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Producer KiloWatts Guides Us Through Epic Electronic Track "The World In A Nutshell"

KiloWatts has been making beats forever, which in
the context of home electronic music production means since the early
90s. When we spoke to him in our User Preferences column, he told us of his
childhood experiments with trackers like the DOS-based Farandole Composer. Numerous albums later, with
his fascination with the machinery of composition still guiding him,
you can easily file KiloWatts next to creatives we refer to as data
artists. Though he doesn’t stare at “code” on his screen, there are
few better words to describe the visual mapping of sonic elements.

On his newest album, Acceptitude, KiloWatts follows a string of
inspiration that led him through his life as a musician, pulling old
sounds and redefining them with his modern day perspective, revisiting
the piano of his youth and merging it with the effects modules of his
present. The album is beautiful, both in its musical content and its
odd yet endearing cotton case.

On Acceptitude, there’s one track late in the album that
stands out in its duration and its sequence, a seeming story with
fully developed stages, yet not a single word to convey it. “The World
In A Nutshell” is just that, a story of everything told through the
phases of a song—one that ebbs, flows, and builds to a shattering
climax. There’s so much emotion behind the melodies, and yet these
wild thoughts are tempered and organized by KiloWatts’
production-savvy mind. Here, KiloWatts takes us through the process of
sequencing this epic song, with each transition as a touch point.
He’ll take it from here. Let’s start by hearing the track.

KiloWatts: I started writing “The World In A Nutshell” about
six years ago, when it was merely titled “A1.” The title was just an
organizational thing, signifying the first song for my next album, and
alphabetized so it stayed at the top. It ended up as a 12-minute track
that unrelentingly weaved through various styles at light-speed. I
really wanted to continue with it, but the idea of making an entire
album in that manic, care-free type of flow was daunting. So I sat on
it and let it simmer. (Scroll to the bottom to hear the early
version from back in 2006)

Enter 2012 and all systems seemed to be in check for this piece. I
checked my surroundings and headspace for any obstacles, and
everything looked good. Some unearthly creative flow commanded my
attention and said, “Finish it.” So I did.

Acceptitude took form by keeping “The World In A Nutshell”
in my back pocket, silently driving the character of each track.
Meanwhile, I chiseled at it little by little, bringing the production
factor up to today’s standards, and even writing entirely new
sections. Due to the size, the Cubase project had to be split into two
files, expanded below:


After bouncing all the MIDI to audio, the
project rang in around 100 tracks. It was a warm winter, thanks to my
sweltering CPUs.

 

 


Part 1
The track starts off in 5/4 and shifts back and forth to 4/4. In
this photo, you can see where it splits off from 5/4 into the 4/4
spacious stuff. I didn’t bother telling Cubase to change the
time-signatures, but looking back, it might’ve been easier to
navigate!


LISTEN:

 

 


Part 2
Here’s the first introduction of the piano theme (in orange). In the
early version, it was a tinny wavering synth, but I replaced it with
the piano to mirror an upcoming section.


LISTEN:

 

 


Part 3
A twitchy half-time bassfest. Towards the right is a pitch-down
effect, using Cubase’s Pitch envelope. Like someone accidentally
stopped a turntable. And of course, the bicycle bell happens
immediately afterwards up top.


LISTEN:

 

 


Part 4
Below are the glitched-out jingly bits, soloed. This
sound originated from a few knob-tweaks. For some odd reason, I cut
it up into pieces manually. No actual granular effects—just very,
very, very small fragments of audio. I hear there’s an app for that
now.

LISTEN:

 

 


Part 5
Aside from half-timing the beat and adding this synth
line, I left most of this part unchanged from the early version. The
sound clip below is the new synth-line, soloed.


LISTEN:

Below is a screenshot of the modulation curves used in the new
synth line. The curves are on a separate track from notes for easier
editing. You can see how certain curves are cut out and
reorganized.


The synth used is 2-Osc, for Reaktor, seen below. The above curves
modulate the Filter 2 cutoff. I added a knob right next to it (labeled
“Add”) that raises the overall filter cutoff. This way the Filter 2
knob can be darting around on its own while I’m adjusting the overall
placement of the cutoff.


 

 


Part 6
Here’s the first piano theme repeated, but worked into a full
arrangement. I cursed myself for writing this in 5/4. I never thought
I’d have to actually play it. Nevertheless, with some practice I was
feeling it—time-signature-be-damned.


LISTEN:

 

 


Part 7
Probably my favorite part of the track happens at 9:23—a massive
apocalyptic explosion, interrupting what was probably a rather
beautiful childhood memory. Immediately before the explosion is a
rather peaceful melody containing a recording of the ocean waves on
the Western-most tip of the United States (heard in the audio clip
below). I recorded it during Photosynthesis Festival 4.0, held on the
Makah Nation reservation in Washington state. The recording starts
dry, and ends with some panning and fuzzy effects.


LISTEN:

 

 


Part 8
Onward to another part of the world. The segment at 10:31 contains a
recording of the colonies of bats in Cairns, Australia. This was a
fairly busy street in downtown Cairns, and the bats were absolutely
maniacal. They’re enormous, with a wingspan of nearly 3-feet
across!


LISTEN:

 

 


Part 9
In case the bats weren’t freaky enough, I layered them with a round
of Pluggo’s “Granular-To-Go.”

LISTEN:

 

 


Part 10
Here’s the soloed piano during the last section. (Audio 39 in the
screenshot)


LISTEN:

 

 


Part 11
And here’s the funky synth line, soloed. It’s a bread and butter
sawtooth, run through Izotope’s Trash distortion, and a little bit of
offsetting (like pulse-width modulation or detuning) for beefiness.
A mild LFO waits on the pitch,
gingerly applied to engage the ultra-funk.

LISTEN:

 

 


Part 12
And the final piano part, soloed. Various panning and
granular effects are applied to the first parts. The last bits are
looped, and then a nice warm reversed chord looping and fading out. I
love the sound of a reversed piano, especially when you can hear the
beefy harmonics develop in the lower strings.


LISTEN:

 

 


And finally, this is the early version from 2006, where it sat
bubbling and percolating, waiting for the right time:

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