Llyr, aka Gareth Williams has just released his debut EP on Mesh, following on from Reid Willis’ in the 3D Reworks series. The series is aimed at challenging artists to express their work and expand their creative awareness through high definition immersive audio, and Gareth’s EP, particularly through headphones, is as astonishing and beautiful as it is memorable.
WIlliams used music created using a mixture of binaural recordings by award-winning sound designed Will Cohen as a basis; London’ shifting scenes and train sounds amongst them, but also a series of personal answer phone recordings left for him by renowned burlesque dancer Crystal Tassels
We spoke to Gareth to find out a little more about him and the EP.
Hi Gareth, how are you doing. Tell us about Llyr – is it solely your project to release music with or one a series of names you work under? Can you give us a brief summery of your work?
I’m doing well thanks – it’s great to be in touch!
Llyr is my outlet for releasing personal works. Llŷr is my middle name so this is about me opening up and exploring ideas and themes that are meaningful to me. I’m interested in engaging deeply with topics using sound and music as my primary voice while looking for additional ways to make the story-telling as evocative as possible. With my recent 3D Reworks release I used binaural recordings and processing to place the listener in a hyper-spatial alternate reality. In the major release I have coming up I’ll be bringing those who wish to join me, quite literally, on a journey with me.
You’ve recently released your debut EP on Mesh. Tell us about that – how did it come about?
Max Cooper and I have been friends for over 20 years, originally connecting over music. We’ve shared a lot of thoughts, ideas and input into each others’ projects over the years, even when we were travelling along pretty different life trajectories. Max decided to put his ambition to create a platform for artists exploring wider ideas and the intersection of music, art and science (Mesh) into motion at the same time that I was at a transition in my own life in terms of how I wanted to spend my time. We explored a few ways in which I could be involved, but in the end we decided that it could be a great opportunity for me to dive fully into a major artistic project I’d wanted to do for years and contribute as an artist. Preparing an EP for Mesh’s 3D Reworks series seemed like a good way to introduce myself to Mesh’s listeners, before dropping this big piece of work.
You really focused on making the experience of listening to the EP through headphones (it sounds incredible) can you tell us in a bit more detail how you approached that?
The EP heavily uses binaural techniques to create a hyperspatial listening experience. Typically recorded music has two channels (left and right) and, as artists, we’re limited to placing and moving sounds in one plane: it’s either more left, more right, or down the middle. In real life sounds are perceived differently if they are above, below, in front or behind you too, even when your eyes are closed. This is because we have a number of additional perceptual cues at our disposal, including the “shadow” of our head: sounds from behind you appear duller than those in front because the sound waves have to be filtered through the backs of your ears, for example. You can actually record sounds by sticking microphones in your ears and then you can reproduce these real-life cues in a recording destined for headphone listening. It sounds amazing but the effect doesn’t translate so well to speakers (because you get the head-shadow embedded in the recording and ANOTHER head- shadow from your real life head – to me it can still sound cool though). In the EP I used some amazing binaural recordings captured by sound-designer Will Cohen as well as lots of processing which simulates the binaural effect, allowing me to spatialise synthetic sounds which don’t exist in the real world too. I also put a fair amount of effort into making sure the tracks would translate fairly well to regular speakers, but you’re definitely missing out on a lot of the fun listening that way.
You used a series of answer phone recordings as part of the release. Tell us about that?
With ‘Dream Sequence 3D’ I wanted to capture themes of human connection during a period when, for so many, this was in short supply. Remote contact and intimacy became a surrogate for meeting people IRL. Berlin burlesque singer Crystal Tassels left me a series of personal answerphone messages: unfiltered streams of consciousness of what was on her mind. At the time she was living alone and they feature a whole range of moods and emotions. I wanted to create a disorienting, dream-like, piece where fragments of the different conversations flit in and out of your consciousness in a way where it’s impossible to follow the individual threads.
Did you find that a freeing experience where you could let your creative processes really flow.
Totally! I got into a really satisfying flow-state writing this track. With the vocal content I used a lot of layers and randomisation processes in addition to extensive spatial automation, with sounds drifting in and out of perceptual range. It was really uncontrolled and chaotic. As a result, during the writing process I was hearing different snippets and noticing different phrases pop out at me every time the piece looped around. So it all felt very alive when I was working on it; kind of like a living musical sculpture that I was shaping, but not really in control of. It really felt like collaboration between Crystal Tassels, the processes I’d set in motion and myself.
I’d slipped into a routine writing this EP where I was working through the night and going to bed at 10am. The last couple of hours I spent on this piece I’d moved from the studio and was lying in bed with the whole song looping over and over in its entirety in my headphones. I was drawing rows and rows of squiggly automation for different parameters by hand, adding the final passes of detail, while literally passing in and out of consciousness as I drifted off and woke back up. So I guess you could say I wrote some of this when kind of asleep myself?
How do you like to work in the studio? Where do you start?
With 3D Reworks it was the first time I’d done all of the harmony work before making a single sound design decision. I called up a simple but inspiring sound and figured out the chords, voice leading, arrangement, everything. This let me really indulge myself with sound design and spatiality, as a joint task, in the next stage. It meant I could put all my energy and thinking into creating sonic worlds with confidence, because I knew I had a solid harmonic structure to work from. It also helped me make sure the music itself conveyed the moods I wanted to get across, because I wasn’t influenced by the feel of the sound design.
Conversely, I often start with the sound design and let that lead things. Especially if I’m working more with non-standard and sample-based synthesis techniques, like with my upcoming LP. But I’ve found that this seems to be a much slower process (at least for me).
Has this lockdown/lockdowns stifled you’re creative flow, or the opposite and given you the space and time to be more creative.
I feel like it’s given me the opportunity to catch up. I’ve been able to put everything else aside and just create. Real life has been on hold anyway so I’ve felt none of the usual guilt in holing myself up in the studio for countless long sessions at the expense of almost all the other stuff. I’ve got into some really weird time-rhythms, accepting that my natural “day” is longer than 24 hours. With no need to be anywhere at any specific time I’ve been able to just stay up later every day. That said, when things have slipped as far as going to bed at midday or so, I’ve tried to reset the cycle to avoid being completely upside-down.
Like everyone, this period has certainly brought significant challenges and uncertainty, but from a creative perspective it has allowed me to do a lot of experimentation, create the 3D Reworks EP, finish my LP and create a lot of the material we’ve built around that.
What can we expect next from Llyr
I’ll be releasing my debut LP with Mesh this summer. The subject matter is hugely important to all of us, so I’m hoping that it will really resonate and connect with people. It’s the biggest personal project I’ve ever worked on, certainly the most meaningful, and there’s so much to share and talk about – I’m really excited to get started. The first single will be announced very soon…
What are you digging from other artists at the moment.
I’ve been listening to Holy Palm by Flora Yin-Wong while writing this. It’s an absolute treat for headphones, with some fantastic sound design. It gives you a real sense of traveling without moving – which is something we need more of right now. But now I’m bleary-eyed and it’s time to go to bed. Bye for now!