Hog Wild EP

Back in November, Lee came to stay with me for a week or so while he was looking for a new flat. We decided to make the most of the time by collaborating on a new side project.

In between making food, walking the dog, and working from home, we took turns writing and recording parts of what turned out to be a five track EP. Lee focussed on the drums, guitar, and bass, while I added the vocals and electronic parts. Both of us helped shape the structure and feel of the tracks, and Lee did some kind of production wizardry to make it all sound fantastic.

Gear wise we had a pretty simple setup, despite what the pictures below suggest. Lee had a basic audio interface for the instruments, I used a cheapy Behringer condenser mic for the vocals, and the synthy parts were almost all based on a single Eurorack voice (utilising a C64 SID chip).  Listening back, it’s pretty crazy to think that the songs can sound so huge when they were literally all recorded between my kitchen and living room.

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One of the coolest bits about the project for me was the collaborative part though. It’s easy to get stuck when you are working alone. Here though, whenever we hit a block, we would just pass what we had on to the other person. More often that not, they would hear the potential in what we thought sounded crap, which helped push the process along. A healthy way to produce, and truly collaborative rather than combative.

Here is the result:

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Artwork by the fantastic Ghostvoices / Jake Brown.

You can download the EP for free over on the Cow Tongue Taco Records label page. It will be available to stream on Spotify etc from the end of the month, and there will also be a limited cassette tape version available too.

https://cowtonguetacorecords.bandcamp.com/album/hog-wild

Awake Elsewhere

I’ve gone from feeling fairly unproductive, to wrapping up a lot of different things all at once, which is nice.

The other night I decided to spend some time with the Monome grid controller, as I hadn’t quite gelled with it yet. It turned out pretty well, so I recorded a video:

I took the live recording and mastered it a bit, and have uploaded it to SoundCloud:

More to come.

The Workout Ruse

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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.

Thoughts on Eurorack

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Thanks to Lee and Grace for the pictures.

 

 

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.

Osaka Gig and New Track

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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!

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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!

New Track: MTL

Over the past couple of months I’ve been acquiring different bits of gear in a sort of obsessive kleptomaniac fashion to build upon the basic foundations of chiptune, and explore the different things I can do with it. As part of that, I’ve gotten a bunch of cool (and definitely not cheap) hardware sequencers… but I find myself constantly coming back to the Game Boy.

Musicians in the chiptune world often talk about the limitations of the console as one of the things that inspires them. For me, it’s probably the opposite: I am amazed at just how powerful these old handhelds can be, controlling all sorts of different gear. Primarily though, I just love composing on LSDJ.

The natural progression from drouth feels like it lies in an album that still has its roots firmly in the chipmusic world (composed entirely on a Game Boy – with the DMG sounds in the mix) – but with a deeper electronic influence, with the handheld sequencing other synthesisers to a greater degree.

Game Boy on Plane

I visited Montreal recently, and composed a track on the plane rather than watching the same old terrible TV re-runs that were available (another plus for the Game Boy there in its portability…). When I got back to Glasgow, I put it all together and recorded it. Have a listen below: