Archive for the ‘Recording’ Category

So that’s the RPM challenge finished for another year. I threw away a lot more this year than previously and still managed to complete the ‘more than 35 minutes’ challenge. Aided by a 13 minutes violin improvisation of course!

I won’t ramble on about the contents of the album here, you can read that on bandcamp by downloading it (I won’t charge you, just take it if you like it). Stylistically this album – a bit like last year’s – is a bit of a transitional one, though quite where I’m going isn’t entirely clear, even to me. I mentioned on Twitter a while ago that I was having a bit of a musical crisis and that is still unresolved, so this album has 80s-style drums & synths, odd synth noises, keyboard noodling, an all-acoustic piece as well as a violin improv that could have come from any time in the last 5 years (from me at any rate). Oh and a cat snoring – if you download it for the bonus track – and a ‘classical’ piece I wrote 13 years ago rescored for electronic instruments.

Despite it being a bit ‘neither owt nor nowt’ as we say around here I’m pretty pleased with it. There’s lots I would like to have been able to do better but also plenty I think I did well, or at least well enough for an album made in 25 days. Lets see what happens next time eh?

I also did a video for the “Violin Improv”

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Sometime ago I was approached by small local label “Don’t Drone Alone” and asked if I would like to make a release for them. Apparently they had heard my set for “A Working Day of Drone” and liked it 🙂

Once I saw “ripples” by genesis plays in our hearts on their website I knew they were going to be my kind of people, I’m a huge Genesis fan, so I agreed.

That release is now available to buy, you can get a physical cassette or a digital download. I do recommend the cassette, if only for the awesome artwork that Christian Harrop did for it. All my albums have had ‘artwork’ done by me and as I’m no artist I’ve generally used photographs … but I’m not a good photographer either. So it’s a real delight to have quality artwork drawn by a quality artist!

Side 1 is based on the sort of show I tend to do live, it’s mostly electric violin with lots of effects pedals. I’ve used the Blofeld synth on there to fill in some textures but there’s actually a lot less synth on there than you might think on first listen … I can get some great sounds from those pedals. The title “From The Carboniferous” refers to an abandoned quarry near to where I live that allegedly has strange creatures living in it.

Side 2 is a short ‘sci-fi’ style piece played entirely on keyboards. The Yamaha Montage to be precise.

Both tracks were recorded in a single take (with a little editting to remove the occasional pedal pops and bangs) from ideas I already had. Although they were done in one take, they are not necessarily the first take!

The tapes are limited to 50 copies so be quick if you want one of those. I should have some to sell at a gig I’m playing on the 27th of July at the The Fenton in Leeds.

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On Monday (March 27th) we released our 6th Helicopter Quartet album “The Birds Discover Fire”. I’m very pleased with this album, it marks an evolution in style and quality that I hope we can continue with and build on.

I’ve saying for years that I wanted more synths on our albums and this time we’ve actually achieved it – without, I hope, detracting from our Unique Selling Point of being a violin & guitar band. It turns out that the best way to get synths into the music is to learn how to play keyboards. Who’d have thought it – knowing how to properly play an instrument increases it’s usefulness! Shocking I know!  The piano lessons are paying off in most areas of my music these days, including composition and arrangement.

There is no intention of turning Helicopter Quartet into a synth band; violin & guitar will continue to be the main instruments but I think the synths add an extra level of texture that’s hard or impossible to get with any other instrument, even with the SY-300 ‘guitar’ synth on the violin.

There are two main synths in use on this album. A Roland System-1, borrowed from my boyfriend, is the main ‘keyboard’ synth (despite having a terrible keyboard but is excellent in every other way), and a TB-3 which is more sequencer-based and provides the pings on ‘Seanet’ and the rolling bassline on the title track. The System-1 is now replaced by a Novation Ultranova of my own which has a lovely keyboard.

I made a video for ‘Seanet’ too which you can see below. The reason for choosing that track was mainly because it seemed the easiest to film. Trying to do “The Birds Discover Fire” sounds a lot like 2 years worth of animation to me! The film was made by using the ‘GoPro on a stick’ technique 😉

and the album is on bandcamp in the pay-what-you-want format as usual

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For my 7th RPM Challenge album I’ve take a dystopian theme – yes, even more so than usual.

Due to various personal and domestic constraints I’ve had far less chance to prepare and work on the album this year. In fact I have had no preparation at all, so what is on there is largely a set of layered improvisations. ‘Introduction’ isn’t even layered, it’s a single take at the keyboard. For most of the tracks though, I’ve laid down an ‘idea’ track and worked with it by adding other sounds and instruments to make what, I hope, is a coherent piece of music.

The backing to ‘Restart’ was a late addition when a hard disk drive failed on me (luckily only a backup drive) making a strange a persistent rhythm I felt I just had to work with. So, despite starting this month with absolutely no plan at all I still managed to get 9 tracks totalling over 50 minutes. Oh the power of improvisation … and a 15 minutes ambient drone piece 😉

For those that care about these things here are the instruments I used on each track:

  1. Introduction: Yamaha Montage
  2. Trails of the City: Yamaha Montage, PreenFM2, builder taking my ceiling down*
  3. Cave Work: Octave electric violin with SY-300 guitar synth, Waldorf Blofeld
  4. Escape Route: MakeNoise Erbe-Verb+Mutable Systems ‘Clouds’, Electric violin, PPG softsynth
  5. Robot Dance: Emu Proteus, Yamaha Montage, PPG softsynth, spoons
  6. In my day this all was shoe shops**: Moog Sub37, DSi Tetra, Erbe-verbe, Octave Violin
  7. Restart: Failed hard disk, Yamaha Montage, Nord Lead A1,
  8. The Revolution will be short: Bastl Instruments Trinity Drum,  Nord Lead A1, Emu Proteus, Electric violins
  9. The End: Nord Lead A1, Moog Sub37, Emu Proteus

*I told you it had been a busy time.

**Track 6 was originally going to be called “In my day all this was Tescos” which is a better, and arguably funnier, title but I didn’t want corporate lawyers on my back.

As always, it’s a pay what you want download release on bandcamp.

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In deep in RPM challenge mode at the moment (yes, it’s February!) as well as working on several other things at the same time (including an orchestra concert at the weekend .. eek!). But I did find time to film a Helicopter Quartet rehearsal.

This is a preview of a track we are working on for the new album, filmed live at Rock & Roll Circus in Leeds. We currently have 3 tracks recorded and mixed and we have 3 more to do – this is one of the latter. We have no date for the album release, it’ll be ready when it’s done.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this.



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As regular readers will know, I always do the RPM challenge*

This year’s project was an attempt to build on the synthing and keyboard skills I’ve been learning over the past year or two so there’s very little violin on it. In fact the only track that has any violin at all, Carriageworks, was actually written for performance by Midnight Llama – though done here all my own. I like to experiment in RPM February and this year’s challenge, beyond the obvious time one, was to do a mainly keyboard-based album. Obviously not every single note of this album was played by hand – I own sequencers and arpeggiators – but quite a lot of it was, the piano lessons are starting to bear fruit.

For this project I took the themes of repair, renovation and recycling as my starting point. The title track, Carriageworks, was already written – and I mean “written”, I actually have a score for it – before starting the February recording marathon so I took that as the initial inspiration for the whole album. Karen (percussionist in Midnight Llama) had asked me to write a train piece for her drum pads and I wanted to do something a little different from the usual train journey piece. The overall theme of Carriageworks is a failing railway carriage that goes into the repair shop and emerges in rude health … for a while.

The other pieces take different ideas from that initial theme. The ideas behind Scrapyard and Bin Night should be fairly obvious from their titles, Brownfield is thoughts on a brown field site being developed sporadically (this is common in Leeds), Wide Closed Spaces is meant to evoke a large derelict building with old bits of broken industrial equipment in it and Metal Ink was inspired by tales of regeneration in Sabrina Peña Young’s novel Libertaria: Genesis, which I read after reviewing her album for Radio Free Midwich

On the album you’ll hear lots of synths, Simmons drum samples, recordings of buildings being pulled down and even me whispering into a microphone. Yes, this is the first time I have ever had my own vocals on a recording. I do not intend making a habit of this, I promise.

There quite a bit of Berlin School influence here too. This is mostly thanks to Stuart Russell, my co-synther in CSMA who got me into synths in the first place and is now educating me in the ways of sequencers, arpeggiators and drum machines.  Well, I say “drum machines” but most of the drums on this album are taken from samples in my E-MU synths. Only Bin Night uses an actual drum machine. In this case a lo-fi 8 bit device I bought in Brno, Czech Republic.

I’m really pleased with this album, it marks further movement in my musical style and capabilities and I think it sounds quite different from previous releases. It’s got drums and vocals on it for a start!



* Though I have never actually sent a CD into RPM challenge themselves

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I have released a new album called “Places and Traces“, so I thought I’d write some notes about it.

My working title for this album was ‘Outside2’ – a reference to my 2013 album Outside which was built upon field recordings with acoustic accompaniment or reactions. Places & Traces takes that as a starting point but goes much further with it and consequently sounds very different.

Firstly the similarities. P&T is still built upon field recordings, and they are the start of the inspiration for the music that follows. In Cavern, Enclosures and Time Goes More Slowly, they run continuously as they did in Outside,  though only in Cavern does the recording run at normal speed. The titles, though less literal than on Outside are still a reference to the source of the recording.

The differences are obvious at first hearing .. this is a much more electronic album than it’s predecessor. I have used my increasing collection of hardware synthesizers to soundscape it, though there is still plenty of violin. The only acoustic violin I used is on Nowhere (for preference) which (spoiler alert) was also sampled for the speeding up part.

Track by track, this is what is happening:


The cavern in question is Leeds City Station, though I’m also thinking of darker, more oppressive railways stations in England such as Birmingham New Street – at least how it was when I spent a depressing amount of time there in the 1980s. The bulk of the synth noises on this track were made from the same sounds I used on the CSMA track Trans-Pennine Express which passes through several stations including Leeds, but not Birmingham, obviously. Stations late at night are quite scary places when you’re a timid single female and I’ve channelled some of that foreboding into the sounds here. Taiko drums (from my E.mu World ROM) add to the terror.

Minster Yard

Minster Yard is the area around Beverley Minster, one of my favourite buildings. The bells of the Minster are used in the piece, the chimes slowed down in the first half, and re-timed a little in the second.

Nowhere (for preference)

This piece has no field recordings in it at all. The ‘nowhere’ is me staying at home, in my studio, recording instruments rather than places. Here, the acoustic violin opens with a variant on the ‘Refuge‘ theme I used in Helicopter Quartet. Home is the refuge.


The core if this is some field recordings I made in Northumberland on a workshop with Chris Watson & Jez Riley-French. The techniques used in this recording were both learned from those two amazing men.

Enclosures was played live at Wharf Chambers in Leeds and although I’ve labelled this version ‘(live)’ on the track list it is actually my favourite rehearsal take from when I was preparing for that gig. It features the cyborg violin controlling parameters on a Moog Minitaur from my gestures and movement – the notes were played from foot pedals. This maybe isn’t obvious from the sound I suppose but I think it makes some sort of musical sense nonetheless.


This is really just an excuse to use a rather nice recording I made of a Peacock at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. … and then smother it in synths.

Stop Action

Samples here were recorded at Bradford Industrial museum. They demonstrate the huge complex weaving machines (filmed for the Helicopter Quartet Ghost Machine video) regularly and they make great sounds. The point of the title, which I’m not sure really works in the way I intended now, is that the machines are putting a lot of work into moving, but without actually achieving or making anything.

Time Goes More Slowly

The recording that runs through this was made in a pub near Ribblehead in North Yorkshire. They had a really nice clock in the corner that I recorded for quite a long time. I slowed it down to bring out the timbre of it, and that, of course, slowed down the pub conversation. The working title for this was ‘Time Travels More Slowly in the Country’ as we were in that pub, just having lunch, for about two and a half hours. The day itself was quite a leisurely one wandering around Batty Moss viaduct waiting for trains. The comment about ‘not buying any more kit’ was recorded in conversation with a man there while we were waiting. It’s slightly ironic, and obviously untrue, as there are two new synths and a sequencer on this album!

One of the things I didn’t do on this album, that I mentioned in my blog post on backing tracks, is to make music that is playable live. With the notable exception of Enclosures, which was written explicitly for a live performance, all of this music is effectively acousmatic and would need careful arranging should I decide to perform it on stage. I might make live performable pieces the subject of my next album  … maybe 🙂

For info: synths used on this album are (in alphabetical order):

  • Doepfer Dark Energy
  • E-MU Virtuoso with World (Planet Earth) ROM.
  • Moog Minitaur
  • Moog Sub37
  • Nord Lead A1
  • Waldorf Blofeld


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Another Spring, another Helicopter Quartet album.

I’m not sure why we always seem to release our albums in the Spring, maybe there’s not much else to do in the miserable English winters than write miserable English music. It’s in our now usual format of five mid-length tracks of varying intensity. Actually, we seem to be getting quieter in our old age, there’s only one bombastic track on the album and that only gets so in the last half, the rest is quite gentle and intricate.

Generally we are paring down the music to its essentials, the overly messy bombast of Frida is now well behind us. As I thought when we first formed, Afternoon Nightmare is more the template for what we do though the scariness is more implicit these days.

Also, there is a lot more acoustic violin on this album. The whole of Romanze is played on one as are the scraping noises from Off World. It’s true that the opening loop of The Way If Never Was was also played on the acoustic instrument but I think we’re a very long way off from being able to do an ‘unplugged’ session!

Also, this is the first whole album composed without the Moog. In fact there is, *sob*, no Moog on it at all even though I still have the instrument and use it on solo pieces. The synths on this album are mainly hardware digital synths (particularly the Emu Proteus 2000 with X-LEAD ROM) that are never likely to leave the studio. This is the advantage of using the laptop, I can sample the studio synths and then use a good variety of them live without breaking my back loading in!

So, here’s the album. You can download it for free or pay what you think it’s worth to you. For Leading Edges we set a minimum price of £3 in an experiment to see if that lent it more ‘legitimacy’, but all that happened was that almost nobody paid for it and I had to generate and send out download codes to reviewers. So here you go.

I also made a video for the title track. I filmed a lot of old machinery at the Bradford Industrial Museum and played them back at various speeds. It’s also the place where the cover photo was taken – though not by me, Stuart Russell took that picture and manipulated it to make it more ghostly.

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I haven’t had time to blog about RPM 2015, but I have been doing it, despite being extremely busy for work, gigging and, to cap it all, laptop hardware problems.

This year’s album consists of four narrative pieces, based on some of the short stories in Jorge Luis Borges’ book “A Universal History of Infamy”. If you have the book it’s pretty obvious which is which I suspect, but if not don’t worry about it!

The structures are necessarily very different from ‘Mechanisms’, which were mostly classical in style, as I’ve tried to follow the narrative of the stories. Some events of the piece are explicitly played out and others are implied or affected but the thread of the story was always a strong indicator of where the music should go next. The stories in the book are mostly quite anti-climactic – rogues tend not to end well – so that gives the tracks a similar feel to some extent. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not so I’ll leave it at that.

Have a laptop fail on me half way through February has made it a bit of a strain to complete this. Some tracks have had bits done on three different computers due to hardware limits of the other two systems I have access to – also one of them is a Mac and the other a Windows system – I’m just extremely grateful that most DAW software is multi-platform these days! Anyway it’s done. There are some things I’d possibly like to change now, but don’t have the time or stamina to move all the many gigabytes of audio files across hard disks yet again.

The album is free/pay what you want to download as usual, and if you do decide to download it you will also get a copy of the live solo gig I played on the 22nd February … it’s technically allowed in the RPM Challenge ‘rules’, even if it’s not really related to the main theme of the album. Enjoy!

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The new Helicopter Quartet album “Leading Edges” is now out on bandcamp.

We’ve gone for a minimum charge of £3.00 for this release partly because things are getting expensive and partly because the ‘free’ option seems to mean you get taken less seriously in many places – especially after several releases. If you would like a copy for review then please get in touch with me (in the comments here, via @chrissie_c on twitter or  the Helicopter Quartet facebook page) and I’ll send you a free download code.


This album has a couple of very obvious influences on it. The opening track The Way It Never Was is a craven homage to Curved Air’s Vivaldi by electric violin pioneer Darryl Way (geddit?). In essence it’s a reversal of a famous version of the track on YouTube that starts in chaos (Darryl Way playing his violin through a VCS3 synthesizer) and ends up with the main track. In our version we start with the main theme then have a slow, mournful ‘cadenza’ which then descends into chaos.

The other obvious influence is Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet which we have recorded as 110 (its opus number). This piece is a huge favourite of mine and it struck me as a good source of interesting material for our style of playing. The first movement in particular is full of drones, power chords and restated doleful motifs. I have vague plans to do the fast, second movement too, but that might be another project as it’s *very* hard to play!

We’ve included the single, Refuge, on this album mainly for completeness, but it’s also had some gentle remixing to make it more like what we would play live and, of course, remastered to sit nicely with the other tracks on the album.

There is also in the download, a rather nice remix of Refuge by Pierre Masse (@pierrotechnique) which I’m sure you will enjoy.

Oh, there are a couple of other tracks too, but I’ll leave you to make your own mind up about them … there’s a video for Hothouse posted at the end of this blog post.

Tech Talk

I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this blog the issues we have had recording the band, with the conflict between wanting a ‘live’ sound by playing the whole thing through together (as we did for the first two albums), and the flexibility of tracking (as we did for Refuge) especially on looped passages. We have settled on the inevitable compromise that seems to work well.

I managed to split my loopers onto their own circuits so we could record them on their own tracks in the DAW – this mean that they could be isolated for later mixing while still being played as part of the main music. Also there are slightly more overdubs than we’ve done before – though many and mainly to thicken the guitar sound in places or to fill in for a looper. The bulk of the tracks are recorded ‘as live’ which I regard as very important to our sound.

The recording and mixing was done by me this time. All the studying, training and equipment buying I have done for Woodside Recording has enabled me to do this competently and confidently. Mike was, of course, involved in mixing decisions too.

At the recording sessions I miked up both of Mike’s amplifiers, a Fender twin and the studio’s bass amp, as well as taking a DI from his pedalboard. For my violin I just recorded three DIs (main, looper, and superego drones) and re-amped the needed parts later using my Marshall combo. This made recording and playing at the same time a little less stressful for me! The synths were all DI’d afterwards in my studio so that was one less thing I had to carry around.

The tracks were recorded over three separate sessions at our usual rehearsal studios, Rock & Roll Circus in Armley, Leeds.


We will be playing the whole album live at Divided We Fall at Eiger Studios in Leeds this Saturday 24th May, so come down and see how it compares. We’re on around 8:30.







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