Sanctum is an experiment in multi-tracking and overdubbing with improvisational drone. The separate performance layers are informed by one another both during performance and mixing. This strategy presented a chance to experiment with stereo space and sonic "negative spaces" by utilizing a pseudo mid-side technique and applying the inversions to the recorded stereo tracks. This experiment was an attempt to develop an empty space in the center of the tracks throughout Sanctum.  

The sounds of Sanctum are produced with the same tools as Meditations. However, the recordings are taken in a live space for a more "true" version of the sonic experience. With the reflections of an acoustic space, the electronic drone performances take on different textures and patterns that are not accessible through direct recordings.

The track, "U"  from Sanctum was featured twice at Lightworks 2016 in Grimsby, England.

Sanctum and Nulla were recorded fairly close to one another. Though, Sanctum is second in the chronology of my releases. It felt correct to continue with the form and style of Meditations by releasing Sanctum before Nulla. Sanctum became a sort of innovation on my processes that were utilized in the prior collection, but it also began my fragmentation. Inverting the perception of the work to succeed as a recording rather than just the live performance let me experiment technically. The process of recording was changed by means of acoustic recording versus direct. This change allowed me to capture the space and presence of my performance more accurately, as direct recording captured what would go to the monitor, but not quite the same experience as the original listener’s. Sanctum was similar in style to its predecessor, though it took an extra step of multi-tracking and overdubbing performances that made the final content more interesting after the performance. Utilizing three performances created in the same evening, I layered them and automated the mix by sidechain compressing one to another. Channel one would push two down while two pushed three and three, one. This resulted in a struggle between the performances. The darker low end would often overpower and encompass the upper tonal ranges. To emphasize this, I widened the deeper tones’ stereo field while shrinking everything else to around the center, keeping some width, however. The real experimentation is when I explored phase inversion within my audio workstation to create a pseudo mid-side effect. By duplicating and inverting the phase on a copy of the entire mix, I experimented with creating a negative space within the stereo field. With the original mix at full pan, I brought the copy into a tighter field until it seems as though the very center of the piece was empty. The entirety of Sanctum became stereoscopic layers that folded in on one another.

The outer layer of bass tones (violet) envelope the higher ranged tones (blue) and now the whole thing bends around this cavity (cyan) in the core of the piece. In this illustration, I am showing the relationship of Sanctum’s components from the perspective of a stereo pair of studio monitors. Where the blue is tightly centered and we can see how the violet fills the space and engulfs the blue. The left, center, right relationships are fairly standard, though my experiment with this process is focused on the cyan space. By inverting the phase of the entire piece and layering that into the immediate center, I had hoped to create a perception of silence in the midst of the composition. In the image, we can see how the different components might interact with the center cavity. Primarily, we can see how the blue was cut more severely than the violet. The different tonal ranges reacted differently, depending on the amount of the cyan cavity introduced to the mix.

The reason for illustrating this concept with the perspective of studio monitors is that is the only space that I have successfully experienced this phenomena. Within stereo headphones, the mix sounds pretty much as it did before adding this pseudo mid-side effect. During the mix process, I was able to utilize an anechoic chamber for playback as well. This space is one without the natural reverberation that we use to locate objects sonically, which I hoped would help isolate the phenomena. In this space, I set up a few different sets of monitors, at differing distances from each other and the listener in hopes to discover the range that my pseudo mid-side phenomena was perceivable. Rather than discovering a range of perception, I found that it had actually disappeared. With some side-by-side evaluations between the spaces, the cavity within the piece only established itself in a normal room. This experiment provided myself with some interesting experiences, though ultimately failed as I am unable to reproduce the cavity effect outside of a studio space.

Though the performative aspects remained interested in the same meditative therapies, Sanctum was really a return to drone and this aspect of my sound as it was developed after performing Nulla and releasing those more dissonant elements from myself momentarily. During this time is when I began reading Shaun McNiff’s Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go and began applying his painting techniques to my own work. I should say, that McNiff is not the sole influence for viewing explorative sound as gestural painting. Artist jonathan b. andrew has been a collaborator in my process and a critical audience member on occasion, where we have explored the relation of sound and painted image. Repetition of motion in painting and sound started my thoughts on perpetual natures and how my experience with depression has persisted. As for the style of Sanctum, drone is now a core element to how I approach sound. Drone is the basis for my thoughts on the perpetual sound, where the idea of the perpetual can be achieved through repetition, so is it that the elongated and exhaustive sound of drone also embodies repetition. McNiff describes certain process oriented therapy methods in his writing with repeated brush strokes and allowing them to naturally change over time by letting go of rigid control of the repetition. Viewing drone as this repetitious process, listening to the undulation of individual tones became the drone process that I could lose myself in. Particularly at this moment for myself, I was dissecting McNiff’s approaches to letting go, where the release of control in this performance is beneficial for meditative practice. “Experienced creators understand that a person’s mental outlook has as much to do with the quality of expression as technical skill” (McNiff, 1998). It is clear that my expression is a combination of technical and mental expression. The inherent interest I possess in technology influences how I approach creation and expression.


McNiff, S. (1998). Trust the Process: An Artist's Guide to Letting Go. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Michael G. Maxwell


 © Michael G. Maxwell