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Third Space’s Daring New Record dot points

photography HECTOR CLARK
15 April 2024

Third Space is preparing for the release of his most dance-centric record yet. The new EP, titled dot points, features five tracks that blend tonal, pulse-based elements with polyrhythms and deceptive time signatures. As he puts the final touches on the record, he sits down with Jonah Orbach to discuss his approach to breaking production rules, incorporating pop song structures into dance music, and his idea of the Australian experimental electronic music.

Jonah Orbach: How are you doing? What are you up to?

Third Space: Good, busy. I'm trying to get a few last-minute things together for this release. I'm looking forward to playing some shows.

JO: That’s so exciting.

TS: It is exciting. I think it’s such a mystery to release music. You have no idea what’s going to happen so you just have to let go of it. It’s quite a funny process because you have no influence over what can happen next.

JO: The first Third Space release was in 2019. What led you to create the project?

TS: I think attending a few shows consecutively rewired my understanding of how you can experience music. Specifically, the Berlin Atonal and Borderlands events that were at Dark Mofo. They booked Autechre and a few other influential artists at the time. Being able to see them in a massive room with a big sound system and a clear focus on the actual presentation of the music was very powerful. Up until then, I’d just listened to that type of music on headphones or at a club on a pretty lacklustre speaker system, so having that translation in a big space where I could feel the impact of the sounds was amazing. I didn't know this was how you could present sound. I was 18 or 19 at that point. I was hooked immediately. On the trip home from the airport, after going to Hobart, I went to Found Sound and bought a synth.

JO: What synth did you buy?

TS: I bought an O-Coast by Make Noise. It was dope, I love that thing. I’ve sold it since, but it was amazing.

JO: I can imagine Autechre would have translated very well at Dark Mofo, in pitch black.

TS: Yeah, they definitely did. It was pretty amazing. Just seeing that music loud and well-presented was special. It was really powerful to hear that. That’s been a guiding force ever since.

JO: Your music is very special to me because it creates this space that feels very familiar but also completely alien. Is there a sense of escapism in what you do?

TS: Yeah, there’s an aspect of escapism and world-building as well as an aspect of trying something new. This is stuff that I haven’t done before, and I feel like with my process of writing music, I always like to have a visual attribute in mind or some concept that underpins it. The Longform Editions piece was about earthquakes and tectonic plates. Earthquakes are measured as a value based on their magnitude rather than their sound. It was about ascribing a sound to things that typically don’t generate noise.

JO: In your Longform Editions piece, ‘For The Upper Mantle’, there is this clear sense of journey, where you start in one place and end in another. Is that something that’s always on your mind?

TS: For sure, I’m a big fan of pop music broadly, and I think pop music does that really well in a short period of time. For a pop song to become big, it needs to be unique enough to stand out from other songs. It needs to be able to express an idea really clearly and be easily understood. Otherwise, it just sounds like every other pop song.

Pop structures really inspire me. I will typically approach songwriting with an intro-verse-chorus-outro approach. I try to utilise synthesis and sound design as each of those respective elements. So generally, I kind of frame my songs like pop songs, despite them not sounding like pop songs.

JO: Tell me about your new record, ‘dot points’.

TS: I think this record was about really short and sharp concepts. Each track is a standalone entity in my head. The idea was to just express myself very simply. The Longform one was inherently stretched out, around 25 minutes long. The Scissor Kick LP before that was really conceptual, blown out and a bit dramatic. This one’s quite short and sharp, and that’s what I had in the back of my mind the whole time. Kavil, who helped conceptualise the record, approached me some time ago about writing punchy drum and bass and this is where it ended up, a year and a bit later.

JO: Did you find that you were putting a lot of creative constraints on yourself while you were making this record?

TS: Yeah, for sure. I think just limiting the amount of equipment that I was using and the number of themes that I was trying to cover in one song, as it can be quite endless. On a technical level, I generally just kept everything in stock for Ableton devices. I made a lot of these tracks while travelling, so it was actually laptop-based the whole time. Then I would add embellishments with hardware after the fact. But the structures were often made in Airbnbs or hotel rooms on my laptop with headphones. I’ve always made music in really short periods of time. I’ve never been one for spending two years writing a song. I’ve never been able to do that. I’m very in and out. Keep the idea as unspoilt as possible. You might have it; you go into a file time and time again, and then you just lose the point.

JO: Or it just constantly evolves and changes into something else.

TS: Yeah, then it’s like, what the fuck was this in the first place? The whole message gets lost. That’s how I approached this record—I spent as little time as possible working on it, I made sure that the idea was strong and the translation of that idea was strong.

JO: All the layers on each track feel very cohesive, almost as if they’re working as one rather than independently. For ‘dot points' were elements recorded individually or performed together once you started bringing in hardware?

TS: I think for this one, the glue comes from different processing techniques I haven’t done before. There’s a lot of send and return tracking going on here at a technical level. It creates this ecosystem that exists within Ableton, where everything is just squished together with busing and compression. All of these elements are fighting for space. If you look at the waveform of the record, it’s all very squeezed. There’s not much spare room. That’s something that I just wanted to do. I wanted to have a record that was quite hot and claustrophobic from a structural perspective. From a technical perspective, I really like the fundamental change in sound when you push elements through distortion. For example, If you play just a stale kick and a hi-hat without processing, it sounds great. But if you just put a kick and a hi-hat together through a shitload of distortion, it sounds completely different from what it does without. That’s something that I pushed with this record, using the processing as an instrument in and of itself, being a stylistic choice that drives the compositions. The stuff that I’m doing, from a technical level, is all wrong. I’m doing all the bad things that they say not to do in all the YouTube videos, and it sounds okay.

JO: That’s where all the interesting stuff happens.

TS: Yeah, exactly. From a dance music and electronic music perspective, it’s quite frustrating because I feel like a lot of people just do the standard approach to mixing and sound design, which obviously sounds incredible. If everyone’s following the same guidebook, it follows that the result is all going to sound roughly the same. For me, that’s a shame because people are really talented. It’s just a bit frustrating sometimes that people approach things with the same mindset, but if they just didn't watch a certain tutorial, they could do something completely different. But at the same time, those tutorials have been really helpful to me because they helped me learn new techniques that I can then apply in different ways. There’s always winning and losing.

JO: As an artist, do you strive to explore new sonic territories?

TS: For sure but I think it’s quite challenging to do. Most of the ideas that I have that I think are fresh have already been done in the 1960s. All those minimalists, like Steve Reich, have already done them. I think drum and bass and most genres have gone through their fourth wave now.

JO: It has become super difficult to define what genre some songs actually are. 

TS: Yeah, it’s all like post-everything. It’s just this weird amalgamation point now. It’s fascinating. There’s some really incredible stuff that’s happening as a product of that.

JO: What gear shaped the overall sound of 'dot points'?

TS: It’s mostly Max for Live devices that are making the pad/sound design elements, but I processed them a lot. They’re then run through my modular, and then I export that as audio, and then process that audio again. Everything goes through three or four iterations of treatment. It starts at A and then it becomes Z after not so long. I’m a big fan of printing audio because you can’t undo it. I think that’s really helpful.

JO: What made you want to come back to making a more dance-focused record?

TS: I think going back to the club after COVID was one thing. I also saw some amazing performances that presented rhythm in interesting ways. There was a two-year period where I didn’t write any rhythmic music at all. I was just writing Scissor Kick-related stuff. All very spatial drone-based. The music that I fell in love with when I was 16, I’ve now rekindled with. I was like, okay, I can talk in this language again after a break. And so now, here it is.

JO: Is there a certain environment you tried to imagine when you made this record?

TS: I think claustrophobia and density. Really foggy environments where there’s just smoke and you can’t see anything. It’s like an attribute of claustrophobia, but there’s space. It’s giving space and taking it away. It’s this feeling of breathing that I try to achieve.

JO: When you perform live, are those things taken into consideration?

TS: When I’m playing a set, I like to tailor it to the room. To understand the frequencies that the system can deliver, I like to obtain the technical specifications as soon as possible because doing so alters the tone of the song. If you program all this low-end into a set and the club doesn’t have low-end, ’''s not going to translate. Similarly, if there’s no top-end and you program all these really crispy high attributes, it’s not going to come through. I think the sound constraints are a big one for me, and that can often be quite hard.

JO: You’ve played overseas in places like Berlin. How does the community around experimental electronic music in Australia compare?

TS: It’s a different market, but it’s not to suggest that there’s no scene here. The scene is a lot deeper overall, but the scene here is very, very strong. There are some people here who do incredible work to help promote that. Rohan with his Omniversal Hum events and Outhouse with their events, so too Liquid Architecture and Make It Up Club I was abroad in Berlin and I was looking at the gigs that are happening back home in Melbourne, and I'm like, these are on par. The scale is different and the frequency is different. Everyone plays in Berlin every second night, and the line-ups every week are crazy. But it still comes here, just with less frequency. I think that space is almost helpful. You don’t get clouded by so much noise. Here, it’s a bit less dense, and I think that’s quite helpful in a sense. I think everyone’s a bit quick to assume that the scene here sucks and that everywhere else is better. But I don’t know if I support that.

JO: The grass is always greener, right?

TS: For sure. It’s very strong here. I don't support the suggestion that there’s no space for gigs or for people to perform what they have in mind. Yes, it can be expensive to do so here, but it obviously can happen.

JO: How do you find balance in creating, performing and running this whole project with the general demands of life.

TS: I work full-time and I do music when I have spare time, which taps into the attribute of doing things in a pretty short and sharp manner. Often, I'll be at work and I'll just be thinking about an idea. In that eight-hour work window, the idea would have changed in my head. Then, by the time I get home, it’s something a bit different. There’s this ecosystem that feeds itself. But there is no way that I could do what I do without having a job to support me. The economics here do not make sense. You rely upon grants and other government support as a musician, which is just super challenging by definition. Nearly every person I know in the music scene works some concurrent job. It’s very hard to do it otherwise.

JO: You mentioned how this is tied to your style of composition. If funding were not an issue, do you think the music that you create would be very different?

TS: Yeah, maybe it would look different. I'm going to sound a bit boring but I don’t think I would quit my job. I think that the balance is really important. I think it’s really important to balance attributes. I’ve seen friends who are wholly in music, being a musician themselves, then a teacher, and then a promoter. Their whole ecosystem is related to music. I think it’s so hectic and challenging in Australia that you just get burnt out.

JO: Do you think the electronic music scene in Australia is heading in the right direction?

TS: I think at a domestic level, it’s getting quite big. I think it’s easy to look at those massive festivals that are thrown, which promote electronic music, and see growth. But for every festival that they run, there’s a smaller cohort of people that get interested in the weeds and the weird side of it all. There’s a proportion of people that will just fall out of each silo or bucket. They’ll find their own ways and be interested in their own things. A more wholesale, aggregate growth of interest in electronic dance music across the board can only mean that each of those small little buckets grows too. It's like a huge rainwater filter thing.

JO: Yeah, like a trickle-down effect.

TS: Yeah, exactly. Whether that actually happens or not, I don’t know. But I’m not so concerned about that. I’m just doing what I’m doing. If people come along, that’s fine. Some friends have had some really helpful advice along the way, like Rohan and Josh with his NERVE project. He said, Just keep doing what you're doing and people will come. What I take from that is that compromises are a bad thing, and compromising a vision for the purposes of wanting attention is a very unsustainable methodology. I feel like just remaining steadfast and honest with yourself is all you can really do. That’s all I like to try to do. I want to make sure that whatever I put out is honest.

Stream Third Space's dot points and pre-order the digital album on bandcamp

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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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