Symbol is the solo effort of producer and multi-instrumentalist Christopher Royal King. Best known as a founding member and lead guitarist of the massive orchestral-rock ensemble This Will Destroy You, King has also composed and recorded scores for a host of prominent feature-films and documentaries, established Light Lodge Records, and moonlights in Austin’s amorphous ambient collective AMASA•GANA. Now on his first solitary odyssey apart from TWDY, King’s masterful ear for signal processing and affinity for corroded elegance takes free reign over a vastly expanded inventory of instrumentation. Throughout Symbol’s debut Online Architecture, organic sound-sources are meticulously transmuted through chains of modules and magnetic tape, each successive stage creating a compounded quantity of detail and decay. After four studio albums with TWDY, King has crafted an arresting solo debut that is both gorgeously tranquil and devastatingly heavy, offering a direct-line into his psyche which had not existed until now.
Online Architecture warbles into consciousness as a reel of 1/4″ tape struggling to fully animate its opening sequence of beautifully effervescent synth melodies. This introduction immediately establishes the complex relationship between King and technology that is mechanically, stylistically, and thematically embodied throughout his debut. An array of instrumentation consisting of harmonium, Tibetan singing bowls, bowed cymbals, hammered dulcimer, and guitar are all respectively dismantled, processed through a labyrinth of modular patch-bays, and resurrected as rich electronic compositional elements. This emphasis on transference and counter-transference between sound sources and their conduits creates a palpable convergence of the typically differentiated worlds of modular-based synth projects and experimental ambient music. King’s thorough multi-stage processing serves as a vital compositional determinant across Online Architecture and allows each piece to possess a level refinement and disintegration that is embedded within the frequencies themselves. Spanning across an aural uncanny valley, King utilizes the limitations of various types of recording equipment and seamlessly integrates several styles into one holistic motif. Instead of polished studio mixing, each piece has been dubbed onto old damaged reels of 1/2″ and 1/4″ magnetic tape specifically selected for their levels deterioration, some reels totally dissolving upon their final transfer.
These pieces were originally conceived after extensively traveling throughout East Asia where King observed China’s foreboding yet-to-be-inhabited ghost cities juxtaposed against it’s vast mega-metropolises. Equally overcome with awe and anxiety from the experience, the ubiquity of technological integration and exponential expansion in Asia’s rapidly developing nations, dwarfing that which King had long perceived of his Western homeland, seared a lasting image into his mind. Consequently, pieces such as Clear Passage are deeply ominous, as if modern man’s yearning to merge biology and technology is fated to become dark and perverse; while other songs like Shadow Harvesting induce feeling-tones of relief and detached euphoria, acting as a momentary sedative from the world’s constant electronic whir. This omnipresent fear of dystopia is skillfully held in a delicate harmony with the tonal complexity of King’s lush and expansive signal processing. The result is an accomplished inaugural work that allows for acute sensations of distress and isolation to exist gently, observed but not absorbed.
“We could translate the word symbol as ‘something viewed as a totality,’ or as ‘the vision of things brought into a whole.’ We must always have recourse to a symbol when we are dealing with a great variety of aspects or with a multiplicity of things which form a connected unit and which are so closely woven together in all their separate parts that we cannot separate or take away the any parts without destroying the connections and losing meaning of the totality…A symbol, then, is a living Gestalt, or form – the sum total of a highly complex set of facts which our intellect cannot master conceptually, and which therefore cannot be expressed in any way other than by the use of an image.” – CG Jung
1. Tracer (08:09)
2. Shadow Harvesting (04:27)
3. Syn Cron (05:44)
4. New China (02:18)
5. Clear Passage (06:29)
6. Lineage (09:32)
LP (ed. of 500) & CS (ed. of 200) released April 8, 2014. Collaboratively released b/w HOLODECK (HD022) and Light Lodge (LLR009). All Sounds by Symbol. Additional mixing by Alex Bhore at Elmwood Studios. Mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market in Montréal. Art / layout by Christopher Royal King. Cover photo by Frauke Thielking.
SELECTED PRESS for Symbol:
“King lulls the listener into thinking that they’re zoning to background music before grabbing them by the throats and reminding them that they’re listening to something murky and formless, but full of icy beauty nonetheless.” – Pitchfork
“Symbol claims the next peg up on the “post-” trajectory, carrying any inklings of “rock” to their deepest point of ambient departure and bidding them good luck on their journey through the waves.” – Tiny Mix Tapes
“Complex, moody, and fascinating, it is the use of analog decay and damage that give this album its distinct identity, and help it to stand out brilliantly amongst so many other synth heavy records.” – Brainwashed
“‘Clear Passage,’ the first single, begins quietly, with a soothing ambient hum that slowly builds into a cavernous well of desiccated noises scratching and clawing their way into your ears.” – Decoder
“With its six-and-a-half-minute runtime, “Clear Passage” is quite the immersive experience in and of itself. To simply label the track “ambient” or “drone” would be cutting its nuance short. It sounds both organic and alien, as if King has tapped into some lost frequency floating listlessly in the vast expanses of outer space.” – PORTALS
“If TWDY toes a line between melody and white noise, Symbol takes a deeper dive into chaos…King is obviously enjoying the opportunity to push his limits and challenge his audience. The result is cinematic and unnerving.” – Suburban Decay