Zhiyou Low | April 7, 2022
Nostalgia, happiness, melancholy. Australian music producer 44 Ardent weaves these together in ‘pieces’, making for a musically and emotionally complex single resisting easy characterisation. (Not a poor reflection of the state of our world today.) The single not only marks the end of a year-long hiatus, but also the beginning of a new chapter—the artist has promised the release of a lot more music this year. Something to keep an eye out for!
Radio Fodder was able to interview 44 Ardent and gain insight into his past and upcoming singles, his creative process and his art in a larger, social context. The following exchange has been edited and condensed.
Zhiyou: With the release of ‘pieces’ in February, you’ve marked the end of a year-long hiatus. Why the time away?
44 Ardent: I wasn’t ever really sure if I was going to release a lot of music under this project, but during the time since the last release, I made so many songs that I thought it would be a shame not to put them out!
Z: Glad that you did! When listening to ‘pieces’, I catch myself longing for the past, perhaps a “better” time (however “better” is defined), or a time that was at least familiar. To what were you responding with ‘pieces’?
44: Honestly, the mood of this particular song wasn’t really premeditated. The original demo for this track actually sounded much more upbeat; it didn’t have the piano, it was another sample. For whatever reason, I have this tendency to favour music that has a little bit of a sad or melancholic edge. It’s probably not the most exciting answer, but in this instance, I just thought it sounded better this way!
Z: A melancholic tinge just hits differently, doesn’t it? You’ve mentioned that the bleakness of the piano and vocal samples in ‘pieces’ are counterbalanced by the upbeat drums and bassline, and that the snare and hi-hats work together to give the song momentum. This assignment of roles/functions to certain instruments—how do you decide how to delegate?
44: For me, music is 80% experimentation and 20% skill and knowledge, so I try not to delegate if I can avoid it, although you do tend to default to using things that you have “discovered” previously. There are different keys and tempos that can help with changing how a song feels. For me, I like the feel-things-out/trial-and-error process. It’s nice to go into a song and just play around until something cool comes out.
Z: To follow-up on that—and I realise this is a question so often despised by artists and yet a perennial favourite of interviewers and audiences: In general, what does your creative process look like? Take us on a tour from the inception of an idea to the final touches.
44: I alluded to this earlier, but I really like to experiment. I will mess around with some sound design or a sample first, and then when I come up with a melodic idea, I will add some drums. I usually try to bash out the initial idea quickly, and then come back to it the next day or in a few days. It’s easy to convince yourself at the time that an idea is great, but then when you listen with fresh ears you have more clarity. Then I just keep chipping away at the idea until I decide that it’s finished! You can keep working on a song forever, so one of the hardest things is deciding when to stop.
Z: How or when do you decide when to stop?
44: For me, the stopping point is when I feel like the things I’m adding are starting to make the song worse. When you get into “overthinking territory,” that’s when it becomes problematic.
Z: Has your creative process changed since the onset of the pandemic? For better or for worse, we’ve been locked in one place with a great deal of time to ourselves throughout the last two years. Did this impact your music production?
44: It honestly didn’t change things too much for me! I prefer to make music cooped up by myself. The only thing, really, is that I ended up making way more music than I ever have because I had more time available. We are fortunate that we weren’t too heavily impacted where I live until very recently.
Z: That’s good to hear! Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane, if you’ll indulge me. At the time of writing this interview, you’ve released three songs on Spotify: ‘Fading 22’ in November 2018, ‘f i r e s’ in March 2020, and ‘pieces’ just this past February. The singles each have unique personalities—to my ear, ‘Fading 22’ has an underlying sense of vitality and urgency that so often characterises a new voice establishing their presence; ‘f i r e s’ seems to push your voice in new directions, with experimentation and revolution evident in the single’s opening statement alone; and with ‘pieces’, the first word that springs to my mind is “revitalisation”, paired with a depth and assuredness born from experience. Looking back, how would you characterise this progression from ‘Fading 22’ to ‘f i r e s’ to ‘pieces’? What happened, artistically, during the time in between these singles?
44: During those periods of time in between, I did a lot of thinking about the direction of the project. ‘Fading 22’ was more dance-y and ‘f i r e s’ was darker and more experimental, as you suggested. I decided that I would like to work across both styles in the future but would aim to produce bodies of work that are a bit more coherent. For now, I’m making music with more of a dance influence, but I plan to go back to more experimental things at some stage.
Z: How does this progression map onto your personal growth over the years, either with respect to local events or located in a larger, perhaps global, context?
44: It probably comes primarily down to changing musical taste. At the moment, I’m heavily influenced by artists like Caribou, Bonobo and Tourist. I don’t think my music sounds quite like any of theirs, but their music is certainly shaping my current sound. It would probably be a more interesting narrative to say that the pandemic influenced my sound, but I’m not sure if it goes quite that deep.
Z: Congratulations, by the way, on ‘Fading 22’ breaking 700,000 streams on Spotify! You’ve stated that nature served as a source of inspiration for the single, imagery of remote rainforests, echoing thunder, flashing lightning and crashing waves. Since 2018, when the single was released, we’ve seen fires, floods and a pandemic that has yet to abate. To what extent does nature influence your current work?
44: Thank you! I love being outside, so I think nature influences everything that I do. I don’t always sit down and say, “Okay I’m going to write a piece of music influenced by nature,” but I think being outside puts me in the right headspace to write music, and I make better songs when I haven’t been cooped up inside. When I spend too much time in the studio, I tend to overthink things.
Z: Not to get you to overthink things here, but there are as many takes on the role/value of art in society as there are people. Some say it is to seek truth, others to ask questions, still others to offer an escape or, at the least, entertainment. For you as an artist, what is your raison d’être?
44: For me, I make music because I really enjoy the process. Creating something that no one has heard before is something that isn’t quite like anything else. If that thing that you make somehow inspires some emotion or creates joy for someone else, that is an incredible thing to be able to do.
Z: To play the “uncultured cynic”, a work of art has little practical impact. Especially these days, while so many aspects of our society are crumbling around us—the climate crisis, ever-increasing economic inequality, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the list sadly goes on—what role does art play in our lives?
44: I do often think that it’s funny how much effort and time humans put into creating bits of audio for other humans to listen to. I think music is ingrained into the human existence somehow. While technically it may have little practical impact, there has to be an evolutionary reason that humans are so drawn to music—otherwise, we wouldn’t care about it. It may simply be that music helped to bring humans together. I’m not sure. I think crying and laughing have similar purposes, right? We cry and laugh to help bond with our fellow humans, and I think music maybe fills a similar role. For me personally, music brings me joy (and sadness sometimes) and I hope the music that I create can do the same for others.
Z: Music is an elusive thing, isn’t it? We began our conversation with discussion of your hiatus and subsequent return. Let’s close it with what you’re doing next and what we can look forward to in the coming months. You promised us on Twitter that you’ll be releasing a good deal of music this year. Could you give us a sneak peek of what’s to come?
44: I can confirm that I have sent through a tonne of music to my label Mammal Sounds, and I can confirm that we have plans to release a lot of that music this year!
Z: Looking forward to it! Is there a through line linking your upcoming work—certain themes or soundscapes?
44: I don’t know if my work always links; it probably doesn’t sometimes. The music that I listen to certainly steers the direction of this project. A lot of creative choices happen without me really planning them though, and I think I prefer it that way.
Z: Organic! Just like the milk I buy. (Sorry, stupid joke.) Thanks very much for your time! Looking forward to your upcoming releases!
44: Was great fun—thank you!
Described as ‘an Australian producer who makes chilled lo-fi house music’, 44 Ardent has released his latest single. Listen to it here: