Monday, 10 August 2015

New Directions

In the past months time has just flown by, hence the lack of posts. I've been doing a lot of teaching (in different forms), as not only a way to earn a living, but also giving me some breathing space to look at ways in which I'm interested in composing and performing music. One of the problems with the system (where I live) is that you have to play concerts to keep your employment status. This sounds great to most artists, however, there is one drawback, to find concerts you 'mostly' have to have a public, in other words the more mainstream the product the more chances you have to get work. If you work in more obscure areas of musical composition then you can indeed find it difficult to find performance possibilities, especially on a permanent basis.

I've always been interested in sound as a form of music, in fact when as a kid the Beatles released the "Yellow Submarine" my favourite bit was the mechanical noise section - listen to the single around 1.27mins -  which I used to put on my turntable non stop. I liked many of those 'bits' in music, I guess sound was 'in' at that period thinking back to it. Another single that had something special was "You Know My Name, Look Up The Number", which was the B-side to "Let it Be". I loved the way the Beatles strung together all these different styles to make a song. The Moog Synthesiser was also becoming popular. My teachers at secondary school often played us Stockhausen, Walter (Wendy) Carlos, Electric Coconut and Tangerine Dream, to name a few. It was a good period for hearing experimental music often sold as commercial pop music(*).

I spend a lot of time working on my computer with Pure Data (see one project here) and SuperCollider. However, I recently I decided that I really like working with a hands on approach, much the same as playing an instrument. And so I invested in a bit of equipment to start trying to develop a live solution to making music which is built of samples, synths, saxophones and noise. I thought I'd post a few of the tracks as a way of getting my ideas out there. Of course one can just sit at home and work on stuff, but I like to get ideas down on my DAW, then post them on my Soundcloud page as a way of seeing what it looks (sounds) like. 

All the work is done with the idea that it can be played live (almost). I set up my material and do as much as possible in one go. This accounts for some out of tune playing (sax), or some odd changes, but that's just the way I'm working at present. I'll clean up the ideas later to try and get melodies in some areas and form also. But at present its spontaneous ideas first, I hope you like them, and of course any comments and criticisms are well appreciated.

Some (all?) of the tracks are little long, so you may wish to skip forwards at points to see where the music is going, but that's what sketches are about, I guess.

"Piano 1" is built using Supercollider. I built a file using three octaves of a piano, edited them and wrote a program to read the files randomly or in a pre determined order.
"Soprano SH 101" refers to the soprano sax (of course), and the SH101 is an old Roland synthesiser. Its a bit broken down now and needs some work done on it, unfortunately its also not midi compatible, which causes a few hiccups when working with other machines. I guess I'll probably have to look into updating to a Novation Bass Station!

"Synth 2a" is another track using the Roland SH 101. To listen to this you may need to plug in some headphones as what sounds like silence has (in fact) a synth line being played and modulated.

"Ades" refers to Thomas Ades, an amazing English composer. This track is made using samples from his work and others from Elliot Carter's works. I patched the whole thing together using an Akai MPC 1000 and my trusty soprano sax. I guess I should get in touch with Mr Ades to see if he's in agreement over my use of his work.

"Trains" (actually "Trains 2") is built from sounds which I used for another sketch mixing train track sounds. On this one I employ an Akai Remix 16 (see picture below) and an Akai MPC 1000. There's also some sounds from Integra Live that I've sampled and fed back into the Sampler.

Lastly here's "Koto". I've been using Koto samples in other pieces - using Pure Data - but this is a mixture of ideas, a bit inspired by a Four Tet recording I heard. I've mixed up samples from a recording of made in Bali and an amazing box set of Koto recordings that I love listening to. Add to that the MPC's ability to make drum patterns (made from different samples), and you get a very 'in your face' piece. It needs a lot of work on it, but I like the idea so much (just a one off take), that I kept it, warts and all. I'll have to refine it a later date.

So there's a few pieces (others can be found on my Soundcloud page). Of course its not swinging jazz, but that's not the idea. I hope that people find them stimulating and fun to listen to, although I'm sure that to some they're just noisy sounds with no direction. As for me I'm just frustrated that I probably won't be able to perform them anywhere, or not as a more long-term project. However, that's not the point, its about making music (and sounds) that I like.

Lastly I thought I'd post a picture (below) of my trusty Akai Remix 16. Many people use these like beat boxes, as they do MPCs also. But these old machines have much more potential for adding colour to performances live, check out the amazing Jan Bang for what can really be done with these. Unfortunately they only have - or mine does - 2GB of RAM memory. You can add more, but finding it is another problem as these things went out of production many years ago. In fact Akai sent me a nice email telling me that it was the old Akai that built these, not them! One of my buttons/pads is broken (#7) which leaves me with a slight handicap. So, if anyone comes across this article that has some spares PLEASE don't hesitate to contact me, I'd be most grateful.

*= All the major (and minor) rock and pop groups had synthesisers in them, experimental sounds were everywhere.

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