Friday, 18 July 2014

The Art of the Remix - Some Notes On An Abomination

Let's make something clear right at the start: I hate remixes. I hate remixers. I hate the word "remix". I hate song titles that have ridiculous, silly blah blah blah remix in brackets after the proper title. The very idea of it all makes me want to hurl. Its not art. It requires no talent. Its rubbish. Its garbage recycling in musical form. So why am I 80% of the way through completing my first (and probably only) remix album?

The person to blame is called Chris Clarke, better known on Twitter as @clerec. It was in talking to him that the idea for a remix of his massive tune Bohack popped into my head. It was a joke. I'll call it Bolacks instead, I said. (That could be pronounced Bo-lacks or bollocks, of course, and in case you don't get the joke.) It was meant to express my disdain for the idea of remixing. So you are probably wondering by now why I hate it so.

My answer is that most remixes I have ever heard (when I still bothered to listen to them) were either completely unimaginative extended versions of the original song (with an extra verse and an extended chorus thrown in) or the ubiquitous "dance mix". All complete and total rubbish, uncreative, lacking invention, crap. And that pretty much became my view of the so-called remix. Further to that I also hold views about the existentiality, creativity and immediacy of art and how can you have these things if you are essentially working with someone else's idea? How can you get inside their idea, make it your own, and still be true to what they put into it? It all seemed completely impossible and pointless to me.

But then I woke up on Thursday morning and decided to do it for real. And I created Bolacks. Anyone else want me to remix their song, I asked. I will ruin it, of course, I added. Well now I'm 8 songs into remixing a grand total of ten. So what are my remixing tips from someone who hates remixes, remixers, etc., etc.?

1. Forget the two most common ways of remixing - making the song just a longer version of what you have and speeding it up and calling it a dance mix.

2. Whatever you do to change the song make it something simple yet profound. This is key. Simple yet profound. That could be a tempo change, a specific effect, a musical theme you add to the piece, anything. You want to be true to the original idea (well I do) but you also want to make the original writer go "Wow!" (well again I want to). You need to remember its their song. It came from them. It is personal to them.

3. This leads to point three. Respect the fact this song is not yours and honour it.

4. Try to preserve the character of the original and make your remix a comment, enhancement or expansion of the feelings you find there.

4. Put everything into it. I can't see how any remix can be remotely good if you don't give it everything you have.

5. Have fun. The golden rule of any creative activity.

So that's a few tips from a guy who has done 8 remixes. With 2 more to go. Its all about ideas. You need to have the vision to see the song a different way. Once you have the idea making it happen is a piece of cake in comparison. Remixers are in the ideas business. Please let that be so. We don't need any more "extended dance mixes".

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I Improvised - PART 3!

And so, as you may know, there are now TWO albums of improvised music available under the "I Improvised" tag on Geeky Disco Records.

I would like to do a third and certainly at the live radio show put on by Tracy Perry there was much enthusiasm for this.

Now I'm not a person who thinks that things should be repeatedly exactly the same ad nauseam and ad infinitum. Change is good and challenge is necessary. The rules around the I Improvised project were never that tight and completely without policing. It was assumed that people would play the game. For all I know everyone could have cheated but I was unconcerned because they are only really cheating themselves. Aside from that I knew that some people were playing the game because of the tools they have and how they make their tracks normally.

But, that said, this time I want to tighten the rules up a little if there is to be an II3. I want to make it about improvisation as much as possible. Since this is the "I Improvised" project who can really complain about that? The change I'm suggesting is about moving as much as possible towards capturing a single performance. Now some people, I know, already did this in the first two albums. But some didn't (and that was fine). This time I want all entries to do that.

So the major change for II3 is that all submitted songs must be the recording of one take. It must be one single performance that is played all at the same time. No doing the tracks one by one. No overdubbing. No multiple runs where you lay down a track at a time. You press record, you play whatever you are going to play, you press stop. That's it. Of course, you can still prepare. People using computers who have Reason or Live (for example) should not find this a limitation at all. Hardware folks will, I suspect, find this no different to what they were doing anyway. But, I admit, for some it may be a challenge. I encourage them to find it a challenge that they want to rise to.

All previous rules about post-production and after the fact tweaking remain in place. I want you to record a performance.

I stand ready to answer any further questions that may arise via Twitter. Please indicate to me if you want to take part in II3. It is planned that there be another live show with Tracy Perry on July 12th. Songs would need to be with me by July 7th. Please let me know you are doing a song before commencing your planning so I can formally include it in my plan for the album.

Those who have so far offered tracks are (Twitter handle):

Daren Ager
3dtorus
M3t4rt
Microchip Junky
Ian Haygreen
Liliane Chlela
Snake Robot
Deadlights
Earlyguard
Nystada
Iceman Bob
Clerec
Andrulian
Isotherme
Aeonsounds
Ghostface_kHz
Cinchel
Fleggy
Impulse Array
Codetapes

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ARTIST ROSTER IS NOW FULL!!!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Inside The Music - Microchip Junky

 This interview is with UK musician, Microchip Junky.

1. What is your music for?

FUN!

I have always been passionate about music after starting to really pay attention to artists in the late 70’s, as punk was fizzling out and new wave was coming in. I soon discovered Fad Gadget, The Normal, the early Human League, Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk. I was hooked on electronic music and wanted to make those noises myself. I bought a mono synth and spent hours every day annoying my neighbours!

I was in a band in my late teens and loved the process of moulding strange sounds into songs; it certainly didn’t occur to me to pick up a guitar and be in a ‘normal’ band. After we split I moved from analog synths on to digital before eventually selling all my gear to make sample based music with trackers on an old Atari computer.

For one reason or another I spent a decade not writing music, though was still an avid listener to electronic music.  Two years ago I started writing again; I bought some old analog synths, an iPad, and a laptop, and discovered Soundcloud. I have since continued building my Chip Shop studio to include a few more computers, and a lot more keyboards.

Music has always been a great escape for me, and the synthesizer is just the coolest toy ever.

2. How do you judge what of your music is better or worse?

When I’m so far through recording a new piece and I upload to Dropbox so I can play it in my car, then I’ll add more to the recording and upload again, and again, and I’ll play that track repeatedly, and nothing else, round the clock, in my car, at work, at home, on my phone, so that by the time the track is complete and it goes to Soundcloud or iTunes or Bandcamp – I’ve already played it to death.
That’s when I know I’ve done something good.

When making a first recording; either a drum pattern, or a bassline or sample…if I am willing to switch it off within half an hour then it is dead in the water. I want something to grab my attention and keep me awake all night. If that first recording doesn’t do that its sent to the REJECT folder (never deleted but never added to). So the worst of my music gets consigned to a folder to gather cobwebs.

3. How does how you make your music affect what is produced?

My songwriting process has changed considerably over the years; when I started back in the early 80s I had synths with no presets. MIDI didn’t exist when I started and some of the synths didn’t have CV/gate outputs. So my early songs were played live and recorded on a Fostex 4 track.

I bought a Roland MC-202 and sync’d it to a Korg DDM-110 drum machine, which greatly improved the quality of what I was producing. Then I moved to a Yamaha CX5M and then an Atari 1040STe and discovered trackers. Like a fool I sold all my analog and digital keyboards. The quality of the sample based songs I wrote was ok, but with hindsight I’d lost all the fun of creating my own sounds.
When I started writing again I was using Renoise. I tried other music software such as Reason and FL Studio and couldn’t decide what I liked best. I concluded that it didn’t matter what I used, that I didn’t have to stick with just one program, as long as the fun element was there. I now record mostly using Logic Pro X.

With regards to instrumentation I will use anything that sounds good. I have a few digital synths but enjoy analog and modular much more. I may start a track with a drum pattern on a circuit bent drum machine, or a loop from a Kaossilator, or a sequence from the dsi Mopho, a pattern created on Maschine or random sounds from the modular, or my phone, or a calculator, anything that makes a noise. Occasionally I’ll find some obscure speech on You Tube or record telephone conversations and chop them up. Wherever the initial idea comes from will dictate what the song sounds like. I have even been known to pick up a guitar (!)

4. Have you got any music-making insights or tips to pass on?

No insights and no tips as I’m just an amateur, no better or worse than a million other unsigned artists. All I have is what I do. I pick up a synth and spend weeks making patches, weeks bashing out some bass noise and some melodies. I’ll plug it into Logic and record it. I’m never concerned with perfection, don’t like over produced perfectly syncopated auto-pitched global hits. I like my sound. And when just one person tells me what I do is cool, then ….who am I to argue?

5. What is your best work and why?

I worked with Stephanie Juarez last year and wrote some music to her spoken word piece “On A Breeze.”  This is now the track I’m most proud of. It took a long time to complete because the instrumentation went through so many changes and it was very much a departure from what I usually do. I learned a lot working with Stephanie, and that genre, and I think I’m a more competent musician as a result of that.  I was thrilled to have that played on BBC radio because it was very different to anything I’d previously done.

6. If someone that’s not you listens to your music what are they getting?

Irritated lol!

I’ve been told I sound like Kraftwerk with a sense of humour (I’m not worthy!). But its also been said that my music can be dark/creepy/scary, so who knows!?

I’d like to think listeners are hearing something interesting, maybe thought-provoking, something that inspires some emotional response, and something to nod out to, to swing their hips and tap their feet to.

Thanks to Microchip Junky for taking the time to do this interview. You can hear his music at soundcloud.com/microchip-junky

Friday, 16 May 2014

I Improvised



An idea just two weeks old has born fruit. I was just sitting in a chair thinking mildly depressing thoughts one afternoon, as I often do, when the thought came into my head to create an album of improvised songs - however you want to understand that term. I have quite a big problem with the deliberate and overly controlling nature of much modern song-making and music in general. I want to take control, deliberation, and what I see as a form of cynicism OUT of the process and move it back once more to its spontaneous, uncontrolled, almost Dionysian roots as a celebration of the spirit of intoxication. Music, as I understand it, is not something you deliberate over, correcting everything at the micro level: its immediate, direct and inspired.

My problem, as this thought whirred around my head unfiltered, was that not many other people I know seem to share this idea. There are always ruling thoughts in most disciplines and most people, I'm sad to say, often seem to follow them uncritically. Still, what's the worst that can happen, I thought, if I simply tweet the idea and see who wants to jump on board? So I did. And those interested in the idea jumped on board almost immediately. There was 1, 2, 3 then 6,7,8. In the end about 16 people expressed an interest. I wrote a quick mail outlining the idea a little more fully and that was it. I was waiting for people to improvise tracks and send them back to me.

The result is the album "I Improvised" (subtitled "A Collection of Made Up Songs"). It contains songs across a number of different styles. And yet they still seem to fit together. As the originator and curator of this product I hope you will allow me to say a few words about each of the artists and their song that has been contributed to the project.

1. DeadGull - u-bahn

What a fantastic way to start the album. Its at once intense, thoroughly modern sounding yet utterly reminiscent of a Kraftwerk song. Contains real recordings of Berlin U-Bahn trains. I love the way the song captures what it actually feels like to be on a Berlin U-Bahn train - as I have been many times since I used to live there. It captures that feeling of being closed in yet hurtling through the dark. I love it.

2. Luke Clarke - Dreams of Industry

A guitar soundscape that haunts and teases.

3. Nystada - QT1

A strange electronic piece full of clicks and stutters very in keeping with the album "Denial" by Nystada that has been reviewed on this site already. This is electronic strangeness.

4. Ian Haygreen - Antrum

An dark ambient piece that explores the unknown.

5. 3dtorus - I Improvised Techno

A dance track that grinds and shifts throughout its 9 minutes. Vaguely reminiscent of "Da Funk" by Daft Punk.

6. Aeon - Moment in Time

A piece of light, airy, refreshing pop.

7. Neil Jendon - Till Human Voices Wake Us And We Drown

Perhaps the most complex piece here, all noise, ambience and drone.

8. Geeky Disco - Melancholic Beats 2

A very rare vocal outing for Geeky Disco. But the least said about this by me, the better. You will make your own mind up.

9. Microchip Junky - Slapdash

A burst of perky hardware electronic.

10. Isotherme - Decaf Bossa

Fabulous latin guitars strummed to a bossanova beat.

11. Benjamin Hinz - Number Zero

A piece of huge guitar ambience involving looping.

12. Rainer Straschill - Jammern auf Hohem Niveau

A deceptively simple piano piece that contrasts wonderfully with all the electronics around it.

13. Liliane C - Mordax

Complex and delicate electronics on synth, guitar and ipad.

14. Odd Common - Gribshunden

Dark pop from the Swedish master of electronic music as he recreates the feeling of being under the sea.

15. Daren Ager - Too Busy Looking Good

Daren gives us a slice of the improvised acid he is well known for.

16. slinky - totem

A very subtle, sophisticated track to finish.


Of course, I want to thank all these fine artists for submitting a track. They literally make this album what it is. You can listen to it from 7PM British Summer Time on 16.05.14 at geekydiscorecords.bandcamp.com

Monday, 12 May 2014

Gear Talk - High End Rack and Table Top FX

A week or two ago I did a very popular piece about pedal FX. If you haven't read it yet I do recommend you go back into the archive and do so. Here I wanted to say a little about some more high end FX, the type that might slide into a rack by your studio desk or sit on the desk itself. They are my personal choices and I have at least toyed, at some point, with all of them. I even owned a couple before finances dictated they enter the great chain of gear passing on that often occurs amongst musicians and producers trying to stay afloat in an uncertain world. Now these aren't cheap devices I admit but we shall take a look nevertheless. There's nothing wrong with an aspirational article!

1. Jomox Moonwind                                  Video of the Moonwind


The Moonwind, from Berlin company Jomox, is, in a way, a kind of stereo filter that you can treat as an instrument. Its parameters are all midi controllable and storable, its analog and it has two multi waveform LFOs and envelope modulation. The step sequencer can control cutoff, resonance and Q per step meaning that its pretty easy to dial in melodic and/or rhythmic elements using it. The filters themselves can be played when using high resonance.


2. Evol Audio Fucifier                          Video of the Fucifier


 Yes, this rack effect is called a "fucifier" and, on the back, claims to be "powered by evil". What we really have here are several FX in one unit to radically colour and affect your sound. The unit will take a mic or an instrument input and passes through tape simulation, filter, distortion and EQ circuits on its way to the output gain. Its a mono device. The effect is what I believe these days is called "gnarliness" as everything here, from the discrete pre-amp on, is meant to be overdriven, saturated and distorted. Its an analog device.


3. Oto Machines Biscuit                    Video of the Biscuit


The Biscuit is an 8-bit digital effects box (and true analog multimode filter) that offers waveshaper, delay, pitch shifter and step filter FX. You can save presets on the device and everything is controllable/able to be saved by midi too. Its made out of metal, weighs half a kilo and works in stereo. It can be used live to great effect or be a go to box for studio work. This is one of those devices that can be messed about with almost ad infinitum and it never stops being fun. As its a mix of both digital FX and an analog filter you can get a rich variety of differing tones from the device. Oh, and a more recent firmware upgrade also means that the device can also be used as a synth in its own right - Der Oto!


4. Sherman Filterbank 2                 Video on the Sherman Filterbank


The simple description of the Sherman Filterbank is that it is a very powerful filtering and distortion device. It contains a number of options within that simple description though and is made to be used either by itself, in series with other units or as part of a modular system. As you can see from the inputs and outputs, this is a device with a serious amount of flexibility from the ability to add footswitches to being able to control the device via CV. In many ways the Filterbank is a small modular device in its own right. The accent here is on fun and on unpredictable outcomes. Needless to say, this is an analog device.


5. Jomox T-Resonator 2                        Video of the T-Resonator


The T-Resonator is a second device from Jomox. Its an analog stereo filter and delay unit in which you can choose from eight different delays (in kind and feedback amounts) that are modulatable by an LFO. Of course this can be shaped with an envelope and there is the filter to bring into play as well. A nice touch is the ability to dial in negative or positive amounts as the pots are centre-zeroed. Left is then a negative value and right a positive one. There are two channels and FM in either direction is possible as well. Chorusing and flanging FX are also possible. This becomes a box for morphing and even creating unique sounds in any way you can imagine. With a Hi-Z input, you can also plug a guitar in directly.


6. Vermona Action Filter 3           Video of the Vermona Action Filter


The Vermona Action Filter, now on its third iteration, is really a DJ effect for those DJs wanting high quality performance from a hardware device. It has two channels and offers controls for cutoff and resonance whilst offering low pass and high pass filtering. Depending on if the two channels are routed in series or parallel you can also use it to create band pass or notch filtering too. This is a simple manual device. There's no fancy sequencing or midi going on here. It only affects the sound according to how you use the controls.


7. Niio Analog Iotine Core                      Video of the Iotine Core


The Iotine Core is a very complex device that offers sound shaping across three layers and two channels. Each layer offers filtering, saturation and a VCA. The point of this unit is really to offer differing textures and intensities of sound and dynamic movement of frequencies. It does this utilising envelopes to dynamically shape the sound as the incoming sound itself triggers the effects of the device. This produces a sound with flexible modulations and an organic feel to create an animated overall sound. It has to be heard to be believed as the differences are often subtle whilst simultaneously being very effective.



Artist Review - DeadGull

Perhaps the thing I value most as I listen to music is creativity. In this world it is very easy to be sold many things. Popularity, similarity, homogeneity - all these are constantly bombarded at us through mainstream media outlets and often in others too because of those who merely want to copy what they hear. Everywhere from queues for the latest series of X Factor to the pages of Mixcloud there are people who merely want to be like someone else. The number of artists and music-makers who define themselves by their similarity to someone they like - and are happy to be identified with - astounds me.

But this artist review is not about someone like that. The artist I want to say something about today is, for me, something of a genius. That's not too strong a word. And its clear to me from the way he works and the speed with which he does it, that this is not something learned but its an instinctive skill that came with his mother's milk. Now its unusual for me to review an artist who doesn't have an album. I much prefer to review works and not people. The latter can often become personal and, thus, messy. But, in this case, I feel that I have no choice because the work, fragmented and disparate as it is, is simply too outstanding to say nothing about it. I'm talking about the work of DeadGull.


DeadGull's work is to be found on Soundcloud. I first heard of him and his work when he joined a group I had set up on Soundcloud that was about musical challenges. I have no idea how he found it but I'm very glad he did. He entered the first challenge I set, as I recall, very quickly and within a couple of hours had posted a song which was a typical example of his work.

DeadGull's style is to take some sounds (I'm guessing all this by the way. Its my impression), mess around with them, find a very simple but creative idea and simply present it. There's no pretense about any of this. His music has no delusions of grandeur. Due to the time it seems to take him to make a song I can't imagine he goes through a long, complicated process where he agonises over every EQ level, every percentage point of reverb or delay, etc. DeadGull is an ideas man. He has an idea and he presents it.

As I write there are 36 tracks on the DeadGull account. I've downloaded pretty much every one of them. A number are only one minute long. As I say, DeadGull presents musical ideas, sound ideas, not hugely produced pieces. I was going to say "or works of art" there. But that would be wrong for I feel that what DeadGull does is very much make "works of art". And they are no less so because they are often simple and, in some understandings of how music should be made, unprofessional because he didn't follow the "right" things you are meant to do when making music.

It would be beside the point to pick on songs from DeadGull''s current catalogue of excellence but I feel that I must. "Goodbye Spaceman" is a piece he wrote for my third "music challenge" in which the brief was to write a piece of music for a space scene in which a spaceship slowly moves away from the camera, is attacked and explodes. He completely nailed the idea in almost 7 minutes of sonic brilliance. But its often his shorter pieces that get you. "Beyond Canning Town", "Edge of The World", "Hallo Spaceman" or "Literary Reference" are perfect examples of simple, brilliant musical ideas. He is seemingly a never ending well of such things and in art, whose currency is ideas, this makes him a very rich man indeed.

And that, I guess, is why I love his tracks so much and wait for each new one with bated breath, always disappointed if its only a minute or two long and thirsting for more. He's the perfect example of something that will never go out of musical style: creativity, innovation, ideas. If you have got that it doesn't even really matter what comes out musically. It will always be interesting, always attract people to it. Many artists are always trying to write the "killer" tune. But I don't get the impression that DeadGull is. He's having fun, he's doing what comes naturally, he's answering some need within him to utilise the creative gifts he has so clearly been blessed with.

We are all the winners because of that.

You can hear the music of DeadGull at soundcloud.com/lea-mouth-277


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Music Review - "Dresden I-VIII" by 3dtorus

3dtorus is a German musician and producer from Bremen, Germany. He comes across as rather prolific and is always doing something with music, either alone or in collaboration with others. He has been interviewed on this site so feel free to check out his thoughts about his music. Here I'm going to review his recent project "Dresden I-VIII" which is based on field recordings from a recent trip to Dresden in Germany.


The album is divided into 8 parts, each based on different field recordings, and the tracks are in the 5-10 minute range in length. To me this made them come across as snippets of recorded time or outtakes from life or something like that. The opening track, for example, seems to be set in a cafe or similar place. You hear the talking (in German of course) and clanking of cutlery against crockery and there is a strange brooding, rhythmic beat playing simultaneously, not quite drowning it out but also not quite unavoidable. The track is book-ended by considerable amounts of silence both before and after.

Tracks 2 and 3 seem related. There is an enduring musical theme that comes in towards the end of track 2 and goes through much of track 3. This is a 4 chord pattern played on the strings. Funny to say but, as I mentioned to 3dtorus at the time, its very reminiscent of the chord pattern in the verse of "Touch Me" by 80s topless model and pop starlet, Samantha Fox. This similarity is apparently accidental. I actually find this part of the album to be the weakest part. Track 2 had been a slow, building track full of noise (white and other kinds too) and what sounds like recordings of trains. I'm not sure where the string theme fits in (or even if it does at all).

As the strings continue in the same 4 chord pattern throughout track 3 they evolve into something with a rhythmical tapping sound over the top. I found this unpleasant and dissonant. I don't regard that as bad though. Its a very immature attitude to take that music is there simply to make you happy or that it must be "enjoyable". I also believe it should stretch your tastes, challenge them and maybe even be a sour pill to swallow at times too. I regard 3dtorus as performing a necessary and useful function at this point.

Track 4 takes us back into the world of noise with a piece of sound art. There's not much to say here except that such pieces can only be judged by being listened to. You either get this sort of thing or you don't. I found it had interesting variations within it. The same applies to track 5. Track 6 is again noises, not always definable, and had a John Carpenter type vibe for me with a low, sustained bass tone as indefinable voice-like sounds are just about made out and random noises (some seemingly reversed) come in and go out. The sounds used here I found to be more immediately appealing to me as well. At just over 5 minutes, the length was also amenable. With noise tracks (so-called "ambient" music) there is often a temptation to think that more is better. That's not automatically so.

Tracks 7 and 8 are further explorations in sound, one longer at over 9 minutes and the last one shorter at just under 5. Once again, I preferred the shorter track but both have their interest. Its just that the shorter one had more of it for me.

I found "Dresden I-VIII" to be a somewhat uneven but never less than interesting album. I think that the music performs many functions, not all of them necessarily things the listener would desire but all of them ultimately of use to a patient and interested listener of electronic music. 3dtorus is clearly a man who likes toying with sound and producing sound collages and pieces of sound art. That's exactly what he has done here.

You can listen to "Dresden I-VIII" by 3dtorus at 3dtorus.bandcamp.com/album/dresden-i-viii