Contact Mic

Whilst sorting through some audio files I found a load of recordings I made a little while ago with a cheap contact mic. I’d originally bought it as an easy way to amplify a ukulele live, but I’d had lots of fun recording random things around the house with it.

I got some great sounds out of some pots and pans in the kitchen.

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And our coffee-table,

And I also used it to mic up the piano and fee it into a guitar amp

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19 August 2014

The other day I was driving along listening to radio 4, when I was quite surprised to hear an old uni friend being quoted as an expert academic. Quite a few years ago I did a masters in Soundtrack Production at Bournemouth University, and on that course I met Kirstie Hewlett. I later discovered she was not only featured on this documentary, but also wrote it, and it was largely based on her PhD.

The documentary’s called Learning to Listen, and is available on the bbc iplayer. It’s about the advent of the home radio at the beginning of the twentieth century, and how people got used to having music in their homes, spatially removed from the musicians creating it. It’s very much worth a listen, even if you’re not into music or sound production.

Or if you’d just fancy something less academic, then here’s James Brown in a Japanese miso soup advert from the early 90s:

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The Sience Museum and St Paul’s

I was in London the other day and happened to have some free time, during which I decided to pop into the Science Museum. I stumbled upon the Exponential Horn, a reconstruction of a large loudspeaker originally displayed in the museum in the 1930s.2014-07-13 15.15.56I’d heard about this new installation, so thought I’d check it out. Whilst I was there the horn was broadcasting a bbc radio3 live concert which was just ending, and was followed by a site-specific sound art piece by Audialsense. This work was constructed in max/msp and used audio recordings of the machines at the science museum, as well as filters based around the natural harmonic resonances of the exhibition space they were in.

Here’s a brief video I recorded on my phone:

The following morning I happened to go along to St Paul’s for their Sung Eucharist service. On this day, by chance, they also had an orchestral accompaniment provided by the City of London Sinfonia.

I took some short clips on my portable audio recorder, first of the bells outside the cathedral, and then one later on whilst the orchestra played during communion:

Viewed as a site-specific event, the service at St Paul’s was was just as much an interesting experience as the installation at the Science Museum. In many ways being at the cathedral was a far more integrated experience. The building; the sopping wet reverb it creates; the bells inside it; and music written for a liturgical setting, all evolved over time together, each with a symbiotic dependence of the other. The sound art piece at the museum, was an interesting experience, but essentially felt like it was just using sounds from the museum as its pallet, to then do ‘the-sound-art-thing’… – manipulating audio recordings, applying filters and effects, which admittedly yields interesting sonic creations, but often the listener does not recognise, nor really care, what the the source of the original sounds were. A piece by Mozart, several hundred years old, performed on old wooden and brass instruments, is essentially a museum piece in itself as well, and so maybe that’s why its not really fair to compare these two experiences, but I’d have to admit that even as a sonic expression of a space, the service at St Paul’s was probably a bit more fun.

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12 April 2014 – Under Milk Wood

I recently went to see a new opera version of Under Milk Wood. It’s composed by John Metcalf and is based on the Dylan Thomas radioplay. John lived quite near to where I grew up in rural Wales, and I got to know him and studied with him a little, around when I was a student. He’s one of the more rare breed of composers who, as well as being active in writing new music, is also a very good teacher.

This operatic version of Under Milk Wood was great fun, with occasional cheeky comic moments. I’ve only listened to the original radio play once before, but I’ll have to dig it out ready for the next time I’ve got a long drive somewhere.

Seeing it actually reminded me of a car advert. Now, yea I know… when it comes to pieces of filmmaking that stick with you – usually car adverts are hardly the pinnacle of artistic achievement. But I remembered liking this one when it was around, many years ago. It’s not one of those quirky honda adds, that usually get stuck in your head – it’s just a simple blend of nice shots of modern cityscapes at night, with excerpts of Richard Burton’s opening narration from Under Milk Wood, all held together with an awesome piece of music from Cliff Martinez’s great soundtrack from the film Solaris.   ((which is a film that references Dylan Thomas quite a few times itself… although just the ‘death shall have no dominion’ poem, as far as I remember….))

I remember it was this advert that encouraged me to first listen to Under Milk Wood, and also to go back and re-watch Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris as well. It’s a film that I quite liked – although any objective judgement of the film would be quite impossible given how much I like the score alone. The score’s made of 2 main types of music – the bass-driven chugging rythm over a haze of delay-strewn pitched percussion (as in the ad above); and then a less measured more orchestral presentation of the soporific haze of sound (eg) that I’ve described before as ‘almost tonal micropolyphonic Liget’.

Both of these side of the film score have inspired me in my own music. Several years ago I worked at a music summer school at which, incidentally, John Metcalf was leading a composition course. I had piece preformed there which was largely inspired by the rhythmic cues in Cliff Martinez’s score. The piece was called In F and you can here it here. More recently I worked on a short independent film called The Moirae. ((I got involved with this film as the script was written by an old school friend Roanne Bardsley, who now happens to work as a writer for Hollyoaks.)) We needed a score that was very sparse and bare but still managed to maintain tension. In places I felt this score ended up owning a debt to the more hazy elements of the Solaris soundtrack (as well as to Ligeti (to whom, of course, Cliff Martinez was nodding to in his score ((In the audio-commentary on the Solaris dvd (hmm, I guess that level of nerdyness proves I must like the film, and for more than just the soundtrack alone) I seem to remember Soderbergh (or maybe it was James Cameron (who was a producer) ) saying they’d tried laying some Ligeti music over some of the scenes. Of course, the link here between Ligeti and Martinez’s sci-fi score is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which famously used several pieces by Ligetis, (most prominently his Requiem), to create an other-worldly atmosphere. Solaris does have some scenes (later on in the film when George Clooney’s going a little more crazy) that clearly owe a debt visually to the trippy ‘hurtling-through-space-and-time’ bit in 2001. It only makes sense I guess then, that the soundtrack would owe a debt to that same father of modern science-fiction cinema.)) )). Maybe hearing this cue below by itself it might seem a little boring, and in all truth it is quite literally just 4 notes slowly played over 1minute, but oh well, I quite like it.


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24 March 2014

Recently I had a fun time at the Cardiff TEDx event at the WMC. They had some really interesting speakers and we also got free cake which is always good :)


If you’re interested in what I’m watching then you can follow my tumblr film diary here (although I seldom write reviews of any worth….)

A lesbian love song I worked on as co-writer/produced from a few years back, has recently passed the half-a-million views mark on youtube with its music video.

I’ve been working on several little project more recently, which hopefully I’ll be able to share more on before too long.

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It’s My Shout Documentary, bbc iplayer, S4C

Tomorrow evening 17th December, at 11.20pm on BBC2 Wales there will be a 30minute behind-the-scenes documentary on It’s My Shout and this year’s Made in Wales series and features some of my music. More info here.

Also, my first Welsh-language film Gadael Sneggi is still available for about another week to watch on S4C’s catch up service here (and it does have subtitles too).

Hope everyone has a nice relaxing time over the Christmas period! Am feeling very Christmasy now as recently returned form a nice little weekend away in Bruges with the wife. Needless to say most of our family and friends will be getting Belgian chocolates for Christmas this year.


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Gadael Sneggi, S4C clic, bbc iplayer

A few days ago my first welsh language short film Gadael Sneggi was broadcast on S4C (the alternative to channel 4 we have in Wales). It’s now available on S4C catch up service here (and subtitles are available too). There was also an interview with our director Mared Swain and writer and Ciron Gruffydd, on the primetime chat-show Heno. Again this is now available to watch on line here (although the subtitles on that aren’t so great if you don’t speak any Welsh).

Below is an extract from the soundtrack. It’s a cue from quite near the end and is the most tender music I wrote for the film. The film itself is essentially a child-friendly, ghost chiller, so a lot of the soundtrack is swooshy noises and eerie strings; this music is what you might refer to as ‘the love theme’, except (as it is after all a ghost story) its not a particularly happy romantic resolution.

Also, Say It (an English 10minute short I composed for) is still available on bbc iplayer for a few more weeks here.

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