PROCESS OF ILLUMINATION: Mending Broken Pieces

Process of Illumination

Instrumental prog quartet Process of Illumination from The Woodlands, TX was formed in 2007 under the name Wallhax, but it took a few years for them to start composing their own music. After the releases of their debut EP ‘Fifteen‘ (2016) and a full-length album ‘Radiant Memory‘ (2017), the group has returned with their sophomore full-length effort in September. Entitled ‘The Broken,’ the album is, according to the band, an “ambitious and epic” release.

We had Process of Illumination on our recent Progotronics compilation, and they answered our questions.

Define the mission of Process of Illumination.

Our mission is to deliver unique and exciting music that spans a variety of progressive subgenres with attention to detail in our composition and a captivating stage presence with our performances.

Tell me about the creative process that informed your recent album “The Broken.”

Aaron (the keyboardist and chief songwriter) started work on a solo EP in 2013 that would consist of three electronic-influenced pieces known as “The Broken.” After showing the band these songs, interest grew to adapt these songs for Process of Illumination, so Aaron began to write more and more pieces with similar motifs and musical themes until sixteen songs or so were written. We workshopped many of these songs live, picking what we felt were the strongest and most representative of our sound, until the list was culled down to the nine tracks on the album today. Originally, “The Broken” was intended to have more of a narrative flow, with an overarching story in mind. We kind of moved away from the idea as time went on, but you can still hear some similar melodic passages turn up in a few tracks.

Process of Illumination - The Broken

Although it’s an instrumental release, is there a certain message you are trying to give with “The Broken”?

Around the time the bulk of the album was written (2014 or so), various members of the band were going through difficult circumstances in life for one reason or another. The idea behind the original concept for the album was the process of making a broken will or a shattered spirit whole again. It’s about rebounding from difficulties in life and mending broken pieces. This idea generally stuck with us even as we made changes, and really helped us figure out what each song represented to us. “Etched in Gold,” part one of “Knowledge,” for example, came from the Japanese concept of Kintsukuroi, in which a broken vase is pieced back together with gold. Although the piece is made whole again, the cracks are still visible. As a less abstract example, the song “Paper Cranes,” got its name from a friend of the band who was at an all-time low in their life, and said the only solace they found in these low times was folding cranes from paper. This friend said that listening to this song reminded her of the peace she felt from folding those cranes. In general, we write our music to be open to interpretation – whatever the listener gleans from hearing our music is far more important than whatever emotion or message we try to convey on our own.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Aaron recorded demos in Logic Pro on his MacBook, clinking out everything on a keyboard via MIDI, including guitar and drum parts. These (admittedly cheap-sounding) demos were brought to the band where they were polished into something more natural-sounding and with more character for each of the members’ parts. Originally, every song was going to follow the title template “______ of the Broken”, but this idea was thankfully scrapped. The only two titles whose names barely changed were “Flight” and “Knowledge.” Beyond the initial demos, we had a library of live versions of the song to listen to and note the evolution of the song over time. In fact, major kudos go to Robert (our drummer) for listening to every live recording we had – at least a dozen hours worth of listening – to make the drums on the album sound as exciting and perfect as possible.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Although “The Broken” is a lot more energetic and in-your-face than our first album “Radiant Memory” was, we did pay close attention to how the mood of the album changes from start to finish. The first two songs are loud and heavy, followed by two pensive and more subdued songs. What’s especially true of the last half of the album is that these longer songs are so dynamically diverse, often starting with a whisper and ending with an epic orchestral or power chord. In the case of “Knowledge,” our longest song to date, dynamic changes ebb and flow through the entire song.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

After demos for all the songs were written and we’d been playing these songs live for three years or more, we decided it was time to record. We recorded with J.R. Paredes of Satellite Music Group in Houston, Texas because he recorded, mixed, and mastered our debut album “Radiant Memory” and we were highly pleased with the result. After recording drums and bass, keyboards were recorded for every song. Aaron actually got the chance to record on a Yamaha grand piano for his parts and the authenticity brought a lot of warmth to the piano parts on the album. After guitar parts were recorded, other instruments like violin, tambourine, and castanets were recorded. Other than some new guitar effects in a couple of songs, not much experimentation happened in the studio during the actual recording of the album. However, listening to the first round of recordings gave us context for what worked and what didn’t, and some things were altered, scrapped, or added in the next round.

How long “The Broken” was in the making?

The first song for “The Broken” was written in 2013, which we know today as “Threshold.” The last song written for the album was in 2016 with what is now “Reawaken.” We workshopped these songs for three years or so by playing them live and in practice until they really resonated the individual characters and style of each member of the band. We went into the studio the first week of January, and were in the studio for three hours at a time twice a week almost every week through early August. It was a lot of work (or at least more than our first album), but I hope the labor of love is really heard in the final product.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

From a songwriting perspective, progressive acts like Dream Theater, Steven Wilson, Ayreon, Anathema, and Rush were some of our largest influences. However, music from video game franchises such as Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, and even Banjo-Kazooie were highly influential. “The Broken” has a wide array of sounds and moods, but I think of “Reawaken” as our Anathema track and “Knowledge” as our Dream Theater track (and not just because it’s fourteen minutes long!). We’d be absolutely delighted if any of our favorite artists were to listen to this album, and we hope they would hear our love for their music in what we created.

What is your view on technology in music?

I highly appreciate the utility of technology in music, from a writing, recording, and performing standpoint. More than with our previous album, arpeggiators and synth pads were used from Logic Pro, and the ability to import these parts and add any effects in ProTools seamlessly was a godsend. While I can appreciate the charm of the “old times” when music was recorded on tape, I can’t imagine working without the aid of software and an engineer who’s a master at using it! Although we’re still venturing into more technology in terms of performance, things like in-ear monitors and backing tracks have the potential to make live shows even tighter and all the more captivating.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

Something I love is how we write progressive rock and metal but still manage to attract so many people who are not necessarily fans of the genre. I think a large part of that has to do with the energy and enthusiasm of our live performances. The joy we give off while playing live is contagious, and we hope that encourages people to exhibit that same joy in whatever they love most in life, whether that’s music, art, or even personal relationships.

What are your plans for the future?

We’ve put the brakes on playing shows in the time we’ve been recording the album, but I believe we plan to play live a lot more once we’re fully practiced again. It probably will be another couple of years before the next full album release, but trust me – writing is still happening. We probably have almost a full album’s-worth of material ready to be worked on, but we want to take the time to polish it and make it the best it can be.

The Broken is out now; check it out on Bandcamp. Follow Process of Illumination on Facebook.

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