intro from pATCHES: collaboration has always been a predominant element of music-making. instrumentalists harmonize complex interactions of pitch and timbre neither could create on their own. songwriting duos, in the tradition of pairs like Lennon and McCartney and the Sherman brothers, support each other by combining their variant strengths and sensibilities. engineering talents help faciliate musicianship and constuct amazing records for posterity. behind the scenes and often in the midst of it, music is a collusion. the modern age, with its digital communication, portable workstations, social networks, and online file-sharing, has not altered the legacy of collaborations in music but merely expanded the means by which they manifest. take Room of Wires, a synergy of ambient electronic experimentation whose members know almost nothing about one another, approaching their partnership in its purest form. though they have never met, the group has built an elusive world of dark, cohesive, marvelously produced music. I am proud to present this inspiring essay in which the duo lay out their backstory and the lessons they have taken from their experience.
We often get asked how two people who have never met ended up collaborating to produce such a coherent sound, and how we go about it given the inherent limitations imposed by not being in the same room. This is our attempt at putting it into words. Enter the Room of Wires...
It began with a spontaneous exchange on SoundCloud Messages. We'd both been posting the occasional track to our own personal streams, joining and posting to similar groups and commenting on the same tracks by other similar artists, so we were kind of aware of each other’s anonymous selves. Neither one of us were looking to work with somebody else, quite happy just trying out stuff on our own and sharing it with anyone that might be interested, but when I received a message asking if I wanted to collaborate, I was intrigued. Why not? Worst case scenario was that it would turn out to be shit and we'd stop.
The first steps were taken gingerly, neither one of us sure of the others expectations, but we soon got into a groove. And then the ideas started pouring out, and we realised we had something that was worthwhile pursuing. Online music collaboration was in it’s infancy, so rather than work to a set pattern we decided to work via a shared Dropbox folder and upload files when we were ready to share things.
After completing several tracks we decided on a name, and a simple, consistently applied identity to use on SoundCloud, so we could share the results and generate feedback. It came from an early discussion that talked about us having an image of being isolated, each of us in our own room of wires. The phrase kind of spoke out to us. It seemed to represent exactly what we were about, whether it was physical wires or digital connections.
The first breakthrough came when we were featured on one of the early editions of The Black Dog's Radio Dogma show. Given how many tracks typically get submitted, we weren't expecting much, but there it was. Dogma #04. I awoke to a tweet from the Sheffield pioneers, announcing the latest show and listing our name. It gave us a massive boost in confidence and a real sense of purpose.
We knew very little about one another. We both share the same name, both are based in the UK, but that’s a far as it goes. From the beginning our philosophy was that we knew nothing and don’t need to know anything. It’s all about the music - we shared the same love of dark, uneasy electronic music that focused more on textures and broken rhythms than melody and obvious structure.
We set out to create a simple digital environment where we could work together, yet maintain our individual isolation. The only collaboration tool we used at the beginning was a shared folder, and that hasn't changed in three and a half years. We use different DAWs, have different creative processes, and don't dictate to each other how things should be done or who should do it. We just bounce ideas and audio clips back and forth until we consider it complete. Communication is kept to a minimum, allowing each other the space and freedom to work how, when and where we want. We only get in touch when we need something specfic; a channel bounce with an audio effect seperated out, a drum track without the snare, an extra synth bit to build into the mix. And, of course, to give feedback on each other's work, and share feedback from other listeners.
The creation process is always fluid.
We use anything to hand; analogue modular synths, digital synths, software and hardware audio devices, field samples, distant conversations, loops...anything that feels right goes into the mix. Even our own vocal samples, although I wouldn't go as far as describing it as singing. It’s an open environment that leads to new ideas, new techniques, and new music. But we’re also brutal; if, upon exchange of audio files, things aren’t working out, it’s gone. Deleted. Move on.
Inspiration comes from wherever. There’s no pressure, no hidden agenda, just “this sounds interesting, what do you reckon?". And when one of us gets to a certain point with an idea, whether it be an almost complete track or just a sketch of an idea, the channels get bounced to audio files and uploaded to the shared folder for the other to pick up and start working on. We're often working on multiple ideas, and once we feel we've individually taken an idea as far as we can, we start something new. Always keep moving. You can't force these things. Sometimes, we challenge each other by sending over something outside of our comfort zone, to be ripped into and turned into something new.
At the heart of it all is our creative set up; one "room" is a tangled mess of virtual wires, the other packed with physical analog hardware. Software includes Live, Max, Reason, Recycle, Logic, Absynth and Reaktor. On the hardware side, there's the Erebus, an old Cutec Delay, the Critter and Guitari too. Modular wise, it's Clouds, Braids, a Phonogene and the Turing Machine all playing a part. But it’s the digital technology at the heart of it and a quest to keep it simple that’s allowed our isolated approach to flourish.
Last year's EP "Used as a Runner", our second for the net label Section27, felt like the culmination of 3 years work. The end of a learning period, where we understood each other from a creative point of view. We had reached a point where we were completely in sync and relishing our isolated workflow. We ended up with six or seven tracks that we knew were the most cohesive, challenging and structurally interesting work we had yet produced.
Still, the methods used to make this collection of tracks were no different to when we started out. Try things out, experiment, shape it into the bare bones of a track, bounce it over. Rinse and repeat. We didn't set out to make an EP of a certain style or sound, it was just a snapshot of our collective mind set at the time that resulted in five tracks that work really well together and sound cohesive.
But that mind set is constantly shifting in order to maintain interest, and challenge our abilities as creators and producers. I guess you would call that evolution. Where this collaboration will take us, or how long it will last, is an unknown. But, of course, the unknown can be an exciting place. We're always looking for ways in which we can go to places that we, as individuals, would never have been. Once that stops, we'll lose direction and interest. You either force yourself to explore somewhere new, or move on.
All of this brings us back to The Question.
How do we collaborate given the inherent limitations imposed by not being in the same room, and the fact that we have never met? And so, after 3 and a half years, these are some of the things we have learnt during our little experiment.
Don't set rules, roles or boundaries - let everyone involved explore their creative space unhindered.
Keep it simple - you don't need fancy tools designed specifically for remote collaboration, just a way of sharing files and communicating. And use what you know - don't try to adopt a different DAW just to make collaborating easier. It won't. Use the tools that respect your own workflow. If they are the same as your fellow collaborators, great! But it's the music, and the want to make music, that matters.
Don't be afraid of ripping into shared material and discarding a lot of it, and don't be upset when your fellow collaborators rip into yours. Don't be afraid to say you think it sounds shit or doesnt't seem to be going anywhere. Just move on to something else.
Seek out undiscovered artists, designers and video producers to help promote your work. If you look hard eneough you can always find like-mided people who are happy to help.
As a final note, collaborating can be an exciting endeavour. You gain knowledge and experience, and you can also pass on your own knowledge and experience to others. Explore and evolve. Keep moving.