Below are videos of the full sets from the 13th Note gig the other night – in order!
Today I am releasing a new album; the second under the ‘Cup Fungus’ moniker.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
To mark the occasion, I’ve uploaded a new track to SoundCloud, which will feature on an upcoming album. Here’s BCN:
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!
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!
Writing vocals for electronic tracks is a totally different ball game to other kinds of music, and can be particularly daunting if you come from a more traditional style of songwriting. Because of that, back when I was writing drouth, I found myself hitting a wall fairly frequently, and I wondered what it would be like to ask some other artists I know to give their own take on the tracks if they had free reign to do whatever they wanted to them vocally.
I pulled together a few talented folk who were up for giving it a bash, and despite some initial protests (‘wtf am I going to do with this!?’), they have re-imagined the tracks in some amazing ways… to the extent that the new versions are even better than the originals.
Here’s a bit more info on who is on there…
Andrew Howie is a Scottish singer-songwriter with an incredible voice who has been making music on a whole variety of different instruments for as long as I can remember. For this release, he turned his hand to ‘bottle neck’, which resulted in the seriously cool ‘bottle neck heart attack’. You’d think he had been doing this electronic stuff all along.
You can find more from Andrew on his bandcamp.
Christy Scott is an old young friend and tcheuchter upstart from the true North-East of Scotland. Usually found foraging in the more traditional music world, she brought some impressive soul to new versions of both ‘mex’ and ‘bottle neck’.
Follow along with her inevitable successes on her Facebook page.
Carly Stambaugh is a fellow Automattician, from across the pond in San Francisco. She wants to be Cyndi Lauper when she grows up, and lended her vocal stylings to a new take on ‘obsolete by design’. Photo credit: Marcus Kazmierczak
Pulco aka Ash Cooke is a Welsh madman who lives in the middle of nowhere, and a long term collaborator and friend. He is one of the most prolific musicians I know, with a huge back catalogue up on Bandcamp – well worth checking out. He brought his unique brand of spoken word beauty to two tracks: ‘wealth sprouts wings’, and ‘Mr. K’.
As for the music itself, you can download it for free over on Bandcamp, stream it below, or check out Spotify in a couple of weeks when it appears. If you like any of the tracks in particular, give the folk above a shout. I know they’d appreciate the support, and they definitely deserve it!