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Levitating Objects with Ultrasonic Waves

eMit

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eMit is an interactive gallery installation I helped make with Noel Murphy (aka Visual Display Unit / aka the other half of Wauvenfold). Part of the sci-art exhibition "BAT", eMit was inspired by echolocation and the way bats have evolved to navigate. The brief was simply to create an audiovisual gallery piece inspired by bat sonar and echolocation, but because much of the true science was so readily available throughout the rest of the exhibition (in the form of specimens and text), we decided to allow ourselves a lot of artistic licence in developing the idea.

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We were also very lucky to have the help of talented carpenter and designer, Jon Watt (from jonwattdesign.co.uk) who built us the centre piece or "Roost" as we now call it. The Roost has become a great focal point. Made from 16 carved panels of cedar wood, the Roost houses all sensors and the inner workings.

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Zimoun

Piece I wrote for a close friend

Wauvenfold - Peel Session

Back in 2001, I was part of an electronica duo called Wauvenfold (Wichita Records) with Noel Murphy (aka Visual Display Unit). Sadly, it only lasted a couple of years, but during that time, we were lucky enough to do a session for John Peel on Radio One. We'd long since lost the recordings, but Noel managed to find some MP3s of the show online:

Dr Who Soundtrack

I was commissioned to compose an original soundtrack for Dr Who's season 7 trailer for BBC Worldwide. Here's the trailer and the audio by itself below:

Lagrima

Francisco Tárrega's "Lagrima" Performed and recorded by Tom Hill

Failed Attempts To Articulate The Compulsion & The Practice #1

Failed Attempts To Articulate The Compulsion & The Practice
Part #1: The Fragility & The Nuance

The tangible nature of objects. Intricate structures and how they're comprised. The fabric of materials and the fibers that bind them. The building blocks within all things. Dissection and disintegration. Forcing a construct to reveal it's inner nature.

Processes of degradation relative to their creation; the authorship of their demise. Fragmentation and fracture. Methods of disturbance that peel the surface layer. Forging parallels between disparate textures. Exposing connections.

All things relative to the self. Imperceptible truths. The unknowable mirror. The attempt to understand and the letting go of needing to. The fragility and the nuance; the lightness and the weight; the complexity and the balance.

Surrendering control to the process.

Failed Attempts To Articulate The Compulsion & The Practice #2

Failed Attempts To Articulate The Compulsion & The Practice
Part #2: Acceptance of Circumstance

Acceptance of circumstance. Acknowledgment of place and context. Unavoidable situations as creative challenges. The current situation as a unique situation. Available resources as sufficient resources. Unattainable technology as unnecessary technology. Limitations as creative hurdles.

The positive attributes of the moment. Inviting the environment to take part. Mistakes as unexplored avenues. Openness to chance occurrences. Accidents as paths out of habit. Failed experiments as solitary successes.

Lacking time to produce as having time to conceive. Creative thought equal to productivity. Any opportunity as an opportunity.

Unachievable standards as rules to be broken. Accepted methods as optional. Rules of practice as choices only.  Awareness of dogmatic systems. Identifying the boundaries of available tools. Knowing a technique and not using it. Conforming to a rule then breaking it.

Honing the craft above owning the tools. The compulsion to create above the reason to do so.  Relishing in the practice above mastering the art.

Origamibiro: A Collective Shift


Origamibiro has been undergoing a lot of changes recently. Over the last 6 years, it's transformed from a solo project into a collective, which has seen Jim, Andy and myself touring across Europe, releasing music, writing soundtracks, remixing, making films, collaborating with other artists, creating art installations, moving studios (four times!) and everything in between that's part and parcel of being in a band.

As a process it's been constantly malleable; ever changing and unfamiliar. And we like it that way. But, despite our dislike of 'painting-by-numbers', we had hoped, by now, to find some kind of loose formula that would lay a path for what we do - purely as a more efficient way of being consistently productive. But, when it comes to the work we enjoy, it seems the formula is change itself.

In terms of the 'collective', the idea was to create a self perpetuating circle of productivity that would feed in from the live show, through to the recorded material and back out again. And, for a while, it did. Shakkei was very much a part of that process. We just fancy trying something different. Again.

We've never been interested in performing a facsimile of an album. For us, the whole enjoyment in performing is in not always knowing quite what's gonna happen. But we do respect the fact that we each have our own artistic vices, which don't always fit into the group dynamic.

So, for the next stage of Origamibiro's evolution, we've decided to make a clearer distinction between the studio album and the live show (and live recordings). From the perspective of any fans who have been following us, seemingly, there will be little change, as we'll continue to perform as an audiovisual collective. The main difference will be that the next studio album will kind of revert back to a bit of a solo project for me.

Ultimately, it means we each get to focus on what we do and enjoy best. And hopefully, if you've liked what we've done up to now, you'll enjoy it too.

Of course, this could all change. Maybe there is a pattern emerging after all.  

Tom.

Negativity is a Dead End

"Negativity is a dead end." This tiny shred of a sentence has been stuck to this brick in my house ever since I moved in over 9 years ago. I actually only noticed it about three years after I moved in.

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The Seven Principal Lines

Some of the artists who have been exercising the speaker cones in my studio and car stereo.

Robert Moog

"One always has to remember these days where the garbage pail is, because it's so easy to make sounds, and to put sounds together into something that appears to be music, but it's just as hard as it always was to make good music."
- Robert Moog

The Formary

This is a film I soundtracked recently.

Bernie Krause

"The fragile weave of natural sound is being torn apart by our seemingly boundless need to conquer the environment rather than to find a way to abide in consonance with it." - Bernie Krause. Read the full article with audio clips here

Nowamuzyka Interview

The following is the English transcript from an interview conducted by Łukasz Komła for the online Polish mag Nowamuzyka.

Nowamuzyka Interview with Tom Hill

Łukasz: From the time I first listened to the Origamibiro music (and it was in 2007), Iíve been interested in how did you come up with such an intriguing name for your project?

 

Tom: Itís a long story! Maybe some other time.

 

Łukasz: In the middle of July you released an EP ďFlickerĒ and among artists who produced their remixes we can find such musicians as: Plaid, ISAN, Set In Sand, K-Conjog and Leafcutter John. Tom, could you shortly tell us how did you start your cooperation?

 

Tom: Matt Yarrington from our US label (Abandon Building Records) is to thank for hooking us up with all those guys. The only artists I knew previously were ISAN, as we performed together about 10 years ago when I was in Wauvenfold. But without Matt and Abandon Building, we'd never had been able to get all those artists involved.

 

Łukasz: The tracks chosen for remixes come from the last album, from 2011 called ďShakkeiĒ. Is the track ďFlickerĒ composed only by Origamibiro? Or maybe it is a collaboration with some artists who created remixes of your tracks?

 

Tom: Flicker is just Origamibiro. It was a track that we were thinking of including on Shakkei but decided against for a number of reasons. So we thought we'd release it as a previously unheard track for free through Bad Panda Records and include a few remixes from Shakkei too.

Bad Panda have a great following with their "free track every Monday" and that really helped raise the profile of both the remix album and Shakkei itself.

 

Łukasz: ďFlickerĒ can be downloaded for free. Why did you choose this option?

 

Tom: As I said, it was for promotional reasons mainly, but also with the way the industry is right now, there are so many people downloading through P2P programs that, like it or not, all music will be shared and downloaded for free at some point... At least this way, through Bad Pandaís Soundcloud account, we get to choose where and how it's downloaded and can get useful feedback like comments, hits and download numbers.

 

Łukasz: Tom, I would like to ask you about your first (really awesome) album ďCracked Mirrors And Stopped ClocksĒ from 2007. At that point Origamibiro was a solo project, so please tell us how did it hapen that The Joy of Box (aka Jim Boxall) and Andy Tytherleigh, (aka Shmoov, Hubtone, Debaser Boy) joined you?

 

Tom: For me personally, making music in a studio is ok, but it can become very sterile and clinical. It's like capturing an emotion and bottling it up for others to see.  Like pinning a dead butterfly to a board. Something is lost. I'd always wanted to perform music live but didn't enjoy sitting behind a laptop on stage either. So the big question was, how do I make this kind of music live without a computer? That was when I started talking to Jim and Andy.

 

Jim had been a long term friend of mine and we'd previously worked together on different projects, live av performances, short films and promos so we had a lot of common ground. After I made Cracked Mirrors we talked a lot about how to perform the music live.

 

Given that we wanted to incorporate unusual objects and processes and live visuals as well as instruments into our performances we particularly thought a lot about how to open it up to the audience so that they could understand what we were doing whilst we were doing it. Jim also wanted the visuals to deliver an emotional punch that was equal to the weight of the music.

 

Soon after this Andy Tytherleigh approached us wanting to join forces and we said absolutely, given his multi instrumentalist skills. Since then we've been working, writing, refining and reworking to try and put something together that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

 

Łukasz: The album ďCracked Mirrors And Stopped ClocksĒ contains a lot of classical guitar sounds, so sometimes it resembles me the southern Spain atmosphere, but it also contains British melancholic sound layers created out of electronic sounds and what is more, it also contains a lot of details, which create simply amazing space. But why the guitar is the main (dominating) instrument on that album?

 

Tom: I've been playing guitar since I was 15.  In those days I was into folk, rock, and psychedelic music... But as I reached my 20's I got very bored of hearing bands using guitars, bass and drums. So I stopped listening to that stuff and starting buying records from labels like Warp, Skam, Rune Grammofon, Rephlex, Tomlab, Planet Mu, Fat Cat... That was when my friend Noel Murphy and I started the electronica duo, Wauvenfold.... And my guitar started to gather more and more dust.

 

Then, around 2006 I fell quite ill and had to leave my job. I became a bit of a hermit and stopped going out almost completely. That was when I fell back in love with my nylon string guitar. I played it constantly, intentionally learning classical pieces that were so hard to play it would absorb my concentration. I'd get so absorbed, I would forgot I was ill. It was like a friend to me during that time.

 

But my appreciation for the guitar was different to how it was before. I was no longer interested in conventional songs. My focus was on the texture, tone and warmth; the fragility of the wood and the ephemeral scrapes and creaks that would slip out as a by product of playing it. So I wanted to capture all these things and bring them forward, almost as a homage to my guitar. That's how Cracked Mirrors was born.

 

Łukasz: In 2011 you published the album entitled ďShakkeiĒ and I think that it contains more sounds - letís call them - symphonic, which complement all your electronic experiments in an amazing way. We have a lot of glitch, ambient, some improvised elements, and also modern chamber (cameral - how do you call it // Iím not sure of the translation) music. How did you work on this material? I think that the music contained on this album somehow celebrates such composers as Steve Reich or Phillip Glass.

 

Tom: Cracked Mirrors was kind of an introspective, personal album made quietly indoors. Shakkei is an outdoor album of landscapes and exposure to the elements. For me personally, after the solitude of Cracked Mirrors, I really wanted to expand and try new things. It was also a transitional time as Andy was starting to get more and more involved so we started using lots more instruments. Andy plays double bass, ukulele, banjo and some keys and I'd also begun to play bowed electric guitar, piano and ukulele so we just went for it and threw it all into the mix. We both love minimalist composers like Reich and Glass so we drew a lot of influences from them. But also, artists like Hauschka, Arve Henriksen, Gustavo Santaolalla, Kim Hiorthoy, Murcof... A real eclectic mix. But one thing they all have in common is an appreciation and talent for creating depth and texture through the use of tangible objects and live instruments. I think that crossover between the real and the synthetic is a wonderful thing when itís balanced and interwoven with care and attention to detail. Itís rare to find artists who can achieve that seamlessly.

 

Łukasz: While composing you use a lot of instruments but also you use different devices and tools, like for example sounds of the typewriter, camera, etc. Could you tell what were the craziest or the most extraordinary devices you used during the process of recording or composing?

 

Tom: Haha! Yes, we've used loads of odd objects over the years... boiling kettles, deodorant sprays, inflated balloons, spinning coins, metal rulers, tennis balls, plastic sheets, broken wood, felt tip pens, scissors, celluloid, leaves... I think the balloon was the silliest though. I certainly felt stupid using it!

 

The only rule is that we don't use conventional drums. It keeps us looking for new sounds and trying new things. With the help of looper pedals, kaoss pads and microphones, anything is worth trying, as long as it fits in our car!

 

The typewriter is so good because it is very strong both visually and sonically. Itís a true marriage of audio-visual and means we can really begin to work together as a trio.

 

Łukasz: I know that you are interested in movies and as I remember, thet in 2010 you produced the soundtrack for the silent movie ďAelita: Queen of MarsĒ from the 1924, directed by a Russian director Yakov Protazanov. The music for the film was played live in Broadway Cinema, in connection with the ďStar CityĒ exhibition. Please tell us more about this project and also about your film fascinations and who is your favourite director. I for example like Stanley Kubrick and Werner Herzog very much. And what about you :-) ?

 

Tom: Yeah I love Kubrick and Herzhog too. Also, the likes of Alejandro González Iñárritu, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wim Wenders, Wong Kar Wai, Chan-wook Park, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Hitchcock of course...

 

For Aelita, we were approached by Nottingham Contemporary, who commissioned us to soundtrack the film for their opening exhibition. We were delighted to work on it and just threw ourselves into it. We'd never done anything like that before but it was a great project to work on and we got a lot out of it in terms of our live working process.  

 

Łukasz: Thank you for your time and I am really happy that we could talk about the amazing music of the Origamibiro project!

 

Tom: Thank you. It's great to know the music has reached you in such a positive way. I hope we can play over in Poland soon.

 

Mix

First mix I did for Fluid Radio a few years back.

2012 Soundtrack Work


Much of the work I'm commissioned to do, I suppose, is relatively restrained compared with the direction I'd normally choose to go in. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is to write music that is both emotionally neutral yet engaging enough to draw the viewer in, without interfering with any important dialogue. As such, though I enjoy the process and appreciate them in my own way, I'm often unsure as to whether they're strong enough to stand alone in the absence of the films that drove their creation.

That being said, I am interested in the limitations set by the films and the narrative arc that dictated each piece's journey. For me, this selection is more like an auditory mood board than an album. Some go nowhere without having even begun, others don't resolve or just end abruptly. Some had to be conceived, recorded, edited, and mastered in a day. In any case, they each presented their own challenge, but despite my reservations about them, I figured they need not gather dust on my hard drive!

Unravelled In Wreathes - Live

Art In Vain

Artists seldom see acknowledgement for the unpaid hours of work poured into their craft. In many ways, recognition is the only true return to be had. To seek this is often mistaken for showboating or neediness. For the most part, it is not. It is simply a means of clarification that their time - and indeed their life - has not been in vain.

NME Gig Reviw: Bristol 6th May

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Bach's Cello Suite No.1 in D for Guitar

This is the first proper full length classical piece I've recorded. Quite a departure from what I'd normally upload but I thought I'd give it an airing anyway. I hope you enjoy it.

Water Frequency

Daphne Oram

Origamibiro - Specimens. A new live performance piece

Charlie Kaufman Lecture

I could copy and paste everything from this lecture. I think you'd be hard pushed to find anyone being so open and honest about themselves and their work...

"...The obvious solution was not to throw my hands up but try to find myself in a situation where I was doing me, not someone else. Do you. It isnít easy but itís essential. Itís not easy because thereís a lot in the way, in many cases a major obstacle is your deeply seated belief that you is not interesting.

And since convincing yourself that you are interesting is probably not going to happen, take it off the table. Agree, 'Perhaps Iím not interesting but I am the only thing I have to offer, and I want to offer something.'  And by offering myself in a true way I am doing a great service to the world, because it is rare and it will help."

Full lecture here

Quote

ďCare about peopleís approval and you will be their prisoner.Ē - Tao Te Ching

Origamibiro Interview

Geoff Diego Litherland:
-
In Conversation with Origamibiro

-
Hand & Heart pub, Nottingham, 24 August 2011


Geoff Diego Litherland: For someone whoís never heard or seen your stuff how would you describe what you do?

 

Tom Hill: Thereís two ways to broach that, Iíd start by defining it as live soundtracks to live film, which can be expanded to acoustic-electronica with captured live experimental cinema and take it from there really.

 

Jim Boxall: Expanded Soundtracked Cinema.

 

Andy Tytherleigh: Cinematic is a good word

 

Geoff: Thatís interesting in relation to the gig you just did in The Space at Nottingham Contemporary; with the tiered seating down and the large projection screen behind you, it was setup as if you were watching a film. It demanded more from the audience too as there were none of the distractions of a bar / club atmosphere. It worked really well.  So now that Jim is officially on board how has the setup of having the visuals as integral to the performance affected the musical process?

 

Tom: Well Iíd worked with Jim before when he was doing stuff with av_dv and Iíd been gigging as part of Wauvenfold. When I started to think about bringing the essence of the first biro album from a recording studio into a live setting we started to talk about what the challenges would be.

 

Jim: The timing was right. It felt like we all wanted the live shows to influence the process. I wanted to start using live camera feeds as supposed to pre-recorded and edited material and Tom and Andy where starting to use live samples of found sounds.  It became an attempt to return to a more analogue way of working, removing the computers away from the process, which can often be quite mysterious and unengaging in a live setting. We wanted the process to be fallible and to have an element of risk in what weíre doing live, allowing mistakes and chance to become part of the creative process.

 

Tom: One of the main problems we encountered was that there didnít seem to be a path to follow in terms of what we were trying to do, not necessarily in the sense that it was groundbreaking or anything, but we had to invent a lot of things ourselves, to unite the visual and sonic elements together. For example the texture of the sounds we use have to be considered as to how they relate to the visuals. Itís taken three years for that to start to make sense.

 

Geoff: That relates back to the notion of the soundtrack, because most bands nowadays will have a visual element that accompanies their performance and these visuals are often

very illustrative in a straight forward / MTV sort of way. What you are doing seems to be getting the music and visuals to come from a similar mood, atmosphere and feeling.

 

Tom: Itís important for us that the audience witnesses how the process is done. For example everyone knows how satisfying it is to tread on dry crunchy leaves, so when I sample myself crunching leaves live on stage and we build a rhythm out of it, thereís a psychological connection there. They can hear the sound but theyíve also seen and felt that crunch before. That sound and feeling then forms an emotional backdrop for the piece.

 

Geoff: That element of nostalgia also comes across in the visual side of it, where things seem tinted by memories. It becomes a synaesthetic thing, where the sound is magnified like a hallucinatory experience and so the visuals take on a similar feel and importance.

 

Tom: Now the visuals are beginning to influence the music, we want it to get to a point where it feels like thereís this pool of ideas and you canít tell whoís started what.

 

Jim: Yeah itís starting to feel like a proper band; it started as Tomís solo project, the first album sounding very much like one personís vision. Itís expanded now and to some respect the second album echoes that, but where Iíd like to get to is a point where you donít know what triggered what, something thatís much more than the sum of its parts. If weíve got this associative material in the mix; the sound, the visuals, then people can start to claim their own particular ownership and it can then start to take root and grow in their minds as theyíre watching it.

 

Geoff: I think thatís the strength of it, you watch it and you donít get a straight narrative, you get an essence of something, something that the audience has to discover for themselves, which I think is what the essence of a good piece of artwork is all about. The audience brings their personal histories and baggage into the mix and you seem to have that structure and setup to allow for that introspection and absorbance.

 

Tom: Thatís exactly what its about for me, itís like the big mistake horror films make when they show the monster.  Itís disappointing. You donít need to show it at all because your imagination is far better.

 

Jim: Absolutely. I think thatís the thing with a crossover point of particular mediums: I think that you need to accept that youíll never be able to express exactly the same thing in different mediums. But if you let that space exist between what it is you are trying to communicate and what it is people see or feel for themselves, then that space is larger for an audience to inhabit than if it was too specific or controlled. The way I work always comes from a gut feeling first, Iím looking for an emotional response from me and from the audience, so when we talk about ideas and bring things to the table ultimately for me it rests on an instinctive level.

 

Geoff: Itís interesting that youíre both not only using cutting edge technology but also quite old stuff, slides, the Rhodes piano, etc, how does this idea of following your instinct reflect your use of old technology, is that intentional?

 

Tom: For me there isnít anything particularly intentional about it other than we want it to be laid bare for people to see, and a lot of new technology doesnít have that, you canít see the inner workings, itís all enclosed in a shiny box. So you kind of have to use older or more accessible equipment, as itís the only way to allow people to see whatís happening and how it works. I mean all the electronica I used to make was still all found-sounds, they were just digitally manipulated; now Iím getting to do it live. Thereís not really that much difference other than I donít spend hours tweaking the sounds.

 

Jim: I think for me its being able to recontextualise what we do, the typewriter for example is an old machine and the one that we use is a hundred years old, and itís loaded with meaning, but itís no different from a computer keyboard. The process is the same: you put your thought input in and you get back the text, but the process is so much more physical and visible.

 

Geoff: There seems to be some correlation of using the typewriter and the mutascope to using a musical instrument in that thereís an instant effect.

 

Tom: There was a problem that cropped up quite early on, in that myself and Andy could just decide what we wanted to do on the spot, but Jim couldnít because he had to think well in advance of what he had to prepare and use for material. So Jim started to think how he could keep up on an instinctive level and go with the flow of the music and thatís how heís come up with the apparatus and set ups that allow him to do that.

 

Jim: It was really bugging me, it felt like what I was doing was pretty much dead in relation to the risks that Andy and Tom were beginning to take with the music. I wanted to move away from the VJ-ing thing of just reacting. I wanted to build loops and layers in similar ways to how the sounds were being made. Even now though there is still a lot of preparation, the slide piece is a good example, the technical setup is the same each time, but I can use different slides and build different loops with distinct narratives for each performance.

 

Tom: I think that the great thing now is that Jim often really surprises me with what heís doing, Iíll look round and think wow, because I havenít seen that before. It feels like thereís a lot of space for Jim to explore within the parameters that he has to set himself on a practical level.

 

Jim: Even though we have set patterns and structures in what we do, I know that Tom and Andy will do different things every time, and I wanted to be the same, and a lot of the processes Iíve got now are like that, itís different every performance and thatís satisfying.

 

Geoff: That goes back to the sound and visuals being unified by an emotion and feeling rather than being a reactive thing, which allows you both the space to do your own thing.

 

Jim: I had a major breakthrough was when I was working out live video sequences for Quad Time and I was struggling with getting the structure to work with the timing and shape of the music. Initially I was trying to be right on the beats or when the chords changed but I started to let it go and it felt like the visuals and music went off in their own direction, but it was difficult to let go, especially when youíre used to doing club VJ-ing. So for Quad Time there are certain points when it has to work, and come together but other points when I can almost forget what Tom and Andy are doing and concentrate on what Iím doing. Ultimately Iím hoping that it comes together naturallyÖ

 

Geoff: What are some of your musical influences? Iím a massive fan of minimalism and I can hear very strong elements of that in your sound, but is that conscious reference or more process based and to do with using the loop pedals?

 

Tom: The loop pedal in way is a massive limitation, but itís pushed us to try and use it in a way that is more creative than it being this endless, tedious repetition. Normally our pedals are both synchronised to the same tempo but thereís also an option to have them unsynced. The sound that we create on the  Mutascope track is largely inspired by Steve Reichís Piano Phase. So yeah thereís a definite influence of people like Steve Reich and Philip glass, I wouldnít say that I listen to it a lot but when I do, it stays with me for a long time.

 

Andy: I think of bell ringing. They deal with algorithms and I was trying to work that into the loop pedal but it was unbelievably difficult, we also started looking at polyrhythms as well, but doing that live with all the loops going and counting the beats can get a bit too much.

 

Jim:  I think that weíre at a point now where weíve got all this stuff in the mix and we can re jig things, remix stuff, take new ideas and also reintegrate old material in a new way. We need to just keep steadily working at it. Iím hoping that we can find a realistic way of bringing polyrhythms back in at some point. It was interesting the last time we did a festival and checked out the competition we felt we got our asses kicked, and since then we knew we had to be as good as we can and so weíve really pushed ourselves and upped the ante.

 

Tom: When we supported acts like D.V.D and Sculpture, they both kicked our asses, they were so good. They were nothing like us but they did their own unique thing absolutely the best they could. After both gigs we felt like we needed to improve our material so weíve worked really hard to try and raise our game.

 

Geoff: The new album Shakkei is quite tight and considered, but thereís a point in the live performances where there are these transitory spaces or passages between one peak and another, and it feels that music is hovering and on the verge of collapsing, before being held together and progressing. Itís these spaces that I find really interesting. It feels quite edgy, and as an audience member youíre guessing to see whatís going to happen next. How conscious are these spaces for you to experiment and try things out in?

 

Tom: Thereís lots of uses for those, one of them might be that as a live thing it helps us prepare for whatís coming next, so itís very functional. We could be leaving the loops running while we change instruments for example, or it can work as a space to give the next thing a bit more emphasis as the music evolves through peaks and troughs.

 

Andy:  It was always a conscious thing to move away from the standard form of making electronic music i.e. with a laptop because weíve always felt that that was very limited. So having it the way we do now and we know that it could fall apart any second, itís more interesting for us and the audience. I mean there were a few mistakes made the other night but thatís always going to happen. There was part in Quad Time when a beat didnít come in but it didnít matter, I went with it and something new came up, itís great to have these little spaces where can wander in and mess about. Thatís my forte, I like a bit of noodling.

 

Geoff: Itís great to have all that structure of loops and samples that are a constant backdrop for you to play around in.

 

Andy: I remember when we were in Dublin and we did three gigs on the trot, by the third night we started to just get into our stride and we really got our act together.

 

Jim: It was on one of those gigs that through a mistake we started to do the whole audience participation thing.

 

Andy:  On the second night, I had a ukelele with a pick up on it and while I was doing something else, Tom came over and started playing with it. It must have been when we were setting up for a new track and I looked at the audience and pulled a face and they started laughing. We ended up recording the laughter by mistake and used it in a loop. So now at the beginning of the Mutascope tune we ask the audience to hum a note and we sample and loop it. Itís great to get that audience interaction.

 

Geoff. At some stages youíve got all these loops going and youíre playing live, it feels like it must be a juggling act.

 

Tom: We were saying the other night that itís often difficult to remember everything you need to be doing, so when a mistake happens and we go off on a tangent itís often a relief. Thereís a lot of pressure in what we do and so many elements to juggle all at once. It can be a bit of a balancing act.

 

Geoff: What was great from the other night were the new tracks, where there was minimal electronic input and it was mainly you and Andy sparring, in a way not dissimilar to the stripped down nature of the latest album.

 

Tom: Those pieces were something Jim was very keen for us to try out and theyíre still in their infancy, I suppose it felt weird because there were no or very minimal visuals from Jim for the pieces and the spotlights were on Andy and I. There was nowhere to hide so to speak.

 

Geoff: I thought that worked very well, usually the focus is on the visuals, and youíre preoccupied with, like we said, juggling the sounds and apparatuses. Itís intriguing for the audience but not necessarily always so engaging without visuals. So for the stripped down pieces it was great to have that shift in focus and for the audience to see you play.

 

Tom: Itís funny you donít notice that change when you listen back to the audio recording, which is why we want to head towards this place where capturing what we do includes all of it, the visuals the music, everything, I think DVD releases rather than CDís may be the way forward for us.

 

Andy: I think one of the important things now for us now is to be able to develop and record new material in the way we want to, and this will involve getting the right space where we have everything setup and we can record things live.

 

Jim: I think weíve spent a long time perfecting our techniques for how we work together and do the live set and to a certain extent weíve figured a lot of that stuff out now, itís taken a long time, but it feels like weíve got an overview now and weíve got the freedom to pick and choose from the developments weíve done. I think itís all going to change for us in terms of output.

 

Tom:  I agree the output of it all as a whole may still be fragmented. Weíll release more audio and video downloads but I think we may move towards a place where the creative output will start to be more organic; play a gig here, give this away there and just be constantly doing things, rather than the traditional cycle of releasing a record and touring it to promote it. Itís already begun working in that way too. The other day we literally plugged in and recorded audio and live video at our studio. Which basically means we can make live music videos whenever we want.

 

Jim: I think the other thing weíve been talking about in terms of how weíll develop is to collaborate with other people, whether thatís conceptual artists, product designers or whoever, Iím quite up for branching out and see what happens. I mean weíve had a series of audio remixes for Quad Time, what about a remix of videos?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Watson

Arguably one of the best wildlife sound recordists in the world with possibly the best job in the world. This guy knows how to truly listen. I wish there were more like him.  Plus, I don't think I've ever heard anyone who could put in the same sentence, "The sound of my children laughing..." with "...the sound of a hyena biting through the leg of a zebra..."

Prepared Rhodes & Bowed Guitar Experiments

Prepared Rhodes Experiment #1 by Origamibiro

Prepared Rhodes Experiment #2 by Origamibiro

Aural Plaster-Cast

Impressions of Footfall, the opening track on the new album, is the culmination of lots of different sound sources and periods of time. From Autumn leaves through to Winter snow; English rain through to Bulgarian waterfalls... it's pretty heavily layered with all manner of feild recordings. But sounds alone can prove a poor substitute in the absence of the actions that made them.

Whilst watching footage of Jim's holiday in Bulgaria, I was immediately struck by the lush texture of his footsteps in the snow and so ran a line out of the camera and captured the audio.

But when I listened back the next day, I was surprised and a bit disappointed by what I heard. The audio hadn't changed, but my memory of it was completely different. I expected easily to be able to lift a number of beautifully isolated crunches in all their textured glory and put them to work in the piece I was writing. But what actually came through the speakers was a whole host of other sounds I'd not even been aware of. I'd unconsciously edited out everything else and focused entirely on the snow crunching underfoot.

I'd fallen victim to the process R. Murray Schafer talks about in 'Soundscape: The Tuning of The World'. My ear's 'elaborate psychological mechanism for filtering out undesirable sound in order to concentrate on what isdesirable', gave me an inaccurate depiction of what was really contained within that audio.

The other thing I noticed was that the sounds alone were not half as satisfying without their visual counterpart. What I perceived as being purely an audiophile's indulgence was anything but. The sound relies almost entirely upon It's association with the act and our memory of it. Even the image and the sound together serve as nothing more than a reminder of what it feels like to step in fresh snow.

Leaves, twigs, raindrops, waterfalls, snow, birds, forest reverb, wind, human breathing and distant traffic all feature in this track. Ultimately, the finished piece is just an impression of those elements; a sentimental sort of sonic plaster-cast to work with the music and help it evocatively. What memories and associations they help bring to the fore may be wide and varied for some or none at all for others. But if the former is true of only a few people, the track will have served its purpose.

Here's a teaser of the track:

Earth Observatory

Check out Nasa's earthobservatory for more images like these. Lots of them are hi resolution and public domain like this one.

"Called cloud streets, these cumulus clouds form when cold air from the ice blows over the open ocean, chilling the moist air. As the temperature drops, water freezes into tiny clouds, which are arranged in neat rows in line with the powerful sweep of the wind. Though some     clouds form over the cracking sea ice on the right side of the image, most are over the unfrozen water."

Music on Tap


"Whether the industry likes it or not, music is now like water: it streams into homes, it pours forth in cafés, it trickles past in the street as it leaks from shops and restaurants. Unlike water, music isn't a basic human right, but the public is now accustomed to its almost  universal presence and accessibility. Yet the public is asked to pay for every track consumed, while the use of water tends to be charged at a fixed rate rather than drop by drop: exactly how much is consumed is less important than the fact that customers contribute to its provision. Telling people that profit margins are at stake doesn't speak to the average music fan, but explaining how the quality of the music they enjoy is going to deteriorate, just as water would become muddy and undrinkable if no one invested in it, might encourage them to participate in the funding of its future. So since downloading music is now as easy as turning on a tap, charging for it in a similar fashion seems like a realistic, wide-reaching solution. And just as some people choose to invest in high-end water products, insisting on fancy packaging, better quality product and an enhanced experience, so some will continue to purchase a more enduring musical package. Others will settle for mp3s just as they settle for tap water. Calculating how  rights holders should be accurately paid for such use of music is obviously complicated but far from impossible, and current accounting methods - which anyone who has been involved with record labels can tell you aren't exactly failsafe - are clearly failing to bring in the cash."    

Read the full article here

Guest Bloggers

Jim Boxall and I were asked by the people at Creative Nottingham to be guest bloggers. Follow these links to read more:  Jim's Blog | Tom's Blog

Quote

"Idleness does not consist of doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class."

- Robert Louis Stevenson

White Noise

Used to not only mask unwanted noises, white noise can have a real calming effect. The reason why white noise works as a relaxing sound is due to the fact that it contains every frequency in the audible spectrum. A good analogy for why it helps to relax is to imagine two people talking when you're trying to read. It's easy to make out the individuals and what they're saying; each pause, sentence, language and word - which is distracting, as your brain homes in on every word. But when it's 20,000 people talking, it's impossible to make out what they're saying; they become a blur and you can focus on whatever you want.

Babies love it, as I've recently found out. This website is great for struggling parents with newborns, people with noisy neighbours, or anyone who can't sleep: www.simplynoise.com

Homemade Spacecraft

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Acoustic Shadow

Some fascinating accounts of how our environment affects sound and informs our perception of it from place to place. My favourite part is about the Mayan pyramid temple in Mexico. It's believed that the steps were not built for climbing, but for producing sounds. The echo from a hand clap whilst stood in front of the steps produces the exact same downward chirping sound as the Mayan bird, the Quetzel. So precise is the sound as to suggest it is no accident.  

To listen to the full programme, follow this link

Musical Accompaniment - A Musician's Dichotomy

Diane Arbus Photo Exhibition, 14th August 2010, Nottingham Contemporary

Producing soundtracks for film (or in this case, photos) can be an odd process. It depends on what its purpose is or what the film-makers intentions are for the music but, essentially, I think some of the best soundtracks serve as a means of intensifying the visual stimulus - which could mean a lot of things, like playing nothing, or just noise, or just a simple repetitive motif to ensure the music is helping rather than distracting.

     

Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtracks are a testament to the less-is-more  approach. It's almost completely ego-less. Sometimes, even to the point that you're unaware there was any music there at all. From a musician's perspective, that's nuts. Why would anyone want their work to be intentionally forgotten? But if it's purpose was to get the audience to engage more with what they're looking at then it should be expected some people won't be aware of the music's influence. And in many ways, those people - the people who benefited from the music but weren't aware of it - are the success stories for the soundtrack composer. Tragically though, how would they know to mention it?
     
Photo: Jim Brouwer for Nottingham Contemporary
     

Plato's Secret Musical Code

The works of Plato, the ancient classical Greek philosopher, appear to contain a hidden musical code, a British academic has claimed, reported in the Telegraph:         

Researchers claimed they cracked "The Plato Code", the long disputed secret messages hidden in some of Ancient World's most influential and celebrated writings. Dr Jay Kennedy, an historian and philosopher of science at the  University of Manchester, found Plato used a regular pattern of symbols     to give his writing a "musical" structure. In his five year study, Dr Kennedy found Plato, who died around 347BC, used the symbols inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras.

His findings, published in the American classics journal Apeiron,   suggested Plato was not only a secret follower of Pythagoras but also   shared his belief that in the universe's secrets lay maths and its numbers.     

The study, which has created excitement in the academic world, also   suggests he anticipated the scientific revolution of Galileo and Sir Issac Newton by about 2,000 years after "discovering its most important idea (that) the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics".

Dr Kennedy said the key to unlocking the code came from the 12 notes  of the Greek musical scale, which he said was popular among followers of Pythagoras.

Using computer technology, he restored contemporary versions of Plato's manuscripts to their original form, which he said consisted of lines of 35 characters, with no spaces or punctuation.

Dr Kennedy discovered that some key phrases, themes and words occurred during regular intervals throughout, which matched the spacing in the 12 note scale

World Wide Telescope

Google Maps but for space. If you follow the link below you don't have to install the full program to try it out. You do need the Silverlight plug-in but you should be directed to that: http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/webclient/

     
     

Nazi Tuning

When an instrument is tuned using a tuning fork or an electric tuner, the default is set to tune the note of A to 440hz. However, in the time of Mozart and Verdi, this wasn't the case. The Stradivarius violin was apparently built to resonate at 432Hz and it was widely accepted around that time that this should be the standard. Plato was supposedly the first to suggest this was important on a deeper level. Some composers believed this tuning was not only better suited to the human voice but also had a calming effect. Others go so far as to suggest it has healing properties.      

However, during the second world war - for whatever reason - the Nazis decided to raise that tone and in 1936 the former propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels (pictured) decided 440 Hertz was to be the new standard. With a little help from some other influential figures, it was approved by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). Conspiracy theorists reported this to have been, in part, by turn of the Illuminati, who were supposedly working with the Nazis in an attempt to throw everyone off their natural alignment and spiritual development.

All classical music for instance by Bach, Brahms, Verdi and so on was composed and performed with the use of this standard - an A at 432Hz. This standard is middle C on a keyboard at 256 Hz and if you keep going down an octave you get this sequence: 256-128-64-32-16-8-4-2-1, eventually arriving with C at exactly 1 vibration per second, the so-called "groundtone". Delving deeper there seem to be a whole host of factors contributing to the importance of 432 and its numerical significance, not least the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio. 

In 1953, despite the petition of over 23,000 musicians in France for the standard tuning to be returned to the natural, original 432 cycles per second, the ISO didn't budge and 440Hz remains the standard tuning today.

John Cage: In Love With Sound


Must Remember to Forget

"As soon as we start putting our thoughts into words and sentences everything gets distorted, language is just no damn good---I use it because I have to, but I don't put any trust in it. We never understand each other." - Marcel Duchamp.        

Can the expression of emotions through music be directly related to knowledge or experience? Or, put another way, Does academic intelligence or learned information make it any easier to convey complex emotions musically?        

It's generally accepted the more you understand a language the better you can express yourself through it. Having all the knowledge at your fingertips normally means you're able to take any direction you choose. But, focusing on a momentary emotion and holding onto it's rawness is a hard thing to do.  Certainly, trying to illustrate a complex feeling is not easy. Can there really be a map or predefined language to convey emotions?
         
John Cage said, "I want something I don't yet know." He almost expressed a desire - not in building upon previous experiences to produce better versions of old attempts - but instead, attempting to wipe his memory and see every new thing as something entirely different, which he believed should be be dealt with as such.
         
Stumbling across a simple lift in emotion just through accidentally shifting up a semitone during a chord change is half the excitement of creating music. Of course, someone has undoubtedly given those combined elements a name and formula; 'X' combined with 'Y', times by 'Z' and divided by 'Q' equals emotion 'B'.  There's nothing wrong with that, but when you compare that to making a completely new and outstanding personal discovery, there's no comparison.
         
The difference is enormous. I believe those two methods of composition leave an inherent imprint on the finished product.  The 'outstanding discovery' (or the feeling of being immersed in personal discovery) is going to be truly celebrated, whereas the formulaic method most likely will not. It's not something anyone would be able to put their finger on. It would just be that raw, unrefined emotion of someone who is focusing on the emotions rather than the formula, which fundamentally means the listener is likely to have a closer relationship with that.
         
Obviously, it would be absurd to actively fight against traditional or established methods but it's equally absurd to depend on them entirely when dealing with something so malleable and ever changing as emotions.

Everything can be broken down into a formula. I guess there's no getting away from that. You can dissect a frog, take out all it's innards, stretch out its nervous system, veins, eyeballs, skin, skeleton, bone, cartilage and so on... That might tell you how it's constructed or what it's comprised of. Putting it back together and bringing it back to life, however, is not the same thing.

Annihilating The Nuances

If you're unfamiliar with the 'Loudness Wars' then you may be surprised to hear that there is a decline in the quality of music being produced despite the evolution of technology.


It's an issue all studio engineers and music producers battle with to some degree or another. You'll notice this when you make a playlist or compilation of various artists. Certain tracks seem louder than others making the quieter tracks seem weaker. This is down to the final mastering stages in music production. You can push the 'perceived' loudness of a track using compressors and limiters, but there is a compromise - you lose the dynamics of the music and sometimes even the clarity of individual sounds.         

But, because everyone wants to be the loudest on a playlist, producers are jumping over themselves to push the volume higher, no matter what the cost of the music's clarity. Have a look at the differences of these two waveforms above. One is the original (produced back in 1990) and the one underneath is a remastered version.   

The black represents the volume of the music. In the top picture, there are peaks and troughs indicating loud parts and quiet parts. The one below contains no dynamics at all! This undoubtedly has been pushed to the point of crushing any fine details out of the original piece. Admittedly, you can get away with it sometimes for heavy rock, pop or punk, but for anything delicate, you run the risk of annihilating the nuances.        

Check out a more in depth article here

Resonance Experiments

Hauschka / Jeff Desom

This film has been animated and pieced together entirely using found postcards and photos from the U.S. Library of Congress.

Hauschka - Morgenrot from Jeff Desom on Vimeo.

Tangible Product


Photo: James Day


The first of these links that follow is a lecture by Bill Drummond about the redundancy of recorded music. The second is a link to an article by David Byrne about a similar subject with some great clips, including Thom Yorke and Brian Eno, about the music industry and how things are evolving.

                     
                                              
                                         

Why


A ball flying through the air is responding to the force and direction to which it was thrown, the action of gravity, the friction of the air which it must expend its energy on overcoming, the turbulence of the air around its surface, and the rate and direction of the ball's spin. 

And yet, someone who might have difficulty consciously trying to work out what 3x4x5 comes to would have no trouble in doing differential calculus and a whole host of other calculations so astoundingly fast that they can actually catch a flying ball.

People who call this "instinct" are merely giving the phenomenon a name, not explaining anything.

I think that the closest that human beings come to expressing our understanding of these natural complexities is in music. It is the most abstract of the arts - it has no meaning or purpose than to be itself."

(Excerpt taken from "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" by Douglas Adams)

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