1. A new track: “Ocean Equation”

    Posted January 12, 2018 in music  |  1 Comment so far

    I’ve started making music again in the last couple of months.

    Usually I head into the realm of soundscapes, ambient and experimental music, as it’s typically late at night when I’m doing this stuff and I’m getting into a soporific frame of mind.

    But with this track I decided to revisit a niche of music which used to be, and still is, a strong passion of mine: extremely fast and futuristic electro.

    My reference points for this style are, obviously, Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, Detrechno and Ultradyne, but it goes back to “Cosmic Raindance” by Cybotron, and there’s a long historical thread of DJs pitching up traditional electro records or even playing them on 45rpm. Ghetto-tech is obviously a part of this strand but while I got tired of its thematic tropes some time ago I’m still drawn to the disorienting complexity that can emerge from interesting electro tracks at these high speeds.


  2. The Man Who Forgot He Was A Rap Legend

    Posted October 18, 2017 in ephemera, music  |  No Comments so far

    This article about T La Rock (in GQ, natch) is worth a read.

    T La Rock was attacked on the street in 1994, leaving him with a severe brain injury and near-total memory loss. He had to rebuild an identity for himself in a convalescent home in Coney Island, while at the same time finding out about his past.

    I love how the piece interweaves three key periods in T’s life: his involvement in the explosive dawning of hip hop, the time of his assault, and his rebirth in the Coney Island convalescent home.

    [His mother] brought in a boom box so T could listen to records, including his own music. When T first heard those songs again, it felt like a discovery. “You know what?” he thought. “This is pretty good!” But then he had the strange sensation of hearing himself but not knowing the song. It sounded like someone else was using his voice.

    Read it on GQ.com

     


  3. “I wanted to do something that was not melodic”

    Posted February 16, 2015 in music  |  No Comments so far

    The Quietus have published a brilliant interview with Hank Shocklee of the Bomb Squad.

    It’s brilliant because it goes a bit deeper than you might expect into Shocklee’s philosophy of sound, which was—and still is—ambitious, avant-garde and futuristic.

    And keep in mind that none of these [Public Enemy] records have got reverb. I’m not using reverb on any of these records. Because reverb softens the sound. And that’s not Public Enemy’s sound. Public Enemy has to be brimstone and fire. Thunder and lightning. It can’t be soft and warm and familiar. Otherwise it won’t create agitation. So with each sample I was pulling up the high frequencies, in order to pull up, not just the snare of the guitar or whatever, but also pulling up the ambience, and even the imperfections in the vinyl itself. So that’s why people started talking about “noise”.

    As a kid I was really into Public Enemy. You can imagine me as a more boring, Home Counties version of John Connor from Terminator 2, in a PE t-shirt, doing my paper round every day while deafening myself with Fear of a Black Planet.

    Later on I got into My Bloody Valentine as well, thinking of myself as some sort of eclectic connoisseur, but as this interview makes clear, there was always much more in common between MBV and Public Enemy than early-1990s indie tribalism would have dared acknowledge.

    One of the records I thought was really cool recently was the My Bloody Valentine record. Dope. It stayed true to what it was.

    I always had a lot of respect for Shocklee but that interview made me have even more.


  4. Philip Sherburne and the Resurgent Sound of the Loon

    Posted January 28, 2015 in music  |  No Comments so far

    Pitchfork has a great piece up in which Philip Sherburne explores the origins of the “Loon” sound, most famously used on 808 State’s “Pacific State” and Sueño Latino’s eponymous house classic.

    I’m approaching 40 so obviously didn’t realise that the “Loon” is making a comeback, having appeared on new tracks by Nicki Minaj and Rustie. If so it’s nice to hear. And it’s nice to read such an extensive investigation into a single sound.

    The article made me wonder, though: if, as Wikipedia claimed, a macaque can own the copyright to a picture it took, should the loon whose utterance was immortalised be afforded the same privilege?

    (via Kent Williams)


  5. “I thought Jim Jarmusch was going to walk in and shout, ‘Cut!'”

    Posted December 28, 2014 in music  |  No Comments so far

    I was sad to hear on Christmas Day that Matt Cogger, aka Neuropolitique, had passed away from cancer. He was a Brit who was closely involved in the first wave of Detroit techno, even living and working in the city for a while, but his own music retained a unique, distinctive personality. His work on Irdial in particular was outstanding.

    Over at Bleep43, this extended anecdote from Matt about an incident while he was working for Transmat in Detroit is an entertaining read.

    And here’s one of Matt’s tracks from 1993:


  6. Jo Johnson writes about her album “Weaving”

    Posted December 22, 2014 in music  |  No Comments so far

    If you’re into electronic or ambient music in any way whatsoever, you should pick up a copy of Jo Johnson’s outstanding album “Weaving”. I’m lucky enough to count Jo as a friend, but if that makes you question my impartiality just read this review over at Pitchfork for corroboration.

    Getting you to buy Weaving isn’t really the main point of this post, though. Instead I wanted to share this piece that Jo wrote about the album’s genesis.

    “Weaving” started out as a working track title. It originally described the way two arpeggios interplay but it took on more meaning over time and stuck. The word isn’t exactly cool or poetic but for me, now, “weaving” evokes a legacy of women’s work, art and activism, and conjures up a scrapbook of extraordinary images: women working together at colossal machines in a Lancashire cotton mill in the 19th century; Dora Thewlis, the young mill worker and suffragette, who was famously photographed being arrested after breaking into the Houses of Parliament – one of many working class women who nurtured the early suffrage and the labour movements; the art of Bauhaus weavers like Gunta Stolzl and Anni Albers, and the stunning photos of Michiko Yamawaki and Leonore Tawney at their looms, looking like they’re controlling some kind of retro-futurist synthesiser.

    This is not your typical techno-utopian ambient fare. Buy it here.


  7. A track I made called “Lake Manitou”

    Posted December 20, 2014 in music  |  No Comments so far

    Here’s another track I made recently, called Lake Manitou. I’ve been told it sounds like a cross between Bobby Konders and the Aphex Twin. Worse things could have been said.

    I thought I’d write about the origins of this track, for my own benefit, and because I think electronic musicians should talk more about their creative process and less about technology and gadgets. Be warned: you almost certainly have better things to do than to read the next 700 words.

    “Lake Manitou” started life on a Sunday evening in late October. I was playing around with some new melodies but the process was closer to musical doodling than to serious or even semi-serious composition. A pentatonic scale stopped everything sounding like a mess, but even still the different melodies just weren’t connecting, they sounded like they came from different pieces of music. This doodle, I felt, would go no further than the margin of my metaphorical notebook.

    Later on I isolated each of the melodies, wondering if any might be spared oblivion before I moved the whole thing to the trash. Most were forgettable and insipid but one stood out, a two-bar descending riff that had a lot more character than anything else in the doodle. That riff ended up becoming the backbone of Lake Manitou.

    The riff’s journey from its doodle origins to Lake Manitou was not a straightforward one, however. At first it was meant to be a background part of a faster electro track, which was what the original doodle had sounded like. But I couldn’t really come up with an idea for what that track would do, or for other sounds that might complement the two-bar descending riff. I had reached a creative impasse.

    A week later, while walking through Bermondsey to a friend’s housewarming party, the riff was playing in my head. It suddenly struck me that it should be part of a much slower house- or disco-oriented track, and that, instead of being in the background, it should take centre stage. I thought about how it might sound: dreamy, languid, tropical, subtly euphoric. I thought about post-disco tracks like “Adventures in Success“, about “Sweet Harmony” by The Beloved. It was a big change in direction from the uptempo electro track I’d been planning, and from anything else I’d done before. But the more I thought about this new track, the more determined I became to make it.

    When I sat down to work on it, most pieces fell into place quite neatly. Slowing it down, backing up the main melody with some warm chords, adding some space to the sound with delay and reverb: these things didn’t take long and I was happy with the results. The choral pad sound was a challenge, however. I’ve often tried to use a sound like that in a track—Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity” being a kind of exemplar for me—but always got it wrong. Would Lake Manitou be undone by yet another botched choir pad? Trying the preset choir sounds on various synths just made me even more downhearted. In the end I spent about an hour making that sound, using a combination of synth pads, reverb, filter and actual samples of a choir.

    With everything in place the next job was to arrange the track. Arrangement is stressful. Sometimes you uncover major problems with your composition, with everything else sounding awful when the one strong element is taken away. Sometimes your mistake is to reveal the key idea too early, or too late. Lake Manitou ended up being quite hard to arrange, going through two major iterations over several days before it was eventually finished.

    One thing that might be worth mentioning is the fade out. I always like it when bands start to do different things while a track is fading out. You can hear that on happen on some Parliament songs. It leaves you wondering what else the band went on to do after you left the room. In Lake Manitou there’s a subtle nod to that gimmick, when the flute changes tack right at the end and starts jamming along with the main melody. I like the idea that the flautist was just embarking on an epic, self-indulgent jam session which the producer had to kill before it all went a bit Jethro Tull.

    Anyway, that’s the origin story of Lake Manitou. I’m not going to write stuff like this about every track I make, you’ll be pleased to hear, but if you make music yourself I’d be interested in reading similar notes about your own creative process. It’s a lot more interesting to me than gadgets and VSTs at any rate.

    (Oh yes, I nearly forgot: the title is a reference to an internet thing)


  8. Getting back into making music

    Posted December 13, 2014 in music  |  No Comments so far

    If you read this blog or follow me on Twitter you might have noticed me making a lot of music recently.

    And if you’ve known me for a long time, you’ll know this is less of a recently discovered hobby than a case of normal service being resumed.

    I’ve been making electronic music for a long time, since I booted up NoiseTracker on my Amiga as a precocious 16-year-old, and it used to be a major part of my life until the twin pressures of work and parenthood conspired to crowd out almost everything else.

    My recent resurgence in music-making motivation dates back to March this year when, after leaving my job at Tobias & Tobias, I was presented with an an extremely generous leaving gift—a Maschine Mikro. According to Chris Tobias, the idea was that it would get me composing music again, and on that score it was a raging success. Since then I’ve recorded around 10 tracks which I’m reasonably happy with, along with lots of throwaway experiments that are best left gathering digital dust on my hard drive. And it’s been really good fun: in fact I’ve been quite surprised to find how much I enjoy it.

    I always did enjoy making music, of course, so why am I surprised to find that I enjoy it now?

    One possible reason for this is that, these days, I’m approaching music from a different direction than in the past. I don’t really think about musical genres or styles or “playability”—the degree to which a DJ might want to use your music in a performance—as much as I used to. In the past I thought too much about things like that, about how closely the music I was making adhered to a specific genre’s set of rules, or how it would sound on a club system. That would often get in the way of enjoying the creative act in its own right.

    Sometimes I was able to step away from that production-line mentality, and it always felt liberating and fun to do so. But more often than not I would slip back into it, laboriously building tracks up from genre-friendly templates and rejecting anything that took me too far from the beaten path.

    Today, I have no ambitions to release music or play it in nightclubs, and am not making it for any other purpose than my own enjoyment. That’s why I’m enjoying it a lot more. And it’s probably the reason why the new music I’m making seems to be a lot better than the music I made in the past. It’s more like play than work—the way it should be.


  9. A track I made called “Birthday”

    Posted September 22, 2014 in music  |  No Comments so far

    I’ve been meaning to get back into making music for a while now. Here’s a track I made over the weekend, called “Birthday”. It’s been described by those in the know as “a bit Cbeebies.”


  10. How I’m taking control of my oversized vinyl collection, one record at a time

    Posted December 10, 2013 in Diary, music  |  No Comments so far

    I own far too many records.

    These records total over 2,000 and they’re sorted in alphabetical order by artist. A couple of months ago I decided to go through them systematically, one at a time. For each record I find, I ask myself a simple question: do I want to listen to it, all the way through, then and there?

    If I don’t, then the record gets listed for sale on Discogs. If I do, and I like it, it gets to stay; but if it gets a “meh”, then it gets listed for sale too.

    When I started this exercise I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. Now that I’ve passed the 200-record mark – still less than 10% of the total – I’m realising that it’s going to take ages to finish. Which is not such a bad thing. This long-running triage project is, after all, good fun. It’s nice to re-immerse myself in records I’ve not listened to for years. And it’s curious, almost exotic, to subject myself to its strict alphabetical discipline.

    In this digital age of expensive algorithms and the mind-bending calculations they perform to choose music that takes us to the precise centres of our comfort zones, it’s an odd experience to step away from the “Genius Mix” or the “Recently Played” playlists into an unforgiving regime of alphabetically-sorted vinyl. So you didn’t want to listen to Analord today? Tough. Thinking of leaping out of sequence to Sun Electric just because you ‘feel like it’? Again, tough: list or listen, that’s the rule. Selecting music based on what mood I’m in or what I want to hear will often bring me down the same old pathways to the same old group of albums, and this project is forcing me to do something different, which is great.

    I’ve come to realise that a lot of my record collection had become like junk DNA, lots of seemingly useless detritus that pads out the interesting stuff. Records that I’d regularly flick past without considering, on my way to the releases I wanted to hear. But, like junk DNA, many of them have turned out not to be so useless after all. Having to stop and subject each record to the “list or listen” test has kind of re-connected me to each one of them, encouraging me to remember why I bought the record in the first place, and to imagine future situations where I might regret having sold it. And there is some good stuff in there too. I’ve discovered that even records you’ve purchased can be ‘slept on’.

    OK, this all sounds like a convoluted description of a straightforward nostalgia trip, which it is in a way. But as much as I harp on about rediscovering music and things like that, this whole exercise has one clear and unsentimental objective, which is to reduce the size of my record collection. I’ll probably always own too many records, but one day I hope they’ll all be records I actually want to listen to.