Our 22nd entry to the mix series is a beautiful cinematic soundscape to get lost in, put together by a young Singaporean musician who's been releasing a steady stream of impressive ambient pieces on Bandcamp!
Shawn aka Bokeh Fields is a wizard of modular synthesis, leaning heavily into introspective and exploratory moods in his music. We're fans of his mini album 'See You Soon' which he released in June last year, and highly recommend checking out his follow up works since then as well. This mixtape he's put together for us is definitely meant for home or headphones use - press play for a deeply personal journey and scroll down for the interview.
Hey Shawn! Great to finally have you on the series. How’ve you been going these days?
I’m honoured to be on here, thanks so much for having me! All things considered, I’ve been doing well thankfully. I’m currently keeping afloat in yet another busy university semester, and friends, family and music always help with that.
We imagine your mini album sitting pretty nicely amongst everything in our Ambient.exe section! What was the initial inspiration and is there anything coming up next?
How that record came about was that I was sifting through my vault of unreleased/draft projects (I’m guilty of having a lot of those) and I felt a common thread running through a couple of them, I just couldn’t quite put my finger on what the theme was at the time. One of the tracks from this group was “Old Swans” which I had written with a surprisingly clear vision in mind – it’s about having grown old with your significant other. I kinda took reference from that loving old couple in the film “Up” (apart from the sad part :”) ). I was really drawn to that theme so I thought to extend it to see if it could unite the other tracks and when it started to make sense, I knew I had a new EP in the works. Well, at least it was going to be a short EP at first but I felt that the initial pieces alone didn’t capture the full story, so I crafted more tracks to complete the narrative and that’s how we ended up with a mini album!
And regarding what’s next, yes I’m always dedicating time to work on new music when I can! My latest single “Swept Away In Time’s Ocean” just dropped in September and saw a shift into dancier territory. No fixed details on the next project yet but I may explore this direction further or perhaps do something entirely different, we’ll see!
You mentioned the electronic music production club at uni, how pivotal has that been in your journey?
Shoutout to NUS Electronic Music Lab (EML)! They’re a really fun and talented bunch. Even having entered the club with several years of music production experience, there’s so much to learn from everyone, even those who’ve never touched a DAW before. They make production choices and break rules in creative ways, intentionally or otherwise, that I’ve never considered on my own. We’re also extremely fortunate to have Ableton-certified trainer Benjamin Ang as our artistic director. He’s very supportive and always equipping us with new techniques and expanding our production and performance toolkit.
It’s so easy to get overly comfortable with particular production choices which can often lead to a creative block, so gathering all these fresh perspectives from everyone at the club has been very helpful. It was also through EML that I had my first experience of performing electronic music live when we did a couple of shows for our university’s art festival earlier this year!
Most of all, I’m super grateful for the community. I think anyone’s who’s genuinely tried a hand at making art can relate when I say that it can get lonely and tough at times, so the motivation you get from being around people who support you and love doing the same thing as you is absolutely invaluable.
Modular seems to be an ever-evolving process – are there any modules you can’t live without? We'd love to hear about the modules that are central to your system / unique to your workflow and why you love them.
Absolutely! First and foremost, it’s gotta be Make Noise’s Morphagene. It’s pretty much the heart of my modular system. I use it mainly as a continuous sample mangler and I love the way it warps sounds. You could run anything through it – recordings of a piano, birds, stuff around the house – and it’s instant inspiration. It’s all over my music. For instance, apart from one synth lead, my track “Forgotten Shores” is essentially a Morphagene-warped microcassette recording of me playing the piano.
Mutable Instrument’s Marbles is another one. It generates random signals which you can use to modulate parameters, trigger events, form rhythms, write melodies – do all sorts of things really. Leaving such elements of music to chance is a huge part of my music as well, and it’s one of the great joys of modular. With all the controlled chaos in the mix, I always end up crafting sounds and melodies I would never have thought of outside of a modular system. It’s also fun to just set up a patch and let randomness evolve the music over time, giving it a life of its own.
Image: Bokeh Fields
Any LPs from that ambient section of ours you would recommend to people?
Lots of great choices here. I especially love Jan Jelinek’s “Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records”, Oneohtrix Point Never’s “The Fall Into Time”, Nicolas Jaar’s “Telas” and Brian Eno’s “Ambient 4: On Land”. Special shoutout to “Telas”. I’m a big Nicolas Jaar fan and “Telas” was one of my favourite electronic releases of last year. It features his incredible and intricate sound design work across 4 formless, evolving tracks. You never know where the music’s gonna go next. Oh and the packaging’s lovely too.
On the mixtape front, your entry seems to have taken a more personal tone. How did you go about making your selections and recording the mix?
I just wanted to share music that I really love so yea it’s a very personal mixtape indeed! It features songs and tracks from numerous artists that have deeply inspired me and from some of my favourite albums like Destroyer’s “Kaputt”, The Avalanches’ “Since I Left You”, Kate Bush’s “Aerial”, Weyes Blood’s “Titanic Rising” and Julia Holter’s “Loud City Song”, to name a few.
I started by going through a portion of all the records I’ve listened to and picking songs and tracks that stood out to me that I really wanted to share. I put them into a playlist and continued adding, reordering, and swapping out tracks. The main thing I kept in mind was the flow of the entire mix – I decided that I didn’t want to linger on any one style, mood, or energy level for too long and yet the whole thing should be paced and strung together in a sensible way.
The transitions between tracks were also crucial to me and some tracks brought others into the mix based on this. I remember listening to the last couple of seconds of Destroyer’s “Chinatown” and it reminded me of the intro of “Electricity” by The Avalanches, so I tried mixing it and it clicked and that’s how the track entered the picture. This happened in a few other spots on the tracklist as well.
Keeping these things in mind greatly determined what stayed in the final tracklist and the order in which it appears.
When it came down to recording, I did it in Ableton Live, which, I know, is such a producer thing to do. When I decided from the start that I was not going to do a primarily dance-oriented mix, I figured it might be easier if I just did it in a DAW. It helped with smoothing out and nailing some of the more precise transitions. Also, I couldn’t really imagine loading a Steve Reich piece into Traktor.
Image: Bokeh Fields
We love a good home listening / headphones mix! How were you feeling when putting this together, was there a context you had in mind?
I was going for that so I’m glad it came across that way! I think I’m influenced by my own listening habits – a lot of “headphones listening”.
There’s no one particular story being told, which I feel is inherent to the abstract nature of instrumental music. Even the songs on here are part of their own larger narratives of their respective albums and I didn’t decidedly repurpose them to mean something different in this context. They just felt right for the moments when they appear. In this case, the narrative is the listener’s. I think I took a lot of inspiration from some of the many records I enjoy and tried to structure the mixtape in a similar way – opening and closing strong and weaving through highs and lows in between.
Mood-wise, the mixtape has its upbeat and bright spots, but I’d say overall it’s mostly pensive and reflective which is the headspace I’ve been in a lot, especially given the times.
What else have you got coming up?
I’ve been thinking about starting a YouTube channel for a while now. Maybe I’d put up some modular jams, you know with the plants and everything, and perhaps some visual accompaniment for my releases as well - anything goes! It might take a while but that’s always on the table.
My main focus is still on the music production front and there’s always something new in the works. It’s mostly a process of experimentation and trying new things for me from one project to the next. I know it’s going to be quite the change but I hope to foray into singer/songwriter territory sometime soon, maybe even for the next release! I bought a mic recently so you know it’s serious business. I’ll figure the rest of it out.
Destroyer - Chinatown
The Avalanches - Electricity
O'Flynn - Celestine
Kate Bush - Prelude
J Colleran - Freesia i
Nicolas Jaar - Three Windows
Weyes Blood - Movies
Joris Voorn - Left
Steve Reich, Colin Currie Group - Quartet: I. Fast
Oval - Line Extension
Chevel - In A Rush
Matt Karmil - Femern
Julia Holter - Horns Surrounding Me
Portico Quartet - Window Seat
James Krivchenia - Loveless But Not Joyless
Andy Stott - Leaving
Angel Olsen - Chance
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