Tales From The Bridge – Martyn Ware


At level 1, one of the first assessment tasks I ask students to undertake is the creation of a soundscape. However, for some, the very notion of the soundscape is unfamiliar. Soundscapes can take many different forms – some can be very challenging for the listener/audience.

Whilst listening to Radio 4 this morning, I heard a short interview with Martyn Ware (The Human League, Heaven 17) in which he explains the concept behind his Tales From The Bridge soundscape currently installed at London’s Millennium Bridge. This is an excellent example of an accessible approach to the creation of a soundscape and hopefully one which will inspire some of our students’ creativity.

Listen to the clip here

Excellent Advice From Chilly Gonzales

I love Chilly Gonzales’s approach to playing and his compositions for the solo piano. In this clip from Rob Da Bank’s Dawn Chorus he explains his thinking behind the challenge of performing beat driven electronic music on a solo acoustic instrument. He also highlights the importance of an understanding of rhythm in music composition.
Recorded at Maida Vale for BBC Radio 1 (25/08/2012).
Solo Piano II is out on August 27

Excellent Advice From Chilly Gonzales by audioproduction

John Cage’s 4’33” and other ‘daft’ compositions

It’s the 60th anniversary of the creation of John Cage’s Four Minutes, Thirty Three Seconds. In BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Evan Davis asks “Is it a profound statement about the concept of music or the silliest composition ever?”

Nicola Stanbridge considers some groundbreaking pieces including Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet and La Monte Young’s piece for Terry Riley which involves pushing a piano into a wall until you exhaust yourself.

Listen to the clip here

A Sound British Adventure

Comedian Stewart Lee is passionate about electronic music and he take us on a remarkable musical journey. We discover how, after the Second World War, a small group of electronic pioneers began tinkering with their army surplus kit to create new sounds and music.

Tristram Cary started the first electronic music studio in Britain but, while France, Germany, Italy and the USA had lavishly funded research centres, British electronic music remained the preserve of boffins on a budget.

As the programme reveals, this make do and mend approach prevailed long after austerity Britain had given way to the swinging 60s, with Peter Zinovieff developing EMS synthesizers from a shed at the bottom of his garden in Putney. (Paul McCartney put on his wellies and took a look). Zinovieff is interviewed about his experiments in sound.

Unsurprisingly, the electronic community in Britain was a small, intimate group and joining Cary and Zinovieff was Daphne Oram, who devoted decades to developing a ‘drawn sound’ electronic composition system that never really quite worked.

Brian Hodgson tells us about 1960s experimental and electronic festivals, including The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave (1967) at which The Beatles’ electronic piece Carnival Of Light had its only public airing. We shall also hear how the radiophonic workshop broke new musical ground with Dr. Who.

Experts in the history of electronic music, including author and musician Mark Ayers and Goldsmith College lecturer in computer studies Dr. Michael Griegson give the boffins’ view and Portishead’s Adrian Utley explains why the early forays in electronics are still relevant today.

Produced by John Sugar
A Sugar Production for BBC Radio 4.

Listen to the programme here

Metropolis

Cultural commentator Paul Morley explores a history of popular music through some of the iconic recording studios in which classic albums were created.

Without them music as we know it would simply not exist. At its most basic, there’d be no technology to capture the sounds envisaged by the musicians and created and enhanced by the engineers and producers… and there’d be no music for the record companies to market and distribute. But more than that, the studios actually played a crucial part in the structure and fabric of the music recorded there – the sounds enhanced by the studio space itself… the potential and shortcomings of the equipment and technology housed in the cubicles… and the ability and ‘vision’ of the engineers and producers operating it all to find the new sound that makes the recordings sound different and fresh.

In the final programme of the series Paul Morley ventures to West London and one of the last major studio complexes to be built in the heyday of the music industry. But without an exalted musical history to fall back on and decades of experience to help run it, how do you go about creating a world-class facility frequented by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Mick Jagger and Rihanna… and how do you keep it going when all around you are closing their doors?

Producer: Paul Kobrak.

Listen to the programme here

Abbey Road Studios

Cultural commentator Paul Morley explores a history of popular music through some of the iconic recording studios in which classic albums were created.

Without them music as we know it would simply not exist. There’d be no technology to capture the sounds envisaged by the musicians and created and enhanced by the engineers and producers… and there’d be no music for the record companies to market and distribute. But more than that, the studios actually played a crucial part in the structure and fabric of the music recorded there – the sounds enhanced by the studio space itself… the potential and shortcomings of the equipment and technology housed in the cubicles… and the ability and ‘vision’ of the engineers and producers operating it all to find the new sound that makes the recordings sound different and fresh.

Today he visits the world’s first purpose built recording studio, and possibly the most famous: the one at No 3, Abbey Road, a stone’s throw from a much photographed zebra crossing in London’s St John’s Wood. Opened by Sir Edward Elgar conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in a recording of “Land Of Hope And Glory”, the studios went on to record everyone from Adam Ant, The Bolshoi and Nick Cave… to XTC, Diana Yakawa and the Zombies – to say nothing of Pink Floyd and the Beatles.

But that’s not what’s drawn Paul Morley to these historic recording rooms – it’s the continuing work in capturing the sound of orchestras that is put under the spotlight in this programme. With the help of engineers and producers, composers and those that keep the studios running on a day to day basis, Paul explores how the relationship classical music has with the recording studio differs from the one that pop music enjoys.

Producer: Paul Kobrak.

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme here

First Career Steps – Matt North

Blog Post by Audio Production alumnus Matt North:

Having finished my degree in Audio Production, I am currently working for Ideal Shopping Direct as a Technical Operator. The company broadcasts over four channels and its main channel, Ideal World, is live 17 hours a day. My main responsibilities within my role are varied and alongside operating audio for the shows, I am learning new skills in different roles such as Floor Technician, Video Controller and Camera Operation. The Floor Technician role is especially interesting as I am learning new skills in lighting television sets, testing audio and visual feeds and dealing first-hand with presenters and guests alike.

The audio role within the company is very enjoyable, consisting of running the desk and ensuring all audio is to a suitable level for broadcast, as well as playing out sound effects and VT.

Whilst I am very much enjoying my work, I intend to gain as many skills and as much experience as possible within this role and then potentially move to a full-time Audio Operator role. Although I am doing some audio operation as a Technical Operator, I feel it would be beneficial for my CV and career to possess the official title of Audio Operator for future endeavours.

Ultimately, I intend to pursue my passion for film & TV sound that I developed whilst studying Audio Production. Since finishing my degree, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work as a Sound Recordist, as well as complete audio post-production on a short film with a former graduate from Lincoln, Michael Beddoes. I spoke to him after his guest lecture for R&D and he invited me to assist him on his project entitled ‘Breaking’, which has been entered into the Virgin Media Shorts competition and has received great attention. It was an invaluable experience, teaching me more about the location recording process and I am extremely proud of the finished product.

Through working on ‘Breaking’, I was asked by the film’s producer (Adam Spinks) to be in charge of sound on his upcoming feature film ‘Survivors’, which is being shot over 11 days in September in Surrey. The film has been crowd-funded and is being produced on a budget of around £4000. This was a fantastic opportunity that I could not turn down and since accepting the role, Adam has also asked me to complete post-production work on another short film he has done – and this was my first official paid freelance role. Although it was only a small amount, it is definitely a milestone in my career.

I am currently using my wages from working at Ideal World to buy my first personal location recording kit for the ‘Survivors’ shoot. I have upgraded to Pro Tools 10 and I am also currently enhancing the knowledge I gained from my degree in audio production for film through reading and testing the equipment I have purchased.

After the ‘Survivors’ shoot, I intend to apply for more freelance roles within the industry to enhance my audio portfolio, whilst continuing to gain experience in live TV sound at Ideal World. Afterwards, I hope to move to Manchester or London and apply for work in Audio Post-Production facilities whilst continuing with freelance audio work.

Links here: Breaking, Survivors

Rockfield Studios

“The era of the great recording studio being central to the production of great albums hit its peak around the time the Stone Roses released their debut album. By the end of the 1990s a combination of increasingly sophisticated home recording and the Internet era assault on traditional record companies with their big recording budgets was threatening the very future of the studio. Studios started to close taking their history and artistic and scientific knowledge with them and even though there was a greater mainstream appetite for pop music, the astonishing complicated machines responsible for the history of pop were becoming as antiquated as steam trains, as irrelevant and obsolescent as stately homes.” Morley, 2012.

Cultural commentator Paul Morley explores a history of popular music through some of the iconic recording studios in which classic albums were created. In future programmes he revisits some of the classical masterpieces recorded in the 80 year old Abbey Road Studios and cutting edge pop in Metropolis, the studio complex built when the music industry was at its most bloated peak. But he begins in the rural heart of Monmouthshire – at a studio that grew out of a farm and gave birth to some of rock music’s finest recordings – everything from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album, from Dr. Feelgood’s “Down By The Jetty” to Oasis’ “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory”, even from the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” to Adam Ant’s “Kings Of THe Wild Frontier”. Those trying to explain what part the studio played in creating such musical magic include performers (the veteran Dave Edmunds and the newcomers Iko), technicians (John Leckie and Sean Genockey) and the people who (in some cases, quite literally) built the studio and the business (father and daughter, Kingley and Lisa Ward, and Terry Matthews). As the money flowing through the music industry continues to dry up – Paul also asks what future there may be or the historic recording studios that helped build the industry in the first place?

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme here

Producer: Paul Kobrak.

Variations – the history of appropriative collage in music


I’ve been listening to this excellent 8 part series recently. Variations covers the history of appropriative collage in music i.e. using other people’s music in your own compositions – something I’ve done many times in my musical career. The series begins with examples from 1908, examines Musique Concrete of the 40s, the Avant Garde and experimental music of the 50s and 60s to sampling and remixing of the 80s and beyond.

The series investigates the whole notion of authorship. Indeed, “The idea of a completely original piece of music is a fairly recent one. Music was passed on through sound, through generations, even for centuries after the invention of written music. Only gradually, and centuries after the implementation of written notation, did it become standard practice for a composer to sign his name to a piece of music and claim it entirely as his own, giving rise to the cult of the individual composer.” (Leidecker, 2008).

The series is available as a free podcast from RWM’s website (under the heading Curatorial). I highly recommend it to our Audio Production students or, indeed, anyone with an interest in society’s experience of music.

Work Experience At British Grove

Blog post by level 1 Audio Production student Alistair Pritchard (3rd from left).

I was invited to spend a day at British Grove Studios in London by Dave Harries when our course gained JAMES accreditation. I helped set up the new tweeters in both studios and was introduced to the various employees of the studio and was then invited to spend a whole week at the studio later on in the year.

The building has a lovely, warm and homely atmosphere with real character, made more so by the staff that work there. Owned by Mark Knopfler and managed by David Stewart, British Grove is one of the very few studios left in London who cater for orchestral recordings as well as bands. Its amazing acoustics and flexibility of live rooms and booths allow it to adapt to each client’s needs.

During my first day I worked as Assistant Engineer with Joe (Engineer) and Steve McLaughlin who’s produced various compositions for films such as Die Hard and X-Men. This involved setting up for recording piano and classical guitar (see picture below) to add to a previous orchestral recording done at Abbey Road Studios. This was to be used for an art exhibition and possibly for a film in the future. Microphone positioning/choice was a key factor during this session to get the best sound but also to piece the music together as it was a complicated composition.

On my second day, after getting to grips with my role as an Assistant Engineer and familiar with the new environment, I was to work with Rich and Jason – setting up to record an album. Later that day I was introduced to Guy Fletcher (keyboard player in Mark’s band). The recording would take place for the rest of the week in studio 1 and, during this time, Glyn Johns was mixing an album for a client with Martin (British Grove Engineer) in Studio 2. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him and Don Was, which was really nice. I then found myself discussing work with them and made coffee throughout the week which lead to having lunch followed by some sound advice from Glyn himself.

For the recording session in studio 1 we had to use all of the booths and the live room. This consisted of many instruments being recorded all at the same time. To name a few:

Fiddle and Whistle/Flute – Neumann 67 (valve).
Drums – AKG C12s were used as overheads (also valve and very rare these days).
Vocals – A modern copy of a Telefunken 251.

Danny Cummings (percussionist) then turned up with all of his gear and by God, did he bring some drums?! We set them up and got levels with various microphones to find out which ones gave the best sound, in particular for the bass drum. The project was for a Spanish flamenco artist (cannot be named for private reasons) and was to be produced by Guy Fletcher. The musicians were part of Mark Knopfler’s folk band and friends, who I have to thank for making me very welcome and are such nice people. In total we had nine songs to record in full and straight away from hearing the first song you could see why the client had come to British Grove Studios, he was absolutely incredible as a composer of music and guitarist.

Throughout the week I learnt a lot about the hierarchy within a studio and how each level communicates with each other. Specifically to production techniques I learnt about microphone placement and some useful tips on Pro Tools. As the week came to an end working at British Grove started to feel like a norm, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was always eager to learn but I felt like part of the team – in all honesty I was sad to go.

However, my week was still yet to be completed as David gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I stayed for the weekend too. I was then fortunate enough to meet Paul Crockford who is Mark’s manager and has a wealth of experience in the role. The following morning we were set to finish the previous day’s song which would determine whether or not we would finish on time. Later that day I was pleasantly surprised to meet Mark Knopfler himself and that was a great end to the week with the final pieces being tracked and edited.

Overall I had a brilliant time and couldn’t have asked for a better week. Thank you to all involved.