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March, EDINBURGH The Making of LostOscDoc

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MARCH 18-23, EDINBURGH

In the middle of March I spent five days recording in Edinburgh, for COM8006: Self-shooting a Documentary. I had chosen the record label/collective I am associated with, Lost Oscillation, as my subject matter and wanted to make a film portraying them as a synergistic group of friends and musicians, first and foremost, but also focus on the inner-workings of starting a label, finding a premises.

 

I had organised several happenings, in the cinéma vérité sense of the word, and planned on filming as candidly and naturalistically as possible. To this end I filmed, and filmed and filmed: I captured the rehearsals of two groups (Stillhound and Oowungit); the pianist George Bruce practicing/performing/busking in the Barony pub and his aunts house; a session in the Bluebird cafe (as well as interviews) with Angus Gunn; Jack and Dave mixing, discussing their approach and plans for the future; a session in Inverleith Park with Fergus Cook; Emma Lloyd performing in St Stephens Street kirk, where the collective are applying for studio space in the film.

 

WATCH THE FILM HERE:



In terms of filming, I knew that I wanted to film with the DJI Ronin gimbal even before I had started shooting. I decided that using the gimbal would give the camera movement (and therefore my presence, as I moved within the space of the film) a sense of slickness and fluidity that would have been unattainable by other means. However, there were several major drawback of using such an elaborate piece of equipment: firstly, the weight of the camera and rig was roughly 15 kilograms, which meant I could not film for extended periods of time – roughly five to ten minute bursts before the load became unmanageable. Secondly, due to the fact that the camera inside the gimbal is extremely conspicuous, it was hard to retain a sense of naturalism (or getting my subjects to act like the camera wasn’t there in the first instance) which led to a sense of performativity with my subjects (and potentially led to the abandonment of a narrative-based exposition). Despite this being a film about performance, I wanted to retain a kind of candid, fly-on-the-wall style which was practically impossible with the gimbal. Third, adjusting parameters on the camera, in situ, was made incredibly difficult and, as such, some shots were either over- or under-exposed, or you can hear me frantically turning the on the Canon 5D to compensate for differences in light, which is particularly evident when entering and leaving Banana Row rehearsal studios.

As far as the cinematographic aspect goes, I wanted to have a very deep depth of field and use a lot of smooth tracking shots. I wanted to combine conventional mid-range shots with more exploratory movements with the camera, and I wanted to focus on interesting elements of the mise en scene or elements of performance – such as the manipulation of the foot pedals in the opening sequence, or Dave Alexander’s right hand. Also, due the fact the camera was mostly in the gimbal, there was practically no way to zoom-in on my subjects which means despite the movement of the camera being relatively lively, there was little focal movement in terms of my framing shots.

In terms of sound, I knew that it was going to be the backbone of the film – this is a music documentary after all – and I therefore worked extremely judiciously to achieve a good live sound. Unfortunately, though, some of the interview footage was tainted by wind noise but I felt it necessary to include it regardless. With the oowungit session, for example, I had 6 channels of audio running into my computer: a secondary vocal mic (the other was going through the PA), a drum overhead, one (fairly directional) small-diaphragm condenser mic pointed at the guitar cabinet, one large-diaphragm condenser for capturing the rest of the room (PA vocals, drums and bass), as well as an XY stereo recording of the room. For Emma’s session, in the St Stephen Street church, I wanted to ensure the sound and presence of the massive space came across, and to this end I used 6 channels of audio – a DPA on the violin, 3 mics placed around the room, and XY stereo, which was then mixed to give as wide a stereo image as possible.

As far as the edit goes, there was a lot of footage and sessions that I had to cut; interviews, live sessions, public performances, private rehearsals. The justification for using overlays in Fergus’ section in Inverleith park was due to the fact I wanted him to disappear into the background, as if people could pass him by without even noticing, becoming entrenched in the space, but also give them impression that he had been there playing for a long time but utilising the overlays and opacity.  Overall, though, I was trying to find a balance between the performances and the interviews/Jack and Dave’s exposition, while maintaining a fairly smooth rhythm throughout. I wanted the opening credits to quickly suck the viewer into this world, but then slow the pace down again with the opening shot of walking to Banana Row and allow the narrative of this being a synergistic collective who, despite not defining it as clearly as potentially needed, work with and for each other to produce music.

By using an experimental form which combines the documentary form with more conventional music videos, I have sought to create a film which occupies a middle-ground between both forms to explore notion of the places and spaces and the ‘where’ and ‘how’ music making takes place – from performing to planning.


 

Aside from the film presented here, the only other footage I’ve had time to compile/edit from my time in Edinburgh is this session with Angus in the Bluebird cafe. This was originally going to be the ending sequence in my original cut of the film, but I had to leave it out, so consider it an outtake! 

 

 

[photo] February – Köln

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14-17 FEBRUARY, KÖLN

In February I participated in an exchange program to Köln alongside two other CAP students, Sean and Meena. We spent three days in the studio at the Hochsule für Muzik und Tanz Köln working with the preeminent Jono Podmore (AKA Kumo).

During the exchange we were split into pairs with our hosts. I was working with Azhar Syed, one half of Vimes. The idea was that those from Newcastle would provide the compositional ideas and our German counterparts would provide the production. 

I had taken a selection of toys with me to the studio; my trusty Akai MPD26, some guitar stompboxes (Electro-harmonix POG, Mooer ReEcho) and my inductive pickups.

My first step was to construct a Drum Rack in Ableton to use as the basis for our collaboration. I tried to combine drum sounds reminiscent of Cologne’s infamous techno scene – a punchy kick, flam-my snare and open hats – with ring-y modular stabs and lush string swells.

We then recorded the string sounds which underpin the track, into ProTools, followed by the bass drum and snare hits. After establishing the main sampled motifs we moved onto the bass elements. For this we used Jono’s beautiful electric-blue Mini-Moog Voyager. We programmed the midi to a bass-line I had written and then I manipulated the Moog’s many knobs, alternating between pitches, phase, waveform and so on, layering many parts to create a dense, subby sound.

From here, we recorded a simple nylon-string guitar melody, we then re-amped this through the POG and Mooer into a Fender Hotrod Deluxe and Jono briefly explained impedance (which he had learned in Newcastle the previous year) while Azhar worked out how to patch the thing into the desk.

The next morning I had the idea to treat the spiral staircase which led up to the studio as a plate reverb. I had noticed the sound of ascending/descending the stairs was extremely resonant, making me think it would be ideal as a medium to playback and sound through. We bounced a few of the tracks off the studio computer and set about converting the staircase into a reverb. We used an inductive speaker (which I think Marv, the studio’s tech, sourced from the medical department…) with a huge preamplifier to play sound into the staircase. We then attached a conventional contact mic (and pre) at the bottom, 2 conveniently magnetic induction pickups in the middle, and close-mic’d the whole thing with a Neumann stereo-pair. We ran the bass, guitar and strings through it and recorded the results and then mixed them into the master file, which gave the track a really distinct timbre.  

Later that evening I recorded some vocals. We experimented with different microphones, including one Marv had made out of an old speaker, but in the end decided to use an AKG C414.

The final element we added was a crash/ride cymbal. I recorded it in one take, playing along to the track, and we then applied heavy delay processing to it: Jono taught me another important lesson while we were doing so. We were running it through the desk as a send and into a Moog 500 Delay. Jono’s lesson was that whenever you’re adding delay parts, you should do it as a send so you can control the equalisation being applied more precisely, and therefore illicit specific frequencies in the delay. 

The main idea I had been focussing on while we were in Köln were trying to create as expanded a studio ecology as possible. To this end we constructed the steel-spiral staircase reverb, programmed midi between computers and used it to trigger sounds and record them, and re-amped a Spanish guitar. 

The main lesson from the trip (aside from the copy of MF DOOM’s MM Food I got for €9…) was not what Jono had taught me about impedance, delay sends and pan-European politics. It was how to construct a plate-reverb from unconventional materials. 

You can stream MOUTHS on Soundcloud here:

https://soundcloud.com/hfmtstudio/mouths