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. 

Two Knocks For Yes live photos

Last Friday saw the culmination of weeks of preparation with the public performance of Two Knocks For Yes at St. Andrews Church. The team were pleased with a (nearly) full house and the evening went by without a hitch, apart from a dry ice machine overheating which led to a huge cloud of dry ice rather than the planned mist floating across the floor and down the steps of the altar. 

It was an absolute treat to perform in such an atmospheric space. The Buchla shook the wooden pews and bounced around the stone walls. I even got a chance to make an impromptu improvised recording when I had half an hour alone whilst everyone had gone for dinner and before the audience arrived. 

As well as my performance of Two Knocks For Yes, there was an intriguing found tape recording of a scientist talking about some strange experiments, a talk on the folklore of water and death by James Burt, and some shared ghost stories from the audience. We learnt a lot from this first show and will be working towards expanding it for future outings. 

The best thing about the whole event was getting a rare opportunity to work with my brother Curtis James, who instigated the project and made it happen (and hosted on the evening). It took me back to our teenage years working the lighting and sound for school plays. 

Photos by Dominic Butler and DJ Food/Strictly Kev

My favorite soundtracks - Mala Morska Vila (1976)

This Czech version of the Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid fairytale is the most dreamlike realisation of an underwater world you will ever see on the screen. The Zdenek Liska soundtrack is haunting, mixing orchestral and electronic elements that resonate with the intensity of the sea. There are deep electronic oscillations in here that feel like living organisms, and tightly filtered tuned white noise is used to dramatic effect. Composer Liska also used on set recordings effected and manipulated to add yet another layer of unreality.

The film itself is currently unavailable to buy.  The full soundtrack can be purchased from obscure soundtrack hunters Finders Keepers, whose Doug Shipton I have to thank for introducing me to this masterpiece of European cinema.


My favorite soundtracks - Forbidden Planet (1956)

It's easy to forget just how pioneering this soundtrack was at the time.  The use of electronic sound and music within films was relatively unheard of, and Forbidden Planet's soundtrack was the first to be comprised solely of electronic sounds, most of which could be quite challenging to general listeners heard in isolation.  Of course similar electronic experimentation was going on at this time, but none that reached the audiences of a major motion picture from MGM.  The richness and range of sounds that Louis and Bebe Barron conjured from their basic analogue oscillators is inspiring and perfectly complimented the strange futuristic world visited in the films story.  There was a bitter twist to the story though as movie execs downgraded the Barrons' credit to 'Electronic Tonalities' which they believe robbed them of an Oscar nomination.

Buy the album here.

Listen to this brilliant BBC radio documentary about the soundtrack and the Barrons, by Ken Hollings.



Dark Ride

During the 2014 Brighton Digital Festival, Persistent Peril and Paul Hayes created their very own miniature 'dark ride' (an indoor amusement ride where riders usually travel in some kind of vehicle) using Lego Monorail. The ride traveled through fantastic lands created by Lucy Irving, and members of the public could even 'ride' aboard the Monorail using virtual reality goggles.

Following The Simonsound Monorail trip in 2013 (a journey in electronic sound, released on 10" vinyl with a map of the ride) I've been pretty obsessed with theme parks and Imagineers - the men and women behind some of best immersive ride experiences at Disney Theme Parks. In the team behind Persistent Peril, I found kindred spirits equally mad about such things. I gladly provided a sonic treatment, featuring Buchla Electric Music Box and Aalto Synthesizer for this on board video.

For more like this take a ride aboard Monorail SS MkI and don't forget to purchase your souvenir record and map!

Two Knocks For Yes

I created this Radiophonic collage for Halloween. I'd really enjoyed this article by Adam Curtis and wanted to do something using excerpts from the archive material featured.

Explore the poltergeist phenomenon with this 30 minute radiophonic collage, featuring recordings from British cases including the famous 'Enfield Haunting'. Electronic oscillations courtesy of the Buchla 200e Electric Music Box; manipulated frequencies courtesy of the Critter & Guitari Kaleidoloop.

I love projects like this that see my two worlds of music and radio collide. I just wish there were more outlets for such work. It would be fantastic to create a radio drama with the same kind of treatment....

Lullaby for Hamza

I've been doing some sound design for a multi platform interactive game, and this week it went 'live' at a 3 day conference in Brighton. The theme of the game itself is science fiction with technology at the forefront (particularly the early home computing period of the '80s). Part of my brief for this event was to produce a cover of the Robert Wyatt song, Lullaby for Hamza (actually the cover was closer to the Unthanks version). The song formed the climax of a performance/puzzle element, representing the unlocking of a message from a lost team.

I put my Prophet 600 poly synth to good use on the wash of pads, running various layers of it through Eventide Space, Roland RE-201 Space Echo and for added disorientation, the ZVEX Instant Lo-fi Junky. The synth solo was a mix of Moog Voyager via ZVEX Fuzz Factory, and the fantastic Aalto plugin running through voice resynthesis plugin Bit Speek. I spent a lot of time treating the vocals (Becky Randall of black channels - more on that later) to give the feeling that we were hearing a transmission from far way with all the interference and drop outs you would expect. Multiple takes were run through Space Echo, Buchla 200e and bit reduction plugins. Drones and effects were supplied by the Buchla 200e's 'Twisted Waveform Generator'.

Keep ears peeled for a full black channels cover.......

Inside the Moog factory 1977

Some fantastic photos of the Moog synthesizer factory taken by William Beith in 1977.

The original R. A. Moog factory was in Trumansburg New York. It was at this location the modulars were built and the Minimoog invented. In 1971, this enterprise was purchased by a venture capitalist, Bill Waytena who had formed the electronics company Musonics. Waytena moved the Moog factory from Trumansburg to Williamsville, near Buffalo New York. In 1973 Moog Music was taken over by the musical instrument giant Norlin, which also owned (among other brands) Pearl drums, Gibson guitars, and Armstrong flutes. (Details sourced from Analog Days, Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, Harvard University Press, 2002)

At the time of this visit, I worked for Gibson guitars and when traveling to the east coast, a tour of the Moog factory was arranged for me. There were no restrictions placed on my ability to photograph, which resulted in pictures that include the R&D process.

The Polymoog was in production. R&D efforts were underway for what would eventually become the Memorymoog. The blackboard was in an R&D room that contained circuit boards patched together. Some of the circuits looked to be Polymoog in origin, and some appeared to be parts of a Moog modular. My sense was they were developing an instrument that carried the essence of the Minimoog expressed in a polyphonic form that expanded the capabilities of the Polymoog. The pictures of drawings are concept drawings of the Memorymoog.

-William Beith

Click the image for more

Sound Explosions

I'm not sure if these explosions are being caused by the vibrations of the electronic sound, or if there is something else being used to create the powerful eruptions of colored powder. However it's done, it looks fantastic.

Sound Explosions by Martin Klimas 

For Sound Explosions, he asked several musicians to work on short sound sequences, so called patches, using analogue synthesizers made between 1930 and 1990. Klimas shows those synthesizers with all their wires and cables, to give people an idea of the complexity of the sounds he is working with. He then replays the patches on his set, using pigments in place of liquid colors this time. He puts up the volume and lets the colors explode.

Trios - A rare live performance

Last year I helped Ian Helliwell record the EMS VCS3 (we actually used an EMS AKS) Synthesiser parts for Tristram Cary's 'chance' composition Trios. The piece, which involves 3 performers - one on synthesiser, the other 2 using dice to determine which tracks to play from 2 prerecorded vinyl records,  was performed at the Hackney Picture House in March 2013. The dice in this performance were donated to Ian by Tristram Cary himself, and it is Cary's voice you hear at the start of the recording introducing Trios.

We chose to pre-record the synthesizer parts to reel to reel tape and substituted CD's for the original vinyl. Ian provided the projections and directed the video.