Track Premiere: Byron Westbrook, “Refraction Haze”

Byron Westbrook. photo credit: Braulio Lam

“Refraction Haze,” a single off of Los Angeles-based composer Byron Westbrook’s forthcoming album, Distortion Hue, is a pummeling cloud of crunchy electronic sound. While it’s made with Serge and Buchla synthesizers instead of raucous guitars, the music is engulfing like shoegaze, flowing with ease through grainy waves of sound. Energy radiates from its core as it cascades through its powerful drones; the track is the second to last on the album, representing its fiery peak. Distortion Hue comes on the heels of Westbrook’s 2017 record, Body Consonance, which explored similar territories but focused most on the idea of motion. This album gradually ebbs and flows, providing space for the gradual unfurl of emotional resonance. 

Distortion Hue is due on February 5, 2021 on Hands in the Dark Records.


Westbrook says of the album and track:

Distortion Hue was realized as a sequential, dramatic arc – its track order is very important – and the ninth track, “Refraction Haze,” is its apex and point of resolution. This piece is as much an homage to the guitar feedback stylings of Lee Ranaldo and Ira Kaplan as it is to the dense drone work of Phill Niblock. There is in fact no guitar — it was created from material made in separate sessions with the Serge and Buchla synthesizers at EMS Stockholm in 2016. As is often the case with my work, the layered parts were made at different times and not initially conceived to be related — I later discovered that if detuned to be in the same intonation, their tones and textures overlaid perfectly, and I actually did not make this discovery until a few years after these sessions. A version of this track without the Serge feedback was even mixed and considered in an early sequence for Body Consonance, but it felt less related to that record, and seemed as if something was missing. Once the overlay of the separate recordings of those two synthesizers was discovered, the piece felt complete. 

The Buchla used in the session was a small, esoteric instrument, a grouping of modules that — back when I visited EMS Stockholm in September 2016 — had been recently found in the storage of the Fylkingen performance organization (which shares the same building as EMS) and lent to EMS Studio 3. I found the limitations of the small number of modules in this synthesizer to be extremely liberating — they are all in pairs, an arrangement that is perfect for creating two channels of similar-but-offset patching to generate stereo effects. The main progression of Refraction Haze was created by cross-modulating all four of the oscillators and generating chord changes by subdividing the oscillator frequencies, which I performed in real time with knob-turning. 

The Serge material was a generative/automated feedback patch that I programmed to perform on its own without my hand.”

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