Cryounit is the brainchild of Kolton Holbrook, whose deep love of science fiction and astrophysics have been parlayed into an enigmatic musical project. Holbrook is a self-taught musician and composer, and his music is a logical extension of his studies into Fermi's Paradox (more on that below). After two EPs, Cryounit's first full album, Paradox, is a must for any fan of industrial and downtempo electronic music. We're excited share our interview with Holbrook about hsi work and influences.
What is Cryounit? Describe the music for new listeners.
Conceptually a cryounit, or cryo-tank is a sort of transportation device. Although instead of transporting someone in space, it transports its occupant forward in time. That’s what I try to accomplish with my music. Sonically, Cryounit combines a lot of industrial and downtempo influences with a healthy dose of the 90s and 00s electronic music I grew up with.
There is a strong connection to science fiction themes in the description for your new album, Paradox. Delve into the connection here between the philosophy and the music
In Paradox, every song is themed around an answer to Fermi’s Paradox. For those who aren’t familiar, Fermi’s Paradox was first formalized by the physicist Enrico Fermi. Basically, there are billions of stars in the galaxy and most of them seem to have planets. Some of those planets are probably capable of supporting life, and that life would have had potentially billions of years to develop. So why don’t we see any signs of it?
Musically, that translated into both the overall feel of the album, but also specific concepts within the music. Overall the album uses a lot of ambience and unusual harmony to evoke this floating feeling of space, but specifically, each song tries to incorporate elements of the explanation that it was themed around. For example, Signals in the Aether, deals with the possibility that the signs of life are all around us, but we lack the ability to decode or detect them. To musically express that I weaved little coded messages throughout the song in binary, Morse code, etc. but without knowing how I encoded them they’ll be impossible to translate.
The science fiction themes aren’t entirely speculative either. One concept closely related to Fermi’s Paradox is the Great Filter. The idea is that civilizations must pass a series of hurdles to reach the stage we’ve reached. However, because there are no signs of extraterrestrial life, at least one of these hurdles must be impossibly difficult. If it’s the evolution of technological society or multi-cellular life, we’re in the clear. If the Great Filter happens to be climate change or the danger of self-annihilation by nuclear weapons, AI, etc. human civilization would be in real danger. This means the answer to Fermi’s Paradox has important real-world implications. If we find evidence of single celled life on Mars or Enceladus, that suggests single celled life is common in the universe. Therefore, that stage cannot be the Great Filter and the danger lies further on in the development process. As exciting as it would be, finding abundant evidence of long dead technological civilizations would be about the worst news we could get when it came to the prospect of humanity’s long-term survival.
What is your musical background? How long have you been composing music?
I started writing music about 12 years ago, although I’ve only been releasing music as Cryounit since 2016. I’m primarily self-taught. I started taking drum lessons as a kid, but I was always fascinated with electronic music. As I got older, I became more interested in how these otherworldly sounds were made. I spent a lot of time researching what gear and techniques that the artists I enjoyed were using, and eventually I picked up some cheap software and just started trying to write.
What technology do you use to compose and record your music?
I use a variety of software and hardware synthesizers, the primary ones are Native Instrument’s Komplete collection, and a Virus TI Snow. The brain of the whole operation is Ableton Live, as I do all the sequencing, recording, and editing, and mixing in there.
The other crucial piece of equipment is a Zoom field recorder. I carry one with me almost everywhere. That way if I hear some interesting sound in the environment, I can record it and use it later.
What books/authors and movies have inspired you to create your music?
I really enjoy slower, thoughtful science fiction. Films like Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Arrival, have been major influences.
Paradox came about specifically because I was reading a lot of books that referenced Fermi’s Paradox. Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem trilogy and Alistair Reynold’s Revelation Space were some of the major influences. Before that I was mostly into cyberpunk fiction like William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy.
The Three Body Problem Trilogy by Liu Cixin
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
Dreamweb by Mind.in.a.box
Tactical Neural Implant by Front Line Assembly
Hydroponic Garden by Carbon Based Lifeforms