Brother Nebula is the pseudonym of a well-known house producer who is currently choosing to keep his identity secret. His new album ‘The Physical World’ came out last month and is a quality collection of high octane breaks and futuristic 4/4. We got the mysterious Brother Nebula to talk us through it, Track By Track.
Suspended In A Sunbeam
I did this intro – and the other interlude for the album – at the end of the process. I’ve always liked interludes; I’m guessing this comes from listening to hip hop with loads of skits and things. Either way, I think it helps break the album up. The main chord sound in this appears in a lot of my songs, as I tend to find sounds and then use them over and over. With this sound, I recorded a long sustained middle C from an XV-5080 pad sound, then recorded it to VHS tape on an old VCR, and finally bounced it back to the Logic Pro sampler. I love the way VCR’s sound; it compresses it heavily and has lots of wow, flutter and artefacts. All things I’m a big fan of.
The other sound is a recorded pass of Korg Mono/Poly doing what it does – sounding tripped out, and I laid it over some crickets, noise, and other found sounds. I really love sampling noise and background stuff and peppering it into songs. I guess I like my music to have a sonic film over them. I don’t think sounds should happen in a vacuum… they definitely don’t in the real world.
The Physical World
The title track from the album – I thought this one really summed up the feeling of what I was trying to convey across the record, so I used it as the title track. I’ve always liked tunes that use a beat and bass line that are very repetitive, and the song slowly changes around it. You’ll see that on all my music; I don’t usually use a lot fills or turnarounds. Obviously that’s a general theme in electronic music, but I actually thought about artists like Spaceman 3, Wooden Ships or other psych-rock style bands that vamp on grooves for ages with it morphing and changing.
The VCR chord sound from the intro is layered with a couple of other sounds, like the plug in Korg M1, and the bass and bleeps are the Mono/Poly again.
This song is one of the rare moments when I set out to do a specific thing, and feel like I pretty much got there. I’m a massive Aphex Twin fan – obvs – and I’m always studying how he does his bass and top line sequences. I didn’t get anywhere close to one of his lines with crazy midi cc and program changes, etc, but I do like the bass line here, and it’s very inspired by that. Again, it’s from the Mono/Poly. I have the Mody/Poly mod that gives it midi, so I have a little Korg Kontrol that I can control the filter, modulation speed, and a couple other parameters over midi.
This is one of my favourites on the record; I think the sound and feel of it are really cool. I love the push and pull between super clean and ultra dirty sounds, I’m always playing with that. Oh there’s a little piano sample in there too, 50 points if you can figure out what it is…
This track basically took me two years to complete. I started it by chopping up some sampled sounds from the Mono/Poly, but I wasn’t happy with the beat. It was always going to be some form of 909, but I had a clean programmed version that was too sterile, so I finally found basically the worst 909 samples I could find – dirty with tonnes of record noise, etc – and they worked great. I played this for Nick Höppner and he told me he loved how childish and basically crap the beat sounded. I totally understood what he meant, so it was “great, job done”.
A Snake In Paradise
Obviously massively influenced by Soul ll Soul on the beat on this one. There also may or may not be a drum break used in a famous Tribe track. 25 points, as it’s low hanging fruit… Anyway, I love the little, err, snaking top line – it’s a Korg Mono/Poly sound, but the plug-in this time. I don’t use that plug in a tonne these days, but it’s great and really useful for pretty much anything. I doubled it and panned it a bit L-R and did slightly different modulation so it gives extra ear candy across the stereo field. I did two final mixes of the track, as I couldn’t decide if the ‘snake’ should be more bedded in, but something just felt right about it being quite loud and in your face.
Just a little something to break the album up a bit. The resonant filter sweeps are the Akai MFC filter, up in the self-oscillating zone, and some guy talking about something.
The Big If
My version of a banger, which admittedly is still not particularly banging. I’m genetically wired to put chords on everything that I do; not sure why. I guess I’m non-harmonically challenged, or something.
This is the first track that I’ve ever used a pure 303 acid line in. I’ve always used other instruments for acid textures, so it sounded different – the Mono/Poly can do a good one cv’d to an Arturia Beatstep Pro – but for this one I had to go for the real deal. Well, a clone of the real deal, anyway.
This one is basically all Mono/Poly, bar the drums, obviously. Most of the time I come up with little lines, then record a few minute pass, then edit it all down, and that’s what I did here. In my head this is a homage to Chicago Relief records era stuff, put through the BN filter.
Living With It
Yet another one that took me about 2 years to complete. I tend to run things into the ground when working on them, then I can’t listen to it for 6 months or so. Then I can come back to it fresh. Surely not the most efficient way of doing things, but it’s a way nonetheless.
My biggest sticking point was the bridge; I couldn’t decide whether the chords should be a different sound or not. I ended up going with the same sound after much too-ing and fro-ing, but it works well. A good lesson in just leaving things alone… The bass line is my trusty old Roland JD-800 – the thing barely works and fully has a mind of its own, but I still love the cold digital sound of it. The snaking top line is a Yamaha TX81Z. There is a freeware plug in called Ctrlr that lets you control its parameters over SYSEX, which I highly recommend. Unless you like pulling your hair out to program things, of course.
This was the last track I completed for the album, and it came together very quickly. That’s the nature of these things; some take two days, and some take two years. The bass line is Korg Monologue, which is such an amazing synth for the price. I chopped the bass with the beats, so it almost sounds like they where recorded together… OK, ten points if you could name the beat I cut up. If you don’t know it, well, get to work.
I recorded all the final masters to NOS Maxell ll cassette tape on a three-head Nakamichi tape deck that I scored (from my wife’s dad – he’s got good taste in gear). That thing gives the album a nice patina; makes it feel like it’s been hanging in a museum for a while. Again, nothing (on Earth) happens in a vacuum.
The Physical World by Brother Nebula is available via Bandcamp.