Node 303

I have to be careful how I word the following entry as I would like to talk about what I’m up to creatively but not give away too much at the same time. So, expect cryptic but no spoilers.

Node 303: It’s the working title of a gradually evolving assembly of audio works I create on a day to day basis in my very limited free time. Often, it will begin on my commute, stop when I reach work, resume during my tea and lunch breaks, then continue on my ride back home.

I’ve been noodling away at audio production for a few years now. If you follow what I do via this blog or my other channels, I know it would seem like I produce little and infrequently. This isn’t actually the case at all. I’m just the kind of individual who likes to keep my creative cards close to my chest, especially while I consider myself to still be in a state of research and development or learning.

As the lights of civilisation have slowly been flickering out over the last few years, for example: the rise of ugly nationalism in various countries, the apparent political cluster-fucks of Brexit and the horrendous catastrophe that is the Trump administration, Syria, a dying biosphere etc etc, I have found at times that my creativity has suffered from a slump, particularly in making music.

I recognised that this wasn’t a mentally healthy state to be in so, as mentioned before in an earlier post, I’ve either jumped onto technical problem solving such as working out how other artists do certain things, or I’ve switched to avenues such as writing or playing with graphics as ‘gap fillers’ until I get into a better frame of mind.

Something I had always shied away from was the use of my voice. I’ve no vocal training, have never thought of myself as a singer or song writer. As I love music, and have learnt how to make my own, it always felt like a chink in my metaphoric armour.

Over the last few months, I’ve had a happy accident in my creativity, I’ve begun taking elements from certain journals that I’ve written, recording my reading of my works, then adding a soundtrack that I’ve created. I found that even though the vocals are spoken, they have served very well to act as a skeleton on which to hang the flesh of rhythm, melody and various other sonic embellishments. So far so good…

All works to date can be considered as part of a larger body of work that will eventually be grouped together as a collection called ‘Node 303’ I’d like to think that this will be an indefinitely ongoing project while I’m alive.

It may take a few more months before I share what I’ve begun creating, but I’m excited by what I’ve produced so far, even though I know when the time comes to unify the various strands, I will need to add a lot of polish to the current collection of vignettes.

There are other plus points to this current paradigm of working. The music that forms the soundtracks is personally satisfying for me to listen to, If I mute the vocal elements, I find that everything else has a certain musical flow that I’m happy with. Not necessarily following the structure of a song: opening, verse, chorus, middle eight etc but as a soundtrack, the music has a logic to it. In this light, I may well use the soundtracks as another creative point to spring from. (I said that I’d have to be cryptic, didn’t I.)

At the conclusion of this brief update, I’ve told you ‘all and nothing’ at the same time, which in turn gives me a sense of success in achieving my slippery aims as stated at the start of the post. 

As an aside:

I’ve only a limited number of subscribers to my blog here, at the time of all the GDPR mayhem, I abstained from pinging out yet another mail asking you to consent and change your privacy settings, however, I did enable some extra privacy functionality to this website to allow users to manage privacy, should anyone wish to do something out of character and actually leave a comment beneath a post. If you no longer wish to receive copies of the infrequent blog entries such as this one, just click the ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of the mail. There won’t be any hard feelings if you do, I’m very much at ease with being unpopular on the web. If you don’t change anything, well, st some point soon, you’ll probably get a mail with a link to something weird and musical…

Shamanic Revival

taken from private journal

There’s a certain fine connective tissue between my creative projects. I know I’m partly guilty of flitting between proects rather than nailing down and ploughing through one idea with sustained focus.
I said in an earlier entry that I’d attempt to not do this, but I have to admit that chopping and changing tends to work quite well for me, I am retaining creativity daily after all.

I tend to find when I reach a creative block, especially when it’s music related, my mind tends to do one of two things. I either completely shift gears to another method of self expression or I return to something earlier where I got stuck. In the most recent case, it has been returning to a little project I’ve gradually evolved over the last couple of years.

Here’s a brief back story: For about thirty years I’ve been a fan of the former band ‘The Shamen’. The road got a bit bumpy in their later years after their bassist,(my first musical hero) Will Sinnott died, so my main point of  admiration tends to focus on the era between 1988-91 where the band, in my opinion, transited through their *golden age*.

When I lived in Norwich, the city centre market used to have a stall that sold bootleg recordings of gigs. I’d make a weekly visit there on the look out for stuff I was into, one one occasion I spotted a Shamen bootleg of them playing in Bournemouth doing a ‘Synergy’ club night. Because Synergy was a type of show that was part rave, part concert with a seamless transition between DJ sets and live acts, whoever had bootlegged the show also made a point of recording about half an hour’s worth of the DJ set. Most of the tunes in that section of the recording were old club classics of the day, elements of What time is Love by the KLF, Renegade Soundwave’s ‘The Phantom’. To my mind the standout track was the unexpected and fucking brilliant instrumental remix of Shamen track ‘Oxygen Restriction’

This version was unique to my collection as it appeared to have never been released… I had the tape for quite a few years, complete with poor quality cassette hiss, peoples voices forming a background ambience. I always felt frustrated that I had such an amazing recording so badly recorded. Sometime around 2003-2004, I found myself no longer owning a tape machine and it seemed that tape was dead in general. I clearly recall sizing up the tape, during a clear out and thinking ‘ah, I suppose I’ll never play this again’ and throwing it out with other rubbish. I have learnt to bitterly regret that choice over the years since then. Here’s why:

1. There are a small number Shamen Bootleg recordings online, none of which are the Bournemouth show.
2. I have since learnt that the reason the version of Oxygen Restriction is so obscure, Is probably because it was an on the fly live mix performed by Will and another DJ, ergo it was unique.
3. It looks like I was the only owner of the bootleg of the concert. If anyone else had it, they’ve never made it publicly available.

4. Since disposing of the aforementioned cassette, I have been haunted by the memory of the tune and remember it vividly enough to now be able to do something about it…nearly.

Needles to say, as I’ve gradually progressed with my ability to sequence and play music (Mainly on Nanostudio) I’ve made attempts to recreate the music I remember. I guess because I’m a perfectionist, I’ve felt frustrated at the things I know don’t sound quite right, or true to how I remember them.

Nanostudio sadly became a defunct DAW after having survived a few years and several iOS updates and phone iterations. The developer Blip Interactive decided to retire the app in the advent of the iPhone X and cease updating the software, consequently any Apple devices running the latest operating system could no longer open the old music production software.

For me, this meant that every piece of music I’d created and learnt from over the last four years had to be relegated to a digital graveyard. I still have my old phone with a working copy of my first DAW, including early attempts at Oxygen Restriction.

Musical creativity has shifted to the excellent and very portable GarageBand for iOS, where I’ve put focus into updating the more successful music projects from my earlier efforts. I know I’ve appeared to digress but bear with me on this.

The beauty of working on GarageBand whilst on commutes and work breaks is that nearly everything I create can be exported and built upon in Logic X for a more professional and polished sound.
Recently I’ve returned to the quest to faithfully recreate that long lost bootleg mix of Oxygen Restriction, and its definitely progressing along in leaps and bounds. Call me an anorak, but I felt a sense of glee when I spotted an old Shamen video of Colin Angus playing a Yamaha DX7 ; “A clue!” I thought. I found an app that was free and claimed to be a faithful emulator of the old DX sounds. Sure enough, one of the settings had a synth noise incredibly similar to the opening chords of Hyperreal. Coincidentally, the same sound was used in that obscure Oxygen Restriction version, so that’s another box I can tick.

Revisiting the Shamen as I do, I have found my imagination wandering around on other things I have always admired but felt haunted by for various reasons. For example, it transpires from various other publicly available bootlegs that the band evolved ideas for their tracks over the course of a live tour. The track Phorward played live was a significant departure from the version on the album of the same name. Elements of the Pro-gen rap can be heard in Colin’s singing. I’m particularly fond of the Bootleg ‘Shamen Live at Suberrania’ as it sounds like Colin and Will were on fire with energy. The songs were incredibly punchy and performed with precision. Once again, I have the nagging spectre of dissatisfaction with audio quality.

On the one hand, I could think ‘it was of the moment- should’ve been there’. On the other hand I think ‘I could probably make a close approximation of these tunes and make snappy instrumental versions of them’ The creative drive dictates the outcome, the lack of perfection of my musical ability remains the only hindrance …but I’m working on that and confident that I’ll get to where I need to.

Contender tracks are:

Phorward: current obstacles are sourcing the opening samples.
“and they can’t find it? Then we’ll find it! We all know damn well they won’t. They haven’t been able to for 50.000 years looking at it that way. It requires an alteration, a change…”

*Update: Source located*

War Prayer:

*Awaiting bass recording from session bassist*

Misinformation:

*Vast collection of modern equivalent samples currently amassing*

You, Me and Everything (Evil Ed live Subterrania ‘Funky’ version)

*Original samples hard to identify: If you know the gaps to the following problem, I’d love to hear from you “Yaaaaah (Got) Here it is (Unknown) ???????? Hit it (Got) cold rock stuff (Got)”

Splash 2/What’s Going Down?

*Sequencing started, having trouble with the main synth riff which is a 6/8 loop the notes are correct, the synth sounds are just wrong.

I don’t mind taking on the challenge of recreating and experimenting with the works of another long respected artist. I personally feel that an attempted copy will teach me where my strengths and weaknesses are, it will allow me greater insight into the creative processes of arrangement as the original tracks provide a template. Given that I sometimes struggle with my own arrangements, having a form of replica will provide insights into how Colin and Will worked back in the day, as I’ve learnt from my attempted recreation of Hyperreal last year, seeing a track laid out on the piano roll of a Daw is an insight that almost everyone lacks when they hear a tune that they love. It can be quite an education.

Umpsquamadic Vector

I stumbled into generating Scalable Vector Graphics by accident as I was experimenting with the Wacom pen.
I began with an app called ‘Assembly’ and it turned out that using fingers was more effective anyhow. I’ve spent most of my breaks this week having a go at making a test Umpsquamadic Peel image.

This took a bit of time and developed into the following graphic

Just for shits’n giggles. I’m encouraged that the digital files are so easy to manipulate and add quick variations to.
In Assembly, certain limitations became apparent. The repetition of dots around the perimeter involved a lot of copy/paste operations and scaling down. The end result being an object of somewhere around one thousand components. The iPad seemed to deal with this fairly well, however, once I’d attempted to duplicate the object within Assembly, adding another thousand or so components, the device went painfully slow, clearly suffering from insufficient RAM . Once again, the case for upgrading hardware becomes a consideration.

Saturday became a day of creative exploration in the visual domain. I carried on with experimental imagery based upon the fateful day in 1992 using a collection of graphics programs mainly for the iPad. These had been apps that I’d previously downloaded but found little in the way of use for as I had no particular plan in mind. Today however, I went to town messing around with all of them (as they suggest and link to each other) the following images are from those experiments.

As it turns out, I can produce artwork on the fly and quickly. Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges but I’m rediscovering how to express imagery that has been kicking around in the back of my brain for years. I think the digital medium is an excellent way of expressing it. I tried with pen and ink back in the 90’s.

Back then it was the best I could do, and as any artist will agree, when a person has a photographic image in their head, although traditional mediums are a useful way of expressing the seed idea, there is always a compromise that the image is an approximation of the idea, rather than a vivid capture of what is seen in the mind’s eye.

 

Track Change

For a moment’s pause, I’ve stepped away from the audio I was working on recently. There’s only so far I can go in my break times, coupled with the infuriating inability of iOS to not be capable of downloading sound files like Wavs when away from the computer.

The glue that will tie my various experiments together will be a narrative track. That in itself requires being written again as I have looked back at what I wrote in 2002 and feel that it largely needs improvement.

Whilst I’ve been working on sound, I’ve been considering the visual elements of the project. I purchased a test stylus for iPad drawing; A Wacom Bamboo Sketch and downloaded a few drawing apps to see how sketching on a tablet may work for me. I’m undecided yet but in my heart, I know it’s probably that I’m slowly coming round to the idea of upgrading to iPad Pro and trying my luck with the pencil that was designed for it.

I think this has sprung from the often used statement

‘I don’t draw any more because I don’t have time’

It leaves me with a hollow feeling as I know it is partly an excuse. If it really is a matter of time, then maybe so need to reassess those elements that I feel are time consuming and find a more efficient solution.

Technological inks and paints appear to have made giant leaps in the last decade, and I’m witnessing some wonderful digital art by other creators. In this light, I need to remove the excuses and just explore new approaches. Expect to see some tests here soon.

Strum & Bass

Strum and Bass

Yesterday in some respects was a slow day in creative terms. I did experiment with GarageBand IOS.
I’d seen a video on my newsfeed in the morning showing how to expand the sound of the native ‘smart guitar’. (Basically midi guitar ) output, to extend the limited pallet of sonics available.

Much of my break time noodling revolves around noodling with that. While the smart guitar can fake the physical instrument it is trying to emulate fairly well, the ear still knows that no strings are vibrating.

I messaged another user briefly on Facebook and enquire whether the virtual amp software comes into its own if one plugs a real guitar into the program? The person indicated that it does indeed, so I may well invest in a small interface called an iRig.

In the evening, I went to the cabin and picked up my acoustic out of a partial sense of guilt, having neglected to play with regularity over the last month. I tried some finger picking exercises set by John G, my tutor. That was a somewhat frustrating experience. I then tried some things I enjoy and know how to play, this was an improvement. I then loaded up Robin Finck’s interview where he talks about guitar strings and plays a little variation on a Nine Inch Nails rhythm.

(Skip to 8:33)

I studied his fretboard positioning and tried to copy it. Without the same effects pedals or electric guitar, my version sounded plodding by contrast but I was quite pleased that I’d picked up the tune, then rounded off the small session by finding a rhythm from the song Demon Seed.

As with all my guitar work so far, small steps lead to small victories. I remain grateful for even those.

Umpsquamadic Peel Song: Pt 2

Umpsquamadic Peel Song: Pt 2

Last night I put guitar practice aside to nudge the Umpsquamadic Peel song along a bit further.

I lined up four vocal variations of me singing the song as an overdub, in Logic. I then experimented with some plug-ins for vocal transformation, space designer (reverb) I was particularly pleased with the vocal transform as it managed to create a female tone amongst the masculine ones.
At some point during the noodling, I added another distortion effect to make the piece a little less human sounding. It worked very well but at the cost of losing the female sounding voicing . I’m not 100% committed to using this experiment in the final piece but it has emboldened me to know that I’m now getting better at taking sounds from my mind and have a basic enough knowledge to do a fairly accurate reproduction of them.

I took the loop I’d created and dropped it into the project ‘Walk of fear’ (working title) I was pleasantly surprised that it fit the composition without my need to time stretch or chop up in anyway. So now I know that the Umpsquamadic Peels sing somewhere around 110bpm

It occurred to me whilst singing the loop , that I could add a variation. It’s a gut feeling that my idea is faithful to the nature of the incident.
I’m thinking of a line that goes:

I’ve always known I’ve felt like this before, and I always knew that I was born before.

Two before’s …I might have to think about tweaking the first line.

(Later )

During the day I had a play around with the Umpsquamadic vocal track combining it with a copy of the ‘Walk of fear ‘ track. Rhythmically, they don’t quite line up and I’m going to have to resolve this somehow without compromising either in a significant way. It’s only the last two bars that present the issue.

When I got home I played around with a couple of other connected ideas belonging to the overall arc of what will he the entire piece. Firstly I recorded a paragraph of dialogue along the lines of

“There is a word. If you find yourself in a terrible place and you are no longer able to cope, if the world becomes mad and you need a way out, then say _________ and an exit will appear”

I inserted a high pitch tone into the blank space, added some vocal butchery to the dialogue and found that the result was a pleasing approximation of this baffling memory.

I played it back to Tanya later and she immediately picked up on errors in delivery and cadence, giving me some tips on how to deliver the vocal more commandingly. This was useful to know, besides, this recorded dialogue was only an experiment.

Down the studio later, I spent around twenty minutes recording another element I’ll refer to here as ‘supersonic bionic
A weird memory of an acid drenched flight of fancy, the amuse bouche before the main course of horror.

Rhythm Experiments.

Rhythm Experiments.

Having recently listened to Trent Reznor verbally describing the process involved in producing the Nine Inch Nails track The Lovers
I was particularly interested in his description of adding a type of rhythmic modulation to a sound by creating a repeating pattern that would loop every three bars against the 4/4 drum rhythm.
I’m not describing this as well as I could, but the idea would suggest that over the course of a segment of the tune, the shorter pattern would introduce random variations over the beat.
I made the mistake in my break time experimenting, of using an arpeggiated synth noise that I feel was too fast, set against a drum patten that already had breaks and fills. The end result was somewhat underwhelming but I’m comfortable about the fact that I can quickly spot the error.
I’ll try again during the week with a more repetitive 4/4 drum sequence and play my own monophonic melody.

Umpsquamadic Peel Song : Pt 1

Umpsquamadic Peel Song : Pt 1

(Aka’ The walk of fear’ )

Just over two weeks ago I began experimenting with constructing audio elements that are as accurate as memory can muster, versions of parts of my bad trip in 1992.

This project has technically been gestating in my brain ever since I had my ‘eureka!’ moment of recall in Penzance, where I was suddenly able to fill the blanks of that dreadful day.

In 1997 I successfully completed attempt number #1 by making a student film on S-VHS called ‘Mind Grenade’ it was a Labour if love at the time, I was working in a pre- digital film and editing environment, so the results are fairly crude. Due to limited time and lack of resources, the accompanying soundtrack had certain created elements but most of the background audio was actually a disturbing early Marilyn Manson track that was mainly ambient.

Skipping ahead twenty years, I carry in my pocket and backpack a collection of software solutions that would make my former college tutors blush.

I’ve never forgotten the Umpsquamadic peels or their eerie sky song , so I’ve been experimenting recreating the sounds and atmosphere of that part of the bad trip in GarageBand during my work breaks. I’ve been pleased with the results but missing the vocal parts.

On Saturday afternoon, I picked up my Op-1 for the first time in about three months and decided it was time to have another go at getting into it. (I have a love / hate relationship with said item) I found myself beginning to attempt the Umpsquamadic Peel song on it and by Sunday morning had actually managed to generate something I felt was a fairly good expression of what I was thinking.

This has actually redeemed the Op-1 to a certain extent as being owned by me was beginning to be a precarious matter.it has been on very thin ice on account of the fact so many items I’ve created on it have actually developed into something I’ve found meaningful. Comparatively, most things I do on my iPad or phone have been infinitely superior. The OP-1 finally delivered the goods by mangling my voice via the CWO filter. It may have other uses as an FX box yet.

Later… It has transpired that the version of the AIFF file I popped in Dropbox contains too many non-editable sounds, needless to say I can’t use it. I have since read that I can extend the length of a sample in the OP-1 , in turn it will allow me a second attempt at singing the song, refining my vocal technique and not recording two bars at a time.

The ultimate aim of this particular project is to make a short narrated story of the fateful day , complete with soundtrack, video effects ‘Mind Grenade Redux’
I’ll rewrite the original Erowid.com contribution and update links. To date it has accumulate in excess of 27,000 views , rattled a few readers minds and inspired a prog-metal tune by an artist called Cynthia Witthoft who borrowed the title ‘Bad Trip and Umpsquamadic Peels’

Depending on the success of this little venture, I may well attempt the polar opposite experience I had ‘Encounter with the Psychehedron’

There’s another story.

Later in the day, I went down to the cabin and set up my mic to record my singing the Umpsquamadic Peel song then overdubbing it four times. I haven’t edited and totally aligned the discrepancies between takes, but given that I have little confidence in my singing voice presently, it was s feat to actually attempt the manoeuvre in the first place.

Back From the Dead

Shucks. Does anyone still visit? Well, I’ve reconciled a difficult issue I felt myself facing whenever I’ve updated this blog, namely age+experience+doubts=No posting

Age: Less need for having my ego fed by having a ‘Look at me’ website

Experience: The recognition that the web has mutated into a deformed monster version of its sweet little baby younger self, it is angry, full of wicked lies and crooks. If I have a personal blog, how do I know that it won’t be used against me? 

Doubts: Who gives a monkeys if I blog and have a website?

No posts: see above.

Yet I pay for my domain name every year. Well, that’s stupid If I’m not doing anything with it.

Solution: I’ve been keeping journals again using a fabulous app called ‘Day One‘ I admit that I love it as it helps organise my thoughts. I’ve subdivided the journal into Life, Dreams, Questions asked by users of (and answered by me) on Quora. Lastly, a creative journal.

In the case of the later, I’ve found that it helps and motivates me to keep a track of what I do, why I do it and how i do it. I began to think, this journal in particular would be a candidate for blogging. In this spirit, I will copy entries from my personal journal and post them here on my site for my ever invisible, somewhat limited audience. Having said that, as my SEO metadata may be picked up by search engines and attract new viewers. If what I’m doing interests you or if you feel that I could be doing it better and you know how I could, then I will always welcome correspondence from interested, creative parties.

 

 

Oops

I haven’t updated for a while, well not publicly. There are several entries that I could do with finishing and publishing. As the audience here is fairly limited, just so you know I haven’t vanished off the face of the Earth, here’s what 2016 looked like to me, when it wasn’t being all worky, Brexity and Trumpy.