The album tracks part 2: For Gaza

It’s hard not to feel powerless against the human rights violations being committed by Israel. Back in 2014 when it flared up, again, I saw a video by Israeli film director Naomi Levari. A very brave move for an Isreali national. I composed For Gaza quite quickly, to raise some money for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) whose aim is “…to participate in international efforts to put pressure on the Israeli state to cease its oppression of the Palestinian people”.

The fund-raising was a great success, and this new album was an opportunity to do a remix of the track, and change a few things that were not quite right.

The process

The origin of the piece goes back to 1990 with the little Casio SK-5 8 bit sampler and the Yamaha CS-5 synthesiser. The heavy drums and the bass loop are sampled from that original tape with all the noise and distortion it had. The strings are a development of an idea from back then. I didn’t even realise this at the time. I just went for a performance on the keyboard, while listening to the horrendous news from Palestine with tears in my eyes. In electronic music, what you hear has often been programmed in the the computer. This artificially tight, sometimes robotic rhythm is one of the cool things about electronic music I think. But it’s good to have actual live human playing on it too! Towards the end of the process I was very tempted to move some of the notes around because I felt they weren’t quite on the beat. But that’s where the feel is. Sometimes, just because it seems to measure right it doesn’t mean it hits the soul! So I built up some layers of different string sounds, to give a Turkish ensemble effect, a sound I heard a lot in North Africa and Southern Spain. The slight variations in each part are just like what happens with a real string section.

The rhythm guitar is sampled from a jam session with one of my old bands, played by Ken Hayes. This was cut up in Recycle and the parts placed across the keyboard so they could be replayed. The lead guitar at the end is from the same session, with the notes and timing played around with in Melodyne, an amazing software tool that makes pitch and time totally flexible.

The atrocities continue, so please support the IPSC.
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The Album Tracks Part 1: Orchestrion

This is a combination of atmospheres and sounds from the 1870s and the 1970s. The Orchestion of the title is an Imhof & Mukle Orchestrion Music Machine. It uses a wooden barrel with pins on it to open valves in over 100 pipes that are built like woodwind instruments such as clarinets and flutes. Basically, a large version of the barrel you would see in a music box. To run it, you wind a weight up to the top of the machine, and as it runs down it drives the barrel and pumps the air through the pipes. This one was located in Dunkathel House, where I worked in the recording studio. Here’s a picture of the actual machine in the house, courtesy of the RTÉ archive.

Orchestrion featured on Treasure Ireland (1993)

Orchestrion featured on Treasure Ireland (1993)

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New album release

It’s finally here!

madtheory-electrickery I’m very pleased to get this released. It’s been a long time brewing. Many thanks to my friends who helped with feedback and encouragement:

 

Aidan O’Driscoll
Brian Dunlea
Dominic Murphy
Eoin O’Sullivan
Enda Grennan
Gary McKee
Mike Gavin
Mike Lyons
Michael O’Sullivan
Ralf Kleeman
Ronan O’Dea
Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh

And my lovely wife Sally O’Reilly for encouragement both musical and emotional 🙂

Some of these ideas go back to 1990 when I first started to compose. I think it’s important to keep an archive of ideas and stuff to play with- play being the key word. I really enjoyed the process, with all the help and support. I hope you all can feel the same joy I felt in making this music. 🙂

 

 

Also available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc. etc.

New EP- Brian’s Brain

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What a DNS is. Kind of.

We had some server trouble because I misunderstood the spelling of the new DNS. A post got lost. So it’s an opportunity to revise my blog post about the new EP.
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It’s funny how things come together. A lot of the time my music is a reflection of what’s happening, the every day stuff as well as the occasional life altering stuff. Like the Gaza track (blogged here).

 The title track came together very quickly. For all of my recent work, the many different ways one can alter the pitch of the sound were inspiring. On this track the intro came from experimenting with the time stretching in Kontakt. It’s a piano note, but ends up sounding metallic and grainy when the pitch is shifted a lot. So that little opening riff inspired a rhythm which in turn inspired the hypnotic synth sequence. I’ve spent a lot of time making those over the years and you’ll notice I use them a lot too :). Having a voice with the music is a great way to give it focus. I’d watched Joss Wheedon’s Firefly and Words for the Dying,  the Jon Cale documentary. I love music docs like this where you get to see some of the creative process. So there’s a sample of Brian Eno critiquing Jon Cale singing the word “brain” and River Tam threatening someone with her psychic powers. The ending is the Gift Grub sketch where Jaap Stam is looking for his dog. I broke a big rule of mixing- I put reverb on the bass synth. So it’s meant to evoke what it sounds like inside Brian’s brain.

But my friend Brian Dunlea still thinks it’s about him 🙂

 The second track Heavenly Harp also came together very quickly. Again with time stretching, this time with one of those lovely harp glissandos from the old Emulator sampler- I’m a fan of old samplers. I’d just bought a collection of software instruments from Native Instruments in Germany called Komplete. So I decided to see how easy it would be to do a jungle type track. Of course I can’t do it so it ended up sounding like Luke Vibert’s drill’n’bass because he can’t do it either:

“Instead of using quite simple beats we were always a bit up our own arses, so it just came out as rubbish jungle. But loads of people liked it better, so that was pretty cool (laughs)”.

It was great to do because with Komplete you really can get the sound you’re imagining in your head.

So that’s what it sounds like inside my brain 🙂

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 The final track Spider took a long time. It was started in Cubase, pulling together a bunch of samples using Recycle. August 3rd 1997 to be exact. Back then I was cripplingly judgemental. Which is good because there are a lot of quite good unfinished ideas in my archive that I can have fun with now. We sampled some bits off a famous funk hit, and chopped them up. I then recently realised that I could just play the bizarre bass line that resulted on the keyboard, with my actual hands instead of relying on samples. This gave me more scope to develop the entire tune. There are some samples off an ethnomusicology CD with Amazonian pygmies singing and drumming with rocks (rocking?) but I don’t remember the name of it. I used the amazing Roland V-Synth for the vocals and some of the drums- timestretching again. We had tried a few variations of the melody that they sing but it didn’t work at all until the V-Synth came along.

So I hope you enjoy it.

If anyone can guess what track we sampled for Spider, post your guess here and the first correct answer gets a free copy of the EP!

Two new releases

The first release is my effort to take what action I can for Gaza. It’s hard not to feel powerless against the human rights violations being committed by Israel. You might have seen the video by Israeli film director Naomi Levari. So here is a piece of music I composed in response to it. Any proceeds will go to the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) whose aim is “…to participate in international efforts to put pressure on the Israeli state to cease its oppression of the Palestinian people”.

“I call on the Israeli government to behave like leaders and put an end to this bloodshed now!”

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The second release is Amplituhedron, a collection of ambient tracks from the forthcoming album. If the news is getting to you, switch it off and let yourself get lost in these pieces 🙂

About the music

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For Gaza is based on a very minimalist piece I demo’d back in 1992 using a Sony TC-200 tape recorder and a Yamaha CS-5. It was just the pulsing bassline and a riff that has now developed into the Turkish style strings. I visited Tunisia in 2004 and was inspired by their pop music, most of which comes from Turkey. Using modern time and pitch manipulation tools, I was able to combine the bassline with a rhythm track I had done in 1992 using the Casio SK-5 sampling keyboard. Helped by the lo-fi sound of the Casio and the Sony recorder it is hard hitting and militaristic sounding, inspired in part by the Art of Noise track A Time for Fear (Who’s Afraid?) which was a response to the invasion of Grenada and the craziness of war.

It was a coincidence that the track came together during the horrors in Gaza, so I poured a lot of emotion into the strings as I composed them on the keyboard. The track is not perfectly 100% polished but it hits the soul I think. I just had to try to do something for Gaza, however small. I will be remixing it for the album.

Chinaphone was inspired by a woman having a very loud phone conversation on the train from Bournemouth. I recorded her on my iPhone and added some Fairlight and tape echo when I got home.

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Slow Movement is another old piece, from around 1994. It was created using the rather cool step sequencer on the Casio CZ-5000. Cool because it lends itself easily to changing time signatures. I read about how Brian Eno used slowed down pianos for his Ambient 1 Music for Airports album, so I tried it with this piece and it worked much better than the original hi-energy dance track version 🙂

Voice Crystal is a piece I worked on with Michael O’Sullivan in 1994. Again it was a fast hi energy dance track on the Casio CZ-5000 with his wonderful acoustic guitar playing on top. It worked really well slowed down to about 10% of the original speed with Elastic Audio in Pro Tools, but with no change in pitch as I had done with Slow Movement. Using Melodyne I translated Mike’s guitar into the bright FM guitar sound at 25% of the original speed for a nice hypnotic effect.

Amplituhedron is a piece I demo’d in 1991 with the Casio SK-5, and again I slowed the tempo without changing the pitch. The sound character of the Casio gives the crystalline effect, which inspired the title. An amplituhedron is a geometric structure that enables simplified calculation of particle interactions in some quantum field theories (Wikipedia)

Slowing down these old compositions was not a mere gimmick. In the case of Amplituhedron I originally couldn’t make it slow enough because the Casio sampler was so limited- it didn’t have time stretch like most professional samplers of the time. The sequenced tracks originally had a youthful over exuberance and naievety, and were just a bit cheesy at speed. Slowing them down I think brings out their best qualities, they sound more mature- and they’re finally finished after twenty years! 🙂

Lovely!

I was going back through some emails and came across this lovely one. I sent an email to info@abbeyroad.com and got a lovely reply. 🙂

On 12 Sep 2009, at 6:36pm, Tomás Mulcahy wrote:

Hi,
Can you please pass this message on to the Beatles remastering team, especially Guy, Steve and Allan? Fantastic job, it’s like rediscovering the Beatles music all over again. Wonderful sound, well done. Beautiful packaging design and presentation of photos.

Thank you all!

Best wishes,
Tomás.

On 18 Sep 2009, at 1:11 pm, Newson, Jackie wrote:

Dear Tomás
On behalf of the team at Abbey Road I would like to thank you for the courtesy you have shown in emailing us with your kind words. When we embarked on this project we realised that it would be impossible to please everybody, particularly in view of the fact that this was The Beatles. However once we had decided on the approach that the team wished to take to satisfy ourselves, we then had to get the approval of Apple and EMI. Once that had been achieved the job was done, we were happy, Apple and EMI were happy and we are gratified that you too are happy.

Thank you.

Allan Rouse
Project coordinator