All of the music on 'Ufabulum' has a visual accompaniment and has been developed both as a stand-alone album release and a live show. From the inception of the project, Squarepusher has worked simultaneously on sound and picture, and as such represents a departure from the now ubiquitous tendency for musicians to buy in third party visual components for their live performances.
The project features a development of a longstanding aspect of his live work since 2005, namely a bespoke "video-synthesiser" that generates imagery according to control data and audio input. The imagery for each piece has two components, one of which is represented on a large LED screen and the other on a smaller screen mounted on a helmet worn by Squarepusher.
About Ufabulum... (all text in italics by Squarepusher)
Music always has an imaginary visual aspect for me, ranging from evocations of simple combinations of colours, through complex geometric arrangements to real-life scenes. This project is focused on allowing visual aspects to feed back to the music that I make and vice versa, in order to bind them as closely together as I can. I've only ever seen the point of using imagery when it is completely locked, both rhythmically and conceptually, to the music.
Track by track...
Track 1 — 4001
I was working on a visual representation of a large underwater structure that you could gradually start seeing bits of, but at no point would the whole thing be revealed. That image gave me the idea of a tidal wave of polyphony smashing over this submarine edifice. It was at this point that I realised I wanted to work in black and white, because the piece seemed so much more unreal and savage without colour gradations.
Track 2 — Unreal Square
I had made the image of a square outline morphing into a kind of circular saw with a vicious shining blade, rotating in two directions at once. At the same time I had been trying to make a bass sound that had the quality of being sharp enough to rip through concrete. I put it together with the circular saw and it was pretty nasty. I added the melody and it was transformed into a kind of industrial sea-shanty, which I'm sure I've never heard before.
Track 3 — Stadium Ice
My main source of music as a kid was the radio and I've always been fascinated by how massive music sounds on FM broadcasts, to the point where I've bought the record but then gone back to listening to the radio tape because it sounded better. In my head I call it the "stadium sound." I came up with the main theme in the chorus which is actually a processed vocal, and it made me think of a continually dissolving and reforming Greek ampitheatre. So I developed the visual aspect to represent a perpetually regenerating ancient stadium, built in stone.
Track 4 — Energy Wizard
Arpeggios often remind me of bacteria, and you could certainly call them a disease in some kinds of music. In this piece I was working on a bassline featuring these whirling arpeggios and I decided to try to generate images that were akin to strobe flashes under a microscope lens where some sort of strange bacteria were proliferating at an alarming rate.
Track 5 — Red In Blue
I started working on a chord progression and it immediately suggested a kind of occult mist where objects would appear in mid air and vanish again only to reappear elsewhere. The mist was dense, but fragile. I stripped out the guide percussion as, in my imagination, the sharp transients of drums would have punctured these airbourne objects and made them dissipate. And although I had decided to use only greyscale to represent the images in this project, this particular piece evoked red and blue too strongly to avoid using them.
Track 6 — The Metallurgist
Music often makes me think of astronomical phenomena. My longstanding intention before getting a record contract was to study astrophysics. I started trying to generate images akin to flying at immense speed through space, encountering strange nebulae and galactic formations along the way. I made the bass part from millions of tiny particles of sound, rather than steady pitches, akin to how a galaxy is formed by vast amounts of individual bodies. I should have called it "The Astrophysicist," but it sounded naff. So I called it "The Metallurgist," which is even worse.
Track 7 — Drax 2 — listen on YouTube
As a boy I had a Ladybird book about power stations that I used to re-read every day. I'm obsessed with electrical energy and especially in the vast quantities generated by power stations. The sound of the massive electric motor from a fairground Ferris Wheel has always stayed humming in my head and lots of my synth sounds refer to it, as they do in this piece. From there I tried to generate images of bizarre transitory phenomena that I imagined could be found in the huge furnaces of power stations.
Track 8 — Dark Steering — watch video on YouTube
For a while I had apocalyptic nightmares about trails of nuclear missiles in the night sky. So I aimed to recreate that strange combination of exhilaration, terror and sadness both visually and emotionally through this piece. It lead to the idea of a spacecraft leaving earth at vast speed to escape, but oddly the music also made me think of it flying through a library. So I generated the visual aspect such that, as the piece progresses, it seems as if the viewer is ever accelerating through massive corridors of books.
Track 9 — 303 Scopem Hard
I started work on a particular bit of sound processing software. The idea was to make a synth sound as if it was in someone's throat and then as if the neck and head were being moved around in various planes at very high speed, with accordingly nauseating effect. I then worked on the visual component to represent giddiness and disorientation, but then I wondered what it would sound and look like if that person's head was in fact a Van De Graaff generator. This led to the front cover image of the album.
Track 10 — Ecstatic Shock
This piece was the first I wrote of the set and was made whilst I was still developing the new version of my video-synthesiser software. The piece had an overriding green aspect in my head which made me think of oscilloscope displays and old fashioned computer monitors. As such it uses quite simple waveform-based imagery, but then as I was developing the music the idea came to me of trying to drive the piece to destruction and destroy the oscilloscope with it. So at the end of the album, the oscilloscope explodes.