Aaron Marshall of Intervals has created a sound of his own in modern instrumental guitar music. His fusion of slick leads, energetic grooves and impactful progressions come together to create some truly unique music. But as much as Aaron's music has a concise identity, it is also constantly evolving and re-evaluating itself. For his latest album, aptly named “The Way Forward”, Aaron partnered with Norwegian composer, Owane, to add a new foundation of electronic influence to his sound, and take the next step in the evolution of Intervals.
Posted — January 30, 2020
In this “Orchestration in Heavy Music”, we’re going to be looking at the Intervals track “Impulsively Responsible”, and investigating the components that give “The Way Forward” it's particular sonic aesthetic. Taking away the obvious guitar, drum, and bass, the primary instrument at play here is the synthesizer.
While still a relatively young instrument, there's a lot of history to consider when discussing the world of synthesizers. Old school analog synthesizers are instruments so powerful in colour that they can immediately transport the listener into a certain era or genre of music. It’s not dissimilar to hearing the harpsichord and thinking of classical, or hearing the saxophone and thinking of jazz. In the case of "The Way Forward", Aaron and Owane use an amalgamation of late 80's and early 90's synth sounds to add depth and texture to the songs, as well as to harken back to the sounds of the era in which Aaron grew up. Aaron is taking his sound forward by staying true to the fundamentals that he has developed in his music, while looking back to his past for a sonic representation of where he comes from. These sounds and textures outline and emphasize the signature moves that can be heard across the Intervals discography, and give them a new context.
Electronic instrumentation's functional ability is nothing short of boundless, but in the case of "Impulsively Responsible”, we’re going to be taking a look at one tried and true function of the synthesizer, doubling.
In our first example we are looking at a lead section from the first verse:
And here’s the synth layer:
It's worth pointing out here that if you're going to double guitar with synths, programming the performance of the synth with precise detail goes a long way towards creating a unified tone. A healthy amount of Aaron’s nuanced playing is programmed into the synth for this layer, namely the ghost note "chicka" toward the end of the lead, as well as the quick slide off the fretboard at the end of the passage.
Here’s what we get when the whole thing is played together:
Tight playing, tightly programmed synth doubling, a lot of sass, and an immediate new sonic aesthetic for the song.
Now, this doubling thing isn’t restricted to lead lines. You can also use polyphonic synthesizers to play chords instead of single note layering. The chorus of Impulsively Responsible is a great example of this:
In this audio example, we’ve got guitars and bass playing the chorus on their own. It sounds pretty big, but could get bigger with our doubling trick. Lets take a look at how Aaron and Owane doubled these chords:
The synth here has a very strong attack that punches its way through the mix. It’s also got those great volume swells that add a significant texture on some of the longer held chords.
Let’s add this all up together:
Massive difference! The attack of the synth really punches through, and the inclusion of those volume swells has a powerful impact.
If you’re looking to write some music with it’s roots firmly planted in an era or musical style, The Way Forward is a fine example of how to do it with minimal edits to your writing, and a great use of instrumentation to present the intended aesthetic. Aaron’s fascination with the sound of 80’s and 90’s, his partnership with Owane, and their use of synthesizers result in a simple but effective addition to The Way Forward. Instrumentation, when thought out to this degree, can completely change the colour of your music.