Musical Rooms

December 7, 2010

Musical Rooms Part 103: Solar Bears

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 10:00 am
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“Our musical room is a small part of Rian’s home. It resembles a loft or attic but it could be a mezzanine. Rian has been learning about music production for over a decade, working most days on various projects. His house is located on a steep hill in Delgany, Wicklow. It is not far from woodland and the quality of oxygen is better than you could hope for. There is an energy in the locality that is lacking in the area I am from personally. Both Rian’s parents are musicians, as is his brother Oisin so there are countless books on music and instruments laying around.

There happens to be another studio next door called Strawberry Studios, ours was called Studio Antarctica unofficially. Equipment-wise the list is longer and more varied than either of us had recalled. We worked off a Mac running an ancient version of Protools. We used keyboards like the Proteus 1 + 2 as well as more standard fare like Novation K-Station. The guitars ranged from a Epiphone Viola Bass (a Hofner copy) to an Adam Black Orion using pedals like the EH Holy Grail Plus and the Keeley Blues Driver.

The real joy for us was tape machines which included a My First Sony Cassette Recorder and a Tiger Electronics Talkboy Cassette Recorder, which featured in Home Alone 2, if I am not mistaken. We used some software for textures as well but it was mostly hardware that we got our ideas down on for editing. Songs were created without much labour or polishing. Rian spent quite a while mixing and doing final touches. There were times when we left the windows open to allow the ambience outside to creep in. That is something Can used to do. An element of nature is important.

We sampled scales of guitar and saxophone to create new synth sounds. Another trick we did was recording the resonance off a Welmar Acoustic piano strings after shouting at them. Sometimes Rian started a track, sometimes it was me. Everything was shared and equal. Roles became non-existent early on. Thankfully we produced a piece of music each time we met up.

The room itself has enough books, angles and objects to ensure interesting acoustics. There was plenty of beer and wine drinking during sessions. Afterward we would watch an old-skool science fiction film or a psychedelic opus like The Holy Mountain to inspire us for the next day. The laidback approach suited us both as people and music makers.”

Solar Bears are Dublin/Wicklow duo John Kowalski and Rian Trench who met at sound engineering college. Sharing a love of world cinema, their music combines a number of different influences ranging from electronica to film composers like Ennio Morricone and George Delerue. Their sound is a mix of programming, acoustic instruments, synths and vintage tape machines. They are signed to Planet Mu and their 2010 album, She Was Coloured In, was named in Rough Trade’s 100 Albums of the Year and in Uncut Magazine’s Top 50 albums of 2010. For more information visit

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August 28, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 84: Sunken Foal

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 2:50 pm
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“Writing and producing tend to be two different entities for me. The producing and arranging mostly takes place in my studio pictured above but the initial inception is usually anywhere but. My studio is in a little village on the south west coast but my friends and family are in Dublin. When I’m off visiting I love picking up other people’s instruments and coming up with something new. Writing in the same place can leave things a little stagnant for me. Even going into the kitchen, bedroom or living room helps. I’ve even brought some arrangements to different studios and found that very beneficial but my studio is inevitably where most of my work is done.

I live in a small two bedroom house with an apex roof. One of the bedrooms is presently my studio. The window over the the mixing desk looks directly out over a bizarre natural rock formation that extends a couple of miles out into the sea. There’s constantly some kind of mechanical noise flowing over from the harbour along with anxious drones of motocross/quad bike enthusiasts. Having lived in Dublin until my late twenties, the lack of orange glow at night is extremely welcome.

The central hub here would be the mixing desk where all the synths, effects, mics and computers get sent into. One computer is for composition (Mac) and the other is for sound processing (PC). I keep all my guitars, banjos, harps etc. in the studio but I usually go into a different room to record them. There are various boxes of broken equipment and cables waiting for the day I decide to get into soldering. I recently counted all my spare change lying around the house which added up to €150. This should give you an idea of the strength of my procrastination.

The time I spend with an instrument is invariably inversely proportional to its importance on a piece. I may spend three days programming a patch in the computer which is barely heard in the mix and five minutes programming a synth which sits very prominent in a particular track. I feel very at home with my Epiphone in my lap but that may be more for leisure than ‘work’. I feel pretty bad if i don’t do four or five solid hours of work a day in my studio. I set schedules for myself and if I get halfway there I reckon its pretty good going. When I’m preparing for gigs I’ll usually set out a strict schedule but when I’m recording for a release, my presence in the studio can be fairly erratic. I get inspired by the instruments and software themselves so I’m generally already working on something when the lightbulb flashes.

Playing live, I’ve been working with Rod Morris of late. It’s similar to the way I compose in that I spend X amount of hours building sounds and systems to work within and then a fraction of that time either playing or composing. Isolation is important for a lot of my recorded results. I tend to compose something and sit with it for quite some time getting to know it. The piece will metamorphosise during this time quite a bit. I used to have my studio in a house I was sharing with two other gentlemen. I found my melodies didn’t progress as far from their inception as much as they do when I’m in solitude. Neither scenario is quantitively worse/better for the music i reckon – just different.

Every piece is hopefully different. Sometimes it’s a string of guitar chords. Sometimes its a process to play the guitar through. Sometimes it’s a lyric. Sometimes it’s an idea for some software to develop. Some tracks will benefit from being left alone for a year and sometimes I’ll finish them in a day. When I find myself precisely repeating an approach to either a production technique or composition method I get this odd shameful feeling. Its a problem.

I use the following:

Software: I’m still crazy about Sound Forge. I build a lof of sounds from scratch in the Nord Modular Editor. Lots of the structure is done in Logic Studio but I’m not adverse to other sequencers. I’m spending more and more time in Max/MSP to build my synths, samplers and effects.

Hardware: Korg, Yamaha, Oberheim and Akai analogue synths and filters. Waldorf, Emu, Yamaha, Nord, and Korg digi synths and samplers. Lots of Boss, Rat etc. effects. Various Midi controlers. Quite a few acoustic/electric guitars and basses. I have a couple of autoharps that are great for throwing some chords together on. My mics and preamps aren’t the best so I sometimes record instruments in a ‘real’ studio.

Anatomy: My brain, fingers, thumbs, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders. Never my legs or feet.

What I like most about my space is that I’m the only person in it.”


After completing his MA in Music Technology at UL, Sunken Foal (Dunk Murphy) released his debut album “Fallen Arches” on Planet-Mu records alongside the “Fermented Condiments” E.P. in late 2008. Since then, he has played a string of successful gigs developing a unique ‘finger-triggered’ improvisational live performance setup with Rod Morris. His BBC Radio 1 session for the Mary Anne Hobbs show (featuring Jürgen Simpson and Cormac Dermody) is set for release in late 2009 which includes remixes by acts such as Legion of Two. Sunken Foal plays in the Body and Soul Area of the Electric Picnic, Stradbally, Co. Laois, at midnight on Friday September 4th, at TWEAK festival in Limerick on Wednesday September 23rd and at DEAF with Legion of Two at Crawdaddy, Dublin on Friday October 30th. For more information visit

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