New album, new reactions,

Having done several ambient albums, both on my own steam and for Xylem Records I really needed to try something very different, I got bored with my own stuff, and it was getting too easy to make. On top of that I had done the big ambient project Rothko Room, with its gestation period from 1986-2014 so I wanted to create something by way of a contrast.

One of the major things that led to this new album was listening to composer Marc Yeats’ pieces about asynchrionsity- getting the performers off the beat/ bar grid; I had also found similar in James Dillons music at HCMF last year, Why I was so attracted to this is the fact its all too easy to fit electronic music into a grid, in any DAW, and also there is this energy created when musicians react to each other rather than just play in time note 1, etc. The same applies, of course, in good improvisation, in Jazz, blues and rock. I define it personally as cause and effect- and have written about this in previous blog.

So I have now completed the album, using two sound sources, the two analogue synths I had purchased this year; the Korg MS20 mini and the Arturia microbrute.

This time Ive actually had an email of complaint!! “Album is Hard edged, aggressive, intense in an unpleasant way, and not ambient”

Well, I got bored!

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Asyncronisity- getting off the time grid

Ive been thinking for a while about exploring asyncronisity in electroacoustic music for a while now- ever since I’ve been practising electroacoustic music Ive never liked or even trusted quantising to any grid or particular time frame because it often feels very lifeless- and in my experience theres no substitute for interplay between musicians/instruments/ lines of music as opposed to everyone (or thing) obeying the command of an overall clock.

This has also come from hearing some performances of complexity music and talking to the composer Marc Yeats who has also been exploring asyncronisity between musicians and had some really dramatic performances, same with recent performances at HCMF over the last couple of years, on top of that Ive really enjoyed performing my own compositions live, and to me, essentially letting the music breathe. So with this in mind I wanted to experiment further, with structures that have multiple pulses, or none, where things intend to sound loose, but integrated (famous Led Zeppelin quote “tight but loose”)

So I did this:

The key to this is its all done live- the synths were sampled and put into a polyphonic keyboard. The step sequence bit was sampled in the same way, then what I did was this: Having got my sounds I pressed record and played the keyboard conventionally- the computer recorded the audio. I then put the cursor (what used to be rewinding the tape) to the beginning and played the keyboard again, with one of the other sounds, reacting to what I was hearing being played back from the previous track. I did this process for all four tracks which is why you hear interplay, At no point was any of it quantised so there was no fixed outcome other than my initial score which laid out the structure. Now also the bit that a computer had played (the rigid step sequencer) that was sampled straight from the synth- now when that is sampled the sampler pitches by speeding up and slowing down, so if I press a key a octave lover the speed will be slower, with longer note envelopes and the pitch 1 octave lower- generally the tempo of the lower note half the tempo of the note played at root octave. The same applies if I play the note an octave higher, only the tempo doubles. So if I play any of the notes either side one gets multiple tempi and harmonies. Ultimately if you speed a rhythm right up it becomes a timbre and if you slow a timbre right down you get a rhythm. Theres nothing new in this,Stockhausen had done this years ago in the 1950s (before hippydom took him over) . So I have two dimensions at work, multiple tempi and notes without grid- what we have instead is cause and effect where Ive reacted to what I have heard, played it and its been recorded- so we have interplay between the instruments (in this case four samplers being driven by a keyboard)

As a result of the ever increasing amount and variety of controllers appearing on the market at affordable prices, together with the reissuing and emergence of analogue synths I am going to explore live electroacoustics more.

Also something from rock  music; the tradition of recording something in the studio thats almost impossible to play live, then going out and performing reinterpretations interests me- because this makes available different versions of the same musical idea and that diversity can make for interesting comparisons, in my opinion and in electroacoustic music that might also add another interesting aspect of having both a recorded playback version and a live performance version.

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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 



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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