Today deep melodic music with a spacious atmosphere. The emotional content conveyed with this body of work takes synthesizers and field recordings to their absolute sonic threshold. This may send shivers down your spine so be prepared, this is a truly captivating listening experience especially in the right surround sound environment, it is very theatrical.......N'joy
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Chicago-area producer Stephen Hitchell is a man of many projects. As Soultek, he recently released 12-inches on soundshift [detroit] and Lee Purkis’ Fortune8. He collaborates with Rod Modell as cv313 and Echospace. One of his latest pseudonyms is Intrusion on his own label, echospace [detroit]. Hitchell’s dub-influenced techno has contributed to a revival of the style.
Interview Stephen Hitchell
Stephen: I have been into music since I was a little boy. At five years of age my grandmother was teaching me about jazz, swing, and blues on the old Hammond organ we had at the house. I learned a lot about soulful music of the forties, fifties, and sixties. She really loved the funky, more soulful sides of music, especially on piano. Early Motown artists were always playing in the background.
In regard to electronic music, well one of my earliest memories was receiving a 12-inch from Tomita titled “Snowflakes Are Dancing” released on RCA in the early seventies. My aunt, who was deeply into the seventies and early eighties era of early electronic music thought I would enjoy it and she was right on point. It was a classical rendition of Debussy’s (French musical visionary) tone paintings, a sort of Virtuoso style of classical done in a very unique way, using analog and modular synthesizers in place of live instruments. This was one of the first records I remember inspiring me to investigate electronic music further which lead me to discover the works of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel. At that time I was really also getting into Reggae music. My uncle was always out in Jamaica diving and would bring back tons of music he bought there. I mean, sure I loved Bob Marley, but many of the things he was playing dated even before Marley’s time. I just fell in love with it.
In high school I was playing keys in a garage band and [was] heavily into skate boarding, graffiti, loft parties. Our little band project lasted about two years. We were trying for a ska-influenced punk thing. We were kind of all into different things at the time. I was really getting sunk into electronic music full-fledged and less devoted to punk/ska styles of music. In retrospect I am sure that is partially why I quit and it never really went anywhere. It did teach me a valuable lesson about working with other people with music and if there’s no synergy, magic just won’t happen.
By my first year of college I was working with a reggae group who mainly covered Bob Marley and The Wailers songs over and over again.... Carnell, who was the guitarist in the group, grew up in Stony Hill, a town close to Kingston. He would rave on about the artists he saw perform, the island lifestyle, struggles, and, being in his uncle’s studio when he was young, how the sound came to be. He really taught me how much Jamaica had influenced music in every form from pop, jazz, to R&B.... Although I only spent a little over a year with them I learned a lot about the musical form and certainly kept it with me over the years.
At that time I was also taking trips up to Gramaphone records in Chicago and met one of my closest friends even today, Josh Werner. He was one of those people you’ll never forget, and you certainly would never meet anyone with more knowledge of techno and house music. Josh had been at the store since the late eighties and really gave me the A to Z when it came to the history of electronic music. I owe much of my musical education in that respect to him. I remember telling him how much I was into dub and reggae music and him handing me The Orb’s first singles back in 1991, I think: “Little Fluffy Clouds” and “In Dub,” two records I still adore even today.
I must say I really found myself during that time of my life. I was buying records every week and investigating as much as I could. A whole new world had opened up to me. Growing up in the late eighties and early nineties in Chicago the local radio shows (WBMX) were being championed by the original Hot Mix 5.... House music was hard to ignore in Chicago at that time, and acid house had really taken over with Sleazy D, Phuture, and Adonis. It was everywhere you went. I remember hearing Lil Louis “French Kiss” being played on the radio six months before it came out on vinyl. Things were really inspiring back then, so many new ideas, and to witness it first-hand is really something I will cherish the rest of my life.
I must admit, as much as house music was really tipping off back then I was more into the Detroit sound: KMS, Transmat, Metroplex, UR, Axis, Red Planet were all labels I was addicted to. Sure, I have the entire Prescription, Balance, Cajual, Relief, Warehouse, and Trax catalog, but with those early pioneering Detroit labels I really found what I was looking for. I love experimentation—it’s just part of my nature by default, and I found that with those early Detroit producers they were really looking to break away from the Chicago sound and adopt one all their own. Using science fiction as a theme and futurity as the sole purpose, they really succeeded in their quest. I think Chicago and Detroit have always been feeding off of each other. Being so close to one another it led to many great collaborations. One I will never forget was the pairing of Chez Damier and Stacy Pullen on their eternal classic “Forever Monna,” an amazing example of the deep house sound of Chicago and Detroit’s futuristic edge.
In the early nineties I bought so much music, from 1988-1999 fifty percent of the money I made went to the record store and the other to my studio which always seemed to be a work in progress. Thankfully my friend Roy (who had just about every rare synth you could imagine) would let me record on his gear and I would sample as much as I could. I have been really serious about music production from 1992 on and it never really stopped!
In 1993 I discovered a release which really caught me off guard, it was titled “Enforcement” from a Detroit-based group (or so I thought back then) called Basic Channel. I picked it up as I saw Jeff Mills had done remix work on it and I had been collecting his work then for quite a few years. I was always under the impression back then the group was from Detroit given the close ties to Detroit artist and labels, not to mention back then they were all domestic priced and being pressed in Detroit and just about everyone I knew said they were coming from Record Time.
By mid-1994, “Quadrant Dub” had come out. I still remember Josh handing me a copy, saying, “You of all people need to hear this.” He was right. The strange thing about that record is at the time I had been religiously, exclusively involved with work on vintage synthesizers. I remember hearing some of the first DCO synths, admiring the sonic character, and thinking I’ve never heard anyone incorporate tones like this in their productions until the day I heard “Quadrant Dub.” When it went through those headphones everything I loved about music, dub, jazz, and techno all mixed up in one, with a sort of lo-fi ambience and a sonic character so warm in comparison to most of what was out there. It was out of this world. Similar to The Orb’s early work, I could hear the presence and incorporation of studio techniques I had learned about from Carnell. It all snapped in my head, and I could still hear his words, “Reggae and Jah was in all things and would influence all things. It was eternal.” And there it was, a truly captivating moment for me.
In regard to inspiration, well to me my beautiful baby boy is one of the largest inspirations in my life. My beautiful wife and family, friends, experiences, all a great source of inspiration. Another great source of inspiration is discovering new hardware, synthesizers, gear, and designing my own signal processors and effects. I’ve gone through so much hardware (synths, drum machines, samplers, signal processors, amps, tubes, you name it) but now I finally feel I have a great handle and understanding in so many forms of synthesis and a very good scope on what to use and how to use it. Kind of an exciting time, really. Last weekend, I locked myself in our garage and built my own reverb which only cost me about $20 to make. That to me is the best part of all this, building something truly unique and using it in your recordings that same night. It was a magical experience and very inspiring. I really understand why King Tubby loved doing that so much, it gave him something all his own. I guess that is all we can hope for.
How did you and Rod first meet?
I met Rod through Mike Schommer years earlier. I had been sending demos and music after the first Deepchord CD came out (1999 or so). I really liked their sound. To this day Rod said it was the only demo he and Mike received they would have put out, but given the high amount of their own material to get out, that never materialized until the birth of Echospace years later. At the end of the nineties I remember a huge resurgence of interest in dub techno (even Yoshi Toshi were endorsing it, releasing Heiko Laux’s amazing “Dedicated To All Believers”), and then it just disappeared leaving only traces of itself behind. At the time I remember going to Gramaphone, asking Josh what was in I would like, and getting passed two things at the time: Luomo’s amazing first 12-inch on Force Tracks (might just be my favorite vocal project of all time), Pole’s first album release (which I just adore), and Deepchord’s self-titled CD. Well, I listened and loved every second of it. Something was so sincere about the Deepchord CD. It was mechanical, warm, organic and authentic. It was a truly unique sound and done in a very original way.
One thing I really loved about the early DC work is its close tie to Detroit—the chord hit that seemed to evolve over time and evoke so much emotion. In a strange way the music almost gave me the feelings I had when first listening to the good old classic Inner City and early Kevin Saunderson projects. If you reference Inner City’s early work in the eighties, you can hear some of the first crossover between techno and dub with the massive chord hits and delays. It’s strange how living in a place can come across in your music, but it can. I find where we live and where we’re from always comes across in the music and certainly it did with the first Deepchord CD. It’s in the mood and feeling and it comes across in the music. It’s Detroit and it’s eternal.
What is it like running your own labels?
It’s a hard time to be running a “vinyl-only” record label considering the amount of file sharing and illegal downloads happening. I have finally made the leap to digital which is something I honestly didn’t want to get behind one-hundred percent. Trust me when I say, working in vinyl distribution for over ten years myself, collecting vinyl for twenty, and moving four times in the past four years with over ten thousand records to move along with me (now that is love and dedication), this was about the hardest decision I’ve had to make with the label so far. There is no way we can stay in business and put records out without digital sales A good friend of ours works at Beatport and has really helped us understand the full scope of how digital can help a label reach the younger DJs who don’t play or buy vinyl. He has been a great help in getting us started in the digital market. Beatport will be the exclusive outlet for echospace in a digital format and one exciting thing about this is it gives us the opportunity to release music which never did make it to vinyl. Sometimes when we recorded a song, we had to narrow it down from four to five different takes and sometimes on four different reels (which makes it pretty easy to overlook one mix or two). Then you look back after it was released and wish a different version had come out. Well with digital it gives us that opportunity.
Jacob Arnold, Jul 8, 2008 in Features
DeepChord and Echospace started off as barely more than a rumor supported mostly by the continous scarcity of their records. The duo comprised of Detroit's Rod Modell and Chicago's Steven Hitchell have spent nearly two decades producing low-key electronic music both bordering on the verge of myth. They're considered by many the most noted producers operating in the dub-infused aftermath of the Basic Channel axis and all its myriad offshoots. Once their critically-acclaimed The Coldest Season (LOVE 033CD) emerged on the UK-based Modern Love label, the curtain was unveiled and the sound of Echospace was born. They've often been coined the true heirs to the Basic Channel legacy but their work finds a home somewhere on the outskirts of the galaxy, where Detroit soul ties to Jamaican roots played through a tunnel in deep space. This evocative, immersive sound that is Echospace was born out of a love and passion for analog circuitry, sound design, field recordings and non-conventional methods of recording. But it's also work that's quintessentially building upon the Detroit electronic scene where it was born, and that divine marriage of roots and vision make the work at once so highly considered, so pertinent and so timeless.
The Intrusion dubs of White Clouds... are a bit of a ringer, of course, with Hitchell "only" having to reinvent Van Wey's singular achievement in his own musical vocabulary. He did it without a sweat, even as he put out maybe the most classically dubby album echospace [detroit]'s ever released with The Seduction of Silence. He might be the busiest man in the genre, but even more singular than his productivity is his talent; all three full-lengths are markedly different in sound and ferociously good. But his debut as Variant, which he described for RA as an "ambient, acoustic" album, that was the peak of his year.
Electronic music producer and Echospace record label head honcho, Stephen Hitchell, uses this Variant moniker to release his more long-form ambient and drone inflected recordings. Variant’s albums invoke various celestial phenomena ranging from comets, to stars, to the aurora borealis. The cosmic preoccupation plays out in the music too, which ranges from warm analog space ambient infused with field recordings to more rhythmically active synthesizer loops and drones. Indeed, Variant’s recordings are intended to “score the constellation of mystical events occurring in the depths of space.”
Thru The Cosmos was released nov 13, an initial freebee, a live recording reflecting on perhaps the most anticipated astronomical event of the year as Comet ISON makes its way toward the sun, in just a few days it will be the closest proximity to it and should be something worth gazing up at the sky and reflecting on the time, space continuum. By Christmas day, the comet will take its brightest form illuminating the night sky helping us to remember how mystical and magical the universe really is as this comet crosses paths with spica. The recording was made in reflection of this event and meant to score as a soundtrack to it and the constellation of mystical events occurring in the depths of space.
As Phase 90 Hitchell released Infinitati but 2014 turned out to be an extremely productive Variant year with 3 album releases, Chromestasia, Aurora's Dream and Dreaming Thru Vector and with Oceans End, dedicated to all those who believe.. From our heart to yours. Thank you all for the love, support and encouragement this year! All the best in 2015!.
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Here Hitchell's (under Variant moniker) use of field recordings (especially of traffic and other night sounds), acoustic instruments (the closing title track is closer in feeling to a band like Mountains than you'd expect) and subtly melodic elements add up to make The Setting Sun strangely propulsive in both a sonic and emotional sense. From the track titles on down, the record evokes slumber and travel, wrapping the listener in comfortably dense swathes of static and softly pulsing bass; you could call it The Warmest Season.
Hitchell proves here that he's a master at making ambient music that enthralls, that's gentle enough to dream to but involving enough to reward close, intense listening. At its worst, the genre can seem overdetermined, academic or just pointless (qualities that thankfully echospace [detroit] seems determined to avoid), but above all else The Setting Sun is a warm and approachable album. There's not a whiff of crossover or compromise to be found, but Hitchell's grasp of the basic elements involved—his craftsmanship—is so masterful that you could happily recommend this album to someone who has never actually heard Basic Channel, Gas, Pole, etc. It's both immediately ingratiating and deeply satisfying enough that it's a hell of a gateway drug; any novices who stumble on this record are likely to become fans, and—like the rest of us—they can only hope Hitchell continues to be so prolific and so rewarding.
Variant - Setting Sun (flac 399mb)
01 As Time Stood Still 11:54
02 Enchanted 15:05
03 Upon A Dream 9:10
04 A Silent Storm 8:26
05 Someplace Else 6:51
06 Adrift 5:08
07 The Setting Sun 23:07
Variant - Setting Sun (ogg 171mb)
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Way back in late 2008, echospace [detroit] issued a mysterious, digital only three track EP entitled The Setting Sun by a hitherto unknown artist called Variant. Of course it turned out to be an appropriately named alias of Stephen Hitchell, used to release emotionally charged, drifting ambient works. In September 2009— a particularly busy year for the label that had been ramping up its line of full-length compact discs—The Setting Sun re-surfaced as a eighty minute, seven track album that, to date, remains one the its most underrated releases. As lilting and delicately rain-drenched as the album incarnation of The Setting Sun was, one particular track from the original EP was conspicuous by its absence: the fifty-two minute ambient epic, “FallingStars.” As an album-length voyage in its own right it was understandably not viable for inclusion on the new CD.
Skip forward to 2011, another year in which echospace [detroit] went into album overdrive, introducing a series of controversial remastered and expanded re-issues, all extremely limited to a mere one hundred copies for the world available exclusively via Discogs.com or direct from the label itself. Distinct from their digipak clothed cousins, these echospace [detroit] releases were pressed on a mixture of full-colour printed CDr, professionally duplicated or professionally replicated compact discs, housed in plain black card slip-cases with large square metallic ink stickers, wrapped in resealable protective plastic pouches. And so it was that a wrong was put right when this series birthed Variant’s “FallingStars” as a majestic standalone release.
Be assured, this is no simple remaster of the original track either. At sixty-two minutes, it is the longest version of the track so far and has been both extensively remastered, restructured and further embellished, elevating to ambient godhood what was already an unparalleled, spellbinding and emotionally demanding ambient journey. Some may find the track’s central, looped melody a little melancholy, saccharine, even and it’s true, this isn’t a piece that’s ever going to cheer or console, but for many that is precisely the appeal and these emotive facets are greatly enhanced by the fuller, richer and deeper sound of this new version.
New additions to the piece quickly become apparent: the chirping of crickets on a still, humid, starry-skied night, a swaying, piped hiss that is at mainstay of dub-techno, but it is after only three minutes that the most flooring improvement from the remaster kicks in: the bass. The original “FallingStars” was a rather muted, cloudy and slightly chilly affair. This new version makes that mix sound like an early demo by comparison, a subterranean bass pulse that was previously little more than a faint echo now felt as well as heard, pushed forward in the mix to lend the piece a warmth and gravitas previously missing. Twenty-five minutes in and the feedback blossom and blooming strings dissipate, leaving the calmer swell of the delicate pads and sea-salt spray, but very soon the bite of a chill wind begins to whistle alongside the distant, repeated clang of vast machinery to even greater hypnotic and panoramic effect.
At its close, the original mix faded away to nothing on this second movement, but the new version features a third and final one, giving Falling Stars the much needed time to come to a more satisfying, considered conclusion. After a good forty-five minutes, the bass fades, the ghostly apparition floating in the upper registers takes its leave and only the wind, spray and insect chatter remain, slowly and gently carried off into the horizon bathed in the golden glow of a sunset over rustling, tree covered hills.
It is a great shame that Falling Stars has only ever received somewhat “low key” releases, formerly as a digital-only curio and latterly on this extremely limited but fan-pleasing edition, as it is easily up there with the greatest works from Hitchell and the echospace [detroit] label. Certainly it is one of the most deeply moving and this gorgeous, loving remaster adds whole new dimensions of atmosphere and depth that make it utterly essential. You will not regret tracking this one down.
Variant - Falling Stars (flac 311mb)
01 FallingStars 62:00
Variant - Falling Stars (ogg 169mb)
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This limited edition project from echospace's Variant project inspired by the the mystical universe around us.. The objective for this venture was to create an ever evolving sonic ocean utilizing the enigmatic spheres of ambient structure and rhythm, wherein movements are methodically rendered from various forms of synthesis, subdued with mystical ghostly harmonics and artifacts from aged analog hardware. Rigorous experimentation has yielded resonating enchanting echoes meant to induce the notion that this quantum phenomena is, indeed, measurable and continuously changing as it is in the universe.
For the curious one, this recording consists of 2 near 60 minute infinite pieces of perceptual distortion that voyages into unfamiliar quiet zones. Those who were immersed with previous Variant projects, such as the work featured on ”The Setting Sun" and or cv313's epic "Beyond The Clouds" will have a lot to love here. This will be an experience meant for anyone with a quest for absorption. “Aurora’s Dream” is the exploration into invisible dimensions of undulating synergy, one devoid of space and time. The front cover features a beautiful Kodak Print of an image captured by NASA mounted and housed in an imported Japanese resealable poly sleeve.
Variant - Aurora's Dream (Solar Mix) (flac 401mb)
01 Aurora's Dream [solar mix] 57:46
Variant - Aurora's Dream (Solar Mix) (ogg 137mb)
Variant - Aurora's Dream (Polar Mix) (flac 408mb)
01 Aurora's Dream [polar mix] 60:13
Variant - Aurora's Dream (Polar Mix) (ogg 132mb)
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