Friday, 25 September 2015

Artist Interview: Noisecast

Today's artist interview is with a guy I came across on Twitter. I listened to a couple of his "Noisecasts" and was greatly impressed by them and so I decided to see if he would be interested in an interview. I'm glad to say he was and this is reproduced below. After having read the interview feel free to have a wander over to Mixcloud where you can hear examples of the audio collages he has made. These are at  

1. How did you get into making music?

I joined a band when I was 14. I didn’t know how to play anything but picked up bass and managed to write some pretty terrible songs. We had a decent drummer so that kinda carried it. After realizing we were a bit rubbish, I sold the bass and picked up some decks. From around ’94 drum n bass was an unhealthy obsession for me for a few years and I spent every penny I could on vinyl. I remember really wanting to make electronic music (DnB) back then and having not much of an idea how to or what you needed get to start. When I got bored of drum n bass, record collecting slowed down a bit for me but with a better mix of stuff (blues, jazz, rock, soul, reggae and whatever else).

Much later on I eventually picked up an MPC and started making sample based hip hop beats. I’ve never gotten very far with computer based music. Looking at a computer screen when making music presents too many distractions and options for my liking. Hitting pads on an MPC until something sounds right was more my speed and felt more satisfying too. So initially it was just looping, layering and chopping samples for me. Using sounds from my records and wanting to do cool stuff with them over looped beats. I was pretty strict about everything being 100% sample based then. The sound that achieves can be really cool but I had some weird purist restrictive thing about it. Which was a help at first, in that it pushed me to make the MPC do anything I needed it to do, but I’m glad I got away from it. Restricting your sound that much doesn’t really make much sense to me now. When I did first try using a synth I couldn’t ever get it to sit right with the samples and didn’t understand what any of the stupid wavy lines next to the knobs meant.

So not knowing any of that stuff I got a job working music technology and picked some of it up along with a bunch of other gear. That job and having access to all the gear you want turned out to be a massive passion killer for making music. I think there was a period for maybe about 4-5 years where I didn’t make a single tune. Anyway, I’ve since got rid of anything I don’t need and appreciate what I have a lot more, and I'm pretty sure I know what most of it does now.

2. What role does music play for you? How important is it and how does it influence you?

Going to see live music is maybe my favourite thing to do. It’s loud and you’re not expected to listen to anyone just the music and there is drinking. I don’t mind being sober and listening to people sometimes too but usually that’s not as much fun. Live music will influence me a lot more than hearing new music on an album I may really like in terms of ideas for making new music. I’ll always have stronger ideas after decent live music. Doesn’t matter what kind of music. I find that I’ll pick up on much more from a good live gig.

In terms of making music, what’s most important to me at the moment is avoiding sounding too much like anyone else, to not be precious about ideas and not sounding like complete garbage. That’s the balance I aim for anyway, but I’m still working on it. Just having something creative to do, whether or not the results are any good, is what’s important. Obviously it’s more satisfying when I do something I’m pleased with. Occasionally that will happen and it feels good.

I’m fairly obsessive about music in general but I’ve never really thought about why that is. I just enjoy it.

3. What do you currently use to make music? Are you happy with that or how would you like it to change?

My current set up is an Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler, Grendel Drone Commander, some Moog effect pedals, an Eventide Space reverb as well as some iPad apps. I also have couple of MPC’s (the 1000 & 3000), a Moog Voyager, DSI Tempest drum machine, a couple of pre-amps and turntables which are in storage for the time being. Everything attaches to an RME Fireface 400 interface and then through to Genelec monitors. My laptop is there just as a tape recorder and for editing. One thing I really like about the Fireface is that you can leave your hardware hooked up to it and don’t need to turn your computer on to use it. So unless I’m actually recording something, there’s no computer involved.

Every bit of kit I have definitely adds a specific flavour of sound and they all mesh nicely together for me. Next year I’ll have a new dedicated space for making music again so am looking forward to bringing it all back together. I miss having access to my record collection too. It will be cool to have everything back in one place.

For the moment though, I’m content just with the ASR-10 and Drone Commander which is all I have space for just now. You can pretty much build any sound you want in the ASR and its effects engine is incredible. The ASR-10 is bit quirky to get to know and gets stupid hot very quickly but the workflow is really nice. Plus I just love the sound of old samplers. The MPC 3000 is probably my other favourite piece of kit. It was in a gnarly mess when I picked it up but I’ve refurbished everything I could on it. It still has little issues here and there but I forgive them and just get on with it. If I’m sequencing anything (other than the DSI Tempest), it will be from inside the MPC 3000. Recording samples through it is some magic fairy dust kinda deal. I love the sound of that thing. Both the ASR-10 and the MPC 3000 have compact flash card readers installed on them now via SCSI to avoid floppy disks which saves a lot of headache.

While I don’t currently have access to my record collection, I’ve been sampling a lot more sounds from old movies. The best stuff I tend to find is usually from old horror, martial arts or sci-fi films. That’s something I’ve always done but have been a lot more reliant on it this year. It’s also spurred me to use more ambient soundscape sounds that I’ll record with my phone.

The Moog pedals are a lot of fun to use, sound amazing and there’s always new ways set them up and whatnot. Great fun to use alongside the Grendel Drone Commander and Eventide Space. The Grendel DC is the only thing I’ve picked up recently. It’s sounds really dirty, compliments the Moog pedals nicely and is compact enough that I can sit it on a pedalboard with them.

I’ve no plans to buy any more gear just now. I like what I have and enjoy finding new ways of using them together. I don’t think I really need anything more. …..BUT!! If I were to get anything new, I guess it would be practical to have a bigger interface so all my gear could hooked up at the same time. A cheapo cassette multitrack would be cool. Always enjoy messing with those and cassettes remind me of making mix tapes. Some new weird fx boxes or pedals would be sweet but I’ve tried not to tempt myself in to any for the last year or so successfully. A new portable recorder thingy (a leaky battery murdered my last one) and binaural mics to record sounds with would also be cool. For now I’m happy enough just using my phone for that. Most of the time I find it’s best to just make do with what’s at hand and not worry about getting any new gear. New ideas are what’s important, doesn’t matter so much what you doodle them out with. If I have gear lust I’ll try to cure it with a £5 iOS app rather than something pricey that I don’t really have space for right now. It’s not quite the same as having a cool piece of new kit to play with but it allows me to mess with new stuff without the burden of new gear to incorporate.

iOs apps that I use a lot are Soundscaper, Borderlands, Hexaglyphics, csSpectrual and Sampler. Usually when I’m recording anything out of the iPad it will pass through the ASR-10 effects engine, Moog pedals or Eventide Space to add a little something extra to it.

4. What projects are you currently involved with and what about them is attractive to you?

At the moment, just the Noisecast podcast. I’ve bunches of new ideas, some doodles I’ve been doing on the side,  some half finished projects and other stuff I want to work on, but I should be off on travel break before long. Anything new is on hold until I come back. Before doing Noisecast I had not tried doing anything like this musically before. I just opened a project in my DAW and decided that I was going to fill it with half an hour of sound. The idea behind it was to try new stuff, not be precious about ideas and a call it finished project. Music is so disposable now calling it a podcast seemed a good way to do it. Stream it once and never listen to it again. No need to bother with fancy track names. 

Having all the different parts (or ‘tracks’) within a single project in the DAW works well for me. It’s cool trying different instruments (or samples) I’d built in the ASR against the different parts within the project to see what would fit best where. Flipping ideas between tracks helps make it a bit more like a continuous piece of sound rather than a bunch of tracks that have been thrown in together. It’s also fun working without aiming for any particular structure or form. Just doodling ideas out. Sometimes they’ll end up a 1 min thing, other times a 15 min track. Doesn’t matter, just keep it and move on. The only rule I set was to always to pick something new to mess with - like a time signature I’m not comfy with or not having any tempo at all, or maybe using a sample I’ve kept banked but never managed to fit into anything before. As long as it includes fitting something new in then it’s worth doing.

I’ll do a third ep before I leave for travel and then hopefully carry it on whenever it is I get back. This one will be different to the first two as it’ll be based around one or two longer Drone Commander improvs I recorded, rather than shorter sketches. I’ll layer it up with other stuff and call it a finished. Hopefully it won’t be entirely as bad as that sounds.

5. What sort of music do you see yourself as making? Are there other kinds of music you want to make or wish you could make?

Self-indulgent dark sci-fi nonsense? Dark ambient would probably the easiest box to fling Noisecast in. It’s definitely soundtrack influenced. I’ve collected a fair bit of soundtrack vinyl and a lot of the sounds I sample are taken from old films. I’ve always been a film geek and like referencing it in music. Working to picture is something I’d like to try. Maybe re-scoring part of a film or scoring music to a graphic novel and then putting that together in a digital format. I’ve lots of ideas for stuff and putting different sounds together but talking about them seems like nonsense until you actually get on with doing them.

I’ll do something a bit more beat orientated when I’m back for sure. Working out some kind of live set is on my ‘maybe to do list’.. and perhaps some noise-pop-polka jams?

6. A musical genie grants you three wishes. What are they?

To be able to teleport my music studio anywhere in the world at anytime I need it. 

Reincarnate Hendrix for a last gig somewhere smallish. Anyone reading this is invited.

No one else gets a musical genie. I want to feel special.

Noisecast is on Twitter at @NoisecastFM

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A Musical Journey

I thought it was time that I wrote another blog about music but I was stuck as to what to write about. All these blogs of mine, pretty much like everything else I either say or write, are moments of inspiration blurted out - often without filter. But the one necessary factor in this case is to have the inspiration in the first place. But I was struggling to find something to write about as I had lots of little ideas which didn't seem to flesh out into a full blog. And so I've had to try and find a way to bring in whatever is floating around in my headspace and make a coherent whole from it. People always take you more seriously if you seem to know what you are talking about. If you can bluff that you will go far!

So my device for the shaping of my thoughts today is the subject of a musical journey. Specifically here I'm thinking of my own which starts with the records my mum had in her 1970s Radiogram, a contraption which was a combination of a radio, a record player and a sideboard. In it were, amongst other things, Pat Boone's single "Speedy Gonzales", The Greatest Hits of Englebert Humperdinck, "You're My World" by Cilla Black, numerous Jim Reeves albums and The Greatest Hits of Abba. Not the hippest catalogue of records you are ever likely to find. But that was my introduction to music along with the radio of the 1970s with its Alvin Stardusts, Bay City Rollers and Bee Gees. I bought my own first record in 1980. It was "Baggy Trousers" by Madness. The first music I had expressly liked for myself was the late 1970s Ska revival bands in England. Primarily this was Madness, The Specials, Bad Manners, The Selecter and The Beat.

The early 1980s changed things though. It was a time of new sounds. Specifically, it was a time of synthesizers emerging into popular music. Of course, in more arty or progressive circles synths had been employed soon after their invention throughout the 1970s. But as a boy I was not aware of Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream or Jean-Michel Jarre. However, when I heard The Human League or OMD or Depeche Mode on the radio I was introduced to synthesizers. Two acts especially prominent for me at the time were The Thompson Twins and Howard Jones. I cringe slightly about this now. Just regard this blog as my confessional for past sins. I was not a child of rich parents but I did somehow manage to go to two concerts in the 80s. One was the aforementioned Thompson Twins. The other was Midge Ure vintage Ultravox.

More important than the bands which caught my ear though was the febrile state of music in the 80s which wrestles in my consciousness for the title of best music decade in my memory. It would only be in later life that I had the wisdom and maturity to see that nothing stands alone or comes from nothing. Everything has a precursor and is inspired by something that came before it. And so the 80s cannot stand musically without the 70s. This is especially true of perhaps one of the major creative forces of the 80s - new forms of dance music - whether that be House, Techno, Electro or Rap. All of these had roots in 70s Disco as well as Soul and Funk but they somehow got paired with a German electronic sensibility. Often this is accredited - lazily so - to just Kraftwerk. But you have to see the environment Kraftwerk were working in to see that they weren't the only ones doing what they did. Or even the first. Listen to the album "Zuckerzeit" by Kluster, for example. It came out before "Autobahn" even existed.

The late 80s in the UK was when the "Acid House" scene began to arrive. Besides the musical forbears that gave birth to this music there was also a necessary technological component - new musical instruments. The 80s was a time when the big, lumbering, analogue synth beasts of the 70s were finally miniaturized or, in many cases, digitized to produce smaller and more affordable boxes which kids with the appropriate aptitude could start using to make beats. And you didn't need to be a player to use them either. It was the start of music that was programmed rather than played, a controversial shift of emphasis in some quarters. Earlier in the 80s the turntable had been turned into an instrument by the likes of Grandmaster Flash. But later the drum machine, primarily in the guise of the TR-808, the synth, often the TB-303, or the sampler, paradigmatically the SP1200, were used to make dance music. It was around the mid 80s that I first played a synth. Actually it was two synths, the SH-101 and the Juno 106. They weren't mine. I never could have afforded one of either. They were my friend's and I made sure I went there as often as I could to have another chance to play around with them.

At this point my historical tale takes a detour. I want to ask in what way our journeys influence us. Or even if they do in ways we can describe. Of course, we can all make up stories of how we think things have influenced us. For some people those stories are very important if not foundational to what they do. But if you read of the things I listened to and liked in my first 20 years then none of them are really important to any music I have subsequently made. In fact, its very much about face as far as I'm concerned. Its the things I missed that I only found out about out years or even decades later that have come to influence me. There are reasons for this. Primarily these are reasons of opportunity. At that time I had no means to make any music of my own and it was also a traumatic time for me personally. I would really only come to grips with things a decade later for the first time when those memories had long faded. If things had been different it could have been Aphex Twin, Autechre and me. But it wasn't.

And its Autechre I want to talk about now. Groups like this, along with Boards of Canada and a whole swathe of experimental German acts such as Can, Popol Vuh, Amon Düül II and Faust are music I only heard FOR THE FIRST TIME in the last 5 years. Some readers might find that statement quite hard to believe but I must say that its true. And this is one thing about musical journeys: they are very personal. There is so much music in the world. You cannot listen to all of it and so you make choices. I firmly believe, however, that there is, as one book of the bible says, "a time for everything". And everything in its time. You may have got the vibe above that my mum did not like very cool music. Maybe the genes have been passed down. But then again I have a very individualist character. I'm happy to walk the road I walk even if it be alone and with few companions or passersby.  The point, I think, as both a listener and maker of music, is to learn something from the journey. And these last 5 years have been a very intensive learning period for me. I see, for example, how so much electronic music of today (the good and the very, very bad) could not be without much of the German electronic music of the 70s. It just was a necessary precursor. 

And so to Autechre, a northern English electronic duo and purveyors of what is sometimes called IDM or "Intelligent" dance music. The music has come to be known for its erraticism, its irregular beats and freneticism made possible by use of computers and software (although they are officially machine agnostic and use a range of equipment). Indeed, Sean Booth, one member of the band, once answered the question "What instrument would you keep if you could only keep one?" with "The computer because of its flexibility". Here we don't have instrumental purists who value a beloved keyboard. Post 80s makers of electronic music, people who don't play and never could, value the new tools of the trade, digital tools which some might say aren't even instruments at all. They are production devices. It is easy to say why many kids who are musically interested today regard the computer as natural, normal and uncontroversial in a musical context and why they take acts like Autechre, programmers and coders working with machines, as their musical heroes. It was not always so! But the Autechre guys grew up making mixes on tape machines and so to them a computer is probably just a digital version of the same thing. It shows that the journey plays a part in the path ahead as well.

Sean Booth, in a very interesting and quite long set of answers to fan questions online, seems to agree with this kind of thinking. He doesn't think of Autechre as having the very singular sound that many people think they do. He talks of "a web of connections and us linked to a few of them" which acknowledges that he sees links to others. This is both true and false for I think they have developed an identity all their own. But Booth, in answering questions, is happy to acknowledge that factors such as sense of place, "the water" and even "all that grey" (of the sky in the north of England) go into making the sound that Autechre have. As I'm from a similar area close by to their roots I can very well understand that. However, even from their first album, Incunabula, it seems to me that there has always been an added twist to the Electro influences they often reference and pay homage too. This accounts for the beats whereas the factors Booth mentions account for the solemnity in the melodies. What in them turns them to the frenetic almost noise abstraction their tracks sometimes become - who knows?! The thing is, when you listen to early Kluster from 1970s Germany you hear a very similar mentality. But no explanatory link is known.

So my own musical journey stopped, in a mainstream sense, sometime in the late 90s. Ever since then, bar one or two Keane and Scissor Sisters shaped detours, I have gone back to music made 20 or 30 or even 40 years before, the music that all the cool people of the time probably liked from day one. But I must admit that I cannot claim to have been there at the time, in at the start of the phenomenon. Mostly I had never heard of these people! This is stuff I missed. I can now see why mums and dads never have any idea about what's in the charts. You reach a point where you stop caring and you get settled with "what you like". In the 90s I had liked guitar bands. Now that's all so much "meh" to me - although I retain an abiding admiration for Iron Maiden. This doesn't square with avant garde electronics you are thinking. But it does square with a sensibility for liking things that are not cool. Because Iron Maiden never were and never tried to be. Another link is that I like music that carves out its own niche - that can only be one act. Iron Maiden fulfill that criterion - as do Autechre.

And this is the lesson of my story - such as it is. I like music that is confident in its own skin, not overly concerned with the whims of fashion or the vacuum of popularity. I like acts that carve out their own sonic terrain and that is why now I listen to German Kosmische Musik or Berlin School. The people who made that made something different guided by their own values and choices. Their heirs were people like Autechre (via Americans who turned the German music into Electro and Techno) who had a sonic interest rather than an interest in a 3 minute song for a chart. As Sean Booth relates it, they wanted to "just plug the gear in and see what comes out rather than playing a song, we thought it would be more fun to store a ton of patterns and then manipulate the gear to create the arrangement on the spot". Put that in the mouth of the Germans at the start of the 70s and it would ring equally true. And its a mentality that I have come to have in my own, much more humble, musical offerings. It took me over 40 years to work it out.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Is Conservation Contrary to Nature?

The blog that you are about to read might confound or upset your own personal beliefs. But before you decide that I am an anarchist who wishes to see wanton and random destruction I want you to read the full blog, attempt to understand it on my terms and give me a fair hearing. You will then have the task of taking on board what I've said and bringing it into critical interaction with the beliefs you already have. This, as I understand it, is something like how our belief systems progress anyway. And so I ask for a hearing.

My blog today starts from one of my own beliefs. This belief is that conservation, not just ecological conservation but pretty much all forms of conservation, are contrary to nature. What do I mean by saying this? I mean that the nature of the universe, the way it works, the way things are ordered, the way this universe progresses, is not based on the conservation of individual specific things. The universe, for example, does not have as one of its guiding principles that you or I must be saved. It does not think that lions or elephants or rhinos or whales or planet Earth or our sun or our galaxy should exist forever. Indeed, it doesn't think that anything should. It just is. Conservation is not a part of its make up. The universe is a big engine of change.

So what is a part of its make up? From observation it seems that constant, radical, permanent change is a part of its make up. The universe, left to its own devices, is merely the living history of forms of energy if you break it down to basics. These forms of energy interact with one another to produce the things we see, hear, and experience. More importantly, they interact to produce things that we will never see, hear, experience or even imagine. Existence, in this sense, is just energy doing what energy does. There are no over-arching rules for it and nothing is mandated to exist or not exist because the universe is impassive and uninterested in what is - or is not. Its just random, chaotic energy. Out of this random chaos came us - quite inexplicably to my mind but that's another discussion. We human beings are not impassive or uninterested. Indeed, we need to be concerned and interested in order to survive. And so from this universe of chaotic energy we interested beings were produced.

I have observed the interest in ecological conservation as a phenomenon with my own growing interest for many years. Its one debate which can get some human beings very hot under the collar. When I hear people saying that we need to "save the planet" I often ask myself "What for?" For me its never really good enough to assume the rightness of an agenda merely because it seems to be either moral or, in some sense, on the side of good. I know both morality and goodness as interested ideas which are in no sense neutral but always serving some interest. You might think that the interests of saving the planet are very good ones but I would always seek to undermine the foundations of a belief to ask what presuppositions it stands on. Our beliefs always have these groundings and they are often very revealing and easily toppled. Such are human belief systems.

Of course, conservation is about more than wanting to save the planet or some species upon it (whether that is a rare kind of insect, a cuddly mammal or even us). I had a think and I reasoned that you could connect capitalists (who want to preserve their economic status in society as well as the value of capital), theists (who want a god to be the guarantor of everything that is as it is right now), Greens (who want to preserve the planet and species of life as we have them now) and Transhumanists (who want human beings to outlive our current surroundings and even our planet) all as types of people interested in conservation broadly understood. You may be able to think of others. Conservation is, of course, most commonly associated with the Greens but, as we can see, the drive to conserve things is actually apparent wherever people want things to stay roughly as they are right now (or in an idealized, utopian form of right now). My point, as I've said above, is quite simple: this is contrary to the way things are, contrary to nature, against the organizing principles of an indifferent universe.

You may argue that this is to misunderstand the way things are and that's a fair point to challenge me on. You may say that I am right and the universe doesn't care what stays or goes. It will just keep rolling on until the energy all dissipates in the eventual heat death of the universe in some trillions of years. In that context you may say that what is is then up to those species who can make something of it and that if the universe allows us to make and manufacture things a certain way, guided by our principles, then we should. I don't actually find this position all that wrong. My concern here, I suppose, is with those who reason that there is some form of rightness or naturalness or in-built goodness with this drive to conserve. To me it is entirely manufactured and interested as a phenomenon. It is the activity of self-interested and self-important beings. To want to save the whale because you have an impulse to save whales is one thing. To say that we have a responsibility to save whales is to use rhetoric in the service of an agenda. The universe doesn't care if whales live or die. It follows that there is no imperative for me to care either - although I may choose to and may give reasons for so doing. But these reasons will always be interested and (merely) rhetorical.

So what am I arguing against? I'm arguing against those who want to find or impose imperatives. I'm arguing against those who think that something put us here to "save the world". I'm arguing against those who see us as over and above nature as opposed to merely an interested and self-interested and self-important part of it, a species and individuals with a will to survive. I'm arguing against those who see us as anything other than a rather pathetic bug-like species on a nothing ball of rock in a nowhere solar system in an anonymous galaxy floating in a space so big you cannot begin to quantify it. I'm arguing against those who regard life as nothing to do with power and its operations and how those dynamics play out in human societies. Human beings are very conscious of their station in life and will seek to preserve or increase it. This, amongst other things, is why there are differing sides of the Green conservation argument. People have empires to protect. But seen from that angle life just becomes a power struggle between forms of energy marshalled to power differing agendas. We, instead of being the savior of our world, the universe and everything, are merely just more energy acting in the vastness of space until we dissipate.

So yes when I hear the slogans of Greens I chuckle. I wonder what we are saving and why. I smile at the naivety, if that's what it is, that just assumes this is the right thing to do. I wonder at the hubris that thinks we and our planet in some sense deserve to live. I wonder how these people have factored in the assumptions of our eventual destruction. I wonder how they explain away the fact that well over 90% of things that ever lived on Earth are gone forever without any human action whatsoever. Because that's what things just do - have their time and then cease to exist. I wonder where they reason the meaning they ascribe to things fits in. For nothing exists in a vacuum. (Feel free to ponder on the vacuum of space here and how that affects my last sentence.) The reasons we give for things, the beliefs we hold, are supported by other things and it is they, when articulated, that support our actions and drives. Life is wonderful and random. But it is not permanent. And, as far as I can see, it was never meant to be nor can it be. The drive to conserve is an interested human drive, just one contingent outworking of the energy that drives a form of life. This doesn't mean we shouldn't care or should ravage and destroy. Its just a context for something humans want to do for their own, personal reasons. It is, in the end, just one more example of the universe doing its thing, its the energy that exists exhausting itself until there's no more left. 

Its an example of the kind "Anything the universe allows is allowed".

Now you may feel free to think about this and decide who is right or wrong and, just as importantly, why.

Sunday, 6 September 2015


In the recent past I made an album of instrumental electronic music called Forces of Nature. You can read about what's behind that album elsewhere on this blog. The album Intoxication that I have just completed is a companion piece to this.

Sadly, for those second guessing the subject of this album, it is not about alcohol. The "intoxication" at issue here is metaphorical but no less real or powerful in its effects. The intoxication under discussion here is intoxication as discussed in the written works of German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche discusses intoxication from his first book, The Birth of Tragedy from The Spirit of Music right up until books in his final year of sanity in 1888. For example, in his Twilight of the Idols. "Intoxication" is what Nietzsche thinks the greatest, most creative, artistic spirits must have. He writes in that latter book:

For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.

But what is this Nietzschean intoxication? Nietzsche recognizes many forms of it - sexual, feasting, agitation, victory, cruelty. The list goes on. "The essence of intoxication is the feeling of plenitude and increased energy.... In this condition one enriches everything out of one's abundance: what one sees, what one desires, one sees swollen, pressing, strong, overladen with energy."

In short, Nietzsche envisages that the artist is full, and overfull, with inspiration as we might put it today. From their own fullness the creation comes to be. And surely there is something to this. Nietzsche, in The Birth of Tragedy, was writing in the context of Dionysian feasts and so it is not hard to understand where the idea of intoxication might have come from since at these feasts many were often quite literally intoxicated. Nietzsche expands on this idea metaphorically in the course of describing the conditions of culture and art as he saw it.

My album Intoxication is a hybrid project, however, in that it conflates two at first seemingly unrelated subjects that find their point of common interest in this idea of "intoxication". It is not the first time that I have done this this year. My first album projects of the year were Jedem Das Seine and Arbeit Macht Frei, two albums which united twin themes. In this case it was the horror of the Nazi concentration camps and the film Under The Skin which I conceived these two albums as an alternative soundtrack for. Here in Intoxication one side of the work reflects an interest in this Nietzschean notion of "intoxication" but the second is an altogether more serious subject - as before where I combined matters cultural and historical.

The second sense in which I use the term "intoxicated" here is in reference to current world events: specifically I use the term with reference to refugees - what some others may call "migrants". These are people I conceive of as being "intoxicated with life". That is to say that they find themselves in the direst of straights and they have that all consuming will to survive that only those who have looked death in the face really know. I can say from my own personal experience that someone never wants to stay alive so much as in that moment when their continued existence might be terminally in doubt.

So I find it easy to describe the many refugees we see across the world, many fleeing from war-ravaged areas, many others merely from living in poverty and squalor, as "intoxicated with life". They want to live and this desire fills them and overflows within them, pushing them across land and across seas and oceans in the hope that they might find the circumstances for it. I do not blame a single one of them. Indeed, I find it strange that in the 21st century, in 2015, the idea that we might let people die or go hungry because they happen to come from a different country to us is still prevalent. I ask myself if border regulations and our notions of civilization really count for much in such circumstances. In 2015 have we not progressed to the point where a human life can expect to find food, clothing and shelter as a matter of course? The answer, I'm afraid, is no. Our Western societies are very much infected with the idea that in order to have food and shelter you have to earn it. Thus, those who are not seen to be earning it are regarded as "scroungers" who are receiving "hand outs".

I don't see things this way. I say a plague on all your polite notions of society, of progress, of humanism, of needing to "earn" the right to live. Life will find a way and those intoxicated with life will naturally be pulled, as a magnet pulls iron, to those places where food and shelter and safety seem evident. Do not be surprised. Do not say "Go back where you came from". You would not go back where they came from. Do not say "They belong back in their land" when the history of this planet is the history of the people upon it moving around to places that supported them best. It is the significant characteristic of life that it wants to survive! Expect life, wherever it shows itself, to want to do exactly that!

So this album of mine called Intoxication unites an interest in the refugees of the world with the Nietzschean notion of a creative superabundance of energy. It is in this sense that it is a companion piece to Forces of Nature. I see it as a personal version of those forces. The force to create, the force to live and survive. Don't be surprised these things exist. Every organism that comes to be only wants to grow and make more of itself. Its genetic. It is the mystery of why there is anything at all instead of nothing.

You can listen to Intoxication on my Bandcamp HERE!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Electronic Music: An Interview with Rory McCormick

A couple of days ago, through a Twitter contact retweeting a link, I came across the electronic music of Rory McCormick. I was immediately drawn to the sound he had created for himself and (what seemed to me) the fearless way he went about doing what he had done. His album WAVE IX is a mixture of melancholic electronica and performance poetry (with sometimes near to the knuckle content). It was, at the very least, something that made me sit up and take notice. Having listened to that I went on and listened to his albums Colony and Edgespace which continued the musical theme but without the poetry. It seemed to me that here was an artist, someone who had ideas behind what he did and I determined to see if he would consent to an interview to be published here so that I could learn more about it and, also, publish the results to a wider audience. I'm happy that Rory agreed. Printed below are the questions I sent him and the answers he sent back.

1. How long have you been making music and what is your setup? (i.e. what do you use to make music?)

I've been making music since 2013. To begin with I worked as one half of a duo under the pseudonym '6&8', I was responsible for the music, and she wrote words/poetry to go with that music. We released a number of digital albums and EPs on a net label called Xylem Records (, and also one album that involved another collaborator, a music producer who works under the name 'Day Before Us', on Auditory Field Theory ( That all happened between May 2013 and March 2014, then later in the year 6&8 split up and I fell out of love with making music for a while. Plus various things going on in my life at the time seemed to take most of the focus away from my hobbyist attitude towards it. I started working on some bits I had begun but not finished in that period earlier this year, May-June time, and then wrote more in a similar vein and before I knew it I was hooked again and now don't want to stop. I think I must have needed to fill that gap of more than a year by releasing three things in one month – it takes the likes of Coldplay years to get one album together, I'm knocking out three a month, I think I know who's winning.

Due to financial and space restrictions, I don't have any outboard equipment or interesting boxes, I've always been drawn to hardware as a means for electronic music, it's the deliberately limited scope of possibilities (hardware depending of course, I'm thinking of analogue stuff here really) and the physical interactions that I feel would be more engaging when it comes to navigating the tumultuous creative process in search of inspiration. Anyway that said, I don't have those things, I mainly use a computer as a sound source, loaded with a selection of software instruments and environments. I guess the feeling is that software doesn't have any soul, but actually I don't think that's true at all. I like instruments/FX from U-he and Madrona Labs best, the Madrona stuff in-particular is really quite characterful. My main environment for sketching, composition and mixing is REAPER, but I have used Renoise in the past, and also Pure Data and SuperCollider, but I tend to steer away from coding now as I always feel so much further from the music due to the learning curve and program debugging that comes with that sort of environment. If I'm getting a syntax error I'm probably about 10 minutes away from going for a walk instead.

For my recent solo releases I have succumbed to my interest in the analogue approach and purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a Tandberg 3300X. I also have a Technics cassette deck, for when I want to keep some of the clarity of the digital domain, as the Tandberg really does smear frequencies all over the place. Anything that is fed into that is a glorious lo-fi mess on the way back out. There are other small portable cassette machines laying around, as well as a Tascam DR-100mk2 for field recordings as well as two AKG C1000S mics. For my next release I have picked up a small collection of acoustic instruments: zithers, guitar, bass, xylophone, melodica, flutes etc. Which I will use to create source material for digital manipulation at a later stage. That's a fair bit of stuff I suppose. Maybe I'll just fill the wall behind my bed with rack analogue modules after all.

2. What are you making music for? Is there anything behind it?

It's a form of expression, it's interpretation of the world around me and my experiences: feelings, moments, awareness. It's also more abstract though, for example I take a trip to London to look at the architecture of the Barbican estate, all those edges and blocks of raw concrete, what senses do they evoke? What might they sound like? How could I communicate this appreciation of form and style with the timbres within my grasp as a musician? I want to depict shape, space and form with rhythm, timbre and melody in a way only a human being could. I will practice this until I stop.

3. When you approach making a track what is important for you?

I find that a track will begin in one of two ways:

1) I will be led by a melody I have found on the guitar, and then transplant this into the digital domain and build and orchestrate on it with other instruments.

2) I will be led by technology, some aspect or functionality of a computer program will start an idea and I will follow it purely with the digital techniques at my disposal.

Of the two I find much more satisfying, and likely to result in a finished track that I am proud of, is music with its genesis in method 1. When I play something on a guitar I can almost 'hear the future' of that riff or melody straight away, a developed piece of music appears like an abstract concept and I have greater success in following those abstractions than if they materialise during a session solely exploring software. When using method 2 I find that moment to moment my creative abilities are muddied by the task of navigating the software itself: 'How do I pitch the sample down?' 'What is the best method to automate this or that?' 'Wait, where has that toolbar gone?' 'I didn't mean to delete that' etc. That's not to say that purely software techniques aren't responsible for amazing music, you've just got to get a grip of them as well as I have of my guitar over the last 20 odd years. The reality is that methods 1 and 2 will blend during a writing session, sometimes seamlessly, but sometimes the gears will grind to a halt. I guess what's important is being able to get what's inside my head, outside my head with flow and accuracy, making use of any surprises along the way.

4. Your three albums on Bandcamp, WAVE IX, Colony and Edgespace seem thematically and musically linked. What are you trying to express with them?

Yes they are linked, in fact Wave IX only exists because I didn't manage what I originally set out to do with the material on Edgespace and Colony. The music on those two should have been the back drop to the spoken word of Wave IX but when I put it all together much of the music just didn't gel well with the words and I was making compromises all over the place to try and make it work. So just decided to let Edgespace and Colony go without the words and put other bits together for Wave IX.

But once I decided that, it did feel good to have instrumental tracks that appeared to link with the spoken themes on Wave IX, e.g 'Survey Team' on Colony is the sonic description of the brave men and women that descended back into the mining network we hear about in 'Faces in the Strata' on Wave IX, the auxiliary team on the surface is referenced in the title and the spoken word. 'In the Betweens' is in fact a description of Edgespace, heard on the release of the same name. There are further connections but I'll leave them to be discovered. It all seemed to work well splitting the work across three releases like this, like it was meant to be.

The stories told on Wave IX are linked to some degree, the themes seem to be to transcend the human consciousness/form, (In the Betweens, The Exchange, Prayer for a Sunken Lime, The Configurations), I think 'Faces in the Strata' strays furthest from that theme, perhaps as the survey team strayed themselves from their own world.

5. If you had unlimited freedom to make whatever music you wanted to make what would you like to do that you can't do now?

Since I realised electronic music was the gin in my tonic (early 2000's, camping trip to Cornwall, The Richard D James album on repeat in the car) and I started to delve into the culture and technology, I've always felt that Heaven would be a room full of modular analogue equipment. I still do - perhaps to a slightly lesser extent now – maybe that's because I'm making the most of the resources available to me rather than desiring things I'll likely never have. The money and the impracticality involved does put me off enough for it to remain a fantasy. I have a desire to perform music in a live setting, and as a hobbyist/nobody, hauling a tonne of oscillators, sequencers and voltage dividers around just seems stupid now. Laptop, mixer, speakers, ears, done.

As for music I'd like to make with the resources I have to hand, but have yet to, algorithmic and generative music is high on the agenda. Beat oriented music that one could consider moving to.

I do have some musical ideas that currently seem hard to realise. I'd like to make detailed environment recordings of industrial locations such as processing plants, data centres, and manipulate them subtly with almost imperceptible glitches and additions. But in my mind that would depend on having good quality, detailed, multilevelled location recordings of areas and installations that I would likely not be permitted to enter.

Similar to this, is the desire to make mock recordings of occult events, to stage a séance or pseudo-ritual for example and mix multiple recording sources. Not music so much as an audio play, scripted with a cast of voice actors, but perhaps with musical elements, unexpected rhythmic repetition, or low frequencies added to unsettle.

The perceived scope of such projects (maybe just the knowledge that I would have to involve others) has meant it has not yet moved from being an abstract idea into an achievable goal.

6. What music and artists have influenced you? (Maybe your influences aren't musical, of course.)

Mike Patton, Jimi Hendrix, Jack Kerouac, Helmet, Therapy?, pre-turn of the century Marilyn Manson, Stanley Kubrick, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, Clark, Dave Monolith, Laurel Halo, Grimes, Morbid Angel, Boards of Canada, Blade Runner, Yes, Vangelis, David Lynch, J.G Ballard, Brutalist architecture, Shane Carruth Giorgio de Chirico and Calvin Harris (not really).

7. What would you like to achieve musically in the next 12 months?

I have several album projects to work on, next is something vaguely related to Wave IX, but instrumental (there is no further spoken word on the horizon right now, but all it takes is a second of inspiration for that to change. Hey it may have changed by 3pm this afternoon). Also I have what I hope to be a series of releases employing algorithmic techniques that takes its inspiration from plant inflorescences (see the Wikipedia article on that topic and you'll probably already be in the same sonic ballpark as I am) that will likely be far more rhythmic than anything I've done before. I am fascinated by the way plant stems branch off from one another, like a network of decisions from root to bud. Also not too far off is a project that takes great influence from the novel High Rise by J.G Ballard. I have a copy of that book packed with my own annotations and highlights that elude somehow to the sense of hearing, or that collide in an aesthetically pleasing way with my own sense of what is awesome.

As for other achievements, I'd like to release work on net labels again and have my material played on various online radio shows, just get it out there in ways. I don't do this for fame or money obviously, but it's a form of expression, of communication, so nothing I make can be fully realised unless others hear it. A major milestone as momentous as the alignment of the planets would be to play or perform my music in a live setting of any description, that would be a real achievement for me. To collaborate again is possibly on the agenda too, but we'll see.

I'd like to thank Rory for taking the time to answer my questions. Personally speaking, I think its great to find such thoughtful electronic music that has ideas behind it.

You can hear the three albums referred to in this interview, WAVE IX, Colony and Edgespace at Rory's Bandcamp,

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

What is the Meaning of This?

Today's blog is about the subject of meaning and its a fairly "stream of consciousness" type of a blog. As I write I am just back from my daily exercise which is my chance to blow some cobwebs out of my mind and loosen up my gradually aging body. It happens quite often in these times that thoughts come to mind and coalesce in ways that are fruitful and many of the blogs you see here are a result of such times. This is going to be another one like that.

So if you have been reading this blog at any time during this year you will know that my grand subject has been human being. I have been asking myself what it means to be human, where humans might be going and what the difference might be between a human being and the possible technological beings that we might become in the future. There has also been a strand of that which concentrated on consciousness. I have found it all greatly stimulating and it has brought me forward in my own thinking and inspired much new music from me that led me down new paths.

It was a couple of weeks ago, however, that it finally dawned on me what this was all about though. It was then that I realized that the great question here, perhaps the greatest question of all, was the question of meaning. Read back through some of my earlier blogs if you like and confirm this for yourself. It further dawned on me at that time that the question of meaning had really been the question that has animated me from my earliest days as a thinker back when I was 8, 9 and 10 reading biblical stories or The Odyssey which I read aged 10 at school. There was always a sense of wonder with me (a naive sense of wonder, I might add) and that has probably not served me very well in the long run but it has meant that I wanted to try and get answers to the questions that have animated my life.

Fast forward to a middle-aged man with 35 years more reading and experience under his belt. Meaning, why things mean, how things mean, what things mean, have come to be the central questions of my existence. Perhaps they are, in various forms, for everyone. Not everyone confronts these questions of course. Some try to hide from them or run away from them, scared of the possible answers. But I take a more prosaic and present view of things. Life would be hell if I didn't try to work out some answers. My thinking and reading this year have brought some progress for me it seems. At least, it feels that way. And as those writing about consciousness know very well, how things feel is very important to we humans. This, too, is something else caught up in all the "meaning" questions.

So what of "meaning"? Why do things mean? This, it seems to me, is a problem of consciousness. Neuroscientist Christof Koch sees consciousness as a feature of complex enough systems, systems, for example, such as the human brain. Koch himself does not limit the possibility of such consciousness to the human brain alone. He conceives it is possible that machine networks, if complex enough, could also become conscious. He also suggests that other animals with brains not so different from ours could be conscious - if in not quite the same way or to the same extent. For my purposes here the relevance of this is that with a developed enough consciousness comes the problem of meaning.

For with a consciousness such as ours, one that is self-aware, aware of its surroundings, able to extrapolate and problem solve, able to refer back to previous events and project forward into future ones, meaning floods in. Why is this? It is because meaning-making is a matter of relating things one to another, a matter of contextualizing things with other things, a matter of giving things a situation, a matter of relating and relationships, of networks. It just so happens that the universe bequeathed to us consciousness, quite blindly, and, in so doing, meaning flooded into our lives and all the problems that go with it. Meaning is what happens when conscious minds start going about their business. It is what happens when you take one object or idea, something that means nothing at all in itself or in isolation, and then relate it to something else. Or anything else. It is in the interactions of things and ideas that meaning is produced. As beings with a developed consciousness this was something we just couldn't help doing - the making of meaning.

In recent centuries our great thinkers have had problems with meaning though. Some wanted to try and fix meaning, believing that in so doing they could get things "right". Time and time again that project has failed but there are still those who believe that there is "a way things are" that could fix meanings. I am not one of those. Others have seen a problem with "nihilism" which is the lack of meaning. This issue is tied to the first inasmuch as by their constant failure to fix meaning it seemed to some that there was no fixed meaning to be found. I don't think that there is but I also don't think this should be cause for despair. Coming from a different angle, there were others who said that the problem wasn't that there was no meaning but that, instead, there was too much! These "poststructuralists" argued that the issue wasn't a lack of meaning but that there was so much it could never be fixed. Meaning was a matter of the "play" of many different meanings.

It seems to me that if you follow my basic ideas above of how meaning arises at all then it is no surprise that meanings are not fixed. It seems to me that if I am anywhere close then it would be impossible to fix meaning in the first place. For if meaning is simply a matter of relating things to other things then there are as many meanings as there are things to be related and in as many ways as you can relate them. In that, context may sometimes guide but it can never be determinative. We would still end up with as many meanings as it would be possible for people to have in any given scenario. It would seem that the poststructuralists were on to something with their ideas of a superfluity of meaning.

This, of course, brings its own issues. How is such a superfluity to be controlled? After all, we all need meaning and meanings for things but we all also need to live. In this I find something that the recently departed neuroscientist Oliver Sachs said deeply relevant. He wrote that "Each of us … constructs and lives a ‘narrative’ and is defined by this narrative." I find this to be intuitively and reflectively true. Sachs is here saying that we all build a story of our lives as we grow up and develop, one that gets added to every day with each event, thought, idea, that happens. This comes to be the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, about our circumstances, our possibilities, our past, our future. This forms a major context for all the meaning-making that we will do in life. It becomes the borders of what things can mean and acts as a stabilizing, if also sometimes an imprisoning, force. It is the boundaries of our thought. But these are not to be thought of as hard and impervious boundaries. The boundary can sometimes move and new meanings become possible. It is a movable border but a border nevertheless.

One corollary of this is that things will not mean the same thing for everyone. Nor, if this is right, should they. Difference is in-built into this understanding of things and is something to be negotiated rather than denied or avoided. We will tell completely different stories about ourselves and live individual lives and this will add to the list of possible meanings that can be made. This in turn speaks to an amazing plurality of lives and of meaning-making that often scares those who want to fix things or find a "way things are". There is no "way things are". And this is why there can also be no gods. Gods are used to try and fix meaning. They are there as guarantors of "the way things are" and act as a kind of über-context for everything. But there is no über-context. The universe did not come with meanings attached. It merely blindly created beings for whom things must mean.

This is what is bequeathed to us: to make things mean something useful to us, something that we can understand and live with. That may be a struggle but we cannot avoid it unless we die or go mad. I hope to study meaning and its making further over the coming days and weeks. There are those, such as Nietzsche or Foucault, who studied how things mean in more detail, for example, by using "genealogical" or "archaeological" techniques - but upon knowledge and its meaning itself. Nietzsche did great studies into the history of morality, something he saw as a problem, whilst Foucault, amongst other things, studied the history of prisons, sexuality, the treatment of mental illness and even scientific knowledge itself. None of these things, or their meanings, are givens. The idea of the "given" is one that those who want to fix things one way (and its always their way!) would like us to have. But following the path I have that seems crazy and to be rejected. What intellectual studies such of those of Nietzsche and Foucault have shown us is that no knowledge and no meaning is a given, Rather, it is all created and with a very specific history that was necessary for its formation. We would do well to remember this.

So we are in a world of play, the play of meanings. We are free to make ours to the extent that our lives, and the stories we tell about them, allow us. Meanings do not come with things so the idea of an "in-itself" with a meaning attached is silly. The meaning comes in the relating of one thing to another, in the activity of our conscious minds.