Category Archives: music

Ambient dj mix at Sanctum Bristol

Sanctum Bristol ambient DJI played two ambient DJ sets in the early hours at Sanctum Bristol. I performed three times with the African Sambistas and we were offered some extra slots but the times didn’t suit a band of ten people. I have a large collection of ambient music and electronica and I thought the early hours would be an ideal time to present it to some new people. I was partially inspired by the Robert Rich sleep concerts.

I appeared under my alter ego of Tommy Tutu, a name created for me by my friends after my new found love of tutus and dressing up in skirts and dresses in general. Shambala festival started it. I’ll have to tell you about it, it’s been a very positive part of my life, destroying a load of inhibitions and making me a very happy person as a result.

I spent a long time compiling tracks from my collection, a process that became frenzied as every time I found one track it set off several other ideas for things I had to put into the collection. I ended up with enough music to probably fill 10 hours. Some of these tracks go back 25 years for me and I’ve spent a lot of the last few years doing home yoga to ambient pieces. It was fairly simple to think of tracks that I really wanted to play. I also wanted to put some songs into the mix and maybe even some pop songs from the 80s, but only if they meant something to me.

PylePro PDJ480UM

I had a good think about how I would try to structure the set and wrote some notes on pieces of paper in case I lacked inspiration when I was at Sanctum. I also made two tracks of my own for the event, the main one being the ambient toilet flush. I bought a semi-pro twin mp3 player and mixer and learnt how to use it over the weekend. I spent so much time preparing that I didn’t really stop to think about the slightly daunting responsibility of filling Sanctum with sound.

My first set was 3am to 5am on Tuesday 17th November. On Monday night I performed with Afon Sistema at the Transforms event and didn’t make it to bed until 11 pm and I was back up at 1.30 am to prepare.

I wasn’t expecting a large crowd in the early hours and when I arrived DJ Guevara was performing to the sound man and stage manager. I’d brought my own captive audience of one with me. My attitude was that if I made one person happy with my set then it would be worth it.

The comedy of arriving in a tutu and heels and having a totally sensible conversation about cables and equipment didn’t escape me. Hey, I’m an artist. Dressing up is great fun, I think it’s becoming addictive.

Things got off to a surprising start when three new people appeared who wanted to dance. So I pulled some of the tracks with beats out of the bag. This meant that I hadn’t even started the ramp down towards full ambient mode until about 45 minutes in. Time just flew by and I was enjoying myself. The highlight for me was chanting along to dead can dance – Devorzhum. Watching the reaction to the ambient toilet flush was fun and as the crowd grew a bit and changed towards the end I played it again.

View from the yoga mat
View from the yoga mat

After seeing some of the amazing musicians at Sanctum I felt a little bit of a fraud sitting there playing mp3 tracks. I was sat on a yoga mat right in front of the audience and I had no equipment to hide behind. But this felt honest; I really was a man in a tutu playing mp3s. I hoped they would appreciate the music for what it was. I wasn’t creating it, I was selecting it. I had my first feelings of apprehension towards the end when several people were sat in chairs looking at me!

The biggest moment for me was after I’d finished when a man stood up and shouted “well done Tommy Tutu” and caused a cheer and a round of applause.

I played from 3.50 until 5 am the following morning to a different crowd. The first half was to an almost empty room so I had some fun mixing up some extra beats that I’d brought along in case there was more dancing. The highlight was again the chanting where I felt with some vocal input I was slightly more of a performer.

By the end of the second set I was just plain tired and relieved that it was over. I’d pushed my luck with the lack of sleep in doing two consecutive days. It was still a real buzz to have a positive reaction from people who were there. I’d love to do more in the future, maybe the early hours at a festival.

It was a great opportunity to appear at Sanctum. The Worm Disco Club also played an early hours DJ mix. See the November archive for a full list of Sanctum posts.

Ambient toilet flush

Ambient toilet flush: I was reading a review of Sanctum Bristol where a reporter had spent almost 24 hours there (I was there on the same night for a while). In the review the reporter described a “mix of noises which range from birdsong to toilets flushing”. “It’s just me here at this point. And this is not what I need. Thankfully it’s a short hour (yawn) until the next live act”.

The sound source
The sound source

The performer, Laura Denning was not happy and commented beneath the article with “Thanks! NOT. That a sonic piece I created called Underheard and no toilets flush anywhere within the piece”.

The idea of an artist having to deny that there were not any toilets flushing or not within their piece amused me. I’d also been offered a 2 hour slot in the early hours for an ambient music mix. I decided that I would make my own ambient piece based only on the sound of a toilet flushing. The joke was  only the start, from that point on it was an artistic process.

I recorded the sound of the last drops of a wee and a flushing the toilet at the city academy in Bristol using my mobile phone. Back home at 11pm I imported the sound track into Audacity which is freeware editing software. I took the basic sounds and added progressively more effects such as pitch stretches, speed changes and multiple echoes. The process was very much trial and error as I tried things until I found interesting sounds and then copied and manipulated them. Towards the end I deleted well over half of what I’d created in order to make the track less cluttered.

Audacity
Audacity is a great piece of software.

I was working to a deadline and had the track completed by 4am. I found the creative process very enjoyable and I’m pleased with the final result. I believe that it stands up on its own artistic merit.

I played the track at about 4am on Tuesday morning at Sanctum. A friend of mine was there in the audience and said that the facial expressions were amusing as some people realised what they were listening to.

As featured in The sound of a toilet flushing on Bristol 24/7.

Sanctum Bristol project

Sanctum BristolSanctum Bristol is a programme of 552 hours of continuous performance during Nov 2015. It takes place in a temporary structure built from reclaimed materials located in a bombed out church near Bristol city centre. Whilst the artists are listed on the Sanctum website there is no public programme so visitors experience a lucky dip. The name of the performers is written onto a blackboard. I’m there myself later in the month with the African Sambistas .

The Guardian: 552 hours of surprises: artist brings open-mic mayhem to Bristol

Follow on twitter with #sanctumbristol. Sanctum is coordinated by Situations.org.

I called round at 10.30 pm on the opening night to take a look. I caught the end of a performance from a singer with computerised backing tracks which sounded great. The next slot was taken by pianist Simon Capet which was lovely but didn’t satisfy my cravings for crazy things. The last performer I saw was a harp player who I wasn’t too excited about at first. Things started off quite slowly and with fairly predictable runs up and down the strings and I wasn’t really into it until one of the bass strings was brought in and then I was pulled in by the sound. I left after a crowd pleasing Stairway to heaven. My visit coincided with a reporter from Bristol 24/7 who spent almost 24 hours there: “My (almost) 24 hours at Sanctum

Sanctum Bristol

 

Sanctum Bristol

Sanctum Bristol location map: Temple Church. Nearest postcode BS1 6DE. Next to the King’s Head pub and Ye Shakespeare pub.

Cheltenham Samba band: Ola Samba

Things are still busy with the Cheltenham Samba band. We’ve been working on new material and also added a bit of Christmas carol singing (in the loosest sense of the word) to the existing pieces. I’ve been going to Cirencester pracice on Tuesdays and the Cheltenham practice on Wednesdays. See the Ola Samba website for class times and locations.

 Carol #1 at 4m30s

Ripped drum skinBroken drum stickI’m continuing to build my strength and stamina as a caixa (snare) player. The drum and bass track runs at about 185bpm and I clocked a heart rate of 165bpm when playing this.

I’ve broken both a drum skin and stick at recent gigs when there’s been a need for some noise.

I joined a samba band!

Gloucestershire samba bandWhen I was a lot younger I taught myself to play drums and played in my father’s church band. He was a sort of trendy vicar type. We did some good gigs back then, the highlight probably being Gloucester carnival where we had a lorry trailer with a full gospel band, two drummers and a load of singers all giving it some. It must have been around 1988 and we won a prize!

One day I decided that the world didn’t need any more average drummers so I stopped. Nowadays I would have concentrated on becoming better.

About a year ago I saw a samba band playing on the street on new year’s eve. They were having fun but their playing was a bit rough. My first thought was “I could do better than that!” (I might have been drinking, this was pre-yoga after all).

Step forwards to May 2014 and I set myself the challenge of finding some new things to do and a musical activity was near the top of the list. Public singing is probably my biggest fear and I fancied building my confidence there so I contacted a local singing group. Oddly I have no problem with public speaking and that’s a common phobia (glossophobia on Wikipedia). Like all things, training and technique can help – take a look at communicate with confidence for example. It took a while for the singing group to reply and in that time luckily I found a samba band.

Cirencester samba band
South Cerney duck fair 2014

I did a google search and found Stroud samba and eventually the village hall where they practiced told me that the band has disbanded. I did a search on Twitter and made contact with  Ola Samba who practice in Cheltenham and Cirencester. Work got in the way of the first available practice date and then it was a one week break.

When I finally made it to practice I arrived at a sports hall in Cheltenham to find about 25 people assembled and a lot of drums. This already looked like fun – years ago I had a few hours spare in London and stumbled into a drumming session in a marquee in a park and I remembered the excitement of it: people, drums, noise, movement.

Samba band rehearsal

I introduced myself to the band leader, David and he said to me “just pick up anything you like and join in. Don’t worry, you won’t have a clue what’s going on!” There were big drums, little drums, shakers, tambourines, cow bells, drums with sticks and african style drums. I didn’t know what any of them were called but I liked the idea of a snare drum so I picked one of them. “Yeah, caixa, we need some more of them”. I was handed some sticks and pulled out a harness from a big bag of kit. I said hello to my fellow caixa drummers and one said “stand next to her, she knows what to do”.

The caixa is like the snare drum. The left stick is held using traditional hold and this was new to me. The right hand is conventional drummer’s hold.

Samba caixa
Caixa crew – note I have my stick the wrong way round!

David walked to the back of the room and started the big drums off with playing their groove. He moved from group to group to start them off and we all gradually joined in. For the first track the basic pattern was alternating left and right hands but there was a pattern of accents (louder hits). I struggled with this and decided that I should make playing in time my first priority. It took me about twenty minutes of careful concentration before I could hear myself properly and it was exciting to hear that I was in time with the drums around me. This was my first moment of drumming pleasure and it felt good. Suddenly we weren’t five separate people playing drums we were one unit acting together.

This didn’t last for long though because David made some hand signals, blew a whistle and everything changed. I didn’t have a clue what was going on of course. I soon learnt to watch those around me and quickly copy them when things changed. This was quite a fun challenge.

Cheltenham samba band
No fun allowed.

After my first practice I had a sense of achievement (I’d played in time), I had an idea of what was ahead of me (learning a lot of things) and I’d had a lot of fun. This was stimulating, creative, physical, musical and it had energy and excitement built into it.

That evening we were off for a meal to celebrate the Cheltenham band’s first birthday. This was the first of many social events  – a samba band attracts a fun loving crowd and practice nights and gigs are perfect opportunities for eating, drinking or just sitting around laughing about things.

Samba band social
Polo club ball

After about six weeks of practice I decided to do my first public gig. To prepare I spent several hours watching the videos from the website and  my knowledge of the various parts went from 2/10 to  8/10 in three days.

There was some nervous anticipation about the gig but the excitement topped that. I had a brilliant moment when I was drumming along and I thought “hey, yeah, I’m in a samba band and I’m doing it!”.

Since then I’ve rearranged my evenings so I can do two practices per week and bought my own drum. I’ve working my way up the learning curve and there are plenty of challenges ahead. Every practice session and gig I make some progress. Luckily Ola Samba has masses of gigs – it’s not unusual to do three or four in a row some days. See the performances page on the Ola Samba website.

Why you should join a samba band:

  • it’s a good social
  • it’s challenging – there’s new things to learn and try out
  • it’s energising – there’s physical activity and there’s the meditation from concentrating and being in the moment
  • it’s a team effort – everyone contributes their part and enjoys the collective result
  • it’s powerful – beats are primal and powerful and when a group locks together that energy multiplies up
  • it’s an adventure – every gig is trip into the unknown
  • it’s addictive – playing leads to a high, endorphins and happiness
Another late night
Another late night

One final point: as with all voluntary activities there is an ebb and flow with bands in various parts of the country and they differ in the type of music, quality of playing and operating style. Some grow large enough to focus heavily on playing at a high level and become less accessible to new players. If after a few sessions you are not having a lot of fun then it might be because that band doesn’t suit you as well as another might.

Ola Samba: Website | Facebook | Twitter

See also my tango post.

Gloucester samba band

A much longer video but it was my first gig!

The Orb new album – Kris Thrash Weston is crowd funding.

The Orb UFOrb front cover

A new album from The Orb? Not quite! Kris “Thrash” Weston is the man who engineered and wrote much of the material from the Orb’s best years (in my opinion). The split was all a bit messy and he disappeared for a long time. Wikipedia article (shh, he hates Wikipedia and Discogs).

He’s back and crowd funding a new project via his website: krisweston.com

There are pledge options between £1 for a compressed download up to £5,000 for a recording session, £7000 for a mix session and access to archive and £10,000 for film rights. I went for the £50 option (CD, download, journal and name on the project artwork).

Updates on the project are available via the journal.

Some more information about the history of the Orb and what Kris is up to can be found in this forum interview on Gearslutz and on this blog from his potential biographer.

Personal highlights for me from the early 90s Orb include:

  • Blue Room (40 minute CD single) Discogs | youtube
  • U.F.Orb the album Discogs | youtube
  • The remixes such as
    • Mike Oldfield – Sentinel (no bell prize mix) youtube
    • The Orb vs Wendy and Lisa – Staring at the sun youtube
    • Rick Wright – Runaway (legit mix) youtube
    • Voices of Kwahn – Third wale trip (rebirth) youtube
    • loads more (and more famous) remixes