‘Swarm’ ‘single’ now released
‘Swarm’ ‘single’ now released
‘Ambient minimalism, with (poly) rhythmic elements’
Now up on the streaming sites and my Bandcamp page with a free exclusive track.
‘Speed of Life’
‘This is quite a different Igneous Flame release. Imagine elements of mid-period Peter Gabriel, Japan, Plaid and Yellow Magic Orchestra with an idiosyncratic ethnic percussion section jamming along with a psychedelic guitarist playing rhythm parts and liquid sustained guitar solos over the top’
Both albums draw on material from the same pool, so I decided to release them at the same time even though the production is very different.
I hope to have two albums to release in the near future, titled ‘Ki’ and ‘Speed of Life’.
‘Ki’ is a tonal drone / sequencer based project with subtle kick drum pulses.It has element of minimalism which is an unusual inclusion in an ambient drone work.
‘Speed of Life’ is essentially a guitar album with electronica style (whatever that means !) backing. I have made extensive use of my Sustainer and fretless guitars on this album and Arabian and Indian percussives.
More information will be added nearer to the release date.
Otherwise, I have been getting out and about on my newly acquired bikes during these unprecedented lockdown times. Here is an image I took whilst out on one of my excursions.
‘Indigo’ new album released today !
‘Indigo’ is comprised of a selection of tracks created from processed, generative sources.
The process for this album was different to my other releases – I created a pool of source material using generative blocks and ensembles in Native Instrument’s Reaktor. These were later processed, transformed and composed into the finished tracks.
I plan to release another two albums by the end of this year, which (again !) will be quite diversely different works.
‘Indigo’ is up on Bandcamp, as well as the streaming / download sites:
Edit of the track ‘Ogong’ on Soundcloud
Video on Youtube of the above:
There are always new exciting music software releases and naturally I’m tempted by these and think what they could bring to what I am working with, but I also try to consider can I make use of what I already have to achieve similiar results ? Of course, some things just can’t be replicated – instrument libraries etc. but other things can.
For example, I use FL studio as my primary DAW (digital audio Workstation) and because I’ve used it for years I am now pretty familiar with it. By thinking things through, I find I can (usually) recreate multiple effects and the like with things that I am already familiar with – combinations of filters / gates / delays etc. using a bit of ‘creative thinking’. Chaining effects together and re-ordering them was always something Brian Eno used to talk about regarding using the studio as an ‘instrument’ and it equally applies to the computer based studio too. Actually, I have found this to yield somewhat unique results too, as opposed to relying on a single plugin or piece of software to do it’s magic. Also I have to say, I find a lot of presets are often unrepresentative of what the plug in can actually do, delving into things further can produce more useful (to me) results.
So, there’s an element of ‘recycling’ and revisiting ‘old’ software that I try to adopt. I already have more than enough music software, a fair bit of that I never use and do I really need more, when I can make use of what I have ? Revisiting some unforgotten ‘hidden gems’ can be a pleasant surprise !
In the spirit of this post here is a fine device (a Zoom 8080) from the 90s that I have, which sounds better than modern plugins / similiar units in some settings.
An ebow is a great combination with a fretless guitar. It’s not easy to play but it has a unique sound – almost like a ‘pseudo slide guitar’. it allows for non-chromatic slides, which isn’t possible on a regular fretted guitar. I’m hoping to use it as something of a ‘signature sound’ on my upcoming ambient guitar project (to be released at the end of 2018). It has made me learn some new things, as I can’t play the usual ‘licks and riffs’ on it (as I tend to on a regular guitar), which is somewhat refreshing !
Regarding non-ebow playing, a fretless guitar doesn’t sustain like a regular guitar does and playing with spot on intonation gets tricky (particularly higher up the fingerboard) All round, I find it’s a challenge to play, but very interesting nonetheless. With fretless in general, legato lines become very fluid and vibrato becomes much more of a musical parameter.
Here’s my Samick / Greg Bennett guitar, now converted to fretless. It had fret issues and I was about to ditch it, but before I did, I thought I’d have a go at converting it to fretless. I bought a dedicated fret pulling tool, which took the frets our pretty cleanly, then applied five coats (or so) of super glue to thew fingerboard, then a radiused sanding block to sand down the super glue flat (going through a few grit grades of wet and dry). Lastly, a rub down with a polishing compound. It’s not perfect (I think the neck may be slightly warped), but it’s now functional.
Album projects update:
I’m rather behind schedule for my next releases, the reasons for this are twofold:
1) I needed a break. I have been releasing consistently for some time now and I felt my creative juices were in need of rejuvenation – the last thing I want to do is to go in ‘auto-pilot’ and release very samey sounding albums, so a break (which wasn’t entirely a ‘break’, as I’m still perusing / experimenting with ideas) was in order.
2) Guitar stuff – for one of my upcoming projects, I need to practice guitar to a degree where I become far more fluid in my playing (as I needed to with the fretless bass, for my last album). I also have been buying guitars, which takes quite some time to get them to be in a good playing / working order. I’m experimenting with all manner of guitar / pickup combinations to find the ‘tone’ that will suit what I have in mind for the project.
I have been creating videos of some of the guitars / sounds I’m planning on using. They will more likely to be of interest to people interested in those instruments. However as I have to do multiple takes to get a decent performance, there is an element of playing live which may be of interest (particularly as I don’t actually perform live)
Hopefully, towards the end of 2018, I will be closer to finishing these projects off.
Guitars, repetition and learning.
I’m currently playing the guitar a lot more for one of my upcoming projects and I’ve noticed how much I tend to repeat myself in my playing. if I don’t monitor what I’m doing I go into ‘auto pilot’ and play very old (to me) riffs, licks and patterns. While it could be said that that is part of one’s style, it could also be seen as not exploring new areas / falling into well worn habits. So I’m trying to do some new things, particularly in my solo playing. One thing that helps is actually just playing more ! I find the ‘improvisational brain’ tends to work better when it becomes more used, as well as do the motor skills required to undertake what said brain requires. This is an issue for me in that I’m over 50 now and I just don’t have the ‘chops’ that I had when I was younger, but I can still see the benefit of recent practice, in this area. I feel that guitar playing is a ‘perishable skill’ in a lot of ways and long breaks from playing make for a longer time to get back into some kind of fluency.
In a wider sense, being aware of habitual repetitions and the like applies to music making in general (as well as one’s personality) and observing these habitual behaviours and then (more importantly !) endeavouring to do something to try to change them.
Anyway, here’s a video of me noodling – with some ‘fresh’ (I hope) variants ! I haven’t done any guitar videos for quite some time now (almost three years) and I’m now more fluent, currently. More to come on my YouTube channel.
I’ve just released my new album entitled ‘Sylvi‘, which is an ambient guitar (and fretless bass) work.
The primary instrumentation used was electric guitar, fretless bass, nylon string guitar and the ebow. The ebow was used on the electric and the fretless (which is a somewhat more unusual approach) to create melodic lines and low pitched swells. The electric contributed the main chordal and melodic parts.
Lots of guitar techniques were employed – slide guitar (electric), clean guitar swells (‘violin-ing’ – using a volume pedal).
In compositional terms, I tried to combine individual elements from the guitars and bass on each track, intending them to work as a whole. I avoided ‘noodling’ and playing overtly solo parts, using more restrained figures and lines.
There are some other sourced sounds on the album too, but they are pretty much ‘in the minority’ – the processed guitar parts forming the accompanying drones and textures
The production is somewhat ‘muted’ in terms of the high frequency elements, purposefully. I didn’t want it to sound overly bright. considering the ‘tone’ of the tracks.
‘Sylvi’ is a primarily sonorous work, with a smattering of more ‘oblique’ tracks included.
Brief Equipment used list: (for those interested in such things !)
Electric guitars – Tokai LoveRock, Yamaha 112 (modified), Tanglewood Les Paul copy (on the track ‘Helmi’)
ESP Ltd B-205SMFL 5 string Fretless Bass:
This is a lovely instrument, it’s right handed, but I played it upside down (I’m left-handed), it has ground wound strings on it, which are a nice compromise between roundwounds and flatwounds.
‘Cuenca’ Nylon string guitar (1983)
Used as the preamp for all guitar and bass parts (a Zoom 8080 was also used as well) Very versatile !
Nebula Cabinet libraries (Ownhammer Blufunk):
Used for all the overdriven / distortion sounds (mostly the ebow tones) Still the best thing for these sounds, IMO.
Last but not least – the mighty ebow !
I’ve used the ebow for a long time, it’s a fantastic thing in it’s own right, but I find it needs considerable technique to get it to sound good (not harsh). It’s very dynamic, for one thing.
Finally, the album was mastered using a pair of Shure SE535’s (thanks to Achromus !) and I also used a pair of Parrot Zik 3’s for some ‘out and about’ listenings, which were surprisingly good.
Free Track from Sylvi sessions – ‘Lowna’:
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.