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Behind The Beam


Behind The Beam

simon james

A few words on making ‘The Beam’ -  a fantastical Monorail journey, in sound.

As The Simonsound, we had released music that was inspired by early electronic recordings and even touched on some of the more experimental aspects of this pioneering movement.  Being the ‘electronic’ half of The Simonsound, I wanted to go further and create something that was more electronic collage, or sound adventure; continuing my attempt to escape the everyday and to travel somewhere otherworldly.

10" Clear vinyl and 2 sided map

10" Clear vinyl and 2 sided map

Escaping reality has always been a big part of music production for me. Growing up reading fantasy and horror novels and participating in Dungeons and Dragons games, plays a bigger part in my creative process than I could ever have imagined as an awkward teenager. Even if its not so literal as in The Beam, where I’ve expressly created imaginary ‘worlds’, I still approach songs as almost physical places that I can fill with sounds, bringing to life a scene or story in my and hopefully the listeners imagination. The work I do in radio must have an influence, where I’m called on to bring otherwise dry (in a sound sense) stories to life using sound effects and music.

My initial idea was to create a piece of electronic music to celebrate the Monorail, the futuristic transport often found at mid century World’s Fairs and theme parks. This then evolved into imagining a theme park where the Monorail would transport listeners to the different fantasy ‘worlds’ in the park, all brought to life using electronic sound. Very early on in the process I drew a diagram setting out the sound narrative. (see image below) And, if you listen to the finished recording whilst looking at this diagram you can see I stuck pretty closely to this. The trip starts with the sounds of the Monorail itself - the sliding door and jaunty electronic fanfare that bookend each trip between worlds. The door is a EMS VCS 3 doing its classic Dr Who sliding door sound mixed with a recording of a sliding elevator door I found in a funny hotel in Italy. The fanfare is Minimoog Voyager run through not only the internal filter, but also a Eurorack Intelijel Corgasmatron dual filter with some noise modulation and subtle pitch modulation to give it a slightly wobbly old feel.

original sketch of Monorail ride with sound notes

original sketch of Monorail ride with sound notes

The sound of the Monorail moving is made up of various layers of electronic sound. The most prominent sound is a sequence of electronic notes, filtered and then played backwards. Added to this is a lower repeated sequence and then some electronic ‘sparks’ to fill the higher frequency range. The Monorail sound is actually different between the 5 worlds. The first time we hear it, it is quite simple. The second time we hear it, there is an added arpeggio, rising and falling to add to the feeling of movement. The journey to Myths and Beasts world is a little darker, with the higher arpeggio replaced with a low but continuously rising pitch. I also added some ‘gasps’ from passengers, who I imagined taking their first high speed ride aboard the transport of the future.

I can’t deny an affinity with electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, who during the ‘50s and ‘60s used his self built electronic studio to soundtrack adverts, short films for Jim Henson and a ride for the New York World’s Fair. He had a unique way of using electronic sound to imaginatively convey feelings, stories and ideas that I hope I’ve captured just a little with ‘The Beam’.

I should also add that the visual design and packaging by Emily Macaulay, makes this completely made up ride feel a little bit more like it could actually have existed. Thanks to her for going that little bit further to make such an amazing package.

You can hear The Beam here. You can buy the 10" vinyl with map here. Sadly the limited edition 'Pilot Packs' are now sold out.