August 31, 2020 § Leave a comment


The Colleen project was purely instrumental in its first phase of life for three albums and one ep, and it was only in late 2009/early 2010, as I was slowly coming out of a nearly 2-year-long creative hibernation, that I realized I really, really wanted to sing. However, something also really, really bugged me: I knew I didn’t want to turn into a singer-songwriter, but when I thought of the music I had already made, I couldn’t really hear a voice “on top of it”, as it were. And yet I did have a couple of clues: on the Les ondes silencieuses album, the clarinet melody on “Sun against my eyes” was first born as a vocal hum. Well then, wasn’t that proof that it could have been vocals instead of a clarinet? I wasn’t fully convinced, and that’s when Arthur Russell’s music entered my life.

I will always remember the spring of 2010: listening to all of his output available at that time, on repeat, and reading Tim Lawrence’s absolutely amazing biography “Hold on to your dreams”. All of a sudden a new path lay clearly in front of me, and the parallel was all the more striking given my main instrument was the viola da gamba: of course it was possible to make experimental-but-melodic music sometimes with a voice, sometimes without a voice. Of course I could use effects, using them did not mean I was not a “real” musician needing to hide behind them. And most crucial of all: there is never any need for justification for one’s own artistic decisions. The notion that some hypothetical others were out there waiting to question me about why I added this or substracted that from my music existed purely within my head, and what a liberation and a big step forward it was once I understood that.

And allow me to introduce the real sweetie of the house, Klee! Unlike Sol, Klee does not wish to coproduce my next album, hence his absence on this feed so far. When he does set paw in the studio, it is to whine loudly, asking for his preferred activity: cuddles, preferably with prolonged, intense eye contact… which is of course incompatible with my studio time! :-)))


August 29, 2020 § Leave a comment

A couple of months ago someone asked me what effects I used on the vocals of “Winter dawn”. I promised I would reply, immediately thinking (of course) “I can’t reply to this without saying more about how I view vocals in my music!” :-)
So here we go, starting with this picture of me singing in public for the first time ever, 23rd May 2013, for my return to stages after a 4-year-long break, at the church of St George in Lisbon, organized by – who else – the mighty Galeria Zé dos Bois (thank you Sergío Hydalgo for your trust! :-))
I want to tell you about that show because I’ll never forget it and it says something essential about why I sing. I was a nervous wreck before *and* after the show, to the point of thinking afterwards that I might give up on playing live if that was how I was going to feel. During the show? I was *just* in control of my emotions. I was not particularly prone to stage fright until then, though after a 4-year-long break, any artist would feel nervous, but it was really the thought of singing in public that had turned into a mountain for me: I had just released my 2013 album The weighing of the heart, on which I sang for the first time – a decision which on a personal and artistic level had felt epic (thank you Glen Johnsonof Second Language Music for trusting me!) – and yet I did not anticipate how deeply I would feel (and fear) the connection between my voice and me as a person.
Singing is such a special, personal, “bodily” instrument, the direct experience of which has largely disappeared from our Western societies, and the title of this post is a little jab at the notion that the voice is something that has to be slick and/or impressive, something you are born with (hence “talent shows”) or that needs to be trained a-la-fitness style, to show a vocal equivalent of perfect abs. I am not interested in impressing anyone when I sing, and wouldn’t dream of calling myself a singer; rather, singing is part of my musical toolbox, I use it (and words) to convey something which I cannot convey with instruments alone, and for that I am grateful I made the jump :-)
Photos by far out and beyond.


August 22, 2020 § Leave a comment

Work on my 7th album is finally picking up speed and given that I’m in the exciting thick of the creative process, I wanted to share with you the main way in which I deal with one of the most obvious pitfalls of working with a very minimal setup: lack of variety of sound (I consider it an issue because I do want variety of sound – I totally understand that other musicians will instead strive for a continuity in sound).

I adopted this approach when I started work in 2015 on my first truly electronic album, “A flame my love, a frequency”. I had strong doubts about moving to an all-electronic setup, but what ended up keeping my fear in check was twofold: 1) realizing I was still going to make a weird type of song-based music 2) the main electronic references I had in mind were really old school  (Delia Derbyshire and Raymond Scott), and while I wasn’t going to try and mimic those sounds, it helped to define what I did *not* want, and from there I set to obsessively trying (almost) every single combination possible with my 4-piece setup (Moogerfoogers MF104M and MIDIMuRF, and Critter and Guitari Pocket Piano and Septavox). What ended up on the album was the distillation of song form combined with the sounds that most resonated with me, and – the method : -) – I kept a table in a word document with precise data on what the technical settings were for each song. In this way, I *knew* objectively – not vaguely *thought* or *felt* – that I had a varied sound spectrum and therefore feel for each song.

The main column indicates the synth used and its two main settings (mode and waveform) and the pedal(s) and any Bussing info. I also kept info on length of song and approximate tempo, voice effect setup, and plugins. As work on the album progressed, looking at the table helped me make sense of the whole and the individual parts, and how they needed to balance each other out in terms of tracklisting order. I am once again using this strategy for this 7th album, with one more criterion (more about it once the album is out).
I hope this might have proved of interest (and now fans of the Septavox and Pocket Piano know which modes and settings I used for each song! :-)


August 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Recently going through some family photos, I once again came upon this Christmas 1984 polaroid.

I already shared this picture a couple of years ago on my Facebook and website as part of a series on keyboard instruments in my albums: this Bontempi organ is the first instrument I ever asked for and owned, aged 8. I am sharing it again because it recently struck me as a beautiful coincidence that my one and only melodic sound source for the 7th album I’m working on right now is an eerily similar-looking grown-up version of my Bontempi: the Yamaha Reface YC is red, small and humble-looking, but boasts 3 octaves instead of 2 (now that’s what I call progress!) and thankfully not the same sound (listen to “Organ Song 1995” on my Bandcamp if you want to hear what my Bontempi sounded like on a slowed down 4-track tape recorder, one of my very first solo recordings).

But most of all it’s the world of possibility contained in that moment of holding that precious first instrument that I want to connect with right now. When making music becomes your profession, an at first imperceptible and later more obvious downward slide is almost inevitably bound to occur: your passion-activity somehow becomes not just something you want to do, but also something you *have* to do, because if you don’t, at some point you’ll be out of the job you created for yourself (more thoughts on this in my epic back-from-silence posts from 2011 here and here). There is no miracle cure or easy way out of this feeling, but one thing I strive for is reconnect as much as possible with what it means and feels like to try something for the first time, that primal joy that stands and exists on its own, unadulterated by comparison with anything or anyone. It was just me making some melodic noise back then, and 36 years later I know I still want the same :-)

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