Interview with Pattern Shift

PatternShift has just release Rites of the Renouncer, a wonderful sci-fi concept project with a novel accompanied by a soundtrack.

Check out the interview to learn a bit more about this awesome work.

Headphones For Robots: Who is PatternShift?

PatternShift: I’m Benjamin (Ben) Kamphaus, PatternShift is my synthesizer heavy electronic music project. I also work as a software engineer (and have worked in the AI and machine learning space). I have an interdisciplinary science background [PhD in Geography], and have started publishing science fiction. I’m based in the front range of Colorado, and try to offset those indoor pursuits with by spending as much time with the family and playing outdoors as I can get away with.  

HFR: Could you tell us a bit about your influences?

PS: For modern synthwave, I like a lot of the music that sometimes gets grouped into spacewave, cyberpunk, and instrumental dreamwave categories: Dynatron, Wice, Makeup and Vanity Set, Waveshaper, OGRE Sound, Mega Drive, etc. Prior to that I mostly listened to a lot of post-rock, indie, and ambient stuff that made heavy synthesizer use: M83’s older stuff especially. Moving further away from the genre: I like a lot of the new wave and post-punk era (Joy Division, early Cure, Sisters of Mercy, etc.), indie rock, and more eclectic electronic artists like Forest Swords. As a kid, my dad got me into the 60s and 70s era space rock and prog stuff, also: Pink Floyd, King Crimson, ELP, Yes, etc. and there’s a little bit of that in my musical DNA as a result.

For writing, I read a lot of science fiction, both older and more recent. Here’s a sample of some authors I’ve been inspired by: Alastair Reynolds, Gene Wolfe, Iain M. Banks, Greg Egan, Dan Simmons, Octavia Butler, Ann Leckie, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, China Miéville, Mary Doria Russell, Joe Halderman, Peter Watts, Roger Zelazny, Kim Stanley Robinson.

HFR: You have just released Rites of the Renouncer which is both a novel and its soundtrack. Can you tell us a bit more about the concept and about the story?

PS: Yep! One minor detail, Rites of the Renouncer is a novella, so it’s just over 100 pages in the paperback edition. It doesn’t make a great paperweight. 🙂 It came out of some worldbuilding I’d been sitting on for a long time, about an extrasolar planet from which an alien dream world emanates. The central idea is that the planet is originally settled by machines that carry along human embryos with them. This AI fleet has to terraform the planet before any human beings can be “born.” Since the machines aren’t conscious and don’t dream, they never experience the dream world, only the first humans to make it into their teenage or adult years figure out something strange is going on.

The character of Viktor Goto is my attempt to explore an East-meets-West philosophical dynamic. He’s the first of the inhabitants of Vaskania Prime to really get a handle on his own projection into the dream world, even though there are several limits that apply to this. There are a lot of orders, knighthoods, etc. in different sci-fi and fantasy—the Jedi order is an obvious example—where I find the philosophy of the order to be an interesting starting point, but I end up let down by it really quickly, because the details are vague, or bland aphorisms, or in some cases downright nonsensical. I wanted to re-imagine this in a, well, maybe something you’d call “hard philosophy” (as per “hard science fiction”) way.

In early iterations, the dream world was more about the human dynamic: people doing things to each other in their dreams, trying to avoid detection, and not being able to figure out who was the responsible party in the waking world at the end. In that form, it was kind of a mash-up of the Ring of Gyges and folkloric witchcraft beliefs. The plot changed from there, but I’m saving some of that for future stories.

I also want to add that I have the full arc planned and the vast majority of the explanations for the mysterious seeming things worked out in advance (and the follow up novel is fully outlined and I’ve written several scenes for it). Everything that seems weird has (what I at least hope others read as) a compelling scientific basis. I’ve not written myself into a hole, and am not gonna try to pull a Battlestar Galactica move on anyone to get out of it. 🙂

HFR: How did you approach writing the tracks for this concept album?

PS: There’s roughly a chapter per track line-up. Of course, not every aspect of the novella ends up set to music this way and the tracks have to tie together multiple themes from different scenes as a result. I’ll be releasing some additional material slowly over the next few months, some of which will expand on the themes from the novella, and some of which will be a setup for the follow-on novel. It was also a fun exercise to write a “Renouncer’s theme” independently from any of the tracks and use it in several of them (harmonized quite differently in some cases).

In general, I wanted to have a few songs reflect the narrator’s drive and resolve, while he’s still being exposed to mysterious happenings and situations that bear a lot of emotional weight. Much of the song structure reflects that. Also, this was the first EP I’ve done that’s an intentional continuation of a previous story and world-building, so there are a lot more elements in the sound design and arrangement that come from my previous work—in this case the last album (Vaskania Prime) and its follow-on singles (Solace on Oneiri Station, Darklight City).

HFR: Could you tell us a bit about your “go to” equipment? What do you use when writing a song and which are your favorite instruments?

PS: For my sense of touch, I use an Arturia Keylab 49 and a Fender Strat to come up with crucial parts: progressions, melodies, hooks, etc. I also have a Yamaha electric piano I brainstorm on. I play almost everything into my DAW directly, even if I end up quantizing or processing the velocity, exact notes, etc. When I’m stuck I switch instruments to find parts that aren’t coming to me.

For synthesizer/sound-design, I’m all in-the-box for recording at the moment (even though I might vary stuff live). I rely on u-he Satin and Soundtoys Decapitator to help add any analog oomph that might be lacking from this approach, though of course when you eq and pan everything to smash a mix together not as much of the lack of real analog character comes through. For soft-synths, my backbone synths are u-he Repro and Diva. I add PulsarModular P900 (a fully modular virtual synth) and some DX-7 emulating synths, typically for textures from outside the more basic analog oscillator and filter layout sound range, and make some use of CS-80v, Alchemy, and several other synths also now and then. Getting out of familiar interfaces can force me to explore new sound design territory.

HFR: What do you plan now? Will there be sequels? A movie?

PS:  There will definitely be sequels! My plan is to deliver about one follow up novel a year starting this autumn until a follow up trilogy is complete. Rites of the Renouncer is basically  an early myth making book for the setting, about the founding of the Renouncers of Oneiri Station, who over the course of the next three books unravel the mystery of the dream world on Vaskania Prime and who or what is responsible for it. Each of these novels will have an album release, and there will be a few tracks and EPs here and there to help bridge the time that passes between them.

A movie would be cool, but I don’t have any concrete plans yet. A more realistic early target is probably a music video that is a tie-in for the setting. We’ll see!

HFR: Last words?

PS: Just thanks for the interview! Check out the EP and novella. For the first edition, the Novella is strictly out on Amazon right now (both Kindle and paperback), the EP is distributed to all major platforms.


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