Saturday, December 26, 2015

Digital EP: Atmospheres Part I

For some time now I've wanted to produce an album of ambient sound collages. Atmospheres Part I is the first step towards that goal. The soundscapes presented here are built from my ever-growing collection of field recordings, spiced up with minimal synthesizer sequences, circuit-bent sounds, and the occasional home-built instrument.

It's released under a Creative Commons license. The music may be used in non-commercial productions royalty free, on the condition that I'm credited.


As usual, here is some track-by-track commentary:

1. Night Of The Cacti - In 2010 I was fortunate to visit a correspondent of mine, Jay Ellington Lee, at his home on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. Sadly, Jay passed away the following year. Among other things he was a composer for film, radio, and television, had a hand in designing the E-Mu modular synthesizer, and was an all-round creative boffin. I shall forever be grateful for his friendship, and the opportunity to see some of the Sonora Desert. This soundscape is based on recordings I made at his home, and is an attempt to capture my impressions of the desert, which is more alive than one might first imagine.

One evening Jay dug out some LED light boxes, which led to the both of us venturing out into the night to light and photograph cacti. Despite only having a digital point-and-shoot camera with me on the trip, I was pleased with the eerie and surreal results. I had those photographs in mind when I set about recording this track.


2. Down In The Data Mines - 'Data mining' seems to be the gold rush of the new millenium, with companies like G**gle and FaceB**k collecting and storing data left, right, and centre. This track looks at the concept from the point of view of the virtual robots whizzing around the ethernet, doing the actual 'digging'. A lot of circuit-bent sounds, and a fridge, went into this one.

3. A Night In The Big Room - A restless night in an old asphalt testing lab in the industrial zone, marked by strange sounds and waking dreams, was the inspiration. Recordings from the actual location were used, along with some stand-ins and a few tape experiments to exaggerate the experience.


4. Landwhales - A synthesizer sequence made with MS-20 Mini and the SQ-1 sequencer, rejected from an early version of 'Cacti', became the basis for this track.

5. Well Of Souls - The bulk of this track consists of sounds made by a faulty toilet flusher valve. It also features an out-of-tune piano a kind lady by the name of Cleo allowed me to sample. Incidentally, her wheezing dog makes an appearance on 'Landwhales.'


Saturday, December 12, 2015

New Track - Trans Earache Express

I spent a couple of days this week editing the backlog of train recordings I captured over the course of the year. This inspired me to do something creative with them, so I called upon the Korg Monotribe to create a sequence (recorded live) to accompany a particularly striking recording made from beside the train tracks in August. Everything came together quickly over two recording sessions, and here is the result: Trans Earache Express (a nod to Kraftwerk, in case you're wondering!).


Other instruments used on this track include Korg MS-20 Mini, Roland HS-60, Freebird VST, and Shortcircuit sampler.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

ADAM Audio Soundtrack Competition

Image (c) Thomas Easton.

ADAM Audio are running a competition until the end of the month, the details of which can be found here. They've asked participants to create a 30-second piece of music to match one of five provided images, including the one above, titled 'moon,' which has served as the basis for my entry, 'Nightrunner.'

To me, the image speaks of a journey. I could've interpreted it any number of ways, but as I'm in an electro mood at present, I decided to go with an 80's-inspired synthesizer piece, creating literal references to visual cues along the way: travel, clouds, the awe-inspiring image of the moon, the twinkling of stars.

Instruments called upon for this project, recorded in an evening, mixed in another, were Novation K-Station, Korg MS-20 Mini, Tal U-No-LX, Orchestra Silver, a few staple drum machine samples, and a field recording.

I don't expect to win the competition with this by any means. But as an exercise in creating music based on an image, it was a lot of fun.When time allows I intend to work it into a full-length track.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Video: Microbes

An experiment to test some new hardware and software has yielded this cheerful little ditty about bacteria. I plan on releasing it as part of a three-track e.p. in the near future. I'd like to point out that it will not be on the forthcoming The Manitou album - that is an entirely different affair and will be far more accessible!

Featured gizmos include the Korg SQ-1 sequencer controlling the MS-20 (wobbly 'bassline,' panned left, and pink noise 'footsteps', panned center), the iVCS3 soft synth (bubbly swamp noises, panned center) Korg Monotribe (space drum-thing sequence, panned right), and Curtis for iPad granular synthesizer (Pterodactyl sounds). Some samples from an old educational film and a varied selection of my personal field recordings round it out. If you listen carefully you can hear one of the pebble-drop sounds I recorded at the City Pit, as described in this post.



Sunday, June 21, 2015

New Project: The Culgorney Devil Audio Drama

You may wonder why things have been a little quiet around here of late. Aside from the obvious distractions of work and life, I've been hard at work on pre-production for a one-off audio drama project called The Culgorney Devil And Its Pursuer (based on my short story of the same name). The script dates back to 2011, but some unforeseen events saw that I never finished it. It seemed like the right time to revisit it, so I cleaned it up and submitted it to Brokensea Audio Productions, who will be handling the distribution. Assuming all goes to plan, it will go live as part of their Halloween season.

In the interim I've been gathering sound effects and working on ideas for incidental music. It's now reached the casting stage, and I expect to have all the lines in by the end of July. Hopefully the music will also be close to ready by then.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Field Recordings: City Junkyard Part 2

In May I returned to the junkyard behind the city gravel pit and made some more recordings. The huge petrol tanks I spoke of in my previous post weren't nearly as overgrown and I was able to investigate them further.

The petrol tanks, from the side.
In one end of the larger tank, I discovered a perforation that allowed me to slip the Zoom H1 digital recorder inside. The end of the tank being essentially a ten-foot sheet of metal, simply rapping on it with my knuckle was enough to set off an immense reverberation within. The microphones were able to capture the sound far more readily through the perforation. It also had the effect of filtering out some of the constant noise from the MDF plant. The plentiful birdsong, on the other hand, was accentuated.

Tech notes: upon reviewing my recordings, there was an exceptional amount of low frequency rumble from this tank. It was easily scrubbed by applying a High-Pass Filter at 129Hz. I kept some alternate takes with the HPF set at 96Hz, which sound much bigger but not as clean. A lot of the MDF plant's shenanigans is in that very low band.

The larger tank, you can just see the perforation in the shadow to the left.
By climbing on top of the 'smaller' tank I discovered an open hatch. The cover of this was still attached, and could be prised up slightly in order to clash against the lip and create more interesting reverberations. I was able to lower the Zoom right into the tank in this case. I did this free-hand at first, but quickly attached a strap in case of droppage. I wouldn't have been able to retrieve it if I'd let go!

The hatch. Apologies for the cropping - I was using my telephoto lens.
In the bottom of the tank is about a foot of liquid - I hesitate to call it water - organic matter that's fallen in, decayed and mixed with rainwater and whatever chemical residues remain from its petrol-holding days. Regardless, it was perfect for dropping small pebbles into and recording the results. I even recorded a couple of 'aaahs' into the bargain.

Tech notes: these recordings required some subtle noise-reduction as well as the HPF treatment. I found that the pebble drops leaned towards the higher end of the audio spectrum, so weren't negatively affected as much by the HPF as the other sounds.

The pipes. Most are metal, but you can see a couple of plastic/polymer ones in the upper left.
I also revisited the large pipes I recorded last time around. This time I placed the recorder inside and clapped my hands into them. It creates a much louder percussion and echo than my metal striker. I had better results if my hands were also inside the pipe.

The pipes are approx 18" in diameter, with walls an inch thick.
Tech notes: I recorded claps from both ends of the pipe: the one with the Zoom inside, and from the opposite. Those from the opposite end turned out more interesting. The plastic pipe had a richer sound, while the metal one had a more complex echo. Just the sound of my voice, annotating my recordings, came out sounding all 'muzzy' from the peculiar acoustic properties of the pipe interior. Some of it was low-frequency rumble, but I can't be sure how much was to do with the Zoom sitting in the pipe without something to dampen the vibration. These recordings all clipped, despite turning down the recording level, but a little cheating in post-production did wonders.

The view down one of the plastic pipes. Overexposed to show the interior walls.
A fun day out if ever there was one. No doubt you'll be hearing these sounds in future productions!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Digital Single: There To Remind Me by Disco Antenna

As part of the promo campaign for Disco Antenna's Side A e.p., I've prepared two edits of the second track, There To Remind Me. The full 9-minute epic has been whittled down to 5:08 for the 7 Inch Version, and 6:44 for the 10 Inch. In case you're wondering, these measurements refer to the width of the vinyl record that singles were pressed on back in disco's heyday. I'm not certain that our "7 Inch Version" would actually fit the format, but as it's being released digitally I don't see that it matters.

We're doing something a little different with this release. It's going to be a free download with a creative commons By-Attribution license. This means it's 100% podsafe: you can use it in your podcast, youtube video, or any other non-commercial production. All we ask in return is that you acknowledge Disco Antenna as the author somewhere in your project.

Bandcamp Player:

1. There To Remind Me (7 Inch Version). This is a re-creation of the original 7 Inch Version we made way back in 2010, which was an attempt to pare the track down to its essence and make it as brief as possible. I intentionally stripped some instruments and vocals from the mix, and re-sequenced the 'breakdown' to preserve the song's momentum in the shorter format.



2. There To Remind Me (10 Inch Version). This is an edit based on the 'album version,' with the additional instruments and vocal samples left intact. Something for our listeners who may not have nine minutes to devote to the 12 Inch.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Digital EP: Side A by Disco Antenna

The Disco Antenna project is a collaboration with my friend Jimmy Aaron that's been in the works since 2009. If you've been following this blog you'll have heard Jimmy’s distinctive vocal contributions to my Gary Numan cover songs, and his programming talents on a remix of The Mechanicals. For this project we decided to choose a proper name for ourselves. This is our debut e.p., 'Side A,' released on New Year's Day 2015. It's a tribute to the disco epics of the past, drawing inspiration from the earliest proto-disco to late 80's electro and the dawn of digital sampling. As the title suggests, it represents the first 'side' of an eventual full album.

Bandcamp Player:

1. Love Is Never Cold. When I revisited There To Remind Me (track 2) to prep it for release, I added an arpeggio that we both thought could be expanded upon. I combined it with elements from the other two songs, added some new strings and percussion and this is the result. It was by far the quickest and easiest track we've done: three days to flesh out the basics, two more days to add Jimmy's vocals and finishing touches. By comparison, tracks 2 & 3 are two of the most labour-intensive songs I've ever worked on. I liken Love Is Never Cold to an overture. Its laid-back groove is a perfect intro to the set.



2. There To Remind Me. This is the first Disco Antenna track Jimmy and I worked on. We even released an early version half-heartedly back in 2010. It began with a vocal demo Jimmy had made, with a backing track created in Synapse Orion. I thought the song had potential, and my initial intention was to polish up the production and add a few ideas that had jumped out at me. It quickly ballooned into a longer and more complex creature. I picked-and-chose from Jimmy’s original synth parts, and added all the disco clich├ęs I could think of. Perhaps I pushed the limits of good taste, but it was all done with sincerity. 

I relied heavily on Orchestra Silver for the strings. It samples real orchestral instruments and allows you to play them via MIDI. I favour layering at least two stringed instruments per patch, such as a viola and violin or violin and cello combo. On this track I had some fun with the pitch wheel to give the violin stabs a more human touch. On the outro I used some synthesized strings from the Yamaha TG-33.

Jimmy's drums, a kit based on the Roland TR-505, were augmented with some percussion from TR-707 and Alesis SR-16. The vocal samples were manipulated with the Akai S1000 (before it was retired from the studio). Bass guitar (both played and sampled), Lounge Lizard electric piano, and Novation K-Station round the track out.


3. I Need You. This started with a complete backing track, carefully crafted by Jimmy in Orion and inspired by Giorgio Moroder’s distinct brand of arpeggio-laden synth programming. It took me to another dimension when I started layering my own parts over the top. I really felt like I was tapping into something magical. Because I was working to a rigid backing track you may find the song-structure a little unconventional. It threw me quite a few surprises. We recorded the bulk of this one circa 2013, then it lay dormant until I finished my album Radioatomic.

Orchestra Silver was again called upon for string duty. By this time I had acquired the Roland HS-60, so a lot of the synth parts were done with that. The electric piano was recorded hastily using an old stand-by patch I created on the K-Station, with the view that I'd redo it later with Lounge Lizard. But we both liked it so much that I kept it in. A funky little VST called Ticky Clav was used for the clavinet parts. Sampling duty was taken over by Shortcircuit Sampler. Additional percussion came once again from the Alesis SR-16,
and a tambourine recorded in-studio.

Audio: (Soon!)

4. Side A (Suite) [bonus track] is a continuous-mix of all three tracks. Even though the tracks are designed to blend seamlessly, not every media player takes this into account, so we decided to provide this bonus track so the listener can hear the e.p. as intended.

Audio: (Soon!)

I asked Jimmy if he had anything to contribute to this post, and he provided this short-but-sweet message for our listeners:

"Enjoy the beat, enjoy the music! May it bring back fond memories, and let you make new ones, with 'Disco Antenna'. XOXOXO."

Stay tuned for more video and mixes from us in coming weeks!