A Conversation with Chris Greed - on "Bitter Landscape"
“Bitter Landscape” is the debut album from ambient electronic artist Chris Greed, created through his exploration into the world of modular synthesis. Both an artist and engineer, Chris has spent countless hours building his modular rack and polishing his craft. This 8-track album (available on all major streaming platforms) is the culmination of patience, love, and mutual musicianship between man and machine.
"Bitter Landscape" cover art. Photo by Andrew Malbon (@fivearchitects)
The album begins with “The Approach”, which instantly immerses the listener into a new sonic space. On the concept of the album, Chris explained to me that he wanted to create a soundscape that really makes you feel like you are somewhere unknown to you. “What I wanted to do was just create a soundscape that felt like you were somewhere. So each of the tracks are similar in a lot of ways, in terms of the modules that they use. I wanted to have that common thread that tied them all together. But I wanted each one to have its own identity so it’s as if you’re in a different place. The album is called “Bitter Landscape” so it’s all about being in a place and the music is about what it might feel like to be there.”
The idea for “Bitter Landscape” was a great mixture of sonic and visual inspiration. The cover photo for the album, taken by photographer Andrew Malbon (@fivearchitects), is an extension of its approach. “The photo looks like some kind of alien world - so [the album] was about discovering some place that you haven’t been to before and realising that there is this history there and other cultures there and they have their own sounds that we’ve never heard before”.
Chris Greed's modular rack
“Culture Without Tradition” is one of the most gently luscious tracks on the album, and perhaps bridges its transition between arriving and understanding. It is full of curiosity and grounded in a delicate warmth. The gap between arrival and understanding in the world of electronic music was bridged very quickly for Chris during his childhood. “When I was a kid, my parents bought me Oxygene by Jean-Michel Jarre, which was the first taste I ever had of electronic music. I loved that album as a kid. Growing up in the 70s and 80s there was a lot of electronic music around - a lot of the bands at the time were synth based bands. So even before I started playing guitar I guess I really wanted to play a synth - but I could never afford one. So I played the guitar for years and years and got into synths really when I found out that I could build them myself.”
Throughout the album, each track shows just how much you can do by allowing yourself to collaborate with instruments that often play themselves. After Chris started building his own Eurorack modules from designs online, he discovered this first hand. “The most interesting bit about making music with modular synths to me is that you never really know what you’re gonna end up with when you start patching. You can have an idea of what you want it to do, but there’s so many different variables and different ways to patch things together that you never really know quite what’ll come out. So you’re always having these happy accidents where it just sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Sometimes I sit down with no fresh ideas, and if I was to do that with my guitar I’d probably end up playing the same chords over and over and never really get anywhere. With the synth, every time you plug it in and turn it on something different comes out.”
A self-confessed geek for music gear, Chris has always loved being able to tailor the sounds that he creates. “I started off building guitars, and I built guitars for about 15 years. As part of that I got into making a few valve amps and guitar pedals. I just love gear - my friends always used to joke with me about the size of my pedalboard whenever I played in a band. I guess that then transferred into starting to build synths, just as a new challenge - and what I found with the Eurorack synths was that it’s a bit like having a whole pedalboard of absolutely crazy, really controllable pedals, and you don’t even need a guitar to play it as they just play themselves!”
Chris Greed and his synths
In tracks such as “Towards the Edge” and “Voices in the Rain”, we begin to hear some harsher layers and wave-like crashes. Mutable Instruments Rings was one of the modules that Chris used heavily throughout the album to create some “amazing resonant textures, by feeding an audio signal into it rather than exciting it with just a single hit.” Another favourite module of his is the intellijel Rainmaker, which is a multi-tap delay. “It’s just the most incredibly tweak-able delay - you can just feed it one note and come up with a whole song just by editing how the delay works. But it’s expensive, and not many places stock it, so I’m searching for one at the moment.”
In terms of uniqueness and variables, “Algorythmic” shows us just how limitless one modular rack can be. The track has a strong groove which various changing textures whirl around, making you feel like you are in some sort of underwater dream. It has just the right amount of grit to melodic shimmer and is a fantastic twist mid-way through the album’s cleansing ambience. The album closes with “Magnetic Feedback”, which brings us right back to the sense of arrival in a new landscape. It toys with the same emotions brought by “The Approach”, adding a sense of familiarity and nostalgia to end the journey. Perhaps a nod to the unknown, “Magnetic Feedback” shows us that there is much more to learn about our new musical space. It gives a sense of closure whilst leaving you dreaming of what else you can discover next time you return.
“Bitter Landscape” is a beautiful and expansive soundtrack for any part of your life that may need a little concentration or relaxation boost. It is rare that a whole album can remain captivating for 42 minutes and keep you submerged in the most magnificent space, but Chris Greed has really pulled it off with much elegance. Keep an eye out here for more updates on our new favourite ambient artist, who is planning to release his second expedition soon.