LIMINAL DRIFTER Dreams become reality

Upon the release of his new album The Dreams, Liminal Drifter’s Dr Simon Order is reflective of a rich and diverse career working on both sides of the microphone. As an academic and expert in music technology and production at Murdoch University, his time in the musical game stretches back to growing up in the UK where he put his hand to prog rock, funk and blues as well as numerous TV, film and radio sound credits. Dr Simon Order landed in Western Australia in 2005 and resumed his musical endeavours in 2013 as Liminal Drifter, and has since built an acclaimed catalogue of music to which this new work may be his most accomplished yet. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Dr Simon Order about the changing musical landscape across his journey so far, and how he has taken his wealth of musical, technological and academic experience and turned it into a craft of his own.

This is your third release as Liminal Drifter following your debut album Troubled Mystic, and it’s remix companion, Night Train Vacancies, but your history in writing music actually goes back a bit further than that. Can you recount your background in this line of work and how you’ve arrived at what you’re doing today?

Oh my, it’s a long story. It began at 13 years of age when I sold my fishing rod and bought my first bass guitar. I then twisted my dad’s arm to buy me an amplifier, much to his aural domestic distaste. Poor mum and dad! I then joined a Ramones cover band with my GP’s son on drums. In high school I joined a space rock band doing Hawkwind covers. At 18 years old I started gigging with a blues band where I learnt what “notes” were. Our best gig then was at a girls’ grammar school.

There was a series of bands and gigs and something sensible called the Bass Institute in London. I learnt many more “notes” and something called Jazz. In the end there were just way too many notes. I joined various funk and dance bands and played reggae bass under the stage name, “duB Rumble”. From my teens I was also always experimenting with recordings and audio technology. I had many four-track and eight-track studios in various bedrooms. Also I was working as a live engineer and recording engineer for commercial studios, TV and radio in the United Kingdom. If you search hard enough you’ll find various music releases and remixes attributed to duB Rumble and his leather trousers.

I think for most songwriters there is a “go to” instrument, whenever they have a melody in their head they might pick up an acoustic guitar for example to strum it out. Is there an equivalent for Liminal Drifter?

It has to be the bass guitar. I was completely obsessed with learning everything and becoming the next Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), Mick Karn (Japan) or Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report) and so on. I would practice that thing for hours. It was athletics and daily training for the hands. I would be searching for the ultimate groove, the dance-floor mover. I’ve always been more interested in the rhythm. When technology made it easier for non-drummers to make beats I was in heaven.

And more recently, in writing The Dreams, were there new devices or programs that opened up doorways for you creatively that weren’t there for you on the last releases?

When I left London to move to WA in 2005, I deliberately sold all my studio gear to start anew without all the baggage of static studio technology. I didn’t make music for 10 years while I was studying and setting up a life in Australia. It was during the last couple of years of PhD work that I started making music with phone and tablet apps while travelling as stress therapy away from study.

These were my new devices and programs for my 2015 album Troubled Mystic. I never wanted a static studio again. I wanted to be outside in beautiful Australia. Of course, once an audio nerd, always a nerd. I had the great pleasure to work with Simon Struthers on the mastering of Troubled Mystic and The Night Train Vacancies in 2017. I think his passion for sonic wizardry re-ignited my nerdery and the need for a man-cave studio again in my life. He helped me acoustically design a room in my house for composing and mixing. The Dreams is the first full Liminal Drifter album to emerge from the new LD sonic lab.

It has always intrigued me how you go about even naming a song that doesn’t have lyrics in it – as if often the case with electronic music. But there definitely does seem to be very ‘aquatic’ theme to The Dreams, present in song titles and the artwork as well. How and why did that come to be something that defined the music?

That’s one of the best questions ever and it can probably best be answered by a glimpse into my workflow. Musicians love sound and it seems to articulate our feelings and emotions better than words at times. However, without some obvious thematic coherence in the work, the listener can be left out of the communication experience. I make it a practice to attempt to use words to describe or title my compositions while they are being made. It’s an iterative process. I give my songs titles as early as possible, once a solid idea has formed during production, to give me some direction.

That title is with me as the production progresses and it informs my forward sonic choices. It reduces the “options anxiety” of modern music technology so I don’t stray away from an initially solid idea. Sometimes a new sonic idea emerges though and the title changes but it’s usually in a similar title ball park.

And how did you go about capturing your ideas on record? As someone fluent in electronic production do you still use a lot of hardware or physical instruments or can a computer by itself paint the full picture these days?

I never exclude anything. It sounds a bit clichéd but I’m quite “stream-of-consciousness” with my creation. I rarely plan, rather I’m proactive with offering myself a diverse range of musical possibilities. I still noodle melodic ideas on my bass but also the keyboard. I tend to follow my ears until an idea forms. I still haven’t gone back to my old UK studio ways with shedloads of hardware. I travel light with a portable midi keyboard, specky laptop and headphones.

I love to travel away anywhere so I can write tunes somewhere new. For me the world is more interesting than my studio. I use a lot samples and synths for sketching fast sonic ideas while I travel and gradually cut away the unnecessary noise. Tunes are usually finished in the studio. I like the computer for channelling musical notions but it’s really just a tool. Ideas don’t always come in musical form. For example the track Fish Don’t Have Arms or Legs came from reading an article in the newspaper.

And as an academic in the field of electronic music how do you feel about the way music is being recorded and distributed nowadays more broadly? Has making production more accessible been a democratising factor in making music or led to it being more shallow and oversaturated?

Music production has definitely become more accessible and music is far easier to distribute and easier to promote nowadays. Technology is empowering and liberating in that sense. However, DJ’s tell me that they spend hours sorting through so much mediocrity now because the quality assurance gatekeepers of our industry are gone. The democratisation of music creation is a double-edged sword.

For music creators, the bottom fell out of our industry in about 2000 with Napster and file sharing. We are still dealing with that and we’re also dealing with the low returns from streaming services. On the plus side, there are more ways to promote, more trickle streams of income like YouTube and that can be grown. Good content is still in demand. In my opinion, creators need a mindset of longevity and persistence. Ironically, that’s not much different from pre-internet.

There have been major changes in how music has been made in the past such as the introduction of MIDI, but do you think there are any future technological breakthroughs just as important we are yet to encounter and if so what do you think it will be?

Unique collaboration is one thing I’m keen on. There are collaboration technologies like Ableton Link which I think are exciting, allowing multiple laptops or hardware to synchronise easily. For shows this is wicked. There is remote collaboration recording functionality in DAWs now like Steinberg Connect Pro so you can record anyone, anywhere in the world. Second, for me, the synaesthetic generation and manipulation of video from musical data is very exciting. Audio-reactive video software is still a youthful and untapped area of creativity. I’m diving in soon!

And to bring it back a little, what’s next for Liminal Drifter in 2018 and beyond?

Daddy liminal day-care for my first born is on the near horizon. Things may slow down a little or you might see liminal lullabies or children’s cartoon music emerging. I’m not really sure but I’m hoping to get some video work under way. Also, there are sketches for the next album in the lab already. I’ve had a hankering for some drum and bass in my life, maybe children’s drum and bass. There’s plenty to do, that’s for sure and I’m upgrading my nappy-changing skills to the latest version. Priorities will certainly be a moveable feast in 2018.