Sunday, August 23, 2020

London Doesn't Need You - full sleeve notes

During the making of this album, I found myself living in London in less than ideal circumstances. I didn't have access to a rehearsal space, musical instruments or any studio equipment.

Therefore I had to work with what I had, which was my laptop, a pair of headphones and my trusty Roland R-05 handheld field recorder.

Using this limited array of equipment, I began to collect samples from my environment during long walks in the city centre, before layering them together to form audio collages. I then edited carefully: highlighting the moments that fortuitously worked, and removed the bits that clashed with one another. Then I rinsed the whole feed through heavy amounts of delay: this work represents the summation of my delay and reverb experiments over the preceding years. With the source material lacking an overt musical coda, I had to find musicality in the design of the delay patterns... having delayed signals change in pitch and collide against one another to create new sounds, or automating the settings of reverb units to change and modulate as the piece played.

In the end, the post-production attempted to make the sound move, pulse and breathe - perhaps because so much of the music was confined solely to the interior of my laptop.


Fade In / Out

This short introduction to the record was made using MIDI files of ‘Fade In / Out’ by Oasis, from their Be Here Now album.  Fans have compiled many of the band’s hits into MIDI packages, which can then be repurposed in whatever way you wish.  This specific segment uses the chorus.  After so many bombastic band recordings, the aspect of negative space in a piece of music had grabbed my eye - and was in full effect here.  The reason I chose such a song to apply this treatment to was because Oasis MIDI files are widely available on the internet, and also because the band were a crucial fixture in my early teens when I was first discovering rock music.

London - December 1 

In December of 2013, I found myself living above a pub, sleeping on the floor.  During this time, I walked the streets of the South Bank, recording the sounds that I heard.  Realising that one should “work with what you have”, and having turned my back on conventional music for the time being, I found myself using these ambiences to create original compositions.  

This technique expanded upon my prior use of field recordings that had begun to proliferate in my more conventional productions.  It dispensed with the core “song”, and instead let the accidents and coincidences of the compiled layers form their own structure.

My own contribution to these layers, besides simply having recorded them, was to apply some bespoke delays that I had programmed in Logic’s Delay Designer.  This tool could be calibrated quite finely to create delays that oscillated, faded and then grew in volume, panned left then right, and rolled off certain frequencies of the signal before returning to its original form.  I used automation in Logic to have these variables change and modulate throughout the duration of the track.

Some old piano scraps that were recorded in the Brighton Road Presbyterian Church were flown in over the top of this, but I was at pains to not let a conventional instrument be the focus of the piece, but rather just another texture that was part of this mix.

It was exciting to break out of the conventional drums / bass / guitar / vocals mixing monotony that had formed much of my previous eight years of mixing.  Once you have mastered such a technique, doing it repeatedly makes you feel more like a machinist than an artist.  It becomes automatic and dull.  It also requires you to have access to a kit, amps and your mixing desk.  With this technique, I was able to embrace the limitations of my environment and use it to create something different.

Shakey Jakey

A lot of this was done using the ‘latch’ mode on Logic’s automation feature.  It meant that - as the track played - I moved the various controls and the computer remembered the movements.  This is a soft, in-the-box equivalent of twiddling the knobs and dials on your guitar pedal as you record in a rehearsal space.  It’s not as much fun, but it adds a lot of movement and depth to a track - especially if one is listening on headphones.  Since I was now mixing exclusively on headphones, this became my main target:  how to create something that would work in that confined, cranial space.

Creepy Pasta

This was a complete dive into ambience, and it sounds as though some severe bitcrushing and time-stretching were employed here.  The rhythm sounds like I have recycled the bottle beat from ‘Chimes’, though everything is so warped it’s hard to tell for sure.

Sluice Them All Off

This began with me scraping my feet along the gravel of Twickenham train station pedestrian bridge.  I also used a sample of the sound of the rain hitting the metal surfaces below my window, in my first floor room in a five-bed house share in Acton.

London - December 2 [epilogue]

The majority of this track is presented on this album’s sister disc No Days Off Forever.  But the last part fits better here.  It samples a group of boorish rugby fans in a District Line Tube station, and stroking of the piano keys at Colerabbey that was put through another bespoke Delay Designer effect.

Double Formant Shift

I’ve written about the making of this track elsewhere, but put briefly I was asked to create a soundtrack for a short film made by a fashion brand.  The whole thing was a deeply underwhelming experience, but I learnt a lot from it and saw inside the empty heart of London’s supposed “creative” scene in Shoreditch.  I always knew it was there, but had to see it for myself to be sure.  

I was pleased with the music, though.  It evokes the dismal, gloomy quality of that time spent in London, when I would walk through Soho virtually penniless, purely as a spectator to the shops and eateries around me, recording the sounds of old buildings being gutted to make way for shiny new ad agency offices.