Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Working on a track for "Soundtrack For City Living"

Good health hasn't been with me for the last couple of days, nothing serious just an annoying stomach bug that doesn't allow me retain food. Soon be gone. The worst has past but it has left me feeling totally wiped out and very restless, so I thought I would fire up my Studio Drive and have a tinker with a track from "Soundtrack For City Living" that has the title of "Beauty In Decay".

Now, we musos get our inspiration from all manner of places, things, people, emotions etc etc etc, and for this track, my inspiration is most definitely my Urban Explorer alter ego.

When I'm wandering through those broken empty shells, I'm often in awe at the exquisite undertones of beauty that decay creates. Some of you may think that mould and damp is what it is, something nasty, smelly and having no place in the home. But, when real natural urban decay sets in, wonderous arrays of colour and form can result. Also, when a building starts to crumble, and inevitably the windows and doors fall in, this is usually followed by a developer or local authority coming in and boarding everything up. The notion is obviously to keep the weather out as well as vandals and probably Urban Explorers. But sometimes, that too can create something wonderful. More often than not, the boarding submerges the interior into total darkness, but get a bright sunlit early morning/late afternoon, something incredible can happen. If the sun is bright enough, shards of light can cut through the darkness creating beams of brilliant white light, thanks to the interior dust that can hang in the air and this in return can really amplify the intensity of colour captured within the light. My most perfect example of this is the entrance to the Harford Hills chalk mine, where this happened. I've seen it in other buildings with similar effect, notably St. Andrews House in Norwich.

The other thing that can really get to you (in a good way I would hasten to add!!!) is the emptiness, particularly when you are in a building that has known a lot of activity. I first felt this when I explored the derelict St. Andrews House asylum and more recently with the abandoned wing of the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in the centre of Norwich. The latter was more intense on that one because I was totally alone for that explore. Walking through the darkness with very little or no light other than your torch(es) can really bring home the sense of isolation and loneliness of the property, even though it may be in a busy city centre. Each sound you hear so much more clearly because your senses awareness levels are raised, The slightest rustle of a tarpaulin, the flutter of a pidgeon, the drip of rain water seeping through a decaying roof, all of these things take on a new and alternative reality type of sonic dimension.

And it's these very emotions and experiences that I am trying to bring forward with the track "Beauty In Decay" - a lonely echoing piano, a haunting soprano voice, shifting filtered pads, distant strings, crunchy glitchy rhythms and fractured drifitng arpeggios and sequences all come together to give the ambience of a building succumbing to time and weather.

Once again I've been using the rather fabulous VP330 sample pack from Hollow Sun, the choral pad sit perfectly at the back of the track, as well as providing some more forward sounding pads with a bit of processing, notable flanging and a cool filter bank called Flexfilterbank2 from a developer called Wok - yet another free piece of software that's got a great sound and is easily automated using MIDI.

Other so-called "budget" effects that I've been using on this track (some of which are from a freeware company) come from Variety Of Sound and Minimal System Instruments. I don't want to sound like a salesman here, but I have to say that these companies are doing some seriously great products for little or no price.

From Variety Of Sound, I'm using their NastyDLA delay unit and NastyVCS virtual console strip. The NastyDLA delay unit is based once again on vintage gear therefore it gives that certain warmth and slight colouration needed to take off the clean digital sparkle, another unit that is controllable through MIDI and as well as being packed with features, sounds a-ma-zing. Did I mention it was free? The NastyVCS is a compression unit that has everything needed to help shape channels dynamics and tone. It beautifully controls the dynamics on my piano, keeping everything nice and even as well as bringing out some of the lesser heard sounds that lie behind the delays etc. Oh yeah, it's also free.

From Minimal System Instruments, I'm using their Airwalker Reverb and Moogi Analogue Filter. The Airwalker Reverb has a certain vintage analogue quality that is perfect for pianos and is so damn easy to use. With regard to price, easily the best £5 I've ever paid out in terms of value for money. The Moogi Analogue Filter works nicely alongside the Wok product and is a terrific little analog-sounding VCF emulation. It does exactly what it says on the box, a sumptuous sounding analog filter that even has the little unpredictable idiosyncrasies associated with vintage gear.

I guess the point of talking about these products is to high-light the fact that there is a lot of high quality products for little or no cost available to the fiscally challenged muso (of which I am definitely in the category of - lol!!!), and with imagination and time spent learning how these little beauties work, good things can be coaxed out of them. You often find as well with the smaller developer that the support is kind of great. Quite important when you're either beginning or need that little bit of advice on what does what and don't want to wait for the mechanisms of a larger company to turn themselves around.

In terms of "Beauty In Decay", these units have helped to shape a lonely sounding piano which has a distant, almost crackly vinyl ambience to it, a choral pad that sits behind everything nicely gluing the various track frequencies together to give body and warmth, the same choral pad on another track is fed through filter banks that are then automated to give movement as well as a high-end sparkle/shimmer which to me, represents the dusty motion within shards of sunlight breaking through cracks and windows.  As with all things, it's all very well "talking the talk", but it's the finished product will be the proof and hopefully my ramblings will give some insight into the way I created the piece as well as inspirations behind it.

Monday, 24 January 2011

A bit about "the cover version"

I've mention more than a few times about a cover version that will be on the Geigertek album, "Soundtrack For City Living".

Any prizes for guessing what it is yet? No, it's John Foxx's "Underpass" and it's well and truly underway now and sounding so much better than I first imagined. No sneak previews on this one though, I want this one to be heard within the context of the finished album.

I had a big disappointment when I put together a version of Prokofiev's "Troika" for AD Music's "ADChristmas" album last Autumn, only to find at the 11th hour, the Prokofiev estate would not allow it to be used, naturally I didn't want this to happen again and staved off working on the track until I knew it could be used. So, the first step was getting the appropriate permissions from publishers etc and no one was happier than I when this came through - many thanks to John Foxx's manager Steve Malins and Rob Harris from the Metamatic website for some seriously speedy replies to e-mail queries.

I had a rough idea in my head of where I wanted to go with the song. Absolutes were that it would remain a vocal track, that it would not be a copy of the original track and that it would not be in the same style of the original. These have been stuck to. I still wanted the dystopian edge that John Foxx had with this song, so I've taken a kind of elctro-ambient route with it. This has been acieved so far with the use of the VP330 sample pack from the rather fab Hollow Sun people, along with their Crumar Performer pack - this gives a kind of "vintage" feel to the background of the piece without it sounding like an 80's clone. It has been remarked that my "sound" is known for the use of piano, so please do expect that - lots of dampened delay and lingering reverb is giving the piano a wonderfully warm feel to the overall mix alongside the VP330 and Crumar Performer, keeping the hook of the song driving away in the background. Where I've significant moves away from the original is in the rhythms, the vocal layers and the arrangement. John Foxx used a Roland CR-78 and the temptation to incorporate something similar was huge, but I've resisted, instead opting for, yes, a synthetic drum sound, but not the CR-78. Plus I've added in some glitchy minimal-style rhythms to add to the anti-utopian stance as well as some lovely panoramic strings that layer beautifully with the VP330 choral sounds.

My take on "Underpass", whilst containing vocals, is much more instrumental than the original because there was a certain beauty to the under-lying structure of the song that was crying out to me to be brought forward. I've added a new middle section that takes the chord structure in a slightly different direction, built up with layered violin/viola sounds (for a vague reference, please check the track "This Man" from the "Endless Night E.P."), shifting VP330 chord triads, a persistent piano riff that is indicative of the main "Underpass" synth hook and heavily reverberated octaved string lines. The arrangement sees a number of single-bar stop/starts that break the piece up nicely so that the fall into the different sections becomes more pronounced. Vocally, instead of a single voice harmonised a la JF, I am layering the voices of three different singers which is creating an interesting texture, the main element being the dominance of a female voice, plus loads of processing as well, and I mean loads. I've been experimenting with that god-awful "Autotune effect", and weirdly, it seems to be working nicely in this context. I'm not making the effect obvious or dominant, that would be a huge mistake alongside sounding bloody awful, but by routing the three vocal layers through to an FX bus loaded with the pitch-correction software, processing that with a flanger and then layering it with a vocal fed through the fantastic TAL-Vocoder from Togu Audio Line, the outcome has a strangely dis-jointed, mechanically organic shimmer to it.

There's still a long way to go before it's finished, but already it has a certain spatial grandness to it, offset with processed electronic rhythms, widescreen panavision string sections and electronic choirs. The ending is huge in it's outset, but then stops dead before a distant viola and piano fade off into the distance, drifting through rainfall and thunder that segues into the following track. I hope you'll like the finished product.

Radio Interview - 24th March 2011

I'll be doing a radio interview for Southern Spiritual Radio on Thursday 24th March 2011 with veteran broadcaster Steve Sheppard.

You can find more details about Southern Spiritual Radio HERE and I'll post more details about my interview nearer the date :-)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

An Urbex Itch Scratched :-0

I've had my eye on an undeveloped part of a former city centre general hospital in Norwich for the last 3 months or and last night both opportunity and time presented themselves.

The main hospital was closed for business in approximately 2001 and redeveloped for premium housing. This redevelopment is still on-going and the target for this explore is the last remaining undeveloped wing.

A lot of the redevelopment on this derelict wing and it was quite obvious that the developers have given thought to securing the building from too much in the way of vandalism and the likes of us explorers. After a hairy-scary fence scaling episode, I was able to gain access to most of the basement and ground floor rooms, but the main part I wanted to get to (the entrance lobby with the principle staircase to the upper floors) was very securely sealed. I found holes in walls which enabled me to get to different parts of the ground floor, but all doorways to the main entrance area had been bricked up and sealed. Also, it seems that all other staircases had been either removed or capped at their apex. I have to say that this was something of a seriously cool move on their part, but inherently annoying for this explorer out on his first solo night-time mission. But with respect, what was accessible, whilst not particulrly remarkable, was in a relatively good state of repair.

I was quite fortunate with this one as I was able to get a rough idea of the layout of the building before I went in because my partner worked in this hospital for many years and frequented the doctor's bar most evening's after work (her words not mine!!!).

As I said above, this was my first proper solo explore and boy, did the adrenalin flow!!! I was grateful of my background in ghost hunting etc because I'm not in the least bothered by the dark or being on my own in a derelict property, but I do have to say that my sensitivity to sound was expotentially heightened X-D

What was inside wasn't spectacular and I did have some focusing issues, so have a little taster of the images I captured below. The full set can be found on my Flickr page HERE

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Today's Chalk Mine Explore

Well, what a day!!!

I teamed up with fellow explorer Chris Richmond to search for an access to the Harford Hills Chalk Mine on the Southern side of Norwich.

After much searching through under-growth, we found the access and what was planned as a recce turned into a 2 hour explore.

The mine went on for some distance underground, inclining deeper as we went along and whilst there wan't much in the way of artifacts, there was alot of tunnels to explore and engraved initials from teh 30's, 40's and 50's. One serious note is that it could be quite easy to get lost.

I'll put the photos up on Flickr soon as well as my website, but here a few to whet the appetite.

New Chalk Mine gallery on Flickr

I've added a new gallery of photographs recently taken in the Rosary Road Chalk Mine in Norwich. These ones are totally unprocessed and taken straight from the camera.

The Flickr page can be found HERE and I've added a few pics below :-)

Hope you like them.

Off to locate a second chalk mine later today and will report back accordingly.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Mine Hunter

The "Urbex Virus" is manifesting once again. Another chalk mine has appeared with some clarity on the radar and needs to be investigated.

Tomorrow will see me off out in search of some potential underground mischief. Will the access point be found???

Wait and see ;-)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Geigertek Live Set: The Bungay Bash (3 Ales and a Gig)

I've just received confirmation for my first gig of 2011. It's a slot that's part of a day of electronic music to be called "The Bungay Bash (3 Ales and a Gig)".

It will be the first of AD Music's planned annual Suffolk Electronic Music festivals to be held in June in conjunction with a small beer festival at the Fisher Theatre in the Suffolk town of Bungay. This event is also a bit of a first (if you'll pardon the unintentional pun) because it's being held in conjunction with a beer festival, so three local ales will be "on tap" for the day, hence the “3 Ales and a Gig” tag. Also to make you aware, the event is NOT all seated, but there should be more than enough seats for those who prefer to rest their derrieres. You will be able to specify “seated” when you book.

It'll pretty much be an AD Music affair so as to test the waters, with myself (Geigertek) and David Wright playing the two afternoon slots and Code Indigo headlining the evening slot. However, there will be a fourth act (yet to be confirmed) playing in the cellar bar between the performances.

The ticket prices for the event will be £10 and said tickets will be available very soon from the Fisher Theatre box office (telephone: 01986 897130) and of course the AD Music website

My set will be a mixture of my electronica and ambient electronic sides, featuring tracks from the albums and E.P., as well as debuting new material from the forth-coming "Soundtrack For City Living".

I have to agree with what the official announcement from AD Music says about Norfolk and Suffolk being a beautiful part of the U.K. to visit in the late Spring and early Summer, so please do come and join in the fun with us for the First Bungay Bash :-)

As more details emerge, I will of course be up-dating them here.




Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Urban Explorers

Next to music, photography and Urban Exploration are my most loved pastimes and already I have loads of my pictures on the website and my Facebook page.

However, it's quite an obvious thing to state that I am not the only one in the world what pursues this Urban Exploration thing, and I can tell you that there are some seriously cool sets of photographs out there that I would love to have taken.

As and when the mood takes me, I'm going to share my favourite explorers' images here on this'um blog thingy.

A couple of guys I have contact with on Facebook have been getting themselves about the U.K. capital amongst other places and coming up with some rather cool pics. The first is Greg MacKenzie and he puts his images into a Facebook page he calls "Urban Exploring Adventures". I've put a couple of images below, but please do click HERE to see a whole load more.

Next up is Tony Pullen. Some great shots once again residing in his Facebook page. He explores with Greg and they're capturing some mighty nice locations. Click HERE for Tony's Facebook photo albums and have a quick scan below of some of his work.

And finally for this session is Lee Smith. I did an explore recently with Lee and it was cool to watch him in action. He has a great website (which you can find HERE) where he not only presents his pictures, but he also adds a damn fine bit of writing to go with them :-)

Sunday, 9 January 2011

"Soundtrack For City Living" Update

I had a conversation with the guys at AD Music recently about the progress of the third Geigertek album, "Soundtrack For City Living" and it's estimated completion date. I've said that I expect another 6 months work on it, so we have agreed a release date of August 2011. It has been assigned it's catalogue number and as you'll have already seen, the draft artwork is underway. The tracks are starting to come together, boosted by the inclusion of a cover version of a classic electronica track from 1980, for which permission for the use of was recently granted by the publishers.

As a teaser, here are some projected track titles, which are not in any sort of order and could change for the final release:

Beyond The Garden (definite opening track)
Systems of Motion
Devil May Care
Beauty In Decay
A Rainfall Moment
City Living
Fast Lane

I'm planning to segue "Systems of Motion", "Underpass" and "Devil May Care" as they share a common theme/feel/atmosphere.

With what I have already done/started, this album will have a predominantly chill-out vibe to it, the exceptions at this time being "Fast Lane" and "City Living" which are both up-tempo. In a break from previous albums, but inspired by the "Endless Night E.P.", there will be vocals on three tracks, these being "Underpass", "Devil May Care" and "City Living". It's unlikely that I will be doing any lead vocal work as I am hoping to get the services of a couple of local singers who have voices that really suit the pieces I have in mind for them.

The cover version will not be a copy of the original and it has to be remembered that I am a huge fan of the artist who wrote the song - this is MY take on it, so don't expect another clone. Thus far, it is discerned as the track you would know mainly by it's chorus hook. Vocally, I am intending to  use both female and male voices blended together with an ad-lib lead vocal over the final passges of the track. My version has the same edge that the original had, but a vastly warmer sound creating that much-needed dystopian feel which I started using on "The Timeless Mind".

As well as vocalists, I'm also incorporating real guitars. I'm going to be approaching a couple of people I know who can do what I need for the album, one of them being Code Indigo's Nigel Turner-Heffer. I want a broader sound pallet for this album, whilst at the same time keeping it's under-lying tone electronic. I will be using vocoded vocals, hell I'm even looking at using that grossly over-done "Cher Autotune" effect as it will have a place on one of the tracks. Oh yes, and there may be a guest musician playing on the album as well - more details when I get them ;-)

It's going well and I'm pleased with the sound so far, but the finish line is still a long way off.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

"Soundtrack For City Living" Update

I had a very nice e-mail from my friend David Wright today regarding a cover version I've been wanting to do for the new Geigertek album "Soundtrack For City Living".

As David is the label boss of AD Music who release my music, I had to ask him about the required publishing permissions when one does a cover of an established song because I don't want to fall foul of copyright issues etc. He took the reins on this matter and after I got the publishing details from the manager of the artist concerned, David made the appropriate inquiries and this morning he informed me that I had a green light to go and that all was okay. To say I'm pleased is an under-statement as I've been wanting to do a re-working of this particular song for many years.

So, the Studio Drive was fired up and work commenced immediately and thus far, I'm pleased with the result. There's still a very long way to go yet, but already I can hear the song as I had it in my own mind.

The original was famous for it's feel and it's mood, I'm taking the piece in a different direction but, hopefully, will still maintain the dystopian atmosphere of the track.

Exciting stuff :-)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A new review for "The Timeless Mind"

Woke up this morning to an e-mail from David Wright to say that there was a review of the second Geigertek album, "The Timeless Mind" on the Vanguard Online website.

It's a nice review and even though I've never met the reviewer, it's quite cool that he gets what I'm about :-)

Have a look-see at the interview HERE