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DATE:
 Friday 23 September 2016
LOCATION:
Studio 5, BLANK Studios & Gallery, 108 North St, Portslade-by-Sea, BN41 1DG

MISSION STATEMENT
To create a sound piece, within 1 day, in response and homage to the environs of BLANK Studio 5. All sounds to be conjured via a limited array of low-fidelity sound-producing and recording equipment, plus any found sounds and field recordings captured on location, on the day.

EQUIPMENT (all vintage and/or 2nd-hand unless otherwise stated)
Recording: Fostex X-26 4-track cassette recorder (channel 1 input not working); selection of 3 microphones of various vintages; Behringer 4-channel mixer; circa 1960s Park amplifier (low wattage); Headphones; Zoom H1 Handy Recorder (my one concession to modern technology)
Instruments/Sound-producers: Human voice; Human body; Yamaha SU-10 sampler; metronome; Early Learning Centre plastic drum (purchased previously for £1.99 at local charity shop).

ARTIST’S NOTE
In the process of winding down my practice in BLANK studio 5, and packing up my works and materials, I have found the grain of a song idea returning to mind again and again – A Nietzschean slogan that appears on one of my current works in progress: “Everything you need is right here”. Over time it became almost a mantra, a nagging earworm, sound-tracking the hours spent clearing out my paraphernalia. Now and again harmonic counter melodies would suggest themselves, hinting at a choral composition of some kind. And so I vowed to return to the vacant space to compose and record a farewell sound-piece – a Lo-Fi Symphony in 1 day.

ACCOUNT
I arrive, from Worthing, by bike and set-up my arsenal of lo-fidelity audio equipment. First task is to wipe a cassette on high-speed record.

11:15 – I have had my suspicions about the metronome I have brought with me – it seems to be a bit lazy on every 2nd click. But I need a click-track to help me keep time, so I cheat and hook up my phone to the internet. A little trial and error and I settle on 69bpm.

I record a base vocal take – the repeated phrase “Everything you need is right here” holding a close microphone (AKG) with an auxiliary directed mic’ (SM-58) at approximately 1.5 metres distance. Vocal 2 adds a basic harmony repeating the same phrase, mixed down with Vocal 1, with some high and low EQ tweaked.

Following Vocal 3, I realise everything, bar the click track, has been recorded too quietly. If I try and increase the volume, it merely amplifies the hiss – there is “lo-fi” and there is “unlistenable”, so I cut my losses and start from scratch with the click track.

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14.30 – Much better! A cleaner, louder Vocal 1 and 2 are re-recorded (same mic’s and positions) and mixed down to 1 channel. Vocal 3 is added and we’ve clawed back some time. On this 2nd attempt I make the decision to set a structure for the composition: 10 repeats of the full phrase (10 being a multiple of 5. As in studio 5).

Each of the following Vocal takes requires careful consideration to slot in with the existing ones and to add a new colour or tone to the whole. And as each part is added it must be mixed down to the 1 spare channel I have at my disposal. So with every new addition, an individual part is lost (and another bridge is burned). It is a tricky, but liberating route to feel your way through.

Occasionally, one of my additions doesn’t quite mesh with the others – it is discarded and I try something else. Slowly, with each new part and mix, the piece builds to a rather comforting sounding multi-vocal composition. (I have notes for 6 vocal takes, but there may be 1 or 2 more).

I try adding an over-driven a capella bass part – abandoned in favour of a falsetto counter harmony. I then have an idea to introduce a crashing bass-drum sound during the final 2 phrase repeats. First I try various implements (heavy pliers, bits of wood, a fist, a microphone) out on the toy drum I have hanging around from my previous Lo-Fi Symphony – too feeble! Instead I mic’ up the floor and thud my knee twice on the floorboards in sync with my trusty click-track. This is sampled and hooked up to the 1960s Park amplifier. Once recorded, it doesn’t quite have the desired effect, so I mix it across with some extreme (for this 4-track) EQ. Still no good, and it’s getting late.

I draw a line, and listen back to adjust the levels of the amassed vocal jigsaw I have gradually constructed throughout the afternoon: Vocal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on one channel, with added Vocal 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 adding extra presence on the 2nd channel.

19.30 – I record a master mix direct to my Zoom H1 recorder; then a second ‘ambient’ version by routing the 4-track to the Park amp, with the Zoom H1 approximately 2.5 metres distance from the sound source. Then I hastily pack away my gear and load up my bike for a hairy ride along the dark coastal cycle way back home to Worthing.

Notes from the recording process:


Post-production: the final Dry mix + Ambient mix were transferred to Logic audio software; the two mixes were then combined and volume levels tweaked for an overall “wet + dry mix”.

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The Devil + Idle Hands 1 (East Sussex Open 2016)By popular demand, the East Sussex Open has been extended for 1 week! But this is that final week, so if you’ve been planning on getting along, your time is fast running out!

East Sussex Open 2016
23 July – 02 October
Towner Gallery, Devonshire Place, College Rd, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ
townereastbourne.org.uk/exhibition/east-sussex-open-2016

devilidlehands-badges

I had these hot pink neon badges made of my featured painting, The Devil + Idle Hands 1, for the opening party. I still have a few left, so now’s yr chance to get yr hands on what is sure to be one of the most desirable of autumn coat accoutrements this season!

THE DEVIL + IDLE HANDS button badge


THE DEVIL + IDLE HANDS
button badge (32mm)
£1.00 + 75p postage*

btn_buynow_lg
*postage is UK only, please contact me if you wish to buy a badge and you are overseas.
All UK deliveries will be by 2nd class post.

The Devil + Idle Hands, 2015, oil on canvas, 100cm x 100cm

The East Sussex Open 2016 at The Towner Gallery, Eastbourne opens this Friday evening alongside 2 other exhibitions – Some Are Nights Others Stars (featuring work by Michael Armitage, Ruth Claxton, Tiffany Chung, Siobhan Hapaska, Isaac Julien) and David Bomberg: A Sense of Place.

East Sussex Open 2016
23 July – 25 September
(opening night/Summer Party Friday 22 July, 6.30pm-midnight)
Towner Gallery, Devonshire Place, College Rd, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ
townereastbourne.org.uk/exhibition/east-sussex-open-2016

My painting The Devil + Idle Hands 1 (above) was selected for the ESO 2016, and I was really chuffed that they are also using it as the publicity image for the exhibition, which means it has already graced the pages of the Towner exhibition programme, as well as featuring in adverts across local media.

Portslade-Aggregate
DATE:
Monday 22 February 2016
LOCATION:
BLANK Studios & Gallery, 108 North St, Portslade-by-Sea, BN41 1DG

MISSION STATEMENT
To create a sound piece, within 1 day, in response to the environs and surrounds of BLANK Studios & Gallery. In contrast to previous Lo-Fi Symphony exercises, there will be no preconceived ideas (sounds, melodies, etc) at the commencement of composition. The day will begin with a blank tape, a blank page and a blank mind. All sounds will be conjured from a limited array of low-fidelity sound-producing and recording equipment, plus found sounds and field recordings captured on location, on the day.

EQUIPMENT (all vintage and/or 2nd-hand unless otherwise stated)
Recording: Fostex X-26 4-track cassette recorder (channel 1 input not working); selection of 4 microphones of various vintages; Mighty Boom Ball mini-speaker (not used); Behringer 4-channel mixer; circa 1960s Park amplifier (low wattage); Headphones; Zoom H1 Handy Recorder (my one concession to modern technology)
Instruments/Sound-producers: Yamaha SU-10 sampler; Boss Dr Rhythm DR-110 drum machine (unused); metronome; Korg Gt-3 chromatic tuner (unused); Early Learning Centre plastic drum (purchased for £1.99 at local charity shop); wooden Teddy-bear marching band jigsaw puzzle with electronic noise chips (purchased for £1.99 at local charity shop)

ACCOUNT
I step off the train at Portslade station into a frigid sheet of grey drizzle. I head off down the high street, trawling the handful of charity shops en route seeking second-hand goods that produce some kind, any kind, of noise… Bingo! A plastic toy drum and the world’s most annoying jigsaw puzzle – it has electronic chips under each of the 6 pieces, emitting an approximation of the sound of a teddy-bear marching band. I am henceforth accompanied by a tourettes-style clatter of tinny noises with each and every step I take towards my destination.

I arrive at BLANK Studios at 11.06am, dump my equipment in the vaulted gallery space and set out with my handheld recorder to capture found sounds

Field Recordings
1. Raindrops in drainpipe (BLANK kitchen)
2. Ambient sounds – road traffic (BLANK hallway)
3. Ambient sounds – hum (BLANK gallery)
4. Ambient sounds – lorry reversing alarm (aggregate works)
5. Ambient sounds – lorry passing (aggregate works)
6. Ambient sounds – machinery (aggregate works)
7. Dripping drainpipe (aggregate works)

At 12.00 I set up and document the equipment I have at my disposal: a motley array of outdated sound-capturing gear. Key items will be a Yamaha sampler; a Fostex cassette 4-track (channel 1 – out of order); a selection of microphones; a budget Behringer mixer; and a circa 1960s Park amplifier of very low wattage).

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I dive straight in with the intention of creating a bubbling rhythm track from a snippet of the ‘raindrops in drainpipe (kitchen)’ field recording. I am still wrestling with the sample of raindrops at 1pm.

I abort a metronomic drum machine overdub just as it builds up and resonates around the gallery. Instead I turn to the plastic toy drum, picked up for £1.99 earlier this morning. It has elastic straps on the sides which twang when you pluck them, and a flimsy ‘skin’ that feels like any child worth their mettle would very quickly beat a hole in it. I place a mic under a wooden plinth, sit the drum on top and proceed with a stop/start rhythm, trying to match the burbling rain-drop backing. In the end I sample each of the 3 sounds – a twang, a tap on the drum-skin, and a bang on the plinth. These, recorded via the Park amplifier with 2 ambient mics (see diagram, page 1 of notes), will drive this lo-fi soundscape and give it some backbone.

— I must have stopped for lunch about here —

The ambient road traffic recording, captured in the hallway, is sampled and edited down to form a repeated swelling motif throughout the duration of the piece.

— at this point family responsibility intervenes, I must catch a train to collect my daughter from nursery. But everything is left set up for my return after dinner —

Disappointed with my progress so far, I sit at the train station mulling over the sparse arrangement that I have created. An off-beat clap suggests itself, and I furtively dictate a note-to-self in the shelter.

20.20: I arrive back at the gallery.

First, I stalk the gallery space clapping my hands looking for a sweet spot where the room’s natural reverb makes a single clap ring out like gunshot. This is duly captured via microphone and sampler.

Let’s see what the Teddy-Bear marching band can bring to the symphony… Lifting each jigsaw piece lets off a clattering, electronic din. And the winner is: the “triangle” player – a tinny, ting-a-ling metallic trill, sampled and ready to trigger.

The off-beat metallic trill and clap are duly added to the mix in 1 take. Running out of time, all parts will be done in 1 take from here-on

I find a 2 metre length of cardboard tubing in the building. This is mic’ed up at one end, with an additional ambient mic close by (see diagram page 2 of notes). A quick run through, then I hit record and begin humming a low, cello-like bowing sound, in tandem with, and contrast to, the ebbing road-traffic sample.

Mixdown: Toy drum sample with Teddy-bear triangle + clap
Mixdown: Raindrops + road traffic with Cardboard tube vocal

I listen back to the now fleshed out arrangement, and as I listen a haunting, whistled melody suggests itself. I listen through again, whistling the tune as I set up microphones and work out where to position myself. I need to nail this in 1 take if I am to get a final mix in the can before the last train.

I stand atop a bench, a microphone held at arms length + another atop a plinth to capture the room-sound and I whistle an eerie, Morricone-esque top-line through dry lips.

The time is 22.30. Time to mixdown to master tape: a dry mix straight from the Fostex outputs + a 2nd mix run via the Park amplifier with my trusty Zoom handy recorder and tripod perched atop a plinth to capture the sound as it fills the room.

I pack up all my equipment, lock it in my studio space and exit the building at 23.16 to catch the 23.26 train home.

Notes recorded throughout the day:


Post-production: the final Dry mix + Ambient mix were transferred to Logic audio software; the two mixes were then combined and volume levels tweaked for an overall “wet + dry mix”.

The Last Bastion Of Hope, 2014, oil and mixed media on canvas, 100cm x 150cmToday sees the release of a new print edition.

The Last Bastion Of Hope is the latest in my “bleak postcards” series of paintings* to be released as a limited edition print.

Set in a bleak, twilit landscape, the neon serves as a sign of life, of hope, in this barren wilderness. And yet, as you draw nearer, you can’t shake the creeping feeling that this place was abandoned long ago. It’s just that someone forgot to switch the neon lights off.

*see also Kiss Me Quick and Wish You Were Here.

The print is a limited giclée print from an edition of 50, signed and numbered by the artist, and printed on 330gsm Somerset Velvet paper with hand torn deckled edges.
Available now through Art Republic.