Its been a while, My new EP ‘Jacobs Ladder’ Is finally out. You can here it on all streaming services and buy it on bandcamp now! Link below:
“Leaving” was one of the simpler tracks on the album to make as it came fully formed. Technically it was one of the last tracks I made on the album however I already knew how it was going to be composed as soon as I started to think about “Made In Japan”.
The track features a synth melody I recorded on the last night I was In Tokyo but mixed with a field recording I took of the last train ride In Osaka to the airport. Our flight from Osaka back to Manchester was at 9:20 In the morning so the train journey must have been early morning between 5-6am. I remember vividly the feeling of the stress of trying to find the train on time in the early morning with all our luggage slowly ebb away once we were on the train as the dawn turned into day.
We were all tired so most of the group were having a nap on the train or sitting quietly so I decided to take out my recorder and just leave it on for the whole train journey.
As the recorder was on I reflected on the holiday itself how much I had wanted to do it for many years and was mixed with both a sense of achievement but also loss as it was all coming to an end. These were the same feelings I had on the night before we left Tokyo so I thought the field recording and the synth line would work great together.
I found a segment of the train recording that worked well and aligned with the track and added some reverb to it to wash it out a bit. In some sections it turns the trains breaks into an instrument itself almost sounding like horns in the background of the track.
The only thing I did to the OP-1 was layer it multiple times and treat each one differently with some pitch shifting and EQ to give it a bit of width on the spectrum and stereo field.
The track ends with the train pulling way from the station on towards the airport and with that the end of the album. Looking back on “Made In Japan” with some distance I’m really happy with how it turned out. My original aim was to create an “audio scrap book” of a dream holiday but after finishing the album it feels like it did a lot more. Traveling to Japan marked several large changes in my life. Moving onwards and upwards in my career, and starting a relationship with my future wife all happened around this time period. It very much felt like I was moving into adulthood with more responsibility and obligations for myself and all my friends. The long nights and weekends of sitting in the studio working on music on my own and with my friends seemed to be growing fewer and further apart. When I listen back to the album I can hear those conflicting emotions throughout.
For me “Made in Japan” isn’t just a reflection on a single holiday but my life up to that point and the further I get from the album the more that means to me. I hope those of you who have given the time to listen to it get your own feelings from it and it will mean something to you weather that reflects my experiences for not.
Now the whole album is on Youtube I will use this as an opportunity to move on from it for a while. It’s been a shame Covid-19 has stopped me performing it live, maybe the future will allow that to change. I did record a live performance on Youtube for anyone’s interest here.
I’d like to thank Mark Chadwick for his advise, skills and help on the mixing and mastering of the album and being someone to bounce ideas off. Finally I’d like to thank all the people who have listened to “Made In Japan” and told me their thoughts. Hopefully it won’t be another three years before I have out something new for you to listen to.
I always knew the next track “Leaving” would be the last on the album however as a fairly minimal piece it clashed with the two long progressive and at times aggressive tracks that preceded it. During the mixing stage both Mark Chadwick and myself decided we needed something to break up the tracks and allow the listener to settle into the end of the album.
Out of all the field recordings I’d made but hadn’t used, The clearing up of Tsukiji Fish market in the afternoon was the one I most wanted to use and the correlation with people packing away stores and me “packing away” was rather fitting. I selected one of the recordings and cleaned up the audio using Izotope’s RX to get rid of some of the electrical noises in the recording and then and we then selected a 30 second section to put into the album.
Kultara was the track with the most input from other people. The track is driven by this plinky repeating 4 bar melody which originally was recorded on my op-1 in Japan. That version however was a little to simplistic, I loved the jilted rhythm and the melody but the actual sound of the synth I had chosen on the op-1 was a bit too ridged.
To get around the recorded simplicity from the OP-1 I put the waveform into ableton and then mapped it out by hand in a MIDI file to keep its odd tempo. I then sent that MIDI into my modular and tried to replicate a sound as close to the original as I could. Once I had a close replication of the sound of the OP-1 on the modular I had the advantage of being able to adjust many different parameters in my modular to shift the sound slightly in varying directions. I set up a recording and slowly adjusted the synth for half an hour to give myself a large collection of the same melody slowly shifting over time. I selected a section of this recording and ran it permanently throughout the piece whilst I worked on other elements.
Most of the elements on the track were recorded In my studio rather than in Japan with the only exception being the vocal pad sound which was taken from another section of the Geisha recording I have used several times up to now.
The guitars were an interesting part of the track. I used a funk guitar sample library and treated it with distortion to create a really jagged sound. Originally the intent was to replace this with a real guitarist. I spent a few days recording with my good friend and collaborator Adam Wheeldon on guitar trying to track a guitar sound close to the original recording but every version lost that robotic feel that the original version had. Adam finally said “you should just use the original I like it the way it is” and that gave me the confidence to leave the sampled version in the track.
I’d like to thank Adam for his help over the years and on this piece. It takes a lot for someone to spend a couple of days on something and be willing to relinquish that work for the overall feel of the track. That’s the kind of person he is and I will always be grateful for his friendship and insight.
My Favorite part of the track is the string section at 2:50. I have played with string samples over the years in large sample libraries but they always take a long time and a foresight to program articulations and make them sound real. During working on this album though I downloaded the Ipad app ThumbJam which by name may sound like a bit of a toy, but it’s a fantastic players instrument in its own right. The Touch screen on the ipad allows you to make fairly realistic vibrato changes with ease which really enhance a far more simplistic string sample library then the deep and complex ones I have on my computer. I recorded several layers of cello to make the section you hear on the track.
The end of the track finishes where it began with the modular sequence and the sound of a field recording of my footsteps on gravel outside of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Kultara was the last piece I started on the album and one of the most ambitious but I also think it’s slightly hampered by some musical and technical limitations of the project. Therefore it’s the track I’d most like to revisit in the future.
Past & Yoyogi Park came from two recordings made In japan. A wild track taken in Yoyogi Park in the center of Tokyo and the plodding synth line that I recorded on the OP-1 the night I had visited the park.
Both recordings has a slightly sorrowful and wistful sound that I thought I could continue with on the track. I decided to get away from synthesis and instead use a collection of instruments with sentimental value from my past. Out of all the tracks on “Made In Japan” Past & Yoyogi Features the most live recordings of real instruments because of this.
On the Track the other instruments used were an Old Melodica that my great grandmother left me, A trombone which was the first instrument I played seriously as a child and a bass guitar which was the first instrument I ever bought myself when I started to play in bands.
There were some serious problems with both the Bass Guitar and Melodica which aren’t quite in tune due to damage/age but I wanted to use them specifically for sentimental reasons. This resulted in me requiring to do some slight fixing in post to keep those instruments in tune. I also sampled the trombone and pitched it down an octave with some processing to create the Initial bass sound in the track.
At first I struggled to make something from the initial synth part as I liked it soo much. Out of all the instrumental parts from Tokyo it was the first one I attempted to use. But once I decided to use real instruments and not try to overcomplicate the track by making a repeating structure the track came together quickly.
Listening back to the track is quite transportive for me. Making me think of the parts of my life that involved me playing music but also recording these very lines in my cold studio late at night in the center of Leigh. I would often record there at night to reduce the outside noise of the busy street and was recording these in the middle of winter with only a small electric heater to keep warm. These were some of the last recordings I made in that space before I could no longer use it so it also holds those memories for me as well, making it the hardest track for me to listen to from the album.
Nostalgia marks a different technique applied to the album as all the music surrounding the field recording was made on my return from japan.
On our second day In Tokyo with jet-lag still fully on us we decided to try and get to tsukiji fish market to see the auction In the morning. As this was to early for public transport we decided to get up in the middle of the night and walk for a couple of hours to Tsukiji Fish Market and experience the city at night.
The Colour Temperature of street lighting in Japan at night is colder (bluer) then that in the UK and from my eyes gives the city a smoother almost mystical feeling as shadows and light play of each other in softer ways. It also allows the lighting on structures that don’t follow the same colour temperature to really pop out of the environment and make the place seem hyper real as if your on a film set. Whilst we walked through the city streets I decided to take out my field recorder and capture the environment as we went.
This resulted in a hour long recording that was interesting in many ways. In the early morning Tokyo was unbelievably quiet. We may have only seen a couple of people and dozen moving cars over the entire 2 hour walk. We talked and walked ignoring the recording so large chunks of it (although great memories for me) wouldn’t work that well when mixed with music. However there was a really good 15 minute section where we had stopped talking and walked past an area with a few bars and several cars driving by which I thought would work perfectly.
I decided to record a piece as an accompaniment around this field recording trying to represent the feeling of travel. Not only through Tokyo that night but also through my own life. I decided early on that I would build it into sections of music as if you walked past a bar playing music on the street. However these pieces of music would reference different parts of my love of music. Early In the piece I would reference the music of Video games (especially the final fantasy series) with Nobuo Uematsu being a huge influence on me as a child. Then it would overtime merge towards the music I was into at the time (Jazz and electronic).
Once I picked a section of the field recording I would leave it running underneath the arrangement and not make any edits to try and fit particular features into the track. Instead I would adjust the instrumentals around the key moments of the field recording. Changing the Instrumentation with each time a car passes on the street.
The opening Synth sound came from Massive by NI. I had chosen to Use this because of Missive’s use on the soundtrack for FEZ by disasterpiece. Although it sounds like a rather simple waveform going through a delay Massive is actually creating the delay effect internally using sequenced ADSR, and LFO on the Amp. For all the other instrumentation for the beginning of the track I wanted to keep it as simple and representative of older video games using simple wave forms and white noise to create the percussion and instrumentation.
At this point a car passes by on the recording and we shift to a more Jazz based section which I improvised over several attempts starting with the keys to get a basic structure and then going back to them to tighten them up after I had recorded the rest of the instrumentation. I wanted the instrumentation to feel “off the grid” like it was drifting about to match my feelings during the recording of the walk through Tokyo.
At this point I faded out the music at the 3 minute mark and we are left with the busiest part of the field recording with multiple cars crossing the stereo microphones. I wanted to leave the listener In soaking up the environment of Tokyo at night for a while. This section started a lot longer but over time shifted down to just under a minute as I wanted people to start hearing music as soon as they felt comfortable with the field recording and it just felt right to me to start the music again at this time.
The third and final piece of music mixes up elements from both the Video Game and Jazz inspired sections. I also wanted to hint at my love for electronic music especially one of my favorite groups Boards Of Canada and by adding more reverb to the synth line and playing chords instead of arpeggios I felt like I achieved this effect.
Finally I wanted the track to not stop, but drift away into the distance. Like you were walking out of the city and the nostalgic vision of the past and into the countryside and the future. I fed the whole track into the reverb that I had placed on the Synth part and made it larger over time whilst removing the original signal so only the sound of the reverb remained fading into the distance.
For me Nostalgia achieves the goals aimed for when I started to listen to the original field recording better than any other track on the album. Following the field recording made me approach the track linearly which focused my attention on each part as it came allowing the track to morph and evolve organically. If I’d come up with the three separate sections in a random order and then tried to add a field recording at a later date it would have lacked the synergy between the two. For that reason its one of the tracks I return to the most when I now listen back to the album.
I owe Mark Chadwick a lot for putting collapse on the album. This is a small clip of a fairly brief recording I made in Japan of my OP-1 low on battery’s playing a sequence I had made. I had set up the sequence to record it but must have left my OP-1 for several hours forgetting to switch it off. When I plugged my headphones back into the OP-1 again I was quite fearful that I had broken the device listening back to the audio it was playing out but decided to record it into my field recorder before powering the OP-1 Down to charge it back up.
I genuinely thought that the OP-1 had come to the end of its life or something had damaged it during transport. Luckily charging it back to full fixed the issue and I haven’t come across it since. I found these odd sounds fascinating. They sounded like a synthesizer breaking and seemed so random in their nature that they were almost natural as if coming from a living creature.
I tried to make a deeper track out of the longer recording but it was far to erratic to control or put into something more structured so I left it to one side.
When we had finished the mix of all the music on the album and Mark was looking for things to fill over the transitions he asked me if I had any suggestions and I pointed him to this recording but I wasn’t sure if it was usable.
He took the section of it you hear on the album and treated it with a bit of reverb to create the track now. It works well as a marker between the previous tracks that were OP-1 lead and the next collection of tracks that use a larger collection of synthesizers and instrumentation.
Osaka nights is one of the two tracks on this album that I look back on its creation with little joy. I had recorded the chord sequence you hear at 2:47 on the OP-1 in Kyoto at night however it was too slow for the type of music I was aiming to create when I got home. So influenced by acts like four-tet and Bonobo I sampled the chords and played them in a more structured pattern with the idea of making a traditional dance based house track from them.
However this resulted in me using this base to make a handful of really bad house tracks that never sounded right. I spent hours trying to polish failing projects only to scrap them all back to the original sample and start again. Multiple times I gave up on that original sample and moved on to other tracks on the album but there was something about it that always nagged me to come back to it.
In the end the thing that saved “Osaka Nights” was me letting go of a rule I had stuck to during the making of most of the album and that was that “All of the music had to come from the recordings made whilst in japan”. As I made more tracks and had more ideas there was less and less from the original recordings to work with. So at a certain point I changed the rule from “All of the music had to come from the Recordings made whilst in Japan” to “All of the tracks had to be based around a recording made in Japan”. This freed me up to add more instrumentation.
I was working on the first round of the mixes for the album at this point and when the more technical and analytical approach of mixing down tracks started to get tedious I would take a break and jam along to the original recorded Op-1 synth part. After doing this for several weeks and recording the improvisations I had a collection of ideas I could then take back to the track for further development.
I had decided to make an A-B structure due to some field recordings I had made at night in Osaka. One was In the evening at around 8pm with heaving crowds of people walking through the city center. The other was early morning with just a handful of traffic on the roads. I thought mixing between the choruses with the busy crowds and the verses of the track with the quieter atmospheric streets could work and so I built the track around this idea.
The Last Third of the track (starting at 2:45)turns into a live performance. I was aiming for a more jazz based feel that I apply again on the track “Nostalgia”. I played most of the pieces an instrument at a time with the exception being the bass part which was created using a sample library and the Novation Circuit as a step sequencer to drive it. The track finished with hand claps that are a mix of electronic and real recorded claps in my studio. I recorded different rhythms looped them and then layered a selection of them to create this particularly odd rhythm inspired by the track “Clapping music” by “Seve Reich”.
Osaka Nights was one of the harder tracks to make, It’s a collage of different tracks that work together which were all fairly hard to make. However the techniques I learned during this process helped me with the track “Nostalgia” where I continued some of the ideas further.
If you want a single track on the album that contains all the ideas and techniques implemented “Yamanote Line” is the one. It took the longest time for me to create and was the most involved process.
Like most of the tracks on the album most of the instrumentals from “Yamanote Line” stem from a couple of field recordings made during my trip around Japan. The two central recordings that make up almost all of the track are a single long recording made on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo (which provides the sections of speech and the sounds of the interior train) and a sample of a train on the Yamanote line pulling up to a station recorded from near the station which you hear in full at the end of the track.
It was this recording that was my original inspiration for the track and can be heard from 7:40 on to the tracks conclusion in full. When I first heard this field recording in my studio I decided that the warning bell sounds for the trains arrival could make a great melody for a track. I was interested at the time in experimenting with generated sounds and Tape loops. I have loved Steve Reich’s use of tape loops since I heard them in high scool and later William Basinski work with similar techniques and thought about applying them to the bell sounds on this recording to create a generated ambient piece.
This ambient piece is how the original version of “Yamanote Line” started. I used Izotope RX to isolate a collection of the bells and then recorded them into the “tape” function of the Teenage engineering OP-1 at different speeds. I then played out and recorded the OP-1 back into ableton giving me a few minutes of randomly generated elongated bell type sounds. I did this three times and panned them into the Left Center and Right channels to create a stereo image. Originally this was the full track, however It quickly became only the opening. As I continued to go back and experiment with the sample picking new tones and sounds out of it I realised I could flesh it out into a more elaborate track.
I remember listening to the band Swans a lot and I had seen them live during making this track. Although “Yamanote Line” sounds Noting like a Swans track the technique that band apply to rhythm and tempo is something I really wanted to replicate. Swans will often have minutes of music that doesn’t fit into a tempo or key, It can make many people switch off from their music. But if you keep listening and entomb yourself in the drones they can create a disorientating effect on the listener. This effect then enhances the power of melody and rhythm when they finally do slip their track into a more ridged structure.
I remember thinking about the techniques Swans apply in their music whilst I was deciding how much of the original “tape loop” track I would play before locking into a drum beat. There were several places that could have worked in the original recording, All of different lengths. Eventually I decided on a shorter 50 seconds as the duration of “Yamanote Line” got longer and richer with ideas.
The only thing In the track that isn’t made from the recordings from Japan are the Drumkits as I wanted to give the track a Hip-Hop Flavour. These were made by taking sample librarys of traditional drum kits and then processing them with some distortion tools and compression to give them a more old school feel. The Bass Lines in the piece were recorded off the Op-1 into my recorder whilst in Tokyo. The choir like pad sounds are samples of Geisha singing stretched out using a mix of reverbs, looping and PaulXStretch (these techniques are described in previous blog posts about the album).
Throughout “Yamanote Line” I repeatedly go back to the original idea of Tape Loops, bringing back segments of the original bell loops back into the piece. At the 6th Minute of the piece after its large crescendo I moved the whole track into tape loops and (with the exception of the field recording of the Train) and processed them with separate fx live as they ran. Each tape loop is a slightly different length so as the piece continues all of the tracks start to drift away from each other. At 6:55 the instrumentation changes to a new bass line, choir and bell Loops that are running at different lengths all together and slipping apart. Many of my compositions feature me building and then destroying the composition with different techniques and as the Tape Loop was the main technique applied during this track I thought it would be suitable for the tracks conclusion.
At the very end of the track we have the original recording that was the basis for many of the samples in the piece. I decided to put it in there to bring the track back to its original moment of conception after pulling it apart in many ways over the previous seven and a half minutes.
“Yamanote Line” was the hardest and most complex track to make on the album. I have mainly focused on the technique of “Tape Loops” regarding the track as the other techniques I used in the piece I have and will describe in more detail in previous and future tracks.
Subway came about towards the end of the album’s completion, in its mixing stage with Mark Chadwick. At this Point I had almost removed the idea of having individual field recordings in the album as I had used almost all of them as samples within the tracks themselves.
The album and track order had been discussed quite a bit at this point as I wanted to try and reflect music chronologically with the dates of the recordings. However after some reflection this didn’t really work for many of the tracks which featured multiple recordings from different times. Nor did this mathematical approach create a flow between the songs that worked.
I have always been a huge fan of albums that merge the tracks together (And The Glass Handed Kites by Mew being a favorite of mine) and I wanted to incorporate that technique into my album. We finally decided on a track listing by working out which tracks really worked well together and then organizing those chunks of tracks into an order that flowed between more intense and relaxed energies. This did leave us with 3 problems in the record where the collections of tracks connected or in this case didn’t.
To get around this Mark suggested we use some of the field recordings I had made going back to our original discussion about the album when I asked him to help me with the mix. I went back through the tracks I hadn’t used and highlighted only a handful of the ones I liked “Subway” was one of the stand out recordings.
I recorded this track on a Subway underpass in Osaka as we were walking through it. It was quite a shambolic recording as we were rushing to see the Umeda Sky Building before it closed and as we entered the subway I could hear a busker playing a steel drum in the distance. I took out my recorder and just recorded us walking up to and then past the busker thinking it would be great to use in a track. Unfortunately the majority of the recording has too much foot fall in it to be usable and a pushbikes ratcheting sound overpowered about half the recording. Multiple attempts to use it as an element in a piece of music never quite worked.
However cutting out this 25 second segment and treating it with RX caused an interesting addition as RX’s processing of the reverb from the tiled underpass on the steel drum created an almost vocal/choir like sound. I thought this would work really well between the tracks “Airport Pianos” and “Yamanote Line” as they both feature choir samples and “Yamanote Line” is built around the recordings of trains in japan.