cup fungus – defame the dead

defame the dead

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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‘drouth’ up on Spotify

Just saw that the latest album drouth has been approved for Spotify, so those of you fiends who don’t like Bandcamp can stream it to your heart’s content. It makes no difference to me where you get it!

 

The really something EP was already on there, but the oldie habeas corpus was not. I gave them a prod, and that’s available now too. It’s worth noting that the Spotify version is slightly different to the actual album version, as their licensing requirements precluded me from including a couple of bits in the distribution… so if you want the full, unadulterated thing, find it on Bandcamp.

 

Calculator Music with Houston Tracker

Not too long ago I read about how some genius called ‘irrlicht project’ had hacked old Texas Instruments graphing calculators so they could be used to make 1-bit music. Naturally, I had to have a bash at this myself. There’s something particularly special and rewarding about being able to compose whole tracks on devices that were never intended to work that way.

The models that support the ‘Houston Tracker‘ software are seemingly everywhere in the US, as they were apparently a mandatory purchase for many schools. That means they can usually be picked up fairly cheap second hand over there. However, as it turns out, these weren’t all that prevalent in the UK, so they are still fairly pricey – coming in at around £30 on eBay.

I finally got an okay deal though, and got to work getting Houston Tracker onto the device. It’s not all that straightforward, as you need a specific kind of cable – which costs almost the same as the damn calculator. Importing one from America worked out to be the most cost effective route in the end. Installation wise, there’s a lot of fiddling about to get the dependencies right on OSX, unless you use MacPorts – which saved the day. Once it was all up and running though, it was pretty good fun to use – with a whole host of features that I didn’t expect.

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I recorded a fairly simple tune to find my way around the controls, and decided to record it. The raw calculator sound was a bit too bare for my tastes, so I threw in some minimal effects and overlaid some glitchy guitars/harmonised vocals. Here it is, my first calculator music track:

Mr. K

It’s been a while since I got pished on a Saturday night and just recorded some music. Well, I ended up recording after an hour of fighting with my mixer to work out why the stereo output was only producing mono…

There’s always the risk that it could have been my crappy soldering, which meant testing out every possible step. So many variables. Surprisingly, it wasn’t actually any of the Gameboys, but the mixer.

I’m pretty pleased with the result, and it should give a hint as to what the next album will sound like. Listen to and download it below:

To finish off, here’s a picture of my tidied up workspace.

Hungover music making

On Saturday night a few of us headed out (full of rum) to belt out classic power ballads for a few hours. It was good times.

We didn’t feel all that great on Sunday though. Normally I’d just lie about and eat rubbish all day, which eh… I did anyway. But Lee aka radiomoths came round and we recorded the base of a new track with a bunch of different pedals, synths, and the C64. It’s all de-tuned and sounds a bit like the soundtrack of some robot death march from a film. Lee also took photos that I’ve stolen from his blog.

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After we were done, I ate some more rubbish food. Not too bad a way to get through a hangover.

 

New EP: ‘really something’

After the last few posts concentrating largely on gear and production stuff, it’s good to be able to follow up with one centred on music.

I had planned to wait until I had an album together before releasing anything, but it became clear that a number of the earlier tracks had a sound that naturally branched off in a group. As a result, my first release in 4 years will be a 5 track EP titled ‘really something’. I can’t quite believe it’s been that long, but there we go.

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The tracks themselves are all fairly laid back, and stripped back a lot from my previous sample-heavy chiptune releases. The only time the pulse really increases a shade is on ‘Down Street’, a track which previously only ever featured on the ‘Relycs‘ collaborative release that was put out on cassette, and dedicated to abandoned tube stations.

It feels like a nice transition. Listen out for my pal Haigie’s laugh on track 5.

The whole thing is up to stream/download for free over on bandcamp.

 

Tracklist:

  1. more is less
  2. out of milk
  3. gender neutral robot
  4. Down Street
  5. more is more

Bringing my Commodore 64 to life

Gameboys are great, but arguably the classic analogue chip sound belongs to the Commodore 64.

The C64 was my very first computer, one that my parents got me when I was only about 4 or 5. As a result, it holds a particularly special place in my heart. Sadly the actual one that I had from back then disappeared at some point, but I tracked down a replacement later on, complete with one of the coveted working 6518 sound chips (or ‘SIDs’).

For ages I’ve wanted to bring the C64 back to life and use it as a vintage analogue synth, but the space required to leave it set up was always prohibitive. In my foray back into music, I decided it was time to take the plunge.

I already had all the bits and pieces I needed, including a really sweet expansion device called the ‘MSSIAH‘ cartridge, which plugs into the back of the ‘breadbin’ and adds MIDI support. Making use of a composite video to HDMI convertor that I use for my N64, I hooked it up to a monitor, and hey presto…

My desk is a bit of a jumble just now with various things on the go, but that’s not where it’s going to live permanently.

For the technically curious, here I’m using a C64 DIN out to phono/composite cable, with the video end going into an AVI to HDMI box for the monitor, and the audio portion connected up to my headphones using a phono coupler and phono to mini jack cable. This is just the testing setup though. When I switch to actually recording with it, I’ll be using a VGA monitor and running the phonos straight to a mixing desk for output.

I’m going to use it in a couple of different ways: to play directly as a synth, but also as an external synth controlled by the Gameboy, using LSDJ as a sequencer (see my previous post on this…). Using a MIDI thru box, I could run different channels into different devices simultaneously, which would sound amazing.

There’s loads of things to explore with the C64, which is pretty exciting, and should keep things fresh. Here’s a couple:

C64 SD tape emulator – To save sounds and patterns and all that you need an external device to store them on. The C64 used to rely on either cassette tapes (!) or floppy disks… and not the kind that most people are familiar with, but large, 5 and 1/4″, truly floppy disks. As it turns out, I actually have both of these…

  
  
but they’re not the most practical – taking up a lot of space and being a pain to use. In the past few years some intrepid people have developed gadgets such as a C64 cassette tape hardware emulator – that plugs into the back and allows you to save onto SD card. They’re pretty smart, but relatively pricey, so I need to see how much I’m actually going to use the thing before I commit.

Second SID – You can install two sound chips in the C64 with a bit of modification so that it can play polyphonically, and make it really sing. This doesn’t look too difficult to do, and could be a fun project for later down the line. I’d be interested to see if I can run two different chips (with different sound qualities) simultaneously, but I’m not sure if it’s possible because of voltage etc. Needs further research.

Picture upscaling – the video output was never designed for modern monitors, and certainly not to be run over HDMI at 1920×1080. As a result, the picture looks terrible – and the controls are almost incomprehensible with my crappy eyesight. I’m sure there are ways to improve upon it, such as through the use of a decent upscaler, but it also needs a bit more exploration.

The most important thing though, is getting it working as a synth first and foremost. At the moment, the sounds sound pretty weak. I suspect that might be because I’m not running them through an amp – so I’ll check that out. I’ve ran the diagnostics and the chip is fine, so it’ll require a bit more investigation. Just a matter of getting time to sit down and play with it.

Boris Johnson

The Mayor of London is something of an anachronism, both charming and disturbing all at once.

The infamously bumbling Mayor of London has rugby tackled children, sought to deploy water cannons and then volunteered to be sprayed by one when their use was banned, and single handedly cleaned up the streets of the British capital with his brush the day after the riots.

Here is my 8-bit salute to him.