Released: June 2023

Equipment: Modal Argon 8 synthesizer, Arturia KeyStep Pro sequencer


After the struggles I'd had working with the Anyma Phi on Corpus I decided to return to my familiar instruments, choosing to start with the Argon 8 and, eventually, to produce another album with a single synthesizer. This has become my standard way of working, limiting my musical palette helps me sidestep the creative paralysis of "Too many options!", lets me build up an easy familiarity with the interface, and allows me to explore some of the intricacies/quirks of the synth. I'd not used the Argon 8 for a while so it was a good opportunity to rediscover it and, following a recent purge of instruments, let me decide whether I wanted to keep it or not. After a fairly brief period of familiarisation (and some visits to the manual) it all came flooding back and I found myself smoothly setting up new sounds and using previously unknown functions. And it was really nice to return to the Argon 8's full sized, nicely weighted keybed (keyboard) after the KeyStep's mini keys, I'm a pretty poor keyboardist but even I could appreciate the difference.

The title hints at the creative process on multiple levels. I started working on this new collection of tunes without much in the way of ideas but following the adage "When having trouble with your Art, work on your Craft". In general I write music almost as a collage - starting with an idea, adding another element, then seeing where that leads me - rather than having an artistic vision that I methodically build towards and this explore/refine process seems much more of a craftsmanlike approach that the traditional artist, wrestling with a tortured soul. I'm intrigued by how often (especially in mythology) people with god-given skills are readily lauded while those who create tools or develop their own abilities are viewed with mixed feelings or outright suspicion, crafting being seen as going beyond man's 'proper place' or unleashing powers beyond our ability to control. Once I'd found the cover image there were even more resonances - a human looking face that had been carved (and probably as one of several identical copies), the suggestion that at least some aspects of our essential personalities could be due to mechanistic effects, the hope that we can be the artisans of our own development. The fact that I regularly use sequencers to automate repeating patterns added another level of reflection on where Art meets Craft.

Although the more 'traditional' control layout made sound creation much, much easier I found myself drifting into familiar (bad) habits - mostly getting stuck in the same patterns and producing tunes that had a lack of variety, both in tones & structure. Rather than agonise too much over this I decided to accept what my imagination came up with and move on, better to complete something than try to force it in a direction it doesn't want to go. A more disturbing development was my inability to record some sections without many, many takes, I'm not sure whether this is increasing decrepitude or trying to push my playing beyond its limits - we shall see.

Having said all that I was pleasantly surprised by the final results. The Argon 8's wavetable engine is on full display with its trademark glassy, bell-like tones and I made a few ventures into more extreme (for me) digital modulation while still keeping a generally smooth palette of sounds. Most of the songs have a fairly conventional structure but I managed to find a few unexpected transitions, time signatures, and chord choices. The thing that most pleased me was finding a groove for most of the tracks, something that I often find quite a challenge with electronica.

Impulse has a very mechanical feel with the lead line emphasising this with quasi-random tonal variations.

Transitive goes through a series of smooth transitions over its syncopated rhythmic base. Some nice chords in this one.

Freedive was based around a sequencer line that had an underwater feel to my ears, hence the name. A very simple structure adds to the sense of being outside of time.

Skipstep has a wonderfully convoluted rhythm pattern, exaggerated with extreme stereo positioning. A nicely poppy tune despite the challenge in trying to dance to it.

Flotsam is another of my 'drifting' pieces with slow melodic lines over a spacious sequencer backing. I enjoyed 'breaking up' the song structure to provide some unexpected changes.

Recycler has more 'randomised' tones to contrast with the (almost) unchanging sequencer line. Unusually for me there's some electronic percussion, all done on the Argon 8. The title refers to the repeating sequencer line as well as my fear that I was unconsciously reworking an old piece (which turned out not to be the case).

Somnambulist lays a dreamlike arrangement over an offbeat rhythmic base, with an unusual chord sequence to add to the 'sleepwalking' feel.

Cloistered started as an experiment in progressive chord changes, rather like some of my 'Exercise' pieces. The initial organ sounds gave a church atmosphere which I ran (or meditatively paced) with before adding the strange bells to take it in a different direction. I nearly gave up with this one but I ended up rather liking it.