Category Archives: Analogue

Shorts #41: Catalyst

Shorts #41: Catalyst. Commissioned and titled by Andy Bannister

This piece was commissioned and titled by Andy Bannister.

Explaining why he picked this title, he said, “My thought process for this, is that the first half sounds like a catalyst for a reaction towards the latter half which could also be interpreted the sound of a substance or object changing state, like liquid to gas etc.”

The time elapsed between the original commission and this post is a lot longer than usual and I can’t remember how the piece was made, but according to my filing system, it was made using chaos synthesis on a Eurorack. This is a type of frequency modulation where oscillator A modulates oscillator B, which modulates oscillator C which modulates oscillator A. This is an exciting system because the feedback makes it chaotic.



Glass – for Irene’s birthday

This piece was composed using SuperCollider and a synthesiser for Irene’s birthday. It was presented as a part of an installation at the Rupture Gaming Festival in Kent.

The source material is recorded with an analogue modular synthesiser. The SuperCollider program takes that material and granulates it, dramatically changing the playback speed.


Live at the Hundred Years Gallery (2015)

[play]Live at the Hundred Years Gallery (2015)

This is a live set I played at the Hundred Years Gallery in Hoxton, London in February. Originally, it was going to be a 2 hours set broadcast live on the radio, but this is what it became. This was live-patched, using my MOTM analogue modular synthesiser.

Live patching is a way of performing live, where I go on with a bunch of patch cables around my neck and nothing plugged into the synth. I get sounds going as quick as I can and then change them over the course of performing. For this particular performance, I started with FM chaos. This is good, because it gives a lot of potential variety, however, if I had actually been on for the entire two hours, it would not be all that well-suited to slowly evolving drones.

All the sound here is analogue, but the panning and recording is handled by a program running in SuperCollider.


Shorts #35: Radioactive Wellness (2014)

[play]Shorts #35: Radioactive Wellness (2014)

Commissioned and titled by Chrissie Caulfield.

Chrissie asked me to write something with a radiation theme for her friend, who is having radiotherapy for cancer. I looked into getting a geiger counter, and even found who might lend me one, when I realised I would need a radioactive element in my studio. Also, as I was thinking of what to do with the clicks, I realised I wanted to use them for triggers, so I would need a geiger counter with a line out and everything seemed to be getting overly complex. In the end, I realised chaotic or stochastic noise would sound the same as the effect I wanted, which much less of a chance of accidentally gaining super powers (that’s what happens when you mishandle a radioactive element in your studio / workshop, right?).

In the end, I made this with my MOTM modular synthesiser. The final recipient was reportedly very happy with it.


Shorts #34: Bubbles (2014)

[play]Shorts #34: Bubbles (2014)

Commissioned and titled by Sonia Elks.

Sonia asked me to write an analogue piece that wasn’t glitchy. Very often, I work with FM chaos as a way of controlling pitch and timbre. However, for this piece, I used FM chaos for control voltages only, and not directly for sound. One of the oscillators was controlling pitch of the source signal, one was controlling a high pass filter and one was controlling a low pass filter. For some of the tracks, the filter resonances were turned up very high, so the filters were ringing and acting like oscillators.

This piece seemed a bit poppy, so to further that, I put some compression on the sounds and also a bit of reverb. The source material was from my MOTM synthesiser, edited in ardour and had the final fx applied in audacity.

If you would like to commission a one minute piece, check out my online shop.


Shorts #32: Stochastic Tendencies (2014)

[play]Shorts #32: Stochastic Tendencies (2014)

Commissioned in honour of Paul Berg, who was my teacher at the Institute of Sonology in Den Haag, when I was there for the course in 2006-7.

Paul Berg is the inventor of the AC Toolbox, which allows composers with Macs to do algorithmic sound generation. The class he taught spends the first several weeks covering a very thurough history fo electronic music, before switching to cover how to use several different tools, including AC Toolbox. Paul has decided to retire, so future students, alas, will not get the benefit of this amazing course, which was definitely a highlight of my time in the Hague.

This piece is made on my MOTM Analogue synthesiser, but applies several ideas I would more normally use in digital synthesis. It has random attack times, generated by using a random signal (filtered noise) triggering a switch with a variable threshold. When the random signal exceeds the threshold, the switch sent a bias as a gate to an envelope generator.

This piece also uses a very rough approximation of tendency masks, using a varying lag time for CV voltages that were increasing or decreasing.

It is mixed in Ardour, with some reverb added to the final mix in Audacity.

Because Paul is retiring this year, one of his former students contacted several of Sonologists and asked us to write short pieces to be put into a device called the ‘AC Juke Box’. The only constraint was that the pieces had to be mono!

Paul Berg’s scepticism about multichannel audio is legendary and also makes a valuable point. A musical gesture does not become interesting because it is moving in space. It’s too easy to use spatialisation as a substitute for generating interesting material. Paul’s tools and teaching all were aimed at generating interesting material. I hope this short piece contains some.

This piece is in mono. It also contains low frequencies that may not be audible though the internal speakers on some laptops, so you may wish to use headphones or external speakers to listen.


Shorts #30: A lazy afternoon in the shade of the cliff (2014)

[play]Shorts #30: A lazy afternoon in the shade
of the cliff

Commissioned and titled by Dan Stowell.

This piece was created with a MOTM synthesiser and a Gravity Well fracRack module by Circuit Abbey. It was mixed in Ardour. It was my first use of the Gravity Well module, which does emulation of orbital paths. I need to read the help files a lot more to figure out exactly what is going on, but it seems to do wave shaping to emulate the position of satellites or other orbiting bodies. Appropriately enough, I was recording this during the comet landing, checking for updates between every track.

After mixing it, I did a final listen via only the internal speakers on my laptop and found that the last part was too low for the speakers to play any sound at all! In the mean time, I listened to the recording of the ‘singing comet’, and emulated it in a patch and put that over the second half.

If you would like to commission a one minute piece, check out my online shop.


Meridian Drums

Meridian Drums (2013) was premièred at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco in June 2013. It was made using SuperCollider and some analogue techno synths from the days when MIDI went over MIDI cables. These were the FutureRetro 777 and a Jomox AirBase rackmounted drum machine. The piece was only semi-interactive – I cued some section changes and modified the timbre of the 777 to sound less and less like a TB303.

This piece is available for download via BandCamp, provided you sign a petition supporting Laetita, a Russian LGBT asylum seeker in Sweden, who is still awaiting a final decision in her case.

If you want to support LGBT asylum seekers more generally, there is also a petition to ask Australia to stop deporting all asylum seeks to a country which prosecutes LGBT people.

Live at the Living Room Concert

[play]Live at the Living Room Concert (2011)

I wrote a SuperCollider patch that automatically pans my live synth patching and makes recordings of it. This was the maiden voyage in a concert situation, used in a very small concert on 19 September 2011 at the Fossbox workshop in Wapping.

For this gig, I mostly did chaotic FM modulation. I played around quite a lot with different modes of syncing the oscillators. Sudden major changes (including the silences) are from switching to a hard sync. I haven’t used the syncs much before, so I was never sure what they were going to do.

I’m planning on submitting a copy of this recording with my PhD thesis next week.


Analog Variations

[play]Analog Variations (2010)

A piece created using an analog synthesiser and using analog
re-processing of recorded materials. The same sounds appear again and
again, each further prepared with analog methods. I wanted to get
back to my roots and do something that used a computer only as a tape
recorder and not as a compositional tool. It’s easier and more
rewarding to get organic sounds out of fiddling knobs than it is
fiddling number generators.