The Liminal Drifter Files – Cortisol 22

We recently debuted our new feature, The Liminal Drifter Files, where Dr Simon Order, aka Liminal Drifter, canvasses what’s new for him in ambient, electronic music, something we at Fremantle Shipping News love.

Last time we brought you a sample of what to expect when the Drifter’s latest album Cortisol 22 dropped.

Well, the waiting is over – Cortisol 22 is right here on Bandcamp. It dropped this week and what an album it is!

As we intimated last time, Cortisol 22 is shadowed by a number of serious health issues faced by Simon Order over the last couple of years. The album title refers to the hormone produced by the body during stress. While recovering in hospital, Simon began working on the music that would form Cortisol 22. The resulting album is an hour-long exploration of music as balm and recuperative destination.

In the words of the Drifter himself –

Opener Child’s Play is a deceptively emotive slice of chilltronica, drawing on some of the dub vibes of 2020’s Connected, while wrapping the whole thing in a blanket of ethereal nostalgia. Latest single Box Seat is a sun-drenched sonic playground, with an insistent acoustic guitar line, intricate percussive details and beatific electric piano. Cut Out is clean and shimmering, punctuated by golden horns and keys, with a positive momentum counterbalanced by the bittersweet taste of leaving something behind. And ominous Boards of Canada vibes are woven into standout Once a Day.

Shipping News’ fav track off the new album is perhaps Inner City Dub. Don’t miss this great video of this track. It’ll have you deep diving the album soon after!

Our editor, Michael Barker, fired these questions at Simon about Inner City Dub and got these answers!

Q1. Simon, l love the calming sounds of this track. Can you tell us what the title is intended to convey?

I need calm in my life. I crave quiet moments. My ‘home genre’ tends to be old school dub reggae. As a bass player it keeps me calmly rooted in slow-burn groove mode. I can skank along, drifting around on the meditational nature of those vibes. My fleeting moments of complete bliss and contentment have been playing live dub grooves on stages to swaying dance floors full of grooving party-goers. The bliss is in the movement and loss of self as you just enjoy the pumping grooves.

The ‘Inner City’ narrative comes from living in London. London had the best dub reggae scene and it’s a melting pot of sonic culture. One of my favourite memories of London was coming home, after clubbing/gigging, on the train late at night, cold rain on the window, warm in the overheated train, immersed in my headphones, staring out the window, watching the diverse cityscape pass me by and being buoyed along by dub vibes in my cans. I guess I associate dub vibes with the city and the culture. I think it’s the insistent pulse of dub that I associate with a 24hr city that never sleeps. Dub is calming for me and you really need that living in the city.

Q2. As always, Simon, I love to hear how you go from the inspiration for the track to the doing of it. How do you actually go about creating these sounds?

This track was a bit of a homage to Rodney Hunter who produces modern day dub/house vibes. He produces these clean, punchy tunes that cut through and leap out of the speaker for me. My tunes have historically been less clean, even nods towards lo-fi in places, and I wanted to produce a sonically cleaner, dynamic dub groove tune. This one has definitely kept the signature LD calm and ambient downtempo thang happening but also offers new directions for me.

How do I go about creating these sounds? There’s no magic formulae. It’s persistent and consistent work. I usually start with drums and bass. I usually get tiny flashes/feelings for the bass melody and beat syncopation that I can hear might offer a seductive groove. Sometimes, I record my bass and covert that to MIDI notes and then I can try those notes with various synths. I have quite a few bass synths and drum sources. I would say it’s an equal measure of musicality and sonic production/manipulation.

As a personal view, I think modern producers, including myself, are far more concerned with the sonics than at any point in history. Musicality, scales, chords etc. are often redundant because technology can solve all those challenges for you. I’m lucky to have a strong music theory background but you don’t need it. Inner City Dub is one of the those tracks where I’m proud of the sonics but I do remember writing that main melody and hoping it would be an ear worm. On the other sounds, there’s a lot of churches in London, so that’s where the choir-type voices come from. The radio quality voices remind me of police radios and old school taxi radios. It’s the inner city sights and sounds of London in the 90’s.

Remember, most of these tunes were drafted when I was in hospital in Perth. When you’re lying in a hospital bed, facing your mortality, my mind went home to London memories of a younger, healthier, party-mad LD. There might even be some party guilt in here. Maybe if I hadn’t done so much partying I might not be in this hospital bed now.

Q3. So far as the whole Album Cortisol 22 is concerned, is Inner City Dub representative of what’s happening on it?

I think the dub vibes are all over the place on this album. Cut Out is one of my favs, another slice of calm, dub gentility, topped with thick lashings of electric organ comfort-candy. Listen to the bass, it’s such a simple dub riff. Nothing fancy here. I wanted space on this one, another dub schtick. It arcs up at the end with that stellar guitar ringing out but there’s still plenty of dub space.

Content-wise, there’s a track on the album, Midnight Rider, which is all about riding my push bike around the London streets in the late hours, so that’s another nod to city life, when I was healthier, rather than in hospital, and Night Owl is an obvious reference to night life. But, sonically, I think it’s the dub vibes and calm, beatific journeys that are representative of the album. These are the things I needed to play with to keep me moving forward in the darkness. You can really hear the darker, concerned undertones in tracks like Night Owl but overall, the journeys are positive, buoyant and inquisitive. Even the keys at the end of the Night Owl are a playful, ironic reproach to my situation.

Bagels and Cuddles was a phrase, my son, Charlie, come up with. I had just come home from hospital recovering from the heart attack. Next to my bed was the baby monitor. He woke up early around 5am and he tends to narrates his own life, even at 3 yrs. old. He was talking about his favourite things. At that point, he was saying, “my favourite things are bagels and cuddles, lots of cuddles”. I was still dazed from all the hospital drugs but I managed to press record on my phone and record the baby monitor. When he had visited me in hospital, he was visibly upset and not really able to understand what had happened to his Dad. I was in bits. It left an emotional mark on me. That tune was something for him, what he needed at that moment, were his favourite things.

To learn more about Liminal Drifter and his music, look here!

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