Playing in Glasgow

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.

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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…

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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…

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.

 

 

New Album: TOKYO

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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.

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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.

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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!

cup fungus – defame the dead

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Following on from the release of drouth, I found a new project quickly formed and gathered steam. Rather than use Game Boys to compose, I started exploring different electronic instruments. The result was a much more unpredictable, experimental, and far noisier sound than I’ve had before. That shift meant that it didn’t quite feel like an unexpected bowtie album, and so I’ve chosen to release it under a different name: ‘cup fungus’.

Today is the official release date where it crashes angrily into the world.

You can download the album for free on Bandcamp, or stream it via Spotify as of right now (search ‘cup fungus’). If you are interested in something a bit more physical, there are also an extremely limited number (only five!) of hand painted cassette tapes available from my label – cow tongue taco records.

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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:

 

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When I was recording drouth, there were a bunch of tracks that I wish had vocals, but that I couldn’t quite come up with something on my own. In the end, it worked out for the album that they remained largely instrumental… but I thought it would be cool to get some different folks to do their own take on vocals.

As part of that, musician pal Christy Scott lent me her voice for a couple of tracks. Ultimately, the idea is to release all of them as a collection. For now though, here’s a new version of ‘mex’, with Christy on vocals. I think it sounds pretty great…

You can download it here. (right click > save as).