Monday, December 24, 2012

Digital E.P.: The Mechanicals

The trilogy of experimental robot music tracks I wrote for Doctor Who: Centurion is available on my bandcamp page. The track listing is as follows:

1. The Mechanicals (Part 1)
2. The Mechanicals (Part 2)
3. Insufficient Data
4. The Mechanicals (Part 2) [End Of The World Mix]

Running time: 21:03

The remix was a last-minute addition that my good friend Jimmy 'Jamz' Aaron and I cooked up over the Mayan Apocalypse (hence the title). It really took the track to another level.

Stay tuned for some track-by-track commentary.

Doctor Who: Centurion

I have some new music featured in Brokensea Audio Productions' latest audio episode of Doctor Who. You can download the episode for free here.

Two pieces were specifically written for scenes in the show. A third grew out of those sessions and was ultimately used, quite effectively I might add, to heighten the impact of key points of the story.

I've prepared an e.p. of these songs. Stay tuned for the details in a separate post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Manitou on DeviantArt

I apologise in advance about the non-audio-related nature of this post. (There's plenty of audio-related stuff on the way, so please bear with me!)

My nature photography is slowly making its way onto my DeviantArt page. I'm sifting through this year's photos and adding prints every few days or so. If pictures of wildlife and nature in general are your thing, then I hope you'll find the images as beautiful as I do.

I've added a widget to the blog (you'll find it on the sidebar) that should load thumbnails of the three most-recent prints. They're available to purchase through DeviantArt in a variety of sizes, or you can download 'desktop wallpapery' versions for free. I welcome comments if you stop by to take a gander :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Digital Album: Thought To Be Extinct

New to my bandcamp page is The Manitou's 2008 album 'Thought To Be Extinct.' I still regard it as some of my strongest material, and am pleased to make it available again. All 13 tracks are streamable for free, and can be purchased either individually or as a complete digital package with PDF booklet: featuring artwork such as that pictured above, the lyrics, and a list of instruments used in the recording.

To coincide with the release, I've uploaded a slideshow I made in 2009 to accompany the song 'Switch On, Switch Off.' It features photos I've taken throughout the 00's, of chemtrails and other aerial phenomena (thanks to my dad for the idea!):

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Manitou on Bandcamp

I now have an account on Bandcamp for The Manitou's music releases. The Let's Build Mecha! e.p. is already available, a bargain at $5 CDN. It comes bundled with the PDF liner notes, and your choice of high-quality format, including FLAC.

I hope to get my Thought To Be Extinct album uploaded in the very near future, once I've finished the booklet and gone over the master recordings. There may be some singles forthcoming even sooner than that. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 1, 2012

New Equipment: Korg Monotribe

End-of-season work has left me with little time for audio projects, or indeed to update this blog. But I expect the trend to change as winter draws closer.

As it was my birthday last month, I used the money I received to buy a new piece of gear for the studio. Thanks go to my brother for bringing this cool device to my attention (and for contributing some cash!): the Korg Monotribe 'Analog Ribbon Station.' It's a compact analog synthesizer module with a ribbon-style controller, sequencer, and some analog drum sounds for good measure.

Having had a bit of a go with it, I'm impressed with the range of possibilities it offers considering the simplicity of its design. I can see it becoming a staple tool for strange noises in my productions. I also like the fact that it has control voltage in-and-outs, which means it will interface with a lot of pre-MIDI equipment. In theory, I could control the tempo of the sequencer with my old Boss DR-220A drum machine, for example (thereby enabling me to enter a precise bpm/speed rather than turn the dial and guesstimate).

The step sequencer, which can control both the drums and the synthesizer, is very intuitive. The ribbon controller is hardly precise, but the ability to control a wide pitch-band (at the flip of a switch) makes it great for improvisation. The nicest thing about it is the sound of the synthesizer itself, thanks to the design of the filter circuit, which is from Korg's legendary MS-20 synthesizer. The MS-20 is long out of production, and sells for upwards of $2000 (10x the price of the Monotribe).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Doctor Who: 6 Billion Deaths of Soka Virashi

More music from the Let's Build Mecha! e.p. appears in the latest episode of Brokensea's Doctor Who: 6 Billion Deaths of Soka Virashi. You'll also hear excerpts of a new piece of music I wrote called The Return, which features at 7:00 (under a scene) and 33:51 as a scene transition. Featured on the track is my new Roland HS-60.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Let's Build Mecha! iTunes/Amazon Release

The Manitou's 'Let's Build Mecha!' e.p. is now available on iTunes in all countries the service currently caters to, which is pretty much everywhere except for a large chunk of the East. If you're not an iTunes aficionado, you can pick it up from Amazon MP3 in their U.S., UK, French, German, or Japanese stores. Unfortunately that's the limit of Amazon's distribution just now (I can't even buy my own songs from them here in Canada!) But hey-ho, that's the way the baked sugary disc disintegrates.

Providing a link to the iTunes release is more complicated: it's different for every country. The best way to find it is to enter 'Let's Build Mecha' in the search box of your iTunes client, or the iTunes LinkMaker.

While you're waiting, why not listen to the title track?

Let's Build Mecha by themanitou
If neither of these options appeals to you, or you don't think my music's worth paying for, Let's Build Mecha! is available for free from my website at a lower bitrate. Regardless of how/where you obtain it, don't forget to grab the (also free) digital booklet which includes the lyrics and artwork.

The rest of my back catalogue will be released via these two stores as and when I can commit the time to preparing them.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Field Recordings: Industrial Junk

A lot of inspiration for the electronic music I make comes from entropy. Specifically, the interaction between nature and man-made objects that have been left to decay, such as wrecked cars and industrial equipment. For example, several years ago I discovered some massive industrial 'Maloney transformers,' in a thicket of alders. I used them in the artwork for my album 'Circuit Zero':

Over the years I've collected field recordings of industrial junk being struck, scraped, kicked, etc... for use in my music. Unfortunately the Maloney transformers have long-since been scrapped, but they live on in photographs and some VHS-C footage.

I live in an area which used to be a gold-mining town, so it's rich with old relics lurking in the woods if you know where to look. There are also countless abandoned cars and pickup trucks that have been vandalised, crushed, or reduced to burnt-out shells.

Mid-June I discovered a long-abandoned industrial site. Not only was it littered with a collection of wrecked cars, but also remnants of industrial equipment of unknown purpose, concrete footings, and a shipping-container that had once been an operations shack. The site has yielded some interesting photographs and film, and a plethora of great sounds as well.

These striking objects appear to be furnace boxes. The bottom halves are lined with firebrick. The upper halves must have been used to heat some kind of liquid. Note the white material peeling away from the exterior: I'm fairly sure it's asbestos, so I didn't want to get too close to these things! The white marks on the lower-halves are paintball splatters.

This contraption is lying sideways. Inside is a cylindrical sieve-like contrivance, and just out of shot on the left is a large sprocket and chain assembly for rotating the cylinder. As you can see there are various openings through which reverb can be recorded. I expect I'll spend more time with this on future visits.

One of at least ten gutted cars dotted about the property. The charred remnants of anything flammable, including batteries, were found strewn about. These wrecks yield great sounds as well. The bonnet of this one still opens and closes (if not to factory spec!), and things like filler caps, leaf springs, loose bits of metal, etc... are always worth investigating. In the background you can see part of the truck container.

 Here's the interior of the container. Great reverb possibilities here too.

This is some kind of loading bay, set into the hillside. The opening in the top is at ground level beside a giant pile of white clay-like soil. It's wide enough to park a truck inside which I presume would have been loaded from the top. The alcove at the back is tall enough to stand up in, and produces nice shallow echoes. The sound varies depending where you stand within the structure. Hand-claps sound amazing. Lots of possibilities for this as well!

I have to wonder if this hopper used to stand on top of the loading bay. It's hollow and open at the wide end. In the lip of the part that touches the ground, one of the i-beams is partly severed at both ends. When struck, it produces a wonderful metallic ringing sound which reverberates inside the space.

I've shot some very basic HD footage here, which I hope to compile into a promo video for an upcoming single. More on that as things develop.

Monday, June 18, 2012

New Equipment: Roland HS-60

The Roland HS-60 is an analogue synthesizer with digitally-controlled oscillators (meaning they aren't prone to drifting out of tune like fully analogue oscillators have been known to). In effect, this is the same synthesizer as the Juno 106 (in Japan this model was marketed as the Juno 106S), but with built-in stereo speakers and an amplifier to drive them

This example was rescued from a thrift store, and works surprisingly well considering it was made in 1984 and doesn't appear to have ever been serviced. All six voices (which equate to the number of notes you can play at once) work, and the patch storage memory is intact. Two sliders were bent and the cap was missing from one, some lint and other gunge had built-up inside the end-cheeks, and there was some goo resembling congealed cola on the casing here and there. All this cleaned up nicely.

There's still an issue with the wiring inside: one of the connectors refuses to remain seated, and it affects the speakers and outputs. For now I have mono output, so I can't make full use of the chorus effect (which is stereo). Also, the Decay slider in the ADSR envelope is only 50% functional.

I've already made use of it on a track. There'll be more about that later in the week. For those interested in a look at the maintenance work, you can find the pictures and write-up on my website: (Zone 2, in the 'Studio' section), or follow this direct link.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cover song: My Brother's Time

I finished something? Wonders will never cease. This project was started January 31st and completed May 30th, but it's not like I worked on it full-time over the four-month period. It was done in fits and starts and sometimes languished for weeks at a time. But I'm very pleased with the end result. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at what went into it.

When I learned there was to be a fan tribute to Gary Numan's 1981 album 'Dance,' compiled for the website, I thought it would be great to participate. The entire album, including b-sides and demos, would be recreated by fans from around the globe. I decided early on that the song 'My Brother's Time' inspired me the most to create a cover version (although my favourite from the album is actually 'A Subway Called You').

For those of you who haven't heard it, here's Gary Numan's original:

And here's my version, The Manitou featuring Jimmy Aaron:

My Brother's Time by themanitou

After formulating some ideas, I started recording the various parts as MIDI data. This was initially linked to the EastWest Orchestra plugin's Steinway piano, and Shortcircuit sampler loaded with a music box sample. The concept was to replace the piano and music box by degrees using custom-made synthesizer sounds. The distinctive melody on the chorus was added right away. This, like most of the other synthesized sounds, was realised on the Novation K-Station.

Percussion elements were also added early on. I decided on a bass drum and snare combo I came up with for my (as yet unreleased) soundtrack project. The bass drum came from my Alesis SR-16 drum machine, and the snare from my Yamaha MR-10 rhythm box. All percussion was loaded into instances of Shortcircuit so I could create a complete drum track for the song within the Sonar workstation software. Ride and crash cymbals and some massive tom-toms also came from the SR-16.

In Numan's original, there are percussive sounds which mimic the ticking of a clock. I believe they were produced by recording claves through an effects pedal. I opted to keep the clock motif but use sounds from a real clock, in this case an all-metal alarm clock I recently acquired (I used to dismantle them when I was a kid!) Another percussion element, which punctuates the breaks between vocals, is actually the sound of ice shattering. As a bonus it happened to sound clock-like.

Again dipping into my recent soundtrack experience, I called upon an effect I'm fond of, which involves running an electric guitar through the Roland SP-404's 'lo-fi' effect. This effect mimics lowering the audio bitrate. If you've ever heard a really badly-encoded mp3 you'll know what that's all about. For the layman: high quality digital audio is generally recorded at 24- or 16-bit. Old Atari game systems etc... used 8-bit audio, and a fair few of us 'children of the 80s' understandably have a penchant for that kind of sound, hence the invention of the 'lo-fi' effect. You can dial in as much lo-fi as you want until all you hear is bubbly white noise. Needless to say, I go for somewhere about middle. The result is a strange, buzzy, almost chime-like sound somewhat like a grandfather clock chiming in a rusty shed.

Next to go on was a simple square-wave lead made on the Yamaha CS01 synthesizer. I played a solo of my own devising in place of the saxophone which plays out the original song. The solo proved problematic when interacting with other elements: it clashed with some notes I came up with to accompany the original piano parts. I decided to leave the solo intact and remove a few of the offending notes from the accompaniment. Creating an almost atonal synthesizer patch also helped the sounds 'play nice' with each other, as much as that sounds counter-intuitive.

A descending melody, played on Crumar Performer string synthesizer, was initially going to accompany the choruses. They were busy enough as they were, so I saved the strings to follow the solo which ends the original version. Once the tom-toms were added, it quickly built up to a powerful send off for the song.

Next was bass guitar. The original features the inimitable talents of the late Mick Karn on fretless bass. The only part of his performance I hinted at was a piece of melody on the chorus, played on synthesizer. Aside from a couple of notes during the verses, my bass parts were saved for the outro. I wanted a little more bottom end without competing too much with the piano. Throughout the track I left the piano bass notes in. The music box is also still present where I thought it sounded good.

Early on, I envisioned my friend Jimmy Aaron singing harmony with his distinctive voice on the chorus. I asked him if he was up for it and he said he'd give it a go. Jimmy is one for experimenting with vocal ideas and improvising. Not only did he sing on the chorus for me, but he came up with a simply incredible vocal track for the outro as well. My intention was to leave that part instrumental, but after adding the vocals it didn't sound the same without them. We also toyed with the idea of singing 'aahs' to accompany the solo, but decided against it in the end.

In Jimmy's words: "I'm glad you liked that outro idea, I like it too! :-)) Those bells and the word innocence go so good together. And then 'what's done is done,' a reminder it's the end of the song..." A little glimpse into his thought process when choosing the lyrics. Having worked on a track together in the past, I know my voice compliments Jimmy's best if I sing low. But when it came to following his melody, I realised I couldn't quite hit the low notes if I stayed in key with the first line. I toyed with the idea of singing higher and pitch-shifting the result, and even leaving the first line out altogether, before coming up with a vocal melody I could manage while staying in the lower register. Usually my vocals require a lot of editing: I choose the best parts from the best takes. In this case, the two takes you hear on the outro are unedited.

Rather than follow Numan's original vocal melody for the verses, I decided to wing it. The odd line came out much the same, simply from being ingrained in my memory, but the bulk of it is my own spin on the words. The line that proved trickiest was the first line of verse 2. No matter how you look at it on the lyric sheet, it doesn't fit the music! My vocals are far from perfect but I'm happy with the overall result.

I'm still waiting to hear whether this will be included on the compilation, but as soon as I know, I'll post the details here. Until then, enjoy the song. If you click through to the Soundcloud page, you can download the high-quality mp3 (it's free!) and also check out two remixes I did last year. One is another Gary Numan song, the other by John Foxx - two artists who've been highly influential to me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Doctor Who: Whisper in the Silence

Long time no see. I've been taking time out to deal with some personal issues, and to improve my photography skills. I've also made some progress with the sequel to The Crystal Goblin, and expect to have the first draft finished within the week.

Image courtesy of Brokensea Audio Productions.

Some music from my Let's Build Mecha e.p. from 2010 appears in Brokensea's latest episode of Doctor Who: Whisper in the Silence. The episode is dedicated to a good friend of mine who passed away a few weeks ago, Jay Ellington Lee. Jay was a true inspiration and a warm and humourous soul. I'm very proud to be a part of this episode and to pay tribute to Jay's memory in this manner.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Gentle Sound of Diesel Engines

I was shocked to realise I haven't made any field recordings since late November. But given that December and January are the coldest, meanest months of the year in this part of the world, it stands to reason that I'd want to shut myself away in the studio and not think about the outside world until said months have shoved off. As today was 8 degrees C, and promised a wealth of dripping sounds, I took my recorder with me on my walk.

I captured the sound of vehicles thundering across Johnston Bridge, which has a steel grid deck, and managed to capture the sound of the river lapping at ice on the pylon during a lull in traffic. I also captured a trio of idling diesel locomotives in the train yard. I'd heard them during the darker months and regretted not having a recording device at hand. I chanced to have the path to myself for ten minutes, with very little breeze or traffic, so the recordings turned out great. I've uploaded two of them to my account on, free to listen to or use however you wish.

Standing there recording locomotives through the chain-link fence, I got to pondering. Surely it must cost a lot in fuel to have these massive engines idling all day long (and possibly all night), not to mention the carbon emissions and noise pollution. They sit there chugging and hissing every day, and I haven't seen them moving for a while. Perhaps some learned reader can enlighten me as to why they aren't just fired up when needed rather than left running all hours of the workday.

In other news, I've mixed and mastered all the cues and sound effects for my soundtrack project. I'll be listening to them throughout the week for any last-minute changes and then they're done. What began as a side project turned into an all-consuming job. I'm immensely proud of the (almost) finished product, though. I challenged myself, achieved what I set out to do artistically, and the producer of the audio drama is delighted with my work. An extensive series of 'making of' essays will ensue once the show is released. The soundtrack itself will also be freely available, and interviews with cast and crew are also planned.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Soundtrack Update

I can report that I have all the cues roughed out for my soundtrack project. 75% of them just require final mixing, while the remainder need some extra elements and/or structure. I'll be finishing up over the next few weeks.

As that tapers off I'll be doing some pre-production work on Tales Episode 1, with the aim of mixing it in March. By then I should also have the rest of the scripts ready and will announce the casting call for episodes 4 & 5.