1. What/ who inspired you to take up your creative pursuits in the first place and when was this?
Way back in 1990 when I was into guitars and heavy metal, there was very limited TV exposure for this sort of music. All we really had was Raw Power, a weekly programme that aired about 2am so you needed to set the video recorder. Two videos – Big Bad Moon and I Believe led me to the ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’ by Joe Satriani and that’s what inspired me to take up the guitar.
2. Over the years, who has been your biggest influence?
I thought about this for ages and have to say my guitar teacher, Karl Svarc. I went for guitar lessons thinking I was ok because I could play a few riffs. The first thing he got me to do was play along to a song that was in G. I sat there, without a clue. He taught me music theory, phrasing, developing your own style and that has really shaped how I approach and think about creating music.
3. What was the first piece of equipment you used and what are you memories of creating during that period?
This was a Yamaha PSS-680 keyboard back in 1988 when I was 16. I worked in a cake factory washing up and selling cleaning products door-to-door to fund its purchase. I didn’t really understand the mechanics of making music but remember playing around with sounds and experimenting, recording a space inspired album titled ‘Voyage to Arcturus’ to cassette. It has long since disappeared!
4. If you had the time - what part of your art form would you like to master?
For me the creative process is all about learning and evolving, I find that I’m learning new techniques and improving my sound all the time. It feels like a process of continual evolvement, at present mixing and mastering is one area I’m working hard to improve.
5. What is your fondest memory as a creative? This could be a collaboration with other artists, a live performance/ exhibition/ a period of time/ a piece of equipment/ a learning experience etc.
My favourite work is a collaboration with Kim Reuger, who records under the name BellyFullofStars. It was created for the Cities and Memory Sound Waves project. Cities and Memory is a project who collate field recordings from around the world and then artists reimagine them in any way they want to. The Sound Wave project for World Listening Day 2015 explored the role water plays in our everyday lives. We used a field recording from Botany Bay in Margate, Kent along with some storm recordings from Kim. We used a recording from the Sea Priestess by Dion Fortune read by Kim as the backdrop and layered these with samples processed in Polygon, Subvert and Convex by Glitchmachines. We are on different sides of the Atlantic and used different DAWs but what I love about this project is how seamlessly it came together and how impressively the sounds layered together so the resulting song was so much greater than the sum of the parts. It was released on the Sound Waves album that you can listen to here: https://citiesandmemory.bandcamp.com/album/sound-waves
6. If you had your time again what would you change about your life as a creative artist?
This is really difficult because I wouldn’t be where I am today without the experiences I’ve had. That said, the one piece of advice I would have given to my younger self would to have been braver and played guitar live or in a band. I never had the confidence to do this. Not sure I regret it as such but it would have helped my development a lot.
7. How do your projects develop and complete from start to finish?
This really depends on what I’m doing. If I’m using Hollyhock 3 DAW, this has a number of samplers and records direct to disk (live) so a song can start from a few ideas and mangled samples. I’ll record it live and then finalise it in MuLab. If I’m using MuLab from the start then I’ll often use a tool like RapidComposer or Scaler to scope out chords for a song and take it from there. For sample based songs, I use Loopcloud, audition a few sounds and build the song. I don’t really use song structures as such, I tend to use repeating sections and variations to add some interest. Because the laptop is starting to show its age, I often have to create sounds and then export to audio to add effects in a separate project because the laptop cannot cope with a multitude of VSTs and effects at the same time.
I’ll often use a theme, sometimes inspired by a book or story I’ve read or a place that I’ve been to.
8. What is the most difficult part of your creative art form?
This will probably sound really daft but I often really struggle to name songs. Maybe because I have released 70+ albums and my language is running out and starting to repeat itself!
9. How do you overcome those moments when you get ‘stuck’ trying to complete a project?
I’m in a fairly privileged position that I get to try a lot of software for review on my blog so I often have new software to try and experiment with meaning that I don’t often lack sources of inspiration. When I do get stuck I’ll often leave it for a while and go back to it later, that often helps to evaluate where you are and move it on or start over. Simple tricks like swapping effects or VSTs, only using one or two chords, changing the tempo up or down or borrowing elements from a different style can be really effective to kick-start a stalling project. Sometimes stripping it right back by removing drums or bassline can give the space for an instance of a clean lead or synth layered with an instance processed with a glitchy effect to really expand the sound.
10. Which three pieces of advice would you give to someone just starting out in doing what you do?
The first and most important is have fun and enjoy it. It can be immensely frustrating trying to learn skills and seemingly not making any progress but with practice you will get there. You really need to jump in, see what happens and learn from your experiences. Secondly, for electronic music production it would be to use a couple of VST instruments and effects and learn how to use them really well. It’s all too easy to acquire a large number of VSTs and effects and not really learn how to use any of them and spend ages trying to decide which one to use. Thirdly, don’t be afraid to be yourself. It’s easy to get drawn into specific genres and what you need to do to create them or feel the need to comply with certain aspects of music theory as hard and fast rules. The great thing about music is there are no rules as such.
11. Describe how you feel when you are in the flow of creating one of your projects?
It’s a great feeling when things start to come together, especially when I’ve done something spontaneous or experimented with a few sounds and got some unexpected results that I can develop into a song. The beauty of using a DAW like Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3 is that you can set up samplers, effects and automation quickly and then play around with settings and controls and record live giving spontaneous results. It’s really liberating to use this approach, it means that you learn to accept imperfections as part of the process.
12. Describe your current project? How is it going?
My current project is a mix created from a sample pack I’m currently reviewing. Unusually I’ve created the mix entirely from scratch in a single project, I’d usually create the songs separately and mix them together. The project is finished but needs finalising, the main problem is changing volume levels and I’m trying a VST (Outlaw by WA Production) to see if it can handle this task or whether I need to use a lot of manual volume automation curves.
13. What are your plans/ ambitions/ hopes for the future of your work?
Like most artists, I’d like to get my work out there a bit more. There’s so many great artists it’s difficult to get heard so I need to work more on self-promotion. In the longer term I’d like to get into TV or film production. I’m also looking at building hardware synths and effects with the aim being able to play live without a laptop. I’ve been brushing up on my electronics and the internet is a brilliant source of circuit diagrams and mods. I’m also stashing old electronic toys and equipment in the garage with a view to modding / glitching / repurposing it.
14. If you could choose one piece of equipment (money no object) to add to you arsenal of resources what would it be and why?
A dedicated field recorder would be a great addition; at the moment I use my phone for field recordings which is ok as long as it not very windy - this limits its use quite a lot. I know they’re not particularly expensive but I’ve never got round to getting one.
15. If you could meet one other creative from history, dead or alive - who would it be and why?
A really difficult choice with lots of potential answers but I’d have to say Robert Johnson, the famous blues guitarist to find out what really happened at the crossroads.
16. What do you do to relax when you are away from creating your projects?
Creating music and running the blog fit into what spare time is left between being with my family and work commitments, so spending time with the family is always the first option I take to relax. I also like walking the dogs, reading and trying my hand at making jewellery although this is proving tough so not that relaxing!
17. Who are your current top three favourite creatives in your field of work - dead or alive?
Olafur Arnalds is an Icelandic producer and multi-instrumentalist who has written music for numerous films, the TV program Broadchurch and has created composer toolkits for Spitfire Audio. He produces a range of ambient / neo-classical music and has inspired me to use orchestration and expand my sound to include neo-classical elements.
Kanal Drei / TriumCirculorum is Martin, a musician and engineer from Germany who is a prolific producer of over 100 albums with a techno / dub / electronic sound. He’s very talented and although I’ve never met him, he has always been very supportive and helpful to me, especially when I started and he gave me loads of useful advice which I’ve always been very grateful for.
Ivo Ivanov, the CEO of Glitchmachines. He produces a range of unique effects, sample based instruments and sample packs that have massively inspired a lot of my work. I picked up Polygon and Cataract in a sale a few years ago and they transformed how I make music and add glitch elements. I’ve been very fortunate to have been asked to beta test a few of their plugins – Convex, Palindrome and Subvert, producing presets for Convex and Palindrome. Their plugins feature heavily in my music, they sound superb and I keep getting cool and unexpected results from them. Ivo’s very talented, as well as the above he also excels at field recording, sound recording, modding synths and has released an album titled ‘Teratoma’.