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 Big & Twigetti Summer compilation as it's 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 will be coming in early 2017. Watch this space x
In late October a few friends and I went in to Visconti Studio to make a track and 'learn how to use the new kit'. The timing was good, as the God Is In The TV Zine had recently asked me to contribute to their Scott Walker covers compilation Plastic Palace People. With help from fellow KU music colleague Alex Evans, and my very good friend Andrew Wiggins, we knocked out this version of Duchess in an evening: me on piano, vocals, drums and mellotron, Andy on guitar, percussion and bvs, Alex on Hammond organ, mellotron, percussion and bvs. Fun!
Based on the Emmy Award-winning short film of the same name, Notes on Blindness is the debut feature from Writer-Directors Peter Middleton & James Spinney, whose work explores new approaches in the documentary form. The project is based on the audio diaries of writer and theologian John Hull, who – after decades of steady deterioration – became totally blind in 1983.
To help him make sense of the upheaval in his life, he began keeping a diary on audio-cassette.
Over three years he recorded in excess of sixteen hours of material – a unique testimony of loss, rebirth and renewal, which excavates the interior world of blindness. Neurologist Oliver Sacks described John’s account as ‘the most extraordinary, precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read. It is to my mind a masterpiece.’
Embedding original documentary elements within cinematic interpretations and textured sound design (from acclaimed Supervising Sound Editor Joakim Sundström), the filmmakers take the viewer on an illuminating and deeply personal journey deep into what John calls “a world beyond sight”.
The film will be released in the UK on July 1st with Curzon Artificial Eye.
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
May I draw your attention to this beautiful little compilation from Bigo & Twigetti. Click the artwork to go to the Bandcamp page, where you can stream the tracks. Listen to it while you watch the rain through the window.
If you like what you hear, you might be interested to know that the label is holding another "Name Your Price" day. It works just like it sounds, you can pay anything (even zero*) to download anything in the label's catalogue. Starting at 12.00am the 11th of February, for 24 hours you will be able to decide what you wish to pay for any and all of Bigo & Twigetti's releases on Bandcamp. Set yourself a reminder to check it out, you could get a whole heap of brilliant music for a bargain.
*if you decide to pay 'zero' to download my stuff, can you promise me that you'll listen closely, all the way through at least once? thx
Finally, I feel like I need to share this great review of Three Preludes by R. Andrew Lee, that has just been posted on I Care If You Listen. Obviously it means so much when a pianist you admire greatly praises the piano music you have created. BTW if you're a fan of piano music and minimalism you should drop what you're doing and check out his recordings, if you haven't already. I recommend it all, but especially Duckworth's Time Curve Preludes and Dennis Johnson's November.
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
If you're interested in that sort of thing, CLICK HERE to see the lyric sheets in full, as sung on the album "Machines", with the original spam messages alongside.
Exciting times! Meanwhile, you must forgive me for laying low for the moment; usually I would be plugging an album launch event and promoting the hell out of things but it appears that I'm chained to my computer writing up my PhD for the next two months. The plan is, once I have handed everything in, to throw a belated album launch party/event and schedule some live performances of Machines in late spring/early summer. Watch this space for updates. x
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
If you can understand Portugese, check out a short interview from the man himself over on deepbleep.com.br
00:00 | DIGIGARDEN (with Panais Bouki) – Chronos 01 | 2008
03:12 | PABX (with Estevan Sinkovitz) – Chuva [remix] | 2009
06:25 | CUBO – K7 Demagnetizer: It’s A Fine Day In The Hidden Place [mashup] | 2011
09:30 | NEUTRA (with Fernando de França) – Under Empty Places | 1998
13:15 | THE LAPTOP BOYS (with Panais Bouki) – “Wonder”, to Claudia Wonder [demo] | 2006
14:18 | CUBO – Cry feat. Dot Allison [remix] | 2008
17:40 | CUBO – Copal: Sétimo Sonho (with Astrid Hage and Gabriel Levy) [demo] | 2009
19:35 | CUBO – K7 Demagnetizer: Intro + Rolling In The Time [mashup] | 2011
23:06 | VISAVIS (with Panais Bouki) – Despedida | 2004
25:37 | PABX (with Estevan Sinkovitz) – Rádio [remix] | 2010
29:05 | VISAVIS (with Panais Bouki) – Degradê | 2005
32:11 | CUBO – Copal: Dia (with Leah Kardos and Ana Eliza Colomar) [demo] | 2009
And while you're listening to the mix, you really should feast your eyes on this wonderful art book that accompanies the project:
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.
I've taken down the demos from my soundcloud account - big thank you to everyone who listened and commented and helped me. The finished album will be available from Monday the 19th of September from my bandcamp page, which you can access instantly by clicking the 'music' link on the site menu above. I'll be back soon to post details about the album launch/premier performance event happening on the 25th of November at The Wilmington in London. Exciting times!
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.Read more
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?
The songs took a while to record, and even longer to mix. The recording process was veerrrry casual - maybe one or two wine-fuelled evenings a month at best we would get together to spend on it. And we wanted so many layers, despite being only a three-piece band - the attraction of the newly built studio in our house made us want to experiment and see how much we could get away with. Then came the mixing...
At first we struggled with the mix, partly because of the number of layers we had put down, but mostly because we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. Then we stopped mixing because I got a new bit of kit in the studio and I was convinced that we had to start again - I think it was when the Liquid Mix arrived. Then, when Matt had mixed the first three tracks, I decided that I was ‘sick and tired’ of the songs and left it in his hands (his slow, methodical but admittedly consistent hands)... I was all “I don’t wanna know about it, don’t wanna hear those songs again!”. I think I was just frustrated with the slow pace of things.
Then, I started my PhD studies and suddenly all my spare time was gone. Matt was sort of mixing this project on and off, just to get it done and out of the way... and around this time we somehow decided that our old studio monitors were too coloured (which they were...) and we replaced them. Hence the need to start mixing again. Then, shortly after that I bought some sweet mastering plugins, and at this point I was just like “oh hell, give me those mixes, I’ll bang them out in an hour”. Which, after all the previous drama, is exactly what I did in the end!
All said and done, I think I am proud of these songs. They represent a fun time of experimentation and sharing of ideas, and a super steep learning curve in many respects - I learned so much about multitrack recording, and even more about my own creativity and how I can work with others.
The E.P. is available for free from www.helzuki.co.uk, and will be on iTunes and Amazon and everywhere else in a few days. Hoorah!
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