The Workout Ruse

eurorackwall

eurorackwall.jpg

Hello.

January has been a bit less productive in terms of finished tracks than I had expected or would have liked, but I’ve still been doing a fair bit. I’ve re-organised and upgraded the studio so that I have far more simultaneous inputs for recording, and better access to my hardware effects, which is good. Just a matter of the final bit of cabling and it’ll be good to go.

Anyway, here’s a new track, that may or may not be on the next Cup Fungus album:

2016.

With the death of what seemed like a disproportionate amount of highly admired famous people, and a number of disappointing political outcomes, it’s probably fair to say that many people will be glad to see the back of this year, and the ‘curse of 2016’.

Without commenting much on any of that, I’m going to take a look back on the past 12 months from my own perspective. Musically, 2016 has been a great year; a year of re-awakening after a four to five year drought. I’ve built up my home studio, getting back into electronics and falling down the Eurorack hole; written, recorded, and released 3 solo studio albums, plus one EP; properly reformed my band Closet Organ and released our first ever full length album on vinyl; started up my DIY label Cow Tongue Taco Records; and played my first ever live gigs as unexpected bowtie – first in Osaka, and then in Glasgow.

It can be too easy to forget what you’ve managed to achieve over a 12 month period, so I think it’s good to look back and reflect a bit. Here’s some of the highlights:

  • January 2016 – Started recording music again, and released the ‘really something‘ EP.
  • March 2016 – Released my first full length album since 2012 – ‘drouth‘. Also set up noisepedals.com, which now has over 1,000 followers on Instagram.
  • May 2016 – Set up my DIY cassette label, Cow Tongue Taco Records.
  • July 2016  – Released the ‘bonkers and disturbing electro’ album ‘defame the dead‘ under the alternative moniker cup fungus.
  • August 2016 – Released ‘drouth (reprise)‘, with guest vocals from some awesome fellow musicians.
  • September 2016 – Closet Organ release ‘5318008’ on vinyl, cassette, and digital download.
  • October 2016 – Closet Organ album launch party, and played my first ever live gig as unexpected bowtie, at the Space Station in Osaka, Japan.
  • November 2016  – Released the fifth full length unexpected bowtie album – ‘Tokyo‘.
  • December 2016 – Played my first ever Glasgow gig as unexpected bowtie, and finally signed up for an unexpected bowtie Instagram account.

Not to mention upping my video game with a new camera. Here’s a sample from the other night:

Of course, there’s not much use in simply looking back and neglecting what you want to aim for in the future. Aside from writing and recording as much music as I can, I have some specific things I want to make happen:

  • Release an unexpected bowtie album composed entirely on a pocket calculator.
  • Listen to more music than I did in 2016.
  • Release a new Cup Fungus album.
  • Play more gigs as unexpected bowtie, both at home and abroad – with the possibility of a mini tour.
  • Look into a Closet Organ tour.
  • Release a bunch of different artists on the Cow Tongue Taco label.
  • Produce a lot more video content for YouTube.

Let’s see how 2017 goes. Happy New Year.

Playing in Glasgow

unexpected-bowtie-stereo-13

Last night I played as unexpected bowtie at Stereo in Glasgow, closing out the charity gig that I mentioned in the last post.

After years of recording in the studio, 2016 has been the year for getting out and playing live – first in Osaka, and now in my home city. This time around, I expanded my setup slightly from having just two Game Boys, to make things a bit more interesting.

Tonight_s_live_rig._Bonus_points_for_identifying_the_pedals.__electronicmusic__pedalporn__effectspedals__pedalboard__chiptune__gameboy__nintendo__gig__noisemakers__pedalporn.jpg

I also roped in Lee aka radiomoths to come along and lend a hand by controlling visuals to spice things up. When the screen broke, he managed to grab some pictures as well. How multi-talented. All pictures from here out are thanks to him…

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-1.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-2.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-4.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-6.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-5.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-8.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-17.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-19.jpg

Unexpected Bowtie, Stereo-21.jpg

Thanks a lot to the Uncovered Artistry folks for having us!

Check out the video below for a look at a bit of the gig…

Glasgow Gig – 7th December 2016

15224720_10208108335409255_894442678_o

Some pretty cool news to share… Fresh from playing in Osaka last month, I’ll be closing out the Uncovered Artistry charity gig at Stereo on the 7th of December.

15224720_10208108335409255_894442678_o.jpg

It’ll be the first time I’ve played under the bowtie guise in Glasgow, and Stereo is a pretty cool venue, so it should be an interesting night! There’s a bunch of other local artists on the bill as well, who are worth checking out. Have a swatch at the event page below for details.

Details:

18+
Tickets: £5 at door, £4 online, £4 students
Puchase here: http://www.uncoveredartistry.com/tickets
Facebook Event Page: HERE

Secondly, you can now find my latest album TOKYO on Spotify, Apple Music, and the likes. Get in about it.

Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

Thoughts on Eurorack

dsc_1464

The whole reason I ended up getting into the world of electronics was in a never ending quest to find new and different sounds that I could incorporate into my music. Based on that, it was probably inevitable that I would turn to the black hole of the modular synth – in Eurorack format.

I’ve been building up my collection over the past few months, and thought it was time I shared some of my thoughts on the medium. So here goes: my notes on Eurorack.

DSC_1466.jpg

It never ends: The well documented curse of the Eurorack comprises both its greatest asset, and its deepest problem. The awesome thing is that you can build up a system that does exactly what you want it do. If a particular module isn’t getting much use, you can switch it out and trade or buy something that performs the exact function you do want. The problem is that pulling together the perfect synth is a never ending task, and there is always more that you can imagine adding on to do extra things.

The problem of rows: This leads on from the above. Let’s say you have a 6u, two row system, and you’ve limited yourself to that size. Now let’s say that you have a great setup, but you realise that to really make your patches sing, you need another envelope generator, or VCO. Just one. The problem is that there is no cost effective way to just get and power that single module; you may as well just get another whole row, but then you have a whole row to fill, and it’s inevitable that you will.

It’s bloody expensive: Whilst the range of modules on offer is awesome, the financial outlay is substantial, even for small systems. You can get full featured synths for the cost of a couple of modules that only perform single functions each, which is something I can’t dwell on for too long, or I’ll cry.

If you want to get an idea of the problem of expanding setups, check out the pictures below. Before, then after.

14322765_10155246973648312_7854722076394790780_n.jpg

studio.jpg

Now for some positive things…

Modulate all the things: With Eurorack, you get an amazing level of control over the different elements of your synthesiser. If you want to vary the volume of a certain element, or the kind of filter, or… anything else really, you can do so in seemingly endless ways by taking the output of different modules and using them as controllers. So for example, you can automate filter sweeps with an envelope triggered by the 4th step in a sequence, or whatever else. Trying to make all of those changes by hand on a traditional synth would be a nightmare, and opens up lots of possibilities.

The community is great: The online modular synth community is great. People will go out of their way to help you, and the whole thing is rooted in the open source ethos, and a DIY spirit.

So many modules: Okay, I’ve kind of mentioned this already, but the number of different modules that you can get that do interesting things is crazy. One of the things I like in particular is that there are all sorts of unusual sequencers that change up the way you approach things, which you would never be able to find on a stand-alone instrument.

Composing is FUN: Tweaking all of the different parameters is a source of endless amusement, and it’s great fun exploring the possibilities for an hour, only for it all to suddenly come together and produce the most amazing sounds. The tactile nature of the Eurorack really feels great, and like a naturally evolving creative process.

I find myself writing a whole lot more music, but with a different approach. Instead of finishing everything that I record, I now end up with a lot more in the way of loops, that I dig through later to find those that stand the test of time on a fresh listen. This is partly because finding ways to develop melodies on the Eurorack that don’t just repeat variations of the same sequence is a real challenge. That said though, it’s a refreshing change from writing full tracks on the Game Boy. It definitely won’t replace it, but it’s good to have a different outlet.

DSC_1464.jpg

I still need to work out how the Eurorack could possibly be incorporated in a live environment, as changing patches over between tracks seems like an impossible task at this point, and not able to replicate sounds consistently enough. I really hope that I can manage it at some point though, as taking the rig with all of its lights to perform with would be amazing. 

stephen-studio.jpg

Thanks to Lee and Grace for the pictures.

 

 

New Album: TOKYO

Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

unexpected bowtie tokyo album artwork.jpg

Today I’m releasing my fifth full-length unexpected bowtie album: TOKYO.

Darker and more up-tempo than most of my previous work, TOKYO was primarily written on a DMG-01 Game Boy using LSDJ, though there is some extra synthy goodness and guitars thrown in for good measure.

Written while on long international plane and train journeys, this is music inspired by the lights and movement of globe-trotting; a lingering salute to the people that make up some of the greatest cities in the world.

2.jpg

TOKYO Tapes 1.jpg

You can stream the album for free on Bandcamp, or get the full digital download for £3. There are also 15 hand-painted cassette tapes available for £5 each, which look pretty awesome if I do say so myself. It will eventually be on Spotify as well, but not for another few weeks.

wolf sanctuary

This week hasn’t been the easiest. This track felt like an appropriate reflection.

Recorded with some Commodore 64 SID chips, a bunch of Eurorack, drones, some guitar, and far too many effects pedals.

Chipmusic in Japan

Processed with VSCO with 9 preset

I’ve spent the past few weeks travelling about Japan, and had an amazing time. Coming back to the UK has been a proper reverse-culture shock. Take me back?

As part of the trip, I got in touch with some fellow chipmusicians and chiplovers thanks to tips from pselodux and ended up playing my first live set at the Space Station in Osaka.

img_2094 - by Al.jpg

img_20921 - by Al.jpg

14883672_10210695675653141_3599761016749624769_o.jpg

14876425_10210695689173479_8210331587170374242_o.jpg

Thanks to Al and Jarrod Chappell for the above pics.

Expect more live stuff to come now that I’ve made the leap from the studio… Special thanks to these two for being so nice and hanging out:

IMG_4459.JPG

In addition to playing in Osaka, in Tokyo I met up with chiptune historian Takashi Kawano, aka akaobi. He tipped us off to an awesome underground electro gig in Koenji, with folks like SunaMachiSoundSystem performing with a Game Boy Advance and Nanoloop, and tobokegao who was rocking a DMG/LSDJ combo with tracks from his Picnic album. You should definitely check them out. Everybody was so friendly to a weird gaijin who didn’t speak a word of Japanese, so thank you for that!

IMG_6084.JPG
akaobi
IMG_6087.JPG
SunaMachiSoundSystem
IMG_6083.JPG
tobokegao

To mark the occasion, I’ve uploaded a new track to SoundCloud, which will feature on an upcoming album. Here’s BCN:

 

Osaka Gig and New Track

unexpected bowtie live Osaka poster

I’m going to be in Japan in the next couple of weeks, and have confirmed my first live outing as unexpected bowtie, at Space Station in Osaka, which is apparently in the ‘Top 30 Recommended Sights of Japan as Chosen by Foreign Visitors‘. The set will be stripped down to a single Game Boy only, given that we are travelling, so should be something a little different. If you happen to be in the area, it’d be awesome to see you there!

chiptune - portable rig

To mark the occasion, I’ve written a new track that’s up now on Soundcloud. Composition wise, it’s just a single Game Boy, with a tiny little added bit of Commodore 64, and extra drums. Enjoy!

Whoahoahoah what’s going on

I haven’t posted in a while, but that isn’t as a result of a lack of activity… quite the opposite. It’s been a fairly busy couple of months. I head over to Japan for 3 weeks shortly, so before we go on a short hiatus, here’s an update on what’s been going on… complete with lots of pictures.

Closet Organ – 5318008

My grunge pish band released our debut album, which was recorded in just three days in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. It got partly funded via Kickstarter, and we have vinyl on the way, which is pretty exciting. You can order a digital/tape/vinyl copy by clicking on the artwork below…

Cover Artwork.jpg

and if you are supremely lazy, then you can stream below… right from this page:

We have our album launch gig on Saturday in Glasgow at the 13th Note, with the awesome Ex Wives. Come along if you happen to be in the area… it should be a good one. Click through on the poster for the Facebook event.

Closet Organ and Ex Wives.png

The stage will look something like this… but smaller.

clickysteve_1471560523_hd.jpg

Eurorack

I was always totally confused and intimidated by the world of Eurorack, but I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up getting involved at some point. I started out by getting a single 3u row skiff case, and a few modules…

3037254847_40cf0fdc-cb43-45e8-a440-750d8c3cf072.jpg

and ended up progressing to a wooden 6u rack cabinet…

Current_state_of_affairs.__homestudio__synthporn__dreadbox__erebus__modular__eurorack__modularsynth__beatsteppro.jpg

and eh, this is the current state of affairs…

clickysteve_1474820751.jpg

The whole thing is helping me understand synthesis and signal flow a lot better, which is definitely a good thing. I am still investigating how best to incorporate the wonderful sounds that the various modules create in my music… but it’s just a matter of taking the time. I suspect it will form part of a cup fungus release in future, though the possibilities are (dangerously) endless. The lights and… tactility of the whole thing is irresistible, and I’m looking forward to devoting some attention to it after the Japan trip.

One cool module worth mentioning is the SID Guts. It uses a C64 chip for producing sounds, which of course is something I had to try out. I ordered a chip from some ‘specialist’ seller on eBay, and it was so badly packed that it turned up like this…

This_is_what_happens_when_you_don_t_package__commodore64__sid_chips_properly._I_m_furious_at_the_eBay_seller_who_did_this.__chiptune__chipmusic.jpg

Needless to say, I was not happy. I sent it back, and took the opportunity to get an 8580 SID from elsewhere. I’ve got 6581 chips in both my TherapSID and the actual C64, so good to try out a bit of variation.

Despite all of my Eurorack desires, I’ll be stopping at two rows for now. I have a third row all planned out, but it’s probably wise to take a step back and release something based on the gear that I already have before plowing ahead any further.

Moar GameBoys

Because you can never have too many. I finally got my act together and finished up a project that I’d had on the back burner for a while – an all ‘white’ DMG, complete with white backlight, frosted white case, white case LEDs, and glow in the dark buttons. I even used white wire on the inside. It looks pretty awesome…

3037254847_39764ba6-b192-4081-8899-c77dc8a54327.jpg

So what’s next?

Once I come back from scowering the various second hand electronics shops in Japan, I have a bunch of different projects that I want to pull together:

  • A new, full length unexpected bowtie album, written on LSDJ.
  • A mini album, written entirely on Houston Tracker 2 – using a calculator.
  • A compilation of remixes and b-sides.
  • A new cup fungus release.

So plenty of things in the works.