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 



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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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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