To the initiated, Indian electronic music is best associated with Goa trance and more recently main stage electronic music. However, there has been a bubbling and interesting scene of house, techno and other forms of electronic music rising to the surface. Dualist Inquiry is one of those riding that wave of new and eclectic electronic music, fusing post-rock, indie and electronica all into his own sound. He released his new EP Life Forms, which starts with a science lesson and then evolves into sublime indie electronica. The project feels very organic, with a ton of techniques and instruments used to create it. With that in mind, we asked Dualist Inquiry to show us How It Was Made.
Listen to the EP now as you follow along with the in-depth description of what was used throughout the project.
I started working on this EP almost a year ago, when I was at the tail end of a long-fought battle with writer’s block. After 8 years of being a professional musician, what once seemed easy had started to feel quite difficult because I couldn’t get past the weight of expectation that underscored all my releases. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t continue to make music under such pressure, so I made some major changes to my life, including moving my home and studio from New Delhi (one of India’s largest cities) to Goa (a sleepy, beachside paradise). I was spending a lot of time in the studio, but also going on these long walks in the forest that really helped me reconnect with myself. That’s how I came upon the theme and concept of Life Forms.
My music writing process usually starts with my favorite guitar - the Fender Telecaster. I have a few Teles, but for this one I used the Fender Select Telecaster, which has two beautiful noiseless single coil pickups that give me the dreamy, bell-like tone I’m looking for. I use the neck pickup 90% of the time - it feels like my signature sound, and so I keep going back to it.
Fractal Audio Axe-FX II
Instead of an amp, I used the Fractal Audio Axe-FX II, which allows me to build new signal chains without having to worry about getting new pedals every time. I use a Fender Twin Reverb or Fender Tweed Deluxe amp model, and with some analog chorus or rotary effects to layer guitar tracks on top of each other to create an interesting sounding mix.
Strymon BigSky Reverb Pedal:
One of the key pieces of gear that went into making this song is the Strymon BigSky Reverb pedal - it’s what you hear prominently on the guitar in the intro (and rest of) Life Forms. I used the “Hall” mode with a ridiculously long reverb tail of 9 seconds. I really like that the Strymon allows me to attenuate low, mid and high-end frequencies separately so I’m not getting a muddy reverb sound. It just has so much character and sounds like a much more expensive rack reverb unit. I’m yet to come across another reverb that sounds so light, transparent and detailed.
While I was recording the intro of the Life Forms, I found this lecture on YouTube by an American philosophy professor, Dr. Eric Steinhart. Dr. Steinhart was explaining Conway’s Game of Life, which is a cellular automaton simulation that can serve as a simplified metaphor for life itself. It all fit quite well, so I added his lecture to the song.
I recorded my live band for the first time in one of my studio productions, and the result was a record that sounds much more “alive” than programmed drums, keys and violin. Shout out to my brilliant band - Suyash, Sayan and Anil for their contributions.
Nord Lead A1:
I used a Nord Lead A1 for the pads. One of my favorite things about this synth is how the midrange sounds in the mix - it’s somehow different from almost every other synth I’ve played. The midrange is full, yet doesn’t need to be mid-scooped out to make it sound better. And the inbuilt Chorus widens pads and leads in a very physical way that sounds incredible when recorded in stereo.
The Korg Minilogue XD was used to record the high-pitched lead sound. The new digital oscillator on the XD is perfect to add digital harmonics to an analog patch, and the cut off is one of my favorite things about it. As with plugins, I prefer to work with instruments that are quick to give me the sound I’m looking for when I’m writing music, before I forget my ideas. I tend to tweak and fiddle with my gear when I’m not writing, as it’s a completely different process.
I then layered the live drums with sounds from the Roland TR-8S drum machine, using the included 909 kit - I wanted to strike just the right balance of sounding “live,” but also electronic. In the past I’ve often found producing drums to be the least fun bit of my process, but that’s changed since the TR-8S came into my studio.
Since I had just shifted my studio, my new room in Goa wasn’t acoustically treated. So, I wasn’t able to use the Genelec 8030 monitors I’ve used for so long, and instead produced & mixed this EP entirely using these Sennheiser HD650 open back headphones. I think they’re a great pair of cans, especially for the price.
And finally, I recently picked up a 22-channel Soundcraft mixer to tie my whole studio together. It’s not the most glamorous piece of gear, but it’s crucial to my workflow dozens of times a day. This particular model (the Signature 22 MTK) allows me to send tracks from Ableton back into any number of channels on the mixer. I can then record wet signals from my pedal board, use the Axe FX as an external effect’s unit and re-record everything back into the DAW. I also used analog-summing techniques to tie the drum sounds together in a bus - this board has surprisingly great sounding EQs. It felt like my studio was fragmented before I got this mixer, and now it feels cohesive and tied-together because of it.