:resistance: “small reminders” (2022) review and interview

“:resistance:” is the musical project of Mike Scheibinger who’s based out of Wisconsin. His debut album,“small reminders,” is made up of seven songs, each carrying effortlessly into the next giving the magical feeling of one song (42:33 runtime).

The opening track, “steel,” begins almost inaudibly quiet but a small crescendo quickly brings out a dense synthesizer with a few string-like sounds interwoven therein, all giving way to gentle and emotional guitar that continues over the gorgeous background hum and buzz of synths. At 3:29, what sounds like a glissando on a xylophone (be sure to wear headphones to get the full panning effect at 3:40), commences the minute-and-a-half dissolution of the song. As all the other instruments fade out, “steel” ends with a solo repetitive noise that reminds me of the sound a printer makes when it prints a page, which one might expect to sound jarring and out of place but it isn’t.

In the second song, “cold comfort,” beautiful piano wanders over a droning synth. It’s a texturally spacious and open song, with little movement compared to the two songs on either side of it. The same piano arpeggio that opens the third song, “harvest time at little belaire,” functions as the home key of classical compositions that the music modulates away from and then returns to (or doesn’t return to in this case after the last time it’s heard at 1:18). The piano arpeggio sets the tone and allows what follows to have more of an impact. Starting around 0:40, rhythmic beeping that’s tonally dulled (sounds underwater) is contrasted with pulsing, dynamic synths to create a stunning juxtaposition to the very end.

The fourth and middle song, “springfield,” has the longest runtime at 8:42. It’s repetitive piano chords continue over a density-amalgamation of swishing-grass sounds, rhythmic lapping, short siren-like bursts that tonally almost resemble a trumpeting elephant, and many other sounds besides these. Some of which are more random and jarring, but always in a beneficial way to the whole, and some more rhythmic and flowing. This continues until 4:13, at which point a chime begins to add even more texture to the unfolding denseness. There is a lot going on in this piece and it escalates midway and then decrescendo’s as you get into the 7:00 zone, but always it is held together most satisfyingly by the ever-present piano chord.

On the sixth song, “acrow flood,” reverb-laden guitars induce dreamy textures and instills the listener with a sense of unhurried movement like the ocean tide withdrawing. This particular song reminds me of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Twin Peaks Theme,” even though it is different in important ways. Regardless, you won’t want to miss this heart-wrenching soundscape of untethered emotion and beauty. Scheibinger writes, “‘arcrow flood’ from the album ‘small reminders’ is pretty interesting to me as far as things to talk about. I guess it could be (very loosely) called a simple ‘non-twelve-tone serialist’ composition in which intervals, durations, and rhythm are all plugged into the formula. The serialized phrases are distributed evenly along a downward-trending non-linear tempo curve that slopes steeply and never stops in one place. This rapid decrease facilitates an initial energy burst that spends itself very quickly before settling into a gradual deepening that runs continuously throughout the entire track.”

Writing a review of an ambient album is strange. It makes me wonder if there are no words for music without words. Perhaps it is counterproductive to describe an ambient work whose meaning is textural, harmonic, and noise-based, rather than lyrically-based. It certainly takes me more effort and thought and doesn’t permit lazy-listening! That said, I asked Scheibinger for an interview and he kindly agreed:

  1. How improvisational is this album? Did you compose it all beforehand and practice until you
    knew it by heart? What was the writing and recording process like?

    All the music gets written as I record it. Composing, performing, arranging, producing, mixing—it all
    happens simultaneously. At the end though, there’s always a lot of dedicated mixing—that’s when I put
    all my energy into defining the space and sorting everything out, to get the most out of the materials.
  2. When did you first start working on this album, and when did you finish? How long exactly did
    it take?

    I wrote steel at the height of the global lockdown, and after that I decided to make an album while the
    world was in that situation; steel never moved from its pole position as the album’s opener, and arcrow
    flood was the last track to get finished in October 2022. The vibe on steel is a direct reflection of
    lockdown while it was happening, the isolation of it—not desolation—just isolation. The pandemic is
    why this project is called :resistance: I was thinking about resistance to disease at first, but then the
    whole concept of resistance in and of itself, resistance to anything, kind of took on a life of its own in my
    thought patterns. Resistance to typical urges—ego-driven, market-driven, habit-driven, expectation-
    driven, mood-driven, technology driven, anxiety driven… Lockdown was an opportunity for me to put
    inner conflicts under the microscope, to help me settle on a working method or system for cranking out
    music that can reasonably be called ambient but draws from all over the place.
  3. What specific musical artists influenced the album? Are there any influences outside of the
    sphere of music that consciously had an impact on it (books, places, people, buildings,
    animals, inanimate objects, paintings…
    Writers. Deleuze, for sure. His ideas about desire, freedom, limitations and boundaries and creativity.
    The track title, harvest time at little belaire, is ripped from a book called Engine Summer, by John
    Crowley. ‘Little Belaire’ is a place where this gentle postapocalyptic society lives. They harvest a
    psychedelic plant out in the countryside. The children play this strange, quiet, non-competitive game,
    and I was thinking of this game when I wrote the opening melody. Lots of Haruki Murakami feels.
    Proust, as an example of how to slice into somebody else’s mind and then invade it with your own to
    positively identify with it. Also, systematic microdosing / minidosing. I listen to a lot of new music in all
    genres, so of course that all funnels into it. A friend of mine heard steel and remarked, ah yea, a little
    Floyd, a little Lanois, this blends seamlessly in my Eno playlist. Sure, but I never even thought about that
    before he mentioned it—well, maybe Eno. I’ll take the complement!
  4. How analogue or electronic is it? Are there elements of both (and if so can you elaborate and
    describe specific tracks)?

    All the sources are analog except for a tiny amount of soft synth material that eventually remained after
    first being put there as scratch tracks. I record digitally at 24-bit / 96 kHz. I pass certain tracks over real
    analog tape, especially texture tracks. I use a lot of cheap analog stomp boxes, and I do a lot of reamping
    through different guitar amps—Fender, Marshall, Vox, the usual tube amp suspects. As far as the
    instruments, there aren’t many: Gretsch electric lap steel, Rhodes piano, a few electric guitars, some
    autoharp on steel. For analog synths, I have a Sequential Prophet 08 and an Arturia PolyBrute. On the
    digital receiving side, halfway through the record I upgraded to Apple Silicon, which is amazing. The
    massively increased computing power is what allowed me to work in real time with no rendering over the tempo curves on both arcrow flood and springfield. My old i7 system could never have handled that load, but the M1 slices through it easily, and with many cycles to spare. On the tech level, Apple Silicon is the best gear thing that’s happened in my studio in a long time.
  1. Where did you get the album cover? Is it a painting or photograph? Can you explain why you
    chose this for the album cover? How does it represent the album?

    It’s a photograph that I made at a fairground attraction. The child is in a big plastic bubble, floating
    around in a pool. He can crawl around inside the bubble and have fun in the water while not getting
    wet. Some people are freaked out by it—they think the child is in danger. He doesn’t look frightened to
    me though, rather he looks like he’s dreaming. I like the ambiguity. Originally, I was going to call the
    album cold comfort, which actually better suits the cover—warm and cool. cold comfort has this
    ambiguity—it’s a new-age piano music track, which of course invites all the cynicism you can throw at it,
    and yet it has this other thing happening, something that a friend of mine called alien—not sci-fi alien,
    but emotionally alien, which for me runs back to Proust and his explorations of emotional complexity.
    You don’t find a lot of melody in ambient music, but I love melody and I can’t resist it, and I’ve learned
    that I shouldn’t try to resist it, but how many notes can I erase from a composed melody before it loses
    all its utility? It’s like a game. It’s similar to Eno’s Oblique Strategies, in which you pull a card to force
    yourself out of a rut, or to invoke a scene change. My cards would all have two sides: one with a thing
    on it, like an element of music, sound, space, and the other its opposite, or occasionally its negation. The
    game is to locate yourself on a specific continuum, like say for example, a point between sonority and
    noise. Choose the point and then style the work until it fits the classic ambient genre, in particular the
    aspect that the music should be pleasing and work well across a wide range of spaces and settings and
    attentions. I’ve had a lot more fun making music since I started working this way. I’m more often
    pleased by the work, it’s easier to make, and it’s easier to mix.
  2. Is this album a one-time thing or do you have plans to release more music in the future? 
    More :resistance: music!
  3. How did it come about that Rafael Anton Irisarri mastered it? Did he also mix it?
    I listened to a lot of new ambient music over lockdown. 21 st century ambient music is seriously having a
    golden moment here, and I suppose the pandemic fed the fire a little, like it did with KMRU on ‘Peel’ for
    example, but this was already happening, and especially with artists who identify as female. The quality
    is really off the chart. But anyway, very often I would like something well enough to look up who
    mastered it, and Rafael’s name came popping up over and over. I decided I was going to ask him to
    master small reminders long before I finished the project. When the time came, he was so approachable
    and so quick—it all happened really fast. I passed full mixes to him with one note: steel as a benchmark
    for perceived dynamic range. He knew exactly what to do, I didn’t have to say a word. He nailed it on the
    first pass, and I can tell that he gave it his full attention. The way he focused those images to make the
    sonic landscapes float out in front of the speakers is outstanding sonic holography, and it translates well
    to any decent playback system. It was such a sweet way to wrap the project. After mastering, I felt like I
    was hearing everything for the first time, and that is a great feeling to have, especially after running low
    on objectivity by the end of the process. Mr. Irisarri is a real master of the genre, and he’s great to work
  4. What is your favorite song on the album and why? 

I keep coming back to arcrow flood as being the paper score I’d hand in to my Music
Composition 101 instructor if I had one. harvest time at little belaire was my least favorite, but
after Mr. Irisarri mastered it, I could feel all these new intensities, like a metallic energy and
sense-of-place dimensionality, that I didn’t even realize was there—hooray! steel scratches my
progressive rock itch a little, scaffold falls makes me feel like I’m getting some control over
maintaining interest on a really stark, minimalist palette, springfield was just about fun, and
cold comfort is short and concise. universal splitter is weird—if anything, it’s about how to drain
the energy out of something until there’s nothing left—that’s why it’s the last track. If you can
make it to the end, it’s completely spent.

You can stream and purchase “small reminders” by :resistance: on Bandcamp: https://resistance5.bandcamp.com/album/small-reminders

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