2009: Let Your Mind Stay
This was the first RPM challenge I did with my friend Kevin who lives in Brooklyn. I had made plenty of music via remote collaborations prior to this but nothing quite like the RPM challenge where you have to funnel all of your activities for album’s worth of material, all within 28 days.
It is interesting collaborating like this in such an intense / short burst kind of way – you are not quite sure who is supposed to do what. Ultimately my main role emerged as a kind of producer – pulling all the differing strands of material together and trying to make it sound coherent
2010: I didn’t do the RPM challenge this year as I was working on the Staring Down Andy installation throughout the whole month of February in order for it to be displayed at Practical Art for the month of March 2010
2011: Looking Outside by APOD
2011: In Limbo by Sonic Magpie
I certainly made up for not doing anything in 2010 by creating 2 CDs in 2011.
The first one was called Looking Outside. We called ourselves APOD – me Kevin and Michael. We had made quite a few pieces prior to this and we didn’t make many more after this. J I think there are some great tunes on ‘Looking Outside’, particularly the first 3 or 4 tracks. My role again for this was ‘producer’, although I did contribute many of the backing tracks.
As this CD was coming together, I was simultaneously working on another one with my friend Cat, sometimes feeding the same backing tracks to her as the ones I was sending to APOD. Neither of the virtual bands knew I was doing this and when Cat found out she got very upset about it. However the reason I did was purely to see how different people would react to the same process/input and how it would affect the final result. So if you listen to the APOD CD and the Sonic Magpie CD, you might be able to detect the similarities in the backing tracks but with totally different vocal melodies and production treatments applied.
Ultimately I was totally transparent with everyone about what I had done and why I had done it and all was OK. The whole thing was an intense, creative wild ride and produced some of the best music I have ever done – particularly Sonic Magpie’s ‘In Limbo’, probably the most consistent set of songs I have ever done for the RPM challenge and one of the ones I still listen to a lot even today.
2013 – Holy Qaug Dab Peg Haley
In 2012 I met Haley through various art scene events. I first met her when I was working with a band called the RPM Orchestra, making videos for them. Haley played violin and tap danced with them at one of the gigs they did that I filmed. After chatting with Haley a few times, she told me the interesting story of her epilepsy and her brain surgery.
As the 2013 RPM challenge month approached I asked her if she would be interested in collaborating on a project about her perceptions of epilepsy and she agreed to let me do a series of interviews with her, which I could then cut up and use as raw material for the CD. It was an interesting experience and ended up sounding like nothing I have ever done before.
Sometimes she would play scratchy and somewhat out of tune bursts of violin during the interview which I sampled and incorporated into the music. She also had a number of seizures while I was interviewing her over the period of a few days which also went into the recording. I found this one very hard to make, the process was very different but ultimately it was a great sense of accomplishment for us both when it was finished and I think we are both proud of what we did, even though it generally doesn’t make for easy listening
2014 – Enovoix
2014 – Anecdotes
In 2014 I made 2 CDs again.
Quite often at the initial brainstorming phase, you come up with many ideas about what you might try to do. In 2013, two of the predominant ideas were to sing along to a load of Brian Eno records – not the words, but the melodies of what the instruments on the records are playing – bass lines, keyboard lines, guitar lines etc – even drums. The process was for me to then take the a cappella vocals I had made and re-contextualize them somehow – slowing them down, reversing them, adding lots of effects, echo and reverb in order to make them something new. So this is what you hear on the enovoix CD.
At the same time, I was interested in the idea of doing something with spoken voices, so I got a lot of people to record various stories and anecdotes which I then made into an almost NPR-like audio book.
Take a listen to my story ‘the mucous plug’ – a variation on my infamous ‘tracheostomy story’ that I used to love telling when I was a nurse working on the floor (both here and in the UK)
In 2015 there may or may not have been a CD I made that was called ‘Imaginary CD’
In fact, I actually did make this CD, all along with the intention that I was only going let it be available to hear for a few days, after which time I would ‘delete’ it.
There are a couple of tracks still up that were included on it – such as ‘Armadillo’, ‘six foot seven’ and ‘Notes of Sorrow’
2016: Escape Achieve (with Sylvia Frost)
Another year where I managed to do two CDs.
The bulk of the work was done on ‘Escape Achieve’ with Sylvia which was based on our reflections of aging, death and melancholy’. It was quite a personal project for Sylvia because it allowed her to process some of the feelings about the death of her mother which she had never really resolved. Sylvia as got a great voice and a great way with words. It was great working with her on this unusual CD.
The Bowivoix CD came about as a result of Bowie dying a few weeks before and served as a great way of me being able to process that. Using a similar idea as I did for the enovoix CD, I simply recorded myself singing along with a bunch of Bowie records – this time, I just sang and hummed the backing vocals of these songs and then put new music in the background. I pulled all this together in the last couple of days of Feb 2016, so it was a bit rushed and is always something I have wanted to return to make it better in some way
2017: what will we leave behind?
2017’s effort didn’t come too easily. I went into it truly with a blank canvas, not having any idea at all where it was going to take me.
A group of 6 or 7 of us created a dropbox folder and we were all adding various files, musical snippets, midi files, field recordings, the idea that any of us could use any of this material in any way we wanted so at least something would be made.
I also got into the strange world of midi scripters (thanks to brian eno). A midi scripter is a program that lets you put musical information in to it and depending on what parameters you set, it plays it back in a totally random way, basically creating a new piece of music from the original piece of information each time it is played. Hours of fun with this.
Many years ago, I bought a copy of Brian Enos book called ‘A Year with Swollen Appendix’. This book is his diary for 1995. So I went through his entries for the whole month of Feb and picked odd words or phrases to use as the song titles
2018: Sun Sets
To bring it all up to date is this years ‘Sun Sets’ I found it much more difficult to become engaged with the whole RPM challenge this, even more so than I did in 2017. I wasn’t really getting into it and almost gave up the ghost on a few occasions. If I measure my level engagement with the 2018 effort based on the APOD/Sonic Magpie year being 100% I would have to say it was below 50%.
I went through a convoluted process of creating with a number of crazy barriers and parameters to try and make me do something different (including setting up a recording studio with 2 computers inside my garage – right next to my ….studio)
In the end, a friend of mine Bill Grundmann improvised some piano parts and sent me the midi file, which I then put through the midi scripters. I ended up with a few ambient sounding pieces which a have a certain quality about them, they remind me of the sun sets / magic hours I have seen numerous times on many of my walks.
So that is what I decided to call the 2018 CD. I still remain about 65% satisfied with this, even though some of the pieces are starting to grow on me (‘Still Blue’, ‘Blood’)