Canadian artists Eric Quach — who performs under the moniker of Thisquietarmy — and Michel “Away” Langevin (whose experience includes drumming as part of the prog metal group Voivod) have joined together for a captivating new drone metal release called The Singularity, Phase I, on which the duo explores a teeming musical expanse. The record is full of vibrant and poignant rhythms that build with enriching force.
On the free-flowing, improvisation-based record, Quach handled guitars, synths, and effects, while Langevin performed the drums.
Scroll down for a Q & A with Quach about the process of creating the record!
Track one opens with a stark and shimmering haze of noise, as though musically reflecting an ominously expansive night sky like that depicted on the cover art, and the song’s drum rhythms gradually build into a sharply intense performance that feels emotionally resonant. On this track, the drum rhythms hold at a rather high intensity level, which magnifies the music’s psychological impact. There’s a broad flow of energy in the sound — rather than building up to a peak and dropping off, the music seems to chart an almost endlessly upward journey to a point where there’s almost nothing around but cloudy uncertainty. There’s a subtly thrilling unease as those behind this work twist familiar sonic concepts into a lively but mangled beast.
The music travels a similar path throughout The Singularity, Phase I, with billowing, smoky noise and drum rhythms that grow and twist like neon-tinted heat lightning illuminating the sky. The drums, which provide an earthy grounding for the journey, have a rather prominent place in the mix, and the combination of this sense of familiarity with the psychedelically unsettling flourishes across the album feels quite striking. There’s a creeping sense of disorientation in the music that helps make the songs feel especially captivating.
The latter part of the album, beginning with “Beta 0000 0100,” starts with a slower tempo, and the music gradually builds into an erratically reverberating sonic cloud. As the music proceeds, the drones feel broad yet abrasive, and the drums grow into a somewhat orderly swagger, with a kind of metaphysical menace in the sound.
The music easily feels like a soundtrack for a science fiction journey that might not be so fictional after all — the sounds are grandiose yet pointedly gripping. The album’s concluding track features jittery synth chirps and similarly anxious yet resounding drums amidst electrifying waves of noisy haze, as though an otherworldly fog is settling across dewy surroundings. The music is accessible yet provides an excitingly wild ride.
Listen to The Singularity, Phase I in full below, and order it on neon blue vinyl from the Canadian label P572 at this link:
Read the Q & A with Quach in full below!
Songwriting & Moving Towards The Singularity
Captured Howls: Thanks for your time! On an overall level, are there points — either musically or emotionally/ thematically speaking — that you would say hold The Singularity, Phase I together? After all, no lyrics appear. Where do you feel like the core of the record sits?
Eric Quach: Hi, thanks for having me! This is an interesting question for an unconventional album; it’s really hard to say because it’s a combination of a lot of things. I think the core of the record lies intrinsically in the chemistry of two artists that got together in a room – sort of like a “let’s see what happens” context not so far off from the “In The Fishtank” series curated by Konkurrent. You kinda have an idea what to expect, you kinda want it to sound a certain way, but at the same time you don’t really know, and this record represents the beginning of the journey into that exploration.
CH: How did these songs on The Singularity, Phase I tend to come together, and does that process mirror the general way in which you tend to write? From my perspective, there’s what seems like a sharp focus on the process of creation within styles like drone.
EQ: How we prepared for this session was really a matter of… not preparing for it at all, in fact. It was deliberate in the sense that I don’t think we are the kind of people that have a preconceived idea of what this collaboration would be or what it would sound like, or even what we wanted it to sound like.
There were no prepared riffs or songs, no exchange about what one or the other would play before the session, simply because I don’t think this is how we work in general, even though our (Voivod and Thisquietarmy) songs sound like they can be extremely worked and reworked, structured and meaningful. And this can all be true, but the beginning of any creative process (at least for me) has always started with instinctive improvisation, much like penciling a doodle on a sheet of paper that is then starting to take shape, and then you start adding details, then maybe you erase something, maybe you start over but from a specific point/idea, etc.
With sound, it’s more or less the same except that we are reacting to one another’s playing and it takes us wherever the process takes us, to then edit everything down or shape the parts that surprised us. As a result, we jammed in the studio the whole day, and we had about 4 hours worth of recording to play around with later and I think at least 2 hours of it turned out pretty great, and maybe the rest is salvageable with some more work.
Putting The Singularity Together:
CH: So, I know that you did mixing for The Singularity, Phase I, and I would imagine that you’ve done work along those lines for Thisquietarmy and related projects in the past. Are there particular fresh-feeling routes within that process that you took for this record? Alternatively, are there principles that weighed on that sort of sound design element of the album’s creation for you? Are there certain elements that you wanted to highlight?
EQ: Because it was also the first time (surprisingly, in my 15 years of music making) that I’ve recorded in a real studio, and not as a DIY recording at someone’s jam space, house or venue, I didn’t need to focus on the actual technical part of the recording. Marco, our sound engineer at Méduse Audio (who also sometimes drums for Thisquietarmy) took care of all that and did a great job capturing everything we did. As a result, I had really high quality stems of all the elements of the drums and the guitars/amps to work with, which made it much more easy and pleasant to mix and shape the record.
That said, the drums on this record are by far the best sounding drums I’ve ever had the chance to mix myself to, and of course I wanted to put the emphasis on drumming from Away, who is an incredible drummer, and Voivod is a band that is lightyears from what I do. It was a matter of creating a mix from two very different elements and styles of music together to create something unique. I’ve tried to tone down the drones that usually take a lot of place in my solo records, and I’ve tried to re-create the synergy that we had playing together in the live room.
I also wanted his playing to shine through and have regular TQA fans try to understand how his playing affected the way I played at that very moment, as they are used to my sound – either on solo records, full band settings, or in collaboration with other musicians/drummers as well. But with the case of Away, there was really a driving element in his drumming that really opened me up to a lot of ideas sonically, on the spot. And that was super interesting to me, also it really surprised me personally, and I really wanted to showcase that.
At the same time, with this mix, I hoped that the Voivod fans would at least be curious and excited to hear their favorite thrash metal drummer in a very different avant-garde, experimental, space rock context, and maybe even turn some of them towards drone music.
CH: Thematically speaking, there’s, of course, somewhat of a sci-fi vibe on The Singularity, Phase I, and I would imagine that a similar vibe would appear on other Thisquietarmy/ Away collabs. How did you end up with that vibe? Are you a sci-fi fan?
EQ: I think we’re both sci-fi fans, and I think Voivod & Thisquietarmy are very different types of sci-fi music thematically, but it is interesting how complementary both sci-fi concepts can be tied together in the general world of sci-fi and imagination. In my case, because Thisquietarmy is mostly instrumental but also ambient, atmospheric and spacey, the open-interpretation makes it easy for listeners to delve into either a fantasy world, a dreamy world, or an introspective philosophical world depending on their reference point. If you track down my early work, a lot of the tracks outside of albums (such as EPs, compilation tracks, etc.) actually have proper sci-fi themes.
We’ve also had another interview (Idioteq) related to the album where we had to give our top 10 sci-fi films, and it was interesting how both of our lists were complementary: Away’s list was more in the dark-evil-fantasy realm whereas mine was more in the surreal-dystopian-apocalyptic realm. It just made sense, especially within the current state of the world, that we matched our tracks with the abstract concept of The Singularity (the hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization) while keeping it non-literal, mysterious and open to interpretation.
Cultivating Thisquietarmy and Other Musical Connections:
CH: Drone and related styles definitely provide for a uniquely experience-oriented listening experience. Broadly speaking, what sorts of things appeal to you about soundscape-like music in the first place? Although I know that Thisquietarmy is not a new project, how did you end up making this kind of music?
EQ: I haven’t answered that question a while, so I don’t remember the official answer! But I hadn’t really thought about creating sounds myself until I understood that sound doesn’t have to be something exclusively for extroverts. Sure, high energy, loud music, fast rhythms and vocal-driven music can be cathartic in obvious ways but for people on the other end of the spectrum, that is where soundscapes-like music such as drone, ambient music, experimental music or even IDM comes in. There are people from all walks of life with all sorts of needs, so I’ve always found it strange that “most people” liked to dance and jump around to music.
On a personal level, Thisquietarmy is essentially an expression of my insides – it represents how I feel and it mirrors my perspective of the world with sonic waves. When I started experimenting with guitars and sounds, before even trying to compose or record a song, I went through a lot of effect pedals and a lot of effect combinations to try to find the sounds that resonated with me the most in terms of what and how I want to express myself. And it’s an ever-evolving process – not only to use these sounds but also to create new ones within the limitations of what you have on hand.
Looking at this from the outside, drone can be a form of meditation that allows you to dive deep into your subconscious and do some proper inner introspection. It also heightens your focus on detailed sounds and you really get in the middle of the immersiveness of the vibrations – like a spiritual, psychedelic mental body massage. But of course, whatever you get out of it is entirely personal to you, and it may not be for everyone.
CH: So, a less serious question that I like to ask — what music (of any style) have you really been connecting with lately? What have you been listening to?
EQ: Generally speaking and ironically, I’m really trying to stay away from anything that sounds like me, in the largest sense, as just working on my own music is already an overdose on that related genre of music.
The past year spent mostly with limited social life, distanciation, isolation, lockdown with curfews and whatnot, I tend to revisit things I listened to before the music making phase of my life – maybe by nostalgia or for comfort, such as Depeche Mode, Low, The Cure, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, Smashing Pumpkins, Godspeed, Dirty Three, Pink Floyd, etc.. But also things that I may have missed or haven’t had the chance to dive further into such as a lot of proto-prog/prog and krautrock bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, Magma, Amon Düül II, Popul Vuh, Neu!, Can, Kraftwerk, etc., or the occasional modern tuareg blues such as Bombino, Mdou Moctar, Tinariwen, etc.
But to be honest, most of the time, I don’t put any music on at all.