Public Service Broadcasting – Playing through History

Another artist I have been taking inspiration from is Public Service Broadcasting (PSB). PSB use archival voice samples from films taken from the British Film Institute (BFI) and create themed pieces that tell a relating to the samples. Their first album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ used samples relating to various 20th Century events including the creation of the Spitfire, the first expedition of Mount Everest and the invention of colour television. The group then took on a more specific concept on their second LP ‘The Race for Space’. This album documents in brief the competition between the USA and Russia in being the front-runners in manned space exploration.

 

PUBLIC SERVICE
‘Inform, Educate, Entertain’ artwork taken from clashmusic.com

 

The band, J. Willgoose Esq. and Wrigglesworth, use elements of various musical styles and structures to create congruence between the voice samples and the music. In the eponymous opening track of ‘The Race for Space’ we have a choral backdrop to President Kennedy’s speech about facing the challenges of the 20th Century and in ‘Gagarin’ on the same album we have a funk tinged hero’s theme about the first man in space.

 

yuri-gagarin
Image of Yuri Gagarin taken from vintagesapce.wordpress.com

 

What I find inspiring about the band’s work is that congruence and also development of material to reflect the journey of the events they are portraying. Towards the end of ‘Gagarin’ we hear minor guitar broken chords that as Willgoose says himself in the liner notes for the album foreshadow the sadness of Yuri Gagarin’s untimely death just seven years after his historical accomplishment.

 

In terms of how voice samples are arranged in the work, we hear a lot of repetition of thematically identifying phrases, such as “a spitfire bird” in ‘Spitfire’ and “the whole planet knew him and loved him” in ‘Gagarin’. We also hear a sense of progression and movement of the plot through use of chronological descriptions.

 

SAAF-Spitfire-003
Image of Spitfire taken from spitfiresite.com

 

The attention to chronology is not used at the expense of the pacing and artistic statements of their records, however. Between the triumphs of ‘Gagarin’ and ‘E.V.A’, a piece about cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s embarking on the first space-walk in ‘The Race for Space’, we have a NASA report about the death of three astronauts in training for the Apollo 1 mission, which of course does not accurately portray the chronology of the events. This incongruity according to Willgoose is to depict the “constant threat of danger” involved in manned space exploration. In this track, ‘Fire in the Cockpit’, the music does most of the talking. The distorted mission control communication is almost inaudible against white noise and harrowing strings. This is in contrast to the ebullient news bulletins that make up the sample arrangements in the songs at either side of it.

 

In two of my pieces I have also used voice samples to tell a story. In my piece using the sampled voice of Viktor Frankl, I intersperse Frankl’s speech and my sung vocals to describe materialism and Frankl’s concept of idealism as a sort of “real realism” where we end up further in our lives if we are idealists and care about greater things than money. I have also used repetition of certain phrases in my piece in order to create a sense of tension. For example, the repetition of the phrase “make a lot of money” at the start of the track allows for a sense of insistence and pressure that we may feel to do as this phrase suggests. It also serves to ridicule such a philosophy.

 

 

In my ‘plunderphonic’ piece I engineer an argument between both US and UK politicians on the topic of military intervention in Syria. We hear the voices bickering with each other and then they all appear together in a cacophony that reflects the “noise” we might believe to be coming from the politicians and the media regarding the situation. The use of certain samples to cue changes in the music is something I have also aimed to be part of my pieces. In the ‘plunderphonic’ piece there are two important instances of this. The first is David Cameron’s rhetorical question regarding military intervention in Syria “If not now, when?” which leads into a more abrasive section that includes the layering of all of the politicians’ voices together. The second example is soon-to-be President Trump’s assertion that “we need to get ISIS” which is followed by a single ride cymbal hit and a much heavier, more menacing section of music that serves to unravel the rest of the piece.

 

PSB also punctuate sections of music and indeed transitions between tracks with appropriate samples. In ‘If War Should Come’ from ‘The War Room’ EP we hear Neville Chamberlain announce the beginning of World War II with the words “I have to tell you now – this country is at war” whilst accompanied by a melancholy solo acoustic guitar. This captures the gravity of the situation and its sadness signalling the end of the piece and setting up rest of the EP; which describes the challenges that Britain faced in WWII.

 

warroom
‘The War Room’ Artwork taken from emusic.com

 

PSB share my love of eclecticism, which is clear in the various compositional approaches and styles in their music. They embrace both electronics and electric and acoustic instrumentation, combinations of which I also like to use in my work. This allows a greater scope of what they can achieve sonically and thus thematically in their music.

 

PSB also have a great sense of aesthetics, playing live with the images from the BFI films they sample from projected behind them. It makes a great deal of sense having the images of the very events they are retelling the stories of behind them as they play. PSB seem to be in the knack of following the job description of the title of their first album by informing, educating and ultimately entertaining. These are criteria that would not be foolish to aspire towards in my own work.

 

Sandy Power

Public Service Broadcasting – Playing through History

Comsposition Three – Progress Report

In my project proposal, I outlined Composition Three as follows:

 

“A recorded composition that explores themes of global conflict and the rise of right wing leanings in mainstream Western politics. Audio editing, processing and mixing techniques inspired by John Oswald’s ‘Plunderphonics’ album (Self-released, 1989) will be used. Pedigree and Chums’ song ‘Ad Finum’ from their eponymous debut EP (Self-released, 2013) will be used as source material.”

 

ped
Pedigree and Chums EP Artwork taken from pedigreeandchums.bandcamp.com

 

This composition has taken a slightly different direction than planned. It is less about the rise in right wing politics that I intended to explore but more of a general look at one specific modern conflict, namely that of the one in Syria. I juxtapose recordings of Western politicians speaking with the voices of Syrian child refugees who have fled their home country to camps in Lebanon. These are taken from a UNICEF recording and I include both the original recordings in Arabic and the translated English which I have recorded. The inclusion of the child refugee voices allows me to show the reality of the situation, that this is a real conflict affecting real people despite how distant it may be. It also leaves a more balanced view of what we might make of what is happening than if we had just included the samples of the Western politicians. I have my own views but I would like this piece to inspire the listener to come to an informed opinion through listening and looking into the matter in more depth as a result.

 

I feel this composition fits in with the overall objective of the project to compose “conceptually rich material”. It also presents the opportunity to “Respond to the possibilities brought about by the semantic meaning of the words present in the recordings I sample” and I am working to create the effect through both the utilisation of the voice samples and the concurrent samples to have this response. I also feel that steps have been taken as a result of the research that I have undertaken on storytelling (see earlier post on PJ Harvey) and coming up with evocative material that can be interpreted in different ways by different listeners.

 

The Pedigree and Chums material is extremely congruent to the application of plunderphonic techniques. The dynamism of the track allows for ease of selection of material to loop, edit, process and mix. It is incredible how much scope there is to create new sound-worlds from existing material in current DAW software.

 

The remaining challenges for this piece are to create a logical and seamless flow between the sections where refugees speak and where the “noise” of the politicians is heard. There needs to be a journey from start to finish with the various sections assembled in an order and manner that makes narrative and artistic sense.

 

At the start of the composition process, I was keen to incorporate the drum-breaks I had recorded of Draws Creature Mask drummer Lee Haxton playing into the piece but felt that the material was too rich not to be used in a separate composition of its own. I also felt that this material may distract from the piece’s plunderphonic elements.

 

16903322_390604487958776_1693133158211517154_o
Photo of Lee Haxton drumming for Draws Creature Mask at Henry’s Cellar bar Edinburgh by Nicole Stapinski

 

I feel that the two contrasting types of voice in the piece confirm that this falls under the “conceptually rich” material that I set out to explore. I also feel that thus far I have used these materials in a sensitive and creatively effective manner. I believe that on the current trajectory of this composition process I will find the path to fully establish this piece as a convincing and musically powerful reaction to the apparent issues explored.

Comsposition Three – Progress Report

Composition Two – Progess Report

In my project proposal I outlined Composition Two as follows:

 

“A recorded composition that deals with the themes of mindfulness and mental health. The piece will fuse an alternative rock form with techniques used in electro-acoustic music. There will be an extended passage of cello towards the end, coupled with processed cello sounds similar in style to the ambience created by the processed sounds in Smalley’s ‘Tides’ (Smalley, 1984). Through stretching, panning and disguising the cello and its timbres, the electro-acoustic material will be used to enhance gestures and reflect motion in my solo cello part (Electrocd.com, 2016).”

 

Listen to ‘Pentes’ from Smalley’s ‘Tides’ album here.

 

The piece as it stands now does deal with the themes mentioned. This is shown lyrically and musically. The large bulk of the piece is in the alternative rock format, the proposed electro-acoustic section now only remaining as a coda. I decided to keep this section short as it tails the tension of the piece of nicely and I don’t believe I have anything more to say with the music at this point. I have also limited the processing of sounds in this section to a little time stretching and reversing of sounds. I want to get the most out of the natural sounds of the instrument but I am including the aforementioned processes and some eq filtering to enhance the overall sonic effect.

 

Logic-Pro-X-Channel-EQ-600x375
Image of Logic Pro X Channel EQ plug-in interface taken from logicstudiotraining.com

 

The piece is played for the most part on conventional rock instruments and has an alternative rock /post rock feel with effect-heavy guitars, bass, drums and vocals that stray between mid-range and falsetto. The falsetto vocals and clean guitars bring an ethereal quality to the composition that foreshadow its conclusion with the dirty guitars and accompanying bass and drums bringing out the more conflicting feelings contained within the portrayed journey.

 

There is a building of tension resulting from the second chorus that unravels into the more relaxed, “mindful” section. We are then introduced to a number of layers of cello, including both lead and supporting parts the latter of which include harmony, harmonics and also processed (reversed, stretched) material. This completes the aesthetic journey from a busy to a mindful state of mind.

 

mindful
Mindfulness Graphic taken from Welldoing.org

 

I aim to bring a sense of homogeneity to the structure of the coda influenced by French Spectral Music. I think I can better arrange small sections of material to reflect the idea of the whole of the section. The music should be visibly similar on a micro and a macro level. I may also add subtle parts in the rest of the piece that foreshadow the unravelling of tension and herald the transition to mindfulness.

 

Overall, I feel this composition is heading towards completion. I just need to give thought to details and really focus on getting the best out of the material I already have. This may mean addition, subtraction or alteration of materials drawing on sources from the types of music I am trying to write in the style of, for example post-rock and electro-acoustic music.

 

– Sandy Power

Composition Two – Progess Report

Composition One – Progress Report

In my project proposal I outlined Composition One as follows:

 

“A recorded composition that uses vocal samples relating to the theme of the search for meaning in life in today’s society. Initial inspiration for this comes from Paolo Nutini’s ‘Iron Sky’ from album ‘Caustic Love’ (Atlantic Records, 2014) which uses a speech from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) (Herald Scotland, 2014).”

 

Chaplin Dictator
Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Great Dictator’ (Image taken from vulture.com)

 

My piece has continued to work along this theme using vocal samples from neurologist, psychologist and author Viktor Frankl’s 1972 speech at Toronto Youth Corps on searching for meaning in life. The way in which I present and arrange the material is quite different to the way Nutini uses Chaplin’s speech, however.

 

In my composition I intersperse Frankl’s voice with sung lyrics. These work together at progressing the narrative. Frankl provides the source material, while I develop on the themes more in my lyrics. I also cut up and arrange Frankl’s voice to provide rhythm in tandem with the natural dynamics of his voice. This contrasts with the sample in ‘Iron Sky’, which is presented as a continuous whole on one track of the recording. I feel my piece needed to deviate from this formula to create a sense of movement and progression.

 

Frankl
Image of Viktor Frankl taken from Wikipedia

 

I split up the journey of Frankl’s speech. I start with his reference to a study of American students, moving on to his anecdote about his flight instructor and projections of where he would land depending on where he aimed to land and finally conclusions he has drawn from this and other evidence. I use repetition, double tracking and further arrangement of the vocal samples to create tension and rhythm in my piece. I use a longer, continuous sample at the end of the piece. This is coupled with a more relaxed musical setting to show the conviction, clarity and the strength of the message in his conclusions.

 

The instruments and style in my piece indicate a sense of modernity, placing us firmly in the present even though the sampled voice recording is forty five years old. I use synthesised sounds and syncopated rhythms to create an almost electronic dance music (EDMJUNKIES, 2015) feel in the piece. This reflects the fact that the issues discussed are equally relevant now as they were back a number of decades ago.

 

This piece is probably complete in terms of structure and length but there is still work to be done in terms of arrangement and additional recording and mixing.

 

– Sandy Power

Composition One – Progress Report

PJ Harvey – Stories from the Past, Stories of Today

PJ Harvey is an artist who has steadily built her reputation through a number of different approaches to her song-writing. From her early raw bluesy output, via the euphoric indie rock of Mercury winning ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’, PJ has arrived at a more socially conscious persona with her second Mercury winning album ‘Let England Shake’ and its follow up ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’. ‘Let England Shake’ is a look back at the horrors of the First World War and English national identity. ‘Hope Six’ is a more up to date social commentary, addressing issues of poverty and war in as distant places as Kosovo, Afghanistan and the USA.

 

I am particularly interested in these last two albums as they discuss themes that I wish to explore in my own work. Unlike Harvey, I do not have the finances or profile to travel the world to study life in other countries like she did with ‘Hope Six’. I do, however, have the power of the internet to find a diverse range of sources from which to draw my own conclusions and inspire my art.

pj-harvey-let-england-shake
Image of ‘Let England Shake’ album art taken from islandrecords.co.uk.

Within ‘Let England Shake’ we hear visceral accounts of life in the trenches and a sense of inflated nationalism not dissimilar to what is occurring in many countries across the world today.

 

One of the most successful songs on the album at reflecting the atrocities of a highly mechanised war is ‘The Words that Maketh Murder’. The opening lyrics are as graphic as any:

 

“I’ve seen and done things I want to forget;
I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat,
Blown and shot out beyond belief.
Arms and legs were in the trees.”

 

This depicts just how much of a disregard this conflict had for human life. We learn how soldiers involved would like to forget what they have seen and taken part in, with people being killed in the most inhumane of ways. The simile of shot soldiers as “lumps of meat” perfectly encapsulates their heavy, lifeless bodies and also the lack of humanity of the situation; they are not people, they are “meat”.

 

We are also treated to a nostalgic but not entirely savoury notion of Englishness in ‘England’:

 

“I live and die through England,

It leaves a Sadness…

It leaves a taste, a bitter one.”

We also hear a familiar sentiment in ‘The Last Living Rose’

 

“God damn Europeans,

Take me back to beautiful England”

hope
Image of ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ album art taken from creativereview.co.uk.

Hope Six brings us up to date with depictions of people in situations of poverty and war from around the world. The images she paints are stark and honest, singing about “drug towns” in the US and towns with “Fifteen gardens overgrown [and] fifteen houses falling down” in Afghanistan. However, as with ‘Let England Shake’, she is not primarily aiming to be political, rather she wishes to tell a story. She rejects the notion that she is a “protest singer” explaining on the Andrew Marr Show whilst promoting ‘Hope Six’ “I still call myself a songwriter… I gather information for songs and my biggest drive in life is to want to sing for people. That’s the way I get across things that interest me and concern me.”

glass
Harvey recording ‘Hope Six’ in Somerset House, London. The process was watched by spectators through one-way glass. Image taken from gtechdesign.net.

I would also like to portray the horrors of conflict and its effects on ordinary lives. In one of my compositions I am aiming to use vocal samples of political leaders and word setting of interviews with child refugees from Syria to create a similarly graphic and emotive vision of a current conflict. This is a challenge as it requires me to create appropriate musical settings for each of the spoken elements to work. At the moment, I am using more aggressive material on which to put the samples of the political leaders and more stretched and processed, yet still disconcerting sounds to place under the words of the refugee children.

 

The way PJ Harvey uses accounts from people and her own observations in ‘Hope Six’ has inspired me to paint a picture of a bleak situation, one that we need to look at from the perspective of those involved as well as the second or third hand sources of people in positions of power in our own part of the world. I am hoping to show the contrast between the first hand reality and the perceptions and actions of our governments to combat these problems in my composition.

 

Watch the official trailer for PJ Harvey’s ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ here

 

– Sandy Power

PJ Harvey – Stories from the Past, Stories of Today

Project Overview – Aims, Objectives and Vision

In my composition project for college this year I have a number of aims and objectives to act as motivation for my creativity.

I have three overarching aims for this project, which are as follows:

I will explore:

  • Concepts including materialism, mindfulness and politics
  • Techniques drawn from plunderphonics
  • Techniques drawn from electroacoustic music

These aims are put in place in order to develop my:

  • Ability to compose using conceptually rich material
  • Ability to respond to the possibilities brought about by the semantic meaning of the words present in the recordings I sample, in addition to the sonic content
  • Studio technique
  • Ability to respond to different sound sources using interesting technical processes

My vision is to compose pieces that form a convincing and musically powerful reaction to politics, current affairs and modern living. These will hopefully prompt the listener to question their own values and reactions to the same issues. I hope to achieve this through both conscious dating of material, for example in the sounds or lyrical content I use, as well as using themes that do not such a precise dating to be powerful.

I will use this blog to discuss my:

  • Inspiration
  • Research
  • Artistic Philosophy
  • Compositional Techniques
  • Use of Technology
  • The Progress of the Project as a Whole

I will also take into account my aims, objectives and vision, if they are met or if they change over time.

I will study genres and artists that inspire my composition practice and draw parallels with my own work. I hope to shed light on particular artistic practices that allow me to broaden the options for the direction of my work. My first artist study will be on PJ Harvey.

pj-harvey
Photograph of PJ Harvey taken from fasterlouder.junkee.com

– Sandy Power

 

Project Overview – Aims, Objectives and Vision