CSMA at Network Music Festival 28th September 2014

We are delighted to announce we have confirmed for this years Network Music Festival. We are going to perform “Crowd Sources” which utilizes submitted audio samples of up to 30 Seconds in length as the sole source material. We will soon be putting out a call for submissions from anyone whose got an interesting sound they would like to share. We will then take all these sounds and use where possible- these could be used in any manner of forms from rhythmic loops to granularised samples used as the basis for synth patches. What we do will depend on what we receive!

About CSMA : a laptop/ synthesizer/ live electronics duo (myself and Chrissie Caulfield) who are expanding practices of live electroacoustic music, often taking techniques from other musical areas and applying them to “art music”. We are not just confined to laptops but make use of hardware synths, electric instruments and hardware effects.

We intend to use Integra live,  an open source application developed at Birmingham Conservatoire. We like its format for live use, and this project will entail us developing our own set of modules to realise this piece. Will will blog our progress on the CSMA website as we go-

About “Crowd Sources”: 

Crowd Sources reflects the growing trend of posting audio on the internet. In the same way as is now common place to publish snapshots, selfies etc via instagram. This is not just musicians publishing their work but people posting all sorts of sounds they find interesting and want to share; something that hasn’t happened until this decade. So this piece is constructed entirely from sound snippets that people have donated to us via a social media network call for recordings which we will use to improvise on. The performance will be recorded and made available on the internet also via social media. This is an improvised piece to reflect the transient nature of social media audio posting. The structure of the piece is ultimately dictated by the length of performance slot we are given.

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Writing and recording the soundtrack to ” Port Appin Sunset” in one day with one laptop and two monophonic analogue synths

Coming back from holiday in Scotland, Chrissie had filmed and edited a wonderful time lapse video of the view from the veranda overlooking Loch Linhe where we stayed, you can read her blog about doing the video here. Having edited the film and sped up 2.5 hours to eight minutes I had the opportunity to add music to it, but only realistically one day to do it in, as we had other plans for the rest of the week. Also that day Chrissie was producing a project of her own in her studio so I had to make do with a makeshift arrangement downstairs (my own studio is 200 miles south!) So I had some interesting limits of one laptop, headphones, two analogue synths (Microbrute and MS20 mini) and the synths contained in Ableton Live (in reality I only used the sampler)

heres the set up;



First things first

I uploaded the film into a track in Ableton Live, then marked out over the film where the significant changes were; this is a sunset time-lapse so I looked for changes of sky colour and so divided up the timeline where the colours markedly changed. From then on I mucked about with my synths trying to find both tone and note that best represented what I was seeing. I had only a day to do this in so I had to be quite decisive about it- I started with the sun, which burns into clouds then worked outward from there.

Monophonic synths and polyphonic voices

As I had only the two synths and only a spongey mini keyboard that could enter chords- I decided immediately not to base stuff in homophonic texture- so I started laying down tracks of single voices on the MS20 then overlaying with another track with single voices on- polyphonic composition.  As both synths only Have MIDI IN, and the alternative keyboard was rubbish the MIDI couldnt be recorded, so I did the whole thing track by track, live, in the traditional analogue studio way. The only effect I really used was the convolution reverb (with the Huddersfield St Pauls sample) and a bit of delay. I did use the sampler for background effects, using one of the synths as a sound source then making it polyphonic.

Heres the result




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Arturia Microbrute

At last I had got my hands on an Arturia Microbrute! This tiny, well made,  synth is quite something- there’s loads about this on youtube and countless other synth forums so I wont repeat whats been said and done on those, other than to say, you really have to give this a try if you’re looking for analogue sounds from a more modern perspective. Theres no presets, like most traditional analogue synths, however you are given a series of blank cards which fit on the surface over the controls so you can notate the position of all the knobs- (very low tech, but effective), there is a sequencer on board which does store your patterns on powerdown and there is a connection manager downloadable for free from the Arturia website which lets you upload your patterns to a computer via USB connection and gives you control over the sequencer features not detailed on the control panel, for example you can set the sequencer to hold note, default note lengths, legato options and trigger from incoming gate signals.



The bit thats quite modern is the synth architecture- a single oscillator but with Sawtooth, Sqauare and Triangle waveforms which can be simultaneously mixed. I last saw this on the Roland SH-101 but that only gave you two waveforms plus noise- not only are these three waveforms available but there is a suboscillator, which can be tuned up to a fifth, and the three waveforms have further options; the Sawtooth has an untrasaw knob, which effectively alters the width of the triangle part like a pulsewidth, the square has a standard pulsewidth control and the triangle has a “metaliser” knob which sounds like a form FM feedback, creating definite metallic tones. For a sound artist these combinations create some particularly striking effects, with the added bonus that they can be patched either by the LFO or modwheel or by another CV device via the patchbay in top right hand corner.

The filter also has some interesting options; its a Steiner-Parker design giving Higpass, Lowpass, Bandpass but also features a “Brute factor” knob which is in effect a feedback loop from the front end into the back end of the filter. The filter is also very powerful, will cutoff to nothing and self oscillate happily adding all sorts of harmonics in the process. Add reverb to this device and it becomes very much a great resource for anyone wanting to experiment with analogue sound.

This device can be bought new for around £250

you can here an example of some of the textures I got out of it here (only reverb added)


Here are a couple of synth jams we did in CSMA with just one microbrute each and reverb on our laptops







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Stuart Russell on making the Rothko Room album

Originally posted on The Sampler Blog:

1623191_10152701298884918_6366544098483754862_nI have written about the background to this project on the liner PDF which comes with the album download so I don’t want to repeat too much of it here. Instead I’m going tell how I put this album together and what drove the overall shape of the composition.

Firstly writing music for an album is a structure in its own right. It shares similarities with concert music programmes and often is performed in its original album form in the concert hall, but unlike concert hall music the idea of an album is that the listener does not have to listen to all of it, in order; they can select individual tracks, shuffle them, or listen to it all from beginning to end. This is a uniquely 20th century onwards format and is limited by the medium it is going to put on – roughly 2 sides of about…

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Trevor Wishart at Kettles Yard, Lunchtime concert Sunday May 11th

Its not often I feel really strongly moved about a concert to blog about it but last Sunday May 11th was one of those times. Held in the house extension part of Kettles yard, with its unique modernist space of white washed walls and skylighted vistas and hanging some of the most stunning works of the St Ives School, collected by its founder, Jim Ede, this is a very unique space to hear music, both acoustically and aesthetically.

Four speakers in a line faced the audience with another four facing various walls around the audience space, producing an ambient background. This was not discreet four channel set up but two stereo images running together in sync, which provides a dynamic set up between a stereo narrow field and wide field.

Trevor spoke about the first of two pieces being shown “Globalalia” with a clarity that to me suggests his thoughts about this are very distinct (Ive heard some truly dreadful descriptions by composers of their works in the past in this type of setting) First shown in 2004, this acousmatic piece made use of syllables taken from 26 different languages- sampled from all means, manipulated and multi-layered into a compelling 30 minute composition that its both highly rhythmic and spacial at alternate times. Parts of it could be conversations in different languages across the four channels, other parts became intense, tight, polyrhythmic, grooving collages with climatic washes of speeded up or slowed down vocal sounds. The obvious compositional skill here was none of these sections went on for too long, and each section was a development on the previous one, meaning there was always this forward motion in the composition, something I personally like.

Trevor said in his spoken introduction that if a 30 minute piece felt it was about 15 minutes long then it was ok, and in my opinion he had achieved this; the strongly contrasting sections produced a roller-coaster ride which seemed to impress the audience, which comprised of a huge age-range from about 15 years upwards.

The second piece “Hover” (WP) was specially commissioned by Kettles Yard for this event, and was dedicated to his mentor and fellow developer of the Composers Desktop Project Richard Orton who had died this year, explores hovering over a sound file at any given point and extracting, manipulating the sound found at that point. This was a much shorter piece at 8 mins and the source material that the “hovering” was to take place on was a recording of Richard Orton singing. This made for a very distinct, longing, atmospheric piece. Trevor had written the computer software to do this, and I was immediately impressed with the production quality of both this new piece and the 10-year old Globalia which one must pay credit to Trevors obvious coding, technology and production skills, especially as I had heard many electroacoustic pieces from the last decade where some very fine musical ideas had been let down badly by the computer medium, most notably Max/MSP patches,  but both Globalia and Hover sounded very clean, fresh, exciting and vital, which to me is equally important as the musical idea. Something I often speak about- art and craft; the art being the concept and message, the craft being its ultimate realisation.

This was a marvellous opportunity to hear a pioneer, who is continuing to move forward exploring his own field, in a very unique space, and a very warm audience reception to these works added to this experience.

Incidentally the Composers Desktop Project and SoundLoom are now available free here


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New sounds with old designs- Korg MS20 mini

Those that follow me on twitter and facebook will know I’ve finally got a Korg MS20 mini- having wanting one in my studio since long selling my second hand original in 1987, for a fraction of what they go for on Ebay (or at least before the reissue mini went into production). So over Easter I purchased the new (old) toy and fast went of in search of all the wobbly sounds I used to make back in the day.


First thing is the new mini design is actually quite handy in the small cluttered studio space I work in, and with the MIDI note in, if I felt the 3/4 size keys were going to be an issue, I can plug in my 61 note, full sized controller keyboards. In reality they’re not too bad as it goes (bear in mind its a monophonic synth). The patch sockets are 1/8th size (same as eurorack gear) and you get 10 patch leads with it, The one point that slightly concerns me is the wall brick- hopefully replacements will be obtainable, as it looks a bit fragile and it might not last a lot of gigging. Other reviews have also pointed out the sideways wobble on the knobs, but to be fair mine are not too bad, but again, dont chuck it around haphazardly.

Monophonic and no presets

Like a good few analogue synths its monophonic (plays only one note at a time)- the strengths of this are often that the single note sounds are so powerful they’re great to solo with- and creatively a good few acoustic instruments are monophonic- so making good use of arpeggios and counterpoint will give a lot of scope, especially as in the age of computers its very easy and cheap to multitrack many times (unlike when I had the original, the best within my budget was a 4 track cassette portastudio). There are no presets, its a box of knobs with keys and jack sockets. This is good, it makes you learn the instrument and find your own personal sounds with it- its not a hard learning curve as it will work without any patching (only semi modular) and its expandable with sequencers etc, (though be careful to note the CV control voltage is different from the common 1v/oct- and converters may be needed with some kit) but it does have MIDI in and USB in, so that can be got round for pitch at least)


I purchased this mid project for my next album for Xylem records ,and of course, have used it exclusively on one track already. However there are some examples here.

1. Multitracked with heavy reverb (ableton live) to make pad sounds

2. Multitracked in counterpoint for album track

Four tracks of MS20 were used on this


3. Sampled and used as sound source for sampler (“simpler”) in Ableton live

(The original sample is played first followed by the sampler)


Conclusions so far:

I think this version sounds better than my original as I remember it- possibly because mine being secondhand probably needed some work- and also when the MS20 was first in production they changed the design of filters halfway though its life, leading to a basic change in sound. Its a powerful, naturally aggressive sound, which can be easily tamed if required in the DAW with a bit of EQ, but to be honest, Ive not done that, only added reverb. The uniqueness of this 36 year old design is still offering up all sorts of interesting possibilities-two oscillators (32′ to 4′ and 16′ to 2′), two filters (lowpass and highpass with resonances, which are much loved) Sample & hold, two envelope generators, a separate, patchable VCA, a unique external signal processor, with a quicky audio to CV converter (which can generate some really odd results) and patchable white and pink noise (one additional white noise available on oscillator 1) plus a pseudo ring modular on Oscillator 2 make this a much sought-after instrument for sound design, and for polyphony, sample it!







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Shimmer- Overtones, Harmonics, electric guitars, Ebows and sampler

For this piece I wanted to try a different take on texture- in particular I wanted to play with the upper frequencies, the harsh, brittle, scratchy sounds I normally avoid like the plague in my music; partially because of the very fact I normally avoid this and also having completed a commission for organ and electronics, and diffused the sound several of the dates, the sound of organs (with often many high partials) in big reverberant spaces had given me food for thought; especially as I often like to challenge myself on my own stylistic ideas. I didn’t want to do anything obvious such as sample an organ, so I thought about making a sound that had organ-like properties, but might sound or behave differently in other ways- and this meant thinking about very lively sounds with lots of activity in the upper frequencies

So, from my experience there is one sound thats quite lively harmonically, and thats a clean electric guitar played with an ebow. So with this in mind I multi-tracked a three note cluster staring with G, then C (5th lower) and F (second lower than G) – mixed these together with a load of compression, then fed the mix into a sampler-which I then played as a keyboard instrument.

As the sampler increases or decreases the pitch of the original sample then different textures appear and in the very high notes, rhythms begin to appear and the texture dramatically changes.

So I composed the musical content with this in mind, using the full range of different timbres available from one sample- I initially improvised the sections, having tried the various texture combinations, and finally settled on a structure which I found suited the the sounds best. here are the results:-


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