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I wish I could see you
speaking to me
all alone on your birthday
losing your mind
maybe we'll never spend
another afternoon together
looking at the flowers
and trees in the conservatory
I've been isolated
most of my life
I caused this
opened the portal
and it manifested
I wish I could see you
walking through the canyon
cigarette in one hand
mountain in the other
I can't recover memories
of my brother
tell me about him
I want to know who he was
before you and I disappear
from this Earth
I wish I could see you
you're welcome in my dreams
it's hard to remember you
I doubt you remember me
I wish I could see you
I wish I could see you
This album is the culmination of a lot of time spent alone, trying to master synthesis fundamentals. I wanted to make sure I understood everything inside and out, not only theoretically but also practically. I wanted to be able to see the sound, to hear it in my head before I patched it in the synth. This journey was at least partially successful.
One way to situate this album in the timeline of my “artistic development” is to call it the “end” of my five-year focus on ambient and drone. My passion for those genres isn’t limited to that time period, but my hyperfocus led me to publish over 300 releases starting in 2015. I barely talked about any of it and did little to no “self-promotion,” not just out of pathological self-hatred and social anxiety — who wants another ambient album in their inbox?? — but because it was completely beside the point. I was practicing. Releasing new music every week was a little game I could play to motivate myself to keep learning. My focus has shifted now. All I want to do is write songs and compose for collaborative mediums: dance scores, video game soundtracks, and other areas where the music is essential yet not the focus. Practice era is over.
I started in the mid 2000s down in my friend’s basement writing songs on Acid Pro 3.0, then recording my own songs and pause-tape experiments on a boombox and eventually a four-track TASCAM. With these same friends, I played drums, synth, guitar and sang in punk and emo bands that went on a few mostly unsuccessful tours. In 2011 and 2012, I challenged myself to do daily writing on a cracked copy of Ableton. Composing helped me hang on to my sanity, which was constantly being strained by school and the sensory overload of the city.
After I dropped out in 2014 — due to yet another mental breakdown — I felt completely alienated by my friends, family, girlfriend, community, job, school, and my own sense of self. I've struggled with depression, dysphoria, and depersonalization for most of my life, especially after my brother died, and as I got older it got worse. After many years headed in this direction, 2014 was the start of a long period of total disconnection that I still feel stuck in. In 2015 I self-sabotaged by quitting all of my bands and I turned my focus almost exclusively to my job and my personal art projects.
My initial setup during the five-year focus consisted of a couple synths, a few pedals, and a four-track. I used an Ensoniq ESQ-1, my first beloved keyboard, and a Roland S-50, a synth that stores its samples on floppy disks. In 2017, I bought some extremely cheap analog synths and started using sequencers. The first time I saw Ableton was probably in 2007, but after years of only having a pirated copy, I finally bought it in 2018. In 2019, I bought some eurorack and modular equipment. After all of this experimentation, I have to say, for me, nothing beats Ableton. I find hardware limitations stifling. If I’m going to go “DAW-less” and use my hands, I want to feel a guitar vibrate against my body, or activate violence mode on a drum kit. I learned a lot about synthesis, production, and music theory during those first four years of ambient dedication, and I made maybe a dozen things I’m proud of.
Then the pandemic hit. Being alone and making music has been my self-destructive social avoidance habit for years. Isolation is one of the few activities where I excel! And writing music is also essential to my coping strategies. Even during those first few weeks, it was apparent to me that everyone was going to come out of this time period with their little lockdown project. Albums about “how I’m feeling now” and memoirs about the “plague years.” I don’t actually have any problem with that but I'm always self-critical and I was hesitant to add anything trite or predictable to the endless flood of music being published.
I did what I always do to get through hard times: I wrote. I experimented with some new approaches in an effort to create minimal ambient music that expressed the tension I was feeling. I journaled a lot and tried to distill my most intense emotions into poetry. I missed my dead brother every day, and I couldn’t stop crying.
I want to tell you all about him but I don’t know what to say. I struggle with my childhood memories. My brother Winfred (Win or Winnie for short, although you can probably see why he grew to hate the latter) was named after a lake in northern Minnesota. My parents grew up in Wyoming but would always go camping after traveling in the summer to visit family. Win and I loved Minnesota even though we were both extremely allergic to it as children.
When I was a kid and he was a teen, he encouraged our mom to buy me a Game Boy and Pokémon Blue. Win already had Red. I remember being in Target when I was really young and overhearing some kids his age whispering his name and glancing back at us, almost laughing, “Oh my god, that’s Winfred Nygard.” He looked upset and embarrassed but he was trying to hide it. I don’t think I said anything. I don’t think my parents did either.
Winnie liked to include me in the things he was doing, and he would try to teach me stuff I was way too young to learn, like algebra. That probably did more harm than good since I’ve felt incapable of learning math ever since. I loved that he wanted me to be involved in his activities, interests and circle of friends, and I have vivid memories of a day I went with him to his summer Japanese class. I was intimidated by the “coursework” that I thought I was going to be expected to learn, but I had so much fun walking around town with Winnie and his friends afterwards. Sometime in the next year or two, one of those friends of his would sexually abuse me. But that afternoon I was happy, holding everyone’s hands as we crossed the streets downtown, and playing Pokémon Trading Card Game on my Game Boy Color whenever I got the chance.
I usually got bored with video games, and Pokémon TCG was one of the first games I beat after Ys III: Wanderers from Ys for SNES. I think I beat the Elite Four back in the day, but I definitely didn’t catch ‘em all. Winnie on the other hand, Venusaur in tow, obsessively collected each of the 151 Gen 1 pocket monsters.
After high school, Win didn’t want to move away, so he spent a couple years at community college before transferring. My mom told me years later that he didn’t want to leave because he didn’t want to miss out on seeing me grow up.
No one loved me more than he did. Yet I can hardly remember what his eyes looked like. I inherited his cell phone, an LG VX5200, as a hand-me-down after he died. I used it until 2010. Its lithium-ion battery still holds a charge. The phone has one of the only selfies that he ever took. I tried to figure out a way to export the file to my PC, but the only solution I could find for archiving his pictures was to painstakingly photograph the cell phone itself.
By the end of April 2020 I was completely broken spiritually. I was terrified that this was the end, or the beginning of the end, and I could feel the impending doom of myself and all of my loved ones. I hoped I could see everybody at least one last time. I didn’t want to lose anyone without saying goodbye again.
Winnie’s spirit used to visit my family after he died. I can’t say much about it. Sometimes he visited with love, but for many years I felt like he was trying to drag me to the other side with him. By spring 2020, I felt like he had forgotten me. Of course, if his spirit had found peace and moved on, I would be happy for him. But something still felt wrong.
“You’re welcome in my dreams,” I wrote on April 29th. “It’s hard to remember you. I doubt you remember me.”
He contacted me that August. I don’t know how to explain it, but it wasn’t a dream. Win had been saving up all of his ethereal energy for years so he could create a comfortable and accurate illusion of our childhood living room. He summoned me there in the evening and we talked for hours without interruptions. Win wanted to know everything. How I was doing, what I had been through. He missed me and just wanted to spend time with me. As the morning came, his illusion started to break down. Suddenly he was hunched over, holding himself up with his hands on the back of a chair, looking at the floor. I thought he was feeling unnecessarily guilty about something he’d been confessing to me. I tried to console him. I told him I loved him. His eyes looked up to meet mine from across the room as it all flooded back to me: he is dead and I am asleep. He sounded more serious and exasperated than he’d ever been while he was alive.
“I love you too,” he said.
I woke up.
released January 1, 2024
Composed 26 April 2020 through 31 May 2020.
Poem written 29 April 2020 and recorded 1 April 2022.
Mixed and mastered 13 June 2020 through 7 April 2022.
Photograph of an LG VX5200 shot on 26 December 2023.
I've always been searching. Drumming in punk bands. Singing into a cassette mic alone. Trans angst, alienation, going on the
road. Synthesis, tape, poetry. Two failed tours, two failed degrees. Reclaiming my voice from the choir, reshaping my voice after punk rock. Years of isolation, hormone therapy, production studies, and hundreds of releases with various projects....more