LA producer Sweatson Klank has released a new ambient project Path of an Empath. With a blizzard coming down outside, it is just the right type of music for a cozy day indoors. Or if you head out into the elements, this is good for walking around amidst the gusts of wind and growing mounds of snow.
He created this as “a musical antidote to all the anxiety and suffering” to help deal with the struggles of 2020. The opener embraces the beauty of nature with birdcalls and feeling of being out in the wild. That theme is woven throughout the largely beatless project that is ambient, beautiful and soothing with a touch of new age and post rock. It picks up slightly at the end with “Rhythms in the Distance” that adds light percussion to synths, piano and strings.
The record was created using a whole bunch of synths, samplers and other machines. These are used to make funky jams most of the time, but have been repurposed for this ambient EP. We asked Sweatson Klank to dive into his production process with the hardware used on Path of an Empath for a How It Was Made feature. Listen to the project, grab your copy (including a vinyl) on Bandcamp and read on for the feature.
1. Rhodes 73
There's a good story behind this baby, which happens to be one of my most cherished pieces of gear. About 10 years ago a friend of mine stopped by a yard sale and this baby was just sitting on the lawn for sale amongst a bunch of otherwise not so great household junk. He already owned one but asked how much they were selling it for. $75 dollars later it was in his car, and a few days later he sold it to me for the same price. I'm forever grateful for that.
On Path of an Empath, I used this a lot for bass tones. I love the tone and vibrations of the lower notes on a Rhodes. I often hit a low note, sustain it with the pedal and then sample & loop the decay tail to create low bass pads which I can then re-pitch and play like a keyboard. There is so much warmth in them, especially after a bit of eq processing and filtering.
2. ASR 10 Sampler
This was the first sampler I ever owned. Back when I went by the artist name: TAKE and before I had a computer with any music making software, I made my first four or five records completely on this thing. At this point most producers know of the ASR 10 as it was used by Kanye, Timberland & RZA, to name just a few. At the time it never quite gained the same popularity as the MPC 2000 but those that fell in love with it would swear by it, myself included. I used this in multiple ways on the record. As I previously mentioned I sampled bass notes off the Rhodes Seventy Three with it to create bass patches which are all over the album.
I also used it to sample some vinyl samples, which are sprinkled throughout the record. One of the ways I like to break out of normal workflow is to just grab a synth and just record myself noodling, sometimes for 20 minutes. I then find small stand out moments within that 20 minute noodle session and resample them with the ASR 10 and process them through its incredible effects engine. The 16 bit sound engine combined with surprisingly fantastic digital reverbs and delay effects as well as a legendary resonant filter make it a great tool for sound design with samples.
3. Juno 106
It's crazy to me how expensive Juno's have gotten. I bought mine years ago for $300. Lets just say over the years though I've probably put over $1000 into repairs. They are notoriously finicky and voices go out. Are they worth the high price ticket and maintenance costs? I would say so, but be prepared for the headaches as well. Both the 106 and the 60 are very thick sounding instruments that cut through any mix. I used it on the track "Rhythms in the Distance" for the main lower pitched chords, which are prominent throughout, as well as some of the pads in the song. It's also a tremendously fun instrument to explore as its slider modulation parameters are all easily at your fingertips, making for great real time exploration.
4. Korg DW 8000
This is a fun synth and quite powerful too! It's got those quintessential 1980's Korg sounds. As with many 80's synths, most of the modulation parameters are no longer on the faceplate of the synth and we're forced to program internally through buttons and up/down arrows. There is an external programmer for this, which I would love to get as this synth has so many possibilities.
One thing it does have off the bat is a super fun and easy to use arpeggiator. I used the arp on the Korg DW 8000 on 4 of the songs on the record: “Form & Formless,” “Light Bridge,” “Ultra Marine” and “Path of an Empath.” I really like the feeling of loose arps so I didn’t even midi clock the tempo of the arps to the songs. I just used my ears to get them in approximate time and tracked long passages of me modulating the arps with filter cut off, resonance, decay, with the synth running into a cheap TC Electronics delay pedal. I then took the best parts of those long passages and incorporated them into the songs.
5. Korg DS-8
The Korg DS-8 is an FM synth. Again external modulation parameters are super limited so we're forced to go into a tiny LCD screen to do our editing with 3 sliders available for our parameters. I used this for some pad and string sounds on “Rhythms in The Distance.” My DS-8 is pretty beat up but it’s a good go to for those 80's sounding pianos, electric pianos and string sounds that just ooze with 80's goodness.
6. Yamaha DX 7
Not much I can say about this synth that hasn't already been said. It's a beast. Notoriously hard to program but an FM sound that's just so big, thick and cuts through everything. I used this a bunch on the track "Sitting by The Lake in Zurich." The chords, the string pads, bass, plucks and really high pitched little flares that sound like short arpeggios are all from the DX7 run through a Memory Boy Deluxe Delay pedal and recorded direct from its mono output. A few years ago I went on a kick of buying additional ROM cartridges for the DX7 particularly from Japan and made in the 80's. There were some incredible programmers at the time that made 3rd party sound banks for the DX-7 and they really don't disappoint.
7. Marantz PMD-221 Tape Recorder
The sound of tape is known for its often forgiving and warming characteristics. Small quarter inch tape isn't my go to for recording whole songs, as I find the bass really loses depth, but on high frequency sounds it really cuts the edges and adds some grit and lo fi hiss that's unbeatable. For this record I had collected a ton of mostly nature field recording sounds. Some I had recorded with my phone while on hikes or at the lake or river. I took those field recordings and passed them to tape and then re-recorded them back out of the tape player to the DAW just to give them that sound. I also took a few vinyl samples, slowed them way down and recorded them to tape and back out. Particularly some of the pianos on "Ultra Marine"
8. Yamaha FB-01 Kawai KR4
Both are super affordable little synth modules, which I love for added accents when I’m looking for little things to sprinkle on a track when it's almost done. The sounds in both synths are very typical of the period they are from. The FB-01 is somewhat similar to a DX 7 but with more stock patches and some really thick percussive bells. I used some of those bells heavily processed and pitched in "Light Bridge." It's the kind of synth that needs quite a bit of processing but can yield surprising results with a little work. The Kawai has a really 16-bit sound to it. I'm pretty sure many of its stock sounds are sample-based, which give it that fake, yet realistic instrument sound. I sampled some strings from it and pitched and reversed them for certain sections in "Rhythms in the Distance."
9. API PREAMPS
All of the above synths were tracked into my Black Lion Audio lunch box, through an SSL 2+ interface and into Ableton. First in the chain is a pair of API 512V preamps. I love these preamps so much. They allow you to drive the gain real hard but control the output volume separately, which can really add some nice punch and even crunchy artifacts when you want them. Those then go into a pair of HRK 5169 eq's which have a handy sweepable mid section, and really nice airy low end.
So there you have it. In closing, I'm a firm believer that anyone can make music with even cheap or beat up equipment. My studio is far from perfect. I love using things in ways they weren't meant to be used and experimenting with the results. It doesn't always work but sometimes those happy accidents turn out to be the most special part of a song. While we all want more gear, better gear, and the quest can seem endless, I believe in getting creative with what you have and just going for it.