While most sites are happy streaming a record and leaving it at that, we prefer sharing the stories behind the songs with our Free Association features. Up this week: Sahy Uhns, the Proximal Records founder who recently released his debut album, a collection of gritty, glitchy cuts inspired by coasting across Southern California’s desolate highways. It’s a must-listen for fans of Flying Lotus, Daedelus and other producers who like to tear the fabric of the space/time continuum in half; heady instrumental hip-hop that’s out to snap your neck and tickle your brain stem in tandem.
Have a listen and a look at Uhns’ thoughts below…
1. Montebello Postpartum
This track was written in dedication to my friend/housemate who I found out was having a baby. I originally wrote a track called “Montebello” that was this cutesy indie tune that I wrote for her future son, Ian–almost like a lullaby. “Montebello Postpartum” was then built from samples of that song. I reinterpreted it, this time reflecting more on my friend and what was in her future. I really just wanted to make a simple track to represent the situation. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help or change what was happening in her life, but writing the track was something I could do.
2. My Very Own Mariana Trench
In this track, there’s a lot more tension than there is release, which maybe makes it less satisfying, but I kinda dig that about it. I like to mess with the length of sections to kind of play against what you expect and what is traditional in music. Sometimes when I’m performing it I really have to fight myself to keep holding out the tension and not drop the resolution too soon. The bass line at the end is more melodic than I usually write and it felt good enough to me to justify how asymmetrical the track really is.
3. Anticipation of the Night
“Anticipation of the Night” was written after I saw the film of the same name by Stan Brakhage. I was only able to see the movie once and it’s a very thick piece to absorb so this track was almost me fantasizing about what I remembered and didn’t remember from the film and attempting to reconstruct something that reflected how the film made me feel and what it brought out of me. Brakhage has this way of bringing together images that seem completely disconnected but are so visceral and emotional that you create connections in your mind. Something I strive for is to not be so literal with everything because the way we think and process information is not linear.
4. War Song
This track was written a long time ago, pretty early on in the process of the album and towards the beginning of the photo project [that accompanies it]. To me it has a slightly different vibe than the rest of the record but I like that it shows the infancy of the whole thing and how I was trying to develop a sound for the record. One particular part of the track I really love is right at 2:08 until 3:10. I had spent a bunch of time dumping a lot of my material onto cassette tape using different tape recorders to see the types of sounds they imposed. This was one of the first times I had done a lot of that and it became a pretty consistent process throughout the record.
In terms of my sound design, I really wanted to mimic the natural decay you see in the buildings, a sonic parallel to the look of the images. Some people might not understand how my music relates to those desolate desert images, but I wasn’t really trying to write what sounds should exist there naturally; I was trying to represent what was happening in that space and the energy and the feeling it gave me.
5. Fever. Chills and Sweats
I made this track when I was horribly sick. (I get sick a lot.) I had a really bad fever and kept having these really intense fever dreams. This was a track where I messed around a lot with more controlled field recordings like putting out matches in different cups of water. A big focus of the track was exploring alternative sound sources and developing my own methodology for foley recording.
6. Earning Bridges
I actually wrote this track about a time that Daedelus came into the studio. I wrote it back when we were working on “Proximity One: Narrative of a City,” and it was really exciting watching the fruits of my labor grow a little bit and forge these new relationships. Having Daedelus be interested in what I was doing was inspiring. Even when something positive is happening, my perfectionist tendencies make me check myself. Am I good enough to be an artist? Whether or not people decide that I am, I need to make sure I am doing everything within my power to make my work as good as it can be.
7. Rain Song
It’s just a field recording of me driving in my car in Van Nuys when it was raining. It was a really good, beefy rain which we rarely get in L.A. I love the way the inside of my car sounds so I recorded a ton of rain that day.
8. 13.73 ± 0.12 Billion
The title is actually the age of the universe. I kind of just wanted to make a cheesy, stargazing song. In high school I was really into experimental and electro-acoustic music and there were a lot of good noise shows in LA that I used to go to. When I went to CalArts you would think that interest would have just continued, but as soon as I got there I got so annoyed by the attitude surrounding that experimental music that I just wanted to make beats again and pop music. Thankfully I go over my annoyance and now I’m back to doing both. I like to treat all of the music I listen to on the same level, whether it’s pop or experimental or cheesy or whatever. I love all kinds of music and it seems stupid to create a hierarchy. With this track I just wanted to create a synthy space anthem that was kind of a portrait of when you’re looking at stars in the desert.
My favorite part of this track is the guitar part. I wrote the guitar part, recorded it, and liked it but I didn’t like it enough. I went back and recorded each note separately an octave below where they were before, and then arranged them to match the part I had originally played. Then I pitched each note up an octave so it was back to the original register. The strings with less tension are more out of tune when you first pluck them, giving them that twang sound and I wanted to capture that. It ended up sounding kind of like a banjo to me, but it was also subtle enough that it wasn’t totally clear that I had done that.
10. Ice Plant / Newly Destitute
Ice plant was a plant brought in to reinforce and stabilize the soil around the railroads in California. Then the ice plant took over everything and it became a huge problem because they essentially soak up all of the nutrients and water form the soil so the native plants can’t survive. “Newly Destitute” came from a guy I saw while driving to the studio. He was dressed in his Sunday best with suspenders on and holding a sign that said “Newly Destitute”; it was pretty tragic. The over-arching idea I guess is just a parasitic relationship. I tried to imagine how that guy ended up there and what decision lead him to that destitution. The “Newly Destitute” half of the track was created using a generative Reaktor FM synth patch that I built. That patch felt like a big achievement to me because it was some of the more interesting synthesis I had done and I really liked the sound of it.
Randsburg is the name of one of the towns I visited throughout the photo series excursions. What’s funny is I don’t actually have any pictures from there in the collection, but it was just a really bizarre place because it was still half-functioning. Half of the town was like a ghost town and then there were people still living in the surrounding houses. There were all kinds of trains near there involved in mineral mining so that’s why you’ll hear train samples in the track. I’m not sure why I made it so major and epic at the end but I wanted to finish it that way and wouldn’t let myself not do it just because I was self-conscious about it.
12. We Offer Our Silent Presence
“We Offer Our Silent Presence” was written in dedication to my friend Steven who passed away. The name of this track was a quote from his eulogy by his rabbi conducting the service. The field recording of the water was captured at Mother’s Beach in Marina Del Rey. Steven was a big sailor so I wanted to capture the sounds of the place where he was most happy and include that in the track. Often I get caught up in making sure things have direction so I was pushing myself to create something that felt more open and spacious melodically—even wandering.