What happens when you combine the masterful electronic creativity of two incredibly gifted musicians? An explosion of sound that rivals the force of a detonated H-bomb. Don’t believe me? Keep reading…
Last year (2020) brought out the innovative acuity of many as a sheer survival mechanism when confronted by COVID. People like me became the ultimate benefactors of music, visual art, and the written word that flowed forth freely like the Mississippi River as an endless balm for our collective suffering. COVID may have halted live mass performances, but it did NOT stifle the imagination, artistry, and ingenuity that continued to give birth to innovative expressionism beyond our wildest dreams.
One such venture that has yielded a wealth of fantastic digital music that defies adequate description is the pairing of musical geniuses Rob Stuart (Electronic Dream Factory and SLAVE to the SQUAREwave) and Brian Dickson (Colony Three). The result is a brilliant collection of electronica titled Boӧtes Void that’s a computer-generated music fan’s dream. Put me at the very top of that list.
Boӧtes Void consists of twelve tracks of moody, ecstatic, in-your-face music. Each track weaves a riveting story without words. It’s such a compelling collection that once the last song fades, it leaves one’s soul thirsting for more.
But enough of my humble opinion. It’s best to get insight on the thoughts and creative process that went into Boӧtes Void directly from the masterminds’ own mouths. I had the honor of posing a few questions to Rob and Brian to better understand how such a classic collection came to life and am happy to share the results with you.
MissParker: First, I’ve got to say that you two creating music together is an incredible confluence of electronic mastery. I’ve interviewed you both in the past regarding your own musical accomplishments, but never dreamed you’d combine your efforts to produce such a wonderful album. What prompted you two to get together?
Rob Stuart: I honestly can’t remember how this project came about. I defer to Brian for this one.
Brian Dickson: I defer to Rob on this…oh never mind…(laughs).
When Rob and I met it was pretty clear we had a lot in common musically, and we often shared hilarious stories about our past attempts at collaborations. Born from that was this concept we both agreed to, which was a “no rules” approach, which has worked out really well for the both of us and I think for the music, as well.
MissParker: The burning question that has to be asked—where did the album title originate from and what does it mean?
Rob Stuart: The album title was very last minute. So much so, that Brian and I did not have time to actually discuss it. I had read something or seen a video discussing something about The Boötes Void (or the Great Nothing) which is an enormous, approximately spherical region of space at nearly 330 million light years in diameter, containing very few galaxies. It is located in the vicinity of the constellation Boötes, hence its name. I thought it was something that fit our music perfectly.
Brian Dickson: Rob clearly put a lot of thought into the title, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I thought the title was about a lack of footwear (laughs). As it turns out, it was a very “fitting” title given our “style.”
MissParker: I have to admit—I was drawn in from the opening notes of Monolith, the first track on Boӧtes Void. I think I even smiled. It starts out so mellow and builds to an intoxicating crescendo. What inspired that track? Did it have anything to do with the monolith recently discovered in Utah?
Rob Stuart: I would love to say yes because that would be so cool but unfortunately not. The twelve tracks of the album were written month by month beginning in January 2020. Our only “rules” for this project were to compose, record, and produce a track with accompanying video each month resulting with a final album release at the end of the year.
Brian Dickson: Like Rob, I’d love to tell you that it was that thought out. This track started with a very short 8-second 4 track seed and grew into the final version after being passed back-and-forth a few times. As it was our first track, we were still working out the “how are we going to work together” on the songs and accompanying videos. I think my best memory of this song was that after it was completed, we both agreed that we were on to something.
MissParker: The overall mood of the album rises and falls from ecstatic highs to depressing lows. What sort of consideration goes into deciding the order of the tracks?
Rob Stuart: That’s an interesting question as that is something I usually agonize over when I release a SLAVE album. However, since this album was evolving from month to month we chose to sequence the songs in the order they were written.
Brian Dickson: Once the 12 tracks were completed, we did a few experimental changes on the track ordering, but we always ended-up back at the original. It wasn’t purposeful at the time, but now when I listen through the whole album, I’m glad we landed on keeping the order as it was created.
MissParker: I’ve maintained that lyrics are important to me. Obviously, lyrics don’t factor in at all with Boӧtes Void, yet it paints such vivid mental imagery. When writing electronic tracks, do you have a particular vision in mind that you’re transforming aurally?
Rob Stuart: I’ve always equated music with painting. The instruments are my choice of brush, the sounds are my colors, the canvas my bass and drums. When I write this type of music, the voice and words are replaced by color and tone. Even without someone singing lyrics I think the consideration for a human element is always there.
Brian Dickson: Like Rob I have also visualized music, but more so as a soundtrack to some imagery or a movie scene. A scene can be full of action, or sad, or contemplative, and that really helps drive a given sound and structure to a track.
MissParker: I’m so curious about the track “Ateoate’s Revenge.” I take it to be a play on “808.” If that’s so, and it’s not a trade secret, can you share what that means?
Rob Stuart: Bang on! That’s a track that Brian initially wrote and titled. It took me a while to figure out what the title meant. Duh!! In fact, I love the name so much I have convinced Brian and a couple of other synth friends to use this as the name of a new synth collaboration project we have started for this year. Stay tuned as there will be an “Ateoate’s Revenge” album release hopefully by the fall of 2021. BTW, it should be noted that Brian also put together the amazing video for this tune.
Brian Dickson: Yeah, I was trying to be clever with that name. The original track was something I created back in the mid-90s with an actual TR-808 (that I regretfully sold to pay the bills….sigh!)
I was so amazed with how Rob literally turned the original version inside-out and created this much better final track.
MissParker: It seems the overarching theme is space. Electronica naturally fits in with otherworldly motifs, and rightfully so. Do you see this genre of music defining more grounded concerns like love, life, loss, or even the political landscape?
Rob Stuart: Over time electronica has become more associated with space and otherworldly motifs but when I think back to the early days of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and many others, they were tackling politics with electronic soundtracks like The Sorcerer and Thief. Vangelis handled love, life, and loss masterfully in Bladerunner. I am still inspired by these great works today.
Brian Dickson: I’ve always viewed electronica as something that transcends history, race, and politics. I remember that when I was much younger, places like China, France, or Germany were so foreign to me. All of that changed when I listened to the fans cheering to the music of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Concerts in China or Tangerine Dream in Berlin and realized there were people all over the world with not only the same musical tastes, but also that deep-down we are all the same.
MissParker: The track “Machine Language” takes us through what sounds like a spirited conversation between members of non-human intelligence. Do your machines sometimes appear to have minds of their own?
Rob Stuart: Sometimes, yes! That’s usually because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a self-taught studio engineer and the way I’ve learned is by trial and error. So it’s no surprise I’ve hit the wrong button and the machine appeared to take on a mind of its own. On the brighter side, sometimes it can turn into a pleasant surprise and something cool will come of it. That’s always a bonus!
Brian Dickson: As a huge fan of sci-fi, I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of AI, but more on the cautionary side. When my gear does something unexpected, I try and turn it into a “happy accident.” Most of the time though, as HAL famously said it best…“It has always been due to human error.”
MissParker: Did you collaborate on all of the tracks, or was it more of a merging of the minds—Rob wrote some and Brian wrote the others?
Rob Stuart: Even though we were never in the same room at the same time due to COVID-19, this was a collaboration in the truest sense. Both of us shared old music riffs, partial songs ideas, 8 bar loops, or came up with something new and if anything inspired one of us, we would get to work on it. Then we would ping pong the track back and forth until we felt that it was finished while having constant discussions. The process was always very respectful and free of ego.
Brian Dickson: Rob’s response captures it perfectly! I’ll add that we both remain pleasantly surprised at how it all went so smoothly, only because we are so used to having full autonomy and control over our own tracks. I think what really helped was that Rob and I decided early on that honesty was key. If that fails, we just default to blatant sarcasm.
MissParker: In a traditional group, some members play guitars, others play keyboards, still others may play brass, and of course, there’s a drummer or two. When you put two electronic masterminds together, how do you split up the music duties?
Rob Stuart: There was never really any discussion about those duties. The relationship between Brian and I was so respectful that we kind of knew what to do and what not to do with each track. It may sound corny but usually the music would dictate what was needed and we both respected that need intuitively.
Brian Dickson: Rob and I wear all the hats in our other music, so we didn’t really land on playing specific instruments. Instead, we’d just add what we thought a track needed, either in the addition of new instruments or the composure of the song.
MissParker: Is Boӧtes Void considered a soundtrack, in that when taken together, all of the tracks combine to tell a single, complex story? Or is it more of a short story collection?
Rob Stuart: I’d love to say that it’s some super, clever, complex story but I’m just not that well thought out.
Brian Dickson: It’s a super, clever, complex story.
MissParker: I’ve asked each of you separately at one time or another about your musical influences. This time, just focusing on making Boӧtes Void, who or what can you cite as your influences for this project?
Rob Stuart: My usual favorites such as Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Brian Eno, Underworld, Global Communication, The Future Sound of London, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Harold Budd (RIP), John Foxx, Biosphere, Synergy, etc.
Brian Dickson: Ditto on Rob’s list. I also watched a lot of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Electronica-related videos about his more recent collaborations with John Carpenter, Vincent Clarke, Yello, and others.
MissParker: We have the privilege of hearing Kim Stuart’s angelic voice on Slow Motion. It’s a beautiful, moving experience. Was the song made with her contribution in mind, or did you decide another layer was needed while in production and Kim provided it? Either way, it’s brilliant.
Rob Stuart: Brian had written this beautiful piece of music but didn’t know how to finish it. He sent it over to me and I instantly knew what to do with it as soon as I heard it. As I was working on it I was messing around with some voice samples when Kim came into the studio and said, “let me try something on it,” which I thought was a great idea. She did two or three improvised takes and I picked the bits that I thought fit best. It did turn out rather lovely!
Brian Dickson: I am totally amazed with Kim’s vocals on this track. I’ll never forget when I first heard the new version with Kim’s vocals, I exclaimed “It’s Perfect!” out loud; It reminded me of hearing Clare Torry on “The Great Gig in the Sky.” With Rob’s brilliant engineering of the vocals and final track it was the perfect match-up, and I’d say this track turned out to be one of my favorites.
MissParker: I hope to hear more from Kim in future releases. In fact, I hope to hear more from you both, Rob and Brian, whether individually, or collectively. Any plans in the works for upcoming collaborative or singular projects?
Rob Stuart: Since Kim is in the house while I’m working in the studio, she ends up being on a ton of different songs by default, sometimes not getting credit for her contribution; however, with the success of the “Feels Like Heaven” cover with E.D.F, we’ve decided to pair up and try doing a full album of similar songs. We are currently working on our next song and will hopefully have something to release by the end of the year.
Brian Dickson: Rob and I have talked about continuing with our collaboration, and we’re looking to feature other artists in upcoming tracks. As with what Rob is doing with E.D.F., I’m also continuing my journey with Colony Three, with this year being focused on the release of several singles that will culminate to an end-of-year album…not sure where I got that idea from (laughs).
MissParker: Thank you both for agreeing to talk with me and sharing your thoughts about working together to make Boӧtes Void.
Rob Stuart: Thank you so much for being a voice for independent music and for asking such intelligent and thoughtful questions about our music and process.
Brian Dickson: This interview was an amazing experience, Sandy. Thank you for everything that you do in supporting us and our music; it means so much and encourages us all to keep at it!
Go to The Boӧtes Void Bandcamp page to preview the music and grab your copy now. Also, there’s a wonderfully creative video for each of the album’s songs on the Element115 Music YouTube page.
Meanwhile, here are a few of the videos for your viewing/listening pleasure:
~Slow Motion (feat. Kim Stuart)~