Petrichor is the scent of the earth when rain falls on dry ground. That smell is pretty universally loved with the clarity of clean air in nature. Simon Stokes is trying to evoke that feeling of bliss through music under his Petrichor alias. Following up his 2015 album on Soma Records, Stokes is back with a new album Narisshu that is filled with warm and blissful melodies, soft percussion and floating synths. It is an easy listen from start to finish with each song seemingly molding into each other for one complete piece of music.
Stokes uses an arsenal of digital and analog gear to make his music, so we thought it was a perfect time to have him explain How It Was Made. He takes us behind the scenes and into the studio to explain how pieces of equipment were used on the record for more context on this hour-long journey of bliss.
Listen to the album as you follow along. It can be acquired or streamed digitally and on vinyl here. The following is from Petrichor.
After my first Petrichor album on Soma Records, Mångata (2015), I felt like I needed to just spend time experimenting with music again rather than having a goal in mind. This gives you the freedom to really enjoy making music without the pressure of a release or a deadline, which tends to be when I make my best stuff.
This period went on way longer than I had planned. Years. In the end Soma came back to chase me up and see when number two was going to come along – and just a quick 12 months later I handed Narisshu in to the office. I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as a prolific producer.
I prefer to work with a concept when I’m making an album. This doesn’t have to be something which literally is the basis for every track, but more something which inspires me when I’m sitting in the studio, leads me down a path emotionally that makes me feel like making music. For my first solo album the concept was about sequences that you find in nature. I’d use things like the Fibonacci sequence as a way to program drums or synth parts and it got music started, or just thinking about sequences you see in space on a planetary scale would be inspiring.
For this album the concept originally started when my wife’s uncle came across these incredible old metal records. They were created at machines in seaside resorts in England that could record a minute of your voice directly onto disc and it gave you the disc and a set of wooden styli to play them with on your gramophone afterwards. On one side was your voice and on the other was an advert for cigarettes, different times.
The discs had recordings of his family on it, sent from England to an RAF base in Uganda according to the envelopes they were in, and he had never heard their voice recorded before and this got me inspired about all the voices that have been lost over the years. I started gathering lost voices and using them as inspiration to make music – tapes of me singing in primary school that my parents came across, recordings I found on old tape loops that I bought on eBay – stuff like that.
When my baby Cora was born I had a hiatus from making music, but when I came back to work on the album properly I had so much inspiration from that insane and amazing journey through the start of her life. So that became a strong concept for the album alongside the lost voices – growth. The title track “Narisshu” (which means Nourish) was written after I saw the first scan of Cora and was totally overwhelmed with emotion, and you can hear her heartbeat in the womb right at the start of the album on the track "San."
Using these concepts the basis of the tracks for the album were formed and it gave me a narrative to work with whilst creating it.
I have a studio at my music school (subSine | Academy of Electronic Music) where I tend to spend long nights when I’m in the middle of a creative burst. I’ve been collecting equipment over the years so have managed to build up a really diverse setup but still keep it very playable and usable for writing music.
My process for this album revolved primarily around making textures first as the basis of all the tracks, rather than starting with beats. To do this, I would often use the Fender Rhodes running through my Eurorack modular setup and into Ableton Live to be further processed.
I got my Fender Rhodes about 10 years ago – it popped up on Gumtree and within 5 minutes I was on my way to pick it up from someone who only lived a few doors down from me, it was a really lucky find. I’d always wanted one, and it has consistently been the instrument I go back to again and again.
I use Ableton Live as the center of my setup – I’m an Ableton Certified Trainer so I know the software inside out and back to front. Using Ableton Push to control all the hardware in my studio is a really fast and creative way of making music for me.
Aside from the Rhodes & Modular synth, a lot of the sounds from my new album came from the Waldorf Microwave XTK.
I fell for the Waldorf synths many years ago when I bought the Blofeld (which I still use a lot to this day) but I just love the layout of these old ones from the 90s. When the (extremely rare) 30 voice keyboard version came up on eBay in Edinburgh (about an hour from me) I made a deal with myself that I’d sell the desktop version to fund it. I still have both.
I do this a lot with equipment – I have a kind of weird emotional attachment to it. I look at some machines gathered in dust and feel like I should probably sell them, but I can’t bring myself to do it. What tends to happen is I re-discover bits of kit I used to love and they become the forefront of my setup for a while. It keeps things fresh I guess, although it’s not so good on the wallet.
Speaking of which, my favorite effect unit has to be the Space Echo.
What can you say about the Space Echo? It’s a stone-cold classic bit of kit. From early dub and reggae music right through to Basic Channel dub techno and Nils Frahm you can hear the space echo doing its thing.
It’s a tape echo machine from the 80s, and I snapped up a bargain on one imported from Japan – it still had its original Japanese cleaning kit (unopened) and was in basically mint condition until I started using it on everything in my studio, and also fiddling with its insides to try to get it to do new things.
There’s a really saturated, warm feeling to the sound that comes out of it and I ran at least one or two sounds from every track through it for that reason. I have it set up on a return track in Ableton Live (using External Audio Effect) so I can easily run anything from my project right through it without having to wire anything up.
I also used the SH-101 on a lot of tracks in this project, but always very heavily processed. Often I use the filter to get really nice snappy clicks from it, run them through a bunch of effects and use that as a textural basis for a track. For some reason clicks inspire me. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing to do with vinyl? Not sure, but I start most tracks with textures and clicks.
I also use it in my live setup for performing the tracks from Narisshu. So the above instruments were used heavily in the production of Narisshu and will probably stay in my studio for life.