Musical Rooms

January 19, 2011

Musical Rooms Part 104: Somadrone

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 4:07 pm
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My favorite space to create music in is in my room in San Francisco, on 14th St. The building I live in was uprooted and moved from a place called Dolores Park after the great earthquake of 1906. It’s quite small, but that’s fine – I crawl around among the wires like an ant. I have a lot of light, natural daylight. There are three bay windows, so I watch the sunrise in the east and set in the west, like at home, only eight hours later. It smells of an old gold rush San Francisco. The front door has a leaver at the top of the stairs that opens the door. This is quiet common in SF. It was built for the lazy, or for shooting the sheriff if he were to ever rap upon your door.

Most of my musical arsenal is still in Ireland (although I had to sell a lot of it to fund this self-indulgent trip). Having said that, new instruments bring new sounds, new ideas. I currently work with the following gear:

1. Moog Opus III
2. Moog Sonic Six
3. Vox Continental Organ
4. Matel Synsonics Drum Machine
5. WEM Tape Echo
6. SP-404 Sampler
7. Fostex 80 ¼ 8 Track Reel to Reel recorder
8. Other Bits and Bobs
9. Old Reliable – My Fender Jazzmaster
10. Laptop
11. A broken Oscillator
12. A Electromyometer (its measures sound waves made by skeletal movements)
13. Lots of vintage lamps (on loan)

The most important thing for me to have in that space is my ever fluctuating musical thought. I have to strike a machine up to get it going, but when it does it can go either way; really great, or absolutely terrible. I have to catch it when it’s in a good mood. I swim a lot so that helps wash out the cobwebs and demons that lurk beneath. Walking helps too. If it were a physical thing, I guess it would be my guitar. It often acts a starting point, so it’s good to always close to the source. Sunlight; a foreign concept of an Irish expat. Abstraction.

I spend 90% of my time here. I have always been a bedroom dweller. I think Brian Wilson put it best, in ‘In My Room’ when he said, “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to”. It becomes bit of a vortex also; It served as a prison when I was finishing up my PhD last October. I lecture at the Art Institute of California, San Francisco, so I work a lot at home. I usually work during the day, and write and record at night, weekends also. I found a new place for the weekends though. I am a member of the SF Photo Center, and every Saturday I go and print and develop photos. I am going to be part of a catalogue they are releasing next year. Being in a darkroom is the most peaceful place in the world. I find it very therapeutic. I read a lot here too, usually when I am bouncing down files, or just looking for route of reference.

Isolation is probably the most important element in creativity. Since I moved here, knowing relatively little people, it’s forced, rather than by choice. I miss my family and friends, as they were obviously an important part of my formal influence. I am more focused when I work alone, wandering around the shallows of my ego. I do miss a second opinion and set of ears every once in awhile. Quality control comes in and out of question.

When it comes to starting a piece, modes and moods is what it boils down to for me. Left hemisphere brings the logical, sequential and rational. Right side, right time: Intuitive, Random, a bit of both perhaps. I watch a lot of films. Music is transitory, where as film grabs a hold of you. Not to say that sound does not, it just operates differently. Observations, reflections and experiences; lots of new ones over here. I have been using ‘cut-up’s lately (as done by William Burroughs and David Bowie) to help me generate lyrics. Musically, its very organic, no real plan or goal in mind. Sometimes using Brain Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ is fun. They are a pack of cards he and an artist called Peter Schmidt invented. They are essentially a deck of cards, with different sayings like ‘Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance’. Sounds like a load of jargon, but it can work.

I like various things about this space:
Situation: It’s in a new city that brings new experiences and situations. All that happens day-to-day is documented in this place, through thought, writing and sound.
Light: Three bay windows overlooking 14th St bring an insane amount of light, which brings lighter moods. Sunsets are very inspiring here, especially when I am sitting at my desk watching it happen.
Coffee: Downstairs coffee shop, great cakes too. They make a mean carrot cake. Something like this is not only inspiring, but filling too.

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Somadrone is Irish composer, musician and film-maker Neil O Connor, now based in San Francisco, California. His current album, Depth of Field, is a follow up to 2007’s Of Pattern and Purpose and 2005’s Fuzzing Away to a Whisper, released on Trust Me I’m a Thief Records. Depth of Field was recorded in Dublin, Germany, Sweden, France and San Francisco, California and is “a totally new sound for Somadrone; a minimalist inspired electronic pop songbook, somewhere between Ennio Morricone, Jim O Rourke and Air. Depth of Field is out on Skinny Wolves Records. For more information visit www.iamsomadrone.com.

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October 17, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 45: Indian Jewelry

indianjewelry

“We have had a space of our own for about eleven non-contiguous months over the past four and a half years, so we have learned to work wherever we can. Most recently, however, we were renting a house in Houston where we converted the utility room into a music room. The room was small and the floor was rotting, so we covered the walls in Afghans, Sarapes, and tiger blankets in an ineffective attempt to soundproof the room and recreate a forcefield installation. Because we bought many of these blankets from a nearby thrift store, there is always an off-smell residing with us. We light it with soft-wattage lamps and our strobe lights.

In the room, there are wires, cables and power strips everywhere. There are also amplifiers, drums, guitars and synthesizers (most of them broken). Now the majority of our gear – everything that we don’t pile into the van – is stacked floor to ceiling in the study of Erika’s grandmother’s house.

The most important thing for us to have in that space is time. Since we spent most of last year slaving on the album, we worked on music after hours and at weekends. Isolation is not important to me as I come from a large family and I can work anywhere, but for Erika, it is a different story – she prefers to work alone.

The creative process can start anytime, anywhere: long drives; long walks; sitting still; zoning out during the loudest shows. We are always writing. Erika gets songs in dreams. I get them in bits and pieces. Words are everywhere. Rhythms are everywhere. Music is everywhere. It is only the will to work that is ever in short supply.

For making music, we use anything that is ready to hand and works at least half of the time. Recently we acquired a digital 32-track recorder; before that we used a digital 8-track and before that we used a cassette four-track to make our records.

What we like most about our space is that the world is large and belongs to us.”

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This Saturday October 18th, Skinny Wolves launch Indian Jewelry’s Sangles Redux record with a gig upstairs at Whelan’s Dublin. The record features a collection of some of their early recordings – some previously released on vinyl (now out of press) and some never released before. Earlier this year, the band released Free Gold on We Are Free Records (also home to Yeasayer, Pony Tail) and Fake and Cheap on Deleted Art (No Age, Mika Miko, These Are Powers). 20 Jazz Funk Greats says of them: “’Witness the hoes of Babylon destroy it live with the brain-fried intensity of the Velvet Underground off their faces on Peyote soundtracking Lost Highway if it had been directed by Harmony Korine, rattlesnake & shake, pure venom.” For more info, go here or visit www.myspace.com/indianjewelry.

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October 7, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 43: The Creeping Nobodies

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 12:10 pm
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“Our space is a basement in a detached home in downtown Toronto. It is an older house from around 1917. Some of us used to live here for a time, but its current occupants are other artists, musicians and other folks – some of who are friends and peers. The basement was renovated a few years back when Chuck lived there, so soundproofing, better walls and insulation were installed. The basement consists of a main rehearsal room with soundproofed doors and walls and ceiling – it’s a modestly sized room painted a deep red with a small chalk board, many instruments and amplifiers, two couches, exposed beams in the ceiling, Christmas lights, some drawers and bins for storage, and a four-track recorder. The floor is wood-stained plywood that has been mostly covered with removable rugs.

There is a small back room off the main room which has been used to record banging and clanging percussion; the clothes dryer has been used for recording vocals and the room has been crammed with items to clear out the main room for a house show. There’s also a separate washroom which has functioned as a control room for recordings from time to time. The house has been a practice space/space for house shows during some heady years in Toronto.

It’s really important things to have proper lighting here – something cosy and non-fluorescent. We like having a lot of percussion or odd items on hand to keep our interest, and for us to have fun trying to do things in less obvious ways. It’s nice once in awhile to share a drink in the space, although not essential by any means. More important than anything else is for us as a group to be excited and well rested.

It’s usually impossible to tell when/what will inspire you, so our method is to get together regularly just to see what might happen. Some of us like to work as a group and on individual time. I find working together and in the same space to be the most rewarding. It also fulfils a need to have a dynamic work method that works on musical feedback and reactions and responses. I also enjoy working in a focused way on my own – mostly to try out ideas or sounds that would not work in a loud setting or a group setting. This is especially true when I want to learn technical aspects or try out new equipment.

Mostly we gather in this basement with our equipment and randomly clang and bang until some interesting sound/motif/melody appears which we all gravitate towards. Sometimes we each arrive with specific ideas or musical phrases which we test out in the context of the group. At others we simply play what we had in mind during a random clang together and if the result is interesting, it will often be picked up on by the group. We record a lot of our practice on a simple four-track cassette recorder with three or four mics that have been left permanently set up in the room. We’ll take these home, transfer them to the computer and MP3’s and then pass them around to each other in order to facilitate discussion and ideas and decide for ourselves what we’re most excited about and want to work on.

Recently we’ve been experimenting with new instruments and sounds, but we regularly use items such as Recorders, Thunderstick, wood blocks, tambourines, metal chains, a metal bucket, a xylophone, a children’s toy with animal and drum sounds (held up to the guitar pickup), an electric toothbrush, a telephone mic, two timpani drums, a homemade motor box, drumsticks, a rattling hand percussion instrument, a piece of sheet metal, pieces of tin, a metal pot, a garbage can lid, cowbells, and other percussion I’ve probably forgotten.

For guitars we use a fender Musicmaster guitar, Fender Jaguar guitar, Fender mustang bass and some sort of Strat copy guitar (Samick? Yamaha?); for keyboards we’ve used a Yamaha DX7, a cheap home use Kawai, a very small children’s Casio and recently a Korg Polysix. Our amps are a Fender twin, a Yamaha solid state twin, an Ampeg V4B & 8×10 cabinet. We also use a Traynor power amp and JBL speaker to run vocal effects and drum pads and such when we have the room to bring it. We also use three Audix OM7 mics because they have a very narrow pickup pattern and we can get away with louder volumes without feedback especially for quieter sounds such as the recorder or woodblocks and other quieter percussion used in a loud setting.

We have a mixer we bring to run our own effects off our vocals. We connect a number of delay pedals to the mixer, as well as a noise gate in order to run the effects loudly without feedback. From time to time we use a Boss drum pad through this mixer and sometimes we experiment with telephone mics and tremolo to change the vocals.

For pedals we’ve long been using overdrive boxes such as the Boss OD-1 (our favourite) and Maxon overdrive, but also other distortion boxes like Rat pedals and an Ibanez turbo tubescreamer and a Big Muff. Recently we’ve been playing around more with pedals such as Moogs – Ring Modulator, Phasor and delay, a home built delay, a Boss Super Chorus, a Boss phase shifter, EQ pedals, as well as a Digitech Jamman loop pedal and we use two signal splitters so that two of us can switch instruments/amplifiers with ease. In the practice space we have a cheap Peavey P.A, a simple Tascam four-track and some regular mics for recording. We transfer the cassettes to a laptop at home via some Opensource recording software and a cheap mic-to-USB accessory.

What we like most about our space is that it’s not a ‘rehearsal factory’. There are no other bands practicing on the other side of a less-than-soundproofed wall. We share this basement with two to three other bands and it means we have a lot of time available. We know everyone else and can have a lot of space and security knowing who else is in there. It’s nice to be able to throw open the back door and be outside in just a few steps. There are squirrels and birds in the trees out back and the odd cat that pays a visit. The space itself sounds great to us – we can hear each other well and while the volume is loud, it doesn’t bounce around the room and become excruciating. For some reason, the room also records well. We’ve been very fortunate in that we can throw up a couple of random mics and when we listen back to the four-track recordings it’s quite clear and very sympathetic to our sounds. We like the chalkboard on the wall where we can leave lame jokes for our friends who share the space.”

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Inspired by such bands as The Ex, Pere Ubu, and The Fall, Canada’s The Creeping Nobodies seek to produce challenging music and are never afraid to explore new territory or re-invent themselves. They play The Boom Boom Room on 34 O’ Connell St, Dublin this Saturday October 11th. Doors are 8.30pm, admission is €10 and support comes from Anni Rossi, Rollin’ Hunt and Thread Pulls. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/thecreepingnobodies.

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