I’ve been staying up way too late this past week, trying to do as much actual music writing as I can. It’s way too easy to get distracted by all of the cool things you can do with and to Gameboys to get different sounds, and forget about the actual composition bit.
I’m working on a track at the moment which it turns out lasts about six minutes. That’s a ridiculous length of time, and is probably the longest song I’ve ever made. It’s about three times as long as the average track time on the last all-chip album I did. I’m firmly of the school of ‘keep it short so people don’t get bored’, but it seems too late to turn back now – and I kind of want to keep it purely because I’ve never written anything this length. I’ll just need to plow ahead, though it can’t be a coincidence that it’s proving much harder going to get it to a point where I’m happy with it than usual. For now though, I need to give my ears a break.
Over the past couple of years I’ve hardly written or recorded any music. Part of this is because I’ve been so busy doing other things: moving flat, grappling with the UK immigration process, getting married, and travelling a lot. On top of that though, was the lack of any dedicated space where I could leave my recording gear set up, ready to be used whenever.
The time has come to do something about it, and I’ve reclaimed space in a corner alcove that previously was home to our washing and a couple of bikes.
Behold, the new studio:
I’ve set up the Kaoss pad, along with the mixer and Gameboys – all illuminated in some bright LED lights. It’s amazing what having a decent area set aside for making music can do to your motivation.
Unsurprisingly, I ran into a whole host of new issues when I went to record some tracks – both related, and in addition to the ones that I listed last year.
My M-Audio Firewire 410 has finally become properly obsolete. The workarounds that people have developed online simply aren’t working anymore. It’s frustrating as the hardware was still perfectly good – but since it was released over 10 years ago, it was probably a reasonable time to invest in a new interface. This time, I’ve gone for USB.
My Gameboy USB cartridges that house LSDJ are acting up. One of them has crashed and needs the ROM re-flashed (which is a pain in the ass on a Mac), and the other seems to get stuck on the second ROM that is loaded (Pokemon Gold!), rendering LSDJ inaccessible sporadically.
I’ve lost a couple of my Phono couplers, which I used for splitting the signal from the Gameboy so I could run it through the Kaoss pad as well as bypassing it. A stupid minor thing.
I no longer have a keyboard with a MIDI DIN connector, and all of the newer ones that have been released only have MIDI connectivity via USB. That’s all well and good, but not much use if you’re using a hacked together arduinoboy to play the Gameboy as a synth. I had to work out how to use my laptop as a MIDI thru device, which is thankfully up and working now.
It does make you stop and wonder why the hell you go to all this bother to use vintage hardware rather than sticking in some samples and being done with it, but there’s just something so satisfying about using the Gameboy that it’s all worth it in the end.
Everything is coming together nicely now though, and I’ve got some new gear to experiment with too: A Pocket Operator PO-14 (the Sub one), and probably an Ableton Launchpad. My plan is to dive into the MIDI side of things a bit deeper, as it’s something I’ve never really understood that well. Time to change that!
Hopefully this dedicated space will make a big difference. Watch this space.
It’s been a long time since I did anything musical… about two years infact. Life had overtaken in many ways, leaving no room to fiddle about with Gameboys. In the interim I’ve moved house, got a new job, completed my Masters, and even got married. Yeesh.
Now that things have settled down, I’ve been dusting off the equipment sitting in boxes to get back into the swing of things. It’s not been that straightforward a task. I’ve gone through two new Macbooks since I last recorded anything, which has brought a myriad of issues.
Here’s some of the problems I’ve run into:
I appear to have lost all of my previous master recordings. Somewhere along the way, they didn’t get transferred over properly… which is a bit of a bummer, as I’m usually really careful about that sort of thing.
Cubase. I never really loved the way Cubase dealt with their software updates, as backward compatibility clearly wasn’t a priority. However, after looking out my old DVD with Cubase 5 on it, I like them even less. Apparently I can’t install Cubase unless I have Mac OSX version 10.5 or above. I have 10.10, so it won’t even load up. This means that I need to buy a whole new version of the software (which, by the way, isn’t even guaranteed to work on OSX Yosemite either). Grr. I would use something else, but I can’t really face a whole new learning curve.
The new Macbooks don’t have a Firewire port. As a result, I had to get a special thunderbolt to Firewire adapter (naturally) which cost a pretty packet. Oh, and of course it doesn’t fit the existing Firewire cables that I already had. Sigh.
The software that I used to use to move my Gameboy SAV files over is now pretty much obsolete, and only runs on Windows. I used to have a virtual machine for this task, but it’s gone. Another thing to set up.
The Gameboy cartridges almost certainly need new batteries, which is a bit of a pain to do.
So that’s it so far. There are other small annoyances, like how I need to re-solder some bits and pieces in some of the Gameboys, but that’s something I can procrastinate about.
Now time for the good stuff:
I’ve discovered Nanoloop for the iPhone. I know that it’s been around for a while, but I never really got into it on the Gameboy – too hard to navigate. The iPhone version is way easier, and can produce some great sounds. I know this will be mocked by the purists, but I never really cared too much about them anyway.
It feels good to be making sounds again.
Hmm, I thought there would be more to that list, but oh well!
Listening back to some of the older albums, I really love some of the stuff, and am really indifferent about others. Going forward I might try stripping things back a bit so they are less fuzzy and distorted, and concentrate on the chip structure instead. We’ll see how it goes.
Way back in April 2012, intrepid musical explorer Ash Cooke – aka Pulco – got in touch to ask if I’d be up for contributing to a collaboration inspired by some of the many desolate tube stations that lie under the City of London.
Having worked on a host of projects with Ash before, I knew how dedicated he was at coming up with really unique and experimental ideas, so agreed without much thought.
Fast-forward to 2013, and the release is finally (almost) upon us – penned in for the 30th of September.
The format will be limited edition C30 magnetic cassette tapes, each with 3 full colour numbered postcards, a credit sheet, as well as the digital download (obviously). There will only be 30 copies available. Ever. Full stop.
Here’s what the official press release says:
‘Songs For Abandoned Tube Stations’ is an EP of songs by RELYCS (Ashley Cooke, Adam Leonard & Stephen McLeod Blythe) inspired by the sights, sounds and ghosts of the dozens of closed, unused, or only-travelled-through-at-speed Underground tube stations beneath the streets of London. The EP contains 3 tracks – ‘Aldwych Branch Line’, ‘Lord’s Station’ and ‘Down Street’, recorded by Ashley Cooke (AKA Pulco), Adam Leonard and Stephen McLeod Blythe (AKA Unexpected Bowtie) respectively. The music literally travels from Cooke’s complex and highly evocative subterranean soundscape, past Leonard’s dark, dripping platform of ominous organ music, terminating at Blythe’s wonderfully simple yet affective[sic] chip tune Nintendo Gameboy programming, like the music from some uncreated ‘Super Mario London Underground’ game. Mind the gap and enjoy your journey…
Aside from my burbling chiptune sounds, the other guys are great at what they do.
For more info on them, check out their respective sites:
unexpected bowtie (and friends) is an album that started in 2011 as a means of collecting different sounds from some of the hardest working, most creative, and most pleasant people that I’d come to know in music.
Taking everything from ambient guitar noises to crazed loops of a Welshman throwing rocks into a wheelbarrow – I pieced them together to produce this jaunty beast.
Despite having been finished almost 2 years ago, and with most of the tracks previewed already, the whole thing has never been quite ready – partially because I still have some samples left over from one band that I’ve just not been able to work out what on earth to do with. (down to my musical incompetence, not theirs!). Hopefully these will make their way into something astounding sometime soon, but the time for this release to make its way into the world is well overdue.
Click on the accompanying artwork above to take you to the new shiny shiny unexpected bowtie bandcamp where you can download the whole thing for free for the first time.