Perhaps this one album, Hemispherica Portalis, changes everything. Music is organized sound, an invisible expression that lights up your inner universe. Here are some new colors and materials. Here are some delicate flavors for your tongue’s sensitive ears, moving between different points in time, experiencing products of vivid imagination, whose goals aren’t purely to explain phenomena beyond comprehension, but perhaps they also function to assure, encourage, and inspire. In the history of humans it has been said that the world has always existed, or the world did not always exist but was created in some way, or the world previously existed, but in another form, and has somehow been brought into this present moment. Music can provide an atmosphere for thinking new thoughts. On Hemispherica Portalis I hear lots of textures, there are no words except for the song titles. The artists deploy new technologies which create a sonic experience that has never before been considered to be possible.
Desensitized is a collaborative project realized between Deborah Martin and Dean De Benedictis. The name “Desensitized” could be an antidote for our strange times, seeking relief from the most recent changes that have emerged from the teetering and whirling globe we live on. H.P. Lovecraft once postulated that the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. Desensitized is a balm for these new tribulations we are living through now in 2020.
Deborah Martin is blessed with a vivid imagination and a deep love of historic places and peoples of the past, she has the ability to travel through space and time to create a mystical and energizing sound journey, a melding of modern and ancient music. She blends visual elements of places, people and events of long ago with sound, spirituality, theatre arts, music, anthropology and medicine. Deborah is one of three owners of Spotted Peccary Music as well as being one of its best selling artists. She is a multi-instrumentalist, her favorites include ambient electric and acoustic guitar, bass, keyboards, orchestral textures, Taos drums and various percussion. In previous albums she has been known to use sampling technology to include partial segments of Omaha and Kiowa cylinder recordings from 1894, and live recordings of Kiowa pow wow songs as well as field recordings from her own travels to places such as Nepal and Tibet. Her sound comes from a very deep and ancient place, whispery melodies and lush, haunting chordal movements, evoking the sights and sounds of past and present while invoking the theme of sacred spaces.
In 1996, De Benedictis released a self titled album called Surface 10, which remains one of his primary stage names. This was his debut ambient electronic music CD on Hypnotic/Cleopatra Records, featuring dark, ambient soundscapes and Teutonic techniques with a borderline space rock sound. Since then, he has brought the Surface 10 name into completely uncharted territory, melding a broad range of genre-based styles with edgy experimentation. Dean gained later momentum rekindling his ensemble-performance roots by working with groups including Brand X and The Stratos Ensemble. He is perhaps most known for his solo music, creating new sounds, sometimes even exploring the glitchy side of digitally generated melody, amidst his techno tribal and ambient music exploits. Dean is also the co-founder and producer of Cyberstock, an outdoor music concert and visual arts display that was once held in the Santa Monica Mountains. He is the founder of both Fateless Records, and the Fateless Flows Collective. He has a mountain of composition and recording accomplishments, many of which include visual components, and he has dabbled in filmmaking as well. In addition to Spotted Peccary, Hypnotic/Cleopatra and Fateless Records, his work has also been recorded on DiN Records, Novabeats, Bottom Heavy and Hypnos. His sound has been described as electronica, experimental, ambient, IDM, Berlin school, jazz fusion, progressive rock, deep space, tribal, down tempo, and drum & bass. Some of his favorite instruments include piano, synthesizer, guitar, voice, cedar native flute, concert flute, and percussion.
I had the opportunity to experience a video conference with Desensitized, which was hosted in late August of 2020 by Beth Hilton of The B Company, and I walked away with some quotes and notions to think about, deconstruct, and then share with you today, right here, right now.
DM=Deborah Martin, DB=Dean De Benedictis, RJ=Robin James
The only possible first question — I have heard some odd band names, but this one is truly unexpected, which is perfect for the sounds I hear on the album. Would you care to provide some context? I know you made the decision to work together a few years ago. How did this project named Desensitized first get launched?
DB Deborah approached me with this idea of calling the duo Desensitized, and from that first moment the word was attractive to me, just that one word alone. Then she went on to explain how she thought it was a great metaphor for the state of society we are currently in, as well as how the term “desensitized” gets thrown around alot.
To me, the word describes something happening to the general populous, because so many of us experience the world through media now, and I find this somewhat of an additive to all of the other experiences that are inherent to life on earth. In a way, yes, the media kind of homogenizes our potential authentic experience, but I think there’s even more to it than that. I myself, personally, get more of an abstract impression from the term desensitized, not as just as the name of our band, and not implying only one cause, but a multi-tiered and universal affect. When you say the word desensitized, it actually implies many aspects of the world that we have become “desensitized” towards, at this point. Sensory overload’s sometimes come from many different places now, not just living life. Yes we get it from our own real-world experiences to some degree, but when you add modern developments like media and technology to that, now we have so many different angles and convolutions about experience in general that there really is no one thing that we have become “desensitized” towards.
The human race is desensitized to a countless amount of things now, even though not all the same. What each of us is desensitized to is all dependent on the individual, and what that individual has been exposed to. Many of us are “desensitized’’ to some things while some of us are “desensitized” to other things. Some people live their life out in the physical world, so they are desensitized to that world, while others live only in an imaginary world, so they are desensitized to imagination, while others live in a world that the media provides, so they are desensitized to media perceptions. Some are even desensitized to all of it, and I haven’t even listed the many aspects of the world that we can grow potentially desensitized towards. Take your pick, and it varies for every personality.
However, I’m not sure I view this as some kind of threat, but simply as a development and a natural effect of evolution. Deborah and I have spoken about this and we may differ on that subject a little, both on the consequences of it and the degree of it, but most importantly, we both still share an interest in the general phenomenon. We both find desensitization to be an interesting observation and meditation on the modern world.
DM When Dean and I first decided we wanted to work together on a music project, that in itself was very exciting. Dean is a very recognized artist in his own right. He does a lot of different music projects. He has formed and performed with many groups over the years and has a lot of albums out there, many of them not a part of the Spotted Peccary label. In his own right, he is very much a well known and accomplished artist. I have been with Spotted Peccary for a very long time, so I am established as an artist for that, not counting the music projects in other genres I have worked on over the years. So when we decided to get together and work on a collaboration, even though I have my name on other collaborations with Spotted Peccary, I knew we were both about to do something very different. I was inspired by the spirit of this, so I proposed that we create a moniker that fuses both of our energies in a way that does not detract from our individual artist names.
We both felt that the name Desensitized covered two bases: it made a statement about how we view the world, and also preserved the aesthetic meaning of our individual solo works. I thought of the name Desensitized simply because, as Dean said, we’ve become oversaturated with many things, whether it be media, or even medicine. The are just so many different things that we have become used to that it does not have a shock value anymore. We are not affected as much by all of it, and that is distressing to me personally. So, considering how desensitization is something we both sometimes think about, we agreed to make that our moniker, so to speak. As Dean described, and I agree with him completely, desensitization covers many different aspects, not just the initial connotation of the word. So there is a depth to it that we feel accommodates this music project.
RJ Next question, Hemispherica Portalis, the album, what is it about?
DM The internal and the external realms, whatever the mind can imagine, other worlds, other dimensions, planets, universe, nebulas, stars, things inside the center of the earth. There could be a whole other universe inside and outside that most people don’t see. It kind of encompasses anything and everything that the imagination can hold, or that discovery can introduce. My entire life, even as far back as when I was four and five years old, I always thought that whatever the mind can imagine, it could become a reality, and so I have always created along those lines.
It has mystery, it is surreal, it is sublime, it has almost a hint of danger in some of the passages that were created. The mystery is the main thing, discovery, curiosity. Those are all words that would describe these pieces of music that Dean and I worked on together. When Dean first came here, I felt an Instant explosion of creativity. This was a couple of years ago, and I remember he came and stayed a couple of weeks, and we sequestered ourselves in our own little environmental box. We went out for food occasionally, but most of the time, for those first five or so days, we just stayed in and experimented with sonic and musical approaches. It was just one thing after another, ideas just kept coming and coming to me.
After we had first agreed to work together, I knew he was actually driving up from CA to get here. I kind of panicked, like “I have to be ready!” So, I started plugging in gear and I started talking to myself, and having conversations with the equipment, as funny as that may sound. I’m sure most people in their life have, at some point, done something similar, talked to a door or a piece of furniture, making it real to them. I started doing that, and these names started coming out. By the time Dean arrived, I said “Dean, I think I have some names for our project already, and some song ideas.” I said “I wanted to make sure I had something ready.” Dean just looked at me in amazement as I rattled these names and ideas off. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not, but apparently he was being quite serious. It seems he really liked them.
DB I arrived to work on this album with Deb, and the first moment I arrived, I sit in the studio, start setting up, and I am hearing these thoroughly whimsical ideas and visions for the album. I am fairly impressed and almost overwhelmed by how elaborate the worlds that she conjures in her mind can be, and so spontaneously. Most of us, we get spontaneous ideas a little more like something here and there, for a concept here and there, but Deborah was describing visual concepts as well as titles and layout, and masses of it all. The final product we have now is very comprehensive, but to be honest, Deborah had quite a lot more in mind that we simply couldn’t fit. She’s a powerhouse once she gets going.
I specialize in improvisational music and media performance, so when I’m not the driving force behind the main concepts, I also know how to complement other people’s concepts, so I did just that. When people are open to Deborah, she can really let the floodgates down and dive in headfirst, swimming around in an entire universe. I’ve been involved in the visual arts and dabbled heavily in concept art and film for many years now, so I can appreciate and relate to that side of her. Pardon the silly pun, but sometimes it really does take one to know one. This is why I think she is so great as an artist, because she has no filter about sharing those worlds with the public. It is all suitable, because she knows it is all coming from the same source, from the same inspiration, which is abundant with her. I just sat there, and was listening to all these names and ideas and thought to myself “These names and titles are kind of like abstract variations of the Latin language. That’s actually pretty wild!”
I love abstract art and abstract music, so of course I was very drawn to it. I think she knew I would be, because she knows my aesthetic. We are both very different artists, in our aesthetics and our marketing, and how we handle our image, how we present ourselves to the public. But we have also been fans of each other. We can admire the craftsmanship. We can admire the creativity, whether it is the same genre or not, it doesn’t matter. We have indeed been fans of each other. Deborah knows my work as much as I know hers, and she knew that I would be into these ideas. They were very new approaches for her. By default, this project was very new for me as well.
RJ What is the act of listening?
DM Listening is a passive participation, whether it be purely in the experience of the audio of the music, or it’s relation to life. When you listen, you are absorbing, you are passive, but you are also participating in a way. You are not just a by-stander, which is actually a whole other conversation.
RJ How would you describe composing music for a young person who is curious about what it is or how to get started?
DM I would ask them, “When you were listening to the music, how did you feel? What did that make you feel like?” Because then, they would have to go deep within, to come up with an answer. I think this would get them in touch with a depth that would help them in terms of their curiosity, their curious nature, and in turn their exploration and discovery. It gives them a deeper insight into the analyzing of what that music is, which is also part of the listening, which is why I am answering it in this way.
RJ How would you like people to listen to the music of Hemispherica Portalis?
DB I do think of this as art, and art is all good, however it affects someone’s life. When we don’t prefer certain types of art, we always have the option to avoid it. There is nothing to fear in the world of art. If our specific art affects anyone’s life negatively, sure, we would probably like to hear about that (and I wish you could hear me laughing to myself after saying that), but I’m fairly certain that our music will have only positive effects if any, considering the intentions behind it. I am fairly confident that this music can be experienced in many constructive ways, and perhaps in ways that haven’t been imagined yet. Just as important to me personally, I suppose, I would like listeners to acknowledge the novelty inherent to Desensitized; two electronic musicians from two wildly different sub genres came together to create a unique contrast. This thought has potential to enhance any sense of adventure that listening to the album from beginning to end it may yield.
DM I envision hearing Hemispherica Portalis in the next launch of a space shuttle, the astronauts listening to it as they fly off into another dimension. I envision hearing Hemispherica Portalis in hospitals. I envision it with autistic children. I envision it in retirement homes where the elderly are. I envision it in schools. I envision hearing Hemispherica Portalis in vehicles, in people’s homes. I envision it at yoga centers, dentist‘s offices, doctor’s offices. I envision it in people’s cars, on airplanes. I envision it on the radio, in people’s homes and computers. Wherever there is a way for audio to be transmitted, I envision this music being played, because it does go into the far outer reaches of where sound can go. I envision it with a single individual who just wants to relax at the end of the day. I envision it with someone who fills a tub with water and throws petals into it and has scents and lights candles, a glass of wine, soaking in the tub and lets that music take them wherever they are destined to go, internally or externally.
I think that no matter where you are listening to it, you are going to get a visualization of other places. If somebody is worried or stressing over something, I think it will take them to another place and relieve that. I envision it being used in medicine, anyplace where it would be heard. I think music, any music, not just this album but any music, has the ability to do that. For this album in particular, because there is a dimensional depth to it, I would simply love to have people experience it as such and become a part of that world, even if it’s just for a moment.
RJ How did you make it sound the way it sounds?
DB I have a general interest in sound design, and how far you can explore such a thing. For music, I suppose this is one of the aspects at the heart of my “nerdiness.” For me, it’s not about what exact equipment I am using to do it, but more about the process and the result. However, I will still share my gear and techniques for the sake of clarity, if you’d like.
What I physically brought to these sessions for this album and this music, as far as gear goes, was my world of the laptop. That’s pretty much it. I was seduced by that world about a decade ago. I bought one in 2007, and then slowly proceeded to go completely internal. But this shift was an adjustment, and threw me off from the whole music game for quite a while. This is one of the reasons I didn’t release any albums for a long period of time. I was getting to know the internal equipment inside my laptop, and all of the virtual synths, and all of the vast amounts of plugins and software, and this took much longer to master than I had expected or planned. I was almost purely external before that, using only outboard gear and physical synthesizers, so this big adjustment was not necessarily effortless or natural for me.
But yes, going internal still opened up such a new world to me that the idea of sound design took on a whole new meaning. I have been immersed in that new world ever since. I like to refer to it as cutting edge sound design, digital sound design. That’s the angle that I’m coming from now, so this is what I brought to Desensitized, especially texturally. Knowing that Deborah would fill in a lot of melodic spaces, I focused more on texture for this project, rather than the melodic aspects that I usually bring to other musical situations. Deborah has a really great sense of song, so I was bringing a more experimental background approach to this album, filling in that backing space.
In that sense, for me this is why our project is kind of like a merging of the ancient and the new, because you have these cutting edge methodologies being used for certain aspects of the music, and you also have aspects of the music that were clearly influenced by a more ancient and/or mythical origin. Deborah has been quite fascinated with ancient music forms and ancient interpretation, so I view this project as a sort of combination of those cultural influences, perhaps modern and mystical. The title Portal of a Thousand Years can almost be seen as something that implies an open portal from the ancient to the new, back and forth, to somehow combine the two. The Portal of a Thousand Years sort of connotes a tie from the present to the past, the river of time in musical form, because, as I said, you have cutting edge methodologies in the music as well as ancient melodic spirit.
RJ Would you care to reveal something about any possible influences in your work here creating this album?
DM The influences for the music on this album I think totally came out of what Dean and I created. There was no past influence of previous works that I have done. Perhaps some of my listeners might think “Oh, that is definitely Deborah Martin because you can hear her melodic passages.” You hear recognizable traits perhaps, but the music that was created in the few weeks that we worked together was very new between Dean and myself, at least in my opinion. I would start playing something and go “I have this idea, Dean” and “what do you think of this?” and he would immediately jump onto his computers and go “Oh! I’ve got this” and it didn’t seem as though what followed was really that recognizable to either of us. We only know that we liked it, and felt it. Dean brought what are called “stems” of these terrific sounds. He told me he created some of them just for me because he knew I loved frogs and wolves, and some of these stems were field recordings of those beautiful creatures. He actually created these sounds, and I said “Oh, Dean, I love you, we have to put this in the recording!” and it naturally occurred. It is almost like when you turn on the faucet and the handle gets stuck. All of the sudden you open it, and it flows, and that is exactly what happened, we could not stop once it got started, we just kept going and going, we created enough music for our second album. It is already there, it’s just going to need some fine tuning and so on, and so forth. The name of our second release is going to be… Dean, is it okay if I reveal this?
DB Yes, of course.
DM The name of our first album is Hemispherica Portalis, a totally different world, it is neither here nor there, it is in the realms in between the different layers of existence. The next album deals with being present, and experiencing immediately whatever is there, like an unfolding story, and the album title is Chaos and Premonition. We actually have the third album too, but I am not going to reveal that. I have collaborated with many artists over many years and I love each one of them, but Dean’s uniqueness as an artist is rare and I really do cherish it. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such a creative individual. We have great fun when we are together. It’s wonderful.
RJ What instruments were used in creating Hemispherica Portalis? I know you are both multi-instrumentalists and on this album in certain places I think I hear just about every instrument known to the ear, and then some things not previously known.
DM I remember the flute recordings, we recorded Dean playing the flute here in this room and it was just wonderful. He did several takes. I worked on arranging and later on the recordings, which were just wonderful. He did things with the flute that not every flute player will do, and that was really special. We were able to extrapolate from those recordings what was needed for the opening song of the album, the Portal of a Thousand Years, and it really sounds like you are in a portal to me. So, it really accomplished, for me, visually, what we did with the audio. It matched beautifully. We did record Taos drums here, live. I have many percussion instruments and Dean brought a few himself. We did play a lot of Native American instruments. I like using the hand-made instruments, specifically because they carry the energy of the individual that made them. That is important to acknowledge and understand. When you are recording with a live instrument, like those Taos drums, they are living and breathing in their own way. You have to treat the skins. The tree was a living thing that either fell over or… Taos drums are not made by cutting down the trees, they are made from trees that have fallen down, so their life force is done. The medicine men that make them sometimes put a chant into it upon crafting the drum. I have several like that. You get these live animal skins, they don’t kill animals to make the drums either, they will only use an animal that has died of natural causes. So, there is a lot of energy in these instruments, the shakers that are handmade by different American Indians — Hopi, Navajo, Apache, different ones. Wherever I end up getting them from, or if they are gifted to me by a particular tribe, the energy really does lend itself and carry over. So yes, a lot of those were live recordings. We did it all here and put them together along with all of the electronics that Dean so masterfully contributed. We had several synth keyboards that were used. On the album itself it does list what we used for the recordings and the monitoring. I think what we did was kind of unique in combining things that I don’t think have been used in that fashion before. We were very excited about that as well.
DB There are actually countless other acoustic instruments that we never incorporated into this album, but yes we definitely still had our share for it. There were also field recordings, some of which were custom made but others that were not. One or two of them were custom made but most of them were standard issue that came with my computer. I have different ways of manipulating these recordings. Some of the sound textures I came up with are from sound generative synthesizers of different types, and some are effects used on those field recordings. Sometimes I manipulate synths and sound generators in a way that does sound like a field recording of real-world sounds, and other times I will simply manipulate real-world sources themselves. Sometimes I will create completely new textures that sound nothing like anything familiar, and other times I will combine the two. I knew this approach would mix well with pretty much anything I do with Deborah, because she has been known to use field recordings almost as much as I do, so she shares those sensibilities. As far as the real instruments, those were indeed real instruments that we played. Very little of it was sampled. For anyone who doesn’t know, a sample is an audio clip of an acoustic sound or instrument, and that clip is chopped in to a piece of music in a way that the composer desires. The sample, or clip, could have been recorded by another person, or could have even been recorded years or decades earlier. Deborah and I featured very little sampling on Hemispherica Portalis. pretty much all of the acoustic instruments you hear were played by either of us, and no one else. We played drums, flutes, anything you can hear that is acoustic. I brought my flute, I used to own many but now my collection has been narrowed down to a concert flute. The only exception to what I’m describing are a few synthesizers Deborah used, that contain presets that sound so realistic you almost can’t tell if they are acoustic instruments or not.
RJ No vocals? You both use vocals in your other work, Deborah sings and Dean sometimes uses words in his sound sculptures. On Hemispherica Portalis I hear no words, but there are lots of interesting words in the song titles: Hemispherica Portalis (Portal of 1000 Years), Concunus Dracus (Dragon of the Heavens), Formulata Oblivonos (A Complicated Tale), Ecumenicus Orato (The Umbilical Center), Saltis Nominus (Floating Seabeds), Terminus Equitos (Redemption Seeker), Amphibinatum (Myths and Legends).
DB We did record Deborah doing a lot of chants, performing in lots of ways that she is known for on her albums, but for this particular album we haven’t used them yet. I even have her recording these things on camera. I filmed a long recording session of like three hours I think. We used a lot of instruments that were around, but when all was said and done, we ended up using only a small fraction of those recordings for this album. The rest will likely make it to the next album, and whatever is left over may make it to the album after that. Whatever is not noticable on this album, will likely be noticeable in the next one.
DM I am a vocalist yes. I have done many vocals over the years, singing in jazz, country western, rock and roll, and all kinds of stuff, opera… I love vocals, but this style of music does not totally lend itself to actual word-based styles. I have a couple of things where I did work with Edgar Perry, the Mountain Apache elder who collaborated with me over several of the American Indian albums we did together. I did do vocals on that. There is the Anno Domini album, I wanted to write some Latin chants, based on chants from a long time ago, so I will use vocals occasionally, and in some of my recordings I will use the voice as an instrument. I will sing out a sound or a tone. Perhaps this will occur on a future Desensitized release also, but for this one, we just went with the flow.
RJ What would you like to do that you have not done yet? What if you had access to a Time Machine?
DM I like being in the here and now because Dean and I have so much more work to do and I like going on those adventures, so I love that part of it. I love ancient history, probably anywhere between the 1300 to the 1500s I would love to explore if I had the opportunity. One thing I would still like to do, I would like to learn, is an electric violin. That is an instrument that is not here in my studio yet and I have been wanting one. Not an electric cello, but an electric violin, and I would like to ride in a glider plane one of these days. Maybe Dean, you and I will go on a glider plane, there are no engines in them. You go and you are gliding in the air.
RJ Dean and Deborah, and Beth, I thank you for your time and words, and most of all, thank you for all of the adventurous music you have brought to the world, and I wish you the best of success with the new album, Hemispherica Portalis, and with your exciting new duo project, Desensitized.