Well, music video anyway.

I’ll admit it. The CSMA track “Trans-Pennine Express” started out as a bit of a joke. I think we were on the train itself (from Leeds to York probably) when we started reciting the name in the manner of Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express (it maps better to the English version obviously) and realised it would be fun to do a piece with that name.

Wind forward six months and we had the beginnings of a fairly motoric piece with ambient sections and I decided to record Stuart reciting “Trans” “Pennine” “Express” and put those samples in the the Blofeld synth – TPE was born. Although named similarly to Kraftwerk’s TEE track it actually has more in common with Autobahn if I’m honest.

On the original album, the track is around 25 minutes long. When we moved to Altitude Records I was asked if I could do a Radio Edit of 5 or 6 minutes, it was a huge challenge but I did it and was so pleased with the results that that is pretty much the version we now play live … and the version we played at Catford in June appears as a bonus track on the Cryosphere album. We were once described as “Tangerine Dream without the boring bits”, and we also intend to become “us without the boring bits”.

It seemed an obvious decision to do a video for TPE. We knew exactly what the subject matter was and it was filmable without even leaving Yorkshire, so I set about it. Although this isn’t the first video I’ve made for a band (I did one for Ghost Machine by Helicopter Quartet) this is the first time I had the concept idea for the video before I actually filmed it. Which I think helps enormously!

There are actually only 2 bits of the film that were not filmed on the TPE route – I’ll give a free CD to anyone who can point out both of them, and tell me where they were filmed 😉

The rest is pure Trans-Pennine Express. Filmed in Leeds station, Darlington station, on the train to and from Huddersfield from Leeds and most of the countryside bits were filmed around Standedge tunnel and nearby Marsden. So, while I did actually leave Yorkshire for bits of it I didn’t do anything quite as extreme as going to Manchester.

We opened the CSMA Autumn mini-tour last weekend with a gig at the fabulous Tom Thumb theatre in Margate. It’s a a fully-functioning theatre with 50/60 seats and a really lovely space. Stuart & I filled the stage with our synths so the supporting acts had to perform on the space in front!

Because Margate is such a long way from my home I decided I was going to travel there by train and this caused me some logistical problems. I obviously had to cut down on the number of synths I took down there as the rig I had at Catford in June almost filled my car!

In the end I settled for the Nord Lead A1 as my main instrument. This is a hugely underrated synth, it’s quite portable as well as immensely versatile, far more than it might appear from reading the specs – or even the manual! The Blofeld desktop (of course, it’s my best sound design synth) and the DSi Tetra (portable analogue power). Stuart took down some stands and a small MIDI keyboard in his car and will return them to me later.  The Nord & Blofeld went in a shoulder bag and the Tetra snuggled at the bottom of my overnight case.

The versatility of the Nord is hard to overstate, it stood in for the Blofeld keyboard playing the lead line on Trans-Pennine Express, the FM bells of the Reface DX at the end of Terminal 10 and also the Moog (+delay) solo on Terminal 10 as well as others. Pretty impressive I hope you’ll agree. I must admit that the Nord+Blofeld was a bit of a strain on my shoulder sometimes, though luckily the train change in London was literally crossing the road  – from Kings Cross to St Pancras. I wouldn’t have even attempted this if I’d had to travel on the tube.

For the rest of the tour I shall be travelling by car but I will be using substantially the same setup (as we rehearsed like that) with the addition of the actual Moog Sub37 for extra pounding and the Terminal 10 solo.

Because of my luggage restriction there’s not much (or very good) video of the Margate gig but here’s a short extract of Iris Garrelfs doing her amazing thing that I recorded on my phone.

And here’s some GoPro footage of us playing a new piece called “Charles”. You really don’t get the idea of how small the venue is from this!

CSMA: Cryosphere

Not just a Helicopter Quartet release this summer, but a CSMA one too!

Cryosphere was recorded in my home studio in the week leading up to the Catford gig. We’d written – or at least conceptualised – most of the pieces before then but we finished the details and recorded them in that time.

As with the Helicopter Quartet album, this was recorded “as live” in that we played together as a band into the DAW rather than recording tracks individually. I strongly believe this gives a better ‘feel’ to the music as we’re playing together as a band rather than a collection of soloists. There is a little post editting done, and mastering obviously. Actually, one piece on the album was partly tracked … see if you can guess which 🙂

We’re really pleased with this album and it sounds a lot tighter than the last two. My piano lessons are helping of course, but also we’re getting used to the style of material we’re using and able to develop it without it getting away with us.

For some reason, Stuart entrusted all of the mixing and mastering of this album to me. I actually really pleased with the job I did!

It’s out on the Altitude label, you can get a free/pay-what-you-want download or order a physical CD from this link.


This is a followup to my Roli/Blofeld post showing how to make a patch for the Yamaha Montage for playing with a Roli Seaboard RISE.

This is just a list of the stages you need to go through to set up the Montage. Watch the video below see see just how it’s done from the front panel.

  • Make an init “Normal (AWM-2)” patch
  • Edit Part 1
  • Edit Element 1 (in fact all used elements will need these settings)
    • Set the waveform appropriately
    • I use “OB-Saw”, This is just what I use in the example for comparison with the Blofeld example
    • Set the AMP EG so that strike only affects initial volume
      • Time/Vel = 127
      • Seg = Atk
    • Set the filter so that Slide will brighten the sound
      • I use the LPF24A because I like it
        • Set cutoff  to 0
        • Brightness will drive “Slide”, unlike Blofeld that needed a mod wheel map. You’ll need to add maps if you want it to do something else
      • I set resonance to 18 (This is just my preference)
  • Element All
    • Balance Level (element 1) = 0 (level controlled by pressure)
    • Set all elements if you have a multi-element souind
  • There’s no release velocity on Montage so we can’t map “Lift”
  • Edit Part
    • General
      • Key Assign = single (avoid stuck notes)
      • Pitch Bend +12  -12  (for RISE 24)
      • Mod/Ctrl
        • Ctrl Assign Aftertouch + 63
        • I use a sigmoid curve. you might prefer the normal ramp
  • Copy to parts 2-8
    • Easiest to select 1 copy to 2, select 2 copy to 3 etc
  • Set dashboard to 8 MIDI channels
  • Best use Global FX for delay/reverb etc
  • Make your own sounds!

Electric Fence

It’s time for another Helicopter Quartet album! We don’t deliberately set out to release an album every year, but it does seem to be the natural cycle we work to.

This album is only a small evolution over the last few, I’m not claiming any great leaps of ideas or changes in style. I keep thinking there should be ‘more of this’ (usually synths) on the album but it never quite works out that way. The reasons for this are mainly practical. The tracks are all recorded ‘as live’ in a rehearsal studio rather than multi-tracked (though there are some overdubs) so they represent what we can do at a gig and we already have enough equipment to carry around as it is without adding even more. Also our USP is electronic violin and guitar, a seemingly rare combination of instruments so we’re keen to keep that identity. For my part that also helps to separate CSMA projects from Helicopter Quartet. CSMA being almost exclusively synths of course*.

There are synths on this album but they are, as usual, background instruments. There to add atmosphere or, in one case, beats. But never as the main focus of the music.

The tracks have been worked on for some time, Steel Rain was actually performed live at the start of this year and we did a rehearsal video of it for YouTube in September of last year … so it really does take us a year to produce an album!

I won’t bore you with any more words, here’s the music:

* and a new CSMA album is on its way too … watch this space.


We all had a great time at Catford last Saturday – four very different acts all gelled together into one fabulous concert. For myself I was very pleased with the way I played – the piano lessons I started only a few months ago are really paying off. I feel much more comfortable and (I hope) competent with the keyboards than I used to. There are still plenty of rough edges that need sorting out and my technique is necessarily still limited but I’m making good progress and the impact on the sound of CSMA is definitely audible, at least to me.

As you can see above, I took rather a lot of synths to Catford this year. When we started planning these gigs I intended to take less (or at least smaller) equipment than before. This didn’t happen as planned! Despite replacing the Little Phatty with a (much smaller) DSi Tetra and using the Nord as both a synth in its  own right and as a controller keyboard for the Blofeld desktop, I still ended up with a huge amount of equipment that largely filled my car and exhausted myself setting up and down. Key to this bloat was the ‘need’ to take the Blofeld keyboard and the Reface DX synths. I’m definitely getting too old for this sort of thing. Or I need a roadie!

For the next few CSMA gigs I really am going to have to cut down on the amount of equipment I use. One (Margate) I will be travelling to by train, but even for the rest that I will be driving to, we won’t necessarily have the stage space or set up/down time that we had at St Laurence’s. I need to work on something more compact.

To help achieve this I have a Yamaha Montage on order which I am hoping will become my main live synth and then augment that with the Moog Sub37 and the Blofeld desktop – both of which are in the ‘indispensable’ category. The Montage has both an amazing FM engine as well as excellent sample playing and loads of polyphony as well as multi-channel/multi-timbral capabilities. It’ll mean some changing of workflow and possibly slightly different sounds when performing live than on the album (oh yes, there’s a new CSMA album out soon) but I think it will be a good trade off. More about that as it happens.

This won’t help the train-based gigs – even the Montage is too large and heavy (and expensive!) to carry on a train. So I’m going to work on some even more cut-down system for that on in particular.

In the meantime here’s some video from the gig for you to watch. First here’s the fabulous Vera Bremerton:

And now some of the CSMA tracks:


Electromatronic 2

This is just a quick plug for our afternoon gig in London this weekend – 11th June.

The concert is being held at the fabulous modernist church of St Laurence in Catford, London and starts at 16:30. It’s an octagonal church and we will be performing in quadraphonic! There will be four very different musicians showing different styles of ‘electronic music’.

In order there will be:

Steve Gisby
Steve Gisby brings his iterative pieces to the live stage for the first time ever.

raxil4 is multi disciplinary sound and sculptural artist Andrew Page, specialising in analogue electronic dronescapes he is active on the London sound art, improv and noise scenes.

Vera Bremerton
Blends classical harmonies with industrial, avantgarde, techno beats and aggressive sounds.
My songs have been broadcast on several national radio channels and I have played underground noise nights in Europe.

and finally, my synth band:
Using a wall of hardware synthesizers, CSMA blend classical structures, Berlin-school sequencer techniques and carefully controlled textures. Album “Collision Rate” out now on Altitude Records.

Entry is free but you can book here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/electromatronic-2-csmavera-bremertonraxil4steve-gisby-tickets-24588032467

For fellow synth-nerds these are the synths I will be playing:

  • Moog Sub37
  • Dave Smith Tetra
  • Nord Lead A1
  • Waldorf Blofeld (keyboard & desktop)
  • Yamaha Reface DX