Backtrack: The Seventh Formation

Backtrack is a series devoted to backtracking to tell short stories about songs I've written.

Back in August 2006, I wrote out a rough 45 seconds or so of ideas in MIDI based around a 7/8 rhythm and tentatively called it "Weird Violence".

A few days later, I started working on another idea; unlike the previous, this one had some legs, and I wound up incorporating the core idea of Weird Violence into one of its sections. By the end it was about five and a half minutes long.

After bringing the song into Reason and cleaning it up, I sensed that it was right up the alley of some of the other music I had been writing at the time; tunes like Jump Error. As a result I decided to include it in my plans for the space concept album that I’d eventually release four years later. The track was called “The Seventh Formation”, a slight nod to the meter of the earliest idea for this song.

The similarities between "The Seventh Formation" and its new counterpart "The New Formation" are heard right away, but as the piece progresses the differences become more apparent. By the end of each track, their relationship to each other is pretty hard to determine. The New Formation only uses a few of the original elements, and takes the material in an entirely new direction.

"The Seventh Formation" is now available as a bonus track on "Deorbit (B-Sides)".

In Depth: Rise of the Obsidian Interstellar

"A small band of galactic travelers are bound together by mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, in the darkest reaches of the universe, an unparalleled force dwells on ambiguous intentions."

I started writing this album in 2006, four years before its release, and around the same time I finished Level. Some of the tracks have been revised significantly from their original formats, however a few of them initially slated to be a part of this album are absent. I could not give them the proper treatment without drastically impacting the original nature of those pieces, so I’ve left them off, deciding instead to release them in their original form in the near future.

Some of the tracks are products of a wonderful competition I participated in called “30 Songs in 30 Days”. For those of you who enjoy making things, I highly recommend these types of events; creating lots of varied material in a short amount of time is an amazing experience and one everyone ought to explore.

Track Descriptions

Prologue. You encounter a mysterious force and the journey begins.

Can you identify the material that this song uses? It originally started out as a fully fledged revamp of "The Solar Prime Elite" from Deorbit, but it wasn't really panning out, so I decided to make this abridged version instead.

Jump Error. A navigational miscalculation, skirmish. Another jump, lost in space.

I've played this song at just about every single one of my concerts, with just a handful of exceptions.

I originally wrote this song a good 5 years or so before the album came out.

Compositionally, the original version is different in a couple of ways. There are a few less chord changes, no ritardandos, and some drum patterns that I think are a little cruder.

Club Wolf. A navigational miscalculation, skirmish. Another jump, lost in space.

I think this may be the only song I've played at every single concert since I started playing concerts in 2007. Except for that one time we did a FEZ concert in Austin.

I originally wrote this song a good 5 years or so before the album came out.

Compositionally, the original version is different in a couple of ways. There are a few less chord changes, no ritardandos, and some drum patterns that I think are a little cruder.

Adrift. Floating through space.

There is a lot of pulse width modulation in this track.

The New Formation. The appearance (and disappearance) of a previously unknown fleet.

Beta's Brilliancy. You learn the ways of the Solar Prime Elite.

This track is made using a single, crazy synth patch in Reason's THOR. It was originally created during a 30 Songs in 30 Days competition.

With the exception of the notes, this track is almost entirely controlled by a single pass of pitchbend data. Each time you bounce the song, it sounds different. So I bounced it a couple times and mixed them together!

Ensis. Traveling through the far reaches of space utilizing your new skills. A joy ride.

This is the second iteration of this song. I added a breakdown in the new version to break things up a bit, since it's a somewhat long tune. There are some pretty unusual time signature / polymeter things going on in this song. Listen for the open hi-hat (read: noise) that creates a 5/8 polymeter in the drums.

Day of Reflection. Heroes take time to reflect.

This song was inspired by demoscene music, and Jasper's Journeys, a platformer by indie developer Lexaloffle

The "bell" sample was actually taken directly from one of the songs from that game. I also used it in my music game, January.

Wagering Lights (feat. Derris-Kharlan). Space exploration leads to a skirmish.

This song was originally released as a collaboration with Derris-Kharlan on 8bitcollective, a now defunct chipmusic site. We went under the name "Venn & Euler" at the time. The first half of the song is largely Derris-Kharlan's composition, while the second half is mine.

Counter of the Cumulus. A grand battle commences, on the eve of the surprise appearance of the unknown fleet.

Submerciful. The massive enemy fleet, disabled, enters the atmosphere of a habitable planet and sinks into the depths of its deepest ocean. Small signs of survival are still apparent.

This is one of only two songs on this album that don't use THOR.

Constellations. There's a silly jazz version of 'The New Formation' tucked away at the end of this piece.

released January 1, 2011

Mastered by Sean Sinclair
"Wagering Lights" co-written by Derris-Kharlan

My wonderful family for their unwavering love and support, Sean Sinclair for being a great friend and always lending a critical ear, Nathan Antony for kicking butt, Dr. Jeffrey Baust, Michael Brigida for showing me the synthesis ropes, and the rest of my wonderful teachers at Berklee College of Music, the BOSTON8BIT crew (James, Lydia, Chris, Carl, you know who you are!), Steve Jenkins for his hospitality, generosity and friendship, Marc Beaudette and Matt Doughty, Jake Kaufman for generally being awesome, Grant Henry for the same reasons, Andy Baio, Samuel Ascher-Weiss, Joey Mariano, Eirik Suhrke, Joseph White, Jeff Lindsay, Ben McGraw, Chris Lobay, George Kokoris, Duncan Watt, LN Lurie, Abe Stein, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, Jenn de la Vega, Tom Colletti, Anthony Colletti, and last but not least, to all of you who help make my dreams come true by supporting me through my music. To all my friends who in haste I have forgotten, I apologize in advance! Thank you all for your support, and enjoy the music!