Over this past year I have got to know and become friends with a certain German chap called Jörg Schaaf. He is one of Germany’s great synthesiser designers having been integral in the creation of many of Quasimidi’s highly regarded 90’s instruments but following that companies demise in the year 2000 he started the successful Radikal Technologies who have released many innovative musical devices since. The most recent product is the upcoming Delta CEP A synthesiser that he brought over to show Nick Batt over at Sonicstate in October just after he exhibited at the third annual Synthfest in Sheffield:
Having met Jörg at Superbooth in Berlin back in May it was great to see him again at Synthfest but knowing he was going to be filming with Nick on the Tuesday, I had arranged for a jam session in Bristol to be sandwiched between. As well as being a talented instrument designer, Jörg is also an accomplished musician in his own right having made several albums with the synth legend Klaus Schulze back in the 1990s.
I called a bunch of friends up who were more than happy to come to the jam and the date was set! Attending were drummer James Phillips and guitarist Andy Taylor (both members of my space rock band Asteroid Deluxe), highly accomplished jazz musician Kevin Figes brought along soprano sax and flute, synth player Robbie Bronnimann who plays with Howard Jones (and Sonicstate Sonictalk contributor), experimental percussionist and Samba band leader Simon Presto plus my old buddy and Steve Winwood accomplice Jason Jervis who brought along his MFB synth which he recently made a video about. I named this temporary band Micrometeor.
The resulting freeform jam was great fun with all the musicians keenly listening and reacting spontaneously to each other. I managed to get a decent recording of the jam and at some point plan to put it up online but we also managed to get a bit of video too which I have cobbled together to give a flavour of what happened. The video is not particularly high quality and was patched together from various phones and go pros with limited light but it serves as a nice reminder of this most fun get together. Look out for some blatant continuity errors too! Here is the video which features an extract of the jam that I named Monsignor:
The space rock band I play with, Asteroid Deluxe, have a great new commission: To perform a live soundtrack to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain at the Greenman festival this summer. This 1973 cinematic masterpiece is a surreal tale of a thief who through an encounter with a mystical alchemist gets led on a spiritual journey along with seven business people (each representing ugly human traits) to the fabled “Holy Mountain”. The film is unquestionably psychedelic in its visual design but also in its underlying meaning. This makes it an ideal film for Asteroid Deluxe!
Here is a brief trailer for our show:
We have written a brand new score for the film and have tried to avoid mimicking the original soundtrack which coincidentally has just been issued on vinyl for the first time recently by Finders Keepers. Our rescore features nearly two hours of brand new music and contains much variation ranging from pulsating beats and acid dripped guitars to introspective acoustic moments all played live with no sequencers or backing apart from the dialogue track. The imaginative, vibrant and violent scenes in the film, have inspired us to come up with a heady brew of different influences and musical intensities.
There is a good feature about the film here but beware it contains spoilers!
Last Saturday I played a gig with a great friend of mine, Colum Regan in the legendary Cardiff venue The Four Bars (so pleased it got it’s name back after years of being called a generic Dempsey’s Irish bar). The band consisted of Colum on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Joe Grant on drums, Jammy Harris on lead guitar and myself on bass. This gig was mostly about Colum’s original music. Below is a video from the gig of Who Do You Think You Are?
I have collaborated with Colum on various projects over the years including producing his second album, the stark and introspective Hotel. This album was recorded in a recreation of a prehistoric round house near Cowbridge in South Wales. We applied a strict “tape rules’ strategy to this project. This meant that even though we were using a computer we only allowed ourselves techniques that would have been possible in the halcyon days of reel to reel recording. This meant absolutely no copy and pasting or any other digital shenanigans. We also had an only appear once rule too which meant that no vocal or instrumental parts were double tracked. This, along with utilising the natural reverb of the round house and using only acoustic instruments, has ensured that Hotel has an organic sound which I think will always sound timeless.
The Roundhouse in St Hilary, South Wales.
Colum is an interesting guy. Hailing from Cork in Ireland, he is a superb entertainer and is out most nights gigging solo, with his wife or with a variant of his band Goose. Irish Goose, Super Goose, Wedding Goose, Indie Goose. Essentially a Goose for all occasions! He is also frontman for The Dandos which is a more original slanted band and features Incredible String Band man Lawson Dando. If that wasn’t enough Colum is a newly published author with his freaky debut novel The Fly Guy now available.
A short doc about the launch of Colum’s new book, The Fly Guy.
Well Musikmesse 2015 is virtually upon us and I like many, start getting strangely excited to discover what new and unexpected treats lie just around the corner. Sonic State will be there of course giving us the first and best exclusive glances. Make sure if you’re interested to follow their news feed as it will be coming thick and fast especially tomorrow (Wednesday) when most of the major stuff will be revealed. Nick Batt, editor of Sonic State will of course be asking the most pertinent questions (occasionally to the dismay of the ill informed demonstrator!).
The (let’s not make bones about this) immense NickBatt
What I am really hopeful to see is a further industry awakening to the undeniable attraction of USB hosting built into hardware products. USB class compliant devices are simply things you can just plug into iPads and computers without the need to install drivers. This standardisation of class compliancy is open and thus can be built into new devices. We have seen a few devices doing this before namely the excellent iconnectMIDI4+ and Kenton’s simple model. Those units have been able to act as USB hosts without being connected to a computer. This is an exciting development because it starts to open up a world which has hitherto now been exclusive to the world of computers. Hardware becomes infinitely more fun the less connected to the computer it is. Computers are ace there is no denying that but the omnipresence of the dang internet is always looking for a way in to distract and to procrastinate.
The new Roland MX-1 with USB hosting
We have started to see USB hosting built into some other products this year namely Roland’s cool MX-1 mixer which addresses a particular need for a performance almost instrument like approach to mixing. It has crucially four USB ports that can receive with midi and audio data simultaneously facilitating their range of Aira units. It’s a lovely idea isn’t it? We take out our drum machine, I plug the single USB lead into the mixer and that’s it! It is still unclear if these ports will allow the connection of other devices, we shall have to wait and see.
The Futuresonus Parva also features USB hosting
Leading the way in small synthesizers is the brand new Parva analog polysynth currently in a Kickstarter setup. Many things look excellent in this well specified eight voice polysynth such as four envelopes and four LFOs but the gobsmacker is the fact that it has a USB host port! Yippee! I could connect my little CME Xkey and have an eight voice poly with POLYPHONIC AFTERTOUCH!!!! This is a big deal I reckon as this small and compact setup would appear to step up to the big Polys from Yamaha, Roland and Oberheim. Essentially enormously expensive and rare synths!
USB hosting can promise much if the developers seize this idea. It really gives us a valid update to the new form of midi (as MIDI is fully included in the class compliancy rules) but with bidirectional audio and control data on an open platform.
Original composition Cash’n’Carry live at the Cube!
Since we performed a live restore to The Endless Summer, the classic surf film (see this link) we have performed it a few more times, at the Sensoria festival in Sheffield back in September and more recently in the legendary underground cinema venue here in Bristol, The Cube. For this most recent performance we managed to get Sonicstate’s lovely Andy McCreeth along to film it and we also managed to get a decent multitrack recording of the audio too. We also managed to perform live on the weekly Sonicstate podcast, Sonic Talk.
I’m pleased to announce the availability of my brand new EP – Ban Hammers. It is the result of a collaboration between myself and various electronic producers based in the United States. The producers who collaborated on this project are Leo Rapture, Nekkron99, Ken Flux Pierce and Mr. 25 Keyz.
The premise was quite simple, the various featured producers were asked to submit a finished instrumental backing track just lacking bass lines. I then attempted to record first take improvisations reacting to the music on first listen. I added a few overdubs here and there and a bit of editing but essentially what you hear are those first ideas as close as possible. The whole project from start to finish was in less than a week.
I suppose what we have here are the first instrumental bass led tracks that i have ever released. I have played bass on hundreds of releases prior to this but mostly either in band or session roles. This however is a unashamedly a bass driven project. I used my Bristol made custom Waghorn Gecko bass through a Sonuus Wahoo filter pedal for most of the sounds adding some MXR bass chorus to sweeten things a touch.
The terrific surf band I play bass with, The Rumble-O’s have been asked to perform a live soundtrack to the classic surfing film “The Endless Summer” at this year’s Greenman festival in the prestigious cinema tent. The festival runs from the 14th to the 17th of August. We are performing at 8pm on Saturday. We will also be appearing on the Solar Stage in Einstein’s Garden on the Friday at the same festival.
Lead guitarist Andy Taylor
Keys and trumpet player Banga Stanley
Drummer James “Slippy” Phillips
Bassist Gaz Williams (yep that’s me!)
Writing a complete soundtrack has poised an interesting challenge to the band as we haven’t attempted anything collectively like this. We do have individual experience though as lead guitarist Andy also performs with leading silent film soundtrack specialists Minima with whom I also played keyboards with between 2008 and 2009 gaining valuable insights into this peculiar art form. Rumble-O’s keyboardist Banga Stanley also composed a live soundtrack to images of acclaimed comic writer Ben Dickson’s Falling Sky.
We have written 8 brand new pieces of music for this commission and together with another 8 of our existing catalogue we have extensively rescored this glorious celebration of the nascent days of surfing. The original soundtrack was performed by The Sandals and is charming and quite beautiful at times. Although the temptation to copy them was strong we found that our existing tunes were the perfect match with the bespoke tunes filling in the gaps nicely. One of the joys of playing with The Rumble-O’s is emulating the naivety and spontaneity of music from that era. From a musicians perspective, it’s important to not be too technical and to essentially play in a direct and simplistic manner. Being all instrumental too is challenging as we have to ensure that the music has plenty of hooks and memorable moments keeping self indulgence to a minimum and fun to the max!
Here is a sneak preview of one of the specially written tunes, Hang 10. The recording is just a rough run through at one of the rehearsals. In fact this is one of the first ever run throughs of the song.
The original producers of the film Bruce Brown Productions/Monterey Media have been incredibly helpful and supportive with our adaptation partly due to the imminent 50th anniversary of this classic film. Although released in 1966 it was shot fifty years ago in 1964. The film follows two young American surf fanatics as they circumnavigate the globe seeking the perfect wave. A particularly memorable scene has the boys surfing off the coast of West Africa giving locals their first ever glimpse of the sport. The film has subsequently attained legendary status and has been credited with introducing millions of people to the pure elemental joy of surfing!
I played a gig on saturday with the live dance band The Egg. Well, it was more of a scrambled Egg as Maff Scott, the awesome drummer and twin brother of frontman/synth guy Ned was on holiday in Turkey plus bass maestro, the unbelievably funky Paul Marshall was similarly unavailable hence my inclusion along with stand in drummer Tony.
The Egg are genuine legends of the underground music scene not just here in the UK but due to numerous global jaunts, worldwide too. The band formed in Oxford in the 1990’s and were one of the first bands I’d ever seen play electronic techno but as a typical four piece bass/drums/guitar/keys affair. I remember thinking when rave music was taking over in the early 90’s that bands would have to learn to play this thumping dance style in order to compete with the rash of DJs popping up everywhere. The Egg not only mastered this but also developed their own highly funky take on the genre that proved irresistible with the countless audiences they performed to. The Egg had a hit record in 2006 with the David Guetta mashup Love Don’t Let Me Go (Walking Away) which reached number 3 in the UK and charted all across Europe.
I was fortunate enough to first play with The Egg in a backstage jam at the 1998 Glastonbury Festival playing to a packed marquee called The Green Room. This venue was exclusively for the crew and performers of the circus and cabaret fields and is one of many backstage areas that are real hidden gems of the festival as the parties stretch out way until dawn. I sang improvised vocals with them at that particular performance which also included sometime Egg member Jerry on guitar. Jerry was coincidentally the guitarist I played with on Saturday too.
I saw The Egg play the following year at Glastonbury and this was during their number phase where all the band members dressed in pure white other than the humorous individual numbers ablaze on each members top!
Over the past few years I have performed a few times with the band when Paul has been unavailable and it is a thrill partly because Maff is an amazing drummer and Ned is constantly pulling surprises out of his deep bag of party tricks such as vocoding, stylophone and the most bizarre samples. One of the coolest aspects of the band is the lack of sequenced clock. Maff essentially controls the timecode to which Ned’s various arpeggios and loops are synchronised to. This means that if Maff wants to speed up or slow down, everything else essentially follows him. This gives an organic and free flowing quality to their live performances which avoids the staticness of being slaved to a computer clock and allows the band to create arrangements on the fly reacting much like a DJ to the audiences moods and whims.
With a heavy heart I learnt about the passing of my friend, the legendary sound designer Stephen Howell this morning. I first learnt about Steve’s existence through his sterling contributions to Alesis’s ill fated Fusion synthesiser that he virtually transformed with his exacting and inspiring sound sets and sample libraries. I was surprised to then discover that he was a fellow Welsh man and had formerly lived next door to my good friend and long term collaborator Tim Lewis aka Thighpaulsandra in Cardiff way back when.
Steve’s legacy stretched way beyond software and into hardware with his long term involvement with Akai Professional and their esteemed sampler line. He worked on the interface design for numerous models throughout the 1990’s and was even involved with the stupendous DPS24. Steve also had a hand in inventing pedal based looping with his idea to utilise available memory in Akai’s groundbreaking Headrush delay pedal. Steve wrote an interesting (and sad) blog entry about the death of his friend and collaborator Jack Sugino of Akai in which he explains much about his involvement.
His Kontakt based sample libraries released under his Hollow Sun moniker were an astonishing collection of innovative and unusual instruments that we used extensively in the rock opera Pop’pea. You can read about that crazy show here.
I had communicated with Steve numerous times over the internet before our first physical meeting at a gig by my band Rocketgoldstar at the tail end of 2012 in Cardiff. Steve wrote about that encounter on his blog here. From that point on, we regular communicated and we spent a fabulous and silly evening back in January this year that Steve blogged about here.
I’m so sad to learn of Steve’s untimely passing and I extend my heartfelt sympathies and love to his friends and family especially his wonderfully talented 17 year old daughter Alice. I would also like to thank Rob Puricelli (aka Failed Muso) for letting me know about Steve’s sudden illness and for keeping me informed. Rob has also opened a book of condolences on his site here.
Hello readers old and new! I am going to make a pledge to any of you who enjoy this site or are interested in my musical exploits that I will make much more regular updates. I have so many articles on the back burner waiting for a spot of time to finish that there soon should be a steady flow of new posts and that is a promise!
I am looking more towards the internet and my site as a focus for my activities as in recent times I have crawled out from under the stone of anonymity and through mostly Sonicstate.com I have started to enjoy a more public persona. In the past, I was so preoccupied with my perception that as an artist I should remain somewhat aloof and mysterious but now I realise that just leaves you with a whole heap of nothingness!
So what can we expect in the future? Well I have started writing up little featurettes on some of the notable people I have worked with some of whom are well known and some may be new to you. I have been incredibly lucky in my career so far to have worked with some truly inspirational musicians and artists that I feel I should share some of those experiences. The fairly recent features about Karl Hyde and David Rhodes should give an indication of the type of thing I have planned.
Other features will be around my continuing exploration of music technology and it’s applications. I am first and foremost a live musician who thrives on playing and collaborating with others so it may seem strange that I am so enthusiastic about this subject as it appears to thrive on electronic music and solitary working (both of which I also enjoy). I am, however, constantly interested in developments which encourage collaborations (both physical and virtual) and of bridging the gap between acoustic and electronic. These are the themes I plan to explore in future posts.