Ambient music duo, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, consisting of Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie, released their third album this past Friday. Titled The Undivided Five, the band shows growth in their blissful and beautiful brand of ambient music, delivering a final shot into the night for this decade. The band have been doing plenty of press over the past week, but we asked them to break down the album, how it was made and the creative inspiration behind each song with a Director’s Cut feature. Wilzie speaks for the group on this feature.
In addition to album, the pair released a short documentary on the making of the album and announced some North American tour dates in 2020, which you can find on their website.
OUR LORD DEBUSSY
Getting started is always the most taxing part of recording. We were in L.A. in Dustin’s studio, experimenting with chord changes. On breaks we were usually eating tacos and listening to Debussy. When listening to Claude’s chords you have to codify so you can tell the fractile differences. His inverted chords & parallel fifths will haunt our dreams forever. He was one of the many elephants in the room for this record.
This piece started as a little chord progression in D minor. I had sampled some Prophet 5 and Juno 60 paddy tones and made this (typical Adam process) Kontact patch made of analog garden mulch. Then ran it through Francesco’s 16-track 2inch tape machine. We then resampled it again and spat it out. That is the sound you hear at the beginning. It needed 2 stages of crappiness to get to the warm glowing glow.
THE HAUNTED VICTORIAN PENCIL
This one is our token felt piano track on the recording. We used Dustin’s August Förster stand up in his Berlin studio, and some special felt that he procured from his time living in Italy. We DIY styled it and just used duck tape to stick pieces of felt to the soundboard hanging down in-between the hammers and the strings. Pure softness.
THE SLOW DESCENT HAS BEGUN
As we write this it is the only track we have ever recorded with a violin solo. It was by far the hardest track to finish; we progressed by feel and dead reckoning essentially. We tried to record the solo in 4 different locations, and even tried it on cello, as we started having doubts if the voices inside our heads were playing tricks on us.
Then two weeks before the mix started we tried one last time at the Beguinage church in Adam’s neighborhood in Brussels. The church acted as some otherworldly force of puffy cloud goodness.
Perfect, done, move on!
A MINOR FIFTH IS MADE OF PHANTOMS
These two pieces of music are the most personal for me. It was extremely difficult to let go of this one. Although they have two titles, it has always essentially been one song. Phantoms was something I was experimenting with for a while to have the drone morph into a complex orchestral chordal arrangement. It took a few different tracking sessions to get the layers of strings correct.
The large string ensemble sessions were done in a series of overdubs so we could have more control in the mix, as traditional music of this nature is done in one pass. We also brought down some microphones from our own studios, using Coles 4038 ribbon mics as a kind of alternative Decca Tree (spaced microphone array most commonly used for orchestral recording) and a set of old water cooler bottles with microphones dangling inside.
For this track we recruited the help of two of Los Angeles’ finest, Bryan Senti on the broken textured violin solo and Christopher Wray expanding further on his Ghost Lolita Modular Synth textures. This one was a slow burn to its final destination and was recorded in almost 4 different countries. Sometimes in order to make breakthroughs, we need to empower our best friends to help us find our own voice.
RHYTHM OF A DIVIDING PAIR
The song title sort of preceded the music in a sense. We were looking to create some melodic palettes with some simple but different analog sounds.
We were fortunate to procure 2 vintage and extremely overpriced synthesizers. A Korg PS-3100, a Roland Jupiter 8, and Dustin has a vintage Prophet 5 in his studio,
then suddenly we did something we almost never do, we started jamming? Jamming has become sort of an icky word in these “we are serious composer times,” but on this particular occasion and with the randomness of the sounds that were coming out of the machines it lead to something we were both quite pleased with. In the end it turned out to be a valid stylization, as we found a way to anchor it within the context of the sound of the record.
Obviously the second half of the song takes a big swing in the direction of the large string ensemble, but as things go with composing music, sometimes, “improvisational jams need company.”
Keep It Dark, Deutschland
AWVFTS was born out of foggy nights, and Italian espresso sessions in Dustin’s old dilapidated apartment in Friedrichshain in East Berlin. After living in Berlin for 10 years it was time to say goodbye. An incredibly rich creative time as well as some of the most depressing times of life, but it seemed to suit the purpose. And this melody was born out of that time, so sit back, put yer trotters up and relax to the sound of a beautifully recorded Fazioli piano from our session in Udine, Italy.