Venusian release ‘Ancestor’

I have been playing bass with experimental/trip hop outfit Venusian for over 18 months now and last Friday we released out first album as our current set up (but the fourth under the Venusian name). ‘Ancestor’ dropped on Friday the 13th April – as seems befitting of an act so steeped in gloom and apocalyptic sentiment – and is available to stream/download via Bandcamp.

 

‘Bisclavret’ phase 2 – The Audio Play

After a successful day of performances on 14th November at The Walker Art Gallery, The Liverpool Players decided to take their production of Marie de France’s Bisclavret one step further and put together an audio-only version of the play. After creating the music and sounds for the live show, I too had been thinking whether these existing resources could be reapplied somehow, so it was a perfect opportunity to try my hand at something new.

When I was younger I used to listen to many stories and theatrical adaptations on cassette tapes lent from our local library (or library lorry). One of their key draws for me was their clever use of sound to create an involving and immersive listening experience. Rather than simply being narrated, these stories were accompanied by effects and dialogue within their appropriate spaces – forests, houses or caves, all kinds of adventure would come to life through the audio alone. This rediscovery of a childhood pastime was doubly helpful considering that the live show had a younger audience in mind, so the audio play could follow suit.

Although all the recording for the dialogue was completed in my studio, I did a lot of work with convolution reverb (like Cubase’s REVerence), which uses impulses responses recorded in real-world spaces to create lifelike recreations of natural reverb. I experimented with impulse responses from stone and wooden rooms of varying sizes to try and give an edge of authenticity to where these characters were supposed to be interacting. I also played with low reverb/high early reflections settings to produce an ‘outdoors’ sound for the forest scenes. All this, in conjunction with modest combinations of sound effects, was to create an overall ‘sound world’ for a play that had not been written with a purely auditory experience in mind. This was a first for me, and a very intriguing production to be involved with – props to Sarah Peverley whose idea it was in the first place.

How do you think it turned out?

CTxslOkWEAAEVHJ

The performances took place in the Medieval and Renaissance area of the gallery, right in front of the magnificent ‘Triumph of Fortitude’ tapestry – originally woven around 1525.

Scoring ‘Brébeuf’ for Video Jam

The Video Jam event at Manchester Jewish Museum draws closer. Next Thursday (12th) I will be joining Flamingods, Metaphysical Human, Layfullstop and the Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir in performing a live score for a selection of short films and extracts, all focussing around a brief of faith and ritual. I’ve been assigned to write for Brébeuf by Stephen Broomer (see my previous post for more info on the film itself) and this event is shaping up to be a really intriguing and intimate night, so much so that tickets have now sold out. I wanted to take a moment and write a bit of context for my part in this show.

Video Jam during its SPACES tour. Image from The Salfordian.

Video Jam during its SPACES tour. Image from The Salfordian.

This event feels like a first for me. Only on a couple of other occasions have I done a solo public performance of a piece entirely of my own making and this one will be on an instrument with which I’ve only recently become properly acquainted. In my excitement I decided to set a challenge for myself whilst considering the brief I was given, and originally had plans for an ensemble piece. Unfortunately, due to various issues it never came to be, so instead my challenge would be to write and play a piece for the psaltery, alone. If you’re aware of any of my recent work, you might know that my collaborations with the Liverpool University Players has pushed me toward some experimentation with medieval instruments – including this 22-string trapezoidal lap harp (pictured below). Picking the psaltery made sense as I had done some basic work with it before and the history of the instrument is steeped in connections to faith and religion. Firstly, the word itself comes from Christian literature in 3rd Century B.C, and a book of Psalms bound with containing additional devotional material has become known as a ‘Psalter’ from the hymns sung with this harp (Source). That and I would need some belief in myself if I was going to become proficient enough on this niche instrument to competently write and perform a 10 minute film score with it.

The Psaltery - very kindly on load from the Liverpool University Players. Has been augmented with a Fishman SBT-HP Transducer Pickup.

The Psaltery – very kindly on loan from the Liverpool University Players. Has been augmented with a Fishman SBT-HP Transducer Pickup.

In keeping with the kind of neo-medieval styles I had been trying (like with Untold), I added a pickup to the instrument so it can be sent directly to my Boss GT-10 (meant for a guitar). This allowed me to incorporate looping, adjustments to volume, pitch manipulation and a multitude of other digital effects into the live performance. Stephen Broomer has said that some of his films – Brébeuf included – look at the way history and legend combine (Source), so this felt like a good way of tingeing a historical item with modern exaggeration. However, in all honesty I was intimidated at first by the film I was scoring for – Brébeuf is an abstract study of Huronia, Ontario, containing landscapes, collages and stabs of imagery. Water, earth, snow and stone; natural elements are displayed and manipulated in equal amounts of reflective calm and panicked contortions. Images of the cross seem bound up with a small red tree called sumac. Amongst this I felt themes of worship, memorial and brutality. With all that in mind, I faced perhaps my most impressionistic brief so far and considered a compositional approach.

A still from Brébeuf by Stephen Broomer. Image from INCITE!

I am not a religious person, nor do I come from a religious family, so I suppose my perceptions of faith in that context are always one of an ‘outsider’. However, I have been a following a daily habit of vipassana meditation for about two years now and my personal views on the matter have slowly started to stem (albeit with some hesitation) from a belief in presence and impermanence. If this has affected my music in any way, then it has likely given encouragement to the rising/falling dynamics and minimalistic tendencies of my more classical output. As a result, what I’ve been writing for this performance has brought out the historical uses of the psaltery for spiritual and ritual purposes. The use of drones, repetition and bell-like harmonies feature heavily, as the digital effects enhance the instruments sensitive and incremental changes in tone. As an original piece it establishes some key subjects, builds and fragments in ways similar to that of the film. I confess the whole process has been a testing ground and will have to wait for the performance and the judgements of the audience to see if that’s been successful at all. But there is no doubting that, at least while playing it, the psaltery has a hypnotic and meditative quality to it that I have not experienced before.

Video Jam at the Manchester Jewish Museum takes place Thursday 12th November at 8pm.

Video Jam – Manchester Jewish Museum – 12th November

This November, I will be performing an audio-visual piece live in collaboration with Video Jam – a community that looks to bring film-makers and local musicians together in unique settings. The performance will be at the Manchester Jewish Museum on the 12th of November and will focus around the themes of faith, worship and ritual.

Video-Jam-image

Video Jam is a night of short films and live music experimentation

The film I will be writing for is Brébeuf by Canadian filmmaker and preservationist Stephen Broomer. It’s a study of St. Ignace II, in Huronia, where the ethnographers and Jesuit missionaries, later saints, Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, were killed in 1649. According to the creator’s description: “The images in this film arise from a reading of that story – the joining of the sumac and the cross, the blessing gestures, struggles in the field, elliptical scans of stones, and the shimmering of water to summon a glimpse of the flesh boiled from the skin, in fables of the killing.”

I will say more about the piece itself soon, but for now I will leave you with the event on Facebook, and a link to buy tickets now if you find yourself in Manchester and up for a night of experimental film and live music.

BUY TICKETS NOW

2015 – the halfway point: an update

Goodness, it’s been some months since I posted on here. Which is not to say that I haven’t had anything to talk about, just a lack of time to talk about it. A mixture of events and obstacles – some work related, some not – as well as moving house, has kept me from setting the kind of routine for the blog that might make it worthwhile. Consider this the point at which I attempt to make amends and begin said routine!

So, what’s new?

The Requiem

Around Feb/March time, I started collaborating with a game dev team called Flux Entertainment as they got to work on a new and ambitious title. The Requiem is a horror RPG that uses a meticulous narrative and its unique setting to bring a twist to a well established genre. Set in the present day UK, the game focuses on a handyman named Adam Phillips who survives the aftermath of a devastating biological attack and must struggle against new threats, in a world where society as we know it is made of little more than memories and crumbling buildings. One of the most interesting aspects of the production is how urban and rural areas of the UK are to be modelled in great detail to achieve maximum authenticity in the environments as well as the characters as the story progresses.

1975262_1565999136964249_8613944555249336959_n

The Requiem will allow players to explore accurately re-created parts of post-apocalyptic England and Wales.

Development is still in its early stages, but I’m looking to have the soundtrack invoke an eerie calm as much as possible. When writing for horror there is a temptation to draw from the most immediate themes, emphasise the unnatural and shock the listener where possible. One wants to make the nightmare seem, simultaneously, so real and yet also not-of-this-world. I thought about this and considered how I might achieve a couple of things: firstly, how to make the music less about the present horrors of The Requiem‘s world and more about what has been wiped away by the apocalypse (and how much of this might remain); and secondly, how to assist in defining the experience as a very ‘British’ affair. Thus far, I’ve been quite inspired by the original and selected music for Danny Boyle’s brilliant 28 Days Later. Although John Murphy’s main theme is panicky and aggresive, the score really shines when the film haunts us with how peaceful the world is. Along that vein, I’ve also been listening to some more ambient and soundscapey guitar music, including The Future Sound of London and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I’ve also been playing with a lot of radio static, found voices and sounds, and my trusty acoustic guitar of course.

Your best port of call for updates at the moment will be the Facebook page and you can expect to hear more and more about it very soon as the project takes shape.

 _______________________

Marie De France’s ‘Bisclavret’ with The Liverpool University Players

You may remember The Liverpool University Players from my work with them on The Canterbury TalesI’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to compose for them once again, this time for a production of Bisclavret (The Werewolf) in conjunction with the UK’s national festival of the humanities this year: Being Human 2015. The performance will be part of a presentation on ‘Being Supernatural’ by Professor Sarah Peverley to be shown at The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in November, and promises to be a fascinating take on how medieval literature uses fantastic and imaginative realms to consider the human condition.

14020411434013439411957380

Bisclavret (The Werewolf) is one of the twelve Lais of Marie de France written in the 12th century.

Bisclavret is a Breton Lai (a form of medieval French and English romance literature) and uses themes of the supernatural and fairytale Celtic motifs to tell the story of a werewolf who is trapped in lupine form by the treachery of his wife. I don’t have all that much to say about the music for this at present, but, much as I did with Untold, I hope to reprise and refine a neo-medieval sound and make use of genuine period instrumentation to draw the audience into the world of the performance.

Read more about the The University of Liverpool’s contributions the UK’s national festival of the humanities here.

 _______________________

…and the rest

My Glossom bandmates and I have got some big plans for the remainder of this year, including new releases and new gigs. I’ve been playing with some new toys in the studio (and plan to blog about them where appropriate). That, along with some new projects coming soon that you’ll hear about when the time comes, I intend to be posting on this site more often. Partially to keep those of you who are interested in the loop, but also as an exercise for myself to keep things documented and ticking over. If you want to weigh in on any of this, feel free to drop in a comment below or shoot me a message on the Contact form. Until next time!

Turn Northward – an experiment in interactive music composition

I’ve uploaded a couple of new tunes to my Soundcloud, including this one:


 
I’ve been collaborating with Canadian composer and sound designer Andrew McDermid to experiment with an interactive music showcase, using gameplay from Bethesda’s hit RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. What you’ll hear in the Soundcloud player is a ‘full’ version of a piece made up of 7 sections that can be played in pretty much any order (with the exception of section 1 which is a designated ‘opener’) and allows for a randomised playlist, meaning that the piece will likely never be heard in-game the same way twice!

Skyrim’s original score by Jeremy Soule is a real favourite of mine, but what it has in compositional class, it lacks somewhat in interactivity. This little project piece was put together to test an idea: can we have high quality, orchestral tracks that normally adopt linear scoring styles that also fit the requirements of an increasingly more demanding and dynamic landscape in game audio? At some point in the future, we’re hoping to have a final video to showcase our work on this interactive audio experiment – watch this space!