Substrates Guest Playlist: Patterns, Repetitions and Ambiance


Substrates new EP, Lethean, is out now.

Perhaps I was drawn to the neo-futuristic orchestral music of Boston’s Substrates because I have recently rewatched Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner and Denis Villeneuve’s worthy follow up Blade Runner 2049. I have always thought the most arresting aspect of Blade Runner was the engrossing and fascinating soundtrack created by Greek composer Vangelis.

I feel that Substrates may also have heard this soundtrack once or twice, judging by the considered and lush sounds crafted on their recent Lethean EP. However, it is no mere retread, as Substrates creates enveloping music that is on a level with Vangelis rather than a pale imitation. ‘Enter’, the third track on the EP, is an ideal example of this. It’s streaming below.

Substrates was good enough to compile a list of songs that have inspired their music.

1“#3.” Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Aphex Twin

Selected Ambient Works Volume II provides movement without beats. The instruments are unrecognizably processed, almost into something else entirely. As much as Richard D. James pulled from the works of Eno, he also redefined ambient music for the next decades with this album.

2“A Rainbow In Curved Air,” A Rainbow In Curved Air, Terry Riley

A Rainbow In Curved Air is required listening since it’s one the major influences of minimalism, ambient and prog rock. Produced through improvisation and overdubbing, Riley creates a transcendental experience through the layered patterns, rhythms and arpeggios.

3“Patchwork,” The Expanding Universe, Laurie Spiegel

Listening to The Expanding Universe will take you to a creative and optimistic place. Its synthesized ostinatos dance across the sonic spectrum. This electronic music pioneer’s music is as relevant today as it was when it debuted in 1980.

4“First Flight,” EARS, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s EARS evokes Spring. Sounds bloom and unfold into a kaleidoscope of colours– life ping-pongs throughout. Smith continues where 20th-century west coast sound left off, while also grounding herself to the school with the use of her Buchla Music Easel.

5“Says,” Spaces, Nils Frahm

Spaces captures Frahm’s music live– where you can hear him battling to hold onto a fleeting moment. My favourite version of the track “Says” takes places in the studios of KEXP. In this version, Frahm captures magic with the use of a Rhodes 73 and a Roland Juno’s arpeggiator fed into an analog tape echo.

6“Winter Dawn,” A flame my love, a frequency, Colleen

Colleen’s flowing vocals and pulsing synthesizers create lovely interwoven textures in A flame my love, a frequency. By using Critter & Guitari’s Septavox and Pocket Piano as her main sound sources, Colleen builds a rich and evocative sound– with limited means. The track Winter Dawn, and its music video exemplify the contrast of elegant and complex found on the album, with a mesmerizing effect.

7“Freedom at the 45 Floor,” Trans-Millenia Music, Pauline Anna Strom

Trans-Millenia Music is an anthology of the music released by Pauline Anna Strom between 1982 and 1988. Strom’s synthesized music is immersive, expressive and lyrical. It’s a clear counterpoint to the German and British electronic music produced during the years before.

8“Taken,” Talk Amongst the Trees, Eluvium

Talk Amongst the Trees dilates time with its repetitions and gradual build-up. You can find this album at the intersection of post-rock and ambient music. The track Taken is hypnotic and expansive–allowing the listener to lose their self in the cycling of the music. The little changes, slight shifts and beautiful imperfections make Talk Amongst the Trees an emotional and powerful album.

9“An Ending (Ascent),” Apollo, Brian Eno

Brian Eno is considered the father of ambient music and Apollo is my favourite of his children. Apollo’s treatment of the music has been a major influence on other ambient musicians as well as pop musicians like U2. It was here that Eno and Daniel Lanois introduced “shimmer” reverb (reverb with octave overtone swells). An Ending (Ascent) is the perfect farewell, tapping into a universal place.

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