The Lay of The Land

I haven’t written on the blog in a long while, so I’m going to do a few catch up posts. Firstly I’ve been giving a lot of time to the Music Elective project I’m doing, it’s the closest to completion and I’m really excited about how far the project has come.
A few months ago I’d never used Ableton and now have made almost 25 minutes of music, composed in a semi-improvised fashion inside the software. I’m on the final stage at this point with the mixing and EQ stuff, but compositionally it’s all there!

I’ve been thinking as I’ve been making a lot about my research aims and how they have developed through the process of putting the EP together, and at this point I see them split in to two distinctive parts: the practical skills I’m developing and pushing my compositional technique and style / the conceptual, artistic aims of the music.

I have developed a way of composing in-software that allows for far greater dynamic and textural range than when I compose through playing with my loop and effects pedals. Though the sounds are similar and it is still definitely recognisably my music, there is a real shift in the possibilities in terms of sound that I’m able to achieve. This in turn will mean I have to develop ways of performing the material live, replicating this dynamic and textural range in an exciting way and integrating it into my existing live set.

Conceptually the EP has always been about an emotional response to the environment, however it has become more solidified into a very personal emotional work as it has been made. It is full of fear and grief and hope and anger, and I hope that it acts as a kind of exploration of those feelings, like the way people find a break up album cathartic, a way of saying it’s okay to feel these things, okay lets act on it. The last song (Mother Nature) is very short and kind of a closing statement, the lyrics are:
“My mother always said
Never wait until you’re dead
Never wait that long to act
Always be kind – that is that”

I’m not seeking to necessarily change anything with this EP, but in a way it is a protest piece, that allows space for the emotion and grief behind activism

Another element which is now at the forefront of my thinking/making is the physical manifestation of the work itself – I will release it as ‘Me Lost Me’ (my avant-folk electronicy music project) at the end of May, and have been musing over the most appropriate way of selling the EP at gigs. I feel uncomfortable putting the EP on plastic because of the concept of the work, so have decided to make a lyric zine that includes a download code for Bandcamp in it. That way people have something physical to purchase at gigs but they also are not contributing to plastic waste. The music will also be for sale on Bandcamp as a download and added to the list of streaming services my music is already available on.

I’m also very excited to be collaborating with local photographer Luke Waddington on some images that will be used as the EP cover and in promotional material for the EP and for Me Lost Me generally. We had a meeting to discuss themes and imagery in the music and decided on a selection of props to test out including clay, taxidermy bird wings, ribbon and dried flowers. He suggested a further collaboration with local florist Wildflower Ouseburn, and they have kindly offered to get involved in making something for the shoot. I’m really excited to be visually exploring the themes and to be collaborating with several newcastle-based artists on them.

Beetle shell earrings by Violet Moon Emporium and drying clay
Dried clay and magpie wing


A while ago I was super excited at the idea of sampling Sacred Harp songs that had been processed using some computer software for my Music Elective Project. However, I was recently pointed in the direction of the Alter/Ego software and have been playing with the voice packages and thinking about how I might compose my own song for robots to sing, possibly instead of sampling sacred harp arrangements. Here’s a little taster video of what I’m talking about, the words are simple and a little cheesy but I just wanted to see how I might construct a small verse to be sung solo by one of the Alter/Ego voices.



I performed a semi-improvised sound/song collage at the Culture Lab in-progress show, to test out some ideas that I’ve started working with lately. Overall I think there are elements that I want to take forward and expand on and some bits that were less successful.


After sending questions to Debbie Armour to interview her child, Romy, I recieved a lovely recording of the Q + A and have been really excited to work with the audio. For this collage performance I chose to use a couple of parts:

“I’d miss.. I’d miss.. seeing.. seeing..”:

A part of the interview that grabbed me immediately was when she was thinking of an answer to the question “What would you miss most about earth if we had to move to another planet?”. I immediately put music to the natural rhythm and pacing of her voice in this fragment so was keen to work this in, especially since it illustrates the process of thinking and can be taken to have a double meaning of missing the act of seeing (when taken as a fragment).
I think this works really well as the basis of a song, it’s really immediate and hypnotic when incorporated within the beats and I played around with making it glitchy and adding 2-voice chorus effect onto it (on the MPC).

Longer clips (x2) as transition/endings:

I also included two unedited clips in which she explaines concepts more broadly. I think these work nicely as transitions between songs with a minimal drone, beat, or sound underneath to lift it. Her voice is very evocative and as a short interlude track on the EP I think this could work.


As I’ve said above, the samples of Romy’s voice really carry the arrangement of the first song. It was put together in the MCP before the performance using preexisting kicks, claps and other percussive samples and transitions through 9 different drum patterns, building up layers of these on top of the voice samples before cutting them back down again to a glitchy, altered version of the samples which is what remains at the end. Though basic at this stage, I think the beginning works really well and is immediate and effective, it goes straight into the song without any messing about. The end is nice too, I like how the glitches materialise as the layers are cut back. The beats aren’t especially complicated but they keep a nice driving pace to the song and are a good start.

I also added some live looped vocals, firstly a drone on two notes with an additional pitch shifted bass note. I think this works well to establish a key and as an introduction of the second voice (mine). I pick up on the pitch of the word “seeing” in Romy’s sample, which I think is an interesting way of keeping in touch with the base sample.

Then with a pitch shifted (octave up) I made smatterings of notes with reverse reverb on (and looped this). This takes a while to get interesting on the live recording but I think the addition of the higher frequencies is important for the song’s balance, and throws it off kilter a little because it’s very mechanical before this is introduced.

The final loop is made by singing along to the “I’d miss, I’d miss, seeing, seeing” slightly pitching the words along the same lines as the original voice. I preset that channel on the looper to reverse automatically when I looped it, which worked really nicely against the continued singing of “I’d miss, I’d miss, seeing, seeing”. I kept this one in until the very end which bled into the transition into the next song.

I also did some improvised vocals between building the first two loops and beginning to cut the layers down for the outro, which I think was the weakest part of this first song. I’m fairly comfortable improvising vocals but I think this was too comfortable and a bit lazy, the melody wasn’t very interesting and I’m not sure it added anything to it. For a recorded version of this song I’d perhaps consider going without the improvised vocal melody altogether or consider ways of making it add something, because it just crowds this particular arrangement at the moment I think.


The transition into the second song starts with the leftover reversed loop of “I’d miss, I’d miss, seeing, seeing” with the clean voice of Romy talking about the kind of planet she can imagine us all moving to. The way this cuts out to leave the voice on it’s own is really satisfying it draws attention to the words and the silence really lifts the sample. I’d like to have the voice alone a little longer before bringing in the beat for the next song, or perhaps not introduce the beat until she’s finished speaking at all.

I find the combination of minimal sound and voice really effective, and definitely want to play with this in the finished work.


The second song is less successful, but there are still elements that I’m definitely keen to reuse and develop. It’s much more like the music I make as Me Lost Me but seems very unfinished in this state.

Arrangement-wise the beat and drone are very similar to previous songs and I’d like to work more into creating something more interesting, it’s fine, but it’s boring imo.

I’d be really keen to reuse the lyrics of the poem I wrote – but perhaps with a different melody. Again, I think there were elements that were good but melodically it wasn’t anything special and it didn’t necessarily work sandwiched within the context of Romy’s samples or in the arrangement. It might make for a nice fragment of a-capella singing in the EP, if I can work a melody that stands up against minimal or no backing.


These birds they have the lay of the land
And lover I have none
How long after they lay me down
Will my body all be gone, be gone,
My body all be gone

And when the soil does touch your breast
Like I have touched your breast
Will It burn or will it rest
With roots all tangled b’tween, b’tween
With roots all tangled ‘tween

One hundred years from now or more
This dying earth will shudder
The chicks will shoot out from their nests
To fly among their mothers, mothers
To fly among their mothers

One hundred years from now or more
This dying earth will shudder
The chicks will shoot out from their nests
To mourn among their mothers, mothers
To mourn among their mothers


When researching material for my music elective project I discovered Shapenote Bremen have amazing midi versions of every song from the Sacred Harp book – split into four parts and also the full harmony in four parts for learning the melodies by ear.

Excitingly – I just recieved their permission to sample any of their midi files in my composition! These recordings are harsh and strange, the words are muffled and they are perfect examples of this world I’m trying to build – one that has links to the past and draws heavily on tradition and myth but is twisted and made uncanny by the introduction of futuristic and alien characteristics.

The piece I’m thinking specifically of sampling is ‘Distress’ (32t).




I want to create an EP of 20 minutes in length for public release, with an appropriate original artwork that reflects the themes of the music. I want to explore personal grief and concern for the planet and environment in the lyrical content, arrangement and choice of sampled material. I will interview children about their relationship to nature and the planet to use as source material for lyrics and sample the audio recordings in the finished composition. I will explore the use of collaged sound techniques and employ them to build rhythmic and melodic structure of songs. I want to create music that is moving and hypnotic, that is at times comforting and jarring at others.
I want to create a collection of tracks which are distinctive, but that also flow into each other and make reference to each other.

I want to answer questions like:

How can ideas as abstract as personal grief and concern for the planet be conveyed through music?
How can traditional music be used to understand our current and potential future relationship to the natural world?
Can sampling traditional music give a sense of historical connection when used in conjunction with experimental electronic composition techniques?
To what extent can electronic music be an expressive and emotive medium?
How can electronic music be used to explore our understanding of the natural world?