The Ambient Distortions Of Nude With Lyre

Tristan McNeil defines his “dirty south drone” genre and premiers "Purple" with us.

The Ambient Distortions Of Nude With Lyre

Tristan McNeil has sent us a dispatch from Augusta, Georgia where he has just finished his ambient album Blood. We took notice because the unique production approach and unexpected use of instruments in unexpected places makes the tracks stand out from the ambient-electro pack. Perhaps it’s this uniqueness we’re picking up on is part of the distinction that makes that makes the the Nude with Lyre Sound not just ambient but “deep south ambient.” As McNeil explains below, the genesis of his music’s southern-ness is connected to a kind of gothic aimlessness, suggesting an unhurried exploration of sonic possibilities. After a listen, if you’re curious about music at all, you’ll definitely want to know more about how Blood was produced, and McNeil has a lot to say about it.

Tristan McNeil

You’ve described Nude With Lyre as “Deep south ambient / dirty south drone.” What about the music do you think stands out as particularly Southern.
Well, it’s sort of slow and gothic, I guess, and I think it has a bit of weird incoherence and aimlessness that reminds me of places I’ve lived.  But I didn’t mean for it to reference the genre of “dirty south” hip-hop or anything, though.  I’m actually pretty ignorant about genres – like I didn’t even realize I was making “ambient” music for the longest time.  I was just filling out social media profiles, and the ‘genre’ field was really stressing me out, and those names sounded really catchy.

Who is singing on the tracks from Blood?
They’re all my own vocals.  I would just record takes every now and then, and sometimes come up with a fragment or two that I liked…no preconceived lyrics or melodies.  There’s something that feels really contrived to me about writing out actual full lyrics and melodies, but I’m also not attracted to the way people are using such short fragments of vocals in dub or whatever.  So I guess I was fighting against both those things in making the vocal parts.

I love the very particular way you’ve designed the distortion to be consistent throughout the album. Can you tell us a little about how you achieved the effect and what inspired it?
Well, I think there are few different distortions…there’s a sort of textural one and some more genuinely disruptive ones.  I want some sounds you listen to at a loud volume actually hurt just a little bit.  But not too much.  I don’t get harsh noise stuff that is just an endurance test.  There has to be a push and pull – harmony and dissonance.

Another standout is the percussion elements, a lot of which sounds like you played them live. What was the process like creating the rhythms?
Yeah, almost everything on the album is played live (and not always that smoothly) and not moved around much.  Instead of trying to edit it to death, I would just do another take with a different instrument, embrace the inherent delays and glitches in both the technology and my own playing.  So much music out right now is just so neatly arranged and tightly fitted…I just had this urge to make something that feels looser.

A lot of the drums are laid down after the synths, which is a weird thing to do I guess…and in a lot of parts I wasn’t trying to come up with rhythms that tightly interlock with other layers…like in the really reverbed-out drums on ‘Purple I was trying to play a rhythm that was actually combating the rhythm of the other elements.

And there is a lot of stuff that sounds glitchy right now (Bon Iver‘s new album, Flying Lotus, tons of “vaporwave” albums, etc), but a lot of it feels phony to me because it’s like too sophisticated and intentional…exaggerated glitchiness….there’s syncopation, but then it feels like it’s been edited and structured in an artificial way.  I wanted the structure itself to develop organically.  I feel like people are missing the point of glitches.  I think they should be genuinely unintentional – not just glitch sounds used as instruments or mistakes appropriated for syncopated rhythms.

To me, there’s something very pleasant about pairing long stretches of rhythms that almost fit together but don’t quite feel right…parts with slightly different tempos – sort of a cruder version of Steve Reich’s phasing….it kind of allows you to dive into the layers and parts more separately than having this singular, rhythmic agenda like most music does.

I understand this project began as a soundtrack for a film. After listening to the album, I’m curious about what the film was about?
I believe it was about shady characters and vacant parking lots, but I don’t think I ever asked the director to explain the entire plot.  It ended up being a very personal album, though, and I don’t think it has much to do with the film in its finished state.

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