Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Inside The Mind Of escalation 372

My recent post on Reaktor is part of my post-gig assessment of how I work and why certain sounds become certain other sounds that end up in the ears of certain listeners. The escalation 372 concert in Galway is now a moment in history, but the nine new pieces I premiered will have other airings. For a start, a couple are being used to launch my new Bebo page.

(There's also one added to my MySpace page.)

The ideas behind the songs started off with an intensive consideration of the music of Delia Derbyshire, pioneering sound artist at the BBC Radiophonics Workshop. Derbyshire is best known as the arranger of Ron Grainer's Doctor Who theme. This music has always been with me, from my earliest childhood. Perhaps because of this, I have avoided becoming too familiar with her oeuvre, lest it become too great an influence on my own productions.

Regardless, it appears I have managed to replicate some of the Derbyshire sound without even realising it. The fact that she was working with musique concrète and I with software instruments hardly seems to matter.

For this project I took some of those Derbyshire-esque sounds and combined them with drum machines, though once again these are software replicas of drum machines, tortured and abused. One song has a tempo of 2 BPM. Another stretches the notes out into long ambient noises. In a couple of cases the beats remain relatively unmangled; these tunes verge on being dance pieces. But one thing that stops them from becoming "standard" is the non-structural approach.

Each song is based on riffs but these don't form into regular patterns. Instead, I improvise with them live, changing any number of factors including the fundamental beat. I am not sure if any other artist uses this approach in quite the same way. It is something I have evolved and it works for me.

The sounds themselves I kept simple, avoiding anything that recalls too clearly a synthesizer. However, I did use a MIDI keyboard in the performance, for triggering certain notes, some samples, and for tweaking parameters of the sounds.

Speaking of the samples, I have dipped deeply into one of my favourite sources, the film THX 1138. I have been promoting the sound design of that masterpiece long before Walter Murch had a bundle of Oscars on his mantelpiece. I have little to repeat about this film, except to say that I have been happy to listen to it with the visuals off, and broadcast it this way as a radio programme many moons ago.

I also got out my guitar, which went from five to four strings in the process of tuning. I am rather fond of getting synthetic tones on the guitar and guitar tones through synthesis. I combined the two timbres in the climactic piece, the long drone masterpiece "Self-Winding Coil".

The final instrument was a strange device known as a pillow speakerphone, which I use as a limited band microphone. Adding a high degree of compression to the output turns it into a great feedback device at live volume levels.

With all of these elements something still seemed to be missing, so I asked Susannah Clare to improvise vocals to a couple of the tracks. This takes them into a different zone, one that perhaps contradicts some of the other impulses on display. If so, good!

I also put together visuals for every song, but thanks to a faulty DVD player these did not get shown on the night. Disappointing, considering the hours that went into the video production.

The result was nine pieces in forty minutes, with a good deal of variety and a pace that never faltered. In fact, I might prefer more extended jam sessions on some of the riffs. Maybe next time.

The pieces tend to work better as a whole than broken up into "songs". The final sound is what? Electro-noise-ambient-beatscapes? Something like that. Listen, and see if you like it.


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