Blancmange, Commercial Break

I am always up for a new Blancmange album, and I have waited a while for this one. It is an album made with Benge and yet it still has a Blancmange feel. According to the Blancmange site:

“Commercial Break reflects on how the current situation has impacted and re-shaped our perception and experience of everyday life, hinting at new possibilities ahead.

Random field recordings collected for the album triggered many of the songs. Arthur lists them as follows . . .”

Blancmange
  • Two electric saws
  • Waves breaking on beach
  • People talking/moving (indistinct words)
  • A dishwasher
  • Ambient mic recording to pick up background noise
  • Close mic recording to collect the body noise of guitar
  • Bird song (-2 octaves)
  • Metal gate closing and metal gate locking
  • Beach with people and waves breaking
  • Old water pump

I have only listened to this album a couple of times so far, but there are some really interesting sounds being used here. Not just in terms of the field recordings, which are good, but also the overall sound of each of the songs was really interesting and quite unique at times.

As I’ve been a fan of Blancmange for most of my life now there is always the sense that the next album will still be good and that I really should like it. However, for the most part I do. Some albums more than others of course. But this one feels like a progression. A step forward.

After hearing this I decided to go back to a few Blancmange albums of recent years including the instrumental albums ‘Nil by Mouth’. These are all good, solid works. Thoughtful and not always entirely easy to listen to, a quality I applaud.

Blancmange, albeit only half of the original eighties duo, have grown up gracefully. The music has matured from the interesting pop of the first few albums into something that still retains some of the uniqueness that made them popular (at least popular with me), whilst having a more philosophical leaning to it.

I look forward to more of this journey in the future.

PalmSounds would have been 15 today

It seems odd to me that my original blog would have turned 15 years old today. Odd and slightly sad that it is no longer an ongoing thing. Like all good things, it naturally came to an end. If that were not the case, it would have been a cause for celebration. But perhaps it still should be. There were a lot of high points from my long journey with PalmSounds. I made a lot of friends. I saw a lot of people get a huge amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from using mobile devices to make music, and I saw some truly amazing technology during those years.

To mark the occasion I thought I would remember some of those high points, and share a few of them with you. Like talking at Roli’s ‘modern music industry‘ event.

And meeting Roger Linn at another event at their offices. Which was an unexpected treat.

PalmSounds brought me to Heart n Soul too. Which was an amazing experience for me with many highlights. Again, I won’t list all of them, there are simply too many, but the events we did were truly incredible experiences.

And those were just some of the high points. There were so many more.

Blancmange: Nil By Mouth II

I actually like this series of albums by Blancmange. Although that is no surprise really as I enjoy almost everything that they do these days. Nil by mouth is an interesting idea though. Probably one that most old 1980’s bands wouldn’t necessarily toy with. But Blancmange are a bit more experimental than most, and seem very comfortable with putting out not one, but three albums of what is, in their own words, soundtrack music for unmade films.

I like the idea. I like the music. I have all three. I hope that they do more.

The quantified self, the sonified self

The idea of the quantified self is not a new one at all. Capturing data on steps, heart rate, weight etc is something that a lot of people do on a regular basis. I’ve been slowly taking this on board for over a year. It started with just step counting but now extends to all manner of data. However, in the last few months I’ve began to extend this into a new concept which I call ‘the sonified self’, that might be something that already exists, but if it does I’m not aware of it. This involved the capture of data, again like steps, motion, heart rate etc and turning that data into sound, or in fact music when that’s possible

I’ve been experimenting with this idea for a few months now, and more recently I think some of my experiments have got to the point where I might even share them. Not in this post, but perhaps in the coming weeks.

Before I do share some of the experimental output I plan to go into more detail about how the process works for me, or at least the component parts of the process and the technologies involved in it. As you might imagine the process involves a number of different devices and apps. However, in the centre of all of this is an app called Holonist. Holonist is in many ways the operating system for my ‘sonified self’ concept. Without it the whole process would not hang together at all.

Holonist really deserves a post all on its own. It’s a complex piece of software and I have barely scratched the surface of it. There’s a lot more to learn and experiment with, and I’m very aware that I am at the start of what could be a long journey.

The next post on this topic will probably focus entirely on the Holonist app itself, after that I’ll cover the process, and, hopefully by then I’ll be able to share some output.

And the plants are singing to me

If this doesn’t mean anything to you then don’t worry. I have to admit it’s a very obscure niche. Sonifying the bio data from plants might seem odd, esoteric even, but to me it’s something really interesting.

I remember seeing MIDI Sprout on Kickstarter, but felt that the price point was prohibitive. However, I always felt that it was something that I wanted to try out. So I watched for one on eBay, and finally one came up at a reasonable price. So I bought it and it worked beautifully.

The little video is with a coffee plant. My plan is to try the MIDI Sprout with a range of different plants to see if there are noticeable differences in each plant’s musical output. As and when I do I’ll post the results. Probably with video too.

However, this isn’t the only kind of sonification project I have on the go, but more of that another time.

Uncommon Deities

This is undoubtedly my favourite album of all time. It is a work of tremendous and rare beauty, and every time I listen to it I am stunned by just how complete and unique it is.

I listen to it only when I have the time to devote myself entirely to listening to it without distraction, as it just isn’t the kind of music that you can listen to in the background. At least that’s my opinion.

However, I’ve recently just sat down and read the poems that are an integral part of Uncommon Deities. On their own they are incredibly beautiful. As a part of the whole they’re even better. But even so, I really enjoyed reading them in isolation.

Endlesss, collaborative music making on iOS

I’ve been playing with Endlesss for a little while now. A few weeks anyway. To begin with I wasn’t sure quite what to make of it. Now I’m beginning to realise that I’ve only just scratched the surface and that there is a huge amount more that I can do with it, and also that I can do with others, after all, it is collaborative.

The idea of Endlesss is really simple. You create what Endlesss calls ‘Jams’. Each jam is like a track, except it isn’t. It is much more than that. A jam consists of ‘riffs’ (or it may be ‘rifffs’, I’m not sure). Each of these is like a moment in time when you add something to the jam, and as you build these up, adding instruments etc, you get a journal of sorts showing how this track (I use that term simply for ease) has developed and changed.

Here’s what the journal looks like

In isolation that’s pretty interesting in itself. But the more impressive feature is that you can take any point in the journal and then take your jam in a different direction. For me this is probably the most interesting aspect of Endlesss.

Endlesss Journal view

As you can see there are a number of different iterations of this jam and they’re grouped by date. This makes taking ideas in different directions very easy.

The wonderful world of Griff

The excellent Griff application for Windows Mobile

This is a little journey back in time to before there were iPhones, and when PDAs were big. Ok, not big perhaps, but prevalent to a degree. Back then there were a few applications (we didn’t call them apps back then), that were for music, but, to be honest, they were few and far between. Also there was no standard architecture for things like plug ins on mobile. So it was an interesting time.

One of the most interesting and advanced was Griff. It was a Windows Mobile application, and it had a unique architecture, at least in terms of mobile applications. Griff was essentially a sequencer with a plug in architecture allowing it to be highly extensible.

There was also a reasonable number of these plug ins too. Mainly synths, but also samplers and drum machines. It was very cool in a world before iOS music making.

Whilst it’s not completely abandoned, the web site is still there. It isn’t what it quite was, but you can still find things, and you can still download things I think.

Whilst it’s understandable that Griff is no longer a going concern I still feel a little wistful about it. I remember first discovering it, although I was late to the party. It was a real revelation, and I actually bought a more powerful Windows Mobile PDA to be able to use it.

This is a good project for these times. Especially if you have an old Windows Mobile PDA hanging around. As I do!

Waiting Room Volume 1

An album from Blancmange for the quarantine from Coronavirus

A new album from one of my favourite bands, “Blancmanage”. Waiting Room (Volume 1).

Apparently this is a collection of songs that didn’t fit anywhere else. I can understand how that happens. It makes sense to me. I bought it, mainly to support Blancmange in these strange and troubled times. I didn’t expect much, but, on the whole, these are pretty good tracks.

They certainly have a feel of not really fitting together, and, if this makes any sense at all, that sort of binds them together. In a ‘not really binding together’ way. Which I will admit makes no sense either.

I’ll listen to them again soon(-ish), and I may even write something more about this collection of songs. Who knows.


More about Blancmange

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SynthPond is in fact still around

I still think that this is a really innovative app for iOS (before it was called iOS of course), and I wish it had been kept up to date, but sadly that was not to be.

I was taking a look at it again on my old iPhone 3G, and decided to look it up. I found that whilst the app wasn’t maintained for iOS it is available as a Max patch, and also for Pd as well. Which is really cool.

I thought you might be interested. You can find both patches here.