We sit down with Peter bark to talk ambient loop making, his unique hardware collection and creative process!
My workflow is pretty much always changing. I find that one of the most important things is to make composing as streamlined as possible.
Could you tell us a little about the 'Peter Bark' project? When it started, your influences etc.
I started making music in 2010, when I was a junior in high school. I was initially very inspired by Dilla, Fying Lotus, old sample based Bonobo, Burial etc. I didn't get serious about making music until around 2017 when my album 'Solstice' came out. I was still mainly making beat based stuff until 2018 when I released 'Pleasure Cruise / Eventide'. I had been experimenting with moving away from samples, and this was my first fully sample-less release. I wrote some short ambient pieces to use as sample material for this project, and when I showed my friend he suggested that I develop them into full length tracks. This started me down the path of writing ambient music. Recently my output has been skewing more ambient than beat based.
What was the approach to 'Ambient Landscapes'? For example, were you driven by the technology you use, or a mood you were trying to capture?
My main goal on this was to explore as many subsets of the ambient world as possible. I tried to identify 10 unique sub-genres and make the sessions based on them. I wanted to give the artists who will be using this as much utility as possible. I personally feel that a lot of the time sample packs can become repetitive, and I wanted to avoid that.
Could you tell us a little more about your equipment, and how it inspires you? For example, the op-1, the norns and it's various scripts, the d-5 etc.
I've gone through a ton of gear and vsts in the decade plus I've been making music. The single most inspiring thing I've come across is Norns. It really can do everything, and if there's something that it can't do there's a good chance someone is writing a script to do it. I had my eye on it for close to 5 years before I finally pulled the trigger since it is a pretty hefty investment. My top 5 scripts are MLR, Wrms, Larc, Otis, oooooo, and barcode. For anyone interested in norns, or any of the scripts I mentioned, the websitehttps://llllllll.co/is a great resource. The second piece of gear that I find myself using all the time is the OP-1. This is another thing that I had wanted forever, (since I saw it used in the 'Swedish House Mafia' video for one in 2010) but was hesitant to buy due to the price. It is absolutely worth every penny, and offers a really hands on and unique workflow. I find it is a perfect partner for norns.
I've gone through a ton of gear and vsts in the decade plus I've been making music. The single most inspiring thing I've come across is Norns.
Does creating sample loops change how you approach writing? If so, how?
The first time I ever found myself using sample pack type loops was when I was working on my Inner Ocean Sessions EP. I had traveled to the Inner Ocean studio in Calgary, Canada to spend a few days making music. While I was there I recorded a ton of material, and planned to arrange them into songs once I got back to New York. My first thought was to make 4 or 5 individual tracks, but I ended up trying a new technique that became something I now use all the time. I took the samples and layered them in one session, creating a 15 minute long piece of music. I then layered additional parts on top of the loops. When I was done I bounced it into 3-5ish minute long pieces of music. I think this experience gave me some insight into what makes a loop useful.
Your setup seems to move seamlessly between real-world/hardware instruments, into software VST and M4L scripts. How long did it take for you to settle on the workflow you use now?
My workflow is pretty much always changing lol. I find that one of the most important things is to make composing as streamlined as possible. I never really understood the importance of session templates until I made one. Really anything you can do to minimize the amount of time where you could get distracted is important. The brain of my setup is my interface, a Scarlett 18i20. I'm not really over the moon with it, but I also can't complain. I'd love to pick up one of the universal audio interfaces, because I've heard that the included plugins are great, but I need to have multiple ins and outs, and the only one they make with similar specs is pretty expensive. It's really hard to drop a few thousand dollars on something that's not very exciting lol. Having multiple inputs and outputs allows me to seamlessly route audio to and from my external hardware like norns, my Eurorack module, and my Sp404.
6. The ambient genre can be a vast ocean for casual listeners to enter. Do you have any artists/ labels or playlists that you enjoy and would recommend?
Inner Ocean's 'Drift' sub-label is amazing. I have tons of friends who have released on there, and I've curated a couple of their compilations. 'Memoir', 'Chillhop's' sub label is great too. As far as artists go, I'm a huge fan of Duelling Ants, Sixmissing, Charlie Dreaming, Dokkodo Sounds, Meitei, Atmospherics, Arbee, and Idra. I'm sure I'm forgetting people, but these are the ones that pop into my head.
The 2019 EP 'Eventide' and 2021 single 'Heart of the Forest' are completely beat-less, ambient releases. How do you give these ambient tracks their structure? Does the physical, studio space you're in have any influence, or is it a question of headspace? Or something else?
That's a really good question. I don't know how much the physical studio space plays into things. I've been in 8 different studios since I started making music. I think my current space is the most friendly towards creating. This is the first time I've had a room that is strictly dedicated to music. I think one thing that has changed as I've made more ambient music is that I'm becoming more comfortable with minimalism, and long form compositions. I was used to making tracks that would sometimes be under a minute, and it was definitely hard to transition to tracks that can be 15 minutes long. A big hurdle that I think a lot of artists struggle with is overcomplicating things. In the process of making a track I'll sometimes end up listening to it for close to 3 hours, so I may be tired of the song, but a listener hearing it for the first time won't be fatigued. Structure wise, I'd describe most of my tracks as progressive, adding elements slowly over time and then stripping them back. I have experimented with super minimalist tracks that are only made up of a few elements looping at different lengths to create interest through constantly changing overlap points. This can be heard on my album 'Recurring'.
What's coming up for Peter Bark in 2022?
I'm excited about 2022! I've been developing a plugin that I'm hoping will come out in the spring. Definitely going to be doing some more sample packs. I've been releasing my Ambient Singles Series Vol. 2, and the remaining 3 will be coming out early next year, as well as a possible cassette. I'm also finishing up a beat based album that should be out sometime in the summer / fall.