Wednesday, 4 November 2015

New Musical Directions: Facing The Boundaries of Reality

It is the case for most people that life is fairly static and stable. Many human beings like this fact and I am certainly one of them. Too much change and changing circumstances can be disorientating and it seems as if there is nothing solid and secure to hold on to. This is also the case musically from the point of view of musical creation. For the last few years I have basically had the same resources to hand. For a time before that I had much more available but reduced circumstances and life choices have now taken me down to a bare minimum which is what the music of the last 2 years from me has been made with. I'm somewhat shy these days of speaking too much about musical setups because I have found, in this world of egotistical opinions spewed out for general consumption on blogs, forums and social media sites, that knowing too much about an artist's "how" colours people's views on the product. Check any music forum for plenty of examples of this, often from people who should know better. So the view I hold these days is that you don't need to know how I did what I did. I also hope this will push your need to hold an opinion onto what I actually made and what you think of it. Because, after all, having something at the end of the process is the point, right?

In the much reduced circumstances I now find myself in, however, there are still two hardware synths that I have managed to somehow retain. They have been tucked away in the shed since last time I used them over a year ago. Before that I hadn't used them for maybe 3 years before that. They are the Korg Electribe EMX-1 and the Korg Electribe ESX-1. (The first is a virtual analog synth and the second a sampling synth with reduced synthesis capabilities in comparison with the first.) These are the original 2003 models with the Smartmedia card slots, Smartmedia being a format that no one ever really bothered with. I'm not sure if you can even buy these cards anymore. 

I mention these machines because for the last 2 or 3 weeks I have been thinking, very casually, about how I change things up. This, for good or ill, is a part of the make up of my personality. I'm unable, and unwilling, to go on repeating myself and doing things for a long period of time. I get bored and want a new direction, reason or goal. This is the history of my life story. There is really hardly anything I've ever done or any situation I have kept which got much past 2 or 3 years. The music I have made in the last 2 years using my old process is great, the best I've ever done. If I look back on my music-making history I see an upward curve in terms of ability, the musical interest it creates and the roundedness of the final product. But this isn't enough and, crucially, I think its only true because I don't sit in the rut happy to make the same thing but with a different tune.

Now the Electribe EMX-1 is an instrument I know well. Of all the things I've ever owned, and this includes expensive keyboard synths, samplers, DJ equipment, Elektron grooveboxes and software, it is probably the instrument I took most time to use and know best. Seven years ago I would habitually get up in the morning, switch it on and in 20 minutes jam out a tune which I recorded to video and stuck up on You Tube. These videos got a bit of a following and not simply for the music (although I hope some of it was for that) but also because, having just got out of bed, often my fat gut was on display in the video as the EMX-1 was resting on my knees. A man needs to be comfortable as he works! By the way, in case you're wondering, that You Tube account is long deleted and none of the videos survive. Sad, I know. You get deprived of those performances and I consigned some good tunes to the void. But that must be. I find it better to be defined by the next thing than by the last thing. So occasionally a total wipe of the past is necessary. Its all about reinvention. I couldn't be sure, but David Bowie's career seems to suggest he has something of a similar mentality.

So in thinking how I move forward from my old way to a new way these devices came to the forefront  of my mind. Sitting and jamming with them, though, is out. Its been done before and, these days, every 13 year old has a You Tube account with 50 videos showcasing the 10 beatboxes and ipads his parents bought him. They can do that and they can do it better than me. An old man and his gut isn't music news going into 2016. But a project I have recently completed does suggest a different approach to that. Recently I made the album "A Noise Archive of Science Fiction" and to make that I scoured the internet for free sound libraries of analog and other synths that I could download and manipulate in ways I found interesting. I managed to make 81 tracks doing that in a feverish 8 days of activity in which I barely did anything but make music. 

So what about if I took the EMX-1 (and maybe the ESX-1 too) and used it to generate the sounds myself this time? Its a progression from my last idea but this time everything is mine from creating the sounds themselves by messing with the synth until something I like pops out to putting the sound in a manipulative environment and changing it into something else that combines and works with other sounds to make something bigger. Not very revolutionary you may be thinking. This is true but for me its different and that might be enough. To understand why this is new and exciting to me you need to understand my musical mentality though.

The one thing that I have never employed in making my music is time. Taking time to me always equated to making hard work of music and music should not be work. It also shouldn't be an industry but it is often called one. To me music is fun and its about having fun with the plus that at the end of the fun maybe you have recorded something of worth. I know for many, and perhaps as an "industry" standard, music is supposed to be deliberately arranged, recorded and produced with a pre-determined idea of what you want at the end. But it has never been this for me as, intuitively, it seemed to me as if the moment, the inspiration, the muse, was much more important than making a job of work of it. So I never, ever took time. What I did was think of the next big idea and then record the moment of its execution. 

So that is where I come from musically (and philosophically but thats another story) and I want to preserve that into my next work. I think I can do that in using the electribes to find snippets of sound, make loops and record one shots. These can then be thrown somewhere else to be changed, effected, combined and chained to form greater works. The electribes are somewhat perfect for this kind of thing as they have no voice memories at all. This means that if you want to preserve a sound you make you must record it as it can't be saved on the machine. It forces creativity and makes it certain that no sound will ever be the same twice. Indeed, reading back some reviews from when these original 2003 models came out I'm reminded just what great machines these were with their motion sequencing (which records knob tweaks on the fly) and, at least on the EMX-1, quite comprehensive synthesis controls. The analog vacuum tubes also give it an analog saturation that goes from warmth to total distortion. Perfect for making noises. Or just noise.

So for the next 2 months I want to take time. I want to take time to make sounds. I want to take time to manipulate those sounds. I want to take time to combine those sounds. Rather than putting out the next set of tracks I made as if on a conveyor belt I want to be more choosy. I doubt I will be any less prolific but what gets put up in public will be the cream that rose to the top rather than simply the next set of moments I recorded. I don't know if I will like this way of working or if I will abandon it after an hour. I don't like the idea that the past can bind the future so I'm not laying down any rules here only intentions as I write as a musician who needs to keep things fresh. If I stick to my plan expect to hear a new album from me on my birthday which is in January 2016.

You can hear the best of this year's work right now at 

EDIT! 14 days later and this album is published. It is now available at 

No comments:

Post a Comment