Hello everyone! 

I’m aware I have been a little on the quiet side since receiving the fantastic news that I was chosen to be Paraorchestra Musician in Residence this year. I can’t believe that it’s already two months in! Time goes so fast and I am conscious of every single minute. Such that I have a countdown timer on my phone to make sure I stay super focused on everything I want to get done this year. I wanted to share a little bit of what I’ve been up to so far over these initial weeks of the residency. 

I am so incredibly grateful to have had many inspiring discussions with the team at Paraorchestra who have been so generous with their time. It’s such a great space to bounce ideas off them and have their help with moving things forward and finding a new equilibrium in my creative practice. The opportunity for a total rethink does not come around often and these discussions have really helped to tame the tangle of overgrown ideas in my mind. One leap which they gently nudged me to take was to invest some more processing power. Yes, I mean a new laptop. 

It’s true, I have been running on a prehistoric machine – over 10 years old! – but sometimes it’s hard to let dinosaurs die. As any electronic musician will tell you, moving over to the M1 chip is a daunting prospect. Would my patches still work? Would the roborecorder collapse in a pile of twisted MIDI? Luckily after an intense period of software and license updating I can confirm that making the move is the best thing I ever did. Not only can I run my live sessions without the pinwheel of doom making an appearance, I now have processing power to spare. A dream!

Yes, we dropped a hydrophone off the roof of Real World! Credit: Leslie Gaston Bird

On top of this, I had more amazing news that I was chosen to work with the team at Watershed and My World Bristol as part of the first ever Experimental Immersive Audio camp at Real World Studios. It was also the first time I have ever worked in 3D audio and involved a steep learning curve and some brand new software, Dolby Atmos Composer, which allows you to work in Atmos in Ableton live and even to control the spatialisation of your performance live via MIDI mapping. 

Spending three days in such a world class recording facility with nine other brilliant producers was incredible. We were given a tour of the studio on arrival by Hans Martin Buff, a renowned immersive audio specialist who had set the studio up with every mic array we could possibly want and a few more we didn’t know existed. I was particularly excited about the cube, which allowed us to spatialise our live recordings instantly with minimal effort. 

We spent the first evening foraging in the dark fields surrounding the studio and were rewarded with some suspiciously tuneful gates and what sounded like a flock of baby owls. These formed the basis for creating an immersive narrative piece plotted around the concept of watery psychic beings taking over the studio. Meanwhile my collaborator Alessio suggested we incorporate microsounds, consisting of recorder key noises, Leslie organ thunking expertly operated by John Baggott, and some rather haunting bass drum key tightening. All this over a pre-apocalyptic live jam inspired by two pages of music I’d hastily tapped into Dorico the morning I left. It was a real privilege to experiment with new ideas in such an amazing studio and be met with such open hearted enthusiasm.

Hydrophone plotting in the Big Room with Katie, credit Leslie Gaston Bird. My phone decided to document the hydrophone drop from the grass….perhaps an underwater intervention?

There was a fantastic atmosphere of collaboration and experimentation. Nothing seemed off limits and everyone was more than happy to answer any questions or discuss ideas. The whole team took part enthusiastically in an impromptu ritual chanting session, with added movement up, down and around for good measure. In the name of 3D percussion intrepid session drummer Howey climbed right up into the rafters in the Wood Room, a picture that will remain with me forever but was sadly not recorded for your viewing as all present were busy marching and drumming. Particular thanks are due to Chris Hughes for so many amazing suggestions, Duncan for lending his hydrophone, Tim and all participants for allowing me to reamp the final piece at high volume through the floor and into the lake and Katie and Louis for braving sunburn, heights and the depths of the lake in front of the studio suspending the hydrophone from the roof to get it into prime recording position. You can read Vanessa’s blog for Watershed with much more detail on the weekend and all the participants and a little video taster here.

We made it! End of weekend pic in the Big Room. Credit: York Tillyer

I was definitely glad of the new laptop that weekend- a 110 track Atmos session is no place for a dinosaur computer! In fact my old laptop wouldn’t even have had space to install all of the software we needed for the weekend. Many thanks for the team at Paraorchestra for enabling me to get the right tools for the job. 

So grateful to Vanessa, Lawottim, Jo and the whole team who really did an incredible job of organising the weekend. I met so many amazing people and made so many connections which will last well into the future, as well as discovering a love of immersive sound which I will incorporate into my practice moving forwards. The team at Real World were incredible, Tim looking after us all so well in the studio, and Lisa a one woman whirlwind organising the accommodation and the delicious food. If you get the chance to go, grab it. It’s such an incredible place to be. 

After an extremely intense week I gathered my last drop of energy to play my very first live show with the new laptop at the Circle Dance records summer party! I was so touched by all of the love for the roborecorder shown by all present. We had a lovely evening with a great atmosphere, plus pizza from biddlesbread who I have previously worked with on a Paraorchestra project! Thanks are due to Muckers for inviting us down. 

Phew! All of this and Spiral Dial is still somehow coming out on time every month! Check out the latest episodes here…and yes, we are indeed planning using a cube for future episodes….albeit with slightly more affordable microphones than Buff’s version!

Coming up this month, I am so much looking forward to performing on the sopranino recorder in SMOOSH! with Paraorchestra the last weekend of June in Newham on Friday the 23rd June, the South Bank on Saturday the 24th (both FREE) and Glastonbury on Sunday the 25th (not so free….and very much sold out….). We will be headlining the Circus tent at the very precise time of 1822 on the Sunday night so if you’re there you can come see us then still make it over to see Elton!

Looking forwards, there is more super exciting news which I can’t share with you yet on some upcoming collaborations together with the sharing of the results of the weekend at Real World so watch this space for another blog very soon!

Wishing you all a great summer with much more sunshine and less lightning!

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