Journal 2019

21st December 2019: Cantus is still doddering along, slowly taking shape. Eyebrowing some parts here and there. Letting some sit and rest like a well-cooked bird. Cantus 11 is proving tricky because it comprises parts made in differing keys and one section is played a fifth off the tonic, which makes it sound like it's transposing, but isn't really. My dilemma is 'do I leave it or not'? I'm thinking that I might.

Just discovered the rather stunning synth Nexus. It has some weird and wonderful stuff going on there.

More fun with Mellotrons. Two days ago I was doodling around with it, playing arund with EQ and pedals and hit upon a sound that I thought was really striking: a softened string sound hybridised with the barest amount of flute, and filtered through a lovely gentle eq and a bit of filtering. Resolving to get this one used somehow I left everything as it was and switched it all off. Two days later I return, switch it all on...and it sounds nothing like what I had been planning at all. Nothing like the sound I had managed to conjure up at all. Not even close. Some days these things play like a dream. Other days they simply will not cooperate at all. They are more like cats than musical instruments, I think.

3rd November 2019: Cantus coming along steadily and rapidly. One genuinely good piece of dance music in here too, I think. It all needs work.

Candid thoughts from the pen of the writer: BANDS I FEEL I OUGHT TO LIKE MORE THAN I ACTUALLY DO #1 - Henry Cow. I bought their music many years ago, all on vinyl and all from the same outlet that was run by one of their former members. The music promised so much, and yet...

My biggest trouble is that it sounds like music that is a blast to play but isn't something designed for any other participants. In other words, I find it playable but unlistenable. I tried to get my way into Western Culture about ten times and every time I hit the same brick wall; that of a weird mixture of overt politics and what appears to be a deliberate sense of obscurity, as though they stop playing when they think you might start to like it, only to break into jazz bassoon or (maybe worse) where do we go from here improvisation.

Am I a hypocrite? Yes, I probably am. I know a lot of what I do is every bit as awkward squad as their is, and yet I don't care if there is an audience there or not. I don't really care if there is anyone reading this. They did. They had a record contract. They had gigs. They had finances. They had their tours. And their story and theory is remarkable and should be interesting....but isn't. (It also sounds like there was a lot of sexual politics that was definitely not as right on as they would want to make out going on)

Tim Hodgkinson did once remark that they played revolutionary music (in the politicised sense of the word) because to do otherwise was to play at the same game as everyone else out there in the more corporate musical landscape. Or to put it another way of theirs, 'independence is only a valid first step if revolution is the second'. That much I get. But like cricket, it's not something you can sit around and actually consume with any delight. Yes it's clever and yes it's highly structured, but there are few moments that come at me from a position of actual joy. It's more like a four fingered exercise in music obscurity sometimes.

My other issue is that they are four or more (highly) middle class people who are only suffering because they want to, playing a new music for the perceived uncultured masses who at the time would far rather be listening to Elton John. It all feels so...condescending. In making a new culture up they seem to be missing their target audience by a mile or more.

I'll give you Unrest for sure. And maybe half of Concerts. That's the half with actual music in it. But the rest? Like other artefacts left behind by cows, I'd sooner step around it.

3rd November 2019: As predicted, Cantor has had a name change. Now it's called Cantus.

16th October 2019: Cantor (which may yet have a name change) is moving along quickly now, inspiration coming at a great speed, almost as fast as Spectacular. What has been put down for is so far has been really good and feels satisfying, in a 'notebook' sort of way, where quality control and thematics is less important that the immediacy of ideas. This is the best way to make sounds - by hearing and doing.

There are also other worms at work. Cantor will have track titles that bear relevance in (some manner) to their formation, relevance or influence. A glace at some of them will give them away immediately, if you know your subject.

Currently listening to the works of one deeply remarkable woman whose music has made a serious impact on me as long as I can remember veering away from the mainstream and into the weeds. I don't like all of it - no one could, I guess - but there is a unique voice within it which is singularly hers and of which I simply cannot get enough. I could never aspire to the heights she managed, but she inspires me to be different, at the very least.

8th October 2019: Onto the next idea that struck me as I was mixing down the end of Assonance. I am not sure if the idea is as strong as the others, but I will run with it for now. As the seventh part of the Abstractions series, this one is called (for the moment) Cantor.

7th October 2019: Well, that's Assonance out the door. All very rhythmic and insistent, and it revives a moment from the previous recording which then veers off into another direction which I would have wanted, but which didn't fit. How many listeners do you have? I have genuinely no idea. Then why do you make all this music? Because I want it to exist somewhere.

26th September 2019: Time to put the eyebrows onto Assonance...

11th September 2019: Assonance is almost done now - a continuous movement in ten parts with a reprise of a theme from a previous album, along with an extension to that theme which I wished I had done before. Some still sounds like backing tracks to something else. Some sounds more like the real thing. Some sounds like something you would find years later and work on again because it sounded better then than when you scrapped it. Who knows how this stuff works? I've never done that recurring theme idea before (other than with Brief Second which appears again twice on each of Basilica and Movements and quite deliberately so on both occasions) and certainly not as soon as the other.

31st August 2019: Assonance is still chuntering along, but seems at times to be a series of backing tracks to something more dramatic. Maybe that's my style.

2nd August 2019: At long last it seems that Assonance is coming together to form a coherent whole. At least part of the issue was of course the ongoing issues with the deeply disappointing Magix version of Acid Pro. At least part of their problem is their inability to support even the most straightforward of VSTs and have broken their own beatmapping into a bloodied pulp. Bugs we can expect, but a lack of any response from their own tech support is unforgiveable. Their uselessness has turned me towards Reaper which seems to be pretty similar to Acid, only that it works. There is still a learning curve and it doesn't have some of the things that Acid has (or had) but it seems like a fair replacement for what has become a dead duck.

16th April 2019: So where did Colours come from?
The idea was actually borne from the idea that became Spectrum, in that a piece of music with slow moving parts could be considered a worthy thing to do if it could be done without anyone 'seeing the joins' between one phase of the sound and the other, distracted doubtless by a drunk and tragic woman playing with a tape recorder. Listening in one continuous session provides little clue that what we can hear is not what we were listening to a few minutes ago. Only by dabbing through the track at intervals would we notice that what is being played is markedly different to what was being produced a minute ago. Spread over an hour, the differences are almost negligible.
This idea seemed to work, but it was not finished until it gave rise to another more adventurous project. The idea behind mono was to see if this form of subtle changing music could be made far faster, in a 'programmed' manner to allow an album to be dropped together very quickly indeed, leaving me only to choose two voices. Four template tracks were created, switching between two moving chords in various minor sixth and minor seventh chords, varied in key to break the monotony. The voices were chosen to blend and contrast, leaving one emerging from the other from a previous mix of the two. Programmed fades, in and out, fixed length tracks to four minutes or so, fading in and out on thirty second marks.
This all worked well. An album was produced per day and I even managed to knock out accompanying videos for YouTube. Everything was done and released in a day. Five albums in five days? No problem. Perhaps mono 5 ran out of steam a little (though it actually contains what I think it the best track of the entire project) which to me showed that the idea had limits - not of execution - but of interest.
Next idea. Same but more. Ten albums of ten moods, governed by a sense of shade or colour and written with a common theme:

Vermillion: programmed like mono but instead of two shifting chords around as many voices, we have three chords (or sound movements) with four voices, with any two being heard at one time.
Topaz: somewhat the same as the first, but using organic sounds as well as synthetic sounds in the same way. Rain, running water, wind...all of it, along with other found sounds and field recordings.
Oriole: moving on from found sounds, also using percussion and dynamics as well as synthesised sounds
Harlequin: fewer found sounds, some synthetic, predominantly woodwind, scattered melodies, voices creeping in
Ultramarine: some of the above, but now with the added benefit of some deeply Berlin School electronics that hammer along the implied percussion, the pulse of the music stronger than ever
Imperial: softer percussion (mostly - there are some emphatic exceptions), fewer hard synths with the introduction of gentler washes and (above all else) voices, both synthetic and organic and some with stages between them both
Blanchette: much softer percussion, if there is any at all, spikier washes and pads, a burning sound like the rumbling in your ears when you wince after staring into a low winter sun, minimalism
Umber: wooden and organic, consoles and tables, pianos and organs, ending in a dull gloom
Marengo: a continuation of the last, a dullness of tone, repetition and colourlessness, a featureless grey sky laden with the threat of a storm
Stygian: all life removed, a bleak and dreadful barren form of wasteland, nothing lives here, no voices, no percussions, no keys, nothing

So

Spectrum takes one sound and forms them into another
Mono takes one project and extends it by moving an idea between tracks
Colours takes the idea further by merging the idea across entire albums

Who to thank for this? Three people above all others: Costin Miereanu, Basil Kirchin and above all else, Steve Moore. Those who know will know. I couldn't explain to those who don't - my shortcoming entirely.

Time to park this for the meantime. Assonance calls.

14th April 2019: Harlequin now completed, and Colours is done. More about this later.

4th April 2019: Very occasionally - well...enough that I would remark upon it - I am asked why I seldom use drums in my music. The answer is simple; drums dictate a rhythm - a pulse implies it. Those who want to be slaves to a rhythm are welcome to it. I prefer the more subtle inference driven by not a bang, but a bump. The crash of a drumkit also seems to be an ugly sound to me, something filled with a need to look at me. That's not what I want. I want my beat to be organic, aperiodic, a pulse within which rhythm dwells but has no home, just a sort of limited squatter's rights. If I want an actual rhythm, then it will be produced by other means, where I can run it.

Harlequin coming to a close, inspired by my greatest guiding voice, in the end. (I wonder where he is now...)

28th March 2019: Harlequin is happening, and happening quite quickly. I tried mixing tonight and used an unfamiliar set of headphones which gave it a really lo-fi feel, which I liked a lot. I may keep that texture and see if I can work it into something new. Everything I am doing now seems to be very rhythmic, even the stuff without an obvious rhythmic centre.

Very pissed off about Scott Walker. Do I hear twenty one? Tilt was the soundtrack to my working day for the longest time.

7th March 2019: The review as a process:

Listen to the tune from one end to the other at flat EQ.

Listen to it again some minutes later, making timed notes about the following:

1. Where does it sound too empty? At such a point, make a note about the sound you instinctively want to hear, and what it does.

2. Where does it sound too full? What would be optimal? The removal of what would gain that?

3. Does the tune feel too long? What might remedy that?

4. Is the EQ right for all tracks?

5. Are all the voices appropriate? Are they all at the right level?

6. Is the music right for the release?

 

The eyebrows as a process:

What would lift it from being good to being memorable?

 

Does this process always work? Of course not. Does it always make things better? Of course not. So why expend this effort? And who wins?

20th February 2019: Ultramarine is now stalling. All ten tracks have been done, but there is still the part of the process known as the eyebrows to be finished on it. That involves listening, re-listening, re-re-listening, considering, editing, then re-thinking almost every thing that has gone before. That's tricky at the best of times, and requires a fair amount of self-criticism and the ability to see beyond the intended (which sounds really pretentious, I know) and into the 'hidden intention' that Eno goes on about sometimes. Very difficult. Harlequin is also still with us and is now beyond a point of simple nascence and ha a definite structure to it, but again - the effort is great. After Colours I think I'll be calling a break, if not a day.

That said...I do have an idea for Waves #5, named Assonance. Sometimes you just cannot let go, can you?

31st January 2019: Ultramarine is soon to be completed, or at least the first stage of it is.

What are the stages? Generally this: (a) sketches, (b) impressions, (c) attempt, (d) revision, (e) re-edit, (f) polishing and (g) eyebrows. Sometimes this cycle can take a day (such as in the mono project), other times it can take upwards of six months. Somewhere within this cycle there is a process of maturing, in that I leave the music to age a bit so I can come back to it and re-evaluate it again.

I am also occasionally asked about what ends up on the cutting room floor and what happens to it. With very few exceptions, that which us not good enough is destroyed.

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