Released via Max Cooper’s Mesh Recordings, Llyr’s ‘Biome’ project is an expansive audio documentation of natural beauty and human impact, created from a library of sounds he collected in the rainforests of Borneo. With one foot in the rave and the other committed to widescreen dynamics, dancefloor bangers sit side-by-side with textural ambient, sweeping harmonies and freeform electronica…
Llyr - The Hawthorne Effect (Official Video by Xander Steenbrugge)
Hello, thanks for speaking with us. For anyone not familiar with you, please introduce yourself and what you do.
Hi, I’m Gareth Williams, releasing work under the name Llyr (pronounced “Liar”). It’s basically a bastardisation of my middle name, which is the Welsh name spelt the same way. However, I chose not to insist people pronounce it the Welsh way because it’s a nightmare for most people to say. “Ll” in Welsh sounds a bit like a snake in the back of your throat. The “Llyr” project is about exploring ideas which are personal and meaningful to me via music and art and presenting them in some kind of new way.
How would you describe your music? What are the elements that you feel make it distinctive?
I’m not sure I’m the best person to describe what makes my music distinctive. I’m influenced by lots of music and try to set myself a new challenge each time. I often wonder how coherent my sound is at all. But I get the impression that other people do hear a consistent audio fingerprint. I think lots of artists experience similar, though. We explore what feel like pretty wide musical landscapes that inspire us (unless our goal is a very purist approach) but we probably gravitate towards certain common threads that weave their way through.
I can list a few things I really appreciate in music, though, and I’d guess that some of these things work their way into my own at different points. I love music that contains texture, dynamics, aching beauty, physicality, brutal noise, spatiality, a powerful low-end, unconventional arrangements. And I’m a sucker for some head-down on the dancefloor business.
I set myself a very specific challenge with the new album, though, which I think makes it quite distinctive…
Please talk us through your stunning debut album ‘Biome’ and its inspiration from recording sounds in the Borneo rainforest?
The amazing thing about nature is that there is a perfect solution for everything. Each organism is highly specialised and has exactly the right characteristics to fill a gap. Writing music holds a similar challenge – how do we create and arrange a collection of sounds and musical ideas so that they make sense as a whole but where each individual element also has its own proper place? In this sense, nature is the ultimate composer.
I’ve always been fascinated by the natural world and its complexity, so I travelled to one of the most biodiverse places on Earth and allowed myself to be guided by what I found there. I spent three weeks exploring the rainforest in Borneo, bringing a small collection of electronic gear to this unforgiving recording environment, and captured as many moments as I could, trying to keep one step ahead of the noisy crickets and humidity. When I returned, I used the resulting sound library to create these pieces.
Everything you hear was created from my recordings, moulded and processed in a number of ways with no drum machines, synths or samples. In the second half I left in some of the signifiers of human presence which peppered my recordings and also incorporated a few synthetic elements to represent the critical threat from human interference that the natural world faces today.
What have been the biggest influences in your music career so far?
There was a long period when I was surrounded by musicians working on ambitious creative projects but where my energies were more directed to supporting others’ creative impulses than my own. Seeing how these artists identified a concept, explored it in their own artistic language (of music/music and visuals/music and technology) and created a journey of discovery for those engaging with their output taught me a lot about structuring an art project. Music can be so abstract and making music for its own sake is, of course, valuable, but it can also be a very powerful tool for exploring ideas or asserting an identity. Even if you are making music that has a sound palette very similar to others’ and played in a similar context – for example functional dance music replying on classic drum machines and analogue hardware – it can still be ABOUT something unique to you. Is it straight up hedonism? Catharsis? Introspection? Rebellion? There is always something you can channel through your music to build a picture of who you are as an artist. For me the most interesting artists are usually those that stand for something – it’s possible to describe what they represent.
Another thing which has really influenced me is time spent on the MONOM/4DSOUND system. I’ve known the 4DSOUND crew for many year, but recently I got to spend a good chunk of time on the incredible system installed at MONOM in Berlin. I prepared a show for them which was, unfortunately, postponed at the very last minute because of COVID. However, William and the team very generously encouraged me to spend more time experimenting with the system during the time when Berlin nightlife was on hold. It really encouraged me to think about sound more ‘architecturally’: considering sound space not just in terms of left and right, but also how high or low things are vertically, what three dimensional paths sound sources travel along and how big they are (not just their volume). Of course, this is directly applicable to immersive audio experiences on world-class systems like this but it has also fed into my binaural work and even informed my stereo work.
If money was no object, what item of studio/musical equipment would you get?
Right now I’m in some kind of post gear-lust phase. I spent many years yearning for specific pieces of gear. But then I got into a different mindset while writing the Biome album. It was a transitional period in my life where I decided to plug all my resources into a creative project which was meaningful to me. I had time to explore but I wasn’t earning, so there was no chance in hell I would be acquiring any new gear. It was about really digging in with what I already had, developing my own processes and techniques. In fact, because of the self-imposed rule to create music only from my recordings I set a lot of gear aside: my synths and drum machine were pretty much gathering dust. I mainly used the computer and a handful of pedals. I must say, it was super liberating to be “allowed” to play with my neglected gear again when I worked on my next piece of music: the 3D Reworks 003 EP which came out on Mesh before Biome (even though I wrote it just after I finished)
This not lusting after gear thing might be temporary, perhaps at some point the floodgates will open again, but I have a feeling that training myself to view my tools in a different way has changed my creative mindset for the better. Gear can often be quite dictatorial and seduce you down a particular path. Once you’ve exhausted the obvious possibilities then it’s tempting to look for the next machine. This reflects our brain’s innate laziness, where it always seeks a more efficient/easier way to do things. It prefers to travel down the path of least resistance. I think that time when you’ve really bashed up against the walls of obvious possibilities is often when you can start to work in an idea-driven way, rather than a gear-driven way, and use the equipment in a way which is your own.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
I think it might have been to not seek too much advice! The problem with getting feedback on your art or music is that it can be distracting and lead you down wormholes of endless changes to things that might not need changing. I’ve definitely benefitted from feedback given to me by a handful of people but it really is a select few. There are maybe 3 people I would trust to give me feedback on my music these days. The problem is that so much in art is subjective that it’s hard to be able to differentiate between which bits of advice are going to make your art ‘better’ (if there is even such a thing) and which bits are a subconscious attempt on the part of the person giving advice to bring it closer to that person’s own aesthetic preferences. Time is much better spent building your own confidence to decide what is good (to you) and what isn’t.