Ideas for Breakfast

I am doing a talk/presentation on “Sonic Graffiti & Active Listening” on the 19th of August, at the rather swanky looking W Hotel in London. I’ll be discussing my Sonic Graffiti project and then spending some time getting people to focus on the sounds that they might normally ignore or filter out.

This is part of W London’s Ideas for Breakfast series, which is aimed at inspiring (and feeding) people. Here’s what Design Week had to say about it: Ideas for Breakfast

 

Call for works: music videos / animations

I have been asked by the delightful people at Worcestershire Film Festival to present a selection of music videos / animations as part of the festival in November.

The emphasis of the festival is to highlight locally created work. Self-made or something the band has had made is ideal. I won’t necessarily restrict it to local work if something really great comes up (as there is nothing wrong with presenting work from further afield if it’s really inspiring) but I am not interested in showing the latest ueber-flashy video commissioned by a major label. I’d much sooner uncover a hidden gem produced in a shed in rural Worcestershire!

So, if you think you have a video that might be right for showing in this context, fire away! Please post your links in the comments to this blog post or email me to make any other arrangements.

Looking forward to my Artist Residency with Tim Atack at iShed


 

I’ve been really lucky over the period of my sabbatical to get to work with some great people. Some of these collaborations [ ORE / MortonUnderwood ] are lasting and will shape my future.

Until my sabbatical I was a rather solitary artist but I have learnt just how rewarding working with others can be. Trusting someone else to deliver to the standard you are used to doesn’t daunt me as it once did; it’s about finding the right people to work with.

It is on this basis that it gives me great pleasure to announce my collaboration with Tim X Atack and iShed in Bristol later this year. Myself and Tim have been selected as artists in residence to work together to develop ideas based around Tim’s writing (words and music) and my Sonic Graffiti project.

This is very cool on a number of levels. Firstly, it’s great to have met Tim, as pleasant talented folk are always good to have in your life. Secondly, from our initial discussions I am VERY excited by how his influence might shape the project. Who knows we might actually make something genuinely moving with my emphasis on extending user interfaces and his on narrative. Thirdly, the very talented Juneau Projects are the other artists selected for the residency, which can only lead to good things. Lastly, and crucially, iShed is pretty much a dream place to do a residency. They have a proven track record of commitment to open and frank exchange to aid artist development, along with an attitude to creative work that strikes me is about as good as it gets.

Bring this on!

Bye bye sabbatical

Today is the final day of my sabbatical. It has been a remarkable experience and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who feels able to do so. I have learnt many new skills, made lots of new acquaintances and I’ve discovered much about myself, which has been central to defining what I plan to do for the next 10 years or so…at which point I plan to take my next sabbatical.

 
The ups and downs
Here’s a quick list of what I see as my most major achievements to come out of my sabbatical:

ORE
To go from just starting to play tuba as my sabbatical began to playing our debut gig at Supersonic 2011, and all which has followed thereafter, makes me extremely happy. I am also delighted that my collaboration with Stuart Estell, which can only result in good things!

MortonUnderwood
Likewise, to go from having started work on our first commission together in November 2011 to delivering a highly successful sound art piece at BEAM Festival recently is great progress. Again, I am delighted with my collaboration with David Morton.

PRSF New Music Incubator
To be selected as one of the ten UK artists to partake in the PRSF New Music Incubator programme 2011-12 was fantastic. A great experience, which boosted my confidence and has led us all to have a group of open-minded performers (and friends) I can rely on to deliver future projects.

Collaborations, in general
These three achievements (above) have led me to view collaboration as a great thing. I am no longer a solitary soul where my art is concerned.

Sonic Graffiti
My Sonic Graffiti project has developed greatly over the past months. In particular the work I did to deliver sound objects as part of a commission for VIVID and Capsule drove this on greatly. I will definitely be doing more!

Malvern Hills District Brass Band
I recently joined Malvern Hills District Brass Band. I did so in order to gain more focus in terms of my playing and sight-reading. I also rather like much brass band music and I see it in some way as a dedication to my granddad who loved brass bands. In many ways there could be no greater endorsement of the progress I have made on tuba than this. Yes, I have loads to learn still but the fact a band is happy to have me on board when they would naturally have a very matter-of-fact view of players is great. Chuffed.

There are a number of really exciting things bubbling under at present, which I am sadly not quite in a position to announce. These include potential projects with organisations and artists I admire greatly. Hugely exciting stuff…which I will be sure to let you know about as it is announced.

 
Here’s a list of the things that didn’t go as originally planned:

Studio build
What a nightmare. This was just like you see on the telly box. Too much time, money and effort expended by half. BUT at least it is nearly done there. This was the reason my sabbatical was extended by three months.

Still not enough time
Yes, despite taking a sabbatical some projects still never came to fruition. I think in some ways what you unnaturally want to concentrate on comes to the fore. In my case this meant some specific projects didn’t get done and in general I didn’t do as much recoding and production of music as I had hoped. Onwards!

 
What’s next?
Now my sabbatical is over, everything changes. Well, not quite. Much of what I have been developing will continue to be developed. The change is in the focus of what I am doing. Essentially, I will be spending less time on projects that fall at the fringes of my interest (such as helping to organise The End Festival) and more time focussing on developing my core areas of interest… and yes, making some money.

The main areas I plan to concentrate on in order to both get better at them and to make some money from them are:

  • Tuba playing with ORE, and in other contexts
  • Musical instrument design, build and sale
  • Electronic and (ultimately) acoustic instrument building workshops
  • Sound art installations – in particular my Sonic Graffiti and acoustic gallery installations based around my instrument building
  • Concerts – with an emphasis on bass and exploring cavernous acoustic spaces
  • Recordings – where possible physical beautiful physical releases
  • Short-runs of hand-finished merchandise
  • Lectures

More details on these as they develop but for now, if anyone wishes to commission me to build a musical instrument, play at your festival or deliver a workshop or lecture, please get in touch.

 
Finally, a note to (not from) my sponsors
To those of you who very kindly sponsored me at the start of my sabbatical, I have three things to say to you:

  1. The funds raised are still kept entirely separate from other monies and will go into funding some cool stuff very soon
  2. Your Sabbatical Credits are safe and you will be able to spend them on anything I produce
  3. I have not forgotten that I promised to run a draw amongst you for a piece that I worked on throughout my sabbatical. This hasn’t quite transpired as I intended. Rather than being a piece that was added to daily, I will now run a draw using something that has been one year in the development as the prize. More on this soon!

Oh, and a huge thank you for your support!! It helps not only in terms of providing some funds towards making cool stuff happen but also in terms of my knowing that people care about what I get up to. Thanks.

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Thanks for reading!

And…for anyone out there thinking of taking a sabbatical, here is part of what convinced me to do so. I can now highly recommend it myself but the master frames it rather well.

Sagmeister: The Power of Time Off

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TOYBOX at TROVE / Confessions of a circuit-bender

Tomorrow I will be heading up to Birmingham to install my piece as part of the TOYBOX exhibition at TROVE. I am very excited to be included in this as it looks like a great collection of fun stuff. The piece I am exhibiting is a very early circuit-bent piece of mine (shown below), which now has a long history of use in gigs across the country, including at Supersonic Festival in 2009.

The reason for exhibiting this piece was as much to do with the story behind it, which I think illustrates the sometimes uneasy life fo a circuit-bender.
 
 
I used to live in an ex-mining village in north Nottinghamshire. During the summer the neighbouring village would host car boot sales. I would go regularly, looking for stuff to bend. One time I was there and saw a stall with loads of V-tech stuff, which is a favourite amongst circuit benders. I went over and the lady asked who I was buying stuff for. I lied. I couldn’t bring myself to say that I planned to hack it to pieces to make odd sounds, so I lied. In order not to narrow down the options I said I have a nephew and a niece. “How old are they?”, she asked. I said they were both around two years old. I was starting to get nervous. Then, I spotted the V-tech phone and exclaimed how perfect it was and that I wanted to buy it. She told me the price and I paid. I started to leave and she said “Um, what about your niece?”. I said not to worry and that I would find her something elsewhere. The lady was very insistent and wouldn’t let me leave her stall without something for my imaginary niece. In the end she forced me to take a doll for her, at no extra cost. My lying had resulted in a car boot sale stall holder showing extreme generosity and concern. I felt guilty as hell but that soon faded when I got home and realised the doll’s head came off the body and fitted perfectly on top of the V-tech phone. And that is the story of how this odd looking hybrid was born.
 

TOYBOX

International Tuba Day Playlist

For International Tuba Day, yesterday, I popped a little playlist on Twitter using the hashtag #InternationalTubaDayPlaylist. I then also put it on Storify in case anyone wanted to listen to it later. Having reviewed it this morning I realise it represents where I am coming from musically rather well, so I decided it warranted a permanent place on my website. Here is the list, enjoy!

1. WAH TUBA :: Oren Marshall “6 (Edit)” :: bit.ly/J5MTpw // Buy it here: amzn.to/J5N2sQ
2. MICROTONAL TUBA :: Microtub “microtub” :: bit.ly/L3I6GC (artist site – click speaker icon to listen)
3. JAZZ TUBA :: Zdzislaw Piernik “Ruchy Wielokierunkowe” :: bit.ly/IJmDCp // Buy: amzn.to/IJmzmd
4. MULTIPHONIC & BEATBOX TUBA :: Chris Dunn playing Baadsvik’s FNUGG :: bbc.in/I76x5w (starts at 45:15)
5. NEW ORLEANS TUBA FUNK :: Rebirth Brass Band “Tubaluba” bit.ly/J2xGSW :: Buy: amzn.to/J2xfbg
6. TUBA & ELECTRONICS :: Jesus Jara “Claro de tuba” bit.ly/KuKMI7 :: Buy: amzn.to/KuKxwJ
7. DOOM TUBA (& shameless self promotion) :: ORE “In Hungary They Used To Burn Bagpipers” bit.ly/xNe8LW

Well, that was PRSF New Music Incubator

This time last week I was preparing for a concert at The Luleå Kulturen Hus in northern Sweden, as the culmination of my time on the PRSF New Music Incubator programme.

The programme creates an intensive collaborative environment between ten UK musicians and ten Swedish musicians. The first leg of this was in the UK and the second in Sweden, concluding in a number of performances or sound-art pieces.

Here is a recording of the piece I performed with Anna and Luke:

[audio: http://www.mrunderwood.co.uk/audio/Slukanna_LOW.mp3]

Link: www.mrunderwood.co.uk/audio/Slukanna_LOW.mp3

I love the subtlety of the playing in this. Sadly it is a little lost against the background noise of lunch at Kulturen Hus.

Note: I performed a further piece with Stellan Stefan and Anna but my part was mainly as a sound technician, so I will let them present this piece.

As someone who had collaborated intensively often before I was keen to see what being given this opportunity on a more professional basis would bring about. It turned out to be an amazing experience both in terms of exploring and developing my own practice, and meeting a group of wonderful people that I feel I can discuss and develop new works with. It also opened my eyes to international opportunities, which is something I had been rather blinkered about previously.

The key now is to stay in touch with the participants and make some projects happen. I am lucky to have been working already on a project called “One Water”, run by Jonas and Annika, for which I have designed and built a water instrument with my new partner in such things, David Morton. Here’s a sneak peak of what it sounds like.

I have made plans to work on some further string drone and electronics pieces with Luke (and hopefully Anna). This excites me greatly as Luke really seems to understand the subtlety of playing and dynamics required to get the most out of drone pieces, emphasising their scale.

I am also formulating plans with Patrik Jarlestam for ORE to play in a number of fascinating sounding acoustic spaces in Sweden. As this forms a major part of what we are interested in I very much look forward to exploring the possibilities of this.

This is a great start but in fact I’d love to eventually work with everyone involved. Yes that might be a bit pie-in-the-sky but I always have been an optimist.

Oh and on a personal note, I felt far less out of my depth this time, after a period devoted to developing my music etc. Most positive!

I would like to thank the PRS Foundation for making this happen. Thanks also to all of those who looked after us and made it work day-to-day. Huge thanks to the participants, who I count amongst my friends now. Special thanks to Capsule for putting me forward for this wonderful opportunity.

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As an aside: I loved Sweden. I was lucky enough to spend some time in Stockholm, working on “One Water” and then I took the night train up to the north. Fantastic scenery! On the Wednesday I had a bit of time in Stockholm and I started my day in a café which had a book on street photography in it. This reawakened my love for such things and I spent the rest of the day snapping away. Here is a gallery of the results:

4am Project 2012

Following on from my first effort at the 4am Project last year, I decided again to mix audio and visuals in my submission.

Due to a late return yesterday from Sonic Weekend I decided on a somewhat less elaborate approach this year, so as to get back to bed for some much needed sleep.

I decided to head down to the nearby bank of the River Severn to take one image. The time of the exposure would dictate the time of a corresponding field recording. After a few tests I decided on an exposure time of around five minutes and took the photo and field recording simultaneously. The final time was just over 303 seconds.

I love the way the sounds in a setting can differ massively from the visual content and this was no exception. Despite the tranquil nature of the image the nearby M5 motorway as the dominant sound, with a hint of a babbling brook in the background. Towards the end a plane dominates the soundscape.

Here are the results:

[audio:http://www.mrunderwood.co.uk/audio/4am_2012/4am_river_severn.mp3]
Large image available here.

Sonic Week(end) 8

I’m just back from Sonic Weekend 8, my sixth to date. Despite the obvious contradiction, this one was a week long and was held somewhere in rural France.

Much fantastic music was made, as were many friendships. I can’t speak highly enough of Sonic Weekend. It’s always a beautifully creative and smiley time. Keep an ear open for the sounds produced in the not too distant.

Personal highlights of mine (in no particular order):

  • The opportunity to work with so many wonderfully creative musicians
  • Trying out some ideas for tuba and Theremin with Gordon Charlton
  • Playing in a small New Orleans style brass band
  • Twatting around with Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” for Moog, tuba and drums
  • Natalie Sharp’s amazing face painting
  • Chatting with Aurelia Jaubert about her great art works
  • Deep, meaningful and funny conversations with some delightful friends, both old and new – in particular the journey down with the lovely Ben (SoundHog) and Tim (Mayor of Shaftesbury)

Due to all the other things that kept me busy I didn’t take many photographs to document stuff but here are a few images that I think encapsulate the mood and surroundings pretty well.

Main studio

Main studio : live room

Studio 2

Pedals and hair-straighteners

Wig and musical instruments

Ann, with dog

Mark, pointing at cock

Jesus (self-portrait)

Boy band

Scary doll leg

Odd tomb, with odd people on top

Odd tomb, with odd bloke filming it

Vines on building

Vines in field

Stupid dog

A wonderful time, as ever! If you are a keen musician with an open mind and you want to experience a fresh way of making music with some lovely people I can’t think of a better way than attending a Sonic Weekend. Thank you to Ann and Mark of White Label Music for making this happen, to Ben and Tim for the lifts, to Tim Dorney for his hospitality and production skills, to Steve for running Studio 2 and to everyone that attended for making it such a blast.

Next up, on Tuesday I head to Sweden for the second leg of my time on the PRS New Music Incubator programme. YES!

Newsletter #2

Here is a link my second and latest email newsletter…sent in early April 2012: Newsletter #2

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