Singularity is a sonic ecosystem that begins and ends on the same note: a universe beginning, expanding, and contracting towards the same infinitesimal point. It is a continuation and deepening of all the themes that pervade Jon Hopkins’ work, from electronic to ambient albums, collaborations, and film scores. Where Immunity – his hypnotic 2013 breakthrough LP – charted the dark alternative reality of an epic night out, Singularity explores the dissonance between dystopian urbanity and the green forest. It is a journey that returns to where it began – from the opening note of foreboding to the final sound of acceptance.
On beginning the writing process, Hopkins’ original idea was that each sound was to be interlinked, like branches growing – beats emerging from melody, bass forming from atmosphere – a liquidity that would allow everything to morph into everything else. However, he became frustrated with the lack of pace and spontaneity of this very technical process and soon abandoned it. He instead adopted a complete reversal of method, writing with no planning or conscious end goal in sight. Taking inspiration from his deepening interest in meditation, he trusted in his instinct and decided to discover what would happen if he thought only of the next step, with no bigger picture in mind.
“My experiences with transcendental meditation over the years simultaneously gave me faith in my subconscious, and the means to access it. So, I took some time off after the exhaustive Immunity tour and set about having new life experiences - spending a year in California, experiencing the desert and untamed nature, exploring psychedelic states - that were far removed from what I was used to. On the basis that these experiences would inform all I wrote, I would follow only my intuition and allow the music to flow from my subconscious with as few barriers as possible.”
Half way through the writing process however, energy began to flag, as the world seemed to be descending into chaos. As 2016 ended, the music-making ground to a halt. Hopkins then discovered the Wim Hof Method: a breathing technique inspired by Tibetan Tummo that, using long, deep intakes of oxygen coupled with cold exposure, increases energy levels and boosts serotonin. With sufficient dedication, the method can effectively induce a psychedelic state which can be accessed on demand. Almost immediately, it opened up a new well of positive thoughts, and the music began to flow.
“I intended this record to be listened to in one sitting, as a complete body of work. It is designed to follow the build, peak and release of a psychedelic experience. I got obsessed with the idea of connectivity - of a single note drone acting as a bridge between tracks and moods. This way, with one common note, a massive techno bastard like Everything Connected can be inextricably linked to a 15-part choral piece like Feel First Life, and the two contrasting moods can feed off each other, leading us from the rugged to the transcendent.
These songs are like physical places to me – I love the idea of tracks starting off in one place and leaving us somewhere completely different. Luminous Beings drags us through bracken and brambles, leaving us lost and confused, scratched, bewildered – until suddenly we burst into a clearing and there is nothing but space, clear air, stars. Lights begin circling, first one then another, then another, until they link and form a tapestry that floats upwards, guiding our attention to the sky. A piece that begins with static, grinding electronic noise, sub bass and disjointed voices gradually seems to purify itself until nothing remains but a solo string section.”
Much of the writing time was devoted to constructing the sonics with a level of depth Hopkins had not attempted before. Sounds from the natural world are incorporated as part of the instrumentation - a recording of thunder he made from his studio window is tuned to the sub bass in Singularity, the call of a Scops owl used as a melody in Recovery. Piano sounds are comprised of two instruments, recorded individually then cut together note by note - a grand for the resonance and body, an upright for the tactile top end. But whilst there are near-fractal levels of detail to the sonics, all the performances, chord sequences and rhythms were born out of improvisations.
“It was essential to the energy of the album that the initial spontaneous burst of inspiration was captured. After a difficult beginning, I experienced such joy and freedom making this music - the process has felt like a beautiful exploration of shared consciousness. It has guided me through the last two years."
Thus, Singularity reflects the different psychological states Hopkins experienced while writing and recording. It is a transformative trip of defiance from his initial sense of frustration at the state of the contemporary world to the ultimate conclusion that a true sense of peace and belonging can only come from nature. Just look at the artwork, a human settlement dwarfed by the night sky – if we zoom out to the bigger picture, a sense of balance can be found. The lights of our houses are nothing against the vastness of the universe. From a single note to a single note - this record encompasses a sense of possibility, acceptance, and change.