An Interview with Canadian Synthwave Producer Mirrorvoid
Mirrorvoid is a Canadian synthwave producer. He says that he's "inspired by themes that were once considered sci-fi" such as AI, surveillance capitalism, virtual reality and facial recognition and adds that he, "balances this dark fascination with the bright side of '80s retrowave culture."
Via email, we discussed how he came to make music, his approach to creation and his latest album In Time To Go Back.
Karl Magi: What are the factors that got you interested in creating music?
Mirrorvoid: Thinking about this question, I get little flashbacks:
Discovering my older brother’s record collection definitely helped spark the initial interest. I remember seeing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis. That conceptual album with the story printed in the inner sleeve made quite an impression on me. So much creativity was possible in music.
Seeing the earliest music video I can remember, Fade to Grey by Visage. I probably felt it expressed something I was feeling at the time, of being isolated. The synthetic texture of the song plays a big part in conveying that too.
I was an imaginative kid, so I was probably looking for an outlet and music seemed to be a way for something to be expressed. So, all through high school, I was in alt-rock bands but was mostly dissatisfied with the lack of ambition of my bandmates. I felt like we weren’t in it for the same reasons. For me it wasn’t about being cool or even just hanging out. And sticking to just doing covers wasn’t doing it for me. After a couple of years, I just gave up music altogether.
KM: Why have you been drawn to creating synth-based music?
MV: A few years later, in university, I took electro-acoustic music classes which introduced me to synthesis using a modular system. Soon after, I discovered Reason which reproduced that logic with virtual patch cables in software form and it just clicked for me. I was hooked instantly! I could finally explore those dormant musical ideas on my own with no limitations (except computational power of course).
Synthesizers offer a limitless palette of sound textures that become part of the narrative of a song. The potential to adapt them to such a large scope of styles… there is nothing more exciting! Just saying that, I realize I am a total synth geek, but I mean it.
KM: Which creators (musicians, producers, composers) have been most influential on your approach to music?
MV: I’m more of a mixtape kind of guy, so I don’t feel any particular artist’s looming shadow over me, and if there are influences, I’m not really aware of them. Any electronic based music has probably piqued my interest at some point: trance, EBM, electrohouse...
So if you need to highlight a starting point, I think it would go as follows: I was producing melodic techno for a few years and some people told me that my stuff reminded them of these artists I didn’t know, The Hunt and Le Matos. I didn’t see the connection, at first, but it made me curious. After I saw Turbo Kid in 2015, I got really energized by Le Matos’ soundtrack. I heard Alex too and I liked that sound.So, I took my time before I released anything ‘synthwave’.
Technically speaking, I ended up making more structured songs without the unnecessary DJ intros and outros of techno tracks, but the vintage sound texture was already there from my previous incarnation.
KM: In general, how do you approach creating new music?
MV: I have many approaches. Sometimes I start with wanting to evoke a certain feeling. I work out a lot of elements in my head first, then I draw sketches of ideas in my little notebook that I carry everywhere. The result is usually totally different when the song is recorded and finished. I’m open to happy accidents.
Or I notice a trend, a repeated pattern in the music I listen to daily, and I think: how would I do that differently? For example, one of the most used song concept and title in synthwave is Nightride. My answer to that was Drive Thru Mirage on the album In Time To Go Back: it evokes day riding instead, and I used an unusual scale to make it sound desertic instead of the typical western, urban atmosphere. And I added formant filtered “Ahs” to convey the thirst.
KM: Tell me more about In Time to Go Back. What were the ideas behind the album and how did you go about creating it?
MV: After my first album Neon Tattoo came out in January 2018, I was feeling a bit uninspired. So, in order to get the ball rolling on the second album, I played a little game with myself. The thinking went something like this: synthwave is nostalgic and often evokes time travel, so there’s always that paradox. You go back in time to change something; then that change you made in the past evolves forward up to the point when you left the present to go change that same thing in the past; but then that thing is not the same, but you go back anyway, maybe to change it differently, or to change something else that changing that initial thing did to other events. It seems to me that once you attempt time travel, you enter a perpetual time loop.
So, I took that idea and applied it to my process. I finished one track. Then I made a copy of that first track and went into it and changed it, switched instruments / patches, deleted / added parts until it became a new, finished entity. Then I copied that entity and made it the new template to work from and carved into it, changed the tempo, reversed the bass line, switched key, etc. Each song became the offspring of the previous one, literally. I did that 12 times until it ran out of steam. And that’s how the album came about. The title itself is a loop:
“In time to go back
Time to go back in time
Go back in time to go back…”
And the artwork represents a sort of time travel portal. Looking back now, I find it’s all over the place stylistically as I might have over-compensated the changes to each entity to avoid all the songs sounding the same, but there you have it. It’s a fun game if you get stuck.
KM: Where do you want to take your music going forward?
MV: Add more cars, grids and palm trees… OK, maybe not.
I started Mirrorvoid by releasing 2 full albums in 2 years. Upbeat stuff mostly. I notice now that albums are getting shorter. I think I might focus on singles for a while. Do it backwards. Then maybe a shorter length album with more ambient / soundtrack works.
Or I might go somewhere else entirely, who knows? I don’t have a 5 year plan, I go where the inspiration goes. But one thing is for sure, if synthwave is the grid, like in Tron, I’m going straight through the wall to get on the side road where there is no grid anymore.
KM: How do you see the current state of the synthwave scene?
MV: It’s great. It’s flourishing. There is an abundance of good music out there and it’s a great time to be listening. I find a lot of mainstream music is all about “look at me, look at me”, whereas underground stuff like synthwave is more like “don’t look at me, just listen. The listener is the hero. Although I’m part of the latetothepartywave, that’s OK with me, nobody owns a genre. I bring what I can to the table.
KM: What are the things you do to refuel your creativity?
MV: First of all, I get off social media and try to regain my sanity, get away from the noise so I can hear my own thoughts again. I like to indulge in happy nostalgia and escapism. Thought provoking essays, articles, films and shows work for me.
Also, learning to program patches on a new synth is fun and prevents the mind from forcing inspiration. I finally caved in and bought TAL-U-NO-LX. Nothing like that fresh new synth smell to get the cogs turning!