synths of the 1980s, are programmed via data tapes — sequenced sound on magnetic cassettes. One father, an inventor, leaves behind a tape of sequences he thinks might teach his robot son to feel. Those sequences (letters) are the songs on this record. They’re also available on cassette tape here.
This is one of the first sequences I made with my 1985 Korg Poly-800 mkII. I was drawn to the synth for its sequencer and lovely onboard delay. This record is heavily influenced by Benjamin Brunn’s wonderful Pieces From A Small Corner of Paradise, which is composed entirely on that synth’s sequencer. This song is meant to evoke the bright, cheerful, robotic world I was trying to create. A bit off-kilter and whimsical, warm and swimming in and out of focus.
This song grew naturally out of the first. When I finished recording the pad sound for E-001, I had an idea for a chord progression. I played it through, and that take became the main organ line of the second song. I’ve always loved hymns and church music, and wanted to evoke that sound here.
On this record, I wanted to utilize more surprising rhythms. On my previous two, I’ve either played without strict meter or with very simple rhythms. The main sequence on this track is a little all over the place. I wanted to have something bright and tinny, juxtaposed with rich ‘80s pianos, and some out-of-tune telephone tones. I was thinking of Manu Chao and Juana Molina especially when writing this.
This was the first Korg Poly-800 mkII sequence that I saved. I was trying lots of different things to learn the machine, and happened on this line that I quite liked. One of the things I was trying to capture was the naiveté of not knowing how something works which, at the time I made this song, was my relationship with the synth.
I wanted to recall the organ work of E-002, but drive a bit harder in an almost krautrock motorik way. Because the clock on the sequencer is analog, I couldn’t match it perfectly on the computer and had to play the hi-hat pattern by hand on an old DR-110
Another natural outgrowth of the prior song — the pad sound grew into this short ambient piece.
I bill myself as an ambient artist but really I don’t make many straightforwardly ambient songs. This was my attempt at something like Brian Eno’s “Thursday Afternoon.” It’s my first released process piece. I set rules for each melodic line — I’d walk to a part of the house and back; I’d wait a number of minutes before playing a phrase; I’d read a passage of a book before playing another. I spent a day inside just trying different processes, then editing it down to the final version. I’d been reading Louis Menand’s The Free World, and his research on John Cage inspired me to try some silly tricks of my own.
This is the first song I wrote on the album. I was showing a friend a reverb I loved, and hit on the main chord line in the process. I spent the rest of the night making the rest of the song by improvisation, and then a while editing it down.
I wanted the second half of the record to move from tight sequences to more sprawling, hazy ambient. The concept there is that, as the robot son approaches consciousness, there’s more ambiguity and openness. This one was meant to evoke a rainy day.
An odd man out on the record, but I wanted a kind of climactic moment. What better way than some Springsteen-y piano chords.
This dovetails with E-007 on the first half as a more purely ambient track. I was playing with some tonalities I don’t normally —the main flute almost sounded like an orchestral line in a musical to me.