Fear” (Spotify) is the thirteenth song (of twenty-five) in my Atlas: Year Two series, and song four of four songs written for the basic human emotions, Joy, Sorrow, Anger & Fear

When planning out Atlas: Year Two I knew that "Fear" should be instrumental. When I think of fear, I think of darkness, the unknown, the unspeakable.. so it felt appropriate that the song should be without words. You may also notice that "Fear" is the 13th song in Atlas: Year Two! That of course just felt like the right number for fear. 

Fear can be all consuming. It's hard to shake, so I also knew the song should be longer than my usual song length. It's well over 5 minutes.

“Fear” departs from traditional song structure. There aren't verses or choruses. I figured since fear is so steeped in the unknown, each section of the song should always evolve into something new, never returning to a melody. So it’s more of a movement, than a song in that way. Though super challenging, it was so much fun writing with that rule. This also gave me permission to do a lot of speeding up/slowing down in the tempo, even changing time signatures as well. So much fun!

I used a lot of reverb and spacious sounds on this one - I wanted it to feel like the song is sort of in the distance, as that seems to be what scares us most, the things we can’t fully see/understand. I leaned into dissonance on this one more than I typically do too.. I wanted it to feel slightly unsettling throughout. Sonically, I tried to use the full range of sound: the highest bell-like sound to the deepest sub-bass sound to represent the spectrum and depth of our fears. 

I invited my amazingly talented friend, Joanna Hui to record violins. We've done this a few times now, I'll invite her to my studio and she'll arrive having not heard even a note of the song and let me toss heaps of ideas at her to play, and just press record. Especially for this song, it was so fun to build the violins out like that over the many different sections and moods of the song. Huge thanks to Joanna for being such a great sport!

Though this song is instrumental, there are some words sung. You can barely hear it, I sang parallel translations of Isaiah 41:10 - “so do not fear, for i am with you” - I really liked the idea of a sacred text about fear being sung, hidden throughout, and also the hope and resolve of the message, “don’t be afraid” - that idea felt right in wrapping up the theme of Emotions. I also got really excited about the idea of singing the different translations of the same verse, because personally I find it kind of scary that sacred text gets passed through the earthly minds and hands of countless people throughout history. That is terrifying and beautiful in a way. So it felt right to sing as many translations of that passage as the song had room for.

A little while ago, my daughter, Lily was learning about what "scary" means. One of the first moments I can put my finger on, was when she saw a poster for the Pixar film "Monsters, Inc." - she pointed and with a very worried look in our eyes, she said "scary! scary! scary!" and my heart broke, because it's my favorite Pixar film and I was worried she would always register it as "scary" and not want to watch. I told her, I think she'd like it, so we watched it and she totally loved it. In the process, she has now developed one of the most amazing coping skills I've ever seen... now when she sees anything potentially scary, she exclaims "scary!? NO, silly! silly!" So now in our world, nothing is scary, it's just "silly." I swear, she is teaching me more than I'm teaching her. No joke. So, I of course recorded one of these coping moments of "not scary! silly!" and it lives in this song. 

I also recorded a little conversation my wife and I had with her about a storm passing through, where she was hearing thunder and wondering what it was. She did these amazing impressions of thunder, which sounded like the tiniest mouth-explosion sound ever. So of course that's hidden in the song too. 

In thinking about the scariest things I can imagine, I kept a list and tried to incorporate each of those fears into sound, scattered throughout this song. Here's a terrifying list of things to fear: 

Time: There's nothing scarier, is there? At the beginning of the song, beneath the piano, you'll hear a clock ticking.

Dentistry: Hidden LOW in the mix, there's a dental drill sound that literally sends shivers down my spine. Holy smokes, I don't love the dentist.

Public Speaking: I am still terrified of it, so I took a small recording from some public speaking I did a while back.. it's also deep in there, but it's there and made me very uncomfortable hearing it at all!

Conflict/Insecurities: To represent these two lovely things (sarcasm), I took a YouTube comment that wasn’t very kind about me and certainly plays into insecurities of mine, and I translated it into morse code, which can be heard toward the end minute of the song.

Fall/Fear of Heights: this is represented musically in some of the violin parts - in the first minute of the song you can hear them falling away. 

Death: Using my new (very old) typewriter, I recorded the sound of me typing the words of someone who has long since passed, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - FDR, I typed those words in time with the drums, and really liked how it sounded. So that's how death is represented in this song.

There are a couple other misc. easter eggs hidden throughout too:

Always looking for an excuse to use this kid's instrument! Fit like a glove in this song.

Not long ago, I asked on social media "if fear had a basic shape, what would it be?" and folks responded with all sorts of lovely drawings! Using an app called TuneTrace I turned a few of them into really wonky sounds and tucked them into the song. With "Fear" the Atlas: Emotions theme is now complete. Up next are songs called, "Head," "Heart" and "Body" - can't wait! And after that, it's 9 songs for the 9 Enneagram types!! So looking forward to interpreting The Enneagram in music.

Huge Love, Ryan - Sleeping At Last