Patrick McDermott says that ambient and noise is the most interactive music he has ever felt, both as a listener and composer. What he especially enjoys about this type of arcane composition is that it lets you dream up whatever visuals you want as you listen. “The sonic world it creates, the mood it induces, the space it allows with often the long length of tracks, the a-typical structure, the lack of lyrics and traditional elements”—all of this, he says, makes for a unique interactive experience between the music and your mind.
McDermott practices what he preaches. He’s the co-founder of Driftless Recordings along with Joel Ford, a label that champions instrumental, experimental, ambient, and “challenging” music above all else. But he’s also an artist himself, working under the name North Americans, and whose second album titled “Legends” is comprised of muddy drone noise and grainy, unsettling soundscapes. He is, of course, releasing his new LP through Driftless Recordings.
Compared to his first album, entitled NO_NO, McDermott sees Legends as being “a more focused, cohesive product with a more premeditated narrative.” Despite saying that, he’s conflicted on that last point, claiming that he doesn’t want to stick a specific story to the album, but mentions that it does come from a place of sickness and chemical-induced tiredness felt when travelling across the states. He’s transposed this experience into drawn-out and loud industrial whirring that he finds meditative. None of the six songs on the album run under five minutes, with the longest being “Graves” at 12 minutes, it described aptly by McDermott as “weaving a rusty hum through a thicket of blown out noise, rising and rising before it eventually recedes to nothing.”
Another admission towards the narrative of Legends by McDermott is taking inspiration from the film The Proposition, meaning that it’s “darkly obsessed with space and the unknown that massive, yawning blackness represents.” You can hear this as the inhuman groans of Legends subsume all other sounds while you listen. But to better help you, as a listener, to envision the sonic shapes that McDermott has constructed, he had a 3D virtual environment made for you to wander around in.
This was handled by DJ and video wall programmer Ryan ‘Ghostdad’ Sciaino. He worked closely with McDermott to create a suitably sparse and alien environment to accompany the album as it plays in order over the top. “I think of the game as sort of a digital meditation, so if you’re not in the ideal place to experience Legends EP then maybe this will get help you there,” Sciaino said. Most of what you see inside are enormous rock faces that surround you on all sides. Sometimes these mountainous figures yawn with voidspace, opening giant maws and pulling up their skirts to reveal a haunting nothingness where you cannot go. Beyond that, you’ll usually find a series of randomly placed objects that you can use to stimulate an imagined story attached to this strange location while the music churns in your eardrums.
When I ventured inside this 3D world the vast aloneness of the space was immediate. With my first few steps I saw bombed out buildings made of dry rock, a lone monolith staring out the sun, and a spinning tunnel of ooze-flesh in the middle of nowhere. What struck me most, however, was a large inverted silver pyramid hanging over a lake (the same pyramid on the album’s cover art, I learned afterwards). Entering the lake, the water’s shimmering surface turned inside out to become a liquid black ceiling. Ahead of me were what seemed to be the glimmering scales of fish, but upon closer inspection were revealed to instead be a huge flock of tiny birds flapping in the water. The music shuddered as I watched them glide and suddenly this calm scene overwhelmed me with what was obviously terror. It was as if the mesmerizing sight of these birds was a siren’s song, causing me to forget that I needed to breathe, with the music’s aggressive turn snapping me out of the lull to have me realize that I was drowning.
This was an experience unique to me and this was something that McDermott wanted to ensure that the videogame accompaniment to his music would enable. “It’s important to me that the visuals are uniquely generated every time. I didn’t want a video, to force my or Ryan’s vision of the project firmly on the listener, where instead they can roam around and make their own version,” McDermott said. The randomized assemblage works as it allows just enough room for you to conjure up wild narrative theories across your journey. It works as it’s as ethereal and sporadic as the album, using low-level interaction with a dreamlike 3D space to enhance your listening experience.