April 2015 Images
All taken with my Sony RX100 (MK1), mostly using the in-camera HDR setting.
‘Opaline’ and ‘IRIS’ dual album release
This is a somewhat in depth documentation regarding these albums, I should say it’s of a fairly technical bent, but is also about the thinking behind the creation of my new releases.
I had been working with a large pool of material for the past few years. From this pool arose my ‘Harmony through Conflict’,’NYX’,’Lumen and ‘IKON’ albums, as well as ‘Opaline and ‘IRIS’. With the release of these albums I’ve now finally finished with that pool of material and I can move on to pastures anew (at last !). The tracks on these new albums had been selected and reworked over a three year period (with other projects, taking over at differing times), so they were still ‘fresh’ to me, even though I had worked on them a lot (I find working on multiple projects works for me).
Completing ‘Opaline’ and ‘IRIS’, was a pretty intensive task and I’m pleased now it’s done. While they are not perfect, I felt I’d spent enough time on them. This is the approach I take with all my music really, I try to do the best I could do at that time and then move on. If I had to work on something for a really long period of time I think I would get completely sick of it / make continual changes, which weren’t necessarily improvements. I’m goal orientated, so I work towards getting projects finished and released.
Following my work flow process of taking notes for each iteration of a track, a whole A4 notepad was used up for the listening / reworking notes ! seemingly endless scrawly writings while intensively listening to the work in progress versions of the tracks filled that up.
From a technical point of view, there were some unique mixing challenges, I needed to ‘tame’ the full frequency dronage which was intermittently present at the same time as the percussion, bass and other instrumentation. I used side-chaining for compression on these drone textures, which I think is pretty unusual in ambient music. In terms of dynamics, I wanted to preserve a good dynamic range, so no maximising was undertaken in the mastering stage.
The Instrument set used was pretty diverse and includes (amongst others) a lap steel sample library by Orange Tree samples (http://orangetreesamples.com/slide-lap-steel) (I used this extensively), ‘stringed things’ galore – an array of sampled stringed instruments, such as Celtic Harp, Lute, Lyra, Zither, Kantele etc. Another mainstay on these releases was a Rhodes synth (Lounge Lizard session), which was used for chordal stuff and bass, as were a number of sampled and synth basses.
In terms of effects, the mighty Valhalla uber-mod (https://valhalladsp.com/shop/delay/valhalla-uber-mod/) was used on every track, sometime with up to ten different instances. I came up with a set of ‘swirlverb‘ presets that I used throughout both albums.
Regarding the percussion on the ‘IRIS’ album, it is what I’d refer to as ‘world’ / ethnic percussion (mostly). I was particularly influenced by the percussive elements on Peter Gabriel’s earlier work and I’ve always been interested in all things rhythmic generally. I programmed all the percussive parts and they were the most difficult part of the whole process – it didn’t come naturally to me !
Other synths such as the lovely AAS String Studio (https://www.applied-acoustics.com/string-studio-vs-2/) were used and there are a lot of other synth based sounds which were only used sporadically, but still took quite some time to create. For example, Ableton Live’s sampler was used quite a lot, but it’s pretty subtle what it did. There was also the ubiquitous sound-design / drone texture creation side of things, this was more my more usual way of working, but the difference on these albums was combining these textures with the rest of the rhythmic parts and instrumentation.
Lastly, guitar. ‘IRIS’ was originally intended to be a ‘guitar album’ ! This didn’t pan out, but there is a smattering of ‘real’ guitar – the solo electric parts and the clean chordal parts.
I tried to concentrate more on composition and structure on these two albums. I wanted to try to incorporate space and a compositional sense of ebb and flow into the tracks. Tempo is an interesting element, in that there are sections that follow the tempo set by the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) I used FLStudio (http://www.image-line.com/flstudio/) and then ‘tempo-less’ drone sections and more poly-rhythmic automations of filters and delays.
One thing I have noticed, is that my tracks are getting longer by the album, ‘IRIS’s’ ten tracks are over a 100 minutes long !, ‘Opaline is much shorter but most of the tracks are a fair length too.
In conclusion, this project was an entirely solo effort, I could have done with some help / inspiration at times, but this is the way I currently work. I believe you get better as an artist by trying to improve on the things you’re less comfortable with.
I have plenty of ideas of what projects to work on for 2015 , but perhaps a break or some kind of diversion (an electronica album ?) may well be in order.
‘IRIS’ nearly ready !
My ‘IRIS‘ album is almost finished, I’ve just completed the mastering stage and there are a few more things that I need to do, but it’s (mostly) done.
I intend to release it at the beginning of March. I still have to make some decisions regarding the grouping of the tracks. At this stage, I can say that it will be something of a ‘hybrid’ of ambient dronage and electronica – with a significant rhythmic element (but not on all of the tracks). It will be ‘longform’ (over 2 hours duration) and rather diverse !
Lyrics that resonate with me
I’m a bit of a philistine when it comes to words generally, but here’s a selection of some of my favourite lyrics (with a brief thought for each):
Talking Heads ‘Houses in motion’
‘For a long time I felt without style or grace
Wearing shoes with no socks in cold weather
I knew my heart was in the right place
I knew I’d be able to do these things’
Conveys a sense of someone not being a part of things, but aspiring to…
Peter Gabriel ‘Here comes the Flood’
‘Lord, here comes the flood
We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
In any still alive
It’ll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.’
I find this to be incredibly poignant, regarding the afterlife…
Killling Joke ‘Europrean Super State’
‘Why are the proud descendants of Plato
Paying off more debts accommodating NATO?
We the caretakers of democracy
No longer tolerate this hypocrisy’
Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke) singer, part visionary / part madman -on good (observational) form here…
Todd Rundgren ‘God Said’
‘Nearly everyone I know claims to have heard your voice
And every time they do, I know I should rejoice
Because one day I’m sure you’ll break your silence
And speak just to me
But I feel like time’s running out
And my heart, my heart is filling with doubt
And god said
I don’t dwell upon you, I dwell on something else
And I am not really here so get over your self’
A very honest admission by someone who appears to have spent his life seeking truth(s)…
Peter Gabriel ‘No self control’
‘There are always hidden silences
Waiting behind the chair
They come out when the coast is clear
They eat anything that moves
I go shaky at the knees
Lights go out, stars come down
Like a swarm of bees’
Just plain evocative descriptives of forces and undercurrents, not usually manifest…
David Sylvian ‘ Red Guitar’
‘I recognize no method of living That I know
I see only the basic materials I may use
If you ask me, I may tell you It’s been this way for years
I play my red guitar
It’s the devil in the flesh
It’s the iron in my soul’
The iron on my soul – brilliant !…
Brief music update:
‘IRIS’ is still being worked on, I’m getting (hopefully) closer to the end of that project – still a fair amount to do still. Early 2015 release (?)
I’m getting into my newly acquired iPad’s musical capabilities, there really is some great stuff out there. I may well be doing an ‘electronica’ side-project on Korg’s ‘Gadget’ / FL Studio Mobile.
A couple of shots taken in the garden this morning whilst taking the dog out for a mooch.
Why ambient ? (and album update)
Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to recollect why you got into something in the first place. Creating ambient music is almost second-nature to me now, but I’d never heard any ambient music until I was about 20. Here’s some musings on why I got into ambient at the time:
I grew up with heavy rock music, but being a sensitive soul I liked ‘quiet music’ as well (in particular Gregorian chant and plainsong), so I was always open to new musical forms.
Regarding my introduction to ambient, one particular memory I have is of living in house in a ‘funky’ (well pretty dodgy) area of Leeds in the 80’s with some buddhist fellers. There wasn’t a television in the house so we listend to a lot of music on an old record player. One chap’s favourite record was ‘The pearl’ by Harold Budd and Brian Eno.
At first, I found it too minimal, but over time I became drawn into it – it seemed to fill the room with it’s graceful melancholy. I became aware that this ‘background music’ was actually more ‘powerful’ than that description belies. It took time for ambient to become part of my musical world, but that’s the nature of this kind of music – it takes time.
I’ve always preferred music on headphones and at the time, my Walkman was a precious thing to me. I remember one day, listening to Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo’ in a really dismal supermarket and it removed me from the tedious banality of the surroundings and created a far better ‘soundtrack’ to the mundane sights around me. I thought at the time, that I’d like to try to create this aural experience with my own music at some point. Now as an ambient artist myself, the music I make has become something of a therapy for me – an internal retreat from an all too noisy world into somewhere stiller and calmer.
My preference for ambient is for the tonal, continuous work of Eno, Harold Budd and David Sylvian’s instrumental work (to refer to some well known artists). I find the distractions of the glitchy end of the spectrum to be at odds with what I require from listening to a music that (to me) is primarily reflective. I’m a fan of ‘electronic’ music (in the broadest sense of the term), but I make a distinction in this case. I suppose this is all a bit rich for someone who’s favourite band is Killing Joke !, but I feel different types of music are appropriate for different times and I listen to the noisy stuff far less than I do the quiet musics.
IRIS album update:
‘IRIS’ is currently being worked on, it’s an increasingly large project which I hope to have finished by early 2015. In the meantime, I released a ‘single’ yesterday from the work-in-progress material from the album. The track’s title is ‘Supernature‘ and is somewhat more experimental than the rest of the material which will comprise the album, so I thought I’d release it separately.