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Blog

Promax Horror Channel

simon james

Nice feature in Promax Daily Brief about the recent Horror Channel branding I worked on with director Chris Turner and Holman & Hunt

The effectiveness of H+H’s Horror Channel rebrand can be boiled down to the following components: 1) A series of 12 stylish, boldly subtle IDs that favor a sense of unease over traditional scare tactics. 2) An extreme minimalist on-screen graphics package driven by frightening red clouds that spread across the screen like a nightmare. And 3) a thrumming, painstakingly crafted soundscape by sound designer Simon James that was made possible because, unlike most channels, Horror does not carry a continuity voiceover.

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 “One of the great things about this project was having the space to do what we wanted with the audio,” (Richard) Holman said, “because sound is so important in enhancing the mood of the uncanny and unnerving.”

Akiha Den Den album

simon james

The Akiha Den Den soundtrack album is now available. Really pleased with the work Nick Taylor has done on the design and packaging. Big thanks to Colin at Castles in Space Records for releasing this odd selection of music and sound design. I was devastated by the loss of a close friend whilst working on Akiha Den Den, and the project gave me the perfect place to escape to. 

This vinyl and CD package collects electronic music created for an abandoned space: Akiha Den Den, the crumbling amusement park at the centre of a surreal radio drama, and the setting for a story woven from the very fabric of radio.
Released on a specially requested opaque clear vinyl LP, the physical package also includes a redacted Akiha Den Den booklet (all artwork by Nick Taylor) and a beautiful bonus CD filled with over 70 minutes of Buchla Modular, EMS, drones, dramatics, cassette 4 track abuse and noise from the Akiha Den Den radio series.

CBS Horror Channel branding

simon james

Back in January I completed the sound design for a series of 10 second branding idents, directed by Chris Turner, for the Horror Channel. I'm excited to say that they have now launched, so tune in to see/hear them. Sound wise they are a mix of electronic sound design and foley (thanks to Sue Harding for the fire advice) and I had a lot of fun conjuring up suitably dark sounds on the Buchla Electric Music Box and Oberheim OB-6, of which the latter features heavily in this production. 

“When Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson were writing the screenplay for ‘The Shining’ they kept referring to Sigmund Freud’s book ‘The Uncanny’; a book which explores the way an image or scene where something is not quite right can make the skin crawl and quicken the pulse in a much more visceral way than mere shock and gore. We took the same approach. Each of our idents provides the thrill Horror fans love without ever making the source of that emotion explicit.”
— Richard Holman - Holman + Hunt Agency

Ambisonic Recording in Scotland

simon james

I had the pleasure of recording on the East coast of Scotland last week for a project for Salesforce Trailhead. I used the brilliant Sennheiser Ambeo microphone, which records 4 channels and allows for post processing in to various stereo microphone configurations, binaural and most versions of surround. Whilst the technique has been around since the '70s, it has gained in popularity in the VR world recently as the positioning can be linked to head movement within a virtual reality environment. It is one of the only microphone systems that records vertical as well as horizontal, and captures a truly immersive sound space.

Below is an excerpt of a longer recording I made in the rock pools near Dunnottar Castle. (you can just make me out in the image below) The microphone was placed so that water was bubbling and moving all around it and lapping against the rocks. This version is encoded in to the binaural format, which requires headphones to fully appreciate the 'surround' effect. 

What is so exciting about this recording technique, is the amount of flexibility once back in the studio. If I wanted to, I could choose to encode this same recording in any number of stereo mic configurations (and directions) or full surround. I'm seriously considering creating some library collections and I'm already planning another trip to Scotland to spend an extended period recording on the West coast. 

Photo by Clive Howard/Blue Canary

Photo by Clive Howard/Blue Canary

Delaware Road at Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker

simon james

This July I'll be joining a group of like minded electronic sound experimenters in an immersive night of music in a cold war nuclear bunker in Essex, just off the M25, as part of Alan Gubby's Delaware Road music/theatre/fiction project. The star of the evening is undoubtedly the setting; the dusty, eerie tunnels that lead to rooms filled with (thankfully) unused armageddon paraphernalia and the odd mannequin here and there. A fully equipped BBC studio is one of the many oddities that you'll discover wandering around this tomb of false hope and desperation. 

Kelvedon Hatch is a chilling time capsule of how the other half might have lived after a nuclear war; where the government, or what was left of it, would try to rebuild and start again. 

I doubt they could have imagined the place as a venue to mind expanding electronic music and visuals courtesy of Ian Helliwell, Howlround, DJ Food, Teleplasmiste, Concretism and others, but that is exactly what is happening on Friday 28th July. Tickets (including a an optional bus service) are selling quickly, so don't hang around. 

I'll be there conjuring outer dimensional oscillations, spirit invoking modulations and frequencies to welcome all beings with warmth; exploring the sounds that come from deep inner space as they vibrate around the subterranean and spread to the remotest reaches of outer space. From pulsing strobed rhythms and incantation arousing sequences to glacial tone shards and shapeshifting drones; the vast range of the Buchla Electric Music Box will be shared in a 3hr exploratory performance. Here's a little taster....

Tickets and more info here

Here is a bit of background on the Delaware Road project from DJ Food.

Self Generating Exploration

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I use a modular synthesiser called the Buchla 200e Electric Music Box. It crops up in nearly every project I work on and is an endless source of inspiration. Its inventor Don Buchla, whilst a synthesiser pioneer just like the better known Bob Moog, chose a more experimental approach to his designs, preferring to discard traditional interfaces like the common white and black keyboard, and instead creating touch sensitive input panels with layouts that better suited the human anatomy. 

This recording uses the 266e Source of Uncertainty module to drive a self generating composition. Pulses and modulation are randomly generated and control the rhythm, pitch and timbre of a single oscillator with the results being very musical. I could just leave this patch alone and it would play endlessly, but I'm making subtle changes to various settings to interact with the machine music. The original idea for this particular patch came from Todd Barton, Buchla expert and inspiration source for many synthesiser explorers. 

There is one last element to this recording, the Ciat-Lombarde Cocoquantus - which is a cosmic looping machine from another dimension. More about that another time!

Hyperloop

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A piece of music from the 'techno thriller' radio drama series Blood Culture, which topped the iTunes podcast charts in its opening weekend, knocking stalwarts The Archers off the top spot. 

This particular piece of music underscores a scene from episode 5, and so I can't say too much about what is going on for risk of spoilers, but I can say that it involves violence, a cattle prod and emotional revelations. 

Episode 2 of Blood Culture will be available in two parts soon. As well as music throughout, I also sound designed and mixed this episode. 

Find out more about the series, including how to subscribe, here

Love Bite - UK Television Premiere

simon james

Love Bite: Laurie Lipton and her disturbing black and white drawings gets its television premiere tonight on Sky Arts at 10.45 (repeated May 1st at 1.15am). A great opportunity to watch this very personal portrait of a brilliant creative being, and to discover what drives her to make her extremely detailed art. 

Blood Culture

simon james

Coming soon. A new radio drama from Lance Dann (Flickerman). I'm doing the sound design for two episodes and providing music for the full series.  

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The Sound of Story

simon james

Myself and Neil Cargill were invited to speak at The Sound of Story a couple of weeks ago. As well as sharing insight about our radio drama, Akiha Den Den, it was a fantastic opportunity to immerse ourselves in a weekend of discussions, talks and workshops on the subject of sound and story telling. Check out this review of the symposium. 

Akiha Den Den - Electronic Sound Magazine/The Sound of Story

simon james

Very pleased to be featured in the latest edition of Electronic Sound Magazine in an excellent article by Scanner (Robin Rimbaud), which places Akiha Den Den in the historical context of experimental radio.  To be able to create radio drama where the sound design and music doesn't get relegated to a supporting role, but instead takes equal billing with the cast in telling the story, is something I've been working towards for a while. Its the culmination of a lot of hard work for myself and Neil Cargill (writer and director) in a particularly rewarding collaboration. 

Listen to Akiha Den Den here

We will be talking about the creative process of making Akiha Den Den at the excellent The Sound of Story symposium taking place this week in Brighton. Billed as An Exploration of Sound and Music in Storytelling, the event runs over 3 days and features talks, demonstrations, discussions and workshops from leading practitioners in the field. 

We'll be speaking at the symposium on Friday the 18th at Brighton Dome Studio and will be joined by Sue Harding (Foley Artist -  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Imitation Game, Le Misérables and In Bruges), Matthew Herbert (Musician / Artist / Producer / Writer - Life in a DayBodily FunctionsOne Pig), Anne Kroeber (Sound Designer / Effects Editor / Recordist -Blue VelvetDead Poets SocietyThe Horse Whisperer), and Paul Davies (Supervising Sound Editor / Sound Designer - Hunger, The Queen, ’71, We Need to Talk About Kevin). Quite a line up!

Tickets and more info here

Akiha Den Den Bonus OST

simon james

As the Akiha Den Den series unravels I've been sharing tracks from the soundtrack in between episodes. I'm also busy putting the finishing touches to the soundtrack album which will be released on vinyl in the new year. Here is a piece of music used to introduce Silph, the thought mining cockroach. It is pure EMS Synthi A magic. 

Video feedback is by Ian Helliwell.

VR Sound

simon james

I just completed my first VR project, working with Salesforce on a training experience for their staff. Making sounds for an experience where a talking raccoon guides you around a giant structure made of shipping containers, was certainly one of the more unusual things I've done but I'm not overstating it when I say that the possibilities for sound within VR blow my mind. Since the development of Stereo sound, us audio engineers have been faking it to convince the listener they are within a realistic acoustic space. With my work in radio I spend a lot of time positioning sounds within that stereo space, trying to create realistic (sometimes purposely unrealistic) scenarios. With 3D sound for VR, that job just got a lot more interesting and challenging. 

VR 3D sound map

VR 3D sound map

As you can see from my sound map above, the new canvas is multi-dimensional. Rather than a flat space in which to position sound, where the only choices are Left/Right/Loud/Quiet, we now have a 'real' world where we can place our sounds. As the player moves through the forest, the sounds will shift depending on his movement. A flutter of wings in the tree as a bird takes flight, the whistle of wind at the base of the building growing louder as the player moves towards it, the forest now receding in to the background (using binaural techniques it actually sounds like it is behind). The possibilities are exciting and endless, but with this new power comes new challenges. It is easy to overwhelm and create a muddy mess of sounds. One very useful function of sound in an experience where the player can look anywhere, is to use sound triggers to gently guide the players attention. 

I've spent most of my career making immersive 'worlds of sound', carefully crafting and manipulating sound to enhance stories. With VR I think I've found my spiritual home! I hope to have a video walkthrough of the Dreamhouse VR experience soon, which I'll share here.  

If you are looking for immersive sound design, foley, voice and music for your VR project please get in touch. 

Below is a piece of music I created for the end scene of the VR experience. 

AkihaDen Den launch

simon james

I'm just putting the finishing touches to the first 6 episodes of radio drama Akiha Den Den, ready for the launch this coming week. Episode 1 will go live on the 15th of September (with a launch event in Aberdeen - more about that below) and new episodes will be shared fortnightly after that. (available on iTunes, Stitcher and Tunein)

It has been an intense period turning Neil Cargill's dense, multilayered scripts in to the episodes you will soon hear. Being responsible for every aspect of the sound and music has meant that those elements are very closely interwoven in a way that I hope has resulted in something closer to sound art than straightforward radio drama. That was definitely our intention. 

A full soundtrack LP is coming later in the year on Castles in Space Records. An extremely limited edition 7" featuring the Akiha Theme (with Debbie Clare on vocals) and Cold Ending, a brooding cinematic piece performed on the Oberheim 4 Voice.  They are sold out at the Castles in Space shop, but there will some on sale at the launch event in Aberdeen on the 15th and any that I have left after that will go on sale online.

We couldn't have done all of this without the support and funding of Aberdeen Performing Arts (who are also hosting the launch at Underdog on Union Street in Aberdeen) and Creative Scotland. A special thank you has to go to Lesley Anne Rose at Aberdeen Performing Arts. She met Neil by chance and has offered guidance and development funding without which we wouldn't have been able to bring this project to fruition. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to make unique radio drama outside of the BBC, whose commissioning process has to be one of the most soul destroying and unfriendly experiences ever.  

Also to the cast, Ian McDiarmid (from Star Wars! yes Star Wars!), Joy McAvoy (Filth), Shiela Reid (best known for her role in TV series Benidorm, but playing a very different character in Akiha - a talking cockroach), Peter Kelly (fresh from his performance as Nagg in Beckett's Endgame, and well known for his role in The Tall Guy with Jeff Goldblum), Wendy Rae Fowler (a musician that I'm currently co-writing a song with), Ewan Petrie, Mark Little and Cameron Mowat. 

Last but no least, a BIG thank you to Neil (writer and director) for creating this strange world and letting me loose on creating the sound for it. Our ultimate hope is to raise funding for a second series but we are well aware of the challenges we face trying to make such a time consuming project self sufficient. Fingers crossed on that one. If you'd like to find out more or get involved please feel free to get in touch. We are looking for broadcasters around the world to syndicate Akiha Den Den. 

We hope our strange radio experiment finds an appreciative audience...

www.akihadenden.com

Follow us on Twitter @akihadenden Facebook @akihadenden and Instagram @akihadenden

 

Akiha Den Den website and trailer

simon james

Myself and writer/director Neil Cargill are very busy producing 6 episodes of this adventurous radio drama. It won't sound like anything on Radio 4. Find out more at our website www.akihadenden.com and sign up to our mailing list for updates and extra story material straight to your mailbox. 

In the meantime here is a trailer featuring two of the main characters played by Ian McDiarmid and Joy McAvoy. 

There will also be a very limited edition lathe cut 7" vinyl featuring the Akiha Den Den opening music, available around the launch of the series mid September. 

Cosmic Surgery Cassette

simon james

Sadly not for sale. Made exclusively for limited edition packages as part of Alma Haser's Kickstarter campaign. There are two tracks up on my Soundcloud though. Buchla Electric Music Box and Oberheim 4Voice (serial No.1 owned by Stevie Wonder according to the A-Z of Analogue Synthesiser book) used throughout. 

Cosmic Surgery is a photo book, set in the not too distant future where the world of cosmetic surgery is about to be transformed. Find out more about Alma Haser's Cosmic Surgery project at www.haser.org

Oberheim 4voice

Oberheim 4voice

Your Hall Your Story - a celebration in sound

simon james

In March I was commissioned by Lesley Anne Rose at Aberdeen Performing Arts (APA) to create a sound piece celebrating Aberdeen Music Hall. The Category A Listed building which has stood on Union Street for nearly 200 years was due to close temporarily at the end of the March for a major refurbishment, and APA had a weekend of celebratory events planned to mark the closure. My piece was to be part of an event entitled Your Hall Your Story, an evening of stories and memories shared by the people that have visited, performed and worked at the Music Hall. 

Listen to an extract below. 

The brief was simple: capture the sounds, voices and stories of The Music Hall.  I was keen to spend as much time at the Hall itself, recording in every nook and cranny, and I was most excited about the Organ built by Henry Willis which I was glad to discover still worked. Over 5 days in Aberdeen I recorded sound from the building (inside the organ, creaking floorboards, final security walks) and people that work there and lots of stories from young and old about their experiences as audience members. 

Far from a complete history, the final 17 minute piece serves as more of a snapshot of some of the interesting, unique, unusual things that have happened in the Music Hall, a building that one observer commented "is the history of popular culture".

I'm going to write a longer post about my experiences working on Your Hall Your Story and will also share some sounds that didn't make it in due to time constraints. 

Dramatic reconstructions performed by Tom Bevan. Organ played (tamed) by Ben Torrie. Poem written and performed by members of Aberdeen Youth Theatre Group.