Benedict Roff-Marsh

Travels in Digital Sands

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This album was done fairly quickly coming out of T.V. Treated. That period with all the tutorials and pieces that weren’t mine (not to mention a film or two) was great in that I was doing a lot, but I always miss just being able to do the Benedict thing.

I came into these pieces with absolutely no real story plans. Musically I wanted each piece to seem like the instruments could be real but at the same time be clearly electronic in nature. Not so much that flat cliche Techno thing, or the Sample Symphony thing, but my own own. Simple pieces but with big feel.

Lack of a story theme worries me these days as I am so used to working to them. The themes can seem to take over. This time I had no set story until the last piece where suddenly I had the idea that set everything in place. I had bits and pieces but… Some trees but not the forest.

The theme decided to be about deserts (yes I know I just said trees) and that each piece was also made with relatively digital synthesis was the “spin”. I popped the music on and surfed through Google looking for the images that resonated with each un-named piece. It all came together pretty fast – as I always find it does when it is ready.

The last step was to sit with a few of the photos I liked and to create some digital art that rolled the elements together. The parts in the image are immediately recognizable, but are all illusion; if you take the image apart, it is all just planes of color.

Track By Track: feel free to skip these if you would rather have your own illusions.

  1. Desert Travelers Pt I – the last track written and written deliberately using just the one instrument. Every sound you hear is the same instrument (different instances). I did this to help support an open source instrument that I actually worked on when it was first being developed approx 15 years ago. I got a request to make a video for the new owners but the moment I showed it to them I got a blast of criticism and it soured me so badly I almost dumped everything – disappointing esp seeing the accusations made it clear that the person hadn’t actually watched the video but was looking to big-note himself over me. Such a reversal seeing I had loved this synth from the moment I made that lead sound that comes in with that “solo violin” sound. Dust myself off I did.
  2. Pass of the Jade Gate – eluded me for a while. I loved the Chinese sound and it almost became a Marco Polo II thing but once I realized it could be both I was settled. This place was the entrance that a lot of Westerners like Marco Polo used to cross from Europe to China on the Silk Road.
  3. Empires in Sand – is a pretty broad image of lost cities and people who were swallowed by sand & time: Valley of the Kings, Petra, Ur…
  4. Cold & Clear Night – many deserts are actually very cold places. Nights in the desert are almost always very cold. Skies are so clear with very little moisture to haze things up.
  5. Caves of Ire – sadly comes from another person who treated my skills with disdain (I seem to attract em). He wanted a cave film soundscaped. It turned out that he didn’t like the natural sound of the cave in his nature documentary. It wasn’t his idea of what it should be so he wanted someone to create a faux Foley (the sounds that back on-screen action like keys jingling or a train passing). He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be clear and took to being insulting when I tried to clarify what he meant by “Expressionistic soundscape”, as in like the painters/composers? He then made it clear that he expected free “test” work as he was dangling his limp carrot in front of several composers and we were all supposed to scrap over it. All he’ll ever get from me is this V made of my first couple of fingers and fake water & bats in his dishonor.
  6. Wilderness of Judea Pt I – there is always one track on every record that seems to want to fight all the way to the wire. I made a very strange key scale that delivered an exotic feel that suited my vague idea of dark angels & tests but wouldn’t resolve. I took one last go before it was to be put in the b-side bin and realized it should be two parts.
  7. Bridge to the Navajo – The name is a play on the Natural Arch called the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah. I envision sitting below this stone arch in a canyon on a clear night with smudge smoke rising into the sky creating a communion with the spirits.
  8. Desert Crossing – I was not sure if this was a keeper as I thought maybe it was too simple and too repetitive (that arpeggio) but each time I played my ‘tracks in the can’ Jane really liked it, especially the arpeggio, so it got kept on her say so. If you want an image, it is like a small army galloping across the desert.
  9. The Wind is Like Her – is an obtuse title I know. It was the first track that actually got a title as I was working on it. Those strings felt capricious like the wind. After that I have to say, think Patrick Swayze. I’d like to say the title was pure art but really it was a play on words using the idea of the woman being like – oh you know what I mean. That bit was art.
  10. Wilderness of Judea Pt II – was the bit where this initial track seemed to fall off the rails. The moment I cut it in half, the idea of the temptation echoed in a positive-frame-of-mind felt like it worked, as did the strange key scale.
  11. Desert Travelers Pt II – was similar to the other track that got cut in two. I thought maybe a string melody was needed in the ending of the main track. Not so much as it actually reduced the expansive power of the image. I liked the line and the sound so I dragged it off and it sounded good as a reprise. Dragged a few other original parts over and it was a wrap.
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