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Son Lux’s “Live Another Life” — Breaking Down the Design of a Unique Sound (Video)

+ This exclusive video is presented courtesy of Ryan Lott’s in-depth course on Soundfly, Ryan Lott: Designing Sample-Based Instruments. Sign up and inject a new dose of creativity into your music with custom-built virtual instruments. 

In this brief lesson from his course, Ryan Lott opens up the session for his song “Live Another Life” from the Son Lux album Tomorrows II.

You can listen to the entire song here:

Instrument #1: The Gyil

The first part of the song that Ryan shares with us is an instrument created from the sound of a gyil: a West African instrument with similarities to the xylophone. In this case, it’s a recorded performance by SK Kakraba.

The custom instrument Ryan shows us uses a full rhythmic phrase played on the gyil as its source.

Although it sounds quite a lot like a drum, the gyil is more of a pitched instrument, so Ryan was able to use it to create chords without making any extreme changes to its inherent character. Those chords contain complex and fascinating rhythmic variations since the playback rate naturally differs for each pitch, as we’ve seen throughout the course.

When looped, they create the unique beat that became the foundation for the song.

Dyad: A pair of pitches that likely imply a chord. Colloquially, a dyad might be considered a two-note chord.

To accommodate these complex rhythms, “Live Another Life” actually shifts between tempos, but in an incredibly subtle way (thanks in part to the skilled playing of drummer Ian Chang).

The whole rhythmic tapestry has a mesmerizing freneticism that delivers a driving energy to the track.

Instrument #2: Muted Cello

Another sound that Ryan used in this song is a Kontakt Multi created using two instruments — specifically, two samples of a single cello performance. The cello was performed with a heavy mute so it’s a muffled, airy sound.

Cello mute: A small accessory, usually made of rubber, that attaches to the bridge of a cello and “mutes” the cello by dampening the higher notes. This makes the sound much more mellow than usual. (Cello Central)

The instruments in Ryan’s Multi were shifted slightly from each other and hard panned to create a beautiful stereo sound. Coupled with a low-pass filter, it’s warm and inviting, fitting nicely with the other parts of the track.

Each of these two instruments is fairly simple and built from a single loop, but also powerful and intriguing. Though they’re fairly unrecognizable in context, they evoke a certain dreamy sense of familiarity and stir up feelings of nostalgia.

The Build Up

“I’m looking for rationality inside of irrationality.” — Ryan Lott

Over the course of the song, we get more and more layers of the gyil. That creates a jumbled build up that lifts the whole energy of the song. It’s as though new performers keep joining the performance. At around 1:58, the highest note of the gyil becomes a focal point, creating a melody that helps move the piece along.

In the second half of the song, the intensity grows further still, as the gyil parts are layered on top of a rising string part. The lyrics are saying “run for your life,” while a multitude of gyil sounds become the footfalls of a crowd, moving together, yet out of stride.

“I’m looking for something that is the sort of magic that you couldn’t have really planned.” — Ryan Lott

Ready to Learn Even More?

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Ryan Lott on Soundfly

Ryan Lott is a composer/film scorer, producer, songwriter, and bandleader. An avid collaborator, Lott has worked with choreographers Stephen Petronio, Travis Wall, Gina Gibney, and Jodie Gates, and dance companies like Ballet de Lorraine, National Dance Company of Wales, and BalletX. His film scores and arrangements include The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014), Paper Towns (2015), Mean Dreams (2017), and the iconic sci-fi film Looper (2012). He is frequently commissioned by new music ensembles, including Eighth Blackbird, Third Coast Percussion, yMusic, and even Paul Simon. Lott also created the original game soundtrack for “Tell My Why,” heralded as “the new gold standard for trans characters in games.” In 2007, Ryan founded Son Lux, releasing music that “works at the nexus of several rarely-overlapping Venn Diagrams” (Pitchfork) and in 2014, the band became a trio with the additions of guitarist-composer Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang. Son Lux scored A24’s highly-acclaimed film Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), which features collaborations with Mitski, David Byrne, André Benjamin (aka André 3000), Randy Newman, and Moses Sumney, among others. Ryan's online course, Ryan Lott: Designing Sample-Based Instruments, is available now exclusively on Soundfly.