An Evening With Tony Visconti - 6th Dec, 2016 [Update: photos]

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Kingston University, London is proud to host An Evening With Tony Visconti - legendary record producer in-conversation, discussing highlights of his career. The evening will take place in the newly opened Visconti Studio and draw particular focus on Tony's work in arranging for strings.

There'll be time for Q&A, and a drinks reception afterwards. Tickets are available to book via this link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/an-evening-with-tony-visconti-tickets-29219026896

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What a great night! Definitely one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of. Photos by Alex Evans:

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Little Phase on The Shortlisten & Utility Fog

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I was so pleased that The Shortlist Magazine included by latest track Little Phase in their Shortlisten list/playlist. I'm number 360, sandwiched between Ronika and Love Thy Brother. What an honour! The track has also received some love/airtime on the excellent Utility Fog show, FBi 94.5 FM in Sydney.

"Who? Leah Kardos

What’s the story? Making interesting and arresting ambient music is not an easy thing to do, but we wrote earlier this year about a fantastic track from The Daydream Club, who'd managed it with aplomb. Now along comes another beautiful five minutes of 'ambient plus' music from Australian-born composer Leah Kardos, which gently builds, beginning with pulsing piano chords, adding in delicately textural strings, before seeming to collapse in on itself until beats are brought in to restore order and take things to a conclusion. It could nestle in perfectly on The Album Leaf's 2004 classic In A Safe Place, which gets it the big thumbs up from us. The track features on a compilation of experimental music called Summer - you can check out the other songs and buy it here.

For fans of: Brian Eno, The Album Leaf, Jónsi & Alex

In three words: Captivating, blissful music"

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Visconti Studio featured in Audio Media International

This month, our studio is a cover girl. Click on the image below to access the online reader and check out the feature article on pg 22.

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A month in photos (Aug-Sept)

… in which I holiday in Australia, attend the first recording project and grand opening of the Visconti Studio at Kingston University, and then made a quick trip to Lisbon to present a paper at a Bowie-themed academic conference. You may have also heard me chatting about the studio on BBC 6 Music news last week (listen again here and here) - that wasn't nerve wracking AT ALL.

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DAVID BOWIE INTERART | TEXT | MEDIA CONFERENCE - Lisbon

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Confirmed that I'll be co-presenting a panel with Toby Seay (Drexel) at this conference in September. Expect an analysis of Bowie's studio practices via the Sigma tapes and the world premier of some never heard before music.


Shilling the Rubes: The Craftsman in Philadelphia (spoken paper) 
Prof. Toby Seay
Director - Drexel University Audio Archive
 
Abstract: In August 1974, David Bowie arrived at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia to record what would be come the Young Americans album. The creation of this album occurred during the middle of the Diamond Dogs Tour, putting an exclamation point on the Diamond Dogs sound while musically evolving towards what Bowie described as “plastic soul”. Recording in Philadelphia was Bowie’s attempt at capturing the lush soul sound that had been flowing out of Sigma Sound Studios in the early 1970’s and was at its crest in 1974. Due to various obstacles, Bowie was unable to gain access to that sound directly, but instead created his own version of soul that connected with American audiences and propelled him up the charts and towards Station to Station.

Through the analysis of primary documents and recordings from the Sigma Sound Studios Collection, participant interviews, and literature review, the author will discuss these obstacles to the Sound of Philadelphia and describe an artist who is confident, prepared, and in control. While much has been written about Mr. Bowie’s time at Sigma, this presentation will give a glimpse into the studio and show Bowie as a tireless craftsman with a strong work-ethic who would have created his own sound regardless of circumstances. This presentation will also include never released recordings including the legendary Shilling the Rubes.




Let’s hear it for the Gouster: locating Sigma outtakes in Bowie’s transition from Diamond Dogs to Young Americans (spoken paper)
Dr. Leah Kardos
Kingston University London

Abstract: Never finished and shrouded in mystery and myth, Shilling The Rubes was cut at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia in August 1974, and is a typically rich example of Bowie’s post-Ziggy songwriting style. Set within a Burroughsian carnival/circus, the subject of the song is portrayed as a fly-by-night con man: taking people’s money, breaking hearts and disappearing on to the next town.
From the same sessions the other unheard outtake is a rewrite of I Am A Laser. Originally written for The Astronettes earlier in 1974, the song would eventually be rewritten a second time to become Scream Like A Baby (1980). This version features a completely new verse structure and major tonality, its lyrics concerned with introducing The Gouster himself, the clothes he wears and how impressive his girlfriend looks (tough, in her doo-rag, razor blades in her bra).

These outtakes shed light on Bowie’s creative processes and the aesthetic/artistic evolutions occurring during this period. Through musicological analysis and observance of signifying sounds, motifs and practices, the author will identify the ways in which these lost songs are connected to the catalogue and how they provide fresh detail in the progression and refinement of Bowie’s output from the post-apocalyptic theatre of Diamond Dogs to Young Americans and beyond.

Visconti Studio at Kingston University

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Helping to make this happen at Kingston University has already been a highlight of my career! The Visconti Studio is part of a research and teaching project centred around the heritage of technology, associated practices and the sound of analogue recording. The project will allow students trained in recording techniques, as well as the use and maintenance of equipment.

Our partners on this project include the British Library and the Science Museum, and Tony Visconti will be a key contributor to the project's research and enterprise outputs. One of record production's great innovators, he is synonymous with ground-breaking music and has worked with some of the most dynamic and influential names in pop, from Marc Bolan / T-Rex and Thin Lizzy, to David Bowie, Morrissey and U2. The project will see him working with students and staff of Kingston University, as well as invited artists, to produce records. The studio will also be available for commercial hire.

Based around an extraordinary 300m2 octagonal live room and stocked with vintage and rare recording equipment (Studer, Neve, Neumann, Universal Audio), the tape-based studio also features a unique collection of instruments including a Mellotron, a Hammond organ and Steinway concert grand piano.

The Visconti Studio will officially be opened on the 19th September 2016.

Full site launch will happen soon (with info about courses, events, research opportunities and studio hire)... for now we have a holding page with some information about our launch event in September:
http://visconti-studio.com/

You can also like our FB page if you're interested in following our progress:
https://www.facebook.com/ViscontiStudio/

Visconti Visits KU

Last Thursday legendary producer Tony Visconti came to my department at Kingston University to visit with students and faculty. Plans are afoot - watch this space :-)

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Visiting Scholar Appointment: NYU

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During the first week of December I'll be hanging out in NYU Steinhardt's music technology/music education departments as a visiting scholar. I plan to give a few talks, sit in on some lectures and workshops, snoop around the library and archives and generally just try to soak up a bit of that NYU energy to take back with me to Kingston.

I was invited by Professor S. Alex Ruthmann, Chairperson of the Department of Education, previously of MIT. Alex is one of the most exciting researchers around in the field of music education, integrating technology, computer science and interdisciplinary approaches to musical learning. I met and became friends with Alex and his wife Anne during one of their visits to the Faculty of Education at Cambridge a few years ago. It will be great to see them again, and to take part in the exciting things the faculty and students are doing over there. I can't wait!

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Art of Record Production Conference: Drexel University, Philadelphia

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I will be attending and presenting a paper at this year's Art of Record Production conference at Drexel University, Philadelphia, from the 6th - 8th of November. I'm super excited about the keynotes from musical heavyweights and heroes such as Tony Maserati, Kenny Gamble (of Gamble and Huff songwriting legend) and the man who created the 'Philly Sound' and ran Sigma Sound Studios, Joseph Tarsia. I'm also keen to check out the city while I'm there, see the Liberty Bell and jog up those Rocky steps. I've been told that the original tapes for Bowie's Young Americans sessions are held in Drexel's archive, so you know I'll be trying by damnedest to get in the same room as those…

My paper is part of the Education track, and will explore ways in which music education can be more relevant, effectual and useful to students today. Abstract below.


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Leah Kardos, Kingston University London, UK
Track: C - Education
Evolution (and Revolution) in Higher Music Education
Abstract: Music technologies can lead us to a transformation of perceptions, and the reinvention and refinement   of our processes ­ from the way we see, interact with and understand the materials of sound and music to the way we learn new skills, communicate and share with each other, represent ourselves to the world as music creators and professionals, and especially the way we teach. It has and is transforming our language (“I streamed a   podcast of glitchcore mashups, and just reblogged it ­ could you give it a ‘like’?”); it is creating musical and sonic possibilities that transcend the facilities of traditional music notation and analysis; it sometimes requires interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to bring projects, artworks and products to fruition (recording and production technology does not reside in the field of music only, but also that of media, science technology and society (STS), electronics and computer science); it grants music creators agency and control of their works (Taylor 2014). These technologies have become intertwined with commercial and contemporary arts practices, shaping the formation of new aesthetics, giving rise to diverse new creativities and essential emerging literacies. This paper will consider examples of such practices to inform a strategy for developing better, more effective curricula for higher music education where (1) fluency in digital, analog and musical literacies is promoted through practice­led enquiry, (2) traditional music and technology streams are considered important parts of a larger whole, (3) technical learning is designed to be flexible and adaptable to future technologies, where (4) excellence of execution is upheld as a priority and (5) learners are encouraged to be active in and contribute knowledge to communities of knowledge and practice.

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The Creativities of David Bowie

Very excited to be speaking about my absolute favourite artist at Cambridge next month. Open to anyone who wants to come, RSVP info is on the flyer.



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A month in photos

Photos from the Ruthless Jabiru concert at Australia House (9th May), by Elly Mac

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Photos from the Soundtracks Festival playing with Lonesound (11th May), photos by Alexander Short

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Again with Lonesound at the Sofar Sounds Festival (26th May), photo by Steve Nelson

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(photo by James Houghton)
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Updates

Firstly, here's a demo of "Katerina" [edit: these demos are long gone], which one of the tracks from the Feather Hammer album. All the sounds are generated from the one instrument, be it played, picked, strummed, thumped, tapped or sampled - which is one of the themes of Feather Hammer, a celebration of all those *other* sounds that live around the notes. I have 13 such pieces in various stages of formation at the moment and the album is set for release on 19th of Sept. I'm excited! There will be gigs to promote it. Actual gigs! Featuring myself! ... and other special guests, if I can get some funds together. I truly can't wait :)

In other news I have my next PhD milestone due around the end of August. Cue overly dramatic flailing about, anguish, gnashing of teeth, etc. This time it is the first few chapters of my exogesis, which mostly means lots of writing about myself. Can't be too hard, right? I'll keep telling myself that and hopefully one day I'll wake up one morning and have a PhD.

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Something I'm a little more excited to mention is the "art/music" collaborative project I have started with my friend (and amazing visual artist) Kristian Purcell. For a while I have been preoccupied with exploring the connections between sound and vision, in particular looking at my own language and how I perceive things, the way ideas and inspiration cross over between the two senses. Everyone's perception is different, so I'm not about establishing knowledge for anyone but myself here. That said, there are certainly ideas and vocabulary that cross over easily - line, form, structure, repetition, chance, colour, shape, dissonance, juxtaposition etc etc etc. I've been keeping an art blog for a few months now (http://thisticklesleah.tumblr.com) where I have been posting/reblogging anything that has tickled my fancy and made me think of music, and tagging each posting up with the terms and musical ideas that speak to me in that moment. This process has been surprisingly useful to my creative practice and it led me to ask Kristian if he wanted to participate in a little creative back and forth, responding to each other's art with quick, intuitive working.

We're only a few weeks in, and already the material being generated is really interesting. Maybe when it's done we'll publish it online, and I am hoping that when it is viewed as a larger body of work the threads of inspiration that run throughout can be seen and heard. For now I'm just enjoying the freedom to explore musical thoughts without being tied to a brief/job/commission/context or any "this should be serious you're a PhD student" bullshit ideals.

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Back from Aus, Busy as Hell (and a little bit about psychoacoustics)

So that was an interesting month! To go straight from manic end-of-year teaching hell to the other side of the world via a low-budget 30 hour flight was enough, there was the stress of my other half being made redundant literally the day before we left. Was great over there, however - so good to see everyone I've been missing. And the sushi is great. Here's a picture of me jamming with my Dad, CASIO-core style, on the back patio.

I left Matt over there for an additional 2 weeks and I rushed back slightly more burnt out than when I left, back home to a massive pile of projects that have been scheduled for, or put off until, the summer. Which is now. I love it, already I've reverted to vampire hours; I sit in my studio all night long growing paler and in the daytime I sleep while the sane people go out and enjoy sunshine, cavort in parklands, eat BBQ or whatever it is that they do. Take away my 9 to 5 responsibilities and this is what happens every time.

One of these summer projects is a mix and master for a band... something that on the surface seems a bit technical and prescribed, a diversion from all the PhD stuff I should be doing. But I'm finding it very useful as an opportunity to really look closely at timbre and texture in the context of a multitrack stereo mix.

So far the process feels a lot more like traditional music 'arrangement' - choosing colours, combinations of colours, manipulating the dynamics between them. Obviously there are limitations, chief of which is the genre of music and the expected commercial standards that are implied there. Another big one is obviously whatever the client wants. But even within the most rigid brief, there are still opportunities for creativity, I think. There is such an art to the 'act of combining things', after all the depth of a stereo field is just an auditory illusion - the mix engineer/producer is the magician who is conjuring it for the listener.

Moreover, I suspect the mix engineer can affect the listener on a different level to that which the composer (who is working with notes, harmonies and rhythms) can. Once again, these ideas throw back to (what Andrew Brown calls) the "modes of compositional engagement" - the director, the observer, the performer, the selector - basically the composer adopting various roles to facilitate the creativity in various contexts. It's an interesting idea. I certainly don't want to claim that all producers ARE composers (if we define a composer as the writer or AUTHOR of music, then that can't be true). But producers have influence over sound, there are creative choices to be made... in some cases these choices can affect the listener's experience profoundly.

I want to mention Mitchell Froom's record "Dopamine" (HERE it is on iTunes). Froom is a great producer, well respected for his work with Crowded House, Suzanne Vega, Elvis Costello & Los Lobos. In the 80s he composed "Key of Cool", which became the classic score to "Cafe Flesh" and arguably the best pornography soundtrack of all time (though I admit to only knowing the music, I haven't seen the film). But this Dopamine record just makes me feel physically ill, as if my teeth are buzzing... almost as if I'm biting on tin foil, it almost brings me to nausea (but not quite). It's not the music that bothers me, it's the SOUND of the music, the EQ, the tone, the positioning of the sounds in the stereo field. As Mike Stavrou so eloquently explains in his amazing book 'Mixing With Your Mind', it's these psychoacoustic elements that are playing with my brain and making me feel ill in the guts. Now I'm not known to shy away from a challenging listening experience but the effects are even more pronounced when I listen to it on headphones and it has been banished from the iPod - and that's saying something, Merzbow got to stay on.

I know that not everyone's ears and brain is like mine. There's even a few good reviews out there for this record where people praise the production. Are there any records out there where the SOUND of the mix affects you? If anyone reading this has the time to test the above record out on their own ears, I would love to know if you have a similar experience. In either case
email me!

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Beat mapping is Such a Bitch [UPDATE: a Cure is Found! Sorry Logic, I didn't mean it]


Oh Logic Pro, you know I love you.

You make the task of composing and arranging so easy and pleasurable, using your many key commands is like instant gratification for me, making short work of things that would usually take a few seconds longer. I remember days not long ago I would write music by clicking in each single note into Sibelius, you really have changed my life! You’re so smart, its like you know what I’m thinking, understand what I’m composing! Could you be ’the one’? For a while I thought Abelton would steal away my heart, but I should have always known I could never leave you alone. However, we need to sort something out.

Your MIDI beat mapping function sucks so hard .... & my eyes, after 4 hours of this thankless task, they bleed. There has to be a better way!? Your previous version was a little easier - move from left to right, place a marker, marker stayed put. In version 9, it’s all whack. Have you tried to get all clever and contextual or something? Why is it when I place my next marker, all the preceding MIDI info shifts about?

If only there was a way I could tap in a new tempo against the old one to replace the old one (in the case of improvisations that were performed to no click). Work it out for Logic 10, & I’ll gladly keep giving you my money.

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UPDATE 25-05-10

So I was bleating on about this in the office the other day and a colleague and all-round apple-logic--genius-man
Mike Watkinson found me a great work around! My vexations are over! Here's how you do it:
  • To stop the pesky MIDI notes from jumping about as you beatmap individual notes, you have to lock the SMPTE first. Makes sense.
  • To create a new tempo against the old grid, create a new track and tap/play in the new tempo as new MIDI recording. SMPTE lock the original captured performance. Use the 'beats from regions' option in the beatmapping global track to analyse your new tempo track... and... voila! Easy peasy. Can't believe I used to spend whole evenings doing this the hard way. What a mug!
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