Pirates of the Mycelium is the 3rd Brontis album, taking influence from live 90s techno & EBM, childhood paranormalising, star rot & rave ghosts, misfiring neurons & voltages, kicks & stabs & tabs with the lads.
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Ewan Hennelly aka Brontis whose album Pirates of the Mycelium is out now on Fort Evil Fruit label.
Active since 2003, he also recorded as Herv, Muttermal and ZPG and was a member of improv noise-beat collective Arnod Vorrzpkngrrr. Besides FEF you can find his music on The Richter Collective, Alphabet Set and Boy Scott Audio.
This track is kind of slow & has lots of claps so I thought: “Slow Clap”. But it has a sort of lapping synth sound in the background, which made me think of slopping water in a bucket. In my studio, I have a bunch of 90s sequencers — some of the track comes from a Yamaha QY20, and I think the sample was triggered off an SU10. The vocal was initially actually just a placeholder, but it sounded good so I stuck with it. It randomly cuts off as the sampler memory ran out.
My friends & I always joke about this — “Release the badger!” is a sort of battlecry or celebration of good things. Also, respect to the rights of badgers. I’m also rather nocturnal, and make all my stuff in the early morning. I record everything to 2-track stereo in one take (generally, the first one is the one I use) with no overdubbing and mostly no edits. I’ve really pushed myself to get comfortable with that process over the past few years, because I have a short attention span and I want to make music very fast. Otherwise I end up really hating the thing. This way the recording is either right or it isn’t, there’s no agonizing about mixing stuff down afterwards. Or, “ooh, is that conga a bit bright”? That said, the mastering process is very important and it’s something I’ve never been great at. My partner Meljoann has been mastering my stuff for years, and is really good at correcting my mistakes.
More stupid wordplay. Modular wig-out here, can’t really remember how I made it, the lead line is my TTSH built by Box Emissions Systems which is used in some way on practically everything I make. The drums are most likely running through it too. The melodic FM loop is a Yamaha PSS460 which is super basic but has this interesting sequencer, and can make some pretty gnarly sounds. Most of the first Brontis album Peak Grot was just that and another Yamaha keyboard, but I began to incorporate my other machines from the 2nd album on. I generally wire up my studio a certain way for a week or so, making one piece of gear the core and work around that. After recording I break it all down and start again, based on what I feel like making.
First of the mushroom references. Astromyxin, Star Jelly or the more elegant Pwdre Ser is a gelatinous substance, said to appear after meteor showers. It’s probably bird puke or slime mould, but I liked the idea of jellys from space, landing on Earth and causing havoc. The track is simple but a little sinister, the breakdown in the middle makes me laugh as it’s so underwhelming. I think I’d forgotten I hadn’t really fleshed out the track much when I recorded it, but I didn’t fancy recording it again.
As depicted on the cover, Brontis is abducted from a woodland rave by these dimension hopping fungal swashbucklers. I’d not made any really ravey stuff for quite a long time, and wasn’t sure where it’d fit in. The drone is the TTSH again, the rest of it is my secret weapon, the Roland MC303. My first sequencer — I bought one 20 years ago and used it a lot. I like to MIDI it up and drive other things from it as well. It has its quirks, it’s very noisy and doesn’t like when you give it too much to do. But I’m a big fan.
I love the sound & spelling of this Iranian word for Ostrich. As well as straight 4/4 stuff like I like to make music that shifts tone dramatically mid track, but try to wrap it all up in 4 mins. Quite often I’ll have an idea to change the direction of a piece after maybe the first 60 seconds but that then requires a logistical rethink. I might have one system (drum machine, couple of synths, hardware sequencer) which deals with one part of the track, and then have to create a second (or third) system (different drum machine, effects, samplers, groovebox) which is totally independent of the first. It’s then usually a matter of punching stuff in and out on the desk, dialing in sequences, tweaking etc. I used a computer for years but this forces me to always be thinking: have I enough channels on the desk? Enough plug sockets/patch cables/sampler memory? And when I don’t, I have to come up with some alternative which often takes the track in a different direction. I like that though, it keeps me thinking. Always a puzzle.
OK, true story. A few years ago I saw something in the sky above Brighton beach in the early morning hours. It looked like a large craft of some sort and I tried to film it, but when I attempted to do so my phone went ballistic, opening and closing apps and webpages at high speed. It was as if it was being interfered with electronically. With this track the synths phasing in and out reminded me of the gentle tide at night. Then there’s some sort of electronic menace belching in and out over it which adds to the sinister feel. Anyway, nice to commemorate the weird stuff.
Another track with multiple “systems”, the first half of the track is all digital gear and the latter half all analog. When I say systems I mean the two elements are independent of one another, not synced in any way apart from sometimes using a tap tempo button, like a DJ might do. Quite often this is not by choice, I could be smart and get myself a sophisticated sequencer that controlled everything properly and saved me a lot of heartache. But I’m not very sophisticated and I like cheap old tat. I like that it’s a bit unpredictable and has its own agenda a bit sometimes. I made music with a computer for years, and it was so great for precise stuff but I got a bit carried away with that sort of thing, and I think I lost something of the feeling along the way.
Anyway this track is kind of melancholic, but also a bit ravey. I’d re-bought an old Zoom rack effects unit I had years ago and it has some lovely smeary reverbs. I was working on the track when it arrived and I was keen to put it in somehow, hence the stuff at the end. It flowed quite nicely into the next track too.
This one reminded me of these weird lucid dreams I had when I was quite young. At the time I slept on the lower part of a bunk bed, and I would repeatedly see these clouds of something like TV static that would come “out of the wall” above me, and just hang there. There was a rustling sound too, like an ASMR thing, and the cloud would gently change as the sound changed. I was never frightened, it was all very comforting and I would look forward to seeing it. I had those sensations for a year or so & then they stopped. It might be some kind of synesthesia possibly — my sister has a very strong spelling/taste connection, so maybe it runs in the family. I think the glassy detuned pads and washes of noise in this piece were what reminded me of those instances.
One of my drum machines had piss-weak sounding snare. I’d sold it when I was broke, but managed to pick up another which someone had modded to improve the snare. This was the first track I made with it, and was so delighted it didn’t sound as crap anymore. I thought I should announce it. When the bassline drops a few semitones that is just me switching the sequencer output from 8V to 1V per octave, quite by accident the first time but it sounded good so I used it. I did cut a big chunk out of the original recording —this one was very over long.
Techno innit. Not much more to say about that: my techno tastes haven’t changed much since I was a teenager in the 90s. My earliest exposure to this kind of stuff was through the Volume ‘Trance Europe Express’ & ‘Trance Atlantic’ compilations which came with a book with interviews & photos of the producers studios. They all talked about picking up 303s for 50p and mad stuff like that, but of course I’d missed the boat there. I was always super inspired by all these techno artists talking about making their tracks live, in an hour (!) on really basic gear. I dunno, maybe they were spoofers. Using things like grooveboxes allows you to get passable stuff up and running very quickly though. I’m quite proud of the “scratching” on this track, just some sequenced white noise & some LFO messing.
I really love that old Fixmer/McCarthy “You Want It” track, this was absolutely inspired by that. Though I’m not brave enough to record myself shouting incendary vocals just yet. This was a late addition to the album, for some reason I felt it needed a 13th track. It also mixed well into the last one, as I made one a few days after the other and forgot to change the tempo on the driving sequencer.
I imagine this to be a kind of creeping menace. It could be what travels inside the astromyxin, what gives the star jelly its shape. When the Ddeodfvvlk leave the jelly, it melts away. What is it doing here? What is its agenda? My money’s on something nefarious.
The Ddeodfvlk is not to be confused with the Csyqrjit-nux who are responsible for the abduction/absorbtion of Brontis from a woodland rave on the inside album cover. Those slimey jokers are the true Pirates of the Mycelium. The Ddeodfvlk is something else entirely, something possibly very horrible. The jury is still out for me on this one.
As I said this was from the same setup session as the last track, similar EBM kind of sound. My favourite thing to do since the album came out is to play this track to people, and ask them very sincerely what they think of my flute playing skills. Then I laugh because its a Kaossilator.