Soundscapes & Atmospheres with the VFX

One of the nicest things about old digital synthesizers is being able to delve into the 'cracks' left in the synth engine: the bits of software that were never ironed out, the bugs that ultimately give character to the sound. The Ensoniq VFX (c. 1989) for instance, is a perfect example. Using digital wavetables as the starting point for its sounds, it has in its very architecture in-between waves that weren't perhaps intended to be tapped into or reproduced (at least if you wanted to play a straight piano, organ or brass preset!), but can nevertheless create weird and wonderful textures. The sound below is simply triggered by pressing a single key, which I programmed to cycle through a number of waves, layered and filtered for a richer effect.

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Animated Objects

" We can only be hunters of objects, and must even be non-lethal hunters, since objects can never be caught" 

Graham Harman

Photos: Sony A77 (with various adapted vintage lenses)

Vaporwave - Still making waves

Vaporwave started as a part-joke, part-meme, part-audiovisual movement nearly a decade ago. It couples a DIY attitude with the tools of the internet age, producing one of the most democratic creative impulses in recent times. 

Anyone can put together a basic vaporwave video. Here's one possible recipe: Stretch and mangle an existing music track. Sprinkle with visuals reminiscent of 90s free PC software. Add some VHS-like image deterioration. Perhaps some Japanese script. And last but not least, upload to Youtube. 

Et Viola!

When it first appeared, Vaporwave was seen as an important form of counterculture by some. As a fad by others. But I'm not convinced it's just another form of meaningless escapism. Vaporwave never really went away. Thousands of people still make it. And without the need for a grand scheme or manifesto. Or marketing.

All of which makes me think: Could the secret of the movement's success be its DIY-style scavenging of discarded elements from the recent past, turning this "cultural garbage" into a meaningful alternative to the status quo?

In other words, the present as it could be. Not as it is.

Macintosh Plus - Floral Shoppe

Lucien Hughes - "Sunday School"


A 'sound poem' of sorts, broadcast on Resonance FM on European Radio Day.

Using an audio editor I mixed speech and music recorded from various internet radio stations across Europe.  

Speech and music intermingle. Meaning almost begins to emerge - not necessarily from language but from sound, texture, rhythm, repetition...

Part 1
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Part 2
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The many faces of the Design Panoptikum

It's a bit of a cliche, but it's always good to get off the beaten track when you travel. And that's because it's precisely there with those little gems are usually found. The Design Panoptikum "surrealist museum of industrial design" in Berlin fits the bill perfectly. 

It's a bit of a work of love for Vlad, the chatty and enthusiastic owner. He explained to us how he amassed a collection of obsolete industrial, optical and medical equipment after the collapse of the GDR. 

Faced with the task of organising the displays, he didn't just settle for any chronological or thematic order. As a result, the exhibits are a surrealist re-imagining of these objects, their context and function. 

Sometimes funny, very often creepy! Design Panoptikum is both inspired and inspiring...

rather rushed photos! Sony A77, Pentax Takumar 50mm f2 

In praise of bad photography

In digital photography there can be a lot of emphasis on producing distortion-free, sharp images, with hyper-real colours and perfect lighting. 

We make images to stand the test of pixel-peeping and HD TV.

But our brain's internal 'photographic' memory can be a lot more fuzzy and imperfect. 

A bit like images through a lens from an old folding camera.

 Photos: Sony A77 with adapted 1950s Ensign Ensar Anastigmat 100mm f4.5


One of the great things about browsing in charity shops is finding unusual records. My favourites tend to be those with interesting artwork that clearly no-one else wants! For instance, bird song compilations and test tone (that's sounds used to calibrate audio equipment) records.

Which also begs the question: Could you calibrate audio equipment to the tune of bird song instead?

In the meantime, I'll try to pick up a few more. It may even make sense...

Door knockers of Valletta

This one took a bit of time to assemble, but it was worth it. On another trip, I should try to document each 'style' of door knocker!

Photos: Sony A77 (various lenses)

The museum of unfulfilled promises

I've collected quite a few original manuals and documentation through the purchase of vintage electronics and other paraphernalia.  It's quite exciting when you realise that the owner has kept all the documentation that originally came with the item - more so when it's something, say, 30, 40 or 50 years old. 

Amongst these, you sometimes get registration and contact forms, intended to be returned by post to the vendor or manufacturer in order to request further information and services.

The problem is, most of these companies no longer exist. The Mayfair Sound Products Inc., Argus Incorporated, Technical & Optical Equipment (London) Ltd., not to mention Commodore and their dedicated "Commodore Customer Care" are long gone.

But the forms remain - never filled in or posted. All the promises they contain; of further information, warranties, free newsletters, promotions, etc, can never be fulfilled. 

They now constitute a collection of unfulfilled promises.

Circuit Bent Speak & Spell

Or more accurately, the french language version of the Speak & Spell - "La Dictée Magique".

The Speak & Spell has a speech synthesiser at its core, so it's not difficult to extract all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds out of them by disrupting the electronics. 

I loosely based these bends on the Speak & Spell "Incantor" blueprints by artist Reed Ghazala.

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Dystopian Dumfries & Galloway

Or it doesn't take much to turn the natural environment into a truly scary place. 

Images: Sony A77, postprocessing.

Alternative pasts

Thinking about the 'swinging sixties' and my obsession with collecting library music made me think: 
What if Soviet-era Leningrad, not London, had been the grooviest place on earth in the 1960s? 
So I made this.

Images: Russian TV archives. Music: © 2012 Javier Aregger

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Some of the best things are useless. Fiction books are useless. Mondrian is useless. And so it's Abba. 

Decorative art is slightly different. It produces items that could be used. But their intended function is often ignored. 

For instance, I've never put any of these glass objects to use. Yes, the jug could pour drinks, the vases could contain flowers, the pen holder could hold pens. But they don't. 

If I were to use them, they'd be defined by their usefulness.

Trax Retrowave and the Philosophy of Limitations

Renaissance painters used to make their own oil paint by grinding scarce and expensive pigments and mixing them with linseed oil. These days you can buy the equivalent in a ready-to-use tub of paint for a few pounds. No sweat.

The same applies to a lot of the tools and materials used to make the art of the past millennium. They're now cheaply available from most art shops, to most people, almost instantly

When it comes to film and music, the advent of cheap computing made the rare, expensive tools of the past (or their equivalents anyway) available to pretty much everyone. Whereas a decent movie camera was a bit of a luxury half a century ago, you can probably achieve similar results with the standard camera on your mobile phone.

Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification. No pre-made paint will have the exact same hues of those made by Jan Van Eyck. No digital camera will give you the exact same feel and possibilities of 16mm film. No virtual Minimoog will exhibit the exact same tonal properties of the real instrument... But they will probably come pretty close.

Which brings me to the subject of synthesisers.

Nowadays, anyone can have a go at being Jean-Michelle Jarre, Kraftwerk or Giorgio Moroder - and create much more besides - with a bunch of software plug-ins available online (and mostly free). All you need is a computer and a bit of time and imagination. 

This democratisation is a wonderful thing, but also presents a problem: Everything is available - all of the time. The possibilities are endless. It can be confusing and paralysing.

This may explain why you may want to escape this state of crippling, endless choice. And instead 'make your life difficult' by using rather awkward, limited tools - thereby imposing artificial restrictions and limitations in the hope of focusing your efforts on a small set of possibilities. 

And that finally brings me to the Trax Retrowave. 

What do you do with a monophonic analog synthesiser that can only produce one tone at a time and has a limited palette of sounds? An attempt to answer that question, and try to showcase the capabilities of the Retrowave is the demo below, kindly featured by Trax Synthesisers on their official website:

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Going through the archives

(or how the answer to most questions is, when you think of it, 'Kraftwerk')

Bends and Mods

Circuits bending is, in essence, making links where none existed before. It disrupts electronics by bridging circuits, adding pots, switches and other components to produce random sounds and music. Bending a device can throw up completely unexpected results, with 'chance' sounds seemingly coming out of nowhere.

Mods on the other hand, are a more regimented, thought-out affair that produces predictable outcomes. They usually seek to add or extend features - for instance, adding a volume control. Mods and bends are not mutually exclusive and some of their boundaries are not always clear-cut. 

But it's easy to see why artist and inventor Reed Ghazala, the grandfather of circuit bending, sees it as an almost spiritual process, establishing a connection to something else that lies behind the electronics... the ghost in the machine.

some of my finished instruments

circuit boards

Something bigger and incomprehensible

A short piece exploring slightly frightening, celestial encounters

Images: Sony A77. Sounds: Korg MS2000

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In Brexit Britain, Trite is the new Cool

Here's my contribution

oil pastel on card

Little Men

This one's open to interpretation!

Sony A55, Sony f.35-5.6 18-55mm

Sony A77, Tamron f4-5.6 70-300mm