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 UK musician Mark Burford (aka Field Lines Cartographer / Impulse Array) whose album The Glimmering Plane is out now. Mark’s music was described by Electronic Sound magazine as “The sound of big, strange worlds”.
Visit our archives to read/hear more stories! You can also listen to a guest mix compiled for us by Polypores (aka Stephen Buckley) that includes FLC track DUGA 1. The Blow Volume 6, split between FLC and Polypores, came out last year on Front & Follow.
This album came about really fast – almost of it’s own volition seemingly. A couple of the tracks existed in a basic form as live tracks – sketches to add to & improvise over – & indeed I’d done that at my last couple of gigs before
the Coronavirus ‘Lockdown’ happened in late March.
Then with upcoming gigs either cancelled or postponed I unpacked my instruments & set my tiny home studio back up. Starting with these live ‘jam’ tracks I started recording again, fairly quickly, using the benefit of a bit more time & mental ‘space’ that the C-19 lockdown enabled.
Music is always a brilliant escape – but I found right now that focusing on writing & recording was really transporting me elsewhere for a couple of hours or so most days – I felt a real mental benefit from not thinking at all about what was going on in the real world. I realized that writing this music was in effect a type of meditation – I was literally focused on the single act of playing, jamming, refining & recording in non-stop 2 or 3 hour sessions at a time.
I augmented the two live tracks & wrote three more from scratch & soon had about 62 minutes of stuff I was enjoying listening back to. I concentrated on & tried to enhance the transportive, meditative elements of the music I was working on – my idea was for a sort of music of the spheres’ – fairly positive, not dark but with a raw, sort of ‘pagan’ thrust to it. Like an ancient incantation designed to transport mind, body & soul, at least for a while.
This was in the space of about 12, maybe 14 days I guess. At that point I realized I had an album – & if it had made me feel better then I assumed – for better or worse ! – that listening to it might have the same effect on other people – an escape into your headphones.
This was one of the live tracks I’d already jammed around live a couple of times. Its backbone is made from some really old recordings – I reckon they could be over 15 years old – that I’d found on some ‘scratch’ DAT tapes. I think these were out-takes & soundchecks of some Chinese musicians I’d been working with for a commercial studio project & the acoustic guitar type sounds you can hear are actually a Chinese stringed instrument a bit like a lute – I’ll be honest the name of the instrument escapes me.
I used the Digitakt sampler to cut tiny bits of this up & you can really mangle samples brilliantly with it – using an LFO to modulate the sample start point randomly. This coupled with the sequencer’s ability to set-up probabilistic note triggers enabled me to create a sort of ‘random-but-not-random’ sequence that I could manipulate live too. The big pedal-bass drones are samples of the ancient Roland SH-1000 synthesizer that resides ar our commercial studio, & then I also added some windchime samples I’d made a couple of years ago, again using the cut-up, almost granular sample mangling the Digitakt enables.
I then jammed some simple 2, 3 & 4 note melodic parts that sit very low in the mix from my Moog Mother-32, some wind / breath white noise sounds & tonnes of FX from my usual array of delay & reverb pedals. I really like way the bass drones in this change not quite when you expect them to, given the clever Digitakt sequencing – it almost
feels like nothing quite repeats in exactly the same way, even though the piece is at first listen extremely repetitive!
This came about from a nice patch I set-up on my tiny little modular synth set-up. A Beatstep Pro is driving MI Rings & a Mother-32 / Intellijel Dixie module patch.
There are big bandpass filter washes through an Intellijel uVCF module whilst MI Plaits provides a harmonic part. The whole thing was recorded as a single live stereo take from the modular with additional FX again from pedals & the Strymon Magneto module. A couple of overdubs of Moog Grandmother were added at the end – an arpeggio that runs totally unsynchronised wanders in & out & there’s also a little melody part towards the end, just played by hand like a lot of this album. This was one those pieces that seemed to have a life of it’s own – tweaking the various modulation sources, filters & FX really seemed to be one big ‘sweet spot’ & I probably could have recorded 30 minutes of it straight – it got really hypnotic when I was deep in the patch.
This is one of two tracks on the album to use the ‘magic frequency’ sample I found in one of the wierd corners of YouTube! Sampled into the Digitakt & processed heavily within.
The rest of the track is again a stereo mix of my little modular done in a single take : the main sequence is the Mother-32 with the Dixie II+ adding a second detuned oscillator, Rings & Plaits are warbling away through a couple of different filters, including the brilliant MI Ripples, all being modulated in various ways by an MI Tides module.
A Moog Grandmother bass drone builds slowly throughout. This was was the first track on the album I fully completed & really set the tone of the sort of cosmic, almost new-age type vibe I was hearing in my head.
I wanted one track to have a deeper, darker more mysterious feel.. this track was the result. I had the idea of something huge & monolithic, endless.
I set-up MI Tides to run at audio rates: it becomes a wonderful oscillator with really great control of the intervals between up to four discrete pitches..so this is providing the central quasi-arpeggio riff – no external sequencers were used in this patch. The other modules are providing various pitched drones that I was able to both modulate & control manually, bringing then in & out by feel. MI Plaits provides an almost choral drone voice & I overdubbed a single Mother-32 part, a falling melody, just played off the tiny little M-32 keyboard. There’s a huge amount of Eventide SPACE pedal on this one to really give it that huge, otherwordly feel. Little overdubbed MI Plaits ‘bubbles’ & other granular effects populate the very extended outro.
I think this track just provides a welcome change of tone in the album – still positive & transcendental but a tad darker & ambiguous.
This was the other track I’d been playing live. It’s centered from another find from an old scratch DAT – some old piano recordings. I applied the Digitkt cut-up effect again & a sampled chord from my ancient DX-21 synth & some looped single cycle waveform samples, all sequenced & processed within the Digitakt.
The modular provides various modulated drones and sweeping effects whilst again I just played a Mother-32 underscore part from it’s tiny keyboard. This was all jammed out as a single stereo take. A single super-slow, non-synchronized Grandmother arpeggio creeps in slowly over the last third of the piece, overdubbed right at the end of the process just to add another texture. I really like the slow, uplifting feel of this track, it seemed to be the perfect way of finishing the album off.