Helmsdale, the album

Category : Music

I’m very very pleased to finally post here to say that one of my recent projects is now ready for the world.

You can read all about it here: Helmsdale

In a nutshell, it’s a short album made out of recordings from a residency with Timespan in the Scottish highlands. You can have a listen, learn about the sounds I used, and you can even buy the album for yourself.

Digital copy is available for sale now, and you can pre-order a beautiful CD (shipping in early June).

Many many thanks to everyone involved, it was such a wonderful thing to work on.


Tewolde Reddacted

Category : Music, Sound

Ethiopian 45

On a recent trip to Ethiopia I picked up a few old 45rpm records from the 1960s. They are super fun to listen to, though some of them are in really bad shape. I digitised the records and used some de-noising plugins with some good results, but one record by Tewolde Redda record has so far eluded my attempts at cleaning the sound. However when I pushed the de-noising plugins to their maximum settings they created a wonderfully abstract representation of the original music.

Have a listen to the result:

I love how you can still hear a lot of the rhythmic and melodic structures, but how they have been transformed into something that sounds almost like 1960s style spectral synthesis. It’s oddly fitting.

I’m currently working, among other things, on the recordings I made in Ethiopia. Some of those should be ready for release soon. In the mean time, if you’re interested in vintage Ethiopian music you can check out Kidus Berhanu’s Soundcloud page for some great mixes. He’s the one who sold me these records, and his collection and knowledge is fantastic.

Record shopping in Addis Ababa.

A video posted by Yann Seznec (@amazingrolo) on


Kildonan Chapel & Timespan Project

Category : Music

Helmsdale
I’ve just started a new project in partnership with Timespan, a wonderful arts/heritage center in Helmsdale, a small village in the north of Scotland.

I’ll be spending some time in Helmsdale, with the ambitious aim of trying to record a snippet of sound from every musical instrument in the village. I’ll then edit all of these recordings and use them to make some new music.

I’m currently on my way back home after my first stint. It was very rewarding indeed, both in terms of the sounds I was able to record as well as the general welcoming warmth extended to my wife and me. Everyone was enthusiastic about the project, and I got all sorts of tips about various musical instruments hidden around the town. Whilst recording a piano in one home, the owners mentioned that there was a small chapel 9 miles out of town that had an antique pump organ. Naturally, I had to go have a look.

Kildonan Chapel

My wife and I hopped on our bikes the next day, and enjoyed a beautiful ride to Kildonan Farm, where we found the chapel and the fantastic American organ.

Kildonan Farm

Kildonan Chapel Organ

I made some recordings for the project and I couldn’t resist making a video of the old Seznec Bros tune “Promised Land”:

The song seemed fitting, as the chapel and churchyard is full of commemorations of the Highland Clearances, when hundreds of local farmers in Kildonan were forced off the land. Many of them emigrated to the promised land of Winnipeg, and the area retains strong links to Canada, with Canadian and Scottish flags both hanging in the chapel.
Kildonan Chapel


Fat Fanny Stomp by Jim Clarke

Category : Music

I’ve recently moved into an apartment with a funky old upright piano, and it’s super fun to play. To celebrate, here’s a video I’ve wanted to make for a while – Fat Fanny Stomp by Jim Clarke:

I’ve never been able to find out any info about Jim Clarke…the record was made in 1928 and it seems to be the only thing he recorded. You can hear the original here:

On that recording you hear him talk over the funny little chorus section, saying all sorts of hilarious things (gut it!) – but the piano playing is super funky as well. It somehow manages to be super minimalist and simple whilst still filling out nicely, and that strange chorus is a great breakdown. It’s a little blues gem, and something that stylistically just about straddles stride and boogie woogie.

If you’re looking for the score, you can find it in Barrelhouse and Boogie Piano – you can actually see the whole book as a pdf here (check page 41 for this tune). The book includes all of the lyrics from the original, though it curiously writes “Ho!” when he is clearly saying “Hold it!”. Hmm.

Anyway, I’ve made a MIDI file of the tune too, download it here if you’re interested or if you think it might help you. It’s a pretty easy little tune to play, but super rewarding and fun. My brother and I used to play it fairly often, I think we’ll have to get back into it.


Currents in Glasgow & Edinburgh

Category : Installation, Music

Currents at New Music Biennial

After a super fun performance with my Fan Club in London at the Southbank Centre (which was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3), we will be performing this week in Edinburgh at the opening of the Edinburgh Art Festival on Thursday evening and on Friday in Glasgow for the PRS New Music Biennial.

In addition, the installation for Currents will be opening up to the public starting this Friday, and running for the duration of the Edinburgh Art Festival. It is comprised of 172 fans inside a Victorian police box which recreate the current wind conditions from six locations around the world. I’m quite excited to open that up to the public.

The police box is on the corner of Easter Road and Albion Road, EH7 5QJ, and will be open every day from the 1st-31st of August, 10am-6pm. More info on the EAF website.

The show in Glasgow is on Friday August 1st at 8:30pm in Glasgow Concert Halls, and it’s free. More information here.

Photo by Elliott Franks.


The premiere of Currents

Category : Music, Sound, Sound Design

Over the past few months I’ve been working on Currents, a project for the Edinburgh Art Festival and the PRS New Music Biennial.

For this project I am taking hundreds of discarded computer CPU fans and turning them into both musical instruments and an installation in a police box in Edinburgh. This weekend sees the debut of the instruments in a performance at the Southbank Centre in London where I will be accompanied by Sam Beste and Hugh Jones. We are, of course, performing under the name Yann’s Fan Club. The performance is at 1pm in the Purcell Room. It is free but ticketed. Full details here.

This project is about distance and technology, and how that intersects with our constant striving towards change and growth.

The instruments are now finished and we have done some rehearsing. Here are a few pictures of the finished instruments we’ll be using.
Currents
2 currents
3 currents

The performance will be semi-improvised, with a structure dictated by live wind data from around the world. At regular intervals the fans will switch to recreate the current windspeed in one of five locations, ranging from St Johns, Newfoundland (one of the windiest cities on the planet), to the suburb of Bangkok where the majority of the fans were produced.

Here’s a small glimpse of some early rehearsals with Sam. It was rather hot in the room, the fans came in handy.

The instruments are made of thick plywood, which I cut using a CNC router at the DCA print studio. Many thanks go to Rob Jackson and the rest of the DCA staff for all their help.

Most of them are controlled using MIDI, so we will be using standard keyboards and drum machines to ‘play’ them. The electronics are made with Teensy microcontrollers and a set of power circuits for switching. They are powered using standard computer power supplies which are, in turn, cooled by fans.

The first performance is Saturday 5 July at the Southbank Centre at 1pm. We will be performing again in Edinburgh on 31 July and in Glasgow on 1 August.

With the instruments finished I’ll next be working on the installation side of this project, which will be ready for the opening of the Edinburgh Art Festival at the end of July.

In the mean time, here are some pictures of the process of making the instruments.
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Currents-6

Currents-5

Currents-4

Currents-3

Currents-2


Voice changer toy into instrument pedal

Voice Changer Stompbox

A little while back I picked up a “10 Effects Voice Changing Toy” at Maplin’s (it was on sale for £5, how could I resist?).

I decided to try and turn it into an instrument effects pedal. I opened it up, replaced all the switches, removed the speaker (bypassing the amplifier chip), and added some 1/4″ jacks for inputs and outputs. I mounted it into an old jewellery box and it was ready to go. I’ve tested it out with a guitar and a keyboard:

It sounds pretty bonkers, which I like! The various switches make it pretty hard to predict what kind of sound will come out. One funny consequence of building this out of a voice changer toy is that the originally design obviously includes some kind of input and output gating – it will only turn on when the input volume is above a certain level, and it will cut out when the output volume falls below a certain level too. I think this its sounds pretty cool, it really makes it even more crunchy and digital.

Voice Changer Stompbox

Voice Changer Stompbox

Voice Changer Stompbox

Voice Changer Stompbox


Hamilton Mausoleum

Category : Sound, Sound Design

Hamilton Mausoleum
In 2013, as a project for The New Radiophonic Workshop, I was able to visit the Hamilton Mausoleum in South Lanarkshire to record the incredibly long and beautiful reverb in that building. At 15 seconds long it is quite possibly the longest man-made reverb in the world. Just listen to the sound of the door slamming shut…

So I travelled to Hamilton in May with a great little team made up of Lauren Sarah Hayes, Tobias Feltus, and Varun Nair. One of our main aims was to record an impulse response of the legendary 15-second reverb – this would then allow us to apply that reverb to whatever sound we like, after the fact. For more information about recording impulse responses, read Varun’s great article on Designing Sound.
Recordings IRs in Hamilton Mausoleum
If you are interested in the impulse responses we recorded, and have the requisite software (Logic, Altiverb, etc), you can now download the IRs in a number of different formats from the New Radiophonic Workshop website. I think they sound pretty amazing, and definitely capture the feeling of being in the Mausoleum, which is very strange indeed.

I’ve used this reverb to make a short piece, dedicated to my wife, called “Living in the Recent Past”. Have a listen.

If you are running Chrome, or possibly another Web Audio enabled browser, you can also try listening to the reverb yourself. Go to this website and allow it access to your microphone – be sure to wear headphones! It should, theoretically, let you hear the reverb for yourself. I’m listening to it right now as I type, and every keystroke is a thunderous 15 second echo. Your mileage may vary, as Web Audio implementation is still quite spotty.

DSC_1559

Many thanks to Visit Lanarkshire for helping with our visit.


Sound of Sewing

Category : Sound

Contact microphones are amazing things – they pick up the vibrations of the material they are attached to, rather than the movement of air (like normal microphones). That means you can hear all sorts of wonderful things that you would normally be totally unaware of. Piezo discs are essentially cheap and easy contact microphones, but they have a well-deserved bad reputation for sounding pretty terrible if you just plug them into a recording machine. However, building a simple preamp is a really effective way of making even a lowly piezo microphone sound totally amazing.

So I recently built some new contact microphones and a phantom powered preamp, using Alex Rice’s technique as detailed on Zach Poff’s fantastic website.

I’ve always loved mechanical sounds, and my wife has been doing a lot of sewing lately. I was really excited to use my new microphones to make some recordings of her sewing machine in action.

Here are the recordings on their own, feel free to download them and play around. Each recording uses slightly different microphone placement, so you can hear the various differences in the machinery – also you can can varying levels of hum! Apologies for that, I think it’s partially down to the machinery and partially from my microphones, which need improved wiring.

Oh, and here’s a picture of the thing Kristina was sewing! You can read more about it on the Crafty Foxes blog

clutch

And some pictures of the mics, and how they attached to the sewing machine. You can see them plugged directly into the cigar box preamp, which is then plugged into my RME Fireface audio interface.
Contact mics on sewing machine
Contact mics on sewing machine
Balanced piezo micsCigar Box piezo preampCigar Box piezo preamp


announcing: Currents

Category : Installation

I’m very pleased and flattered to announce, somewhat belatedly, that I’ve been commissioned by PRS and the Edinburgh Art Festival to create an installation and musical performance for the 2014 Art Festival.
The project will be produced by Suzy Glass and will feature performances in London and Glasgow broadcast by BBC3 and a large scale installation in Edinburgh.
The overarching theme is “common-wealth” and my work will look at connections between different commonwealth areas around the world, particularly with regards to weather. I’ll be hacking electric fans and using them to recreate wind patterns from different weather reports.
You can read a blog post I wrote for the PRS here.


In C at the Barbican

Tonight I’ll be playing with Matthew Herbert + Stargaze at the Barbican in London, performing Terry Riley’s famous minimalist masterpiece In C.

Detailed show info on the Barbican website. It’s sold out, but I’ve heard that more tickets may become available before the show.

We did this performance once before a few months ago, at the Cologne Philharmonie, and it was great fun. This time I think it will be even better…

I’ve built a small family of mechanical drum machines using Meccano and solenoids. These will play different rhythms and keep time (the famous repeating C, for example). Here’s a video I made while experimenting and testing the machines:

I’ll also be doing some live sampling/looping/remixing, of course, together with Matthew and Hugh Jones (Crewdson). Hugh will be using his brilliant new hacked concertina, which is one of the nicest musical interfaces I’ve ever seen.

I’m really looking forward to it.


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