Steven Wilson tells us all about 'The Harmony Codex' and the importance of high quality audio!Qobuz
For many, Steven Wilson’s name is solidly associated with some form or other of progressive rock, whether it be as the frontman and leader of Porcupine Tree, or through his role as the surround sound remixer of classic 1970s albums by the likes of King Crimson and Yes. But, as the 55-year-old Wilson points out, “I’m too young to have been growing up with progressive rock. Obviously, I went back, and I discovered that.”
In fact, as a teenager in the ‘80s, Wilson was instead drawn to the conceptual rock and pop of artists such as Peter Gabriel, Talk Talk and Kate Bush, and the elaborate, cinematic productions of Trevor Horn.
“I’ve always made records with the audiophile in my mind,” he tells Qobuz. “I know there are some people that make records for the person listening on their phone, and that’s fine. But I’ve always thought about how my music will sound on an amazing stereo and aspired to that level of sonic experience.”It’s an approach that’s brought into sharp focus with Wilson’s highly ambitious seventh solo album, the 65-minute-long The Harmony Codex, which takes the listener on a sonic journey through melodic space rock, jittery electronica, drum and bass-influenced jazz and ambient synthscapes. “It’s a massive, sprawling, epic record, which constantly takes you places that you don’t expect,” he enthuses. “Over 65 minutes it constantly kind of wrong foots you in an interesting way.”
Reflecting the genre-leaping adventurism of the album, The Harmony Codex features a wide range of guest musicians, from Sam Fogarino (Interpol) to Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto) to Guy Pratt (Pink Floyd, Bryan Ferry). For Wilson, it’s clearly been a liberating experience. “If I do a pop track, and I put it alongside a 10-minute ambient track, they can go together because actually, to other people, they both just sound like facets of me. It feels like the most agenda-less approach I’ve ever taken to making a solo record.”
As a young kid, Wilson was initially inspired by the sound design aspects of the music he heard his parents playing at home in the English satellite town of Hemel Hempstead (24 miles northwest of London)—whether it be Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby, or The Dark Side Of The Moon. Aiding him in his desire to explore home recording, his electronics engineer father built him his first cassette multi-track, tape echo unit, vocoder and sequencer.” But because all of these things he built from kits and from his own imagination,” Wilson points out, “they were always different to the things that were available on the commercial market in some way. They had little quirks. So he built a nine-step sequencer… kind of implanting in me these interesting, tricky time signatures, unbeknownst to him.”
It’s this inherent sense of musical exploration that Steven Wilson carries with him into The Harmony Codex, not least in the album’s nine-minute-plus ambient title track, which began as a lengthy experiment with sequenced analogue synths and that in many ways defines both his freewheeling creativity and attention to sonic detail.
For him, it’s hopefully an album “that you can listen to for the 100th time, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I never noticed that before.’ A lot of people now think about how they can get a track across in 15 seconds in a TikTok video. I’m going a completely different way. I want to make a record that’s engaging musically and sonically, across an hour. And I want people to sit there and be completely immersed in it and lost in this world.”