Brendan Anderson from Melbourne experimental-electronic duo Squaring Circles unpacks their debut album Motion.
WE began Squaring circles as an experimental project around the process of recording as a means of writing.
This method created a spontaneity which brought a real energy in our approach to exploring sound and opened up that weird self-moving presence of how music directs itself when it’s not premeditated. The majority of these songs were essentially captured first-take jams.
These sessions took place from mid 2015 until we effectively finished the mixing the record by early 2017. The pieces of music we captured all slowly flowed together into a distinct narrative which became the album.
“We kept writing it to a point where we’d literally change the whole song but be in the same place of it being unresolved.”
Conceptually the record is about guiding the listener through a cycle of introversion where they are opened up, taken down into repressed and dissonant aspects of themselves, guided to accept and assimilate those elements, only to be directed out of the space regenerated. We had the intention from the beginning that our music was meant to be consumed in a personal setting.
Musically, we found the album to be a story of unifying opposites – juxtaposing electronic with organic, background with foreground, concrete with ether, fluid with rigid.
This is meant to direct you internally toward the more subtle background, where you begin to let go of grasping and almost slip out of yourself. It’s the symbol of the opening of a space and the transition into a more unified field where the intellect is left behind. The lead piano on it was actually done on my very first take on keys – I was just looking for the notes of the song. It was that kind of approach in which this whole record was constructed. We recorded it at my family’s coast house in Tomakin, on the NSW south coast. A number of tracks from Motion were recorded there.
The night before we had to do the last takes on the track (we organised a Fender Rhodes for a day to finish it), Jules randomly jammed out the chords for the bridge and outro. It completely changed the song. This song is meant to softly bring you down out of that subtle background space and take you back into yourself with a sense of objectivity as the record begins to take you forward. It’s almost meant to feel like you’re waking up out of a dream and the dream lingers with you as you come back into yourself and go into your day. But in this case the ‘day’ ahead is journey of the album.
The drum take in this track was the first attempt in our very first session with our drummer for this record. Marley walked in and threw down the beat in this track at a casual 170 bpm. The joys of working with jazz drummers. Funnily enough I remember my mic’ing for the kit was deplorable and one of my mic cables is actually cracking throughout the entire take. Thank god we had the ever talented Nao Anzai to mix this record for us and hide it well enough from sight.
On the first two songs we wanted to take the listener into a place where they don’t try and understand the music, in a way lowering their preconceptions and letting go. ‘Trials’ is meant to capitalise on that open space and direct the listener down emotionally into a somber and self-reflective mood, creating a sense of enclosure once the trust has been established. This marks the beginning of our decent into dissonance.
This is deepest and most dissonant point in the album. By slowly taking the listener to this place, the aim was for it to evoke mental images that people normally feel too anxious bringing up. ‘Threshold’ is meant to subtly coerce these repressions out into the foreground.
The wild ambient strings in this track was recorded at the MESS institute in North Melbourne on the Ondes Martenot – made famous again by [Radiohead’s] Jonny Greenwood. It’s some uber rare and uber kooky, living synth string thing that really makes no sense but sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard. This one in particular was from Gotye’s personal collection – so a shout out to Wally for sharing the love.
This actually came about from a rough 3am jam which we took the original stems from for the final track. The music was intended to softly take the listener out of the depths of ‘Threshold’ and into a relaxed and nurtured field. It symbolises the release experienced immediately after you’ve had the battle of confronting things that you normally push away due to pain. This is the feeling of letting the weight of that baggage go after you’ve accepted it. The opposites and tension dissolves.
The most beautiful moment in our experience of recording the album. ‘Anima’ was the perfect representation of how the method and music can lead and direct you in what you create. Originally ‘Anima’ was a completely different song. But one night during a mixdown I ended up hearing and seeing a bunch of patterns that weren’t there. That led me to mimic them via looping, reversing and editing the guitar, percussion, bass and ambient takes.
I remember looking up at the clock at 10pm when it all started happening and then next minute looking it was 9am. I didn’t leave my seat for 11 hours, and time flew by as I was anxious I might not capture what I was seeing. Lili – one of the vocalists of Squaring Circles – went to go to the bathroom at 9 in the morning and confusingly walked in on me in the same place as I was in the night before. Safe to say she was pretty confused hearing ‘Anima’ for the first time like that.
This was a great example of the downside to the method. We kept spinning around in circles with this track as every time we’d touch it, the spontaneity involved in our process meant we’d effectively grow the track in a completely different direction. We couldn’t control or direct this towards the walls that were blocking us in finishing the song.
We kept writing it to a point where we’d literally change the whole song but be in the same place of it being unresolved. Oddly this played into the narrative of the song. The majority of this was recorded at my childhood home in Canberra.
This was actually taken from a one-take, late-night jam between myself and Jules from another project. Shortly after this recording Jules would move in with me for the following eight months to finish the record. This period was overwhelming as there was no off mode – we would just be constantly in the mode of thinking in sounds.
Day and night would become blurred and going out into social situations was difficult. The whole process would suck you into this hermetically sealed vacuum which would become immensely isolating. However, it was the only way to fall into that sound frame of mind.
‘Anergyne’ translates to man-woman in greek and symbolises the unification of opposites, which signals the end of the process. It’s about ending the process of introversion and going back out into the external anew.