Letka Album with guest appearance from Brian Eno

After a long incubation period, I’m pleased to announce a new album from Letka, a project with Irish vocalist Sandra O’Neill. Here’s the press the release:

“From the opening Beyond the Fold, featuring backing vocals and production from Brian Eno, to its epic closing track I Dream a Highway, Far Off Country seamlessly combines Country and Ambient influences in a uniquely ethereal way.

Featuring layered vocals, treated guitars, pedal steel and electronic textures, the six track collection of traditional songs, covers and new compositions represents a warm reflection of the desolate landscapes of the Mid West.

The evocative digipack, designed by Carl Glover, features images from his archive of photographs of American ghost towns.”

The album is available for preorder now from on Burning Shed, release date is 16th January 2012. It will also be available on iTunes from that date.

Several excerpts are available on Letka’s SoundCloud page.

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Piano Album on iTunes

‘Piano’, my imaginatively titled album of solo piano improvisations from 2006 is now available from iTunes.

The album was inspired by the ECM solo piano albums from Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock that began appearing in the early seventies. While I can’t claim to be remotely in the league of those extraordinary musicians, improvisation has always been central to my playing and I think there’s something unique to the structures that emerge from spontaneous composition.

I created the video below using the wonderful ‘Terragen’ package. Originally I’d intended this to accompany the ‘A Marble Calm’ track ‘Another World’, and created an unreal landscape using the colours from the album cover, but in the end I felt it suited Piano better.

I dedicated the album to many of the people who in some way encouraged or shaped my interest in the piano. Sadly two of those people have since passed away.

Lynda Phipps died several years ago after a long struggle with cancer. She taught music at my school in Bath, and her encyclopaedic knowledge of classical music was matched only by her enthusiasm in conveying the subject. My fondest memories of senior school were of the tiny A-Level classes, which were simply comprised of me, my friend Peter Gay, Lynda and a piano. She had an extraordinary ability to turn to the piano at any point in the lesson, and begin playing from memory sections of whatever piece was in discussion, arranging it as she went to pick out whatever melodies were relevant to the point she was making. I’ve since discovered that the musician and comedian Bill Bailey was a former pupil. He wrote a very touching tribute to her in the Times Educational supplement. By an extreme coincidence, Peter and I were also at the gig in Cambridge he mentions. We’d met in a pub prior to seeing Bill Bailey perform, and were discussing how we’d like to get in touch with Lynda. When we turned up at the venue, there she was at the door as if she’d been expecting to see us. Wonderful to see her again.

Professor Tony Oakhill treated me at Bristol Children’s Hospital when I was extremely ill back in the early 1980s. Although he was a pioneer in treating childhood cancers, it’s his sense of humour I remember most, a hugely reassuring presence to both children and parents alike. I continued to see him yearly as an outpatient throughout my teens and into early adulthood, when I could barely fit into the waiting room chairs, designed for younger frames. When he learnt of my interest in music, he suggested I give Keith Jarrett a listen. Although I had been improvising at the piano for some time, I had no idea that this was something people actually did in public, and the introduction to the ECM catalogue broadened my musical tastes and gave me a context in which to work. It’s a terrible and unjust tragedy that having given so much of his life to treating cancer in others, he finally succumbed to the disease himself at only 56. I’m deeply grateful to him for the gifts he gave me and many others.

Rest in peace.

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Slow Electric Video

Here’s a new video for Towards the Shore, the opening song from the upcoming Slow Electric album:

The video, expertly filmed in pristine 1080p HD by my friend Dion Johnson in several locations around South East England, draws from the first half of the seven minute song, and features an exquisite chapman stick solo from Tony Levin. As with the rest of the album, the track was based on a recording of a live concert made in Estonia, which was then reworked in the studio. The trumpet and guitars were from the performance itself. Tim re-recorded his vocals in his home studio, and I added extra keyboard textures. Tony Levin, not present at the original concert, overdubbed bass and chapman stick parts from his own studio.

I’d intended to keep the original piano performance, but unfortunately it was plagued by an intermittent clicking sound from the sustain pedal. As a result, I had to attempt to recreate the it by viewing the waveform on the screen, and attempting to play whenever a peak appeared. The process took an entire afternoon, about twenty times longer than it took to play the original piece. It’s possibly the only occasion in life where I’ve wished I’d spent more time playing Guitar Hero.

The album is released through the Panegyric label on 10th October, and can be preordered online at Burning Shed via slowelectric.com. A free download EP will available with all preorders.

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Slow Electric

Slow Electric

Slow Electric, a project I’ve recorded with No-Man’s Tim Bowness and Estonian duo Uma is now available for preorder from Burning Shed.

The album is being released via Robert Fripp’s Panegyric label, and features a guest appearance from the legendary Tony Levin, on bass and chapman stick. Still pinching myself over that bit.

You can listen to Another Winter below, a track from the album on which I was playing the iPad and adding keyboard textures. The vocals were re-recorded for reasons of sound quality, but otherwise this track is unchanged from the original live recording.

Here’s the full blurb from Burning Shed:

“Initially formed to play three dates at the 2010 Estonian Jazz Festival, Slow Electric is a new project from Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers, and the Estonian duo UMA (guitarist Robert Jurjendal and trumpeter Aleksei Saks).

Using recordings from the concerts as a basis, Bowness recorded new vocals and Chilvers contributed additional keyboards and atmospherics. King Crimson’s Tony Levin added some of his unique bass/chapman stick to two of the album’s six songs, and the multi-tracks were subsequently mixed by ace Zurich-based percussionist/producer Andi Pupato (Nik Bartsch’s Ronin).

Released on the Panegyric label, Slow Electric’s debut builds on California, Norfolk’s and Flame’s atmospheric ‘torch song’ styles.

From the elegiac opener Towards The Shore to the 5/4 groove of Criminal Caught In The Crime, the quartet combines its collective influences – singer-songwriter, electronica/ambient and European jazz – with gracefully empathetic performances.

The Carl Glover designed digipack comes with a booklet featuring sleeve notes by Tim Bowness.

All Burning Shed pre-order purchasers will be sent a link to a free download EP on the day of the album’s release.”

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Evolver.fm Interview

Evolver.fm front page

Nick Parker has interviewed me for music technology website Evolver.fm. The interview discusses the origins of Bloom, the iPhone app I developed with Brian Eno, as well as the history and future of music app development.

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Brian Eno & Rick Holland – Drums Between the Bells

Brian’s latest album Drums Between the Bells, a collection of musical settings of poetry by Rick Holland was released this week, and I think it’s one of his finest. It’s an eclectic mix, distinctive narrators slowly delivering Rick’s text over backdrops that range from the hard hitting Glitch, the sublime Pour it Out and the more textural pieces like Dream Birds and Breath of Crows. There are several track previews at Warp’s microsite for the album.

My credit for this album was ‘Technologicality’, which sits nicely with previous credits from Brian of ‘Digital Archeologist’ and ‘Sonic Archivist’. I was nearly credited as ‘Rudder’ for Small Craft on a Milk Sea. In fact, I had little to do with the main album, aside from moving tracks between computers and some experiments with voice treatments on Glitch – I’m not sure if these were used in the final track.

I was, however, very happy to be tasked with compiling the instrumental album that forms the second disc of the 2 CD set. In principle this was a simple case of removing the vocals… but nothing is ever simple in Brian’s studio! For many of the tracks, Brian had taken old mixes from his archive, chopped them up, treated them and added new elements. Consequently there was a fair bit of archeology going on with this record too. I had to locate projects saved on long abandoned computers running old software, then attempt to recreate the mixes and reproduce the edits.

A few of the pieces required a little alteration before they stood up as instrumentals in their own right. Dream Birds, for example, has a twenty second section with only voice, so obviously that had to be shortened. Sounds are Alien and Glitch both have long sections with only a repeating drum loop, so I either shortened them or substituted more interesting passages from elsewhere. The Airmen drops down to just an electric piano loop in the vocal version, but for reasons I can’t quite put a finger on needed to drop down for twice as long. When I was disassembling Seed Pods, I discovered a percussive chordal part that had been muted, and included it in the instrumental version.

I love the combination of spoken word and vocal – in fact Tim Bowness and I recorded an unreleased spoken word album together about a decade ago – but it’s not for everyone, and I’m glad the instrumental album exists. I think they stand up well on their own, and in a few cases I possibly prefer the instrumental form. In particular the oppressive soundscape behind Fiercer Aisles comes through more without the vocals in the foreground.

The bonus album’s sequence was derived from weeks of considered debate and experiments…. well, actually no. When I played it back to Brian, we put it on random shuffle, found that the sequence worked rather well, made a few small adjustments and left it that way. By contrast, the main album went through a huge number of sequencing changes before Rick and Brian settled on the final one.

Today’s trivia: Grazyna, whose treated voice graces Glitch, also appears briefly 14 seconds into Brian’s tribute to Can.

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More from Tallinn / Pure Scenius / Fresh Fruit

More footage from the concert in Tallinn with Tim Bowness and UMA has arrived, at much higher quality this time:

It opens with an improvisation from UMA (featuring a brief performance of “Putting a Bottle on the Floor” by Tim Bowness), before flowing into “Also Out of Air”, a track from California, Norfolk, which Tim Bowness and I released in 2001. The album has been out of print for a while, and we’re planning a 10th anniversary re-release with some extra features (to be decided.)

I’ve also just come across this collection of photos taken at the This is Pure Scenius! event in Brighton last May, featuring Brian Eno, Karl Hyde, Jon Hopkins, Leo Abrahams and the Necks:

This is Pure Scenius!, Photo by Matthew Andrews

This is Pure Scenius! comprised three 90 minute improvised concerts performed in rapid succession on the same day. As with the previous year’s concerts at Sydney Opera House, I was assisting Brian on stage. This essentially gave me a ring side seat on a stunning series of performances, which varied from the sublime to the savage, sometimes over surprisingly short intervals. I feel very lucky to have seen Pure Scenius in such circumstances both in Brighton and Sydney, I have no idea if that collection of individuals will manage to find themselves in the same place again in future.

For the curious: On the desk you can see Brian’s keyboard, laptop and various effects units, the many pieces of paper used to communicate messages to the band, a large collection of pens with a remarkable tendency to wander off to other parts of the theatre, my iPhone, and, if you look very closely, a banana at the bottom of the monitor to my left. This made its way onto the overhead projector shared by the band at some point as part of an in joke, the nature of which I can sadly no longer recall.

I ate the banana later, in order to speed up clearing the stage.

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…and back from Estonia

The trip to Estonia was as enjoyable as it was cold (a bone-brittling -12 degrees at one point.) Three gigs in three days, with Tim Bowness and two musicians I’d never met… I’d love to say how incredibly challenging it was to put together, but in truth Aleksei and Robert are such skilled musicians that it seemed effortless. We had one day of rehearsal, and it felt like we’d been playing together for years.

Tim Bowness, Aleksei Saks, Peter Chilvers, Robert Jürjendal

The gigs were in beautiful locations – a country home surrounded by snowy pines, a chilly church in Tartu, and the Niguliste Church in Tallinn, my favourite of the three. With a natural reverb time of eleven seconds, it takes only a few notes to fill the room, and as a side bonus, the 200 strong audience sounded like 2000.

There’s some mobile ‘phone footage of one of the songs below. That gig was also filmed at higher quality, so hopefully we’ll have more at a later date.

Incidentally, I thought I’d made up the word “brittling”, but it turns out it already existed. Disappointing.

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Off to Estonia

I’m just about to leave for Tallinn, Estonia where I’ll be playing several dates with Tim Bowness and Estonian duo Uma. Apparently, it’s been snowing for five days solid, and temperatures can reach -20 degrees. Thermals ahoy!

According to the blurb, “The Estonian ambient music duo meets with two Englishmen who love slow and floating music as much as UMA does. The breathtaking beauty in UMAs’ music will be doubled.”

I’m looking forward to using the iPad onstage alongside the piano, I’m finding it increasingly comfortable to use it as an instrument. I first used it live at a gig in Amsterdam on 28th April. I think I might have been one of the first people to use one onstage in Europe, as they were still rather hard to come by at that point. But I’m sure someone will prove me wrong…

More details on the concerts here

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Bloom on Tour

I’ve just had a rather nice email from Ted Beatie:

“While kayaking down the Ou River in Laos yesterday, we stopped at a small village, Ban Huihang, for lunch. Being lunchtime, all of the kids of the village were home from school, and as one might expect in such places, we were swarmed by them. Of course, they were interested in having their pictures taken, and they were entranced by the white ‘falang’ visiting their village.

While we ate our lunch, their gazes never left us. I decided to offer them their own distraction, and laid my iPhone on the ground, with Bloom set to ‘Create’. While the children were intimidated by the simple camera of the iPhone, ‘Bloom’ spoke for itself with just a few taps from me to show them how it worked.  It not only provided distraction from us eating our lunch, but it was satisfying to watch the understanding of how the completely intuitive UI and repeating patterns fell into place.”

Children in Laos playing with Bloom

One of the greatest joys in releasing Bloom has been seeing how young children have taken to it. Sometimes, really very young indeed. We set out to make Bloom as intuitive as possible, but it’s been a pleasure getting so much feedback from parents who’ve been able to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet (even if they never get to see their iPhones again.)

You can read more about Ted’s travels on his blog. Having just got back from a Bed and Breakfast in Cromer, where I’d locked myself away to work on an App idea, I don’t feel I can really compare as a traveller.

It was quite windy though.

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