Making Music with Test Equipment

Test Equipment

Recently I embarked on an experimentation with old audio test equipment, Specifcally, these devices used in labs and by engineers to diagnose problems with amplifiers, radios, and telephone lines. Err, I think. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what they were designed for, as I was no good at physics.

Either way, they look cool, and I’ve been interested in exploring some of the possibilities for a while, but didn’t know where to begin. However, I came across this guy called Hainbach on YouTube, who has put together an awesome guide that helped give me the push to dive in. I picked up a few different pieces for cheap on eBay, and began playing about with them to see what I could do. I mostly got a hold of audio signal generators, which are essentially what gives synthesizers their voice. The extent to which you can control them differs from instruments, but I was able to get some amazing sounds out of them.

I put together the track below with a single one of these devices, controlled by my Eurorack to some extent. Unlike a lot of my other music, there’s very few effects on here, and very few layers; the sounds of the test equipment stand on their own. Pretty much everything you hear (minus drums) is from the Feedback Function Generator. I love that I can get a really incredible ratchety bass sound out of this, jumping down from nice and melodic to aggressive. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but I haven’t been able to get that kind of usable range from any of my other equipment. Either way, there’s something deeply satisfying about making music with aging bits of technology that were never intended to be used this way – it sparks the creative process in a different way.

At some point I’ll go through and write a bit more about this stuff in detail, but for now, I put together this video with my initial faffing about:

2020 Update: The Reprise

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Back in March I wrote an update on what I’d been up to lately, and what I planned to do over the coming months, which seems oh-so-very hopeful now. Given that it is now the end of the year, and we are still just as ravaged by the Coronavirus than we were back then (if not more so), it seems like an update is in order.

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I started out writing tracks for a single ease and desist album, but the styles varied so wildly that it seems like this is more likely to become a few different releases. One of them is focussed on hip-hop, which was a surprising development. Almost all of the composition work is done, I just need to put the finishing touches on some of the tracks, and get the final mixes together. This is proving more difficult than it seems, as I don’t really have any experience with mixing hip-hop vocals. Here’s a sneak peek at the potential artwork…

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Hog Wyld

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Photo by Lee Jones.

The Hog Wyld album has been delayed a number of times, thanks to the ever changing set of restrictions which have prevented us from getting into the studio together. In retrospect, recording almost 20 tracks for a 10 track album was also probably an overly ambitious target. Either way, the main tracking is done, and so now we are onto the mixing and tweaking stage. In addition to the album, we finished up a bonus release, exclusive for our Kickstarter backers, which has a whole pile of covers, remixes, and other bits and bobs. That was truly a slog to get through, and I never want to record a cover ever again.

We had a wee Japanese tour in the works, with gigs booked for October, which was unfortunately cancelled thanks to the virus. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime type thing, but hopefully we will find a way to make something similar happen again in the near future.

Closet Organ

My other band have been plowing ahead with writing, and we just released a festive single, called: ‘Prepare for a Digital Christmas’. It was played by Jim Gellatly a few days ago, and you can find it on Spotify and Bandcamp (and wherever else our distributors send to).

Closet Organ - Prepare for a Digital Christmas

We are slowly but surely recording new tracks, and will be looking at putting out some kind of release in 2021.

In Progress

That’s the main news so far from my more ‘organised’ projects, but what else am I working on right now?

Synth Jamming

I realised that I wasn’t making quite as much of my own individual music over the past year or so because I felt like everything had to be put towards some kind of release. I haven’t put anything out in so long on my own that there was self-imposed pressure there, and for me pressure doesn’t usually equate to creative satisfaction. The most productive times I’ve had in the past have always been linked to experimentation and curiousity, so I’ve spent some time setting up my studio space to get back into that mindset, and been really enjoying just playing about. I’ve been uploading some of these home jams to YouTube:

Numerology

Despite normally being allergic to computer based sequencers, I’ve (re)discovered something called Numerology, which is a really interesting sequencing tool for Mac. It’s been inspiring me to write a bunch of new stuff, and I put together an explainer video over here:

Kosmo modular build

Inspired by my friend Michael, I’ve begun to start building out a new modular rack in the Kosmo format, created by Sam Battles (aka Look Mum No Computer). It’s already become a huge pain in the ass, and I’m remembering why I stopped doing DIY builds a few years ago, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it. I don’t want what little time I have to be completely sucked up by this project, but it is also cool to dig out the box of components again and see what sort of weird noise devices I can put together. It’s also impressive just how much I’ve forgotten since I last tried something like this. I have various circuits on breadboards kicking about that I have literally no idea how they work, so… that might take some work.

other…

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I have a whole bunch of tracks written and in various stages of completion (or collaboration). Finding the right collection of tracks that will work together as a release, and under what moniker, is proving tougher than it has in the past. Perhaps I have higher standards nowadays… or perhaps I’m just crippled by indecision. Whatever it is, I’m hoping that is one more thing that will change in 2021.

cup fungus – inter alia LP

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For over a year I’ve been working on a new album, plagued by writer’s block and lack of inspiration. However, the time has come where I can unleash it into the wild.

‘Inter alia’ is a ten track album under the cup fungus moniker which retains the darker electronica edge found in previous releases – without being quite as ‘bonkers and disturbing’. Overall, it feels a bit less frantic, and a bit more considered.

inter alia cassette tapes

The album is available both digitally (on Bandcamp/Spotify/etc), and on cassette tape from my label Cow Tongue Taco Records. Downloads are free from there, but anybody who chooses to pay from will get an extra bonus track.

Artwork is by the fantastic Jake Brown aka Ghost Voices.

New album: liberal exodus LP

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Today I’m releasing my sixth full-length album as unexpected bowtie, a ten track LP named ‘liberal exodus’.

Composed entirely using a single DMG, I deliberately stuck closer to the LSDJ heart of the tracks than in previous releases – only adding extra instrumentation to complement the core sound. As a result, liberal exodus feels like a more straight-forward and mature electronic album than 2016’s TOKYO.

You can listen to/download the album over on Bandcamp. If you prefer to stream via Spotify, it should be appearing there within the next week or so.

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There is also a very limited set of just five hand painted cassette tapes available via my Cow Tongue Taco Records label. At £2.50 more than the digital download, I think they’re a pretty decent deal, so head over there if you want to grab one before they are gone forever.

Artwork by the wonderful Sanditio Bayu.

Gleeetch, London – 26th May 2017

This weekend passed, I headed down to London with my faithful hype man Lee Jones to perform at one of the infamous Gleeetch chipmusic nights. For a look into how things went, check out this short video:

The event itself was held in the middle of an industrial estate in Canning Town… way out East for those of you not intimately familiar with the geography of London. Nestled in amongst various stripped cars and piles of scrap metal was a dodgy looking pub, set on top of an old garage. When we first arrived, I was pretty sure we were going to end up stabbed.

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As it turned out though, it was an awesome place for an underground gig. Pretty soon, the place began to fill up, and were spilling out into the street with booze, listening to the chipbeats seeping out from the building.

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This is Olya, who made the whole thing happen, and who deserves a shit-load of credit for wrangling everything with such determination.

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There were some awesome other artists performing, coming from as far away as France and Denmark. It was great to meet people in person that I’ve only ever heard of through the online chip community.

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The lights and decorations were particularly awesome.

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I love how friendly and ‘into it’ the crowd at chip shows are, and how those that come to these gigs and know nothing about the whole scene turn up looking dubious and bemused, and leave having had an awesome time, even if they aren’t quite sure what the hell was going on. Will definitely have to try and get some more things on the go north of the border.

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To round things off, here’s a full live version of a new track: ‘fog of war’:

There’s also a medley of different tunes up on YouTube here.

 

New Album: Cup Fungus – Vaguely Nefarious

Cup Fungus - Vaguely Nefarious

Today I am releasing a new album; the second under the ‘Cup Fungus’ moniker.

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Here is the blurb:

‘Vaguely Nefarious’ is the second release from cup fungus, and continues to be ‘bonkers and disturbing’, with powerful synth-soaked electronica. An exploration through dark dreams and sinister places.

The music itself was written mostly with a collection of different hardware synths and effects. There is almost no Game Boy on this one… but there is a bunch of C64 on there if you listen closely.

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The album is available right now to stream on Spotify, or to buy as a digital download via Bandcamp. For those of you who like something physical, there is also a very limited edition run of 15 cassette tapes on Cow Tongue Taco Records. Anybody that pays cold hard cash for the release will also get an additional four tracks as a ‘b side’ release through Bandcamp.