To unfold the muddled schemes of his mind, Ryan Lee West put pencil to paper and initiated the first step towards Articulation. “When you're away from a computer, you start to think,” West tells Apple Music of his analog approach. “When I'm stuck writing a piece of music, I'll just draw lots of structures on paper. Just really simple stuff on how I imagine it to be and what I should do. The computer is so powerful and so quick to explore ideas that you can overcomplicate at times and be overwhelmed by what it can do rather than what you can do.” On his sixth Rival Consoles studio album, the producer once more pushes boundaries for himself. High-frequency ambient sounds are layered with synths and “human elements” infused into a unique style of electronic music. Informed by his own sketched compositions, West experiments with chord progressions and deconstructs divisions of time across expansive avant-garde tracks. “I'm doing really basic stuff, just with a lot of sensitivity,” he says. “If you immediately try and make stuff that works, I think you just become very sterile creatively. I've been lucky that I've made so much bad stuff I feel like I've learned from. I've written music in so many different styles, so that success and failure in a wide spectrum of genres is really what brought me to this.” Here, West takes us inside Articulation, track by track.
Vibrations on a String “I wanted that main synth to really create the behavior of a guitar string. Because at times electronic music can sound so dead and lifeless, and when you play a guitar—even if you're not that good—there's so much energy and behavior coming out. It annoys me that I can't replicate it quite the same, so this is to recreate the disruptions of energy with the synth. That was the main starting point of the track; even though it hints at techno and other things, the main principle was just trying to create the energy of a guitar string.”
Forwardism “This one has an almost military-style momentum: push and pull. And I’ve been thinking about how we’re all so obsessed with constant progression in a way that's just bad for us. That's with technology, but it's also with most things, and sometimes there's massive consequences to it. So that's the idea there, where the machine is just pounding and pounding, and moving forward no matter what. It's a bit of a brutal track, but it's got a vibe. It's almost sci-fi.”
Melodica “‘Melodica’ is a moment where you can just breathe. Even though this is a short album, I think there's quite a lot packed into the tracks and I always want lots of contrast in my music. It sounds really simple and ambient, but there's actually hundreds of tiny little melodic fragments that are coming in and out of the picture. That was just from trying to explore different things.”
Articulation “This is the main conceptual track on the record. The chord progression follows this super precise structure that you can see in my original drawing. Each bar is a different division of time, and I like that because it gives it life, and that's something I don't hear often. You constantly hear people playing with time in music, but you don't hear it as obvious as this. It's almost as if you wouldn't want to. I feel like me exploring ways to divide time up, but in a very specific way, captures something interesting going on. I'm not saying electronic music's super bad, but when compared to acoustic music, it struggles to have the character and the detail in the moment. And it’s often played super loud in clubs, so you’re fooled into thinking that it's got loads of energy, but actually, a good test, I think, is to play different kinds of music at the same volume and maybe a quiet volume, and then you really hear what's going on in terms of the energy. I'm trying to just get more out of it. Sometimes to get more out of it you need to do slightly more bizarre things.”
Still Here “This is quite a gentle, meditative track. No drums, just the harmony. I'm trying to create movement with electronic music, and obviously I don't think that's an easy thing to do, but it's about trying to do the simple things, but with integrity. Even the opening sound here: It hits me with a sensation. So it's about that to me more than anything else. I spend a lot of time listening to other people's music and try to learn from what's going on. So I'm just trying to make mine better. I don't make house music or techno music, where perhaps there's more of a formula that you could get into. What I'm doing is more messier, so there's lots of failure in my music. But it's just a simple exploration of ideas.”
Sudden Awareness of Now “This is a colorful track. I wanted to make something with momentum but without massive drums in it. There are some drums later, but that initial point was something that really interested me. Obviously we can't do that right now, but in a non-pandemic world I like the idea of playing this in a club. You would play this track for the first four minutes and there's no kick drum, but it still sounds super rhythmic. I like the idea that you can replace drums with synths because they're so rhythmic. Because the last three minutes of the song is lots of layers that are coming and fading in and out, I wanted to end with these imagined brushstrokes—vivid brushstrokes and layers of color, all ebbing and flowing to create this kind of color. Then it goes to this huge ambient ending which takes a long time to come down. It's a proper closing track.”