Layers of sound
Working under the alias Clockwork Yellow, Reno resident Ryan Millick has created a strange, entrancing little four-song album called Lullabized, a title he coined by combining the words “lobotomized” and “lullaby.” The music is a solo creation, like an abstract painting wherein the artist coated layers and layers of different colors. Millick uses a digital multi-track recording device and adds layers of sounds, many of them as abstract and nonrepresentational as, say, a Mark Rothko painting, and evocative of the same surreal sense of calm.
Though Millick played in punk bands when he was younger and currently plays keyboards and guitar in a “funky electronic” band called Technical Knockoff, Clockwork Yellow is very much a solo project, and the music is so relaxed that you could almost call it New Age, except that it’s so meditative, introspective and inwardly focused, seemingly beyond all commercial considerations. It’s definitely not music made for commercial viability, and sometimes it’s almost like it’s not even meant for other people to hear. That isn’t a judgment against the music—there are moments of startling beauty—it’s just that it’s almost like an intimate, even voyeuristic peak into someone else’s brain while they experience their own music.
“I start with a feeling I want to express,” says Millick. “Or a dreamscape, something in my mind, colors and shapes, and put them to music.”
He takes a lot of inspiration from movies and film music—he cites The Godfather and Danny Elfman’s scores as personal favorites. The Clockwork Yellow name is a nod to the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, and Millick’s music has some things in common with Wendy Carlos’ innovative electronic score for that film.
It’s music that’s almost easier to understand in visual rather than musical terms, but there are recognizable instruments—piano, harpsichord, and a variety of percussion. Many of the sounds, however, are heavily disguised samples taken from real life and from movies—animal noises, water sounds, Millick’s own voice.
The music has an agreeable homemade quality. It’s clearly the music of an inspired amateur, and Millick has no formal musical training, which he sees as both a good and a bad thing. Bad because he’s not able to write musical notation, but good because, as he says, “It’s cool that it’s true to me. It comes from me. You can’t say that I learned that.”
He says he used to be more interested in making music for commercial purposes, but this music is now wholly, refreshingly, strangely devoid of any hint of that.
“Whoever created me, created my music,” says Millick. “It’s a gift to share.”
Millick starts by recording one track—sometimes piano, sometimes bass, sometimes percussion—and then adding and taking away sounds. He’s used up to 70 different tracks for a single composition, though the music often has a bare, spacious quality.
The overriding feeling of the music is a sense of exploration and discovery. This is partly because of the music’s amateurish quality—it’s the music of someone who has just discovered sounds and is excited at the prospect of inventing new ones. Improvisation, especially the uniquely modern phenomenon of a musician jamming with himself, is also a key aspect of this music, and adds to that exploratory feeling. But more than anything else, the sense of discovery is a testament to Millick’s dedicated introspection. This is some very purposeful navel-gazing.
“It’s adventurous for the mind,” he says. “It takes the mind on a journey.”