Monday, 24 March 2014

Georges Méliès: A Trip to the Moon

In January, Aardvark were invited to play at a new silent movie soundtrack night at Mello Mello in Liverpool.

We were given the quite incredible choice of Georges Méliès' 1902 sci-fi film, A Trip to the Moon. Even more amazingly, we discovered there is an original colourisation of the film. The colour is totally surreal. It was carried out at Elisabeth Thuillier's lab in Paris by a team working on one colour each in a kind of assembly line. The resulting effect is half-way between film and animation, with colours flaring up and changing shades between frames.

We tried to capture something of the anarchic and otherworldly feeling to the film during our performance, holding several rehearsals to try and strike the balance between setting the mood for various scenes and following the action on-screen. The result maintains the "classic" Aardvark sound, while delivering an apt, if slightly tongue-in-cheek, accompaniment to Méliès' masterpiece. Enjoy!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Amphibolous - Rubber Sole EP

Last year, Roger Hill challenged Amphibolous to come up with a track that responded to the legacy of the Beatles for his radio show, PMS. So we got together for a session and recorded a number of short, radio-friendly length tracks, inspired by our task at hand.

We'd got used to playing longer 20 - 30 minute pieces, that take you to different places along the way, so doing a short sharp 3 - 7 minutes was challenging, but fun. We were quite surprised what you can actually fit into that shorter timespan.

We picked one track to send to Roger - i'm looking through you too - but the others turned out too good to leave on the cutting room floor. And so was born the Beetles EP, rubber sole. We picked out the five best tracks, one for each of the four Beatles, plus a billy bonus for Stuart Sutcliffe, the fifth Beatle (or at least one of them).

1. i saw paul mccartney with my girlfriend
2. stuart sutcliffe left the beatles to paint
3. john lennon and i were throwing balls in the cold when i caught one
4. big in fashion george harrison
5. ringo starr was cleaning his dog with a brush when it turned black and vanished

With the EP mixed and mastered, it was time to get the artwork together. We searched the internet for beetles - an interesting activity, if you've ever got an hour or two going spare - and found André Bemand, who keeps, and runs a blog about, giant beetles.

So we got in touch with André to see if he would take a picture of some of his beetles on a boot (with a rubber sole). To our delight, not only was he up for it, he really went to town on it. In a stroke of genius, he created a little zebra crossing for the beetles to cross. And voilà!

Amphibolous are: Adam Webster, Ash Steel, Simon Jones.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Amphibolous - Occupying the Mainstream

Amphibolous' occupying the mainstream was a commission for If Only's two-week 'occupation' of Gallery 2 at the Bluecoat in Liverpool.

Adam Webster taking a spin on the turntables in Gallery 2
The piece consisted of an a cappella vocal performance by the trio that used streaming technology to create a unique audience perspective, seen from the individual points of view of the performers. To do this we taped mobile phones to our heads, sending the three video streams to a TV in the gallery and the audio to the sound system. The ultimate lo-fi hi-tech action.

The idea was to start as normal: a performance in a gallery. However, the stream allowed us to go exploring - through the rest of the Bluecoat, and out into the streets of Liverpool - while the audience inside the gallery could still watch the performance from the comfort of their seats. This also created a second audience, the people of Liverpool, who caught a primetime showing of a unique happening. Finally, after our adventures around town, we headed back to the Bluecoat for the grand finale.

The project offered a number of ideas to play with. Firstly, because the audience could see from each of our perspectives, we didn't have to always be together. We could split up, combine in different configurations, and come back together, creating a range of dynamics to be explored.

The piece was part improvisation, part composition. In order to exploit the different combinations, 'textures' and dynamics of the journey, we decided not to plan an exact route, but rather set meeting points along the way. We also came up with a number of strategies to create larger scale forms in the piece: when it would be more appropriate to start splitting up; when we should come together; points where we should run to increase the pace of the action.

The resulting piece was a lot of fun. It is always fascinating to see the response to public interventions like this. Well, you can see for yourself. Here's the video...

Amphibolous are: Adam Webster, Ash Steel, Simon Jones.

Monday, 14 October 2013

F.A.C.E. - Facial recognition

In August, I was invited to create an installation for TiLT Dance's Manifold event at the Kazimier in Liverpool.

Recently I have been working on some projection mapping techniques with General Midi of a.P.A.t.T., so this seemed like the ideal opportunity to test out some of the techniques we'd developed. The result was F.A.C.E. (the Facial Apprehension Control Experiment), an interactive installation that used facial recognition software to replace and swap people's faces.

The night was an incredible fusion of performance and installation art. A couple of particular highlights include the piece which used a live bio-sensor to control a 'light-suit' worn by a trapeze artist, and an installation by Null Pointer where paint was sprayed down a tube onto a record player as it played a record.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Candy Cigarettes

Last year I teamed up with experimental theatre group, the Rat Pit, to create a new multi-sensory theatre piece for the If Only festival that I was part of the curating team for at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. The end result was a new 15-minute work, Candy Cigarettes.

Working together through a series of jams, exercises and improvisations, the Rat Pit (Carly Lindon-Forrester and Georgia Tillery) created an intense non-linear drama that explored adulthood through the prism of children's play, while I devised sonic and olfactory content to accompany and enhance the drama.

Designing smells to fit the piece was a particularly fascinating process. I wanted to keep most of the smells quite abstract, in the same way that the accompanying music was abstract, without an overly literal and simplistic interpretation of the unfolding drama. Instead, I wanted something that could bring a new emotional light to the action going on onstage.

Because we had to create a very concise piece to fit in with the nature of the night, a lot of the original material developed had to be cut... somewhat of a double-edged sword. The work became tighter and more focused, but some of the scenes didn't quite have the time to breathe they really needed. We got great feedback from the performance, and decided to create a full-length version with a view to touring it.

Georgia had started working at Creed Street Arts Centre in Milton Keynes, and they were very keen on the idea. So we all trekked down south for a week of rehearsals, development and, finally, two shows that expanded the work to a full hour. Reviews were great, and we are now planning to take the show to the Edinburgh Festival next year. There is a video of the full-length performance, but, while it's in the editing suite, here's the original from the If Only festival. Enjoy!

Friday, 5 July 2013

New Amphibolous Releases

Last month saw two new Amphibolous releases, in fact within a couple of days of each other.

The first was a release on the Classwar Karaoke label, part of their 0022 survey. In the just over a month since the survey's release it's already been downloaded more than 27,000 times. You can listen to the rest of the release here. Here's our track:


The second release was a track we created for Roger Hill's PMS show on BBC Radio Merseyside. He asked us for a track reacting to the legacy of the Beatles. It was actually quite a challenge to create a radio-friendly length track. We had a session in the studio recording a number of short pieces. The single release is the one we sent to Roger, I'm looking through you too. But we have a new EP coming out shortly featuring a few of the tracks. Going with the Beatles theme, the new EP is called Rubber Sole. The EP is all mixed now, and we're just working on the artwork, so the release should be within the next month. In the meantime, you can enjoy the single, with an intro by Roger, and the music video that accompanies it. The video was made with footage of a giant beetle by kraftwerkmod.

Unfortunately, Adam Webster has now moved to Poland, so Amphibolous is on hiatus at the moment, but we're planning a tour of Germany and Poland later this year, so stay tuned for more details.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

South-east Asia Tour

In February I went on a short tour of South-east Asia, performing in Singapore and Malaysia. It was a fantastic tour, and I was very impressed by the standard, creativity and supportiveness of the local musicians.

The first stop in the tour was Singapore, a melting-pot of cultures and ideas. I played at the Independent Archive & Resource Center, an artist-led project that aims to be an archive of, and resource centre for, art theory and practices in Singapore. There was a very friendly atmosphere there, as different people dropped in throughout the day to read a book, make musical instruments, eat chicken rice, or just have a chat.

Interestingly, my performance took place at the same time as one of the largest protests in Singapore history, a country where protest is largely restricted. Even so, it was a packed-out audience at the IARC as I took to the stage. The evening consisted of a solo set, followed by a question and answer session, where the audience quizzed me about my work and ideas, then, finally, a group session with some local musicians.

A couple of days before the event, I went along to be interviewed by Jordan Johari Rais, who organised the gig.

Kuala Lumpur was the exact opposite of Singapore. Where Singapore is squeaky clean, and you can even go to prison for chewing gum, Kuala Lumpur is more how you might imagine a large urban centre in Asia, somewhat chaotic and brimming with activity.

In Kuala Lumpur I performed at FINDARS. Whereas the IARC had a very homely feel, with assorted random objects strewn about the place in a slightly bric-a-brac aesthetic, FINDARS was very obviously set up as a venue for performance. The graffiti up the stairs leading to the performance space set the mood, and the black walls inside created an amazing atmosphere to perform in.

The darkness inside the venue gave the ideal opportunity to work with some visuals I had been working on during the trip. The visuals were written in Java using a kind of stochastic fractal process. The other acts were all of a very high standard, and ranged from free jazz, to drone noise, to postmodern genre-defying cauldrons of goodness.

Here are some highlights from my performance:

To finish with, here's the collaborative set from my gig in Singapore. This is one of the best bits about playing in new places, getting to meet and play with different artists, exploring ideas, developing what we do.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

AudioChem: The Sound of Chemistry

AudioChem is a software instrument that lets you play the sound of the different chemical elements.

I wrote the software back in 2008 as part of my undergraduation dissertation. It takes the emission spectrum (see below) of each element and turns it into a harmony, creating a unique sound. The software was written for Apple Mac and runs on OS X, up to OS 10.6. The download link is below. I'd really appreciate any feedback on the software, as it's still really in beta.



AudioChem is a software composition. I call it a composition since it did not assemble itself: it required construction on the basis of aesthetic principles. It is an example of data sonification, taking information about the elements of the Periodic Table as its starting point. In this respect, it is a totally systematic work, and yet both aesthetic choice and aleatory form are intrinsic elements of its construction and final form. It is an example of a Gesamtkunstwerk: a synthesis of different artforms that links general and specific, aesthetic and intellectual, forms of expression to create ‘super-complete thoughts’, denoting actions, things and qualities all at once. It also uses continuous change within the form-rhythm-pitch spectrum, while separating itself into discrete, perceivable objects. In this way, it brought together many of the different areas of thought that preoccupied me at the time.

At the time I wrote AudioChem, I was searching for ways to organise microtonal harmony into cohesive 'tonalities'. There seemed four main approaches possible:
  • The first approach is to use some sort of system, a set of formulae or algorithms. This was the approach used by the Serialists, for example, when tackling the issue of how to create cohesive 12-tone tonalities;
  • The second is more akin to musique concrète. If we view the world as the result of a set of processes or algorithms, the end product will have a certain kind of unity that we then simply record in the field and play back at home;
  • The third could be viewed as either an abstraction from, or an extension of, the second, collecting data from the real world to then turn into audible sound. This data sonification approach is the one I took here;
  • The final one is to use the creative imagination to provide a cohesive unity, for example in improvised performance.
I later somewhat rejected data sonification as a really fruitful avenue of aesthetic investigation, for reasons it would take too long to go into here. However, the results in this piece were intriguing and certainly worthy of note.

In terms of the sound, the data displayed is the emission spectra of the elements: the wavelengths of light emitted by the electrons of each element as they drop to a lower orbit round the nucleus of the atom; these wavelengths are then transposed into audible wavelengths of sound.

Here is an example of the kinds of sounds the programme generates:

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Amphibolous release on EM Records

The latest Amphibolous track is out now on EM Records' OuTpUt SeVeN compilation. Helping Blind People is the culmination of several recordings we made at a garage in Everton. It's a prelude to where our music is moving, and we're planning on working on a new album soon, as well as a track for the BBC, so plenty in store for all you avid listeners.

In the meantime, here is the release:

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Uaxuctum | The Final Reckoning

Well, my residency and installation in Second Life has come to an end. It was a fascinating experience, and I got a lot of good feedback. I'd like to thank the Linden Endowment for the Arts for the opportunity, and Jayjay Zifanwe for all his help during the residency.

You can read my previous post about the ideas behind the installation. There are also a few blogs that covered it. Here are the links:

Honour McMillan
Victoria Lenoirre
Apmel Goosson
Apmel - Amphibolous gig
Apmel - AOM gig
LEA blog
Virtual Outworlding
Briarmelle Quintessa
University of Western Australia

Here's a video of one of the pieces from the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse concert I put on during the residency:

And here's a recording of the Amphibolous set I did there too: