Monday, 29 October 2012

Chip off the old block......

I have my son, Callum, staying with me for his half-term school holiday. He asked me last week if I could send him some software to help him make one of his favourite types of music, dubstep. I quite enthused by this and told him that if he waited until his week here, I would set up his computer with the Reaper 4 digital audio workstation (DAW) and some sample loops. He agreed.

Well, we headed into the GTK Studio this morning and got to it this morning. Within a short space of time, he was happily layering up beat and instrument loops. And we have spent most of the day working together on his first track as well as showing him various basic bits and bobs of a modern computer sequencing package and he seems to have been bitten by the bug. At the moment, he is only using loops and samples, but it's a good way to get him into the mindset of working with music software and for using available sound sources to create his own pieces.

Here's a photo of him hard at it in teh GTK Studio:

He's called his first track "The Beginning" and he's put it up on Soundcloud, which you can find below:

And here's a photo of him looking very pleased with himself, whilst working on his track:

All this of course will stand him on good stead for the up and coming Impossible Men project and his work with me on future electronic music projects :-)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Awakenings All-Dayer EM Event and An Unexpected Addition!!!

I took myself off to Burton-On-Trent last Saturday (20th October 2012) for an excellent electronic music event called Awakenings. The Awakenings concerts are held roughly 4/5 times a year, but this year, the final event of the 2012 cycle was set up as an all-dayer. And what a treat it was.

On the bill were Modulator ESP, Parallel Sun, Radio Massacre International, Cosmonauttransfer, Altres and Terje Whinther. It was a very well balanced and varied line-up with a little of something for everyone. I personally enjoyed all the acts and certainly found some inspiration for my own music, particularly my more experimental stuff.

It was also a great social occasion and I was able to meet a number of people whose music I followed, articles I'd read or have linked up with on jolly old Facebook. Names here include Andy Pickford (UK electronic music composer), Paul Nagle (UK electronic music artist and review writer for music magazine "Sound On Sound"), Paul Challoner (UK electronic music artist), Kevin Guthrie (keyboard player with Altres) and Martin Greenwood (UK electronic music artist). I enjoyed catching up with people I had previously met such as Jez Creek and Phil Booth (the organisers), Duncan Goddard (radio Massacre International) and Ian Catherall (UK electronic music and EM fan).

Naturally, I took a lot of photographs and I'll be spending a few days sorting through them. Unfortunately, from what i have seen, there aren't many good ones. The lighting was very low and that proved tricky for The Fuji, but I hope there'll be couple I can do something with.

A few days before the event, I received an e-mail from a gentleman by the name of Bryan who had a Kawai K5m rack-mounted synthesizer that he thought I might be interested in, which of course I was. I popped along to Bryan's house just before going to the Awakenings All-Dayer as he lived about 15 minutes from the venue. I enjoyed an hour and a half in the company of Bryan and his brother, with a mug of tea (much welcome after my 3 and a half hour drive from Norwich!!!) where we spent the time chatting about synths, studios, music and photography. The K5m is a digital synthesizer that uses additive synthesis which is quite a complex mode of sound generation, but with the use of an editor, it shouldn't be problem to start creating my own sounds. Bryan very kindly gave me a set of data cards, which were very much appreciated, so that I can store whatever new sounds I come up with. I ran the K5m through the GTK Studio system yesterday and I have to say that I an very pleased with the shimmering glassy sounds it produces. I layered it up with my recently acquired Kawai K4r and the resultant digital soundscapes were most satisfying. I've added a picture of the K5m below.

So, I now need to sift through the photos and properly plumb in the K5m.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Ultravox Stage Set, Ipswich, October 2012

I've been a big fan of Ultravox, in all it's incarnations, since the age of 12 (I'm now 47) and have seen them perform live many times. When the group imploded in the late 1980's, along with pretty much every Ultravox fan alive, I thought that was it and so moved on to other things, but taking the fine music of this excellent band with me.

Then in 2009, they reformed to do a series of concerts to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the writing of their seminal hit "Vienna". I was unable to make it to any of these dates and was totally gutted, as I didn't think there would be anything more after the tour finished - the group had certainly intimated as such. But hey-ho, being a grown-up (allegedly) etc I dealt with it.

And then a new album appeared in 2012 and what a stonking piece of work it was!!! The "Brilliant" album heralded another tour and this time, through a couple of good friends, I had a ticket :-D But, as those who are close to me and those who follow this blog will know, I'm not one for letting the slightest of opportunities slip by. Through good grace, my own musical and photographic endeavours and a bit of good fortune, I have come into contact with a good many people who reside on the upper plane of the U.K. music scene, and I approached one of these people with a simple request to photograph the Ultravox stage set. I wasn't really interested in taking pictures of the band as such, plenty of other people do that and I really didn't think for one minute they would go for that, no, it was the equipment that garnered my interest, fuelled by my visits to the synth studios of the likes of Ben Edwards and Kevin Kendle.

To my utter delight and complete astonishment, I was given the green light a few days before the gig and so I prepped The Fuji ready for the afternoon that lay ahead.

I was met outside the Ipswich Regent Theatre (formerly the Gaumont) by Ultravox's director of lighting, Chris Curran, given my pass and shown through to the auditorium where the road crew were still prepping for the evening concert. I was introduced to the tour manager and sound mixer and then shown the lighting desks used by Chris Curran. The big surprise of the day was Chris saying that I would be able to watch Ultravox do their soundcheck - and it was indeed a true pleasure.

Once the soundcheck was done, Chris took me up to the stage whereupon I was introduced to the road crew, who I have to say were a great bunch of people, very friendly, interested in what I was doing, suggested possible shots and took the piss out of me - when one of them asked if I got out much, you should have heard their reaction when I told them about a fascinating little train station I had visited previously with a lovely diesel locomotive that had interesting numbers!!!

All too soon, it was time to go - I could have spent ages snapping and chatting, not least with keyboard tech Roger Lyons. It was quite an afternoon and I'm happy with the photos that came from it and you can see below.

The concert in the evening was magnificent. Ultravox performed a two and a half hour set of great music and their performance was as polished and professional as I could recall. Even when Billy Currie's Mac computer stopped working during "One Small Day", the other three carried on as if nothing had happened with Midge ure joking at the end of the song about our being lucky to see the only time that we would see Ultravox performing as a three piece. I wasn't able to get any photos from the evening performance as the security detail confiscated my camera until after the concert. No complaints though as I had been more than very fortunate to get pictures that few others would have done earlier in the day.

A huge thanks goes out to Chris Curran, Berenice Hardman and Ultravox for a great afternoon- you made an aging fan very happy :-)

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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

More GTK Studio Bits and Changes!!!

Gear Acquisition Syndrome (hereinafter referred to as GAS) has struck again - quite unexpectedly so as well I can tell you. And as a consequence of this, I've had to make some changes, yet again, in the GTK Studio.
First up are three (yes, three, 3, one after 2, one before 4 etc etc) new synthesizers that have come to me courtesy of my good friend David Wright and the amazing UK composer, Bekki Williams. They are a Kawai K4r (David Wright) and a Korg Wavestation SR and Yamaha TG55 (Bekki Williams), all of which are rack-mounted digital synthesizers.

The Korg Wavestation SR is a classic piece of 1990's rack-mounted digital technology, and broke a lot of ground when it was first introduced in 1992. It gives all the classic Wavestation sounds you could want and has the same advanced vector and wave sequencing synthesis methods employed in the bigger keyboard version. Considering it's essentially digital synthesizer and some 20 years old, it sounds amazing and very warm.
The Yamaha TG55 is the rack-mounted version of the Yamaha SY55 synthesizer and uses sampled waveform layering as the basis of it's sound architecture. The TG55 enables the user to create sounds by  arranging and processing the preset sampled waveforms through a dynamic filter, pitch and amplitude envelope generators and a bank of programmable effects. Again, as with the Wavestation SR, the TG55 is a digital synthesizer that can sound very full and very warm with sounds that are still as relevant today as they were when the unit was released in 1989.
The Kawai K4r is a rack-mount version of the Kawai K4 - bet you couldn't have guessed that :-D The K4r is a sample-based digital synth, with sounds that are nicely and weirdly industrial, derived from 16-bit preset PCM samples of acoustic instruments. The K4 has really nice digital filter section that makes it nice and flexible, giving it s nice warm and fuzzy sound. According to the review and write-ups, the K4r is capable of strange, new and unique sounds with plenty of flexibility and analog-style sound shaping and control. I'm looking forward to putting it through it's paces.

Lastly is an absolutely essential piece of outboard equipment, namely an Emagic Unitor8 MIDI Interface. And why is this bit of gear so important? Well, it's because it allows communication between the external MIDI synthesizers, MIDI keyboard controllers, MIDI-enabled effects units and the GTK Studio Computer. This now means that I can edit/play/control all MIDI-enabled equipment from the computer and two MIDI keyboard controllers without having to unplug anything. Setting it up has been something of a challenge as it's MANY years since I used MIDI in any real sense other than connecting a keyboard to a synthesizer, but it has been totally worth it.

I've also put together and installed a 12U DIY cabinet (which hasn't fallen apart yet) and I am lost in a sea of cables - MIDI and 1/4" jack. This is all a far cry from when I started out six years ago, not wanting to go down the hardware route because I knew how it would go. But, once your set your foot on that particular slippery slope, it truly seems there is no stopping it.

GAS is now on hold, maybe I can start making some music once again......