I tried my best to use analogue instruments, technologies and processes as often as possible in this project - that meant no programming or editing (my comfort zones) and recording layers of human imperfection and straight-up ERROR to tape and having to live with the results (certainly NOT my comfort zone). The "rococo" reference in the title is all about a fresh style shift. I was feeling personally a bit bogged down in the 'ambient' piano-triads-with-lots-of-reverb-plus-chopped-beats world, so I thought of the Rococo artists with their humour, wit, eye for left field detail and general lightness of being, and tried to adopt some of that into what I was doing.
I read over and over again that Bowie's process regularly involved a risk, make oneself uncomfortable, going out into the water to the point where your feet no longer touch the bottom. So that's inspiring and comforting. I don't really make music for any other reason than the sheer love and absolute delight of the creative process, so why stick to the well-trodden path?
This is a long, roundabout way of saying I hope some people enjoy listening to it, as vulnerable as it made me feel to create it, and as much as the process of making it taught me new things about music and myself.
Available tomorrow to stream on Spotify and Apple Music, and to buy from iTunes and Bandcamp. Photo of my face below, by the very talented J.Slee.
My new album Rococochet will be out on Sept 5th. It is now available to pre-order, and the track 'Cat's Eye' is available to stream.
I was gearing up to write a bit of a blog post about the piece, to explain where I was coming from and the significance of the title… but it's actually best explained with this image collage:
My piece was created in an evening especially for this compilation. Earlier that day I had been listening to my “Ultimate Shuffle” playlist of Spotify, which threw up Michael Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’ (great track) and I was struck by the super quiet piano solo and how cool the chord progression is in the verses. I ended up ripping both those details off for my piece ‘Novice’. I called it that because it sounded so tentative to me at the time, like a piano solo that was afraid to speak up. But then when you layer enough of those soft voices you can get a sense of confidence, depth and detail. I guess that was the feeling I was reaching for.
Big & Twigetti have announced a new collaborative album in conjunction with Moderna Records. ‘The Exquisite Corpse’ is based on the surrealist game of the same name. Taking my piece 'Little Phase' from the Bigo & Twigetti Summer compilation as its starting point, the piece has been/will be reworked by a series of composers and producers to create an album of tracks which continually evolve as each new version is passed from one artist to another, adding to and transforming material from the original piece.
The group will be releasing a new track from the album every 2-3 weeks with the full album available in April 2017. My own contribution, in addition to providing the first move, is track 6: Contact Mic.
From the 24th August and over 7 days, I was invited along with some other bigo & twigetti artists and special guests to assist in collaboratively writing, arranging, performing, recording, editing and mastering an album from scratch to release. The experiment is complete, and you can stream/download Variables on Bandcamp now.
The album features contributions from Jim Perkins, Tiny Leaves, Lucy Claire, Chris Perren (Nonsemble), Antonymes, Richard Talbot (Marconi Union) & myself. For an experiment in subverting individual process and authorship, I think there are some genuinely lovely moments that have come out of this. It's also received some nice feedback from Stationary Travels and was "approved" by Complete Music Update. Richard Allen at A Closer Listen called it "sublime", commenting further that "the collaborative spirit is alive and well at bigo & twigetti; we congratulate the artists on a beautiful set that seems like it might have taken a year to complete, had we not known otherwise."
Some photos from my activities in the week:
Violist Ariane Alexander
A broken harpsichord I found in a store room
Feather Hammer throwbacks
A limited edition of 50 hand painted physical copies with artwork by Jim Perkins can be purchased here. I've even written out the CD inlays myself...
Working in the studio on my own compositions, everything is exactly how I intend it to be; when you press play you hear the very version I created for you to hear. But when somebody performs a score (essentially abstract system of symbols and instructions), it is different every time. That got me thinking about the value of performance situations: what would this score sound like if it was being read for the first time - where would the player trip? would they gloss over inaccuracies, cover up and continue or stop altogether? If he was going to rehearse a difficult passage, what speed would he choose and where would the passage start and end? What would it sound like through a wall as background noise to some other activity? Capturing these 'versions', and seeing accidents and anomalies as variations, I felt the pieces evolving into something else - something bigger than what I had started with.
I peppered the score with moments of vagueness and 'unplayable' bits designed to force the pianist to make a creative decision in the moment, and we recorded the first read through and initial rehearsals. The extra musical material created off the back of these preludes was used to inform the final recorded versions, and provided the all of the source audio for the three accompanying experimental pieces.
The Three Preludes EP will be released by Bigo & Twigetti on November 18th, 2013. There will be a limited physical release featuring hand painted artwork by Jim Perkins - I'll post more information about that soon.
The performance, to be held on 9 May, will be hosted by the Government of Western Australia, alongside a reception of West Australian fine wines.
Click here for ticket & RSVP info
Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz & Leah Kardos (photo by Jez Brown, Feb 2013)
One can’t fail to be impressed by Kardos, her debut album was a delight and Machines is not content with delivering more of the same, but strives to push new angles and ideas, blended with verve, imagination and, most importantly, a sense of unconstrained freedom to experiment. Naturally, this brings mixed results, but ultimately everybody can take something precious from the jewel box.
- Barcode Zine
Machines has a wholeness that is quite remarkable. But equally impressive is the manner in which Kardos conceals her virtuosity. Nothing draws attention to itself; everything is deployed in pursuit of an organic integrity. I had listened to the album several times before my attention was conscious of astonishing passages such as the intertwining keyboard lines that close “The Closeness of Distance” or the poly-temporal percussive underscoring of “Highly Active Girls.” The entire album is beautifully paced, with each individual track fitting into a larger whole. The phrase “song-cycle” is entirely apt.
- David D. McIntyre for I Care If You Listen-----
Machines will be released by Bigo & Twigetti on the 25th of February, 2013, and features guest vocals from Australian soprano Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz and the lovely Catherine Saumarez on Cello.
I was so chuffed and honoured to be asked to contribute a track to this amazing benefit compilation curated by Headphone Commute. It's a killer lineup of artists, featuring many personal heroes of mine (Clint Mansell! Hauschka! Nils Frahm!), who wouldn't be honoured to be in this crowd? The aim is to raise money to help people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy, with 100% of the proceeds being donated towards Doctors Without Borders and The Humane Society. It's a gigantic release featuring 87 artists and over 6 hours of gorgeous music; $10 = bargain of the year!
Here is info from Headphone Commute:
Headphone Commute is incredibly proud and honored to announce a colossal benefit compilation, with 100% of the proceeds being donated towards two charitable organizations, Doctors Without Borders and The Humane Society, to help all those affected by Hurricane Sandy!
Available as a download via above link on Bandcamp (320kbps MP3, OGG, FLAC, etc.), this digital release is sold for only $10 or more if you wish to donate towards our cause. The selection of tracks comes from some of the world’s top talent in ambient, modern classical, and experimental music.
Clint Mansell • Nils Frahm • Hauschka • Machinefabriek • Valgeir Sigurðsson • Christoph Berg • Hummingbird • Simon Scott • Marcus Fischer • Peter Broderick • Black Swan • Rival Consoles • Lawrence English • Kate Carr • Ólafur Arnalds • Waves On Canvas • Maps And Diagrams • Dalot • Good Weather For An Airstrike • Leah Kardos • Ezekiel Honig • Radere • Fabrizio Paterlini • Netherworld • Stephan Mathieu • Talvihorros • Pleq • Antonymes • Brambles • Clem Leek • Minus Pilots • Olan Mill • Ian Hawgood • loscil • Bersarin Quartett • Hammock • M.Cadoo • Jóhann Jóhannsson • Rafael Anton Irisarri • Helios • Mike Jedlicka • Christopher Willits • :papercutz • Dakota Suite • Kreng • Aria Rostami • Peter Prautzch • The Frozen Vaults • riverrun • pinkcourtesyphone • David Wenngren • offthesky • Autistici • Strië • A Bleeding Star • Kane Ikin • Sun Hammer • Roel Funcken • Wabi Experience • Another Electronic Musician • Scanner • Erik K Skodvin • Julien Neto • Absent Without Leave • Last Days • Stray Ghost • Trifonic • Marcus Fjellström • Gen Ken Montgomery • David Newlyn • Boy Is Fiction • SaffronKeira • Ben Lukas Boysen • Ex Confusion • Seth Chrisman
I'm so happy to announce that I have been commissioned for a major new work by Kelly Lovelady's all-Australian London-based chamber orchestra Ruthless Jabiru. Aiming for a premiere performance in London in March 2013, it will be a 15 minute piece for strings that abstractly explores themes of modern sensuality and sound. Here's a little snippet from my proposal that explains what I hope to achieve:
Focussing on a language characterised by texture, timbre and harmony, I would like to compose a continuous 15 minute work for string orchestra (Ruthless Jabiru) that abstractly explores ideas of modern sensuality, in particular aggressive feminine sexuality, and notions of power and control. Nothing timid or pastel here, nor will it be overly dark and morose, but a picture painted in vivid beautiful colours. I would like to tease out some ideas about the language that is implied by the contentious term "woman composer" and twist them around, subverting expectations.
The string orchestra is the perfect ensemble to orchestrate with a view to pinching ideas from the realm of the studio composer/producer, where the sonic and timbral possibilities are so diverse and flexible, and yet from a sound world so well worn and timbral language so familiar. I want to play with compositional and sonic concepts that I commonly hear being exploited in studio based music production, but rarely in orchestral writing; ideas that relate to perception, psychoacoustics and the communicative power of timbre. Observing the internal listening process, which is coloured by context, and then trying to recreate that sensation externally in a concert hall. I want to try and emulate the throbbing compression effect of "ducking" to play with sound priorities in a live performance space - perhaps turning tiny sounds into giants and the well known big sounds of a string orchestra into something very distant and small. Real and 'fake' reverberence to achieve illusions of distance and size.
These are just some of the ideas I wish to play with, to add new colours to the tonal pallette in order to furnish and illustrate a (what will probably be quite dirty) story.
My next record for Bigo & Twigetti, which is still yet untitled but currently being referred to as "Machines", is a song cycle based on themes of technology, loneliness and the human condition. All of the texts have been taken from various spam emails that I have been collecting over the past few years, using the cut-up technique to find new combinations, meanings and narratives - an idea nicked from Burroughs via Bowie. I'm not wanting to give the world the impression that I spend all of my spare time pouring over every unsolicited email (bear with me), but over time a few messages that I've seen have caught my eye, seemed poignant; the random texts generated in a few created nice images and juxtapositions in my mind. Overall I was arrested by the notion of humans trying/wanting/needing to reach each other for whatever reason, and the kinds of things they will say in order to seduce, ensnare, or foster feelings of trust. What lengths we go to to be noticed.
These kinds of things:
From here, and the resulting cut-ups, the cycle began to take shape; songs about intimacy and insecurity, greed, automation and screaming into the void. I could yap on about it all, but I think I'll leave that stuff for another time. For now, there's a little snippet from "Incantation" (still a work in progress, featuring the gorgeous voice of Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz) on the Bigo & Twigetti soundcloud:
More to come very soon, I promise. x
Lonesound is the name of songwriter/producer James Ewers' new solo project; his wonderful EP "The Great Outdoors - Part One" was released at the start of the month (click the album art above to listen). I really love it, it's got touches of a few of my favourite things: a bit of Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, even The Cure.
I've been a fan of James's work for a long while now, from way back in the days of his band My Luminaries, so I was very honoured when he asked me to play synth and sing backing vocals in his live band. It's been a very long while since I've played such loud music as part of an ensemble - most of the performances I've done recently have involved lots of multitasking with lots of technology, it's a lovely change of scene for me to sit back and play a supporting role. I'm definitely getting a kick out of it!
So there are shows you can come to - head over to Facebook and like the band's page to stay on top of updates and such.
In the mean time, you should watch this video for the track "The Great Outdoors" and consider coming out to the next gig, which is free, in London this Friday!
I am so very happy to be included on their latest release SEQUENCE3. It features a never-been-heard-before alternate version of DFACE (Practice This Video) from Feather Hammer.
Click here, or the gorgeous cover art to the right, to stream or download the whole 39 track release, it's beautiful. Or click below to hear my contribution.
If you're interested to hear how it might have been, knock yourself out!
[Feather Hammer] demo 1 Apology (with subway) by leahkardos
Approaching this piece the primary aim is creating interesting textures and playing with the proximity of those sounds. A secondary aim is to recall the feeling of early piano lessons and repetitive practice routines, pattern based technical exercises, the warmth of harmonies built from 3rds. After recording the various patterns using a variety of mic types and positions, I used Logic's space designer, delay designer, some FabFilters, in addition to scissors, stretch and flex-time to manipulate the material. Each "part" to the arrangement is a unique pattern that repeats, so my starting point was this thick texture of all of the looped up cycles working at the same time. The arrangement you hear in the demo below is the result of "carving" into that cyclic material, editing, erasing and eliminating certain bits to create some sense of form. This way of working reminds me of a method my artist friend Kristian Purcell often describes to me, of applying thick layers of media and then carefully stripping it away to reveal the piece.
Here's where I got the sample from:
Big thanks to PianoforteMaestro for letting me use it.-----
In other news I have my next PhD milestone due around the end of August. Cue overly dramatic flailing about, anguish, gnashing of teeth, etc. This time it is the first few chapters of my exogesis, which mostly means lots of writing about myself. Can't be too hard, right? I'll keep telling myself that and hopefully one day I'll wake up one morning and have a PhD.
Something I'm a little more excited to mention is the "art/music" collaborative project I have started with my friend (and amazing visual artist) Kristian Purcell. For a while I have been preoccupied with exploring the connections between sound and vision, in particular looking at my own language and how I perceive things, the way ideas and inspiration cross over between the two senses. Everyone's perception is different, so I'm not about establishing knowledge for anyone but myself here. That said, there are certainly ideas and vocabulary that cross over easily - line, form, structure, repetition, chance, colour, shape, dissonance, juxtaposition etc etc etc. I've been keeping an art blog for a few months now (http://thisticklesleah.tumblr.com) where I have been posting/reblogging anything that has tickled my fancy and made me think of music, and tagging each posting up with the terms and musical ideas that speak to me in that moment. This process has been surprisingly useful to my creative practice and it led me to ask Kristian if he wanted to participate in a little creative back and forth, responding to each other's art with quick, intuitive working.
We're only a few weeks in, and already the material being generated is really interesting. Maybe when it's done we'll publish it online, and I am hoping that when it is viewed as a larger body of work the threads of inspiration that run throughout can be seen and heard. For now I'm just enjoying the freedom to explore musical thoughts without being tied to a brief/job/commission/context or any "this should be serious you're a PhD student" bullshit ideals.
We met (in the virtual sense) on the Steve Reich remix contest in Indaba, and he invited me to take part. It started with a facebook group, initially with people posting videos and pictures of dream-like subject matter. I responded to the stimuli with some improvisations, and from there the music passed through many hands - singers, guitarists, composers, arrangers, sound designers - so many talented people have their fingerprints on this thing. I'm glad I got to be one of them.
The next piece uses/recycles parts of the Feather Hammer sessions, working with infinite loops and sampling/retriggering. The warped piano sound is a beatmapped filter effect I just discovered by accident, which made the whole thing sound about 80% more evil than I originally intended! The strange video just adds to the "eraserhead" vibe.
This video is a demo for a live audio visual project I have developed with Matthew Greasley - something about creating experimental textures and surreal imagery that we can manipulate and improvise through live performance. At the moment we're collecting a new live set - the stuff is mostly being drawn from the Feather Hammer project, but a few older pieces might also get a look-in (like the ill-fated Black Mouth of August project, for example).
This piece, Core, is an unusual one for me as it started life as a poem. I'm a terrible poet so there's no chance of me posting the thing here, I only mention it because it's a strange way for me to work - from words; taking a picture in my mind and abstracting it with imagery and language, then further abstracting it into music and sound. The best bit is passing the music over to Matt Greasley to see what he sees in it. The final beautiful abstraction that gives the whole thing a new context.
I am loving the imagery Matt is coming up with - the perfect soft/heavy subject matter to match the style of the music.
Then I took out the core element, the improvised piano solo, and just left the "around" sounds. It's an interesting result, the empty space left by the missing piano part is almost like a silhouette.
[edit: I've since taken these demos down, since they became The Waiting, both versions appear finished on the Feather Hammer album]
I'm reminded that I've done this kind thing before - back when Helzuki were writing in the studio, many of the arrangements started with piano parts that I had written. As band members added their layers to the arrangement, we all found the song worked better if we took the original part out, leaving all the stuff that had been constructed around it to hold the thing up.
Imma try out this method some more. It suits me, since my improvs sometimes come out sounding a bit basic and obvious. This could be a cool way to use that material in a backwards kinda way.
In other news, the My Lithium & Me project is being noticed and listened by the best people: sweetoblivion blogged about it, Boy George downloaded and listened to it, and it was featured on David Bowie's very own site as a news item. Fair to say I'm absolutely chuffed at the reaction it's getting. In little over a week since releasing it I've had over 5700 plays and nearly 2300 downloads via soundcloud, which is just awesome! Thanks everyone!
Update - here's a video demo by Matthew Greasley to go with the non-piano version of the track:
The first of the three Bowie cover gigs I’ve performed was for Trevor's 49th birthday party. Trev is a lovely man and Bowie fan of legend who I had gotten to know through BowieNet (www.davidbowie.com). He had asked my band to come and play the gig - I was fronting for Helzuki at the time. The band couldn't make it but I decided to offer to play some covers instead. Lugging my red furry piano, I pitched up and played a set of slightly more obscure/unobvious numbers. I met a few quizzical looks, but on the whole it went down pretty well. He invited me back the following year for his 50th birthday party - again with my piano, again with a new set of slightly off-kilter interpretations. Standout surreal moment of that party: singing Under Pressure with a Bowie impersonator.
The third, and last, time I did this was for Phil's 40th birthday party in February 2010. For Phil (another lovely man and Bowie fan of legend whom I had gotten to know via BowieNet), I wanted to do something a little bit different. With the party being held in a venue in SE London, it was impossible to lug my heavy piano across the city on the Tube. I decided to perform with my keytar, doing a set of songs in an electro style. I thought it might be funny and give the fans a bit of a laugh (while solving my
Once the summer hols had started, and I had a bit of spare time, I decided to get Liz to come up to Bedford and help me get the vocals down. I'd chosen six tracks, some new and some from Phil's electro birthday set. We got drunk on Jack Daniel’s and I bellowed out the lyrics while she pressed record in the control room. It was FUNNY. The productions were crude, bashed out quickly in a DIY-bedroom style. We joked about getting gothed up and posing for a cover photo in the woods sitting in a tree, and about how horrified the fans would be when they heard what we had done.
But, as time passed, it started getting serious, with the suggestion of a possible news feature about it on BowieNet. Liz arranged for the artwork to be done by the infamous Rex Ray, whom she is friends with. I started to panic - I enlisted my friend Paul Ross to help me with the productions. I started all the arrangements again; for the first time I had to really think about what I wanted to do with these songs - how could I put a modern spin on this, without taking the piss?
Inspiration came from everywhere - starting with Bowie's own back catalogue, which I scoured for usable samples to embed in my arrangements. Anyone who reads my blog will know that I'm really into this idea of using recordings as resources to construct new things, so I figured why not try it out here? At best, it might suggest new shades of meaning through association and memory; at worst it would be a type of treasure hunt/guessing game for the fans. Other inspiration came from a general desire to make a modern sounding trip-hop record - something that I have wanted to do for ages now; mixing the deep downtempo sounds of 90's-style trip-hop with more modern timbres you might associate with current pop or dubstep.
I've worked hard on this, and I'm proud of the result. I'm honoured and humbled by the volunteered involvement of so many talented and creative people: Kristian Purcell painting my face to look like Screaming Lord Byron and taking the cover photo, Rex Ray volunteering to design the cover and make a fangirl's dream come true, Matt Greasley and Izzy Foster for making those beautiful videos, Paul Ross, who helped me raise the bar on this project and spent many long evenings after work making my voice sound good, my boyfriend Matt for putting up with my absenteeism and helping with the mastering... and not forgetting Liz Tray who was there, drunk and giggling with me in the beginning, who really championed this project and pushed it from being nothing more than a joke to something we can both be proud of.
Here it is:
The Feather Hammer is an ambient piano record I have just finished writing and am about to commence production on. The artwork to the left will be the cover, a wonderful piece by Kristian Purcell called "Unelma 1".
The record will comprise of piano sounds - played music and ambient sounds recorded "around" the music (a longer more detailed blog on this aspect will probably come soon) - and location recordings taken from around Bedford, mostly the college campus where I work.
Strongly inspired by Bjork's Vespertine, with its percussion tracks utilising soft intimate non-musical sounds (shuffling cards, clinking cutlery, footsteps through snow), and Amon Tobin's Foley Room where textures of found sounds are built up to create heavy, thick ambiences. Other influences come from the Harold Budd/Eno collaborations and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works. The focus will be on combining and manipulating recorded audio, avoiding synthesis and most digital effects.
At the centre of the production is a collection of 9 solo piano compositions that have been traditionally scored and performed by me. I am quite excited about this project as it is the first where I really get to try out all my fancy PhD process ideas and experiment with production concepts gleaned from psychoacoustic research. It's an extra treat that I get to perform on my favourite instrument. Due to me not being able to say no to anyone or anything, it's been on the back burner for a while... but this is where my heart is at the moment, it's all I want to work on. I don't want to say I'll have it done in early 2011, since I have a pile of commitments bearing down on me over the holiday season. As progress is made I will update the blog with news, ideas and demos but for now... isn't the cover just lovely?