Suspending Belief

Our fourth full-length on the surface doesn’t display any major changes, but does display a number of refinements. The process of recording it, however, was drastically different than all previous efforts. Further emphasis on live instrumentation meant a lot more “out of the box” recording, scheduling a guest vocalist who was shuttling back and forth between Chicago and Riyadh was challenging, and nearly every track was written with the distinct knowledge that it could be played live. Jill Sheridan was also deemed a full-on member of the band, instead of just a guest vocalist.

Suspending Belief cover 2011 Nilaihah Records
1. Fearful Symmetry
2. Notes from the Fallen
3.Blades of Grass (feat. Raya Wolfsun)
4.Teapots Orbiting
5.Many Forms (feat. Raya Wolfsun)
6. Waterproof
7. Breathe You In
8. The Rim’s Edge
9. Blow My Mind
10. Inkblots
released 25 June 2010
© 2010 Null DevicePersonnel:
Eric Oehler : Vocals, Studio Geekery, Strings, Percussion
Eric Goedken : Lyrics, Additional Vocals
Jill Sheridan : Backing Vocals, Keys
Elizabeth Scheef : Dumbek, Cello
Chuck McKenzie : Bass

With assistance from
Raya Wolfsun : Arabic and Classical Greek Vocals
Dan Clark : Backing Vocals
Lane Burns : Backing Vocals


Recorded and Mastered at Submersible Studios, Madison.
Additional engineering by Nori Schmoldt

Fearful Symmetry This was originally an extended intro to “Inkblots”, which is why it recapitulates (or, due to the track order, precapitulates) some of the same musical themes.
Notes From The Fallen
On cool nights like these
With sunlight gone from sight
I’m striking out on my own
Feel the pulse inside ignite
This town’s on fire
With shimmering beams of light
Falling up and soaring down
We’ll be floating here all nightFake
Don’t let it show
The air is all aglow
And everyone you know
Is looking on tonight
Anyone who’s anyone
And everywhere you know
Everyone below
Is bathed in neon light


Hours start slipping by
Empty prayers I recite
Huddled up and left alone
Alive in words that we incite
We drift off course
Searching for the way tonight
Floating down and soaring up
Trapped and sinking with the light

See the ground below
Jagged and aglow
And everyone you know
Faces hard and white
Anyone who’s anyone
And everywhere you know
Disappear below
Here in neon light

The dawning day breaks
Soft lines traced in flight
Empty now we return on home
Retreat back to our concealed site
Memories grow dim
Inside these columns of light
Falling up and soaring down
We’ll be out again tonight

Everything’s aglow
And everyone you know
And everywhere below
Is bathed in neon light
The air is all aglow
Everyone you know
And everyone below
Will be out tonight

This originally began as an attempt to write some minimal house music.  After I had layered in some sarod and esraj samples, that notion quickly vanished, and it became a more straightforward electropop song. [EO]

Blades of Grass
I am looking for you
In every word and every glance
Searching for you
Lost along every blade of grass The reasons that keep us around
The ideas that are pulling you down
Maybe they’ll be revealed
When quiet answers fall to the groundI am searching for you
With every step and every dance
Trying to find you
Here among every pane of glass

The seasons and the ages torn
The notions that the fates adorn
Maybe they’ll be released
When the shapes they hold once again are worn

I am looking to you
With every vow and each advance
Calling to you
From out among these blades of grass

The regions that midnight holds down
Shallow forms that we surround
Maybe they’ll be revealed
When frozen chances once more are found

I am searching for you
In every breath and every chance
Trying to find you
Lost among all these blades of grass

The reasons that sweep us aground
The ideas that keep pulling you down
Maybe they’ll be released
When all the answers once more sound.

Arabic lyrics adapted by Raya Wolfsun from “My Cup and My Wine” by 8th century Sufi poet Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya.

Arabic vocals also contributed by Ms. Wolfsun.

Raya is someone I’ve known for a while, initially as a friend-of-a-friend who studied classical languages.  She’s lived a number of places, from island nations in the Indian ocean to metropolises on the Arabian peninsula to…Chicago.  While visiting her in Chicago, driving down Lakeshore Drive, I made some offhand comment about how great it would be to write songs in classical greek.  Raya started singing.  I nearly drove off the road.  She them mentioned that she was, in fact, trained in classical arabic singing as well.  After a few minutes of me nearly hyperventilating I suggested that maybe when she came to visit me we should log some studio time.

So one snowy winter weeked, Raya hopped a bus to Madison, we ate some garlic-roasted potatoes and then I fired up the mics, while she scoured the internet for arabic poetry that she liked, settling on “My Cup and My Wine.” I gave her a root drone and a 4/4 beat and let her do her thing.  Then I added a trance beat, Dr. Goedken took a translation of the poem and wrote a very impressive “response” to it, and the end result was one of my favorite Null Device tracks to date. [EO]

Teapots Orbiting
oehler/goedken The nights hold their dreams
And I hold at mine
The lights strike me blind
But I still see
The tides pull us in
I play my role
The names used in vain
But now I see

Maybe there’s a teapot
Orbiting the sun
Maybe he’s waiting
Maybe she’s the one
But it’s so unlike me
In the end to believe
To me this seems to be
So very unlikely

The strings hold their seams
And I pull at mine
This earth suits me fine
But still I see
Tides pull us out
I know them cold
The loves lost in pain
But now I see

Maybe there’s a teapot
Out among the stars
Maybe they’re waiting
Watching from afar
But it’s so unlike me
To believe in the end
To me this seems to be
So very unlikely

Spirits shine their beams
And I take on mine
Torches leave me blind
But still I see
The tides pull me on
But I stole the fire
It falls like the rain
But now I see

Cello: Elizabeth Scheef.

Based on the Betrand Russell’s Teapot thought experiment. Loosely.

Much of the rhythm track was built on field recordings from around the house. There’s a clanky noise embedded in the track that is in fact a cat knocking over a ceramic mug full of pens while I was trying to record something else, which happened to fit both the rhtyhm and the overall feel of the song.

Most of the drum track was reamped – I wasn’t happy with the “atmosphere” of the song. So I played back the drums, while simultaneously re-recording them with a microphone placed about 20 feet away. This pulled in enough “air” and added the mic’s somewhat dark frequency response to everything.

The strings at the end were originally all done on electric violin, but late in the game we decided it was probably best if they were an actual string ensemble. I re-recorded all the violin and viola parts with acoustic instruments, and remembered that long before she was a percussionist, Elizabeth had been a cellist. I sent her a pdf of the cello part, she came over, I mic’ed the cello with a pair of small-diaphragm condensers, and pulled it in about two takes. [EO]

Many Forms
oehler/merenkov Pollai morphai tôn daimoniôn,
Polla d’ aelptôs krainousi theoi:
Kai ta dokêthent’ ouk etelesthê,
Tôn d’ adokêtôn poron hêure theos.
Toiond’ apebê tode pragma.

Adapted from Euripides “Bacchae.”

Classical Greek vocals by Raya Wolfsun.

Recorded in the same session as “Blades of Grass.” The method was much the same – I gave Raya a drone and a simple click track and she laid down the greek in a few takes. [EO]

oehler/goedken Even in the shallows
It’s easy to drown
Waves wash over my head
And I’m going down
Never deterred
Just saturated
To contemplate
Is too complicated
I keep on breathing
And the tide keeps rising
As I push on towards the horizon

I’m waterproof
Only soaked to the skin
The pressure is rising
But it’s not getting in
The current can pull me
But it cannot divide

The dam is collapsing
No holding it back
Didn’t take so much at all
Just a tiny crack
I’m not sinking
But my head is spinning
I wonder if
These depths are winning
I stay here living
As the night keeps dying
As I push on towards the horizon

Blood in the water
And sharks to the scent
One small sailor fights
Then makes his ascent
Wholly submerged
But baptized in fire
To want it all
Is to know the desire
I keep on breathing
And the tide keeps rising
As I push on towards the horizon

Between about 2006 and 2009 we were beset by studio floods. From full-on sump-pump-backup gushers to slow foundation leaks, I lost a lot of cheap carpeting and some gear to heavy rains and bad drainage.

This song resulted, as a tongue-and-cheek reference to the constant water problems. It was at this point that the studio got christened “Submersible” as well.

There were several revisions. The first attempt sounded kind of like a Pendulum track – heavy drum-n-bass with aggressively autotuned vocals (so much so that Bogart Shwadchuck referred to me as “E-Pain” for about a week). That didn’t sound right. The song then received a vaguely Bollywood-style intro, which didn’t sound so great either. Then I switched the key and ditched everything except the primary melody, and tried to write the whole thing around a certain raga. It retained some drum-n-bass elements for a while, sounding a bit like Orbital’s “Times Fly” (in fact you can hear an early mix of this in the background of the Null Device video podcast #1), but it still wasn’t quite right. I stripped back all the percussion to a good trance beat and some tabla samples, aggresively edited the arrangement, and re-recorded the vocals to better fit the new sounds. Et voila. I’m not sure if it still conforms to the original raga after all the edits and changes, but it made a good starting point, and the raga is still introdtuced with a swarmandal sweep in the intro. [EO]

Breathe You In
oehler/goedkenWhen I’m falling
Silence holds me down
When all’s faded
Darkness takes me ’round
I breathe you in
Just a tiny drag
Bathing in your glow
And then I know

You’re the perfect one
This night is breathing fine
You’re the perfect one
This heart silently mine
You’re the only one
The light I have to find
You’re the only one
The port that stays behind

When we’re broken
Sadness keeps me bound
When I’m jaded
When hope is beaten down
I pull you in
Find a little sigh
Stealing from my soul
And then I know

You’re the perfect one
Midnight is fading lines
You’re the perfect one
This heart becoming mine
You’re the only one
The light I long to find
You’re the only one
The port that stays behind

When I’m dreaming
Still’s the only sound
Night traps baited
On twilight’s azure mound
I breathe you in
Just a tiny drag
Fading with you slow
And then I know

You’re the perfect one
The light is rising fine
You’re the perfect one
The heart silently mine
You’re the only one
The height I long to climb
You’re the only one
The port that stays behind

This was my attempt to infuse some Burial-style atmospheres to a track. The obvious example is the noisy rain field recording. However, as I often do, I got a little carried away and started layering in other recordings made live around the city. [EO]

The Rim’s Edge
oehler/goedken The still of silence breathes
The quiet of this night lives
Moving on through the air
The rush
Holding up the clouds
And I wonder where this will go
And I wonder if I should sleep
If not here, if not there
This touch
Fading in the warm air

Looking over the rim’s edge
Everything falls from the map
Disappear into the hills
Sink into the dark valleys
No ending here with me
I cross I twist I fold
Color all my stripes black
Change all my spots back

The still of this life shakes
Exquisite thriving heartaches
Moving fast like the air
The wind
Pressing on my dreams
And I wonder where this will end
And I wonder if I should land
If not here, if not there
The view
Echoes in the warm air

Hanging over the rim’s edge
Everything fades from view
Disappear like sudden winds
That carve into the high mountains
No falling anymore
I spill I twist I mold
Spin all my colors black
Change all my faces back

The silent cold release
Thrives in quiet heartache
Moving on like the push
The air
Holding up the clouds
And I wonder where this will go
And I wonder if I should sleep
If not here, if not there
This touch
Fades like whispers

This was one of those rare songs that just sort of fell into place quickly. Aside from some tweaks along the way, once I had the basic beat and had put in the bollywood samples that make the backbone of the track, pretty much everything was ready. It didn’t really sound polished until Jill laid down her vocals.

Additionally, the dhols at the end were some of the first attempts at recording live dhols I’ve tried. They’re layered with some samples. [EO]

Blow My Mind
oehler/goedkenA hunter knows its prey
Like a river makes its way
Down the mountain slopes
The cold edges into play

Make me a promise
Tell no more lies
Say you’ll be the one
If something’s to be done
Come on read the signs
Weary we’re running blind
Dead and gone
But first I need you to blow my mind

Just a little off the top
Make my heart stop
Else I’m never gonna drop
And we will never stop

A lion sees the trend
As the jungle feels its end
Out along these roads
No stranger is a friend

Take me by surprise
See through my disguise
Say you’ll be there when
The fade to black’s begun
Go on claim your find
Hidden and long-maligned
I am lost
But I know you can blow my mind

Bull in your china shop
My defenses dropped
Take a little off the top
Or I will never stop

The desert pulls away
Like a soldier makes his play
On this lonely road
My aim begins to stray

Make me a promise
Look me in the eyes
Swear you’ll be the one
If something’s to be done
Little left to mind
Overtaken from behind
Dead to rights
But I want you to blow my mind

Just a little off the top
Make my heart stop
Else I’m never gonna drop
And this will never stop

Backing Vocals – Dan Clark, Jill Sheridan.

One of the poppiest songs we’ve written in a while. It’d been a live staple since long before the album was released. A few times we’ve performed this with the dhol parts played live.

Unusually for the ND production style, everything in this song – from the drums to the synths to the vocals – is re-amped, either literally with speakers and an amp or with an amp simulator.

“Overtaken from behind” became a running joke on the Fading Belief tour, used every time one of the band vans passed another on the highway. [eo]

oehler/goedkenIn black and white
Small print dotting the lines
Ink trails that pool
Right between the eyes
These facts and follies
Are blurred grey and mottled
Like liquid flowing
They read like lies

(Each street
The first grey brick
In a grand downfall)

Tried to press the pieces together
When I want to put them away
These misshapen fragments
They return to close the day
I wanted to live my own way
As I tried to change it all
The mystery is etched in chrome
Inkblots moving closer to home

See blues and reds
Faded with the years
Vapour trails that float
Off along the sky
These shots and volleys
Return home to follow
With lifeblood flowing
The end is nigh

(Each street
The stopwatch tick
In the night’s last call)

Tried to hold these thoughts together
As I want to push them away
From misshapen fragments
They shatter to end the day
I wanted to live my own way
Smooth ideas etched in stone
All these stolen pieces
Bringing old glories to atone

A fiction so outstanding
I worked to keep it small
A fiction so demanding
I hoped to change it all
Here in our crash landing
I meant to heed the call
The mystery is etched in chrome
Inkblots falling back to home

Backing vocals – Jill Sheridan, Dan Clark, Lane Burns.

This one was a beast to mix. While the arrangmement was fairly straightforward (especially after trimming what became “Fearful Symmetry” from the beginning), there were a fairly ludicrous number of overdubs on the vocals and drums. Dan alone sent 6 of his vocals, plus an equal number for Lane. Admittedly I did not use every one of them, but not ever having attempted anything on that scale before (with the possible exception of “The Choir”), plus about ten tracks of epic dhols meant I spent a lot of time fighting my own poor choices of gain staging.