What?

Secrets of how it’s done!

The tagline on our website and promo materials boast ‘electronics’ as part of the mix so now having acquired a new floor pedal, seems an appropriate time to explain what that actually means…

 

We are very keen to perform our songs live as fully as possible and a major aspect of this is looping which plays a big part in the arrangements for Jazzient. Our music usually features multiple parts and previously we have used two separate 3 phrase loopers, the excellent Boss RC-300s.

We have one each and these are tethered together with a midi cable to keep them in time with each other.

 

But now, after a long wait, we have received the very latest unit from Boss – the RC-600 and it is set to help us expand our live abilities much (much) further. Now, we don’t need two separate units because this has six phrases! It can also separate our instruments into their own channels and the sound quality of the machine has leaped up into gorgeous full clarity too.

(Nerd alert – this is the technical stuff)

The RC-600 is a simply amazing machine with seemingly limitless possibilities. I have been getting to grips with programming some of our songs into it. This might sound strange because there’s no music being recorded at this stage. What happens here is defining things like the time signatures and which loop will do what funky things they need to do in the song.

For example our song ‘The Seashell Waltz’ is in 3/4 time and the first thing to record after a shaker (2 bars on loop 4) is a guitar fingerpicking part in 8 bars- so loop 1 is setup accordingly. The 2nd thing is a C# bass pulse which only needs 2 bars on loop 2 for speed. Bev plays the lead Sax and the song is underway with the main theme. After some floating soprano sax soloing comes a choral voice part – loop number 3 has 4 bars and vocal harmonies are layered over each other.  Once in place a slicing effect cuts the vocals up into crotchets and Bev loops a unison sax note onto loop number 6 which then get sliced into semi-quavers making the rhythms bounce off each other. Loop 1 is shut off and gracefully fades out – then come some free soloing and huge pad guitar sounds using the guitar synthesizer. Finally these crazy parts fade out and we’re back to the original guitar arpeggio and play out with the simple theme.

 

Setting up the new Boss RC-600 has been quite a learning curve and there’s plenty more to get to grips with but I have to congratulate the manufacturers on creating such an impressive device that underneath its pretty exterior is a very powerful monster!

Now it’s back to the manuals and the wonderfully helpful musicians on FaceBook and get all our other songs organised.

 

Phew- the gig went ahead!

We were asked to put together a concert as a partial fundraiser for the truly lovely St Mary’s Church in Totnes and there have been several bumps in the road, with each attempt thwarted by the damn plague. Finally – on a cold Saturday night of December 2021 we pulled together the gypsy jazz quartet, Boulevard Combo, ourselves and the incredibly dry and hilarious Matt Harvey who hosted the event.

Man it was cold – checkout the white hot water bottle at my feet! the Boulevards kicked things off with a lot of Django style and Matt got away with subject matter not normally associated with a holy space making it all the more intensely funny. We were honored to have a go at performing some improvisation behind a couple of Matts’ poems before our finishing set of totally new music.

With the Omicron varient threatening we were concerned about safety but the Church is a very large space (seating 300) and there were about 100 people in all with plenty of air and mostly masked up so it felt fine. The sound quality was amazing and even though it’s a very reflective space, the bass was tight and Bevs saxes sounded fabulous. We even had a bar in church!

It felt risky debuting nearly an hour of previously unheard music but it seemed to pay off and the response was fantastic as well as a lot of spontaneous dancing throughout the isles.

 

The event raised some cash for the Trust and we thank them for the opportunity to play in such a beautiful space.

 

With a bit of luck 2022 will allow a lot more of the same…

 

We even got a review from Totnes Journalist John Anderson as below:

Witty Words and Wonderful Music Warm the Crowd at St Mary’s Totnes

St Mary’s Totnes was alive last night with the sounds of wonderful music, witty poetry and a crowd of about 80 people, many of whom ended up dancing in the aisles.
It was a “Christmas in the Air” evening and the line-up of entertainers provided a fascinating look at just some of the creative forces that are present in the greater Totnes area.

First up was a quartet called “Boulevard Combo”, a tight little group that displayed a mastery of music ranging from Django Rheinhardt to Klezmer to American classics such as Honeysuckle Rose and Autumn Leaves. Whoever set the line up for the evening was clever by putting Boulevard Combo first. Their music engaged with the audience and put everyone in a good frame for what was to come.  And what was to come was Matt Harvey, the poet who has both a local and national following and for good reason. His ability to shoe horn witty rhymes with topical issues proved a great way to spend a cold Winter evening. We were entertained with musings on the characteristics of a baby, the special place whales occupy in the environment and the use of poetry to attract new entrants to the sperm bank donor community. Matt was hitting all the spots with the audience and they returned their affection most nobly.

Rounding out the evening in a most appropriate manner was Jazzient, a popular local duo made up of Bev Knowlden on saxophone and Peter Shearn on guitar. They had actually made a background appearance providing some atmospheric music in support of Matt Harvey.
When it came to take centre stage themselves they made full use of it. Embracing a genre, I would call “new age retro” they played some stunningly beautiful music that was both melodic and quite rhythmic. On a chilly night two weeks before Christmas they had the crowd up and dancing.


It was simply a great night and the next time this line up comes your way I would strongly suggest you make an effort to see them.
The event was put on in support of the Totnes Heritage Trust.

Wow! Live music again!!!!

It’s been sooooooo Long!

 

Back from playing our first event in more than 9 months at the Yarty Party festival  was a genuine thrill.

 

We were delighted to be asked for the 2020 festival by Andy Davis after a small gig in Paignton. That’s when the world turned upside down!

So 2021 turns out to be the next opportunity and it was wonderful. What a response too! Bev & me have been bloody lucky to be able to carry on rehearsing together through the pandemic and we were postively itching to get out there again and play out our new ideas.

 

As it happened the sound situation forced us to play more covers and high volume beats than usual but it was still fantastic to get out there again!

Thanks so much to the lovely people who really look like they were enjoying the vibe, and we felt boosted and driven to work harder to get out more and PLAY!

 

Change is good (?)

Looping is fun.

But it’s a tool of the trade, not a ‘thing’ of it’s own. A few years back it was enough to make you go ‘ooh’, but that was because it was new. Now though, it’s relatively old and the ‘ooh’ factor is gone.

Good.

So is it still good? Well yes, it is. However, the listening ear get’s bored easily and one danger of being a looping musician is getting too deep into your own groove and wanting to explore every nuance of a sound whilst forgetting the listener might have long switched off! Looping can lock you in on a repeat that appeals and sometimes, the right thing to do is to use that frame of reference to play in. A little like sailing a boat into a lovely lagoon, stopping for a while to explore it before sailing on to a new location. The trick is to know the time has come to move on.

Having played with our style for a while now, we’ve made a concious decision to move away from pre-made drum loops. Not exclusively, but in general because they are too restrictive. We have a vague rule now that created musical phrases must be destroyed once used for a useful period of time, forcing the improvised creations to evolve in new directions. The listener may or may not be aware that the soundscape has mutated from a minute or two before although it is likely the mood remains.

Who knows where these musical journeys will take us? We certainly don’t!

A sad day…:(

My Wond finally gave out…

What’s that? you ask. A lot of people know about the e-bow. A delightful guitar gadget that provides endless sustain of a string when hovered over. this leaves the player to fret notes on that string without picking and is perfect for generating washes of sounds with drones etc. Well the Wond was invented by a bloke in America called Paul Vo and it takes the method a little further.

Firstly, the design is dramatically better. The unit is held like a pen and can move easily from one string to another – the e-bow is kind of clunkier and sits on strings either side which limits it’s movement quite significantly. Second, the Wond has more power making it more flexible musically. Thirdly, you could introduce transient harmonics and I don’t understand that at all but is was nice. Lastly, it played merry hell with the pickups creating swishing feedback sound if you got too close to them. I actually use this for effects although it’s probably an unwanted feature for most players!

Here is a link to a piece of music I made with it a few hours after it first arrived.

So after 3 or so years of happily recharging, it went totally dead and i think the rechargeable battery gave out. Being hopeful that it might be something I could fix I opened the unit and it kind of exploded in a shower of tiny electronic things. Oh well… Trouble is, he doesn’t make them anymore because he’s working on a new version which whilst it looks very intriguing and has some features I really don’t understand yet, isn’t finished yet. Although it looks like it will be ready in the middle of next year… (If you want one too, you can go here. Tell him I sent you!)

So I can’t be doing without my drones, so I will have to bide my time with the e-bow which is still very nice but my my, I’m going to miss the Wond.

Gadgeteteeery

New Year New Gadgets!

 

Being lucky, I (Peter) had a guitar built at Crimson Guitars in Dorset. They created (eventually!) a lovely guitar largely based around similar one they made for Robert Fripp. I had mine made without the midi pick-up which is on his. The reason being that Boss have created a foot-pedal for guitar synthesis that simply doesn’t require a special pick-up (amazing).

I kept a beady eye on Ebay andthe opportunity to get a second-hand SY-300 appeared and I swooped! Being lucky again, I secured the unit for £150 quid less than the very expensive retail cost of £500.00 – The very nice man who sold it to me presumably didn’t get on with it because it was literally just one month old and virtually brand new.

So now, Jazzient has a synthesizer as well as guitar, sax and loops. Don’t worry though, we aren’t planning on being a Kraftwerk covers band. It will be used with grace and reserve. The sounds this thing makes can be lovely with a daunting flexibility using up to 3 oscillators each with it’s own sequencer. Having said that, my favoured sounds are augmenting the natural guitar strings as opposed to replacing them – with the exception of a stringed pad that emulates a cello very successfully.

What amazed me most about this unit is how well it tracks what is played on the guitar. Considering the SY-300 is ‘listening’ to the analogue note played, converting that to a digital signal and then processing it through 3 separate oscillators along with 4 guitar effects, it doesn’t seem possible that the unit appears to have no delay (latency) whatsoever. Having the ability to sound like Rick Wakeman in full portamento while playing a guitar is truly extra-ordinary.

I’ve spent the last few weeks programming it using a well designed PC based app called Boss Tone Central, and now have a palette of around 10 new patches that I really like and will be introducing into some of our live set improvisations. Now the down-side of course is that some of our audience will think we’re using backing tapes but hey-ho.

We’re looking forward to trying it out in full at our next gig…

Side benefits

One of the great side effects of playing live music is the places that you go to play. One of the finest places we’ve encountered is the Totnes Cinema.

Lovingly regenerating a new picturehouse where an original cinema – the Romany Cinema – once existed and closed in the 1960’s. It since became the Library which departed in 2015 leaving an empty shell awaiting it’s re-birth as a community project.

 

It is currently still being built and dedicated to showing great films – not currently being projected in original 35mm film. Will and Jane who started this whole project seem to be your well connected film industry types and much of the equipment was filched from Channel 4 Films when they closed something or other! Apparently the super comfy seats on the balcony came from the viewing room and have therefore accommodated the arses of many a film heart-throb. (I’ve definitely sat where Tom Cruise sat because I felt a very weird, scientologically speaking).

It is quite a thrill to be asked to play in the hour prior to the screening of movies and the spot is perfect for our gentle ambience while the audience filter in and gather about getting drinks and fancy cocktails from the huge bar underneath the big screen.

We have added a few movie themes to our repertoire – which seems to fit the occasion well and hopefully we can continue to help enhance the atmosphere of our favourite picture theatre.

 

Great Ambient Music (two)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great? Well No, actually!

So why talk about this album then you weirdo? I hear you say.

Well, a video appeared on FaceBook with a guy playing a hammer dulcimer. And very lovely it is too. I find the percussive sound of this instrument very attractive.  The first time I heard one was a man busking in Bath and I was enchanted by it. I think the story with this album Ambient 3, was that Brian Eno came across a bloke in the States also busking a dulcimer and was similarly impressed. So much so that he invited him to record some in the studio. His name is Laraaji (from Larry Gordon) and I now wonder if the guy I saw in Bath was the man himself? It was about the right time…

Anyway, what transpired of the recordings turned into the 3rd iteration of Eno’s Ambient album series. It features 5 tracks with the dulcimer mainly treated with reverbs to bliss out the sound. It looks at first glance that this might be a treat of relaxation.

However it is not.

What starts out as beguiling ends up after 45 minutes as plain fucking irritating! The problem is that the percussive sound is actually quite stimulating which gives the music it’s immediacy, however after 20 minutes of the aural treat, it becomes something akin to tinnitus and can drive the milder soul to thoughts of murder. As is the case with this album. As a display of the lovely dulcimer it’s great, but as a work of ambience, it is truly a disaster. Just No, Make It Stop!

There is a bright side…

I’m guessing it was due to working with Brian, that Laraaji ended up working with his brother, Roger Eno, who had teamed up with Kate St John and Bill Nelson to create an ‘Ambient Supergroup’ called Channel Light Vessel. They made only 2 albums together. A shame because there was a lot of potential. I’ll probably revisit this one later…

 

 

 

Great Ambient Music (one)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some music stays with you forever.

Evening Star is a work of aching beauty at times. Using their own techniques of recording, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, cooled the tone after ‘No Pussyfooting’ which was an altogether spikier affair. This time they embraced the fullness of ambience and allowed the music to guide itself with cynicism kept at bay enabling pastoral, very English pieces to emerge.

Using Frippertronics, (an early form of looping using a looping length of recording tape on which the sound decayed over repeated playing enabling an ever evolving soundscape) along with Eno’s synthesisers, the backgrounds were created with solos played by eno on ‘Wind on Wind’ and Fripp on ‘Evening Star’ for example.

I recently came across this absolute gem of small group of classical musicians performing the title track using Cellos to replicate the lead parts and although the film is poor quality, the sound is good and it’s just gorgeous – link

 

What are we up to?

 

 

 

 

Bev and Me have been toying with these ambient music ideas for several years now. It’s about time we acted upon them. We are both in the band Shadow Factory and enjoy ourselves hugely within the Jazz/Rock framework. But we also want to investigate a more relaxed, chilled style. A playing of music where soundscapes are generated without agenda, other than to just ‘be’.

 

As a form of explanation,

I have been a follower of ambient music since the 1970’s and fell asleep to Frippertronics, Satie, Tangerine Dream, Bill Nelson and others many many times. The requirement to pay absolute attention is removed and the opportunity to rest or to follow one’s own thoughts take over. The rough live sample tracks currently on our home page are slightly ‘lively’ but we are trying to sell ourselves after all. We sat down and played to a zoom hand recorder and just played a few tracks – so it should give an idea of what we sound like.

Future Music

There will be more to come and three or four properly recorded songs are nearly ready at which point we will make them available to download from this new site.

Thanks for visiting and hopefully we will be playing for you in the future.