Track By Tracks: PONTUS - Black Hole Bbq (2021)

Black Hole BBQ came together after the completion of my EP “IV” (2016). I had written a whole bunch of music and I wanted to condense into one cohesive album. I must have had roughly 50 or so musical composition ideas that needed polishing. Many of the pieces that made it to the album had been performed live over the years and fine tuned to be pieced together into one album. I am a big fan of the album experience - the idea of listening to a complete experience with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and ideally one that tells a story and takes the listener on a journey. In Black Hole BBQ (and in previous albums and releases) most of the musical pieces come with a backstory - sort a guide that will help you along the journey. It is not quite program music - but I do like that idea. Black Hole BBQ is my latest full length album since “The Observer’ which was released in 2013.

1. Black Hole BBQ - Shelaghs Quest (12:43):

This piece of music had been around for about 4 years, but had been fine tuned and developed over the years to be what finally made it to the album. This is my 4th solo release (Full Album) and with this album I wanted to expand my instrumental choices and added Modular synths and Flute. Performing on the album is Tripp Dudley (Drums and percussion), Ian O’Brien (Modular Synths), Chris Kelly (Bass), Katie Thode (Flute), and Eric Allen (cello). All the instruments were recorded separately in the studio and we used the studio facility at Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema for tracking of Drums, Percussion, Cello, Guitars, and Flute.

The Story - Shelagh is a future heroine tasked with a mission to take the seed of all that is known to humanity about the universe to a Black Hole. Her mission is simple yet impossible. Take the seed in an attempt to open up a wormhole so that we can enter extra dimensional space and carry this seed to another bubble universe. The closest option in the Milky Way is Sagitarrius A - our super massive black hole in the center of our galaxy. Humanity, the Galaxy, and maybe even the Universes fate is now in the hand of Shelagh and a group of scientists - who had with the cooperation of different beings across the galaxy - formed a plan to carry the seed of all the knowledge and wisdom from eons of civilizations. Eventually our universe will fade away and everything will drift further and further apart. This is our last chance to unify as a galaxy and try to save what remains and bring this wealth of information into a new universe - created from birth. This process - of hopping from universe to universe has been done for eternity and no-one knows how long this has been going on for - but in its truest sense - this is infinity, within a finite universe.

2. March of Mysceria (04:43):

This track is a straight heavy rock track. I wanted to write something with a lot of energy and intensity. It also includes melodic passages where the guitars and cello are working with each other. I recall the recording of the cello for this album had 3 mics - a Neuman U 87 - a Audio-Technica Tube Mic and a stereo pair of Schoeps. For most of the cello (in the mix) we opted for the tube mic - because it cut through the rest of the tracks. However - in this mix (when we had a solo guitar) we blended the tube mic with the stereo Schoeps to give it some room / dimension.

The Story - After getting through the first wormhole and successfully bouncing out from the super massive blackhole of Messier M87, Shelagh finds herself on a frozen and barren land. This is a place of pain and struggle. The Myscerians thrive in extreme environments and have been able to keep control of large parts of the galaxy using extreme measures and authoritarianism. The choice is clear - It is submission to their rule or destruction. They have laid waste to many civilizations and planets in the past. As soon as Shelagh realizes the brutality of this society she knows she needs to leave.

3. Sukhothai Dawn of Happiness (08:17):

The main riff for Sukhothai was written on a rooftop in Kolkata, India. I think the two basic ideas started with some rough sketches roughly 5 years ago. I always try to record or document ideas (on iPhone, laptops or scrap paper) and then piece these together into full compositions. With this track I was a bit inspired by King Crimson and wanted to get a really gritty bass tone for the first section. My friend Dan Kramer recorded the bass as a DI signal and later the signal was run through a RAT distortion pedal. We also mixed in some of the SansAmp plugin from Pro Tools. For the lead tone I wanted something very much in the old school shredder style - like a Joe Satriani Wah tone. The amp combination was a Mesa Boogie Head and a Marshall Superlead. I also wanted the cello and guitar to work with each other and interlock melodies. For the synth sections in the end I had help from my friend Ian O’Brien (Fastus) who is a modular electronic music composer. He created these beautiful arpeggiated synth cascades of notes that work alongside the tabla and cello. A moment of pause. The end leads us right up until the following track - Exotic Matter.

The Story - after narrowly escaping the authoritarian clutches of the Myscerians, Shelagh was able to find the portal and escape into another dimension. She woke up on the shores of SukhoThai. All she saw for miles was beaches and the ocean. Covered in sand and the pounding of waves surrounded her. After a few hours of walking she saw a tall spire rise up in the distance. Something massive looked like it was ahead of her and the odd thing was that the closer she got spire the narrower her field of vision became. It was almost as if someone wanted to cover up what was around the spire. Eventually after hours of walking she arrived at a massive gate entirely made out of gold and all around was a massive wall. The path towards the gate was lit up - almost like it was made out of gold - but anywhere she looked away from the path there was darkness and blur. If she looked back the golden path disappeared just a few feet behind into a waterfall of light. She cautiously approached the gate, afraid to speak or make a sound, even though she didn’t fear for her life it was as if everything around her was watching her every move. The textures and the walls surrounding her adjusted and shifted to her movements - like they were in a symbiotic relationship. Finally she was within a hands reach from the gate. Uncertain what to do in this moment she raised her fist and tried to knock. Her hand went straight through the gate - like it was made out of water or a liquid, but as she put her hand through she got this warm and pleasant sensation through her body. It felt welcoming and any fear she had previously felt was now replaced with comfort. A thought stuck her however - that this was a trap, or a way to lure her in. Reluctantly she entered the gate. As she entered through everything around her started to close in.

4. Exotic Matter (07:15):

This track was originally called Golden Boy and was mainly the first section and intro. I had originally thought this could be the theme song for a mysterious action film - at first I had the main riff with a lot of guitar leads of the main section. The heavier 23/8 section was not written out yet. Originally the first riff was guitar driven but I changed that to a tabla and cello intro with synth pads. I moved that section to the end instead.

The Story - This is the unknown, the unseen, the mystery of how the universe is held together. Shelagh is trapped in this state, without real direction. Between the fabric of space and the matter that binds it together. The portal she had entered out of SukhoThai placed her in the universes between space. Here you see a random photon every so often and atoms and particles are far apart. BUT - for those who have been through the portal at SukhoThai - and the entire world opens up, full of energy and complexity. The Exotic matter is what can create and destroy universes -some see this as a God particle - but actually better explained as the foundation upon what all this are made up of. The true fabric of space - that cannot be seen or felt or truly understood. For those who control this matter controls all dimensions - even inter universal travel - for a true multiverse pioneer!

5. Infinity Plus One (04:57):

This riff had been around for some time and was basically one of those late night jam that just came together pretty fast. Putting most of the parts together kind of fell naturally into place and was one of the pieces on this album that didn’t require too much polishing (as far as the composition). I did have to work out the cello and flute parts to fit in. For my previous albums I never worked with a flute but was curious to add it to this album. I asked my friend Katie Thode if she was interested in recording. Luckily she said yes and helped me develop the parts (and get a comfortable range).

6. Polar Vortex (06:15):

This track has been with me for quite some time and really developed over the years. I asked my good friend Ian O’Brien to help me by adding Modular Synth sections to this - and that added another dimension to the music. I also wanted to add a call and response section between the band and the tabla. The title came from the Polar Vortex that hit New York (and the East Coast) in 2014 - it just sounded like such an epic weather event - that it needed to be made into a rock track.

7. For Jules (05:39):

This was written right around the time my second son was about to be born. It was written during one of these sleepless nights and is a basic 2 chord structure but is more about the melodic development and improvisation. I had written the main theme and started to develop that into this track. My friend Ian O’Brien programmed the synths in the beginning and the end. Dan Kramer played the bass and Tripp Dudley on the drums. Sometimes with progressive music it's nice to simplify a piece and simply just let the music take you somewhere - so this song was that. I had the main theme and started improvising.

8. Tellus Mater (13:50):

This track was the last composed and added to the album. I wrote it during my paternity leave for my son. I had set up one of my guitars to a drop C tuning (with heavier gauge strings than I normally use) and started writing new material (in between sleepless nights and diaper changes). The first section I had an idea from hearing a distant air raid siren on my way back to work in south Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It turns out it is actually a call for 10 minutes until sunset until Shabbat. However - to me this felt more like a call to the urgency required to start addressing the monumental challenges humanity has in facing climate change. Musically - I wanted some contrast and a heavier track. I want the music to take the listener somewhere - I want there to be a path traveled. This track closes out the album so I really wanted to end it with a melody that you could remember when it was all done.

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