Humanity is reaching a point in which it’s becoming increasingly fused with technology. The phones we keep in our pockets could very well end up being incorporated into our brains. Our lives are already getting more and more digital, but what happens when augmented reality and the virtual world become a part of our consciousness? Or has it always been that way and we’re only now becoming aware of the small hints of our place in existence?
On Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence — released on Jan. 26 — synth composer Steve Greene crafts a Carpenteresque, Vangelis-minded body of work that explores these concepts of humanity’s relationship with technology and the definition of existence.
In many ways, it could serve as the soundtrack to a lost Philip K. Dick story or even an episode of Black Mirror. Greene brings the sensibilities of his popular synth-driven rock band Voyag3r (as heard on Are You Synthetic?and The Rise of the Synths) and his work scoring films to his debut solo album, while introducing a visceral, analogue quality that sets it apart from anything out there today.
“My solo record is definitely way less ‘rock band’ oriented,” Greene said. “I love the ability to live in multiple zones of composing. From Voyag3r to solo records to film scoring, these spaces all have different if not sometimes opposing sensibilities and all are areas I love to explore.”
There’s been a renewed interest in the raw, minimal synth scores of composer and director John Carpenter; in the complicated and evocative expressions of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, which Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch dutifully honored in their Blade Runner 2049 score; and in the elaborate and dynamic work of Tangerine Dream’s 1980s output for films like Thief and Risky Business.
Greene — who recently crafted a synth-based score for sci-fi/dark comedy film Future and who started Voyag3r with bandmates Aaron Greene and Greg Mastin in 2013 — taps into reminiscences for the work of the aforementioned composers but builds his own unique experience. He uses some analog, pre-computer methods to craft a memorable, jazz-inflected sonic journey that is both brilliantly nostalgic and refreshingly modern.
Coming Up with Electronic Dreams
Greene conjured up Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence over a four-month recording and mixing session in the Battle Chamber, his metro Detroit-area studio. However, he wrote the album’s eight songs over a wide range of time, amid recording records with Voyag3r. For example, Greene wrote some of the tracks as far back as 2014 and others just earlier this year.
“I was inspired by my love of film and jazz; by my children; by the questions I do not have answers to and the hopefully never-ending inspiration that turning knobs on synthesizers gives,” Greene said.
To fully execute his vision, Greene has created a rich tapestry of minimalist, nuanced instrumental tracks using a variety of hardware tools: a Sequential Circuits Pro-One and SixTrak, a Moog MiniTaur and Micro Moog, Alesis Ion, MultiVox MX-202 and Roland Alpha Juno 2. He even used a Rhodes Mark V electric piano on some songs. There’s also some saxophone.
Working on an album like Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence can be tricky, because the older equipment doesn’t necessarily offer some of the conveniences of modern recording software and hardware, such as a computer to sync up everything on the same time signature or the ability to go back and quickly edit a few notes here and there.
“I believe it’s all a personal preference and my preference is hardware synthesizers and real instruments,” Greene says. “In general, tactile manipulation and physical performance is where it’s at for me. That approach just feels and sounds real — unique character and even imperfections all make for a vibe that I can connect with.”
While working on the album, Greene’s work style didn’t adhere to one tried-and-true approach to crafting a track. Sometimes he’d start out with a melody and go from there; sometimes he’d have a chord progression and build a track from that.
“Sometimes a song’s inspiration stems from a particular synthesizer patch I create or stumble upon,” Greene says.
In the case of “Machines, Schemes, and Manipulations,” which has a bluesy strut underneath raw synth power, Greene wanted a “shorter, harder-hitting song.” So he wrote a simple, fat bass line tapping into a classic video game vibe. “From that one riff, everything else fell into place, including the added grit from the saxophone part toward the end.”
One of the easier songs to write was album closer “Expanding Symmetry,” a beautiful Vangelis-esque number that was the last song he wrote for the record.
“It was inspired by the ‘ostinato,’ or repeating musical segment, created on my Pro-One analog synth run through a Holy Grail reverb pedal,” Greene said. “It ended up pretty much sounding like a distant, creepy piano.”
Then Greene added a jazz-centric chord progression on his Rhodes piano and doubled it on his Stratocaster guitar. He panned them apart a bit in the stereo spectrum and finished it off with a blues solo drenched in reverb (specifically, it was non-linear reverb, which allows for a sometimes unpredictable decay of sound).
“I think it has a pretty ominous feel,” Greene says.
Overall, Greene had a fun time recording Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence. His first solo album is a major milestone in the career of an artist who has scored the late Rowdy Roddy Piper short film foray and H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Portal to Hell!!!, and whose band, Voyag3r, has secured song placements in the media and a spot on the popular companion album to forthcoming international synthwave documentary The Rise of the Synths.
But during the recording process came another major development in Greene’s life: the birth of his daughter.
The production workflow and vibe “went from more casual to urgent, ‘all-business’ sessions in my studio,” Greene says. “I found myself mixing the record just a couple weeks before my daughter’s August due date.”
Formative Years: From Jan Hammer to the Dead Kennedys
The foundation for Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence goes back even further than 2014, though.
Greene has been playing music since he was a kid, over the years getting hooked on bands like Godflesh, the Dead Kennedys and jazz fusion group Weather Report, along with, naturally, the theme to Miami Vice. There was also that crucial live show that every musician experiences as they’re coming up in this world — the one that serves as a catalyst for contemplating the musical life. In Greene’s case, it was a Butthole Surfers show at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit.
“That show utterly blew my mind,” he says.
He has his go-to (and growing) list of composers, artists, and bands that inspire him to this day, including Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese, Vangelis, James Horner, John Williams, Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford, Josef Zawinul, Chuck Schuldiner, Wayne Shorter, Adrian Belew, Jaco Pastorius, and Herbie Hancock.
“I am always in hopes that I can add to this list periodically, but I definitely have favorites that seem to always hold their spot,” Greene said.
Over the years, Greene honed his craft across a variety of genres, a palette which shows up in various ways across each of his musical projects.
“I’ve been on many musical paths over the years and plan to keep exploring,” Greene says, noting that over time he’s learned just enough technical musical knowledge “to be dangerous.”
On Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence, Greene has distilled the sum of a life of diverse musical influences and experiences into a compelling and powerful eight-song album that could very well touch on the augmented reality and technologization of humanity that increasingly defines our times. Or, perhaps, the listener might have a different story to tell.
“I’m sure it will mean different things to different people,” Greene says. “I’d feel like I accomplished something if this album took some listeners to places, in their mind, they might not normally go.”
Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence is out now via Bellyache Records on vinyl and Battle Chamber Music on CD, Cassette, and digital at stevegreene.bandcamp.com, and on other digital platforms.