In the winter of 2017, Ben Shirken found himself lying awake night after night, exhausted yet unable to sleep. As an American temporarily living in the city of Berlin, Shirken never quite adjusted to the six-hour time difference between Germany and his home of New York City over the four months he spent there. Instead of seeking a cure for his insomnia, the 22-year old musician leaned into his sleep-deprived delirium to craft Aisle of Palm – Shirken’s impressive debut constructed of otherworldly soundscapes that explore the relationship between organic and synthesized sounds.
“Sleep informs my music in a lot of different ways,” says Shirken, who creates music under the moniker Beshken. “A lot of the ideas I sing about and the way I repeat certain words represent the thoughts I have before I fall asleep.”
Shirken, a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer transferred the anxiety and ruminating thoughts he was experiencing during his drowsy late night states into looping melodies and lyrical phrases that color the record. Shirken’s sparse vocal approach on songs like “Relaxx” indicate a songwriter with an intuitive knack for stitching vast, reverb-soaked worlds together with short, repetitive ideas.
One of Shirken’s greatest creative assets is the way he incorporates his surroundings into his work – something he accomplishes by making impromptu field recordings. During his time there, Shirken explored Berlin and the surrounding areas with no intention of recording anything. But he was prepared to just in case he found something interesting: “About three years ago I purchased a field recorder,” says Shirken, “I started using it in the same way someone would use a camera.”
In West Berlin, he visited Teufelsberg: a man made hill the U.S. utilized as a listening station during the Cold War, where he recorded cavernous hypnagogic audio from the abandoned spy towers there.
Shirken imports the audio into his recording software program, then manipulates them often far passed the point of recognition through various reverbs, delays and EQs. Using a sequencer, Shirken also processes recorded audio into notes that mirror synthesised sounds.
“If I’m recording a room, there’s always ambient noise in the background. You can isolate certain frequencies down to single notes and drop them into a sampler, which turns each key into the same frequency but with different pitches. That’s how I turn recorded noises into synths, if that makes sense.”
The interplay of sounds that are organically sourced and those that are digitally generated is a fascinating musical staple for Beshken, and has garnered a great deal of attention since its formation roughly four years ago.
Shirken, a Los Angeles native, cites his hometown’s vibrant art scene as a major influence on his music, which seems to draw inspiration from a myriad of sources ranging from house music to R&B to dream pop. While sleep, or rather the lack of it, played a major role in shaping Aisle of Palm’s lush, dreamy nature, a markedly better rested Shirken today credits the records he spins in New York City clubs as a DJ with influencing the music he’s making now.
“I started DJ-ing around when I formed Beshken, so those personas began as the same thing. But as I added more songs, instruments, and band members, DJ-ing became more about playing the stuff I like to listen to – dance music, house, techno, experimental.” Shirken went on to say that similar to DJ-ing, the material he’s writing now is focused mostly on motivating people to dance.
On its surface, the concept of making music that is intentionally more accessible to the masses may seem like a creative step backwards for Beshken. But between Shirken’s intuitive creative impulse and his impressive knack for marrying simple musical ideas with palatial soundscapes, it’s highly doubtful that his current project will compromise the intrepid resourcefulness that’s come to define his body of work.
Beshken performs with Com Truise and Altopalo Friday, November 1st at the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs.