VR Sound

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

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...


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Akiha Den Den website and trailer

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

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

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. 


Cosmic Surgery

I've loved Alma Haser's work since I first saw some hanging in my brother's flat years ago. Her Cosmic Surgery project takes photographic portraits and transforms them through a kaleidoscopic lens using Origami. Last year she worked with Emily Macaulay (The Beam/Reverse Engineering) at Stanley James Press to create a limited edition pop-up book, which sold out in a couple of days. The pair now want to produce a bigger run and have just launched a Kickstarter to fund the manufacturing. Also involved is space history writer Piers Bizony who has written text for the book. Its a wonderful project and appeals to my love of all things cosmic. I was more than happy to supply a piece of cosmic ambience for the video below. There is even an online Cosmic Surgery experience created by Josh Emerson.

Support the project at Kickstarter. Experience virtual reality Cosmic Surgery here

Laurie Lipton - Love Bite

Jim Scott's short film about artist Laurie Lipton is being premiered at SXSW this year and I'm proud that a black channels track is used in a very moving moment towards the end of the film. 

No one on the planet has drawn more than Laurie Lipton. LOVE BITE chronicles her life and prolific body of black & white work spanning over fifty years. Largely ignored by the mainstream art world, her haunting creations are made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny strokes of the humble pencil. Laurie and her work seek answers to some of the most uncomfortable themes in our culture - fear, politics, sexuality, murder, mayhem, greed, and indifference - answers that will likely never be black or white. What compels a bright and outspoken woman to live a life of isolation drawing is as disquieting as the images themselves.

Find out more and keep up to date here.

Akiha Den Den

I'm just back from Aberdeen where I performed a sneak preview of a Radio Drama that I'm making with writer and producer Neil Cargill. We just found out that we won funding to make a 6 part series!!! We are obviously very excited to have the opportunity to create radio outside of the extremely rigid and risk adverse constraints of BBC radio. So expect new talent, strange sounds, an original soundtrack and experimentation. The full series will come later in the year but we'll start sharing little teasers before then. 

Big thanks to Lesley Anne Rose and APA (Aberdeen Performing Arts) and The Lemon Tree. 

Below a little clip taken from the soundcheck at The Lemon Tree Theatre in Aberdeen. 

Out of body sounds

A video posted by @thesimonsound on

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

Two Knocks for Yes cassette release

Radiophonic investigation in to the poltergeist phenomenon gets a limited cassette release on Castles in Space, just in time for Halloween. The Buchla 200e Electric Music Box is used to haunting effect providing otherworldly tones, presences and vibrations. The B side features instrumental incidentals for ghost stories. Available mid October. Pre-order here.

I'll also be performing Two Knocks For Yes at Saint Andrews Church, Brighton (UK) on the 23rd of October. More info here.

Sleeve designed by Nick Taylor.

The School is Full of Noises

An interesting (if slightly limited) exploration of experimental music in the classroom. Back in the '60s kids got the opportunity to experiment with tape machines and play with bringing stories to life using sound and what some call 'challenging' composition. I hope this still goes on in classrooms today, but I have a funny feeling it probably doesn't. I was lucky enough to have a music teacher that had some synthesizers and who also invited a group of musicians in to show off their samplers and drum machines - I was pretty much hooked instantly by this exciting world of playing with sound and music that didn't involve playing the guitar or violin. Thanks Mr.Hayter.

How did tape loops, recycled everyday sounds and countless other weapons of the avant-garde find their way into school music lessons during the 1960s? That's the challenge for Ian McMillan as he sets out on the trail of one of music education's more unexpected byways.

Listen here - link will probably die at some point.....

Sounds of our Shores

Earlier in the year I entered a sound recording of Brighton's Palace Pier Ghost Train to the National Trust/British Library Sounds of our Shores project. The project aims to create a coastal sound map of the UK using sounds recorded by the public. It is a neat idea and there are some lovely sounds gathered already. Anyway, my sound has been selected as one of the top ten favorite sounds, and voting has now opened to find THE No. 1 favorite sound of our shores.

If you feel inclined please VOTE HERE (the form isn't the neatest design, but move to the 2nd page to find and listen to the sounds).

To those who know me, the Ghost Train is probably a pretty obvious choice, but as well as being a dynamic evocative sound in itself (the clackety clack, compressed air, shrieks and howls), the recording has a personal connection for me. I grew up in Brighton and remember my first 'late night' out with my gran (who always took me and my twin brother on new adventures) and as if it wasn't exciting enough to be out after dark as a child, to then ride the ghost train sealed that magical memory forever. I've been fascinated by ghost trains ever since.