When I stumbled upon Zoomthelineandeye’s “Onlaw” on Soundcloud back in June, I was immediately seduced by the song’s analogue-synth gravitas, progressive structure, and uplifting ambience.
The standalone track—labeled a “preview” at the time—was at once a breath of fresh air and a trip back to the sci-fi fantasies and pop culture staples of my youth. With the track’s brilliant climax still minutes away, I just had one question: Where the hell could I find more of this stuff?
When I hopped over to the artist’s Bandcamp page, the only new information I could find was that this Zoomthelineandeye character resided in the UK. But “Onlaw” was, after all, a preview track, which most surely meant that more music was on the way.
“I’m surprised I actually finished anything,” admitted Matthew Redfern, the humble sound architect who released Zoomthelineandeye’s ominous and triumphant debut 11 back in July.
Chock full of scrupulous detail and moving moments, 11 is comprised of epic electronic compositions and minimalist vignettes. Kicking off with “The Faders,” which morphs from funeral parlor ambience to that of a grim rave, 11 evolves gracefully throughout its 60-mintue lifespan. Highlights include the beautiful “Achoraq,” which features an intermittent trap beat and walls of melody; the drowsy, drippy “Wumn;” the dreamy “Casceal,” the catchy “Tellen,” and the aforementioned gateway drug “Onlaw.”
So what was the catalyst for Redfern to finally launch his music into that great listening station in the sky known as the Internet? Well, there were two, actually: tough love, and a bit of soul searching.
“It took 11 years of meandering to pluck up the courage to do it. I needed to be told by a few people to buck up my ideas and actually finish something,” he explained. “But to get my ideas to a point I felt it worthy of letting other people hear was a real task. I’m never happy, or maybe feel that my music does not sound like real ‘proper’ music.”
It wasn’t until 2005 that electronic music came boomeranging back into his life, thanks to a Warp Records promotional deal at his local HMV.
“I started buying electronic albums cheap,” said Redfern. “I had known a bit about the big Warp artists, but the very little I heard I didn’t think much of, although Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children was a real favorite of mine for years.”
Favorite, yes. But most influential? That would be Plaid’s Spokes, the Cupid’s arrow that officially reignited his love affair with electronic music. So he looked at his guitar, asked it “Do I know you?” and ditched his plans to start a post-rock project. He then bought a Microkorg and an Electribe ESmk2, and, as he puts it, “that was it.”
The Zoomthelineandeye sound (“I bought a Zoom multi-tracker and a Line 6 amp, and then it was me making it all. Get it? Zoom the Line and I? It’s so bad”) is derived from Redfern’s arsenal of keyboards, machines, and other such musical gadgets. But make no mistake: Redfern is no fan of factory settings.
“The raw sound has to be inspiring so I can start at a blank point and take it where I want. I don’t like presets or starting points that other people have made—I like to start at the very beginning for every sound.”
So he gravitated towards old analogue synths—not that he’s an “analogue purist weirdo” or anything like that.
“I love digi-weirdness, too, but [I] have to have a good interface. So softsynths are a no-no because, for me, clicking around a screen is not fun.” Not that he has anything against those who make music that way. “There is no right […] way of making music—only the one you have more fun with.” (Check out the video below for a quick tour of Redfern’s musical wares.)
Which piece of hardware puts the fun in Zoomthelineandeye? That would be the Machinedrum, which Refern calls a “eureka” piece of equipment.
“I have tried quite a few drum machines and samplers, but hated every single one apart from my very first, the ESmk2,” he explained. “The Machinedrum felt like the same thing, but compared to the Electribe, this was like a Ferrari—it almost knew what I was thinking. Within 10 minutes, I was squealing because it was doing everything I ever wanted.”
Music-making runs in the family—Redfern’s dad was “a great guitarist” and his brother “a phenomenal drummer.” However, he isn’t exactly putting on private performances or holding listening parties for his family and friends.
“None are into the same things, so I assume no one will be into it,” he said. “So 11 is kind of only a big deal for me personally—my musical journey’s time encompassed. But, at the same time, it’s not a big deal either. None of the material is what I would feel is my best stuff—it’s the stuff that worked OK together and was close to be being finished.”
Withholding music from curious onlookers—or onlisteners, as it were—just comes with the territory when you’re still finding your footing as a musician. However, Redfern has his own way of coping with the dark clouds of self-doubt that occasionally drizzle on his creative process.
“I just tell myself that if it comes from me naturally, and that I like the sound of it, it does not matter what anyone else thinks. [That] does not stop my head [from] going over the same routine with the next sound, though.”
“I have always struggled to do dark music,” he said. “I can start to go dark, but some sort of glimmer of hope or optimism starts to show itself in the melodies—just a note here or there can change the whole mood. I let it happen naturally, and hopefully people can relate to whatever emotion they feel is present.”
Releasing 11 into the digital ether has clearly changed Redfern’s tune. He’s allowed himself to gradually let go of the challenges of the creative process, while recognizing the futility of constantly questioning his own legitimacy as a musician.
And so, if you’re left with any doubt about optimism’s ability to beat pessimism’s ass, just refer to Redfern’s final words of the interview.
“There will definitely be lots more music now that I have broken the seal.”