Symbol is the solo effort of producer and multi-instrumentalist Christopher Royal King. Best known as a founding member and lead guitarist of the massive orchestral-rock ensemble This Will Destroy You, King has also composed and recorded scores for a host of prominent feature-films and documentaries, established Light Lodge Records, and moonlights in Austin's amorphous ambient collective AMASA•GANA. Now on his first solitary odyssey apart from TWDY, King's masterful ear for signal processing and affinity for corroded elegance takes free reign over a vastly expanded inventory of instrumentation. Throughout Symbol's debut Online Architecture, organic sound-sources are meticulously transmuted through chains of modules and magnetic tape, each successive stage creating a compounded quantity of detail and decay. After four studio albums with TWDY, King has crafted an arresting solo debut that is both gorgeously tranquil and devastatingly heavy, offering a direct-line into his psyche which had not existed until now.
Online Architecture warbles into consciousness as a reel of 1/4" tape struggling to fully animate its opening sequence of beautifully effervescent synth melodies. This introduction immediately establishes the complex relationship between King and technology that is mechanically, stylistically, and thematically embodied throughout his debut. An array of instrumentation consisting of harmonium, Tibetan singing bowls, bowed cymbals, hammered dulcimer, and guitar are all respectively dismantled, processed through a labyrinth of modular patch-bays, and resurrected as rich electronic compositional elements. This emphasis on transference and counter-transference between sound sources and their conduits creates a palpable convergence of the typically differentiated worlds of modular-based synth projects and experimental ambient music. King's thorough multi-stage processing serves as a vital compositional determinant across Online Architecture and allows each piece to possess a level refinement and disintegration that is embedded within the frequencies themselves. Spanning across an aural uncanny valley, King utilizes the limitations of various types of recording equipment and seamlessly integrates several styles into one holistic motif. Instead of polished studio mixing, each piece has been dubbed onto old damaged reels of 1/2" and 1/4" magnetic tape specifically selected for their levels deterioration, some reels totally dissolving upon their final transfer.
These pieces were originally conceived after extensively traveling throughout East Asia where King observed China's foreboding yet-to-be-inhabited ghost cities juxtaposed against it's vast mega-metropolises. Equally overcome with awe and anxiety from the experience, the ubiquity of technological integration and exponential expansion in Asia's rapidly developing nations, dwarfing that which King had long perceived of his Western homeland, seared a lasting image into his mind. Consequently, pieces such as Clear Passage are deeply ominous, as if modern man's yearning to merge biology and technology is fated to become dark and perverse; while other songs like Shadow Harvesting induce feeling-tones of relief and detached euphoria, acting as a momentary sedative from the world's constant electronic whir. This omnipresent fear of dystopia is skillfully held in a delicate harmony with the tonal complexity of King's lush and expansive signal processing. The result is an accomplished inaugural work that allows for acute sensations of distress and isolation to exist gently, observed but not absorbed.
"We could translate the word symbol as 'something viewed as a totality,' or as 'the vision of things brought into a whole.' We must always have recourse to a symbol when we are dealing with a great variety of aspects or with a multiplicity of things which form a connected unit and which are so closely woven together in all their separate parts that we cannot separate or take away the any parts without destroying the connections and losing meaning of the totality...A symbol, then, is a living Gestalt, or form - the sum total of a highly complex set of facts which our intellect cannot master conceptually, and which therefore cannot be expressed in any way other than by the use of an image." - CG Jung
released April 8, 2014
All Sounds by Symbol. Additional mixing by Alex Bhore at Elmwood Studios. Mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market in Montréal. Art / layout by Christopher Royal King. Cover photo by Frauke Thielking.