phuture: Hey refractor! So good to have you on board for SPACE! Why don’t you introduce yourself to those of us who may not be familiar with your work?
refractor: Hello and thank you. It’s wonderful to be included. I’m refractor but in real life people mostly call me Bryce. I like light arps, catchy melodies, thick basses, and fluffy chords. I believe all of those things are reflected in my songs, especially photon.
phuture: So we gotta talk about photon for a bit here! This track is manic in the way a good summer night with friends and possibilities might be; with changes in meter and emphasis on the 3, as well as with the upbeat tone and chord progression. Can you tell us about the creative process behind its development and what this song means to you?
refractor: This track started with the intro Zelda-reminiscent arp and four-on-the-floor kick pattern. I just had this idea one night and it turned out pretty sweet, but I really only had a pulsing arp with a kick pattern. Fast forward three months, I rediscovered the project and messed around with some 808s and clanky samples… the rest happened within the next 10 hours. It’s not often I can get into flow like that but when it happens, it sure happens. I can’t say I really ever have much meaning behind my tracks, but that’s why I like instrumental music. It doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t have to. It’s just beautiful. Don’t try to understand it, just enjoy it.
phuture: Also, a personal question on my part, what transmissions did you sample for this song?
refractor: Those samples are from NASA’s SoundCloud, actually. They’ve got a plethora of packs from various missions. The ones in photon are landing and launch commentaries and a recording of the shuttle launching from missions STS-131 and STS-135.
phuture: While we’re on the topic of the creative process, what are some of your studio rituals in order to get into the right head space for productivity?
refractor: The creative process can be highly elusive. A while back, I actually went through a 10-month creative block phase where I didn’t make a single thing. Even though I’m fairly certain it was induced by other circumstances in my life, it was awful. One of the things that shoved me back into the groove of things was a tutorial on how to make some chords. I was just learning- not using much creativity, but I decided to make my own midi chords to demo the patch instead of the ones in the video. After I made them, I heard a drum pattern, then bass, etc. After that everything has been normal again. Getting yourself to make things is really tricky and it’s often most effective to simply not worry about it- just wait until you have some natural drive. I think a lot of people try to force it and end up with something mediocre or that they’re not very happy with. Two things that really help me draw creativity are setting changes and new experiences. Setting is pretty simple- if you’re making your art in the same tiny, messy bedroom and suddenly have no ideas or energy to make something, get out of there! If you’ve got a laptop, grab some snacks and get in the forest, or go to a coffee shop (just please don’t bring any of your controllers). If you can’t move your setup, rearrange your room or change the lighting- I recently put a brighter bulb in my lamp and I’ve been on a bit of a roll since then. Next, experience- this is more of an investment, but it’s something everyone does or ends up doing sometime. Go on a trip, or to a show or festival. I believe going out and doing things outside your comfort zone or that you’re not used to helps provide that subconscious mental fuel we all desperately constantly crave and require for a good session. It can even be as simple as organizing your days differently for a week or hanging out with some new people for a day.
phuture: How do you feel you’ve progressed as an artist from the time you first started making electronic music? What has stayed consistent and what has changed?
refractor: Oh man, my mix has sure gotten better. It’s nowhere near where it wants to be, but it’s certainly come the farthest. A good mix is the most important part of making sure a song really slaps. On a more broad level, too, I believe I’ve grown a lot as an artist. I am more in touch with my own creative process and have a better understanding of how my own brain likes to make things and what sorts of things it likes. I’m more confident about just slapping a sample or instrument patch in and leaving it because it sounds good. As far as what’s stayed the same, while it has evolved, my obsession with melodies is still there. From the beginning, it’s just felt natural for me to start with a lead or chord progression and just stack other complementary melodies on top of it until it sounds like mud and I hate myself. This has definitely stayed relatively consistent.
phuture: While we’re figuratively in your studio, what’s your ritual in order to get in your headspace and focus on music? I.e. some people need a full pack of smokes and a beer on hand while some people need to have a disco ball going while they work. things of that nature.
refractor: CAFFEINE. A study I just made up shows that there is direct correlation between the amount of caffeine in a producer’s bloodstream and the quality of the work he/she does at that time. Beyond this, it’s the aforementioned mental fuel. This fuel can be gathered by changing where you work, going out and doing things differently, or natural accumulation. Another huge part of it is being able to act on your drive when it’s there or simply accept when it’s not there and be able to just walk away and not worry about it.
phuture: Can you tell us about the moment you said, “holy shit, I NEED to make music,”?
refractor: I’ve been playing music my whole life. My mom made me take piano lessons in elementary school and I started playing upright bass in my city’s youth orchestra in fifth grade and stuck with it until I graduated high school. I was also in choir in middle school, play bass guitar in a band now, and a few other things here and there. I’ve also always been into electronic music- Daft Punk’s Discovery was like the first album I downloaded when I finally got an iPod. I really disliked playing in the orchestra because I felt unproductive sitting there and practicing this piece to eye-bleeding perfection that someone else wrote. I didn’t realize it then, but this was one of the first indicators that I needed to be making my own things. In late high school, I started messing around with FL and then nabbed a copy of Ableton. It made no sense and I knew I was terrible at it but for whatever reason I just kept going. Now I’ve been doing it for a bit and I can’t imagine it not being a part of my life. Not making music is an insanely scary thought.
phuture: What do you feel needs to be addressed and/or changed in the music industry, like right now?
refractor: The music industry is an industry. A lot of people forget that. Music is art, sure. Art should be original and expressive. However, in a large industry, things need to be accessible by the masses for maximum profit. The reason we can experience so much great music so conveniently is because of how watered down and easily sellable a lot of it is. People often get angry about artists selling out or making a style that’s already super prevalent, but they need to realize there’s a difference between a brand-name artist with a tailored sound and curated aesthetic and some dude making stuff that he likes. A lot of these major cookie-cutter producers also still make their own art. We might not hear it because it doesn’t fit the sound of Jauz or San Holo or whatever, but they’re still artists and they are still capable of originality. If you want to make a lot of money making music, you’re gonna have to make music that will make a lot of money. If you want to be a hipster and make dope songs that a few people will like, chances are you’re not gonna make much money, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
phuture: What can we be looking forward to from you in the future (no pun intended, but okay, maybe just a lil bit)?
refractor: Hopefully more stuff like photon. I love banger music as much as the next guy, but I also love higher melodic complexity and song movement. I hope to combine those two things more. That said, I’d also like to make more weird, experimental stuff. I want people to listen to it and think, “what even is this? wait, I love this. wait, what’s going on?”