Things That I Love Today #32

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Boduf Songs – How Shadows Chase The Balance

First off, the good news for Michael in particular is that this record does not fall into the category “modern classical”. 

Boduf Songs is the name used by Southampton based musician Mat Sweet.  This is not his first record and it is a 2008 release, but it’s new to me and so I’ve decided to review it all the same.  I don’t think he has a label either so it’s unlikely that this record received the wide media attention that it deserves.  Hopefully this will open him up to a few more people and spread the word.

Anyways, the album starts with the lyrics “All my heros died on the same day.  All of them fallen away.”  It’s a pretty bleak introduction to an artist that I was promised I’d love.  It was quite a bleak way to start my journey home from Paisley on a Saturday night.  And it’s quite a bleak record full stop.  But I do love it, that much is for sure.  If you don’t like your music bleak and brooding then this is really not for you.  It’s as dark a record as I’ve heard in quite sometime dealing with issues such as death, depression, fear, hatred and alienation.  I’m not a fan of tagging artists in genres.  In fact, I hate genres all together.  If I ever owned a music stored I’d just put everything in A-Z form.  Anyways, I digress.  This has been branded folk music and I guess it retains folk sensibilities.  It’s dark as hell though so don’t go into this record looking for something uplifting.  It’s not a summer’s day record so now might be the perfect time of year to give it a spin.  Anyways,  there is something really lovely and unassuming about this record.  Recorded in his bedroom and mostly during the night, it evokes real issues of human frailty and delivers them in a fashion which is both powerful and delicate at the same time.  The lovely use of instrumentation, banjo for example, adds an extra dimension to the tunes making album closer ‘Last Glimmer On A Hill At Dusk’ quie stunning.  Sure, this record might not be the happiest affair but it still manages to create beauty through the darkness.  Give it a spin.  Check out Boduf Songs here.  Enjoy.

Library Tapes – Fragment

Library Tapes is a name that Fraser from Small Town Boredom has been harping on at me about for a long time.  I remember this always because from the first time I heard it I have absolutely loved that name for a band.   Library Tapes.  I know exactly what to expect from that name.  I knew before I heard them that their music was going to be right up my street.

Hailing from Sweden David Wenngren has produced a record of, erm, ‘fragments’ which piece together to form a beautiful whole.  It’s by no means a long record.  In fact, it is actually very short.  8 tracks, gone in an instant.  There is a real simplicity to the music of Library Tapes.  It’s weird, listening to it, I can imagine Wenngren writing some of the pieces very quickly.  Sometimes, it feels like not a lot happens.  Surely it can’t be that easy?  And it most definitely is not that easy.  Creating something so simple is actually very tricky because the simplicity of the music has got to be enough to hold the attention of the listener.  On this record, helped by the wonderful Peter Broderick and Slyvain Chauveau, Wenngren has created something that really does grab the attention from the beginning and retain it until the end.  Perhaps the beauty of the record is the duration.  Not too long.  Never dull.  Short, sharp pieces of music, like the title suggests, which sparkle on their own then mould together to create this delicate and atmospheric record.  I don’t think I’d class this record as modern classical though.  There are elements of classical music involved, for sure, but the over-riding feel is one of ambiance.  Creating sounds that drift around you, dispersing as quickly as they arrive.  Definitely one to be played on repeat.  And one to played with a glass of red wine late in the evening.  Lovely stuff.  You can check out Library Tapes here.  Enjoy.

Interview #9: Alex Fenton (Fentek Audio)

I met Alex Fenton the first time we did a Trampoline show at the Wee Red Bar.  Since then he has become the main reason why bands who play Trampoline go away happy after a show.  Laid back, friendly and super helpful wouldn’t even begin to come close to summing Alex up.  Mitchell Museum were one of the few bands I’ve ever heard thank a sound engineer for his work, not only for their set but for the way he worked the whole day at the Trampoline all day event in December.  And they were right.  Without Alex Trampoline would fall apart.   Having him work means I never have to worry about how a show will sound.  It will always sound brilliant and my mind is firmly at rest.  What people might not know is that he runs his own business Fentek Audio which caters for all types of work.  He is also one half of Indie/Electro outfit Flying With Penguins and has recently been working on solo material as well.  He’s kindly taken time from his hectic schedule to answer some questions for The Steinberg Principle.  Enjoy.

TSP: In your opinion, what makes a good sound engineer?

AF: Attention to detail, commitment, patience and an ability to be bossy when needed.  Obviously having a well tuned pair of lugs is pretty high on the list.  Also, you have to be able to think on your feet and problem solve efficiently and quickly.  I would say that engineers shouldn’t always do what is ‘supposed’ to be done.  You can easily do something by the book and it might not turn out well.  If you use your ears then you’re more likely to get a good result.  There’s a legendary quote from music producer Joe Meek – “If it sounds right, it is right”.

TSP: In terms of dealing with bands have you encountered any particularly sticky situations?  You don’t have to name names of course (cause The Kays would be namechecked too many times!) just experiences which have benefited you as an engineer and your approach to dealing with artists which can often be tricky.

AF: Every sound engineer encounters tricky situations.  In terms of artists being awkward there’s always a few who are difficult or too big for their boots.  I’m quite an accommodating and non-confrontational person so when someone kicks up a fuss, I’ve not always dealt with it well.  It’s something I’ve got better at though.  There is, however, a point when a band goes too far.  I remember one particularly crap promoter who phoned me from the pub to say the drummer was turning up in a taxi but didn’t have enough cash.  He asked if I would fork out for it and he’d give me the money back.  That’s not in the job description – I should have just said no but if I did the gig may not have happened.  I ended up paying the taxi driver and I did get the cash back.  But I reckon being accommodating makes me a better engineer than someone who won’t bend a little cause it’s too much of a hassle.  At the end of the day, our job is to make the music sound as good as it possibly can.  And that also means getting the best performance out of the artist.  That can’t be done if you piss them off cause you couldn’t be bothered putting out that extra microphone. 

TSP: You’ve been involved in a wide range of projects in terms of live engineering.  Can you give us a brief run down of some of the shows you’ve worked at?  Are there any that particularly stick in the mind as being great experiences?

AF: One of the first big gigs I did was an early Frightened Rabbit gig several years ago in Teviot which was pretty cool.  A couple of Woodenbox shows stand out.  I went to Connect festival with them a couple of years ago which was great, and their single launch back in the summer at King Tut’s was a wicked gig.  It was totally packed and the crowd were so enthusiastic that it massively heightened my enjoyment.  Obviously I always enjoy Trampoline shows at the Wee Red cause the bands are always great.  Another great job was being the chief engineer at the GRV for the fringe the year it first opened.  Everything was so hectic but getting to work on the fly with people like Reggie Watts, Amanda Palmer, Tim Minchin and The Magnets was great. 

TSP: Your business Fentek Audio has been up and running for over a year now.  Can you explain a little as to what services you offer?

AF: Yeah sure.  As well as sound engineering, I specialise in location recording, music production and mastering.  My recording setup is mobile so I can record absolutely anywhere.  Recording on location adds variety to the recording process and can often benefit the material.  I also record in the Wee Red Bar which is great because there’s plenty of space, it’s got a good atmosphere and is easily customisable.  I record quite a lot of live gigs and I’ve also done a fair bit of mixing audio for film too. 

TSP: What projects have you got on at the moment and/or lined up for the future?

AF: Well there’s an album I’m mixing for some band called the Kays something… I forget!  Seriously though, it’s a project I’m very much enjoying and I genuinely like the music.  I’m just finishing off an EP for a new Edinburgh band called Shooting Stansfield who are a really good melodic indie band.  Coming up in the near future I’m recording a live album in a church for modern blues artist Man Gone Missing, and I’ve got another single in the pipeline for Ewan Butler.  He’s a great singer songwriter from Bathgate who I worked with a few months ago and he’s come back for more.

TSP:  Live sound engineering or recording records, which gives you a bigger buzz?

AF: It’s got to be recording.  Sound engineering can be great but it can also be extremely dull.  And it’s easier for me to get involved creatively with recording as I always try and take a more producer kind of role.  It’s such a great feeling when you strike up a great working relationship with a band and you’re on the same wavelength firing ideas back and forth.  And the feeling when you lay down the last bit of audio, or stick the final mastered CD in a hi-fi.  When I did the White Heath EP, we met up once it was finished and we sat together and listened to the whole thing in silence.  They were so chuffed with it – the feeling was just great.

TSP: Many people may not be aware that you are also in a band called Flying With Penguins and are currently working on solo material was well.  What’s happening on these fronts in 2010?

AF: Well the Flying With Penguins stuff has taken a bit of a back seat for a while due to work stuff but we have some cracking new material that we’re really pleased with so it will inevitably be released as an EP or album at some point.  We intended it as an album and have written it in order which is quite a challenge.  We’re up to track 8 I think but not totally decided on how it will end up.  The solo stuff is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.  I always used to play gigs on my own, just acoustic guitar, and after all the influences I’ve encountered from work and music over the last few years I wanted to see what I would come up with now.  There’s some new songs and some resurrected older material.  I’m also in the middle of doing a series of remixes for local artists.  Already done one of a Molly Wagger tune and hopefully got some for esperi, Randan Discotheque and Jonnie Common in the pipeline.  Hopefully they’ll all let me loose with their files!

TSP: We’ve discussed in the past how important it is to you that you’re not just known for being a sound engineer.  Difficult question but do you take more pleasure in working on the music of others or in producing your own?

AF: That is a tricky question but I think actually, they are much of the same to me.  As long as I am being creative, I’m happy.  Probably the best feeling though, which all song-writers will relate to, is the feeling from writing music.  The buzz and emotional boost you feel when you’ve written a song.  It’s like exorcising a demon.

TSP: You’ve obviously worked at the Wee Red Bar for quite a long time now being exposed to a wide range of music coming out of Scotland and further a field.  Do you have any particular favourites or bands you would recommend that people check out?

AF: For me, White Heath are one of the most exciting bands on the horizon.  They seem to strike the perfect balance between being experimental and accessible.  Plus they are bloody nice guys and give really energetic live performances.  I’d also like to join the fan club for Conquering Animal Sound.  There’s a big buzz about these guys and once you see them live it’s quite obvious why.  Local bands I’m a fan of include Woodenbox With a Fistful of Fivers, Over The Wall, Come On Gang!, Jonnie Common, We See Lights and Araya to name a few.  Also, The Last Battle seem to have come out of nowhere recently and I really like their tunes.  There’s a couple of random bands from further afield that I’d recommend.  6 Day Riot are a very good alternative folk band from London and BigHands BigHeart are a pop electronic act that I really enjoyed.

TSP: What, in your opinion, makes the Wee Red Bar special as a music venue?

AF: I think it’s the character of the place which makes it special.  Once you’ve been, you remember it.  The staff are friendly, the drink is cheap and it’s got a great sound system which is obviously vital for a music venue.  It’s flexible too with both gig and club nights working equally well.  But it’s best trait is probably it’s worst too.  It can be hard to find and it is a bit off the beaten track which reduces the chance of passing trade, but that means that when people do get there, they feel like they’ve discovered something special.  I’ve never heard anyone say they hate the venue but maybe that’s cause they wouldn’t say it to my face!

TSP: Finally, what are you most looking forward to in 2010?

AF: Well I’m getting married so I suppose that’s the biggest thing for me.  Not really music related though.  I’m just looking forward to getting on the gigging scene more, and keeping on expanding the recording side of my work.  So if anyone reading this is up for some recordings with character, you know where to come!

Danny Norbury – Light In August

Danny Norbury is a cellist by trade.  This much is obvious on this lovely piece of modern classical music.  Cello is the prominent instrument throughout and is complimented beautifully by other string instruments and piano.  I must admit that I find reviewing classical music quite tricky, given my time away from the genre and the specialist nature of the music.  It’s probably why I’ve chosen not to give the albums I review this week any grades as though it’s the type of music which most heavily influences my own song writing, it’s not something I feel truly qualified to critique, if I’m perfectly honest.  I guess the best, and only way, I can really describe these sort of records is through the emotions that they stir within me.

I was listening to this particular piece on the bus this morning.  It’s a lovely sunny day here in Edinburgh but it’s retained a cold chill in the air that winter brought with it.  It’s damp today, but there’s still that chill in the air.  If that makes sense?   Anyways, I have noticed that I lose myself in this type of music.  Today, sitting on the top deck of the bus on the way to work I lost myself staring out the window at the blue skies over the Edinburgh Crags.  It was the perfect scene.  The perfect moment for this music to get inside my head.  This record just takes me far away from wherever I am.  I lose track of time.  I lose track of everything going on around me.  I just drift into another world.  A world where I feel like I’m floating above my own existence, staring back in on myself.

It’s hard to put into words, but this record just makes sense to me.  Every note.  Every moment.  Important. I feel like I need to listen to this record over and over and over.  Let it seep into every pore.  It’s stunning.  It really is.  It lingers in your brain.  Each subtle piano note delicately sprinkled beautifully throughout.  Each lush cello piece.  Sweeping strings.  Lifting me away from the lethargy I feel today and into a place where all I know is happiness and calm.  This record is my salvation today.  A hiding place from reality.  And it’s a gorgeous place to be.  I don’t want to take my earphones out.  I really don’t.  You can check out Danny Norbury here.  Please make sure you do.  Enjoy.

Johann Johannsson – And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees

I love Johann Johannsson.  The 40 year old Icelandic, yes that’s right Icelandic (every talented musician comes from that tiny country it seems), composer is just something special in the world of modern classical music.  I first stumbled upon his work with his quite fascinating ‘ibm 1401, a user’s manual’.    His father was a maintenance engineer working with these computers, one of the first to be shipped to Iceland, and developed a way to make the computers create music, something the computer was not designed to do.  The classical album that Johannsson created, based on this interaction between man and machine, is great.

This record is completely different in the sense that the bleeps, clicks and technological noises created by the computer are nowhere to be heard.  Instead, we have a classical album filled with some gorgeous pieces.   At one point my wife commented that it sounds like the music on Assassin’s Creed when you’re sneaking around Jerusalem getting ready to kill another soldier or climb another tower.  I can hear that for sure as there are moments of real darkness on this record.  However, after every moment of darkness comes a moment of beauty so pure you can almost feel the darkness clear. The shadows removed by the morning sun.

‘Theme’ is the absolutely perfect start to this record.  Gorgeous and uplifting subtle piano is lifted beautifully with lush strings.  As you would expect the album is filled with gorgeous piano and string accompaniments.  However, there is wonderful use of choirs as well.  Choirs are not something I would usually have a strong bond with in music if I’m perfectly honest, but the subtle use on this record is just sublime and adds wonderfully to the ambiance and atmosphere as it floats above the strings adding beauty and aggression, where appropriate.

It’s interesting how modern classical composers differ so subtley from one another.  The emphasis on this record is without doubt the strings.  The other instruments flutter in and out and add wonderfully to the arrangements, but it’s the strings that are the stars on this record for sure.  At times lush, at times dark and brooding.  Always wonderful.  This has been the perfect Sunday listening material. Yesterday was a long, long day.  So to be able to lie on the bed now and just immerse myself in such beauty is the perfect end to the weekend.  Buy this record.   You can check out Johann Johannsson here.  He is due to tour the UK in 2010 so keep an eye out for shows.  Until then.  Enjoy.

A Minimalist Week At TSP

It was interesting the other day over on Song by Toad to read people discussing the new Eluvium record, which I, like others on that site, am really looking forward to getting my hands on.  Modern classical music has become a major part of my world in the last 3 or 4 years.  It’s funny, when you start up the piano you are forced into the world of classical music, whether you like it or not.  Most piano teachers will make you play classical pieces.  Most exams are based on classical compositions. One way or another you have to learn to play classical.  It’s understandable really given the technical skills that such pieces of music teach you.  However, it was something I grew tired of.  I got bored of playing this music that I didn’t listen to in my spare time.  I wanted to play things that I loved, not things that the person teaching me loved.  Obviously, they were not teaching me these pieces for this reason, they were teaching me the skills involved in playing such pieces, but I didn’t see this, nor want to see this, at the time.  So I rebelled, and I gave up.  By 16 I’d given up piano lessons and the piano remained untouched for some time as I focused on learning the bass guitar.  It was only later, when I started to want to write songs that I ventured back to the piano.  We’re talking years.  Maybe 3 or 4 that my mum and dad’s piano was a stranger to me.  I didn’t want to know it.  Then things changed.  My musical tastes changed and I started to add piano parts to early Kays tunes.  I started to try and write songs too.   Slowly I stopped playing bass and focused solely on piano and here we are today. 

Another massive changing point in the world of the Kays though would, without doubt, be when I let classical music back into my life.  I started listening to Ludovico Einaudi having heard ‘Le Onde’ on Classic FM.  I was hooked.  Simple, minimalist piano and strings.  It was beautiful.  Slowly but surely I started to discover other musicians like this.  Olafur Arnalds, as people who read this site will know, is one of my favourites.  But then you have Johann Johannsson, Max Richter, Eluvium and more.  And now, having spent the day with Fraser recording the solo EP yesterday, I have much, much more.   So this week is going to be all about immersing myself in a whole batch of artists I’ve never heard before and reporting back to you about my finds.  It’s very exciting.  And it’s going to put me in the right mind set for starting work on new Kays tunes.  The debut record is finished, so it’s time to get my head back into the process of building a collection of songs for the future.  Nothing prepares me for this better than listening to classical music.  It’s funny how I’ve come full circle but I find myself listening to this stuff more and more.  It just inspires me more than anything else.  So yes, prepare yourself for a week of bleak, minimalist and classical tunes here at The Steinberg Principle.