‘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.
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’:
Some new guitar videos
Just uploaded the fourth of my recent guitar videos. Just posting some points / info regarding how they were made:
They are just one take improvisations and I always make some mistakes, if the mistakes are pretty horrid I repeat the take (sometimes it takes up to four or five attempts to get a decent take), If they’re not too bad I leave them in.
The camera (my Sony RX100) is on a tripod and the tripod is next to a large mirror, so I can look into the mirror and see the reflection of the screen on the back of the camera and use this to ‘frame’ things properly. Unfortunately, in my exuberance when playing, I sometimes move out of frame – particularly my right hand – doh !
I’ve been adding some video effects on these recent videos.
The playing is just noodling really, I try to show a different sound or technique for each of them. I don’t play live currently, so these are an outlet for ‘performance’ of some kind.
For these videos, I’m using a great Amp simulator called ‘Flextron’ made by AXP. It’s a good as (or better) than all the other amp simulators / cabinet simulators I’ve tried and it’s made things much more flexible for me as I can place effects before the overdrive, which works best for phasers, wah pedals etc. I was using the overdrive from my Zoom G2.1u before, which was the first thing in the effects chain. ‘Flextron’ is free and available here:
Here’s the newst one, which is a different approach to the others:
Phasers were always one of my favourite stomp box effects. I had a few models, but the best (by far) was a beat up Roland Phase II (AP2). It was old way back in the ‘olden days’ !, but it was the best sounding phaser I ever heard – especially after I sprayed it metallic purple (to match a guitar I had at the time in the same lovely colour).
Here’s a video showing it’s sonic loveliness:
Until recently, I’ve not been able to find a decent (let alone good) software replacement. The ‘Phazor’ (free) plugin by Adam Szabohttp://www.adamszabo.com/phazor/ being the best I could find. I recently purchased a phaser library for the Nebula plugin (separate post / review of Nebula to follow soon). This library by Tim Petherick is the stuff indeed ! He has sampled four classic units and they all sound very good. http://www.timpetherick.co.uk/classic-phasers/
A good test for a phaser is on a clean guitar sound, here’s a video I made of such a scenario. For those interested the signal chain is as follows:
PEQII: Flstudio EQ (HF boost)
Nebula compressor: ‘Rayphlex soft II’
Nebula Phaser: ‘Stone Phase HQ fast up’
Valhalla Ubermod: (multifx preset I created)
I love the really transparent chorus / ensemble sound that you can get from something like the mighty Valhalla uber-mod plugin. Conversley, a really authentic phaser is a great sounding thing in it’s own right and both effects together are truly nice !
Valhalla UberMod mini-review
Whilst perusing the FLStudio forum regarding an alternative to their ‘delay bank’ plugin, someone recommended Valhalla’s ‘UberMod’. I promptly downloaded the demo and was initially somewhat confused – I thought it was ‘just’ a chorus / ensemble unit, I didn’t realise there were many more presets ! Upon exploring all the other presets, it started to reveal its complexity and flexibility. I should say that I find a relatively small amount of musical gear that really excites me and keeps me wanting to learn more about it and this is definitely one of the things that does. In this mini-review, I’m not going to go into a breakdown of all the available parameters (which are many), I’m more writing about about my overall thoughts on this plug-in and it’s unique qualities. I’m no great expert on classic high end modulation units, but as I do use the modern equivalents a lot, I have some useful insight (hopefully !) here and consider them to be an integral part of my processing ‘tool-kit’ for my ambient work. UberMod will now be very much part of such processing duties.
UberMod is a multi-fx unit, in that it covers modulation, delay, reverb and various other sonic weirdness. By way of comparison, the only reverb/modulation hardware that I have owned was a pretty basic Art Multiverb FX processor in the 90s, other than that, lots of stomp boxes and the occasional usage of some higher end Lexicon units. From memory, I tried to recreate the guitar sound I was getting many moons ago with a Boss CH-2/delay/reverb set of stompboxes. I think I was able to achieve this and go much further.
With UberMod, there is a lot going on ‘under the bonnet’, so to speak. There are nine different modulation algorithms to start with. I think the supplied presets are very good, but there’s much more that can be done with experimentation. For guitar, I found that a ‘transparent’ modulation can be achieved (no obvious vibrato, unless thats what you want), which did a very good job of ‘thickening’ things. The diffusion element is really interesting to me, I was able to create some great Harold Budd-esque piano type sounds. Using different instances of the plugin for (say) modulation or reverb or delays yields interesting results (incidentally, FLStudio’s ‘patcher’ is very good for creating multi-fx presets) ‘Unusual’ delays are one of it’s strong points (particularly with drums and percussion), as are ‘multi-fx’ presets and unique modulation configurations. There is a lot of scope for really ‘shaping’ almost any parameters and it’s all usable stuff, not just lots of ‘wacky’ presets. I’ve spent weeks experimenting with UberMod now and I’m still finding new combinations and possibilities – no ‘one trick pony’ here !
The minimalistic GUI suits me, I tire of all the eye candy stuff out there, this GUI does the job. UberMod allows you to export (and import) presets as text files, which is a pretty handy feature. The plug-in is very extensively documented on Sean Costello’s (the developer) Blog http://valhalladsp.wordpress.com/ with some very helpful ideas on creating new sounds with UberMod.
So, a very high quality plug-in with lots of scope for extensive experimentation, low CPU usage, a very reasonable price and an active developer – great stuff all round. Recommended ! Download the demo, it’s fully functional (with intermittent audio drop outs) here :
I’m playing some simple guitar chordal stuff to show eight presets that I made for an overdriven guitar sound, to try to achieve my favourite Alex Lifeson (Rush guitarist) type sound (‘thickening’ modulations primarily) The presets are faded in/out using FLstudio’s automation and I’m playing similiar stuff each time, to emphasise the different presets qualities.
I’ve uploaded a new video to Youtube which I think shows offt Ubermod’s capabilities with an improved guitar sound:
I play the guitar at least every other day, more or less purely for recreation and to regain some (much lost) fluency. I’m also getting some practise in for the guitar parts on my upcoming ‘IRIS’ album. Most of what I play is pretty rubbish really, repeating patterns that I’ve done for years, but every now and again, something good happens ! There’s a transcendental moment when it just comes together. As a kid, I was very impressed watching Led Zeppelin’s ‘The song remains the same’ live show and seeing Jimmy Page not looking at the fretboard of his guitar. I do the same when improvising whilst internet browsing (for one thing). It’s an interesting thing – the way the brain does two things simultaneously and the ‘focus switch’ between the conscious / sub-conscious. It’s not so much me being lazy and unconcentrated, more allowing the fingers to do one thing and the mind the other. I also try not to look at the fretboard to break up the ‘licks and patterns’ approach. I find that when I switch focus to the playing, I’m sometimes doing something unexpected.
I’ve played guitar for years now and there is a lot of repetition in my playing (and most other players, for that matter), I suppose this repetition defines my ‘style’. There’s an interesting Alexander technique analogy – what comes easy and naturally to us can lead to poor posture (not sure how well the analogy stands up ), similarly we tend to play what comes easiest (from a physical perspective) and from what we’ve developed when learning an instrument – unless you’re Robert Fripp of course and you go out of your way to makes things difficult !
Regarding the actual playing, I’m trying to get that ‘electric’ sound – fluid, legato hammer-ons/off with sustain (but not a high gain fuzz-out !) that I hear from my heavy rock heroes (Van Halen, Schenker, Uli Roth etc.). These days I opt for a dry tone (no delays generally) when recording, so there’s more going on with the dynamics of the playing. Regarding ambient music, I’ve noticed a fair bit of guitar soloing going on as of late – this wouldn’t be my approach (well, not for ambient anyway). I’ve got a box full of cassettes from my 4-track mid nineties noodlings, which I don’t plan to share with the world ! I find it odd that for a minimal music form, there is an element of pretty extended improvisational soloing. When I released my first album in 2003, I thought the idea of melodies and chordal patterns in ambient was somewhat profane, but I’ve ‘mellowed’ since then and my upcoming album ‘IRIS’ will feature guitar-isms quite heavily.
So my (perhaps somewhat laboured) point is, that something that has become automatic and repetitive can still break out of it’s own constraints with time, practise and most of all, the desire to do something new. To play a different phrase, think about the next notes as opposed to doing what you automatically, move to unfamiliar fingering pattern etc. I feel this is also a good mind-set for the music making process in general. It’s a wonderful thing improvisation, almost like speaking an entirely different language (when it works). On the subject of language, I’m certainly somewhat ‘blessed’ (if that’s the right word) at that aspect of improvisation !
Here’s a video of a one-take improvisation (mistakes and all). I’m playing over some work-in-progress material and yes, there’s a large reverb patch used (contradicting my earlier comment regarding a ‘dry’ tone) Apologies for the neck moving out of the frame on occasion – I moved around too much when recording, such is the excitement.