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Whispers of the Plains: Esselfortium

Higher Plain Music is delighted to publish our little interview with the fantastic Esselfortium regarding his new album “Seventeen More Times”. Read on for an insight into his new album, song writing processes and technologies involved in crafting an album.

For those whom aren’t familiar with you, tell us a little bit about Esselfortium.

I’m an electronic musician who enjoys writing densely layered songs with melodies and harmonies that build on each other. I love song arrangements that progress and build up from beginning to end, and playing with a wide range of styles and sounds. Fusing together abstract experiments with accessible melodies and emotions is probably a good way of describing what I do. I’ve been writing since 2003 and just recently completed “Seventeen More Times,” my second album.

Congratulations on your new album “Seventeen More Times”! How do you feel now that it’s finished and ready for release?
It’s been a long time in coming — far longer than I ever expected it to take, honestly!
It’s very freeing to have completed Seventeen More Times and finally gotten it out for people to hear: prior to this the only officially released music I had was from when I was still in high school! While I’m still proud of what I did on A Terrible Flood (2007), I’ve made some major leaps forward since then and I feel that that’s reflected in the music on Seventeen More Times. Many of the songs are more intricate than anything I’ve released before and immeasurable lengths of time have been spent revising and refining all the ideas in them.
I’m just glad I’ll be able to say I finished it before Duke Nukem Forever came out. [ED: Good one!]
 Is there a story behind the album’s title? There’s only 16 songs!
Honestly, not really. I got the title from a friend and liked the sound of it, but consciously wanted to avoid perpetuating the notion that “Seventeen More Times” meant “seventeen more songs”. I felt that would be a rather bland meaning. It’s sort of loosely a concept album about the characters, places, and events of the apocalyptic 1995 sci-fi anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, and there’s probably some sort of Angel-related secondary meaning that Eva fans could derive from the title, but I wouldn’t read too deeply into that. Many of the song titles have some intentional and specific meaning or reference, though, so go hog-wild analyzing those. Alternately, it’s called Seventeen More Times because 7 8 9.
When I listen through the album, it comes across like there are specific styles and sections to the album. Do you prefer to really mix up styles? Do you have any favourite ways of writing?
Absolutely, mixing up styles is something I’ve done for as long as I’ve been composing. I like to challenge myself to try new things, both because writing and producing things I haven’t done before is a lot of fun and because I feel like I’d run out of ideas awfully quickly if I were to keep writing in the same style over and over. Oftentimes I’ll start a song one way and the writing process will take me in a direction I never really expected at all. “Invis” started out with me writing an Autechre-inspired percussion line, and the completed song barely reflects those origins at all. That’s part of what made “The Beast” and “Andante” so difficult to complete, as I had very specific aims for the sort of feelings I wanted them to convey, and didn’t want to compromise with something that would come to me more easily.
I enjoy listening to a wide range of different music, electronic and otherwise, and so I pick up a lot of stylistic influences and ideas along the way. Some of my favorite artists (Boards of Canada, Radiohead, the pillows and Steven Wilson, to name just a few) have experimented in all sorts of musical styles over their careers, and I find that to be part of what makes them so appealing and continually interesting to me. On this album, like I did on my debut “A Terrible Flood” in 2007, I feel like I balanced a wide range of sounds and styles, creating a sort of musical journey for the listener.
In honesty, though, for both albums it wasn’t so much a focused plan to cover a wide range of styles, but rather that my normal way of working involves continually trying to cover musical ground that I haven’t touched before. I labored over the track listing to make it feel like a coherent whole that progressed smoothly and logically from one song to the next, even where they’re completely at odds with one another stylistically, and in the end I sort of surprised myself with how well everything fit together.
What do you use to create all these wonderful sounds and how long does a track roughly take to make?
I do all of my music-related work in Propellerhead Software’s Reason, the only exception being the album sequencing itself (track timing and crossfades and so on), for which I used its companion software, Record. I’ve been using Reason since version 2.5 in late 2003, and I’ve yet to find any software or hardware solution that enables me to experiment so freely while maintaining such a simple and straightforward workflow.
The process of creating a full track can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years, literally. “Invis” is one of the oldest songs on Seventeen More Times, it having been started in early 2007 around the time I was wrapping up work on A Terrible Flood. At the time I thought the song was more or less finished! Over time I became less and less satisfied with it, and so it went through three or four major revisions plus countless minor ones after over the course of the album’s production, during which I added and removed various musical elements and made tons of mixing adjustments. I didn’t actually finish it satisfactorily until a few months ago. “Light of the Soul” is a similar case. It started out in 2007 with a short doodle containing the basic melody synths and odd percussion that you can hear most clearly in the song’s final few seconds, left it alone for a year or two before picking it up and trying to make something of it, and hit countless creative blocks over the course of turning it into a complete song.
Conversely, “18 Apostolos” was entirely written and finished in a few hours one day after having decided it had been too long since I had finished any music, and the “Close Hands/Open Hands” interlude was written in one night and finished the next morning.
Most songs on the album are somewhere in between, but it wasn’t at all unusual for a song to sit in a partially finished form for weeks or months on end while I tried to figure out what I should do to it and how. For the past two years or so, I’ve regularly listened to all the in-progress songs from Seventeen More Times at home or in the car, to look for details that didn’t sound quite right, to think about possible solutions to those problems, or to see if I’d come up with a new idea that could be added to a song.
Were there any particular challenges or mountains climb while making the album, or any specific riffs or tracks that you are especially proud of?
While there were a lot of songs that took a great deal of struggle to finish, probably the biggest hurdle I was faced with was the total creative block I hit throughout the second half of 2007 and most of 2008. It was caused by some combination of starting college, burnout from working almost nonstop on music on a near-daily basis since 2003, and trying to push myself too hard with things I wasn’t especially confident with yet (like programming most or all of my own synth sounds from scratch). I’d occasionally get some sort of idea doodle down, but I could never seem to progress it into a full song from the initial 10 to 30 seconds I had written. While I was able to focus on other creative hobbies during that time to keep myself busy, the long time it took to get over that block was incredibly frustrating.
As far as sounds I’m particularly proud of, there’s a lot to choose from, but a few standouts for me: I love the crunchy rhythmic lead synth in “Dirac”, particularly toward the end of the song when it starts fuzzing and fading out of clarity, and the brassy melodic synth that appears in the second half of “18 Apostolos” (which reappears in a few other places) is also one of my favorites. I’m also quite proud of the sequenced electric-guitar solo in “The Beast,” in which I aimed to create a sort of controlled chaos that would resemble an energetic live performance.
There’s a real cinematic edge to Seventeen More Times. If you could drop some of the tracks from the album into any films as part of their soundtrack would you have anything you’d like to use?
Oh god, any of them. If anyone reading this wants to license any of my music for film or television, I’d love to hear from them!
What’s coming up in the future for Esselfortium?
Hoping that some nice person from a label will call and tell me they want to sell my music. Uhm.. beyond that, I’ve already got several new songs underway, and quite a few ideas and doodles that may or may not materialize into something. I’m planning to explore even more styles, though I might not be able to resist revisiting a few of the sounds I’ve worked with in the past. I’m also currently involved in writing the soundtrack to a short film titled “The Uncanny Valley”. Lastly, I’m hoping the next album won’t take another four years, but I’m not making any promises there yet.
We’d like to thank Esselfortium for taking the time to talk to us and wish him and his album the very best of success in the future!

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