The Director’s Cut: David V Britton – Qualia

Brooklyn producer David V Britton has released his new project Qualia. Britton creates most of his sounds not with traditional instrumentation, but with samples, at times microseconds long for something that is experimental, often alien but at the same time soothing.

This album hones in one that with experimental electronic rhythms, synth compositions and ambient combinations of pads and samples. They range from hopeful to haunting and foreboding like on the finale “Song For.”

We asked Britton to break down the album, track-by-track to get the behind the scenes story for each track. A lot went into each song, so be prepared to read.

Qualia is out now and get your copy on Bandcamp.

1. Gone But Returning

“Gone but Returning” was actually the first song to get written on the album. It was the day that my then-partner left New York for the summer to visit family out of the country, so before they even took off I think I had sent them a version of it in a text just to essentially say, “hey, thinking of you; made this!” You know, that classic gushy musician move. So the song really came about from a feeling of temporary loss, and knowing that something or someone is coming back to you eventually, but still mourning that distance, however short-lived.

From a technical perspective, this was one of the first songs where I really experimented with modular synthesis to make a cohesive song, specifically with the MakeNoise Morphagene. I cut my teeth on a vintage Buchla 100 and a 200 series while at college, and I immediately gravitated to the improvisational creativity synths like that inspire. This song was essentially an étude of my own modular system at the time, and seeing how I could make something emotionally resonant with such a foreign interface.

2. Melt Off

“Melt Off” is maybe the simplest song on the record, but that also helps make it the most danceable! So much of my work up to this point was ambient and, in my mind, a little bit repetitive. I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone, which has always been in these sonic tapestries that expand and evolve over long stretches. This song was essentially me saying: “Nope. You’re going to make a song that’s under 3 minutes! And you’re going to make it fun too!” 

The sample at the beginning is actually my old friend Josh Yun talking from when I was a freshman in college, so coming close to seven years ago now. My final video project was your normal “dude in college processing the concept of death” sort of thing, and Josh always had a way of saying things that were both highly philosophical but also so ridiculous and hilarious. This little quote felt like it needed a home somewhere proper, rather than my crappy short film.

3. Never Knowing When

“Never Knowing When is The Last Time” (NKWITLT for short) probably took the longest to fully write out of any song on this record. The emotional thesis really grew from this sensation of starting to see old friends and acquaintances from high school go down some bad paths, and just thinking, “You know, I didn’t really value our last meeting the way I should have. That might’ve been the last time I’ll see them in this life.” On the face of it, that’s a really depressing thought; that there are a finite number of interactions we have with one another. But I’d argue that having those worries makes you value each person in your orbit all the more, because you understand how precious every word, every look, every touch, can actually be.

I went back into the project just to acquaint myself with what exactly I did (for context, these were all mastered over a year ago now, so you can imagine how long it’s been since I touched a setting on any of these), and this track is dense. 

A lot of the wind sounds you hear coming and going were all recorded on a small farm outside of Austin while I was doing production sound for a short film called Lola: Girl Got a Gun (watch it, it’s good!). It was gorgeous out there. I would just sit and listen to the wind while they were setting up the next shot. 

The rest of the track is almost entirely guitar samples, even those gong sounds. I recorded some little pieces of strums, slowed them down, reversed, pretty much entirely through my modular, plus running into a specific module called Rings, which can emulate a few different kinds of resonating structures. That specifically is how I got the gong sound, running a guitar in and trying to make it sound like a church bell foretelling tragedy. I’d also love to shout out my mixer, Artur Szerejko, who took this track and RAN with it. I’m super thankful for his work across the whole album, but he really shines on this one.

4. Silk Null

Fun fact, Qualia was originally going to be called Silk Null! But I was worried that it didn’t roll off the tongue well, but I still loved the poetics of the phrase, hence lending the title to this song. This was the one piece where I really allowed myself to have an ambient track, with very little concern for length. I wanted to make something that swallowed you whole and just felt all encompassing while you were listening. However, it was really important to let it still feel exalting and positive despite how big it all is.

A lot of the time I don’t go into a song with a vision of its emotional intent from a writing perspective, I just want listeners to feel something when they put it on; to be transported. For “Silk Null” I wanted to invoke the feeling of being in a glass tank at the bottom of the ocean. Safe but enveloped. Swaddled by something that could just as easily crush you if it cared to. That’s really the beauty of nature to me — this violent and chaotic force that possesses an apathetic order to itself. Pretty much from day one that was the sonic environment I was trying to build.

5. Song for

In respect to the will of the Cosmos, this song was the last one I wrote for the album, so it’s the last one you hear too. I had originally written it specifically for a live performance we were going to film in a cave upstate not far from my hometown (location undisclosed, if you know you know!). I was particularly inspired to write this after hearing Moses Sumney perform “Doomed” at the Knockdown Center in Queens. I was just thinking, “goddamnit, I need a song that feels like a funeral dirge.” And “Song For” was the result. I played around with the idea of having lyrics for a while, and I think I still have some written down somewhere, but it just didn’t feel right at the time. I’m still working on being confident enough to sing on my tracks, to be honest.

It’s also the song on the album that used the least in terms of modular. The held chords are all played on a Juno emulator, and then run through Clouds, but other than that it was all made in the box. That’s definitely an approach I’m using more of now on new material, but this song was one of the first and only I liked enough to put out that was constructed that way. All the more fitting that it’s the last track. I think of it much more as a prelude for the future, rather than an end to this album.