Computers and toy pianos; analog mic preamps and software synthesizers; timpani, C++, and tuned wine glasses. From the pumping black heart of Silicon Valley to the perpetual daytime of a Swedish summer, Doug Wyatt’s journey in recording an ambient electronica album has incorporated it all—and then some.
If the words Opcode Systems, Vision, Studio 5, Galaxy, and OMS—the legendary Open Music System software—bring a smile to your face, then you’re already familiar with the programming half of Wyatt’s persona. Since codesigning OMS in 1987 with Opcode cofounder Dave Oppenheim, he has remained deep in the inner workings of computer audio. Wyatt currently works as an audio and MIDI system software engineer.
As for the right side of Wyatt’s brain—or is it the left?—many ambient music fans will recall his 1998 album Accidental Beauties. I asked Wyatt about his blending of previously distinct disciplines, his role in music software history, and his recent experiences recording his as-yet-untitled followup disc in Sweden. Working with the respected Swedish producer Christoffer Lundquist (Roxette, Ulf Lundell, Per Gessle, Gyllene Tider, Lio) in Lundquist’s Aerosol Grey Machine studio, a small troupe of local musicians, and Justin Winokur (the album’s creative director and coproducer) Wyatt described how the distances and opposites conspired to create a great creative experience.
Randy Alberts: How has recording in Sweden affected your music?
Doug Wyatt: Travel, especially to other countries, is always an eye-opening experience for me. It’s a reminder to appreciate differences and find similarities. Music is about communication and collaboration when possible, so working closely with Christoffer is forcing me to adjust my perspective of the songs I’ve until now worked on alone. That isn’t always easy for me, yet perhaps my favorite days in the studio here were when we brought in Jens Jansson on drums, Helena Josefsson for voice, and a string quartet. Working with them and reperforming my digital piano parts on real piano, as well, almost literally breathed life into a few of the tracks.
Alberts: Scrolling through Lundquist’s gear list, I imagine his studio as an analog dreamland housing your digital tools. Sonically and creatively speaking, how does it feel in there?
Wyatt: I think there are places in music for both natural and synthesized sounds. I noticed myself simply admiring the sound of one of AGM’s rooms, which reconnected me to the world of sound moving through air after working in an artificial environment where sounds are built out of numbers. Just playing one note on the piano, or cembalo [an ancient harpsichord-like instrument], or even a toy piano, or striking a cymbal or timpani, was an experience I can only call “grounding.”