Space No Space - A new cassette album

These pieces of music developed over a period of months and existed on my hard drive for over a year before I decided to do anything with them. They are the most simple pieces I have ever made and for that reason I suppose hadn’t really considered releasing them. Instead I found myself listening to them when I was stressed or needed some space (I’ve since come up with the ‘slow motion mind soother’ description!). Later I was working with musician Max De Wardener and let him hear some of them, and he encouraged me to release them. A friend suggested Golden Ratio Frequencies could be a good home, and I was soon in discussion with Alex who runs the label. The resulting cassette is now available to buy here , with beautiful sleeve photography by my brother Curtis James.


Here is a video, also by Curtis, for the track Invisible Centre.

Pop Up Maggie's Centre at The Lowry in Manchester

Following successful Musicity commissions in London and China, Nick Luscombe invited me to work on a collaboration with Musicity for an exhibition space at The Lowry in Manchester. The brief was simple, a 12 minute track, lush but minimal ambient inspired, maybe some wind chimes but no whale song or running water. I was also given mock up images of the space itself, a ‘pop up’ Maggie’s Centre designed by Ab Rogers. 

Maggie’e Centres provide :

Free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends, following the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks. Our Centres are places to find practical advice about benefits and eating well; places where qualified experts provide emotional support; places to meet other people; places where you can simply sit quietly with a cup of tea.

It was important that my music connected with the positive philosophies of Maggie Keswick Jencks, and contributed to a space that would be stimulating, elevating and inspiring.

My initial thoughts were that a 12 minute piece looping in a public space would get repetitive very quickly, so I suggested something longer, possibly using a generative composition technique that would create a long evolving piece with controllable moments. My main instrument, the Buchla Electric Music Box synthesiser, lends itself to this approach. 

Nick's suggestion of wind chimes led me to find a French company, Zaphir, that make a  beautiful range of wind chimes, each with a different series of notes. I chose 'Sunray' and 'Twilight' and a compositional approach started to form; I would create two pieces to be used at different times of the day, each using one of the wind chimes, with subtle electronics that would loosely mirror those chimes. 

I programmed the Buchla Synthesizer with the notes from each wind chime and created a generative self playing patch. If left alone this setup would play forever, randomly playing back those preprogrammed notes, never repeating itself. The 'source of uncertainty' module (a key element of the Buchla modular synthesizer) providing an electronic 'breeze' to activate and modify the notes. My role as a performer involved directing how this breeze would affect certain properties of the electronic sound - the intensity, speed, pitch range, amplitude envelope (fast/slow attack, sustained or short), timbre and position in the stereo field. This material was recorded first. 

I then added Kalimba via the Ciat Lombarde Cocoquantus, a cosmic lo-fi looping device. This added a dusty warm fuzzy character, sometimes happy to sit in the background, with occasional musical motifs peeking out and interacting with the Buchla electronics.

The wind chimes were added last. I let the Buchla electronics track guide the intensity and timing of the performance of these, continuing the idea of the electronic breeze running through these pieces. 

At all times I was conscious of the space in which this music had to exist and how it would be experienced by the people using that space. It had to be quite contained - too dynamic and it would be a distraction, possibly even annoying. On the other hand I knew the space would be multi purpose, some people might be there to relax whilst others might use the space to work, and so I wanted it to have moments of calm contrasted with the occasional gentle flourishes, like little mind activators. I spent a lot of time getting this balance right both in the performance and the mixing, the latter requiring space and time to live with the material. 

Creating tracks like these is a form of therapy for me, the process soothes and calms my anxious mind and takes me to a mediative place. I hope they do the same for people that hear them.

A short snippet is here -

The pop up exhibition runs from the 9th of May to the 9th of June at The Lowry, Manchester.

Cosmic Surgery album

I have a new cassette album coming out this week (29th March) inspired by Alma Haser’s brilliant conceptual photo/origami project which suggests a future where a simple implant will allow the user to change their face at will.

Check out the preview track ‘Be Who You Want to Be’ below.

I’m so pleased with the cover featuring Alma’s photography and designed by Eric Adrian Lee. There will be variants in the cassette colour too. More to come on Friday…..

Musicity Shenzhen/Shanghai Cassette

My adventures in China this year with Nick Luscombe’s Musicity project supported by the British Council, have been some of the most rewarding of my career and I’m very proud to announce this cassette release - Musicity 003 Shenzhen/Shanghai. Two sides of field recordings and architecture inspired compositions. Available now exclusively from

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Full release notes are below for those interested in the background to the recordings and compositions.

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Huge cavernous silos...

a cacophony of horns...

maze-like patterns and sequences that circle and loop...

peace broken by invisible electricity...



The hidden sound world in the Chinese cities of Shenzen and Shanghai captured and explored through field recordings using traditional, contact and electromagnetic microphones, then absorbed into and interpreted through Buchla synthesiser compositions.

Shenzen – just a stone’s throw across the bay from Hong Kong – is one of China’s youngest and fastest-growing cities. Established as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in 1980, with accompanying tax benefits and easier global trading, it went from sleepy fishing village to vibrant metropolis and world-leading technology hub in 38 years.

We head first to a former glass factory created in the SEZ infancy as a collaboration between China, the USA and Thailand, originally called Shenzen Southern Float Glass Company. Now renamed I Factory, it is used as a venue for conferences, art shows, photo-shoots and performances.

Photo by Dickson Dee

Photo by Dickson Dee

Four huge cavernous silos that once held the chemicals needed to make glass now hold nothing but reverb and dust. I replaced those long-gone chemicals with electronic sounds created on the Buchla 200e Electric Music Box. These sounds were introduced into the silo spaces via impulse response reverb, then mixed with extensive field recordings made in those same silos using both traditional and contact microphones – picking up sound waves moving through the air, and vibrations in the solid structure.

Next we hear the sounds of what’s left of the original fishing village. Shekou harbour houses a daily fish market, but its days are numbered as the unrelenting force of development threatens its existence.

Baishizhou urban village – known as “handshake city” due to the incredible closeness of some of its buildings – is also due for demolition and redevelopment: another unique urban soundscape about to be wiped out. I spent my first evening in Shenzen here, wandering around the bewildering maze of alleyways and busy streets teeming with electric scooters accompanied by a cacophony of horns. The “Square Dance” ladies – the name given to retirees who meet in town squares every evening to dance in groups - were in full swing and lo-fi recorded messages advertising fruit and vegetables blasted from multiple speakers on market stalls.

Photo by DIckson Dee

Photo by DIckson Dee

Huaqiangbei Electronic Markets is an area of giant shopping malls full of electronic gadgets, circuits and components. The sound of packing tape is a constant as components are prepared for shipping to the customers who flock here from all over the world. Instead of traditional microphones I chose to capture this space using an electromagnetic microphone which picks up frequencies that surround us in a hidden sound world. These are even more pronounced in the environment of the electronic markets.
All the sounds here are untreated.
A full album focusing on this material is planned for 2019.

We end our sonic exploration of Shenzen at OCT Loft, an ex-factory compound that used to be the home of KONKA, a Chinese manufacturer of electronics products. The factories, warehouses and residential areas have now been taken over by artists, and creative industry flourishes here amongst the utilitarian buildings, leafy pathways and roads, where I kept getting lost in a dreamy haze of jet lag and oppressive heat. But somehow I found calm here. The track OCT Meditation represents a turning point for me: from those anxious “can I do this?” thoughts – which are a low background hum to my daily existence, sometimes seeing me unable to board a train to London – to the realisation that not only am I doing it, but I’m loving every minute of it.

The possibilities that stretched out from this moment were mind-blowing.

Photo by Dickson Dee

Photo by Dickson Dee

I acknowledge some self-indulgence here, but also the fact that spaces and architecture don’t exist in a vacuum. They are full of life and experiences, sounds that can’t be controlled, often unwelcome intruders, sometime unexpected surprises – so my experience in this place was something I wanted to include.

On now to Shanghai, once a modest trading port and now an unparalleled economic powerhouse of 24 million people. Like most Chinese cities, it is a blend of ancient and modern, with old European banking buildings on one side of the waterfront area known as the Bund, looking across to the cutting-edge architecture of the modern financial centres. Modernisation is key here – with many humbler districts being demolished to make way for developments designed to consolidate the city’s global influence.

A tiny microphone attached to a massive cable reel travels across the floor of a huge hangar at West Bund Aircraft Factory, now being transformed into a cultural hub on the banks of the Huangpu River.

Next – 1933 – a brutal concrete structure that actually predated Brutalism, designed to expedite the slaughter of animals. The confusing, visually stunning, maze of grey concrete passages, ramps, stairs and bridges ensured the cattle could move only one way – to their inevitable death.
Our visit here begins with an unofficial guided tour around the building as I get my bearings.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived are the patterns. The front of the building has 19 rows of 12 circular windows running the entire width of the structure - these were originally vents to keep air flowing throughout the slaughterhouse. Looking like a giant step sequencer, they provided a starting point for my composition Old Milfun, the building’s original name.

I also referred to a document that revealed the Feng Shui of the building. It claims that the number of windows, ramps, stairways and the shapes of the pillars were not arbitrary or dictated by structural concerns, but instead were designed to protect the outside world from the negative energies being unleashed inside. Even the location and building’s orientation were considered with Shanghai’s human residents’ spiritual safety in mind.

This folklore, combined with the structure, led to a composition that – just like the building itself – is full of maze-like patterns and sequences that circle and loop around again and again. I wanted to create a composition that was easy to get lost in, where you never quite know where you are – just like 1933, where I got lost many times.

We leave 1933 at midnight with my local guide Tian playing Chinese bells that I’d found in the city earlier that day.

The spaciousness of the sound in this next location – Nanshi Power Plant - captivated me and I ended up recording for over 45 minutes. There was definitely a meditative process going on – maybe an antidote to the intensity of sounds captured during the rest of the trip?
This towering building supplied the first electric light to Chinese people in 1897 and had a temporary stint as Pavilion of Future during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. It is now known as the Power Station of Art, a 42,000 square metre museum and gallery.


I was lucky to get a tour when the space was closed to the public, which offered a unique recording opportunity. I sat in the midst of Christian Boltanski’s “Storage Memory” exhibition, recording the space. At first there is just the whine of power in the background, while occasional voices of staff come and go. Later, a mechanism on the ceiling starts up, slowly moving photographic portraits printed on thin cloth around the huge hall. The squeaks and rattles reverberate around the space beautifully and sounds from another installation drift through the corridors.


The peace of this space is soon broken by an electronic approximation of electricity which crossfades to an electromagnetic recording of Shanghai’s maglev train to Shanghai Airport.

Shenzhen is calling

I’ll be heading back to China soon to perform the music I created for the Musicity project. Just found this footage of driving through Shenzhen after a long day of recording with my new friend and sound artist/musician/promoter/hardest working artist in China, Dickson Dee.

Shanghai 1933 Soundwalk

One of the buildings that I created music for as part of the Musicity project, was the Shanghai Slaughterhouse, 1933. This pre brutalist brutal building was designed to expedite the killing of animals to provide meat for Shanghai’s residents. It is now a space for shops, galleries, restaurants and a theatre, but the history is hard to shift, as the design is so striking it makes it impossible to forget its intended purpose.

I spent a couple of days at 1933, recording sounds to use in my piece of music (which is now finished and will be shared soon) but I’d forgotten I also recorded a sort of guided walk during one of Shanghai’s famous downpours. It was interesting to listen back to myself (and also weird) trying to navigate the maze of passages and bridges whilst taking in everything in the space. I’m sharing this as a personal audio journal/sound walk. It isn’t a definitive audio guide.

Shenzhen Electronics Markets

The electronics markets in Shenzhen are famous. It's easy to assume they are full of fake iPhones and other brands, but there is much more to Shenzhen than that. Shenzhen is the place to go if you are designing new technology, because you can get prototypes built in a fraction of the time it takes anywhere else. You can also buy pretty much any electronic component you can think of. 


I spent two hours exploring 7 floors of electronics, using my LOM Elektrosluch electromagnetic microphone to record the hidden sounds that the circuits, LEDs, components and gadgets emit. The LEDs in particular were a rich vein of sounds; the colours, patterns and movements creating a beautiful minimal techno album 12 hours a day, hidden from human ears. Recordings coming soon. 

Musicity China

I've just returned from a truly inspiring trip to China where I've been gathering field recordings and researching buildings for the latest Musicity project. Nick Luscombe (BBC Radio 3) with the support of the British Council, has commissioned a group of artists from the UK and China to create pieces of music for buildings and structures in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

I spent 5 days each in Shenzhen and Shanghai recording with traditional microphones, contact microphones and electromagnetic microphones - Huge factory silos with beautiful reverb, 7 story electronic markets, Maglev Trains, Power Stations and much more! I'm currently back in the studio and working on the first of the tracks for a building in Shanghai that used to be a slaughterhouse. 1933 is a mix of art deco and brutalist architecture and resembles an Escher painting; a maze of concrete bridges and stairways lead to a circular central structure where the cattle met their fate. My plan is to use the shapes and patterns of the building as a graphical score. I also found an interesting document that talks about the Feng Shui, numbers and codes believed to have protected the local population from the negative 'death energy' leaking from the building. 

Blood Culture Scoops Silver at British Podcasting Awards

It was lovely to spend an evening with so many audio creatives at the British Podcasting Awards 2018, and see the way the medium is flourishing. I attended with Lance Dann, creator, writer and director of techno thriller audio drama, Blood Culture, which was nominated, and won Silver, in the Best Fiction category.

I now have a list of new podcasts I need to check out. 


New music

I've been a bit quiet here as I've been working on an intense production for nearly 6 months. More on that another time. Lots of exciting things coming up including a trip to China with BBC Radio 3 broadcaster Nick Luscombe's  Musicity project, to make music inspired by architecture, a theatre piece with Neil Cargill (Akiha Den Den) and more work with Andrew Phillips on TV soundtracks. 

In the meantime here is a track that just got released as part of a compilation tape on Modern Aviation Recordings. My bass heavy, boney Buchla rhythm workout, Dry Bones, sits nicely alongside tracks from Jon Brooks, Moon Wiring Club, Teresa Winter and The Hardy Tree. 

The cassette is sold out at the moment but I hear that the label might do a re-press. if you want to buy the digital version and support the label and artists, do that here

A Winter Playlist

I created a playlist to welcome Winter. It features drones and sound designs I've created for various projects over the last 12 months - all suitably cold and dark and melancholic. 

Photo by Fia Wahlin

Blood Culture Drama Podcast wins Gold

Friend and colleague Lance Dann won Gold in the best producer category at the Audible Audio Production Awards last night. Here is what the judges had to say about the series that I contributed music to and was lead sound designer on. It is really exciting to see adventurous audio drama getting recognised. 

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Blood Culture BBC Drama Awards Nomination

Quite excited to report that Lance Dann's Blood Culture podcast has been nominated in the BBC Radio Drama Awards in the Best Online or Podcast Drama category. This time last year the team were in the studio in Brighton recording the performances of the fantastic cast. I recorded many of those performances, sound designed and mixed 2 episodes and provided music throughout the series.

Looking forward to series 2.

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Further performance

A very enjoyable performance surrounded by beautiful slide projections - the Further team setup over 20 projectors covering every wall with visuals, and Sculpture blew everybody's minds with their live zoetrope and tape loop set. I'll share a video of my performance when I get a chance to edit it! Thanks to everybody that worked so hard to make the evening so successful. 

© Martin LeSanto-Smith 2017

© Martin LeSanto-Smith 2017

Buchla Map

I use these sheets to keep track of settings on my Buchla synthesizer. This one is for my upcoming show at Further on the 18th November. For those that are new to modular synths, they are different to modern synthesizers where everything is hardwired inside. A modular synthesizer is made up of different modules all with different roles. It won't make a sound until the right connections are made. This flexible architecture provides almost endless possibilities for sound design and musical timbres. 



I'm performing a live Buchla Electric Music Box set in London on the 18th November. Thrilled to be invited to play alongside Sculpture who project mind bending live zoetrope visuals alongside their tape loop compositions. The team of DJ Food and Pete Williams fill the performance space with 'out of this world' projections and liquid light show - I've seen images from the first event and it really is an immersive visual spectacle with every available surface used. Tickets here.  


DJ Food & Pete Williams present the second of their irregular evenings at the Portico Gallery by creating a temporary audio visual space to enjoy. Films, slides, oil projections, food, drink and plenty of seating form the environment to soak up the sights and sounds of Further.