This content was originally published by the Longmont Observer and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
PatternShift’s first full-length album, Vaskania Prime, is now out on all major music streaming platforms as of October 19, with eleven instrumental synth tracks accompanied with guided descriptive text. The man behind the synthesizer is Longmont resident, Ben Kamphaus, and he’s all about the 80s song composition and where it takes the listener on this album.
“I did the first EP back in May, and it was back in grad school the last time I tried to play live shows, so probably about 12, 13 years of a gap with me actually trying to write something. I sort of had a backlog of ideas,” Kamphaus said. “I had a lot of the musical equivalent of notes on napkins. I didn't have anything I tried to finish.”
Before approaching the EP earlier this year, Kamphaus had put music aside for his day job as a software engineer for several years. He would play around with instruments, but didn’t do anything serious with an agenda until last year when he picked back up and started playing more regularly with other musicians. He started off playing other people's songs, goofing around, putting some stuff together but without any true intention of releasing anything.
“Watching Stranger Things for the first time, I was really late, but I didn't realize it would be as good as it was,” Kamphaus said. “A lot of my original inspiration getting into the music was 80s stuff and it's like, ‘Oh yeah that's just like old Terminator, Bladerunner soundtracks, old John Carpenter movies and stuff.’ That was the big appeal to me for the music style.”
Kamphaus then decided to create this album most recently under his new title PatternShift when he found out that music could help his autistic son’s symptoms, such as improving verbal communication, so he could connect with him more.
“A lot of the deficits kids are trying to code and decode, emotional states and normal language, they don't have the same deficits with music. There's a number of reasons for it. Music is a lot more repetitive versus normal communications and if you lose a couple of sounds you might not be able to get the meaning. Songs, you can have all kinds of gaps in audio and you still get the gist of, that's a sad song, a happy song, and so on,” Kamphaus said.
For his oldest son, music is an effective way for him to communicate his emotions. It’s hard for him to hear the vocal effect through verbal communication, but he can quickly identify when music is tense, or chill, or angry. Music has become an effective communication medium. “We’re playing a lot of music for him regularly. He likes singing along with it. We're starting piano lessons for him, it'll start in December probably,” Kamphaus said.
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Kamphaus works from home in Longmont as a software engineer by day and creates science fiction inspired synthwave by night. Those two different things have their similarities, but for Kamphaus, it’s more of a creative itch he needs to scratch in his free time.
“Software engineering is a bit of a creative thing. It's more structured than just making music, but there's a lot of brainstorming, and coming up with designs, and it seems like everybody I know who's a software engineer has some other creative outlet,” Kamphaus said. “Music is important to me. The music production process is in many ways similar to wrangling distributed systems problems and software engineering, and a lot of us are drawn to this because it has a similar Lego building block thing to it.”
Vaskania Prime has a descriptive blurb for each song on the PatternShift website, which points the listener’s mind in an imaginative direction. The best way for listeners to experience the album is there, as the descriptive blurb can be read while the songs fill the ears. “It's kind of a concept album,” Kamphaus said. “It's sort of like a sci-fi story soundtrack without a story existing other than the equivalent of the lighter notes with the music.”
From the song descriptions, to the album title, Vaskania Prime, to the music itself, he clearly demonstrates a strong inspiration from his love for science fiction. He even drew the band name, PatternShift, from works of fiction.
One source of inspiration was Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds, which had a group of aliens called Pattern Jugglers who were aquatic microorganisms that formed a distributed consciousness and infiltrated the brains of sentient organisms, stored their neural patterns, and then swapped the consciousnesses of multiple beings. The second was The Chronicles of Amber series, by Roger Zelazny, and The Pattern was a labyrinth which gave multiple universes order and walking through them was no easy task.
Ben’s interest in music started at a young age, when his mother, a piano teacher, bought some electronic equipment for her piano lessons business, and Ben got to play around with that. “We had an old Korg synthesizer wired to an Atari ST computer, and I got to play with so many rudimentary sequencer stuff and play educational games on that. But it was definitely like, just open up the keyboard and scroll through things. I didn't know how to use the direct kind of sound manipulation, changing the oscillators or the mixes between them or the filters and whatnot to get the sort of sounds I wanted,” Kamphaus said. “I got used to the keyboard sounds and stuff, but it's hard to say if I was interested in that particularly. I was just like, ‘Oh this is what music sounds like.’"
As he got older, Kamphaus picked up other instruments and got interested in making music. From fourth to seventh grade he listened exclusively to oldies and Weird Al music, but as he got older, it clicked, and he started listening to and looking for what the rock kids his age were listening to.
“The early interest for me other than the piano stuff was I wanted to do soundtracks, because I was impressed by, and this happened more late junior high, early high school, but I was impressed by how simple different themes and soundtrack themes would be, and yet they would be super emotionally resonant,” Kamphaus said.
As a young adult, Kamphaus messed around with a lo-fi indie sound that involved a large volume of acoustic bits in garages with mics angled every which way. He listened to alternative music in the late 90s early 2000s like Radiohead, when it was mainly a thing to make music with a group of people that had different interests. Kamphaus reflects that there are less road bumps than ever for people involved in the music-making labyrinth of today.
“The main thing is, I like the scrappy, do-it-yourself attitude. Back in the day, it would have just been a few mics in the garage or something, a couple of amps and hope for the best,” Kamphaus said. “If you were going the do-it-yourself type of approach now, the do-it-yourself approach is so accessible with the modern audio work stations.”
For the EP earlier this year, and Vaskania Prime, Kamphaus was primarily focused on establishing a sound and jump starting an initial discography in hopes that listeners get into his idiosyncratic form of music. In the future, he hopes the Vaskania Prime experience evolves into something more, possibly an opportunity to create a soundtrack for a movie, or possibly something otherworldly.
“I tried to set things up so that story-wise it maybe gets people thinking about this mixture of future problems or future challenges, accompanied with the future possibilities, and I tried to put together a musical palette that is almost... there's a sense of a mixture of sounds that are both yearning and kind of comforting.”
Are you a Longmont resident with an upcoming album release? Please feel free to let Adam know at firstname.lastname@example.org.