We have finally released our first album. This was funded through Grant For The Web and recorded, edited, and mixed over the course of 6 days. You can listen to it, and read more about it below. It’s been a great process, and we’re both really pleased with the results.
Ian: We had a number of themes that we intended to plan material for over the weeks leading up to the first recording sessions in the studio. These were broadly based on the themes of connection and disconnection and the ideas around them were certainly articulated and explored in conversation with Simon. However, due to the second lockdown (in the COVID-19 pandemic) we were unable to meet any more and consequently were not able to work on the musical ideas to back up the themes. We went into the studio in mid-December without any pre-arranged ideas of music and simply used those first two days to get ideas down through improvisation together and emerged with the beginnings of six distinct pieces of music. The second two days in January, were used to begin arranging and editing the pieces, starting to find some shape to them and realising what might be missing, or at least required to make them interesting, given them dynamics and help them to become pieces of music rather than ‘jams with intent’.
We made this album through the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time where the most wealthy in our world were becoming even wealthier and the poor much poorer. A time where the virus impacted older, disabled and ethnic minority groups much more severely than others and seemingly increasing numbers of people are finding themselves (and/or feeling) more distant from knowledge, power, decision-making, money, food, information. This is a time when our relationship to information is changing so much. So, while not directly written to consciously convey these themes, they were all part of the discussions between us and with Ali (our engineer/producer) over our recording sessions, and as such, can’t be far from the surface of the music we have created.
The album was made using modular synthesisers with a couple of appearances from a Moog synth and a piano. Modular gives the ability for a level of sound design that is not possible with standard hardware synthesisers, and allows a degree of control and flexibility that is normally only available in software. As a blind person, my modular ‘habit’ has enabled me to create sounds using patch leads and physical controls rather than having to scroll through menus that I can’t see. We both have extensive modular synths and had a lot of modules to choose from in the choice of the different synth voices heard in the tracks.
Simon: In between takes, over lunch, as we started the day we’d talk about various things; processing the pandemic and inequities it had exposed, marvelling at the strange world we inhabit. The new Adam Curtis documentary. Cryptocurrencies. The gig economy (oh for the halcyon days of McJobs) and poorly paid key workers. Festivals we missed. It all bled into the music we created. There’s a tension to it, it’s dense, complex. You can hear the pandemic in the recording, I think.
I’ve always felt that improvised music taps into something sub-concious and the infinitely configurable machines we use seem to draw that out more - you’re sort of a step removed from the music they’re making in a way you aren’t with a saxophone or guitar.
I’ve not been able to shake the impression that the recording sessions were building up a block of marble, which we then chiselled away at in the edit sessions. We created form (and greatly reduced the running times…) out of these improvised pieces. During the edit we’d often not know who had made which sounds. Its like a sort of blending of sub-concious, bouncing off one another, focussed on the complete piece rather than individual parts. As it should be. This is the way.
Ian: You’ve made me think about the difference between improvised music played on instruments that give an instant response and ones (modular synths) that require more setting up. As a saxophone and flute player, I’ve been used to improvisation (distinct from jamming) as a way to create new and changing music in the moment with others. I think of improvisation as requiring a lot of listening, care and attention to sound, quick thought and decisions about what I’m going to try out, what might be needed to complement others’ playing, whether the music in any moment needs my input at all. With modular synths, improvisation is all of these things, but as you describe, there is a space, a gap between the intent and the arrival of the sound. This might be the setting up of a patch to create the sound that I have in my head, or to try something out that I have no idea of the outcome. It often involves establishing a sequence (a repeating pattern of notes) or setting up ways to cyclically or randomly change the timbre, notes or shape of the sound over time.
In some ways, we let go of some of this discipline in the recording of this album as, where an improvised gig is a single performance and it will stand or fall on how much we listen to each other, take risks, are prepared to try things out and keep them if they work but quickly change them if they don’t, the recording involved much of this happening later on in the process. The end result is that set of processes with the benefit of discussion, editing, adding new parts that would happen in the moment at a gig.
Simon: Yeah, we moved that discipline into the editing phase.
I think it’s worth talking about the album title a bit. Originally it was going to be called “Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost”, I think that came from a computer dialog box, but it applies to so many things; there’s the immediacy of improvisation, the unrecreatable complexity of a patched up synth, which speak to the performance itself. But there’s also things like libraries or other public services. And then there’s a layer which is about memory & how things have shifted to the digital; it didn’t happen if there’s not video evidence. I like that its got all these different layers, that are related but different, kind of like the music itself. But then Ali pointed out the Foals had taken that already, so we went with the much cheerier “Patterns of hope & destruction”, which reminded me of a favourite Depeche Mode record.
Bristol EMOM/WAPS, where it all started
Jack @ Beep Boop
Elevator Sound, Thonk, Pusherman, Dreadbox, Arturia, Moog, Dove Audio, Mutable Instruments, Erica Synths, 4MS, Make Noise, Intellijel and many more small companies and individuals designing and building fantastic Eurorack modules.