This is the Great Void

I decided to play around with a couple of synths, a bit of MIDI, a handmade BEW pedal and see what happened. This is the result.
In the process I taught myself a couple of new things about recording too.
I got to the end of the lyrics and realised I really ought to have rewritten the first verse but time was not on my side. So have at thee.
Guest vocals by Becca Allen.

An Introduction

So I think I’m going to do a thing.  Like really commit to something.
I’m gonna make a piece of music once a week for the next 53 weeks.

This is my first piece. I’m keeping it rough and ready. This is only the beginning.

Drum loops from Siggi Baldursson.

Meaty glorious guitar solo in the coda by Stevie McKnight: steven-mcknight1
Other guitars & percussion by me.

A.R.C. Live At Last

A.R.C. Live At Last

Barry, Saul and I are making our live début as ARC at long last.  Well that’s what I thought until last night at this event when Saul reminded me that we’d played one of Barry’s Listen… nights in the Menagerie a couple of years back.
But still, that was a long time ago and we’ve changed our approach and our aesthetic quite a bit since then so I’m still thinking of this in terms of début.

ARC are an improvising trio based around drums, double bass, bass guitar and handmade electronics.

We’ve played in public two three times before. The first second time was as a three-piece to demonstrate the work of ceramicist Andrew Cooke:
Here’s some YouTube footage of that event.
Not a full ARC gig, as we were there to explore the instruments Andrew had made.

The second third time was just Saul and I, performing at an art happening (it really was) called Fresh Meat in the Crescent Arts Centre.
Barry was performing at a festival in Brazil at the time but he was there in spirit in the guise of a light-controlled synth right at the front of the stage.
So, again, not a full ARC gig.

This time though, we’ll be kicking it old-school.  Barry will be providing instructional/motivational projections and video and we’ll be accompanied by Martin Byrne, one of Belfast’s more prolific sonic artists.

So yeah, roll up roll up for ARCLight at OpenSourceNI, 3-5 Commercial Court, Belfast from 2-3pm on Sunday 4th of May 2014.

A Curious Case

I’ve spent an afternoon relearning a short piece I wrote three or four years ago.
I came up with it the usual way, a chord pattern turns up under my fingers, then a second chord that I like, then a kept poking until I find a complete set.
A bit like collecting bubblegum stickers for a sticker album.
I recorded a quick and dirty sketch mainly to work out some harmonies but ended up with synth backing instead.
We used it as one of the pieces we performed with Shane & Terry until that fell apart, but I’ve hardly even thought about the piece since then.
Relistening to it last night I was a little irked at the sloppiness of the playing but mostly I was confounded by how obtuse I’d been in my note choice. I know my ear is a bit rusty and this just underscored that rust before going back over each letter with a biro.
I was deliberate in using chord fragments that don’t play to the usual major or minor & root configurations, and I think this piece is better for it even if the hand positions, the changes and the rhythm of it are awkward to play convincingly.

I tried to rerecord of to a click track once and failed completely, so I may try it again. If I can ever play it right.

Beginning to hate computer recording

I had a P4 laptop with 750ish meg of ram, a 30gb hd, running Windows 2000, then XP.
I was using Cubase LE 1.1 and everything was fine. It never glitched while recording or during playback and it handled my largest project without issue, seven minutes of seventeen live audio tracks recorded to a click with programmed tempo changes.
I had fades, EQ and FX applied.
It never once complained until the laptop itself failed.

So now I’m using a one-year-old laptop, Pentium B940, 640GB HD, 4GB ram, Win 7 and Cubase Elements 6.
It will not record a single live track without the latency becoming painfully obvious before the end of the third bar, drifting ever further out of time the longer the recording.

I want to hurl all my hardware, laptop, soundcard, speakers, keyboard, mouse, into a skip and go back to using two stereo cassette decks.

Seriously, making music should not be this difficult.

FAO Mr Martin Byrne @Marty_Byrne

Mr Byrne has previous experience of this and his recent tweet struck a chord with me.

Producing music and video on a smartphone has been bothering me for a fair while now. There are some quality pieces of work produced either partly or mainly on phone handsets, but the video below reinforces for me that the medium is most definitely the message in work like this. The extra attachments, processing time, additional apps, compromises, etc., all seem say that making the art on a smartphone is as important as the art itself.

What this says about the artist I don’t know. What I do know is that less technical effort and expense is required while using slightly more dedicated equipment. 

Are there boundaries, limitations imposed by the phone that inspires truly satisfying envelope-pushing? Can the fixed-focus lens lead to breakthroughs in storytelling, scripting or directing?

Or is it part of the techie trend, reinventing a wheel simply to be seen to have a wheel?

From filming through to special effects, smartphone technology offers all the elements required to make a movie. But will the finished product really be good enough for your local cinema?

Here, we show you how the film was made, give you tips on how to make your own masterpiece and tell you what apps and accessories you might need.


Music for the Cinema

Barry Cullen, Peter Cullen and I were engaged in writing a score for an 80 minute film from 1922. The film, called Wheels of Chance and based on a short story by H.G. Wells, is very much of its time; a comedy of errors and an exploration of the social changes wrought by the rise of the bicycle; the blurring of the lines between classes and the increased freedom bicycles afforded women.

The film was to be shown at a festival was called On Your Bike and it was promoted by the Waterfront and Belfast City Council, although unfortunately it seemed to be a footnote in their marketing.

While we had slightly more than two month’s notice of this project, various difficulties meant that we had about three weeks between receiving the only DVD from the BFI library and the performance date.


I’d be lying if I claimed that any of us had any experience in this area.

Both Barry and I have produced short soundtracks before but these have been simple, non-narrative pieces exploring sonic spaces rather than long-form descriptive movements written to support and explicate a drama.

It’s been a serious learning experience.

Before our final rehearsal I’d thought what we’d end up with would have good moments. The final movement, for example, is really lovely, one of the pursuit sections has evolved into a brilliantly oddball piece of tension, and the theme for the main protagonist is an hilarious earworm of woodwinds, but I thought it would very obviously be a rushed first attempt.  For three people with full-time jobs and a good selection of other musical commitments, I thought we’d acquit ourselves well and be not in the least ashamed of what we were to perform.

As it turned out, the final rehearsal saw everything coalesce, everyone brought out the flourishes they’d been thinking about but had yet to unveil.  From Sunday morning after we packed up our equipment, the red mist had truly come down – we were cooking and ready to serve the beef.

But I have to say, writing a film score for a silent movie is very, very difficult.

For a movie post-“2001: A Space Odyssey” the task is fundamentally different. Hell, “Lawrence of Arabia” marked a sea-change in movie making as far back as 1962, but David Lean’s radical advances were only really starting to become mainstream by the time Coppola filmed The Godfather in 1972.
Digressions aside, the cinema I’m used to is so far removed from that of 1922 as to be a wholly different language, a separate art form.

There are no tracking or panning shots. There are no mood-setting wide shots. Rarely does scene lasts much longer than 10 or 15 seconds without being broken up by on-screen dialogue and if it does it has fixed camera placement for its duration. Every single shot contains one or more of the main characters so there is little scope for pure ambience or mood-setting.

In the process what we have learned about themes, motifs, key changes, reaction themes, timbre, texture, phrasing, tonality, voicing, repetition, suggestion, variation (to name but a few) would fill a thick volume.  But we’d do it again like a shot.

The film was shown in the Waterfront Studio, Belfast at 6pm on Sunday 4th September, its first screening for around 90 years, while we performed our new work live (more details here).  I don’t think either Barry or Pete would contradict me in saying there were a fair amount of jangling nerves pre-show…

Once we got going though, apart from a couple of (ahem) technical issues such as playing to a different edit of the movie than that to which we’d written and rehearsed our score, we came good and presented a much better piece than we expected to nothing but praise and applause from the audience.

Thought for the moment.

I’m listening to AC/DC’s Fly on the Wall for the first time in two decades, on vinyl.
There are some great songs and potentially fat chops on this album, but was it spoiled by production decisions?
It has a very “in the room” production, where it genuinely sounds like they’re playing in a church hall and you are one of fifty people at the far end, loving it. But it just doesn’t work as a reference work.
Like Black Sabbath’s output between Vol.4 and Technical Ecstacy, like most rock music between 1978 and the late 90s, no-one seems to be listening to the guys and girls who have been working with mic placement and room mapping.