Spiralsounds- delivering the Soundspiral commission




On Saturday I delivered the Soundspiral commission “Spiralsounds”- a piece specifically for the inflatable 52 speaker system at Sonophilia festival, Lincoln. I had blogged about this here, previously. This has been a work in progress since 2012/2013 when it was first suggested by Daz Disley and the compositions as well as the diffusion software had evolved independently over the year, culminating in the final work which had significantly evolved from the original structural layout that I had started in early 2013. From the start I both Daz and I wanted this to be a live electroacoustic piece as we both felt there were already a number of fixed media pieces already so he commissioned two large scale pieces to be performed live, one from me, one from Chrissie Caulfield, whose Ada piece can be seen here.

Several movements of Spiralsounds I had released as independent pieces over the time- the first composed piece for this format “Trainsounds” has been performed several times, including Music/Process 2013, Coil Spring, had been performed in 7:1 Surround at SAF, Grimsby, Lincoln 12-25 had been released in stereo format on Soundcloud, and Armley Spinning machine music also released on Soundcloud. These pieces now made up part 1, with an introduction and Trainsounds acting as a bridge to part 2. Since these pieces had grown into lives of their own either on soundcloud or in previous performances I could now re-intergrate them into the whole. I did this by “lego composition”- I term I coined for sharing elements of compositions with each other to prevent the composite work either sounding like a medley with both or either pieces being truncated. Coil spring and Lincoln 12-25 are both spectral pieces using similar techniques on the coil spring percussion instrument and Lincoln cathedral bells, respectively and I had intended those to be one piece from the beginning, so they went together without any problems, Armley spinning Machine music melded successfully with Trainsounds. I added an introduction and Trainsounds then formed the bridge to part 2.

Meanwhile over the year Daz had evolved the diffusion technology software into something very sophisticated; originally I had intended a static diffusion with my 8 channels from soundcard dividing the 48 speakers into 6 segments (which I still do) but now his diffusion software could rotate the 8 channels (still in 6 segments) though 360 degrees in either direction, with the 8 channels positioned anywhere!! We tested this on 19th Sept and it worked so well that I was forced to reconsider a new, more direct aspect of part 2. Also since starting this project I had acquired some new technology in the form of two analogue synths and a step sequencer (see previous posts on here)

Viewty Viewty

Part 2- then took on a slightly new approach- Part 2 was always going to consider the spiral aspect of the speakers and the tunnel in which they are cited. In both part 1 and part 2 I had used a convolution reverb taken from the centre of the Greenwich foot tunnel- a long, thin footway under the river Thames connecting Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs, in the middle some very interesting reverberated sounds can be heard- and this forms the sound environment that underpins both parts 1&2. So with this in mind the spiral aspect I expressed with subtle canonic melodies arranged as inversions and retrogrades,  slowly played and faded in over a 2 crotchet beat repeating form on the step sequencer, which I then gradually add further notes to in real time, and then form an ascending whole tone scale. The canonic forms then give way to a multitude of Shepard tones, played with discreet notes with me playing live samples in whole tones over the top, which all keep ascending and getting faster until a blur is reached. Whilst this is going on the diffusion itself spins faster and faster (which is so subtle as to not generate nauseating effects often experienced on other systems, notably Stockhausens “Cosmic Pulses at RAH in the 2008 Proms) It stops at the point it can go no faster. This is the spiral aspect I wanted to express- a circular movement that only appears to go upward. I had heard the London Sinfonietta do G,F Haas’ In Vein at HCMF the previous year, which gave me part of the stimulus to express a spiral in some form (apart from the nature of the diffusion environment)

Here is a video of the spiralsounds premiere

Pictures from Lincoln Echo here:

analogue synth

from the back









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Spinning Machine music

This piece is one of several recently that are much more minimalistic, rhythmic, partly due to my role in CSMA but also having bought the Arturia Beatstep I’ve got much more into live beat manipulation because this has dual roles that cun run concurrently; as a step sequencer one can shorten or lengthen the bar, mute or unmute steps (notes), shorten or lengthen the notes, speed it up or slow down, and transpose the note values- all independent of the computer- so I can put multi-tempi together and improvise with the rhythm- and still have all the sequencer facilities in Ableton Live. So often new kit or techniques can inspire new ways of working- Ive done a series of pieces which are based around step sequencing.

However this piece is part of something Ive wanted to do for a while- exploration of industrial sounds and rhythms. Having a background as an engineer but in audio and electronics/mechanics Ive had a background of industrial noises, however modern engineering tools have got much quieter over the years and one often cant find the cacophony of noises and rhythms these days, and so its nowhere near as fertile sample ground!

So this piece comes as a result of a chance trip into Armley Industrial Museum- where somebody was demonstrating a thread spinning machine, which was built around turn of the 19th/20th Centuries and still had the overhead belt drives- (but long since converted to electric). Armed with zoom recorder it so happened that the machine was being operated on this day and so made the following field recording




This above provided the source material, and the final piece is here:-


There is an 8 track octaphonic mix of this piece. If you would like to diffuse it at a concert- message me




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Thunder ,rain, trains, cars, coil springs and tunnel sounds coming to the Soundspiral

One of my major projects for this year is my commission for the Soundspiral at Sonophilia in Lincoln this year- the Soundspiral is a unique inflatable tunnel with 48 speakers lining the inside (plus 4 subwoofers) and the general theme about my piece “Spiralsounds” is making music that makes the best use of this unique speaker environment. Part of the piece will explore similar underground experiences such as the Greenwich foot tunnel, which runs under the Thames between Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs, well known for is echo effects when people walk through, another is the long passageway in a local train station, plus various underground stations. 

In addition to exploring and transforming tunnel sounds in the space will be applying outside sounds and pure, synthesized sounds to this environment to hear, by way of a contrast, how these things come across in a completely different setting. Finally this is going to be a piece of music as well as an exploration of the installation, with a composition that ties all these things together into a cohesive piece that will go from inside sounds, outside sounds, and pure synthesized sounds, making use of its potential wave field synthesis possibilities, which will be unconventional, if possible, due to speaker arrangement. I’m hoping to be able to do this live, with Daz DIsley doing live diffusion. 

This is very new territory to me and not something that can be easily simulated in my studio; I’ve worked with quad, octophonic and 7:1 surround but nothing like this, so on the 19th of September I will be visiting with my equipment to hear for myself how it may work, from there on I may need to make very different strategies, or not, from the point I’m currently at with it.  There are a few circular playback systems in this country which encircle the audience but to have a space where the speakers are above, around and in a tunnel, is very unique and very exciting, to say the least,,




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CSMA want 30 second samples for Network Music Festival 2014!

We are going to perform a piece entitled “Crowd Sources” in which we intend to use donated sounds as the sole source materials from which we will compose/ improvise a piece, perform it live on the 28th September 2014 at Network Music Festival, Birmingham. We will record the performance, and make this available on internet, and where possible we will credit the names of contributors

You can read about the Crowd Sources project here

We are looking for samples up to 30 seconds in length- they can comprise of field recordings, composed pieces, voice, spoken word, instrumental extracts, etc

However the recordings must:

1. be your own recording, not a third party copy

2. Copyright free to use in performance and recording

3. Allow permission for us to manipulate

Recordings can be stereo or mono but must be 44.1 KHz, 16 or 24 bit


to submit send audio file (.wav or .aiff) via wetransfer or yousendit to crowdsources@btinternet.com 



CSMA website here


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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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