Thursday, 10 May 2018

Top Trips


Hello, all!

Sorry I’ve been a little quiet. I’ve been away seeing my family and enjoying the sun. Sun! Actual, like, summer-style sun. On the coast. It was lovely.


(I’m back in the studio now, though, and there’s much less sun in here.)

I was staying with my brother, Dan (pictured below pulling his most alluring of faces) – the man responsible for mixing my music. The normal process is that I write, make sure everything is as close as possible to how I’d like the finished product to sound, and then I hand it to Dan. He waves his magic wand and says a spell (or something – I don’t know how it works – mixing is an ancient, mystic art) and sends it back to me sounding all sparkly and great. I’ll go into our working relationship more in a later post. Who knows – I might even get him to write a guest post about the process of mixing on here!


We didn’t set foot in his studio this time, though – although I did leave him with a hard drive full of work. Instead, we enjoyed a barbecue with the rest of our family. It’s such a hard life. I think Eddie enjoyed himself, too.



Anyway, I’ll return soon with some chat about my latest album, Cypher.

TTFN,

Sam x

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Fang You For the Music

Hello. Me again!

You may be aware that I recently scored a theatrical adaptation of Dracula, penned by the one and only Phil Ford (The Sarah Jane Adventures, Wizards vs Aliens) and directed by Chris Finney (Wizards vs Aliens’ very own Caractacus Crowe!).

By necessity, I worked entirely from script – I didn’t even see the play until closing night! Normally, I’d go in during rehearsals and sculpt the music around what was being done on stage, timing scene changes and the like. That wasn’t possible this time, so I just had to use past experience and Phil’s script to guide me. Even though it was a little “seat of the pants”, it was a lot of fun to do. And luckily, it all worked well.



Phil’s adaptation stuck very closely to Bram Stoker’s novel so it was nice and dark. Chris and I tried out a few different ideas, but settled on a modern-sounding, synth-based score despite the play’s being set in the Victorian era. Here’s a little excerpt:



I used a lot of dark drones backed up with a bowed piano (one played by running a bow across the strings, rather than by hitting them in the usual way) and some ebow electric guitar (which I recorded with my own fair hands, despite not having practiced the guitar in… some time…). What’s an ebow? Pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an electric bow. It uses a feedback circuit (among other things) to create string vibrations when placed near the guitar’s pickups, so that instead of a “plucked” sound, you get an eerie, bowed sound.



There were a few times that I used sul ponticello strings to eerie effect. That’s a technique where the players play close to the bridge of the instrument to create a glassy, unstable sound; in fact, dependent on how hard and how close to the bridge the player plays, sometimes the notes actually jump entire octaves. I also used a grand piano and an upright piano, which I put through a number of delays to create a disorienting effect, and a harmonium, which I mangled a bit with various plugins so that it was both familiar and alien-sounding. (I’ll talk more about plugins, including using delays, later on).

Chris also wanted to explore the idea of a heartbeat – appropriate enough for a vampire story! – so I used a kick drum and two synths to create a musical approximation of a heartbeat that I could play in or out of time with the music, dependent on what effect we wanted to create. I also got the chance to write some Victorian parlour music – a nice little waltz for string quartet for the scene set in Lucy’s engagement party. Not something you get to do every day!



Overall the music, lighting, sound design, direction, and acting created a great show, and one I was really proud to have been a part of. And the music will live on – I’m currently reworking it slightly, and it will be released in time for Halloween as a library album – one of many I’ll tell you about in a future post!

Sam x

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Hunter – No, Not the Gladiator!


Hello again…

Yes, I know. So soon! I wanted to share a little clip from The Forest after telling you all about it in my last post. I chose a section of the track “Hunter.” I think you can guess the general idea behind it – some predatory animal searching out its prey – but, as I said, I don’t want to say too much about what I was thinking when I wrote it. I want the music to spark your imagination!

I chose this track because it’s a good example of how I used live strings in combination with synths and virtual instruments (VIs), which is what I did on most tracks of the album. Why? The strings drive the music; underlying them, a drum pattern and various synths and VIs lend harmonic support and textural interest*. I’ll talk more about the process of creating the music and blending (or not blending, depending on what you’re going for) live musicians with electronic elements in a future blog.

The drums on this track were programmed by my brother Dan. (“You mean played, right?”) No, actually! Drum programming is where you build up the layers of beats using samples to design your own drum pattern, as opposed to using a drum synthesiser or, budget permitting, a real drummer (or drummers). Although, in this case, there are very few actual drums – but there are lots of plastic containers and interesting things. Keep an ear out for them!

Like what you hear? You can stream The Forest on Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, Napster and many other platforms, or buy it on iTunes, Amazon, Pro Studio Masters and more!


Sam x


Friday, 13 April 2018

Long Time No (Middle) C

Hi, I know. Sorry. I’m so good at blogging that I haven’t done it in a literal age – I think the animated He-Man was still on its original airing the last time I wrote one! Anyway, I’m back and this time, I will be blogging regularly (yes, really – I mean it this time!).

I should really tell you about everything that’s happened since last *mumble*… So:

To start with, those albums I was banging on about. Well, two of them are available to buy and stream RIGHT NOW! The Forest and Cypher can both be found on all your favourite platforms. I’ll start by telling you a little about the first release, The Forest.

(Find it on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, and Google Play.)

The Forest


I blogged a little about it when I recorded the album, but let me refresh your memories. This album, released last August, was inspired by my dog walks through the local woodland. Written over the course of half a year, it’s sort of a concept album; the idea is that each track tells a story that might happen through the course of a single day (and night) in a forest. It starts at dawn and ends up at a moonlit pool, making its journey via a babbling brook and all sorts of plants and creatures going about their business. Could I be more specific about what I see in my head for each track? Yes – but I don’t want to. I want the music to do that for itself.

How it’s made

I did all the initial composition for The Forest in my studio. Then, because I wanted to create music that sounded different to anything I had done before, I went to my brother’s studio to avail myself of his synth collection (and also his skills as a producer. We often use each other as sounding boards for our respective work – more on that later!). Dan and I mucked about with a Roland Juno 6, a Roland SH-101, and an Arturia Minibrute. He also showed me how to use his Arturia Beatstep Pro to do some drum programming – which was so cool, I bought one as soon as I got back into my own studio!

The Forest was recorded at Script Studios in London. The fabulous musicians who played on it are Sara Wolstenholme, Kirsty Mangan, Laurie Anderson and Peter Gregson (with some piano and Hammond organ played by me). I was lucky enough to have Joe Rubel to engineer and mix the album and John Webber at Air Studios to master it. It sounds great – and that’s really thanks to the quality of players and to Joe and John’s amazing work. People often forget how much creativity mix and mastering engineers bring to a project, not to mention the giant leap in quality the players bring with their interpretations of your music.

So there you have it. A little about The Forest. Next time, I’ll tell you all about my second album, Cypher. But for now, TTFN.

Sam x

Monday, 28 November 2016

One of the three albums I've been banging on about.

Hello,

Last week I said there would be two announcements. I then failed to make the second as the first took over my life for a bit, so here it is right now for your reading pleasure:

ALBUM!

The album I mentioned in a previous blog that I've written using solely Spectrasonic's Keyscape has been mixed. I went to visit Dan last week to mix it (as those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram will know from my silly videos). It was great fun and we mixed the whole album in a day. Yes, one single day. Dan is either a mixing machine or the music is ridiculously simple. Probably a little of column A and a little of column B there...

Anyway, I can now confirm the name of the album and the track listing. The album is called Cypher and has eight tracks:

1. Tetralogy I
2. Hexad
3. Dyad
4. Quintain
5. Seofon
6. Deka
7. Eahta
8. Tetralogy II

I'm still not sure exactly when it's going to be released. Very soon, I hope. I am mastering it as I type, then I will play it to my publisher and we'll take it from there. There is a plan for a very funky bit of artwork but that is still to be confirmed, mostly because I haven't asked the artist if they're willing to do it for me yet...

Watch this space and I'll let you know when it's released (along with the other two).

Sam x

Monday, 21 November 2016

O, as the kids, M, used to say, G!

I couldn't wait until later in the week for the terrifying announcement.  I had to make it today, so here it is:

Help. I've gone insane.

For some reason I've signed up to run the Virgin Money London Marathon 2017. No, really. I have. I blame Nick Harvey. He did it this year and made it look easy. He raised loads of cash for a great cause and it inspired me to try and do the same. So I signed up and luckily got a place with the fantastic charity Pancreatic Cancer UK.

I'll be running in memory of my late uncle Cliff who, those of you who where were kind enough to sponsor me for Macmillan Cancer Support's 'Go Sober For October' will remember, died in October 2015 from pancreatic cancer. It was sudden and horrible and he was far too young so I'm really pleased to make a positive out of it and get this chance to raise (hopefully) loads of cash for a great charity.

I have to raise a minimum of £2500 but I'd love to raise as much as possible. If I could double that I'd be beyond happy. I'll have to think of something I can do if I get to £5000. Run in the buff or something. Well, not that. I wouldn't want to blind people (make of that what you will).

There's another favour I'd like to ask on top of begging for your money. PCUK are running a competition and the two fundraisers with the most money by 12:00 on 12th December 2016 will get to start from the Green Start (that's the bit with all the celebs and the posh loos). It would be great fun to be able to start from there so if you can/want to/are planning on sponsoring me please do it RIGHT NOW! Only actual donations will count, not promises of them.

To all you UK based taxpayers please Gift Aid the bobbins off those donations, it really does make a difference to the charity to get that extra slice from the tax office. It's also a perfect time to donate as November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. I know money is tight at the moment but if every one of my Twitter followers donated £1 I'd raise £2436. I could almost reach the minimum in no time. So don't think you have to sponsor me thousands of pounds (although, if you can afford to that would be great). Every penny counts.

You can donate via my Virgin Money Giving page here. Your donations will spur me on, the more you give the faster I'll run. Or at least, the more you give the more likely I am to get through it.

I'll keep you all updated with how the training is going and thank you in advance for your donations and your support.

Sam x

Monday, 17 October 2016

Announcements 'n' Stuff

Hello everyone,

I've been meaning to blog for ages.  So here goes...

A quick catch up

I'm currently having the pleasure of working with Rob Manning on a project.  I'll say more when I can, but it's been a joy.  I love collaborating with other composers.  It's something I want to do more of.

I'm also doing Macmillan Cancer Support's "Go Sober for October" in memory of my late Uncle Cliff who died from pancreatic cancer last year. I'm half way through and yearning for a nice gin and tonic but I'm sure my liver is grateful for the rest.  If you'd like to sponsor me you can do here.  Any support is hugely appreciated.

Lalaland

As you may know, I'm going to be at Gallifrey One in February 2017.  Very exciting!  I can't wait, I'm incredibly excited.  Can you tell?  So if you're going, I'll see you there.  Come say hi and make me feel welcome, it's my first time in the States.

I'm also looking forward to catching up with the lovely Katy Manning, Tony Lee, Gary Russell, Scott Handcock and Richard Dinnick, most of whom I haven seen for a very long time.  I'm also hoping to fit in time to catch up with the adorable Kerry Muzzey as well as meeting up with the people at Music Sales Los Angeles and a few other things while I'm there.

Albums

You know those albums I recorded in April and finished in July. Yeah, those ones, the string quartet ones.  Well, they're not out yet.  Sorry about that.  I'm hoping they'll be released soon but we're currently talking with some people and exploring avenues for their release.  As soon as I know what's happening with them I'll shout about it on every social media outlet, street corner and multi story car park roof in the land.

In the mean time

If you can't wait for that I'm currently writing another album which I plan on self releasing, probably through iTunes, hopefully by Christmas.  It's going to be eight tracks (and I've written five of them) and I'm only using Spectrasonics' new virtual instrument Keyscape.  It's a stunning collection of keyboard instruments and I've fallen madly in love with it.  And no, I'm not being sponsored to say that (although, if you're reading this Spectrasonics I'll happily trial any future releases for you! *cough* shameless *cough*).  I find the best way to learn a new virtual instrument or library album is to sit and try to write music using it in isolation.  This time I thought I'd release the results.  Again, I'll be shouting about it as soon as it's released.

Anyway, I'd best get back to work.

Big hugs,

Sam