The Director's Cut: Phraktal - Nightwalk [Limbo Black]

Irish duo Phraktal takes us behind the scenes of their album 'Nightwalk.'
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Phraktal - Nightwalk

Phraktal - Nightwalk

Irish-duo Phraktal recently released their album, Nightwalk, via Limbo Black. Coming from a media background, the album encapsulates their experiences into a wild story full of twists and turns. As you'll find below, at the heart of each record is a cinematic landscape, something that really stands out with this album. 

Below, the duo gets back into the director's chair and walks us through the inspiration for each track for the latest installment of The Director's Cut. They've even included a gallery of their studio setup for added flare. 

How to listen: There are a couple of ways to proceed. First, you can listen to the whole album, which you will find below, and then read the notes. Or, read the notes as you listen to each track. This will completely change your perspective on the whole release itself and bring you closer to the artist and their work.

Words and photos by Phraktal

Phraktal

Phraktal

1. Nightwalk

One of the greatest strengths we share from our professional careers in the media landscape is the power to create compelling stories. From cinema, TV, and digital to websites and rich media, no matter the input format, the power of visual and aural media can reach deeper into a person than they can themselves, so taking that holistic approach to storytelling is something we are passionate about.

If you strip back most of the pieces of music we have created over the years to just their bare-bones/essence, they all have a core layer of soundscape that becomes the driving force.

With “Nightwalk” it’s no different, we let the story develop organically in the studio with layers of dreamy analog synth pads from our Korg Z1, Roland V-Synth GT & tweaked sounds from Sylenth, REFX Nexus and manipulated the frequency consistently through automation with various processors/VSTs while simple percussion from the TR 8 keeps the time.

Being the title track off the album we wanted to be upfront about what’s ahead for the listener. Some of these productions have been 10+ years in the making. The mood is exploratory, adventurous, but it has its dark moments just as the album has.

2. Roll with it

Most of our music is created either by passing tracks, sometimes multiple times between us back and forth to refine the grooves and tweak before finishing in the studio to sharpen the overall arrangement and sound quality but with this track for the album, the name says what we were thinking. 

Rather than take a back and forth approach to creation, we decided to just roll with it and spent a day in the studio laying down every single idea no matter how far out it was, piecing the track together like a jigsaw puzzle consecutively as the ideas came out, so what you hear is almost our day-long studio session condensed into 4-minutes, thus what you hear goes from weird guitar solo’s, a lot of coughing, downtempo beats, scissors cutting and orchestral moments – just whatever came into our heads at the time, et voilà – Roll with it!

3. Head V Heart

Our original idea was to craft a funky disco house number that harked back to times of dancefloors with big love, big hair, and kitsch set-piece entertainment but as we worked on the track it became clear that was not our sound, no matter how objective we were the feeling eluded us.

So, we decided to strip things back and kept the funk, playing some wah style guitar licks and funky synth riffs and that laid the basis for what followed.

The Roland TR-8 drum machine was used once again, this time with 909 rides and hats. Before we settled on a pad for the string section we auditioned many presets with Spectrasonics Omnisphere coming out on top. The chords we felt moved us most were D#6 followed by F Minor which to the layperson is a triad of three notes stacked upon each other swinging back and forth in a 4/4 bar pattern, climaxing to notes G, C, and D# into the breakdown. The effervescent Access Virus TI woozy fingered filtered bassline, layered with foley from a female tea party, and applause like handclaps kept the groove ticking at 122bpm, mellow yet purposeful.

It’s the kind of track that gives you that euphoria-induced feeling when played loud.

A tribute to late-night 1990’s drug-fueled parties with people you just met in places with carpets stained with a plethora of dodgy substances, some you would rather not know, the invisible tug of war (do we take a chance and live for tonight or pay for it tomorrow).

The battle between Head V Heart, living life carefree in the moment with very little consideration to the consequences of the chemicals you ingested or the people you shared bodily fluids with.

From a technical perspective, we used eight auxiliary sends with a sizable amount of automation and processing. Waves Maserati DRM VST on the Kick Send to give it extra depth. Trueverb aux, which we feed drums, vocals, and anything else we see fit. Valhalla Ubermod delay for accenting the transitions as well as the native Fade to Grey Ableton plugin.

4. Look inside

“Look Inside” is one of our favorite pieces of music on the album and came about after the realization that we had moved away from some of the early production methods we had used in our compositions at the start of our partnership over fifteen years ago.

In our first original single – “This Feel is” and our subsequent remixes of Cassino & Laben’s tracks “Kindness Kind” and “Right now” from back in 2007 had leaned heavily on cut-up and time-stretched vocals and choppy percussive elements courtesy of Soniccharges Microtonic to create jagged grooves and while we wanted to revisit this style, we felt it needed an appropriate fresh, uplifting mood to reflect electronic music’s change from those years ago – and our advancing years where we have enjoyed stand-alone pieces of music to listen to, rather than just dancefloor numbers that only DJ’s would play.

Both of us enjoy quite similar tastes in music and more so our love for cinema and their sound scores is something we are passionate about to evoke an emotional response from the listener.

With the groundwork set for the groove of “Look Inside,” we decided to go all Hollywood and layer it with high-intensity emotion, taking influence from what is most likely one of the best chase scenes in an action movie history – “The Exchange” in the 2018 film Mission Impossible – Fallout. The music of Lorne Balfe creates the ultimate drama, but in-between pauses make what is probably one of the most subtle product placements by two well-known car brands in a film and uses an additional musical piece of dark, dramatic orchestral stabs packed full of action and power. Except we turned it on its head to push the mood in the opposite direction – completely lush, uplifting and jam-packed with that feel-good factor.

Cranking up its lushness we simply layered the main melody using our outboard synth - Access Virus and ReFX Vanguard and multiple Lennar Digital Sylenths, both VST synths we use extensively on the album and reflected these main elements throughout the track with additional sparkly melodies bouncing off the main sequence to elevate the mood even higher into the clouds.

On the return channels, we have nine aux sends set up, we won't go through the entire configuration, what follows is a short overview of how some of the main elements were processed with various plugins.

We have the Bass drum fed through a Waves Maserati DRM to give extra thump/snap to the low end. The vocal channel was colored with a Waves MV2 to enhance the nuances of the performance. The high end is automated with Waves Trueverb and automated delays, reaching a peak at 72% and dry/wet at 82%, which we would normally not recommended but works beautifully in this circumstance.

5. Forbidden

Recently played by John Digweed on his Transitions show. Probably the song we have worked on over the longest period. It began in 2012 in the session view in Ableton as a collection of loops that if memory serves us correctly Brian had been working on.

"Forbidden" was worked in five studios in Ireland, UK, and Holland for 8+ years.

In 2014 we got chatting over the internet with Louise Browne after hearing some of her work on SoundCloud. After she listened to the rough idea, we sent her over some tracks of audio and had a brief discussion about the concept.

A few weeks later she sent back a rough acoustic version along with some raw vocals which we then edited, detuned and elongated to fit in the arrangement.

There were several hardware additions to our setups, finally, we realized our dream of owning an acid squelching Roland 303 and the sequential OB-6 & after some additional production we sent it to a long-time studio partner of ours; Jamez of Touche Records and he worked his magic. He put the icing on the cake as it were, layering beautiful chords and sound effects in his sequencer of choice Presonus one.

"Forbidden" was a labor of love for us, we hope people enjoy the epic nature of the soundscape and the message it conveys. We strive to create music that transcends genres, negative stereotypes, and if we are lucky we get a glimpse of timelessness.

6. Hypnophunk

One of our more recent studio productions, "Hypnophunk" was recorded in the space of three months, from January - April 2020

It was recorded in three studios starting at our former band member John’s home studio, he brought over a bunch of thumping tribal percussive loops, hits, and Sound FX in the arrangement view and we went at it.

Each channel has different processors coloring the sound and send effects automation helps to give the mix a sense of depth. Sidechain compression was used on single and group channels, overall there are 34 channels of sound. Our Roland TR8 was used for the hi-hats and a layered tuned 909 Kick Drum with added compression and decay to enhance the highs and drive the low end.

After we had laid down some other fx we started burning down Stems so Brian could work on it in his studio.

Several weeks later, he sent back an updated version, this time it had a Vanguard bass driving it, tribal vocals, and a glistening ethereal arpeggiator played by the Access Virus TI. It is another that we feel had a pretty decent turnaround time, which we have been doing our best to improve on.

We performed this live at our very first Limbo Live Stream in June 2020

7. Cognisant

"Cognisant" is very much a studio production, the majority of the sounds are drums that were programmed rather than played in, the handful of parts that were performed were the comb filtered pad which weaves its way in and out of the mix. There are also some loops sprinkled through the arrangement from sample packs we have purchased over the years from Sounds to Sample and the Loopmasters collection by the legend Todd Terry.

This arrangement was completed in Ableton as it is our go-to arranger, a highly versatile program that we both have been using for many years, it started as a jam session and ended up finally with 49 Audio Tracks which is around the norm for us, there’s a lot of experimenting with different sounds before the final pre-master, a list of the hardware & software we used on this was the Access Virus TI, Roland TR8, Native Instruments Kontakt, a lot of native Ableton instruments and effects/processors and a lot of sampling. The kick drum is a 4/4 909 Bass drum from our Roland TR8. Multiple sets of congas played off rhythm panned hard left and right work in tandem with each other.

To achieve our sound has taken many years of experimenting, we use a lot of sampling, time-stretching, distortion, frequencies are always filtering and our automation is quite complex, manipulating the frequency spectrum with VSTs like Waves True-verb to give a sense of movement, breathing in our tracks. There’s notch filtering on the main repetitive stab sound, which we love, as it has a sense of calling you to the dance-floor.

8. Cabal

Originally called Kalashnikov, this was one of the fastest turnaround tracks we have completed in recent times. It got worked on in both our studios and is about 75% sampled based. Very little hardware was used on this one. It has many loops, sample hits, and the Vanguard is again employed on 4 of the main channels with low-end bass, mid, and lead synth sounds.

Programmed with FX that come in waves of 16 beats and the introduction of the Sequential OB-6 was used as one of the mid leads that drive the arrangement higher by sequences of arpeggiated keys filtering & resonating up and down the frequency spectrum causing it to feel squelchy, tribal and acidic.

There are vocal cuts from samples, vanguard, and the tribal tech elements.

The groove we feel is contagious and harks back to an era of progressive house that we would have heard on early Limbo & Zoom Records. We stripped back on many of the more lucid elements before the luscious Moroder style pads change the vibe creating a blanket of warmth that wraps around the affected groove.

9. Kruschonk

Most of the arrangement was done late one night, the vibe was very clear, we wanted to write a track that would sound great at a festival or in a nightclub. A thumping kick drum started proceedings, merged with tribal loops set us on our way and we added multiple Firework style FX to add tension & suspense. Our Roland JP8000 was dusted off and put in the game for warmth, rises, and crashes/impacts helped with complex automation. Some additional sound fx were crafted with the Behringer Crave, and we also incorporated the V-Synth GT which featured heavily almost on every track off our first album.

In the final version we ended up with 43 tracks of sound, high and low cut frequency automation is peppered throughout every channel, some of our favorite classic VSTs were used, there were 4 channels of the REFX Vanguard now discontinued, REFX Nexus, and Z3ta+ all had to be bounced. We both use a different OS, which can cause complications, the Vanguard is a 32-bit VST and won't work on a 64 Bit Mac OS so we constantly run into minor hiccups like this, but truth be told it can help in the final mixdown. Committing a channel to audio can bring both hindrances and benefits. Choose wisely.

Kruschonk was recorded just after our debut cover single "Chime" relaunched Limbo Records in 2019.

10. Myopic

As the last song on our album, we wanted to crank things up a notch as we do at the end of our DJ sets.

"Myopic" was designed for a massive sound system, the low-end bass shaking Spectrasonics Trilian was used for one of the bass sounds, sent through a Waves CLA Bass processor and a Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5. The other layered bass line we programmed was the Operator instrument that comes with Ableton.

The only synthesizer we both own in our collection is the ever-present Access Music Virus TI which we used on 3 channels for the main lead.

The onus of this production was on how it makes a person feel while dancing, we programmed it to shake your DNA to its core. The louder it's listened to, the more it seems to reveal its nuances. Roland's XV-5080 has a patch called Grindstone and brought the groove of this tune to life, the interplay between it and a distorted sample that we came across in our sample library was infectious. We used Audio Damages Kombinat and Soundtoys Pan man to give it a relentless flowing from side to side motion. We intended "Myopic" to evoke images of swaying bodies on sweaty dancefloors and people getting lost in the moment.

Following our unforgettable performance at Body & Soul in Ballinlough Castle, Evolving across a dark rumbling bassline, devising an otherworldly soundscape with cosmic synths and distorted synths. Diving into a brooding creation, which allows the listener to get lost in the vast atmosphere before taking control with a breakdown of entrancing melodies and celestial sounds.

Sonic Charges Microtonic is one of our go-to drum machines and was used sporadically through the arrangement, the level of flexibility that can be obtained by tweaking the parameters on this machine is the reason we use it so much and have done since 2008/9. The other VST that is used on 4 channels is the REFX now discontinued (boo) Vanguard, in Brian's studio we still get to use it but, unfortunately, we lost that privilege when Christian migrated to a MAC 64 Bit OS. It's brilliant for low-end bass and leads/synths.

On the Sends returns, we employ different techniques depending on the signal. We have the Bass Drum on a channel running the Maserati DRM by waves, the rest of the drums are processed with a C1 compressor followed by various other FX channels, like H-Delay by waves and Ratshack Reverb by Audio Damage, they all have their part to play.

Myopic's essence is about connecting with people directly through our music & if we are honest is how we feel we communicate best with the world, it transcends boundaries, and gives people hope, it seems to be undergoing a major culture shift with very few people buying music these days, the art seems to be in decline in some areas, streaming services and their CEO's are making huge amounts while the majority of artist's give up before they get going. With so much noise out there, labels not fulfilling even the most basic of artist marketing needs, we are very fortunate & thankful to have signed Nightwalk to what we consider a heritage music brand Limbo Records. To Billy, Kayleigh, Pull Proxy, and the crew at 23rd Precinct massive thanks for all of your hard work x

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