Monthly Archives: October 2014

Norwich Sound and Vision Event, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 9th October 2014

pbsepic910140021acopyrightLine-up:
Public Service Broadcasting:
J. Willgoose Esq. (guitar, electronics)
Wigglesworth (drums)

Radiophonic Workshop:
Dick Mills (compere, tape machine)
Peter Howell (synthesizers, guitar, vocals)
Roger Limb (synthesizers)
Mark Ayres (synthesizers)
Paddy Kingsland (synthesizers, guitar)
Kieron Pepper (drums)

Ulrich Schnauss

Venue:
Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR3 1JD
U.K.

Well where to start with this one as there’s quite a lot of information to impart, but do read on!!!

I know, I’ll start with the venue.

Epic Studios is another relatively new live music venue in Norwich, located in the former Anglia TV studios in Norwich’s Magdalen Street. Epic Studios has an incredibly flexible space, more than capable of accommodating intimate performances to full-scale gigs. Events can be standing room only or seating can be arranged as required varying from tiered theatre seating to cabaret-style to more informal cubes. Their hosting facilities for artists are without equal in the area, with four modern dressing rooms with make-up, shower and wardrobe facilities as well as a well-equipped Green Room. Also unique to Epic Studios is their ability to film, stream and record live shows, using up to eight broadcast quality cameras recording in HD or SD, which go into a full HD studio facility with galleries and cameras. Not only can this play into the audience arena (to great effect I can tell you), but it can also be streamed live on the Internet. There are two large screens that flank the main stage which gives something of a stadium feel and helps create a buzz in the audience. There are also a variety of screens in bars and reception areas that can also display the performance live as well as being used to play latest releases and current album promotion material and can be moved to suit the occasion. The sound system is sate-of-the-art and is perhaps the best I’ve heard in the East Anglian region.

So, the event itself was a part of the Norwich Sound and Vision Conference, now in it’s fifth year, whose aim is  bring to Norwich a programme of exciting music, lively debate, discussion, information, advice and inspiration for anyone who is involved (or would like to be) in the music/ radio/ TV/ film/ multimedia industries. It’s also a good opportunity to reach new markets and network with media professionals. Tonight’s performances were presented in association with Electronic Sound magazine and focused on electronic music, with performances by three highly respected acts in this field.

ulrichepic910140010acopyrightFirst on the bill was German electronic music artist and producer, Ulrich Schnauss. Ulrich’s music is very much about multi-layered synthesizers, textures, rhythms and ethereal vocals, drifting between the recognisable influences of Tangerine Dream to the electronica musings of people such as Robin Guthrie and early bleep and breakbeat tracks. His set this evening was very much an audio/visual experience with abstract images and scenes presented in a video backdrop that was accompanied by music that takes a kind of pseudo avant-garde classical edged background, flirting here and there with more traditional electronic sounds and textures, but at the same time subtly laced with meanderings into trance. I can’t help but feel that you either like this sort of thing or you don’t – I personally love it. At times during this performance, I found the music of Ulrich Schnauss to be quite hypnotic, and at other times as intense as his concentration whilst performing, but always I had that sense of something took me away from where I was, whther you had your eyes wide open or your eyes tight shut, this was a set to remember and a very good start to the evening. Generally speaking, live or recorded, Ulrich Schnauss delivers.

Okay, so we get a brief interlude whilst the next act gets ready to take the stage. And what an act to follow the brilliance of Ulrich Schnauss. You will find no finer gem than that of the Radiophonic Workshop live. Originally founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, the Workshop’s premise was meet the demand for what was described as “radiophonic” sounds, these being the atmospheric sounds needed for  BBC productions that weren’t  available or simply didn’t exist. The members of this new Workshop were basically assigned to investigate and use new techniques that could produce the various effects and music required for their compositions, including such practices as “musique concrete” and methods like tape manipulation/splicing methods. Dick Mills was brought in as the Technical Assistant and he oversaw much of the early Radiophonic Workshop output that was used for sci-fi shows like Quatermass, The Pit, Doctor Who and comedy noises for The Goon Show. There is a lot of history involved with the Radiophonic Workshop that is both fascinating and absorbing, and sadly, too much to go into here, more’s the pity.

rwsepic910140001acopyrightTheir set started with a cacophony of electronic sounds as the irrepressible Dick Mills took to the centre stage, looking the part in boating cap and white coat with the words “the original sonic solution” across the back, clearly loving his role as compere for the set. The stage was a scene from the most sordid electronica synth porn movie you could possibly imagine with electronics of all kinds bristling with power and begging to be played with. A reel-to-reel tape recorder, electronic wind instruments, analog synthesizers, synths from the digital age (I espied a Mk I Yamaha DX7 and it worked!!!), guitars drums and more synths. Quietly the remainder of the band came on stage, and please forgive for saying this, but they had the appearance of a retired gentleman’s outing and a wonderful juxtaposition was seeing the drummer, Kieron Pepper (ex of the Prodigy!!!), walk on stage, simply because he looked positively juvenile within the company!!!  Oh, and how that poorly judgemental image was soon smashed in oblivion when they started to play. This was no group of retired gentlefolk out for a whist drive or games of bowls, no, we’re talking Last of the Summer Wine on steroids and LSD with attitude. The next hour or so was a tour-de-force of quality, characterful, inspired, inspirational and generally bloody excellent electronica. Expertly performed, professionally presented and sounding amazing on the Epic Studios sound system. We went from the Tesla-inducing “Till the Lights Go Out” through to the deliriously fantastic tribute to the departed Delia Derbyshire, undisputed fairy godmother of modern electronic music, with the RWS (Radiophonic Workshop – do keep up) playing a blinding version of her un-nervingly sinister and wonderous rwsepic910140002acopyrighttrack “Ziwih Ziwih 00-00-00” – to play music such as this and with such aplomb tells you that you’re not dealing with any ordinary kind of performance here.  Piece after piece followed taken from the catalogue of Roger Limb, Peter Howell and Paddy Kingsland with tracks such as “Electricity”, “Vespucci” and “Robots” that positively sizzled with electronics, guitar and vocoders – THIS is how it’s done, make no mistake. Then we had the first of what I considered to be the two main set pieces – a suite of music centred around “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Bathed in blue and red light spotlights, on a darkened stage the RWS glided their way through the suite with video images taken from the T.V. series, playing on the video backdrop – this was pure and utter nostalgia. As you might imagine, this was greatly received. All too soon the set, it seemed, was coming to a close. But what about THAT tune? Well, the mischievous Dr. Mills once again took centre stage and announced the last track of the set with these simple words:  “another piece you might know” and it happened. What came next was clever, very clever. The RWS wasn’t happy just playing it, as they could have done and we would have still loved them for it. No. For their most revered and celebrated output, they gave it new life, a new dimension (the fourth perhaps?) and a new sense of identity that brought it screaming into the 21st century, and at the same retaining it’s biological roots. Teasing bass lines, familiar beats and splintered sampled voices saying but one word. Doctor. From the ambiently distorted manipulations of time and space using analog synthesizers to the crashing tones and rhythms of the central piece, written by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire sooo many years ago, accompanied by a video backdrop deifying the glorious lineage of one Time Lord from start to present, the “Theme from Doctor Who” edified the very essence of the RWS, openly displaying the DNA of a somewhat maverick BBC department that took us all to new places and different times. A fitting end to one of the best sets I have ever seen.

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Amongst the many joys of experiencing the Radiophonic Workshop live was to witness the joy that these gentleman have in what they do. Their on-stage manner towards each other was fantastic, and this was something that I saw for myself when I, along with my photographer friend Simon Watson, had the very good fortune to spend some time with Dick Mills and Roger Limb after their set – the two men were obviously very pleased to be there, pleased to be doing what they were doing and revelling in the delight that we had in being with them, enthusiastically telling us stories and sharing anecdotes whilst the next act was being set up. We hung on their every word. We were also delighted to meet the man who created the sound of the TARDIS and the voice of the Daleks, none other than Brian Hodgson. Even though he’s not a part of the RWS live thing, he had come along to support his former colleagues as he lives not far away from venue.

pbsepic910140001acopyrightAnd so to the last set of the evening from Public Service Broadcasting. At first glances, I struggled to see how they could possibly match what had gone before them, but I soon saw why they were the headline act. They were strangely brilliant, inexplicably entertaining and oddly memorable. PSB (Public Service Broadcasting, you really have got to keep up) comprise Wrigglesworth on drums and J. Willgoose Esq. on “everything else”. Their stage set is made up of a drum kit, a stand with a multitude of MIDI controllers and keyboards along with the inevitable MacBook and at the back of the stage, a video backdrop of their own, presented as very large 1930’s style black and white television set. And the two musicians took to the stage with Willgoose looking like the bespectacled love-child of an Oxford university lecturer and the Eleventh Doctor, and Wrigglesworth, in shirt, tie and pressed trousers, the companion. Without a word they launch into “London Can Take It” and wow, we’re off. Crusty samples taken from vintage information and propaganda films, old movies and ancient newsreels, layered with Wrigglesworth’s powerful drumming, form a solid enough backbone to the electronics and guitarings of Willgoose. This is seriously stirring stuff and the imagery is striking. And so it goes for the rest of the set. Cleverly linked and layered snippets of old footage whose voices blend pbsepic910140019acopyrightperfectly with pre-programmed beats that are, in turn, embellished by the live drumming, under-scoring the vague themes and textures provided by electronics, guitar and banjo. Yes, you read right. Banjo. I know, I thought the same. But, wow did it work!!! Neither musicians said anything between songs, preferring all communication with the outside world to be via a computer voice that speaks with the clipped British BBC tones of yesteryear’s announcers, presenters and news readers and done with a lot of wry British humour – very good, very well done and very funny at times. Performances like this are a welcome breath of fresh when faced with so much dross from uninspiring and performance-challenged new bands. These guys had a vision, created a theme and ran with it. Attention to detail and good music conspired to make this a great set. Giving a damn about appearance, presentation and performance made this an unforgettable set for all the right and proper reasons. Highlight of the PSB set was their live version of the amazing track “Spitfire”, full of gusto, great musicianship from both artists and cracking graphics. I was quite simply blown away.

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So, all in all, the evening was, in my view, a major triumph for all the acts, the organisers and the venue, Epic Studios who once again showed that they could provide a great venue for quality music and named artists not just with great premises and facilities, but also with an amazing sound. I’ve not heard another venue in Norwich sound anywhere near as good as this, and being a musician myself, I like to think I know when I hear a good sound system. If electronic music is your thing, tonight’s performances would have ticked every box for you.

Links:
PUBLIC SERVICE BRODACASTING

RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP
ULRICH SCHNAUSS
EPIC STUDIOS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Public Service Broadcasting
Radiophonic Workshop
Ulrich Schnauss

Awakenings “Dutch Night”, Paget High School, Branston, Staffordshire, 13th September 2014

Line-up:
Ron Boots and Friends:
Ron Boots (synthesizers, sequencers)
Eric Van Der Heijden (synthesizers, electronic woodwind)
Harold Van der Heijden (drums)
Frank Dorritke (guitar)

Rene Splinter

Beyond Berlin:
Martin Peters (synthesizers, sequencers)
Rene de Bakker (synthesizers, sequencers)

Venue:
Paget High School Business & Enterprise College
Burton Road
Branston
Burton on Trent
Staffs
DE14 3DR

The Awakenings Evening of Ambient and Electronic Music is held four to five times a year and is a series of live ambient, electronic and experimental performances that showcase both new and establish artists in these fields. These performance are frequented by fans and electronic music artists alike, they are expertly organised by electronic music artists, namely Phil Booth, Martin Greenwood and Jez Creek.

This particular Awakenings evening was quite special because the three acts on the bill hailed from the Netherlands and possibly represent the very best that country has to offer at this time. Walking into the auditorium was like walking into a synth-nerd’s wet dream – it was pure wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-ceiling synth porn.

bbawake139140005acopyrightFirst on the bill this evening were duo, Beyond Berlin, comprising Martin Peters and Rene de Bakker. As their name strongly suggests, their music is very much in the traditional Berlin School style of electronic music, featuring long repetitive sequences over-laid with electronic textures and synthesizer leads. Their set was a tour-de-force of analog sequencer-based music, going very much back to the basics pioneered by the likes of Tangerine Dream. Without doubt, it was the perfect start for the evening, as their excellent cosmic space music really set the mood for what lay ahead. And one thing that I must mention, purely because it reinforced the sense of it really being live was that they had to take a short break between the second and third tracks to re-patch their modular synthesizers – now THAT is live music and more power to them for it. As far as the set as a whole was concerned, a fine demonstration of quality sequencing, great textures and soaring leads making it a very enjoyable start to the proceedings.

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renesplawake139140005acopyrightNext up was one artist that I personally was looking forward to – Rene Splinter. I had seen Rene perform live in 2013 at the E-Day Electronic Music Event in Holland (I was playing in the electronic rock group Code Indigo who performed immediately after Rene’s set on that day), and was blown away by his music. On this night, he did not disappoint, his set was simply stunning. Performing his brand new “Frames” album, which was released at this event, with assistance from Eric and Harold van der Heijden and Frank Dorritke on two tracks, Rene performed an incredibly powerful set that was strong on content with it’s high quality blend of melody, form and performance. With music and performance of this standard, it’s no exaggeration to state that Rene Splinter is now one of the best electronic music artists in the Netherlands at this time, something echoed by his contemporaries. A highly recommended act to catch live.

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And so we came to our third and final treat for the night, Ron Boots and Friends. When one talks about the Dutch Masters, I no longer simply think of the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals, and certainly not when you have Ron Boots about. Ron is a part of what you think of as a third generation of electronic music artists and has been making and performing since the mid-1980’s. A larger than life character, he brings bags of personality to the music as well as his talent, something which greatly enhances his live performances.

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ronbooawake139140002acopyrightHis Awakenings set was no different and served as a most enjoyable reminder as to why Ron is as successful as he is and why he has the reputation he has. Joined by long-time partners in crime Eric van der Heijden on synths and electronic woodwind, Harold van der Heijden on drums (electronic of course!!!) and the outstanding German guitarist Frank Dorritke, Ron’s set was full on from start to finish and was a fine example of how modern Berlin School-style electronic music should sound, be presented and be performed – many of those in attendance felt that we should be seriously talking about Dutch School, such was the impact of tonight’s performance. Two tracks from Morpheusz (Ron’s side project with the van der Heijden brothers and Frank Dorritke) got things underway and met with considerable appreciation from the audience, and then we were given a 30 minute, full-on, in-yer-face, master class in live sequencing in which no prisoners were taken and Ron co totally ravished the ears of all present with a piece that, at one point, had Ron Boots running 13 (thirteen), yes I said 13 (thirteen) separate sequences at the same time, with the other three doing their bits as well. Take a look at the concert images using the link below to see the intense concentration on Ron’s face.

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All too soon, the set came to a close, but it wasn’t over. Coming back for another two encore tracks, all of this evening’s performers joined together to create a fantastic finish to what was a fantastic evening of the highest quality electronic music. And Ron’s reputation as a bona fide Dutch Master remains more than very intact.

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As a side note, it was heartening to see this event so well supported and good see a number of veteran U.K. musicians in the audience including Michael Shipway, David Wright, Robert Fox and John Dyson as well as another leading Dutch synthesist, Michel Van Osenbruggen, aka Synth.nl.

Links:
RON BOOTS
RENE SPLINTER
BEYOND BERLIN
AWAKENINGS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Awakenings “Dutch Night”

I Speak Machine, Southbank Centre, London, 21st September 2014

Line-up:
I Speak Machine:
Tara Busch (vocals,synthesizers)
Maf Lewis (visuals)

CUTS (support)

Venue:
Purcell Room
Southbank Centre
London
SE1 8XX
U.K.

The Southbank Centre in London is a world-famous arts centre, situated on the South Bank of the Thames. It was built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, and thus draws on its heritage as a festival site, with art and activities inside and outside and offering a wide range of cultural events. The Southbank Centre occupies a 21-acre site and comprises the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room, the Hayward Gallery, and the Saison Poetry Library. Alongside these venues are numerous restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. The itinerary shows that the Southbank Centre contains a most varied of arts from classical, world music, rock, pop, jazz to dance, literature and the visual arts, and as such, attracts perhaps the most diverse audience of any UK venue.

Held in the Purcell Room, it was the perfect venue for this evening’s incredible performance of music and video from two respected and highly professional acts.

cutsrfh219140001acopyrightThe support for the evening was by U.K. based audio/visual artist CUTS. According to his Facebook page, his influences are drawn from “abandoned spaces, white noise and sleep paralysis” and from what I saw of his performance on this night, I would agree completely – and in a very good way. Appearing on stage dressed very plainly and simply in jeans and t-shirt with a blank white face mask, CUTS provided the audience with what can only be described as a mesmerising and original set, superbly realised and expertly executed. I want to use words such as “haunting”, “edgy”, “sinister” and “intense” because they are the very words that stuck with me throughout the performance, so much so that momentarily I forgot to take photographs. CUTS, to me based upon my experience of his set, is about mystery, shadows, complex atmospheres and an altered perception of a given situation. The images displayed upon the video screen mentally pulled you backwards through some kind of psychological hedge, as your ears were treated to some quite innovative layered sequences, beats and atmospheres.

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Images of stuttering electric elements and lightbulb filaments, distorted and kaleidoscopic visions of metal staircases and close-up pixelated television screens accompanied by a soundtrack of intense synthesizer pads and a persistent beat loop/live percussion track. Abandoned buildings, broken glass and an overdriven guitar drone. Dancers busting zombie-like moves and captured with jerky and distorted camera-work, create surreal and edgy shapes to an electronic pulsing sequence, driven by an almost tribal beat comforted by a crunchy and distorted audio backdrop. This to me is electronic music performance for a modern age and served as the perfect warm up for the headline act.

To quote a scene from one of the video montages, “I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful”. If you get a chance to catch CUTS in action, do it.

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And so we come to the the evening’s raison d’être – I Speak Machine.

I Speak Machine are an audio/visual performance duo comprised of husband and wife team, film-maker Maf Lewis and composer/vocalist Tara Busch. They create and present their art by way of film and score using something they call Synchronika – essentially synchronised audio and visual composition, working from an original concept to create a synthesized piece of art. This evening’s performance was to feature the screening of science fiction film “The Silence” and horror shorts from “Gaggle Box” and “There’s Someone in the House Next Door” with Tara Busch performing a live electronic music score. What made this evening a little more special and ( particularly from Tara’s point of view) a little more dangerous was that she was to use some seriously vintage electronic music equipment, supplied to her by none other than Dave Spiers of the GForce software house (GForce have created some truly amazing software emulations of classic synthesizers and keyboards), including the legendary ARP Odyssey synthesizer, upgraded with LEDs in the sliders, a rare OSC OSCar synthesizer and the amazing ARP 2600 synthesizer.

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The set started with an introduction by Maf Lewis where he talked about the concept of I Speak Machine and basically what we might expect, before introducing Tara Busch and the commencement of the performance.

At this point, I would like to throw in that I’ve seen Tara Busch perform live once before when she provided a brilliant support for electronica pioneer John Foxx and the Maths back in 2011. I’m also a follower of her work, owning as I do, the “Pilfershire Lane” album and the sublime “Rocket Wife E.P.”, the latter of which had its sales benefit the very worthwhile Bob Moog Foundation. My point is that I believed I knew what to expect from this seasoned and well-respected performer. No I didn’t.

The set opened with the horror short “Gagglebox”, about what one might describe as a very disturbed child – this was a horror short that was deliciously un-nerving and gloriously as disturbed as the child portrayed within. Tara appeared on stage, a diminutive red-head, dressed in a grey all-in-one boiler suit and took her position surrounded by the electronics and synthesizers. The ethereal, and at times, seriously creepy nature of the soundtrack, an intense combination of the vintage electronics and Tara’s rich and almost operatic vocals, made for a most incredible audio/visual experience. Such was the clever staging of the performance, you never felt compelled to look at either the film or Tara, it was like you looked at both simultaneously without that being a conscious act, something which prevailed throughout the evening – still getting my head around that one!!!

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Next up was the second horror short, “There’s Someone in the House Next Door”. This short was filmed in an abandoned house next door to Tara’s parent’s house in North Carolina. The house was apparently abandoned several years ago and her parents looked after it from time to time, but still the house was rife with spider webs and dead flies. This of course made it the perfect, and most definitely, an instant film set for Maf and Tara because nothing needed adding or changing because the previous owners had pretty much vanished into thin air. Everything you see in the film is as it was, from a car in the garage, an old pool table, plenty of old family photos, a bizarre collection music boxes and odd little ornaments everywhere. The black and white imagery of Tara walking through the abandoned property and what happens thereafter is wonderfully realised, with the live soundtrack again providing the necessary tension and thrill a movie short of this nature requires.

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Of course, all of this has been building up to the main film, “The Silence”. I have to say that what passed before was nothing in comparison to what we were about to see, visually and sonically. The mix of sci-fi horror visuals, vintage electronics and Tara’s chameleon vocals took the set to a new level. “The Silence” is basically about a scientist who is driven close to madness by the noise of everyday life, who just wants peace and quiet in his life (and I certainly a few others like that as well – I digress……) and uses his scientific genius to create a machine that induces silence. And so it goes from there as we join the scientist going into the depths of despair as he certainly should have been careful about what he wished for. The music goes from quiet, almost minimal to loud and soaring, wonderfully evoking memories of the gloriously over-the-top soundtracks from the B-movies of yesteryear – in my book, that’s a completely fantastic thing.

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All too soon, “The Silence” was finished and it was very well received. But the show didn’t stop there.

No.

As mentioned a couple of times earlier, Tara was using a collection of vintage synthesizers, one of which was a 40 year old ARP 2600, and so we were treated to a quirky, intriguing and completely beguiling cover of the Beatles’ classic song “Ticket To Ride”. An outstanding end to a complete and proper evening of fine electronic music and a real feast of original visuals.

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It’s safe to say that the evening was a success and well supported by musicians and fans of the artists as well, in the audience were Ben “Benge” Edwards (with whom Tara has worked alongside John Foxx), U.K. electronic music artist Robin Rimbaud (Scanner and Githead), renowned blogger Rob Puricelli (FailedMuso blog) and Chris Macleod and Dave Spiers of GForce software (who lent Tara the five vintage synths). If you happen to be lucky enough to be anywhere near a venue that I Speak Machine put on one of their performances, don’t even think about it, just go. As I said earlier, I had seen Tara play live before, but tonight she excelled that performance with something that will stay with me forever. Positively spell-binding.

Vintage Synths Used:
ARP 2600
ARP Odyssey MkIII
OSC OSCar
Roland SH-101
SCI Pro-One

Links:
I SPEAK MACHINE

TARA BUSCH & MAF LEWIS
CUTS
SOUTHBANK CENTRE

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
I Speak Machine
Tara Busch’s Stage Rig
CUTS