Welcome to my new website, please feel free to have a look around.
Welcome to my new website, please feel free to have a look around.
This will be my last post for three weeks as I will be on a road-trip through Europe, down to Italy and back around to the UK via some friends’ wedding in the Czech Republic. With any luck I may get to write some thoughts down and make a post or two but I’ll see! While I’m away I hope to record any bits and pieces of sound that take my fancy so I can use them at a later date, and also take some much needed thinking time about my redundancy situation, as well as conjuring up ideas for new and exciting projects that come to mind!
With my current projects, the ambient London soundtrack is now completed and has been given the provisional name of ‘Some London Life’. A friend and talented artist has taken on the task of designing some artwork for it which I cannot wait to see! Then I’ll be seeing if anyone is interested in reviewing this little experiment of mine and I will be allowing free downloads of it from my website. Talking of websites, my new site is almost ready and once I am back and have ironed out the creases it will go live. My second Bedtime Nursery Rhymes CD is also going well, with five out of ten tracks pretty much finished barring some final tweaks here and there.
This week has also seen a start on my new journey of performing music with a laptop, synthesizers and guitars but it is too early to be performing with all this yet as the setup is much more complex than I’m used to. However, I am learning and figuring out the answers to problems that this new area presents. Oddly enough, it isn’t really the technology that is the main problem (although there is much to learn here) but it’s the actual logistics of what I’m playing and when, and how this all fits into a song or piece of music. It is complex but it is giving me many ideas for the future involving performance in any capacity inside or outside of a band… stay tuned for these ideas as they develop though…
Well, have a wonderful August and I shall be back in September with a new post (if I don’t get the opportunity to write whilst I’m away of course!)
These days, I’m not a very good music fan; I rarely go to gigs and rarely buy CDs anymore. This isn’t because I’m too poor, cant be bothered or even because I’m some kind of ridiculous elitist. The main reason is that hype has generally ruined the whole thing for me. Of course, hype is very necessary to enable music/gig sales so it could actually be the journalists and promoters that have caused this by using information that is either too far removed from the truth or just incorrect. In any case, this boils down to the fact that I have been let down way more often than not by reading a description of a band; then having a listen and then just being sorely disappointed.
This weekend, I went to the 14th Truck Festival (music not automobiles!) and was totally in my element. The festival is how festivals should be: no glaring sponsorship/advertising posters covering every inch of free space, reasonably priced food and drink, and you can even take your own food and drink to any part of the festival you wish (excluding glass bottles as it’s on cattle-farm land). This gives a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere of freedom and exploration and the fact that the focus is on the music/performers really boils the whole event down to what it’s actually about i.e. music. Some band descriptions in the programme were a bit flowery and whiffed of a journalist wanting to prove how clever/arty/pretentious he/she is but the fact that the vast majority of the performers were not in the slightest pretentious made that annoyance dissipate (yeah I can be a grumpy old man about these things).
So, the music. Well, a lot of it was folky (modern or more traditional) but there was also room for much else (as with many festivals of course!). For folk, the awesome Bellowhead were a huge highlight of the weekend; spectacular and fun. Alongside this, played various Rockabilly bands, some great rock, ‘experimental’ classical music, and I even got to see some South London Grime in the shape of Durrty Goodz. He was also a highlight for me as Grime has been a curiosity of mine for a long time. It’s safe to say that the flame of underground, angst-ridden music burns brightly and in my experience seems to be out-doing punk and even metal in a lot of ways. If you know me, you’ll remember the angry stuff is where my heart’s at.
Islet are a band generally attracting a lot of the wrong attention. They shun the internet revolution and you wont find much about them at all on the web, but for this reason it’s almost all people write/talk about. Of course, people also talk a lot about their frantic, all-encompassing live shows but again, journalists miss the point or water it down with childish curiosity. Also, my companion for the Truck set commented on how the band all swap instruments to seem clever, and that the individuals don’t really play more than one instrument that well. But this is also missing the point… what Islet do is raw, expressive and unbridled with loose boundaries and in my opinion this is what music is all about: Make a sound; if you like it, use it. Of course, this internet malarkey could all be part of a clever marketing plan but this doesn’t seem to matter as they generally do what they want, and this is paramount.
Other highlights included Jonny, in which Euros Childs of Gorky’s Zygotic Myncinow plays; Consortium5, a very interesting troupe of recorder players; and Maybeshewill, an epic and melodic all-rocking instrumental band. All very cool. Much else was also very cool but in general, the spirit of the music on display and of the musicians has a special place in my psyche. Although, parts of the world are finally realising that Rupert Murdoch spews forth lots of fakery and crap, and the major record labels are running televised circuses, people still love the skin-deep salience and it is still making them money. Living in London, I’m surrounded with the poor values popular culture promotes and Truck was the perfect antidote to this.
This week’s blog is a continuation of my ambient London project. I have come up with 2 other pieces since ‘A Drive to Hyde Pier’ but I found this week’s particularly interesting. The track starts by taking refuge from the rain of the previous track (not yet mentioned) into the calming atmosphere of my favourite pub.
I have always really enjoyed being at ‘Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’ on Fleet Street, London. For a start it is a Sam Smith pub which is an independent brewer that makes nice beer, and some of it is very cheap… Those that know me know I like nice beer. This is said to be the oldest pub in the whole of London and there has been an inn here since a monastery’s guesthouse occupied the site in the 13th century; the current incarnation of the pub has been around since 1666 after the previous building was destroyed by the Great Fire of London. Historical figures such as Charles Dickens and Ben Jonson frequented the pub and the interior look and ambience of the building ooze a knowing atmosphere.
The various bars and rooms of the pub each have their own variation on these atmospheric acoustics and the brewery have a no-music policy, allowing the building’s natural ambience to come to life. The acoustics of each room seem to dictate how the occupants perceive the experience of being there and, to a degree, influence behaviour. For example, the front bar is small, wood-panelled and usually the first port of call for tourists popping in for a drink; this means that the walls reflect sound nicely but the soft furnishings give it a calming, mellow character and the uncertain, fresh punters feed off this leading to hushed voices; this is one of my favourite rooms. In contrast, the cellar bar is stone-walled and cavernous and seems to invite lively joviality. This is also the furthest room from the front door and the hardest to find, therefore maybe it attracts the more adventurous and confident punter.
So, this audio narrative ended up being dominated by the spaces within the pub and I really hope I managed to capture the feel of each of the spaces I chose to include, starting from the front bar and working my way down to the raucous cellar bar, whilst visiting the inside of a couple of pint glasses. You may need particularly good headphones to distinguish between the nuisances of each atmosphere but still listen out for them whilst taking in the history of the place. You will also notice that the calming ‘sea’ recorded/created for ‘A Drive to Hyde Pier’ can be heard as a backdrop most of the way through…but in a giant pint glass, which seems to set the whole soundscape inside of it…If you know what convolution reverb is this may mean something to you…if not, feel free to ask. These waves are a constant theme throughout most of this collection as water, the sea and the river have always been central to London. The components of this sound (cars, trees in a breeze) are central to the city these days although historians throughout time are said to have noted the constant sea-like hum of this ancient city (derived from human activity).
Best heard on decent headphones!
This week’s post is a little explanation of some work of mine that Lesley Flower has posted on her website and is something I’ve mentioned a few times. The project will appear on my brand new website when it’s completed but for now you can have a look through the link below:
The idea behind the project is to immerse the viewer/listener in a world of our choosing, each aspect (audio and visual) strengthening the other. The internet is not an ideal medium for this as we have no control over the monitor or headphoens you are using and we also have to use MP3s which are poorer quality than a CD. Also, we cannot eradicate all of the different distractions present when you choose to take a look (playing children, busy roads outside, TV in the next room, etc etc). So, if we are to get as close to the ideal conditions as possible, lock yourself in a quiet room, use some decent headphones and try to avoid any other stimuli. Don’t worry if this isn’t possible but if we ever get the chance to exhibit please to come down and check it out in the form we intended!
….One thing before you read on though….. Another external stimuli it would be best to avoid would be any information on the project that I may give you…. For that reason, click on the link above or here and experience what’s on offer before you read on…. You wouldn’t want to know the ending to a film you want to see at the cinema would you..?
As mentioned, the final product needs to be immersive and I felt that if I overtly referred to the themes of the pictures, the sound would not be so closely tied to the photo. This may sound counter-intuitive but because the themes require an amount of semantic processing by our brains after viewing, an inevitable delay in reaction (however small) will probably occur. I feel that if I tap into the more primitive parts of the brain by referring to basic visual stimuli instead of the more complex stuff, the audio should require less processing and have a clearer path to action, rather like how instinct works. Instinct can provide a stronger reaction in terms of your body’s current atmosphere/context so I thought this might be the best way to create something more all-encompassing. However, at the end of the day I may as well be a layman in theoretical psychology as it has been years since I studied it so don’t take these theories to be contemporary fact. But if our project does have the intended profound effect on you please do think about how it may have achieved this and let us know your thoughts on how it may have done this. This is an exploratory project after all and maybe any follow-ups could look more deeply into current perceptual theory, depending on this project’s success.
So, with the picture containing the flowers I chose to create sounds for the flowers coming in and out of focus, the dandelions, and the blurred background rather than describe a meadow or collection of plants. The way these sounds weave around is designed to accompany how your eye my explore the photograph. Similarly, with the second picture I chose to create sounds to represent the smooth grey backdrop of the photograph; the gloopy appearance of some of the raindrops, as well as the sheen on them; and the blurred sections. I think that this second photograph doesn’t invite the eye to explore it as much as the first due to the figures (droplets) seeming more randomly placed. In my experience when confronted with a random array of something, the brain doesn’t like to try and piece it together but instead tries to take it all as a whole. So for that reason I randomly spattered varying gloops and their sheens across the backdrop. However, underlying this the patches of differing shade do invite some eye movement so it was this aspect I chose to vary in a narrative manner. In hindsight, the sounds used are like falling rain which would push your brain into processing the semantics, something I didn’t want to do; so I may have to go back and rethink this aspect or just see if this particular picture is less successful than the others. This is all a learning process!
Now you know a bit more about the work maybe take another look/listen and see if you experience it differently. Any comments on your experience would be most welcome!
Ok, I heard you snigger… apparently, this is what the Jacobites used to call William III but Wikipedia tells me that the nursery rhyme wasn’t a reference to this…
Anyway, after a wonderful week in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales with my family I have got straight back to work on this redundancy plan.
One of the important things about having this redundancy plan is that I have devised it to be realistic but also to get everything I want done; it’s no good working yourself too hard and I am already seeing that my productivity has increased very much. I recommend sorting a plan out if you are in a similar situation so please do get in touch if you need advice on that. I’m no expert but it’s working for me and I like to help! It’s far too easy to let your worries and emotions take over when in a bad situation but it doesn’t have to be like that….
Despite the alarm that redundancy can cause I have decided to keep my planned holidays and use them to unwind and think about my situation. A clear head is a fertile ground for great thoughts…. As well as doing a lot of beer testing and chilling out with the family in the Dales, I managed to record a fair bit of the sounds that were surrounding me: Waterfalls, streams, sheep, the ambience of the Dales, a country fair, etc. Some ideas of use have already hit me but I have the sounds now and will be able to use them for anything I please.
The two musical/sound parts of my plan that I am carrying out at the moment are an ‘ambient London’ project (see my last post) which is as yet un-named and a follow-up to my Bedtime Nursery Rhymes CD. At the moment, I have it so that the new BNR will be a sort-of prequel to the first and have taken feedback I have been lucky to gain into account… I’ll be working on the rhymes until mid September and should finish the ambient stuff by the time I go away to Italy for three weeks in August (may need to buy a bigger memory for my Roland R-09HR sound recorder for this one!).
Here is a draft of the second nursery rhyme I have worked on so far. As with the first BNR I have taken aspects and atmospheres from the words of the poem and tried to convey them with sound; some are quite abstract, others more obvious… There are a couple of aspects that I feel need a change or slight diversion but please do let me know what you think, there is no such thing as bad constructive criticism!
Wee Willie Winkie
This week, amongst other things, I started my experiment of using sounds that I find around London to tell a sort of sound-based story…. The first part of this is called ‘A Drive to Hyde Pier’ and uses local traffic sounds, the sound of windy trees in Hyde Park and the sound of a funfair steam organ I recorded whilst on a usual London adventure. My original aim was to make this project calming to dispel the myth of London being an overly harsh and unforgiving place. It can be harsh… but it isn’t all the time… I haven’t started this theme yet but rather I decided to start with something playful; London is definitely playful…
So, noticing that the traffic on my local road in New Cross can sound like waves crashing against the shore, I used the sounds of various cars passing by for waves; the sounds’ origins at first obvious but using your past experience and the perception of combined sound, an audio illusion emerges that your brain is paradoxically aware of. The windy trees provide the foam and spray of the waves bubbling up the shore and the organ sound provides the destination of our little journey which helps to consolidate the illusion, along with the Gull noises. The Gull noises are actually from a sound-library but as you do get Gulls in London I thought this slight cheat wasn’t too offensive…
The sounds weren’t altered by any effects although I did bring out the tree noises more with a compressor. I also used varying degrees of reverb on all layers of waves as well as the other sounds to add to the sense of space. Have a listen to the result below; I hope you like it! I may or may not add more conventional musical sounds at a later date but we’ll see…
I’ll be on holiday next week celebrating Ma’s birthday and collecting ideas so see you in two weeks!
Best tried with headphones…..
Well, here we are. No more news on the redundancy yet but our reps and union are apparently working hard to stop us from getting screwed over… We’ll see!
Anyway, I’m not about to rely on any of this so I’ve started work on my plan to hit the ground running by the end of the year. It will make sure that any plans I am working on or have even been just a basic thought will see the light of day; as I have said before, these plans will at least contribute towards my portfolio and hopefully give me a bit of leverage when bugging/begging companies to let me hang around their offices to learn about their processes/job vacancies. As I mentioned before, sound design is the direction that appeals to me the most right now because of the huge creative scope that can be possible, and for some reason I just like finding/recording sounds….no, I can’t explain it either! There are various types of company that use sound designers but my starting point is going to focus on the computer games industry because the creative possibility there is just huge. Research here is in it’s early days but I’ll let you know how it goes!
OK, the projects that I have given myself to do… As I have said before, they will all focus on sound design to reinforce my main focus. Some are weird, abstract ideas whilst others are more main-stream with varying degrees in-between. Of course, the whole reason I am embarking on this project is because each element of it interests me and excites me to a degree not unlike the build-up to Christmas as a child; well, without all the jumping and shouting anyway… I’m a little more demure these days. But anyway, the general idea is to use sound to influence emotion and image and to gain a portfolio.
The main project of creating this portfolio includes a follow-up to Bedtime Nursery Rhymes, taking into account feedback I’ve received to improve on the original idea; a second follow-up consisting of original ambient music to promote sleep in children; a spin-off of ambient music for children to encourage creative play; short orchestral pieces aimed at conveying emotions/themes common in film; my audio/visual ‘sound art’ project with Lesley Flower; the new look and sound Lunar Rising; an ambient music project using found sound and synth, based around a theme; a continuance of Henry Spencer Project for something a bit more song-oriented and another project based on Bedtime Nursery Rhymes that I wont disclose information on just yet… Quite a lot of work, especially when considering that making the music is actually only a part of what needs to be done!
So, I guess this blog will turn into one of those ‘rise and fall stories’, but hopefully I wont have to fake my death twice like Reginald Perrin (you’ll probably have to be British and over 30… or even 40… to understand that reference!). But actually, if all goes to plan and I don’t become prone to intense idiocy and/or bad luck I’m hoping this will be a ‘rise and rise story’….. Or at least a ‘rise and level out’ story…. Come back next week to see how it starts…. I’m quite interested to see how it begins myself actually!
Yep, that’s right, the credit crunch finally caught up with me… I’m being made redundant in December and as I received this news just a couple of days ago, thinking time and planning have delayed this week’s post… Of course, redundancy is potentially worrying news…. but, although some obvious nerves accompany this, this could be just what I’ve been waiting for…so no, I’m not worried! With the recent near-collapse of Lunar Rising (see last week’s post) this news could spell a rather depressing period for me but this is not so… If any of you have ever worked a job you don’t particularly like (I’m guessing, most of you) you may be able to understand the feeling of release and relief that I felt when I first heard the news; and with that news there could be a redundancy payout which promises to be pretty good after five years of ‘service’. My savings, and the possibility of saving more until December also strengthen this lack of worry…
So, what will I do? Well, I still have a lot of time to think about what next year will hold but various ideas are slowly consolidating themselves. Of course, I need to think about these ideas in greater depth but at the moment redundancy promises to herald in a new era for me where I am focussed more than ever on what I like to do and how I want to spend my life. Like most, my life is not my own; it’s constrained by the need to have a roof over my head, eat food and drink water and I have to do jobs which I don’t like to enable this. However, with redundancy, a bit of money in my pocket and the present reality of fruitless job searching, the time seems right to make a go of my ambitions more seriously. At the moment, my most favourable idea is to get involved in some kind of music/sound-based internship and work a couple of shifts of monotony a week for more food money, whilst setting my sight on sound design. The musical projects I’m running at the moment are far from being able to provide bread money and the projects that are developing out of them will be the same but in the very least they will provide me with a varied CV of which I am proud, and will help me work towards my aim.
This natural punctuation mark has forced me to take stock of my interests and things that I want to progress in. Now seems a time where I must either do or die, so I decided to set each interest/endeavour out and work out the necessary stages and timelines to get them finished and out into the public domain. To my shock there are ten such projects, all interlinked, that I have been working on or are floating around my head; and a proper plan with deadlines etc will make sure that all make it into the realm of reality in time for my pending redundancy. With a proper plan there is always the chance of these ideas being able to make a bit of money but in the meantime, if they are all (or mostly) focussed towards this interest in sound design they will at least put me in a good position to compete for a desirable internship, or even more formalised work. This interest in sound design hasn’t really been forced by myself, it has mainly grown out of my various abstract interests. This means that all the projects I’m involved in are connected with this in some way but like I said, these ideas concerning my future need much refining although the ideas are there and they do actually seem viable. Only time and research will tell, so I could actually be posting a U-turn in a couple of months… but in the meantime I will continue my planning and musical output, and will continue to record my progress and thoughts here as usual… wish me luck!
It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. After something like 3 years half of the members of the band I formed, Lunar Rising, decided to leave recently. They didn’t all go at once but the reason behind it was the same: They decided that work should come first and they couldn’t be sure they could commit in the future if things got more serious.
After the last exodus, when the band pretty much collapsed, I can’t say I was surprised. We have gone through countless musicians in audition and various other band members that generally left because of that same reason. It follows that it’s not so weird some founding members treat their lives in the same way; in any case we all do really, just in different ways.
I mentioned that it’s funny how things turn out, and I say this because I have a growing interest in sound design and regular readers will have read bits and pieces about that. I envisioned a while back how the future of the band may sound and look; I have talked about creating unique shows, and creating atmospheres in a live situation as well as a recorded situation. As you may have read, I have recently got my hands on some new gear which allows me to experiment with these ideas, but I always thought the band wouldn’t be ready to take these ideas on-board for a long while. It’s quite a happy coincidence that this growth in interest has occurred now that I am building the band up again with the other two remaining members. And another happy coincidence in that it means we can sound just as huge without packing a stage out with eight people. The three of us that are left have expressed our dedication to our project and we all now have more control over how it progresses. We do also have a violin player interested in joining us too and things there seem hopeful but unlike before, our new setup will allow us to adapt if history does repeat itself.
So, I have talked about how my ideas are colliding and about the advantages of this new setup but I haven’t actually talked about how this will actually work. With my main interests being in sound design and atmosphere, this will be the core of what I base the band around. Using a laptop computer and my guitar synth, I have a huge range of sounds at my disposal, and these sounds can all be tailored to satisfy an aspect of each song. In the same way as I have created a sound for an aspect of a picture, I will now be able to design a sound based on the sentiment and story of a song. The computer will also give me power to loop phrases I play and sounds I produce but don’t be fooled into thinking that the computer will do all the work: The phrases can be played live and looped to play continuously and then cut out and brought back in as needed. All the while this will free me up to work on producing another sound or phrase or even change instruments… This will require careful planning in terms of timing and how many jobs I give myself to do at any one time but the sense of build-up and going from small sounds to huge layered soundscapes will be a natural by-product of having to do one thing at a time. Of course, this all has to be done under the glare of venue lights on a stage where, if anything can go wrong it will, as the old adage goes. This will mean that I will be forced to concentrate more, to be more prepared and to not drink so much beer… All good things to get used to!
The new sounds will include synth sounds that I have designed for specific purposes but will also include sounds that I have recorded out and about on my handheld recorder (Roland’s R-09HR); this will allow the final product to be cohesive in terms of atmosphere and concept. These sounds can be adapted and/or warped to lend themselves to the particular song in creation depending on how subtle I want their core make-up to be. Also, elements of the sounds may find more aesthetic or functional uses, making them contribute to melodies or rhythms far removed from their intended concept.
Of course, this band won’t be just me; singer, Dominique Allan and drummer Pavel Stanev are still on-board (hopefully along with a new violin player). Being a smaller, more tight-knit unit this means that we can all work on creating the sounds and sections beyond our respective instruments without confusion or over-doing things. Being a fan of Bjork, Dom brings similar ideas to my own to the project and you will know what I mean if you are familiar with Bjork’s work. Pav loves to push the boundaries and experiment; and being a musician that works on feeling rather than notation and dull, well-rehearsed standards he has an ability to transpose his ideas from instrument to instrument.
Before, the previous incarnation of Lunar Rising worked towards making atmospheric music that contained a sense of journey. This will still prevail but now the band will be much more focussed on the end product as our relationships are more fully defined by ambition and the ways we will achieve this are also more fully defined. Of course, who knows what may happen to disrupt this in the future but all I can say is that the intention is now fully lodged in my mind and somehow I will make sure these ideas are made concrete…
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