As we are now in January 2022, I am of course reminded of all the things that happened last year, the seemingly endlessly changing Covid Rules and restrictions on gigs and travel. As well as the frustration that went with all of that, I am am also very glad that I started a remote collaboration with Luke Plumb in Tasmania, Charlie Grey on Lismore and Joseph Peach in Glasgow. We made some new music together by sending files back and forth and having regular zoom chats to decide what to do next. The whole project was inspired by the landscape that was local to each of us at that time and it was quite a contrast being in the depths of winter here while Luke was in the middle of summer. This is one of Luke's photos from Tasmania. It looks so dry! we are planning to revisit the tunes we started and arrange them into tracks for an album later this year.
We've tried a bit of live online playing between Luke, Joe, Charlie and I, but the hurdle of the delay in sending signals between Australia and Scotland is an issue when playing music together. We have continued to send recorded files back and fore as a reliable way of collaborating. This also allows us to take our time over composing and recording parts.
We have given the Pro Tools Cloud collaboration a go and to start off with it looked quite promising. This should allow us to all work on the same online recorded project overdubbing our instruments and building up a recording. Initially, I created basic sessions which we then were able to all share and record on.
As more tracks were added we ran into more and more difficulties; some new tracks were not uploading and sometimes we were being continually logged out of our account. Perhaps if we all had really fast fibre optic broadband connections then it might have worked better but that's not the current reality.
What has worked well is sharing WAV files with the same starting point to a shared Dropbox folder.
It works consistently well across any platform and is really easy for all of us to use.
We have also been sharing walks through the landscape where we live. This one looks like it is really remote but is only about 5 miles from where I live in Fife.
As a part of our online collaboration project Luke, Joseph Charlie and I started off with a bit of discussion and a zoom jam together. It soon became apparent that any kind of music with which involved playing in time was not really going to work. It is kind of obvious given the delay, but we wanted to try anyway to see what it was like. We then tried a free time ambient jam which we concluded worked a bit better but was a bit like the longest intro ever played! So what next?
I had read some good things about software called Jacktrip which can reduce the delay between computers and allow real time jamming or rehearsing together with good quality audio. The first hurdle is installing the software, which is a lot more involved than just running an install application. It involves copying and pasting code into terminal on the mac which is something I was a bit nervous about as previous experiments with terminal have ended up with me having to re-install my OS. After reading up on the details of this and discussing it with everyone we concluded that none of us was had the technical knowhow to be really confident with doing this at this point.
The prospect of messing up the OS of our computers was enough to put us all off. There are of course other software platforms that have easy to install software which allows online jamming. We all installed Jamulus which was very easy for us to set up and it is possible to all join an existing server if no-one else is using it. Jamulus is all about jamming and other people can join in from anywhere in the world, if you want to run a private server is is possible to have your own virtual jamming room but we just wanted to check it out. It worked really well and seems very stable except of course the delay which is inescapable when long distances are involved. Luke lives in Tasmania so we quickly ran into the same issue with delay, as signals cannot travel faster than the speed of light. We tried with just Joseph Charlie and I but Charlie's only way of connecting is to use mobile broadband so that made it a lot like sitting very far apart in a big room. If everyone had a wired connection and lived in within a limited distance it works really well. Luke suggested a kind of chain of audio where it is consecutively passed on form one musician to the next. It's a great idea but we have to figure out how to do it now!
In Telluric Translations we have been using the features of our local landscapes to inspire new music.
I went down by the river in Newburgh and drew a sketch of the skyline while turning slowly round. I simplified this onto one page with three lines to be interpreted as a score. The lines can be read as either tempo, pitch or intensity. We based our first zoom improvisation on this and I went on to use this as the basis for my first recording for Telluric Translations in Pro Tools. My first attempt was to improvise something in free time on double bass, which although enjoyable I did not really feel I had translated what I had observed visually. I decided I would like some rhythm to play to and put down a shaker track to a click. I started with bouzouki and developed some slow progressions at 105bpm then overdubbed a second track of bouzouki and then a bass part. I ran into some difficulties with recording this track in that I observed I was being very self critical as I felt I was not playing in time very well. I edited some of the takes to make them more in time and resolved to come back to it and have another go. On returning to this track I found listening brought on a feeling of sadness which was not really my intention when recording it. I speculated that sometimes the emotions that develop because of our situation in lockdown come out in the music that we record. I recored a new bouzouki part in free time that was based on the first one and found it much more descriptive. The tempo was about 124bpm so I decided to speed up the whole track and record new bouzouki and bass. I followed this up with a percussion track and uploaded it for Joe, Charlie and Luke to do overdubs and recorded some tracks on their initial responses that they had sent to me.
We all used a similar process in our own local area, both Charlie and Joe chose to use a direct view from their windows as inspiration and Luke sent us this photo in an email of a group of trees on Flinders Island with a line tracing the outline.
Luke wrote "Tea tree is most common on the island in clumps around little streams. I used the tree line of this for melody as I thought the outlier poking up high might be nice. I’ve whacked down some guitar at a bit of vibe around it all - its all quite austere and beautiful as an island archipelago goes. The neighbouring island is literally called Cape Barren.”
The difference in time between Scotland and Tasmania is one of the things we have to bear in mind as we are exploring ways of translating the landscape into music. We have been made immediately aware of the profound differences in temperature between Scotland and Tasmania over the last weeks of Februrary. Luke is in the middle of summer, while we have been in the depths of winter. So I am very glad that we have seen a rise in temperature in Scotland and we have been sharing photos of our differing landscapes. It is always fantastic to see green again when the snow has melted, even if it is all moss in this photo.
Telluric Translations is a research and development project made possible with support from Creative Scotland's Open Fund
I will lead a remote collaboration with musicians, Luke Plumb, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach to experiment with improvising together and explore different ways of collaborating online.
We are using creative tasks to focus our attention on our immediate environments across Scotland and in Tasmania. We will align these to specific aspects of musical composition and arrangement. Using these ‘translations’ as an alternative ‘score’, we will record bass, bouzouki, keys, fiddle and mandolin to make new music.
We will also experiment with simultaneous recording online using different software, and online platforms to explore the possibilities for playing together over the internet.
I might by start by trying to translate the view from my studio window on the coldest day this year!