Glo Phase is the solo project of Joseph Rusnak, a freelance composer and multi-instrumentalist who has a preternatural touch for creating deep and dreamy electronic music.
Rusnak hails from Pittsburgh where he currently works as a free-lance composer. It was gift of a Roland TR-808 from an uncle kindled his interest in electronics in the mid-1990s, but Rusnak was originally a guitarist and bass player, and you can hear that in the lively basslines on Final Departure, his new EP released today on Whiskey Pickle Records.
We spoke to Joseph Rusnak about the making of “Permafrost” – you can listen to this track below. With the rest of Final Departure, it’s available on Bandcamp.
How would you describe the music on Final Departure but on Permafrost in particular? Are you going to cringe at a term like “Deep IDM”?
Ha! Not at all. I still associate the phrase IDM with first hearing it probably twenty years ago being used to describe Squarepusher. I’m sure I don’t completely have the broader picture of what it includes. I absolutely love his music so I’m good with that term.
I’ve heard others refer to tracks of mine as deep house. I might say “leftfield”. There are definitely disco, jazz, and psychedelic elements. I’m certainly not anti-genre or anything but I’m also not terribly analytical with that sort of thing.
Your basslines are so lively on this EP and on “Permafrost” it does a lot of heavy lifting. Is it live? What’s your secret?
Thanks. Bass was my instrument growing up (guitar as well but I clicked more so as a bass player). I suppose my orientation is often centered around bass as a result of that. “Permafrost” is a live bass guitar; the song was written around the bass line along with the synth pads.
I grew up with a lot of funk so I do generally favor syncopated lines. When incorporating bass guitar I generally record a few loose live takes to have variation and some impromptu elements but will usually edit down so that the line is a little more grounded and looped. Other bass lines I’ve originally written with bass guitar, for the perspective, and then transcribed them to a synth.
I do find myself often allowing the bass lines to have the most freneticism of all of the musical elements. I definitely catch myself overdoing it sometimes, my tendency is to overcomplicate bass lines so I need to be careful there if it isn’t fitting; I do find myself removing notes here and there.
What other gear did you deploy on this?
Hardware: Sequential Prophet 6, Elektron Analog Rytm, Waldorf Streichfett, Korg MS-20 Mini, Novation Bass Station 2, MFB Tanzmaus, Fender Jazz Bass, Various Percussion
Software: Addictive Keys, Addictive Drums, GForce M-tron Pro, U-he Diva, U-he Hive, Alchemy, One shot samples from so so many places.
Probably a few others but these are most definitely my go-tos.
Can you outline your production workflow for us? When making electronic music, what do you find you do first? And how do you know it’s done?
Whereas I do write some entire tracks on hardware I’m going to cover the more common process with my studio computer and Logic. I’ll generally begin with a chordal scratch track in a soft synth that will later be replaced by hardware or another sound. I might try to establish a beat and feel after this, usually tracking some drum machines in the process. After I have an idea of the form I might record some passes of the main chords on a synth while live tweaking. I’ll follow with bass (a lot of live tweaking here), leads and other misc parts. Generally I’m trying to get any hardware recorded earlier and slowly transition into the fine production elements and rough mixing.
Last I’ll add extras, fills, FX, and all the little details. I’m generally considering the mix as I go but this stage might be where I fine-tune automation and wrestle with any more objective mix issues that I’m having.
That all said I definitely don’t have a rigid order of doing things; it’s a lot of back and forth between elements both within the parts and overall arrangement. My process is very interwoven in that regard. There’s a lot of circling back to switch out or re-record a synth or drum part. I might end up completely ditching the chordal structure after drums are fully developed and so then build something new around the drum part. I’m constantly revising, editing, altering, removing, during every step of the way; I’m never fighting too hard to direct the creative phase in one specific direction but rather working with it.
The mixing phase can be another story. Most times a track might come out differently than what I had originally imagined but very often I’m pleased with the result. Of course the process can vary with each track individually but this is a good summarization.
Knowing when a track is finished can obviously be tricky. I’m aware of my tendency to over-produce so I’m constantly asking myself if I’m doing so. I’ll generally continue to add parts, melodic and drum, even minor until I find myself questioning if I’m really adding anything crucial to the essence of the track. After I find myself stepping away and bouncing rough mixes, despite not officially declaring the work a track finished, I know I’m pretty much there.
Can “Permafrost” be performed live by you alone? What do you use when performing electronic music live?
I’ve come to realize that both my setup and approach to live sets will always be evolving which is both refreshing and incredibly frustrating. I mainly use two setups, although sometimes I’ll just put a few random pieces together and have fun. In order to perform “Permafrost” or most other recorded material I’m using Ableton Live with an APC40 and a few synths. Specifically I’m breaking up songs into stems and sequencing a few parts on synths. There’s certainly room for form improvisation as well jamming through transitions but it’s a bit more conservative in terms of the amount of improv relative to the other setup, which revolves around an Elektron Analog Rytm (an analog drum machine with basic sample support). I can play an entire set just with this machine or connect a few synths to sequence with it as well. It’s a bit looser, as there are no rigid song structures; I’m more so just manipulating and molding patterns into some type of impromptu form. It definitely works better sometimes than others but it’s always super live.
A good analogy would be something like having a finished picture that exists as one frame and then animating it into a film on the spot through adding, removing, and manipulating elements. I’ll have both setups ready to go for bigger gigs and when room allows. It’s always good to have a fail safe.