LP8 IN FULL SWING

October 9, 2021 § Leave a comment

It’s the first time I’m recording an album so soon after completing the previous one (I finished The Tunnel and the Clearing on 1st December 2020) and it is so exciting to be riding a creative wave stronger than any I’ve known so far. The way I’m feeling right now is that I have the enthusiasm of a 15-year-old coupled with the experience of a 45-year-old: it is not something I expected to feel at any point in my life, and I can’t quite believe it’s happening right now, but it is. Recently rehearsing Captain of None also gave me a nice sense of continuity. And it helps that I live in a vibrant city ❤️

Earlier this week I reorganized my studio to accommodate the Grandmother-and-Fooger-centric workflow I’m digging deeply into right now: I wasn’t expecting to go down that particular rabbithole for LP8 but I am 100% in love with what I’m finding out every single day through patient studying and experimenting. I also love Sol’s face as he discovered the new setup! The orange hue is not a filter by the way, it’s the color of the studio’s overhead lightbulb :-)))

As usual when I start work on a new album, things don’t exactly go the way I have planned them, and this is usually in the best possible way. I thought I would dive straight into an Elka Drummer One + Space Echo extravaganza (and I *will*, at some point), but because the Space Echo had to travel to the UK for a revision with Soundgas (it’s on its way back), I ended up focusing on the other side of the album’s sonic equation: the Grandmother and the Moogerfoogers. I thought I would keep on feeding my Yamaha Reface YC into the Grandmother for processing, since I was so happy with the results on “Revelation” and “Hidden in the Current” on the last album, and indeed I even made a complete song with that setup, but… but… I started using the Grandmother as what it really is, a synth, and it’s official: I have totally gone down the synthesis rabbithole.

When combined with the Moogerfoogers, the possibilities just seem endless, and that’s even before any patching happens… I am also so happy I’m finally having a proper go at the Moogerfoogers I was so kindly gifted with by Moog after my 2017 Moog Soundlab session: I worked a lot with the MF-104M delay from 2014 onwards, and the MIDIMuRF played a huge part in 2017’s A Flame my Love, a Frequency, but I only used the Lowpass Filter once on the last album (“Implosion-Explosion”), and I had yet to use the Ring Modulator and 12-Stage Phaser. Now is the perfect time to finally honor that gift.

As I go through this crucial learning and research phase, there is also a voice at the back of my head that says “But these aren’t your songs yet”. It also says “These aren’t even songs yet”. And that voice is always right. Because one thing’s clear to me: I am primarily a song-maker, and I personally am convinced of the fact that it is up to each individual creator to try and offer something unique and personal before putting it out on a totally saturated market. In other words: I don’t think you should listen to me unless I have something that only I can say. So I am excited at the thought that pretty soon the next phase of LP8 will naturally start to unfold, one in which life itself begins to seep into the machines to dictate what sound transformed into songs will sound like.

SPACE ECHO TALES

September 29, 2021 § Leave a comment

SPACE ECHO TALES – PART I: ALL IS WELL UNTIL IT ISN’T.
I’ve been sitting on these posts since June: I didn’t want to write them under the spell of the anger I felt towards the person in Barcelona who messed up my Space Echo instead of repairing it, nor under the spell of the “triumphalism” I did feel when I managed to not only undo the damage done by that “technician”, but actually solve the problem that had led me to consulting him in the first place. I wanted to see how the Space Echo would evolve over time, and now I have, so here goes, 3 posts with technical details, so that those of you who also own precious vintage gear can hopefully learn something from my experience, and about how to maintain a Space Echo 😊

RECAP.
December 2019: after several years of salivating at the thought of owning a real tape delay, I order a Roland RE201 Space Echo from Soundgas. My mind is blown from the first second of use.
May 2020-December 2020: I use the Echo for hundreds of hours while I compose, rehearse, then record The Tunnel and the Clearing, keeping the same tape in a kind of fetishist way, as the idea of it aging just works so well with what the album is about.
In spring, I finally decide to change the tape to a fresh Soundgas-approved tape. It is probably at that point that by my own lack of experience and knowledge, I bend the tension arm (pictured in the first pic) as I proceed to replace the tape (PS: it is possible that the arm was bent even further by the “technician” who subsequently handled the Echo, but I can’t be sure). Everything sounds fine for the first few days, but in early May, a couple of weeks before the only shows I had planned for the release at Chiquita Room in Barcelona, the Echo – to my horror and incredulity – starts developing a very noticeable “warped” sound whenever the splice of the tape passes through the tension arm.
We exchange many emails with Soundgas to try and see what the problem might be, and whether or not I can fix it from my end, because there is no time to send the Echo to England for a repair and have it back in time for the shows, not with newly-enforced Brexit, not with slow and rapacious Spanish customs…

SPACE ECHO TALES – PART II: DON’T TRUST STRANGERS.
Soundgas quickly identify the tension arm as being the likely culprit of the warped sound, and I am sent on a mission to find a very specific gauge to adjust it. I am not able to find it. By chance, a few weeks earlier, a fellow musician had recommended me a technician who had successfully repaired several RE501s for him, and after some hesitation, I decide to let go of my control freakism and to stop trying to solve everything by myself. I also really liked the idea of developing my own network of local technicians here in Barcelona.

I contact the person and explain the problem. “Sure, come here this afternoon and I’ll fix it for you”. Dream come true, right? The reality: 1) the first thing he said as I arrived was that this splice sound was “normal”. At that point I should have listened to my instinct and headed out the door. 2) full-on machismo (or whatever the hell that was) led to gems such as “I can hear better than you do” when I asked if we could please test the Echo with an instrument instead of commercial music being sent to the input…
MORAL OF THE STORY: LISTEN TO YOUR INSTINCT EVEN IF SOMEONE HAS BEEN RECOMMENDED TO YOU. The guy spent 2 minutes unscrewing the tension arm and then rescrewing it into place, not checking anything in particular. I tried to end the interaction as soon as possible since things were also escalating verbally (in 19 years of professional music-making, this would rank as one of the top 3 worst interactions I’ve ever had).
Once home I could have cried: the machine now sounded WAY WORSE, with barely any echo, and badly placed timing. I wrote a lengthy message to the technician.CORRECTION see comments for reply
I barely slept, then two days later reached a logical conclusion: if he had made the machine worse in the space of a few minutes just by messing with that area, the reverse would be true – I could at least get the machine to how it sounded *before* his intervention. Armed with a screwdriver and sweaty hands, I proceeded with tiny, cautious changes. And it worked: I still had the splice sound problem, but echoes were back to normal repeats and timing.

SPACE ECHO TALES – PART III: A QUESTION OF MILLIMETRES, AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AND GREAT.
This proved to be a weird moral tale for me: I had wanted to exercise my trust muscle by handing the machine over to someone who – after all – had been recommended to me, and yet what that particular episode taught me was that trusting comes with a risk.
I had managed to undo the damage done by the Barcelona technician, but the splice sound was still happening, so Soundgas sent a video of one of their Echo specialists showing and explaining all the parameters regarding the tension arm itself and its placement. And you know what? All of the parameters on my machine were off. The first clearly visible problem (which had escaped the hawk eye of our specialist in Barcelona) was how bent the arm was, and that was easy to fix. But what really blew my mind was the millimetric work needed for the placement of the arm and the space this leaves for the tape to travel: as I proceeded to carefully adjust it while listening to the sound, I was floored by how the tiniest change influenced the sound for better or for worse.
I did manage to get rid of the splice warped sound. The price to pay for this was a chorusey quality – even sounding like a Leslie cabin on Hammond chords! I am still very proud that I managed to do this, although of course there is no way I could have done it without Soundgas’s guidance.
Parting words: I did send the Echo for a full revision with Soundgas on Monday (I waited this long only because I feared the Echo would sit in a hot warehouse in Madrid customs if I sent it during the summer with a still very young Brexit): the chorusey effect is weaker, but now there is a slightly muddy quality to the sound, which was definitely not there when I first got the Echo. This is what Soundgas is on about when they say that Space Echos should be serviced by people who actually know how great they can sound: could I use my Space Echo as it is right now for this new album I’m working on? Yes, and it would sound very good. But very good is not the same as great, and because I got a stellar Echo in the first place, I know the difference.

TRIPLE ANNIVERSARY 30/20/15: PLAYING GUITAR/MAKING MY OWN MUSIC, TEACHING/STARTING THE COLLEEN PROJECT, SWITCHING TO MUSIC FULL-TIME.

September 13, 2021 § Leave a comment

This unpublished 2003 press photo for my first album Everyone Alive Wants Answers was too blurry to use, and that’s a shame: looking at it 18 years later, I think it totally encapsulates the person I was back then, in a very subtle way. 7 albums later, I find myself wondering why lately everything in my life seems to come together in a bizarre, destiny-like way, such as this triple anniversary.

Colleen by Sophie Mandon, 2003

In early September 1991, just as I started “lycée” (French high school), following the “Beatles in Copenhagen” episode (see previous post), my parents bought me a classical guitar, from one of the two shops that sold instruments in my hometown. I still have this guitar, and the moment I laid hands on it, I started to make music of my own, and 30 years on my modus operandi remains the same.

Fast forward to September 2001: I am freshly out of my agrégation d’anglais and starting to work as an English teacher in a high school in the suburbs of Paris. I did not really want to be a teacher, it was just something I felt “ok with” to make a living, and which would allow me to pursue music on the side. 2001 was the year I really went for it in my tiny studio flat, borrowing and sampling hundreds of CDs from the Paris music libraries, paving the ground for what would become the first Colleen album. For the next 5 years, my day job allowed me to buy instruments and put money on the side in preparation for the leap I could see looming ahead.

September 2006: I am granted a 1-year sabbatical. In 2004 I had to switch to part-time teaching to play live and promote my albums, but juggling the two activities became insane. The sabbatical was at first refused, then granted at the last minute. In June 2007 a second sabbatical was denied, so I resigned, without hesitation. The biggest decision I made in my entire life – also one of the best. I will never know if I would have had the guts to resign had I been denied the first sabbatical, but I would like to think that the answer is yes.

Thanks for listening. Quit the day job if you can.

“Revelation” Grandmother tutorial

August 18, 2021 § Leave a comment

No pun intended on the title of the second song on my album The Tunnel and the Clearing (“Revelation”), but the first time I heard the effect of the Moog Grandmother’s mod wheel while processing an external sound source, I did have a revelation, and I truly believe this sort of powerful and poetic processing can take a song to a whole other level. I use the adjective “poetic” because I feel a lot of “gear talk” is focused on more objective and descriptive factors, but to me the whole beauty of electronic instruments is that they are evocative in ways that are totally different to acoustic or electric instruments, and I do find those evocative qualities to be of a poetic nature: in this case, there’s a sparkling fluidity to the sound that helps me to translate sonically what I mean to say with the lyrics (the search for an elusive truth), and the climactic ending (not included in this video) serves the same purpose of transmitting a heightened sense of hope.

I hope that those of you who care about how music is actually made will enjoy this video and find it of some use or inspiration. 

GEAR: Yamaha Reface YC – aux sent to Grandmother – bussed to MF-104M delay.

Last week’s post on my Grandmother patch sheet details the exact routing. The settings for this song are very similar to the ones used for “Hidden in the Current”.

The first video is purely the instrumental, the second video features my voiceover with explanations.

LAST MIX OF THE YEAR FOR BBC RADIO 3 LATE JUNCTION

August 13, 2021 § Leave a comment

I hope you will let me soundtrack your summer with non-Colleen music for another half-hour with the fourth and last mix I made to accompany the release of my 7th album The Tunnel and the Clearing, this time at the kind invitation of Late Junction for BBC Radio 3! I guess it doesn’t get more eclectic than this set (yes, even by my standards…), and I talk briefly about the mix before the broadcast. The programme starts at midnight CET / 6 pm EST, my mix is midway through (slightly before 1 am CET / 7pm EST) and unlike my other mixes, this one will only be archived for a short time, so don’t sleep on it for too long ;-)

LATE JUNCTION MIX 

Susumu Yokota – Kodomotachi

Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest – Slit-Gong Signalling

Shun – Tablebeat (Response version) 

Backxwash – You Like My Body the Way It Is (Joni Void remix)

Maman Sanni – Arman Doley 

Abelardo Carbonó – Palenque

Igede of Nigeria – Ota-ubah instrumental

Stina Nordenstam – Purple Rain

The Innocence Mission – At Lake Maureen

Still from documentary by Luis Torroja

The photo is one of my favorite stills from Luis Torroja’s documentary on The Tunnel and the Clearing, which you can see on Moog’s Youtube channel. To say that the RE-201 Space Echo changed my sonic world is an understatement and I still believe that the tape literally echoing and repeating the past in a loop was the perfect sound metaphor for a lot of what I was trying to achieve with this album, so this partial portrait-with-tape-loop  just made so much sense.