History of RPM Challenge

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)

 2016: Bowivoix

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’)


I’m Deranged

It has got under my skin (again)

I am thinking of trying to do a version myself and am posting the attempts here of a few others who have already tried (for reference) it so I can avoid mistakes or emulate successes


Imaginary CD: RPM Challenge 2015

Here is the track list for my 2015 RPM Challenge

The album is called ‘Imaginary CD’

What you see below may or may not be true

1. Looking For Comets


She told me that we could go out looking for comets, but when we did, all we saw was a fuzzy green smudge

Steinway ‘Model D’ Grand piano recorded at the San Carlos hotel in Phoenix, Arizona – played by Sylvia Frost

Synthesizers and comet ambiance – particledots

Initial recording at the San Carlos Hotel, Phoenix AZ on February 1st.

Overdubs and further recording, final mix at particledots studio, February 19th-22nd

2. Katherine’s Kristmas Tree

Photo Feb 22, 7 07 56 PM

She said she could put all of tuxedomoon on a 32 gb flash drive – so I got one shaped like a christmas tree

Elka synthex, Roland Jupiter 6, digital audio manipulation and a still empty 32gb USB flash drive – particledots

Recorded and Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 2nd

3. The Queen of Jupiter


She has no face, she can be who she wants to be. She inspires and impresses me – I gave her a voice

Star sounds and twinkle elements – particledots
Drummer parameters in Logic X – MUNGO

Recorded and  on February 3rd at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ

Final mix February 19th-22nd

4. The Notes of Sorrow


The notes are written down and I can hear the sadness as I read them

Crumar Spirit – recorded in Bristol UK by LightspeedFutureLullaby
Moog Theremin – Katherine Layden
Korg mini pops drum machine and twang guitar – Brent Miles
prophet 5 synthesizer, EMS VCS1 (for guitar treatments) – particledots

Recorded and  on February 9th  at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ

Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 19th-22nd

5. Love


We need to see and hear more of it, it’s important

Mysterious piano and lost and found love message – O.T.  (I still don’t know who s/he is.)

Recorded by particledots at Hansa Tonstudio, Berlin on February 14 2014

Final mix at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 19th-22nd

6. Ballet of the Planets


Sometimes all we need to do is look up to see the dance

Phoenix Subterranean Choir – Erica Weems, Dorian Michelle Vrenden, Winston Smith, particledots, Mona Nigholson and Shawna Franks – singing with our heads held high
Baldwin electric piano, Crumar Orchestrator, Mellotron – particledots

Choir recorded at the Ice House, Phoenix AZ – February 13th

Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 19th-22nd

7. Environment 2


Its where we visit

Yamaha DX7, treatments, oblique strategies – Brian Eno
wind chimes – particledots
home made propane tank hang drum – Neil Gearns

Recorded by particledots at Hansa Tonstudio, Berlin on February 15 2014

Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 19th-22nd

8. Environment 1


Is where we live

Yamaha DX7, natural soundscape modifiers and filters – Brian Eno
tape loops and yamaha CS 1 and wem copycat echo – Keith Rogers

Initial recording at Hansa Tonstudio, Berlin on February 15 2014

Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 19th-22nd

9. Armadillo


Bob Dorsey was having some problems with his giant Armadillo. Trent Reznor got to hear about it and decided to donate an unused backing track for inspiration and motivation

Initial music idea – Bob Dorsey.
Trent Reznor – drums, bass, keyboards, loops
Bianca explaining what she does

Initial recording at Hansa Tonstudio, Berlin on february 15 2014

Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 19th-22nd

10. Six Foot Seven


They told me that they are both in the ‘6foottallplus club’. i told them that i would try not to tower over them at 6’7’’.
I lied….

Casio Keyboard – Julian Marquesen – recorded in Los Angeles, California – early February
Guest appearances from APOD (particledots, Michael 2, kevin ‘bud’ jones – and special APOD guests Eric Van Ausdal and Bob Dorsey and Marc Goemans) – creating that motorik vibe

Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ – February 19th-22nd

10. Exactly the same


If its not exactly the same, its very similar …or maybe its just different

Casio Keyboard – Julian Marquesen – recorded in Los Angeles, California, Toy box wind up noises – Henry Dupuis

Mixed at particledots studio, Phoenix AZ February 19th-22nd

Sylvia Frost – Piano
Erica Weems – Vocals
Dorian Michelle Vreeden – Vocals
Dave Griffiths – Synths
MUNGO – drum parameters
Katherine Laydon – theremin
Keith Rogers – Synths and tape loops
Bob Dorsey – synthesizers and armadillo
Brian Eno – Synthesizers
Trent Reznor – loops, keyboards and bass
Neil Gearns – propane hang drum
Henry Dupuis – toy box
Brent Miles – guitar
Kevin Bud Jones – Electronics
Michael Marquesen -various digital effects and manipulations
Eric Van Ausdal – keyboards
Marc Goemans – undefinable electronic strangeness

Overseeing all activities at all times, everywhere – the thin(k) blank human

Recorded at various locations in Berlin, West Germany, Phoenix Arizona, Bristol and Coseley UK

Songs compiled and arranged on Logic 9, and Logic X

Produced by particledots

Night of the Long Drone

I recently created a slowly evolving drone track that is 8 hrs long

I was inspired by a performance called ‘Otoacoustic Emissions‘ which was hosted by Jacob Adler at St Augustine’s Episcopal Parish on Halloween night.  In preparation for the event, the following instructions were given “Memorize the harmonic series: C-G-E-Bb-D-F#-G#-B.

The performance consisted of an continuous drone that was almost imperceptibly quiet to begin with but increased in volume as the performers layered more and more notes on top of each other until at one point it felt like the walls of the church were shaking.

Then it slowly faded out…except for the original drone.

The whole thing lasted for almost 90 minutes.

Rewinding to a couple of days prior to the Otoacoustic Emissions performance, I attempted to construct my own piece using the information about the harmonic sequence. However, I misinterpreted the instructions and actually created a piece which was just under 5 minutes long where the notes played in sequential order. After seeing the performance I revisited this piece and decided to time stretch it.

I ended up with a piece of music that was 8 hours long – an eerie sounding, continually evolving drone

I had the idea of taking the first 2.5 hours of the track, chopping it up into 20 minute segments and offering each piece to a musician to improvise over with the intention of recompiling the the whole thing back together along with the new additions

I outlined some basic parameters and instructions for potential participants

1) There are 8 x20 minute drone pieces – pick a number from 1 to 8 and I will send you a drone track to improvise over and record to

2) Each musician will work in isolation from each other…we will only know what the ‘whole’ sounds like when I recompile all of the pieces.

3) Work quickly – do whatever you like, vocals/spoken word, percussion, guitar, any combination of any instruments or sounds, create your own additional drones over the top of my drone – but don’t spend too long on it and get it back to me as quickly as you can

4) I will need 2 tracks back from you – a ‘mix’ with your playing along to the drone, and a stereo mix of your accompaniment without the drone

Eventually I had 8 volunteers who were willing to play with this idea

This is what they came up with

Drone 1: Victor Eijkhout:

I played Kueng bass and (briefly) tenor recorders.  After listening to the drone I saw that it had shifting tonal centers, so I decided to just improvise against it, using the drone note as both something to consonate with and to dissonate against.  The first 2/3 of my track are fairly melodic; in the end I went on a more microtonal bend, using slides and variations in breath pressure to explore the inside of intervals. The only effect is a little reverb.

Drone 2: Ed Hannifin

Note from me:  Ed’s track is rather brilliant and deserves to be a piece in its own right but in the context of this piece I felt we needed a bit more space to let the drone breath.

So, I asked Ed to send me the Logic file to allow me to tinker, and tinker I did.  I extracted the DNA of Ed’s original piece and kept many of the elements but used them in a radically altered way, processing with logic audio’s flex time.

All of the playing is Ed Hannifin.

All of the ‘jiggery-pokery’ is me.

Drone 3: Michael Marquesen

I used samples from the NASA sound cloud page that were chopped up and run through a bit crusher and Logics tape delay.
Kontakt piano with Valhalla Shimmer reverb on a send
Synth Magic 8 OBLIQUE S synth

Drone 4: Andy Wigze

I used a Cannonball Tenor Sax on this.

A few years ago Harold Luper had invited me to a friend’s ranch near Glen Rose, Texas. The next morning he was leaning against a fence near his truck plunking out a song on a really beat up parlor guitar. His is the voice you hear.

Harold never knew that I recorded him that day.

The eerie varying pitch sound is wind blowing through a glass atrium door. At work, I am around a lot of large crowds and open mics, so I record a bit of that whenever it sounds interesting. Also, there are grandson sounds and the singing at the end is a gentleman that has been playing music for 60 years, Pastor Groff.

Drone 5: Kevin Bud Jones

I played “The Rig” in a straight through one take recording after listening to the drone once.
It consists of an Arturia Microbrute synth that I run through a series of guitar pedals – Mooer pitch shifter, T.C. Electronics Flashback delay, Behringer Super Fuzz, Boss CE2 chorus, Moogerfooger ring mod and Electroharmonics Holy Grail Nano reverb.

Then I also used an Akai MPX8 Sample Trigger through an Alesis AirFX then a Boss D6 delay to a Ditto Looper. My iPad Mini was running iDensity granular app through a Boss DM2 delay into a Digitech Jam Man looper. The three “instruments” are run through a Mackie 4 channel mixer with the output into a Boomerang Phrase Sampler – then out to record.

Drone 6: Brent Miles

Fender Stratocaster with an E-Bow on the A string, which was capoed on the first fret because I wanted the drone in Bb. The guitar was hooked to a chain of pedals: Behringer Reverb Machine -> Boss OC-3 -> Boss RC-20 Loop Station -> Line 6 Echo Park -> Line 6 Pocket POD Express. Then it went into a Zoom H2N digital recorder, which I used to record the whole 20-minute drone live, in its entirety, to a stereo wav file.

Drone 7: Matthew Mosher

I used an Akai LPD8 for knobs and Max/MSP. It’s a double sine wave one octave apart run through a dual harmonic frequency modulation patch. I think I started in D and shifted to G 1/3 of the way in. It’s very low frequency. I’d just gotten back from otoacoustic emissions so I did a similar slow fade in to overwhelming roar with a quick fade out over the 20min.

Drone 8: Bill Grundmann

I used all Garage Band synths,

In the order they first appear…

Voice Generator: Classical Ensemble. long attack and release, no effects. pencil tooled.
Radio Sounds. Spectral Blurring 88.8%. and compressor on one of them. pencil tooled.
Tuned Percussion: African Kalimba. 3 tracks, tape echo. pencil tooled.
Analog Mono. AUMatrixReverb. 2 tracks with slightly different Glide rates. improvised on keyboard.
Woodwind: Indian Shehnai Oboe. AUMatrixReverb. 2 copies, one slightly delayed. improvised on keyboard. manual pitch bend.
Church Organ. AUMatrixReverb plus Master Reverb. very low gain. as a subliminal drone. pencil tooled.

This evening, I reassembled all the components

I realize that this is a piece of music that no one will ever listen to from start to finish, but here in all of its glory is the 3:15 version of our experiment with a long drone.

Don’t Drone Alone

Feel free to tune in and tune out of the piece at any point but if you can at least make an attempt to listen to it all in one go when you have 3.5 hours to spare

I am considering trying to organize a one off ‘listening event’ somewhere locally, a small venue or the top of South Mountain or a remote desert location where the piece will begin to play in the daylight hours and finish just over 3hrs later when it is dark

RPM 2013. Thoughts from the mid-point

Yesterday i sequenced some of the tracks I have made with Haley’s voice and violin together in a dummy run for what might become the finished CD

I have been saving all the works in progress to a dropbox folder that i titled ‘Inside Haley’s Head’  Without an alternative title for the CD at this point I have suggested to Haley that this is what we might call it.  Not sure if she will agree

Out of all the tracks i have constructed, i selected 12.  This may not be the final 12 and there may end up being more or less tracks than this.  I decided earlier this week that i wont spend too much time fretting about mixing and producing this material, mainly because a heavy load at work is making me mentally exhausted most nights and the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer analyzing stuff (like mixes) when i get back home.  

That being said, i am pleasantly surprised with the coherence of the project as a whole when i listen to it in this format.  I am glad that i decided to incorporate and build many of the pieces around Haley’s violin playing which i recorded on feb 1st.  Of course, her story telling about the experiences of epilepsy and brain surgery are key to the glue and the consistency of the piece as well and listen to as whole the CD has a very haunting quality.


Some of the tracks veer from atonal drone like soundscapes, to stuff that Tuxedomoon may have made back in the early 80s, to penguin cafe orchestra-like vignettes and there is even one piece that is somewhat reminiscent of a fragment from the smile (or maybe smiley smile) sessions.

I should also add that I have been listening to the progress of a couple of other RPMers..kevin Bud Jones and Bill Flynn, both of whom i have collaborated with in varying degrees in the past.  Bill has kindly shared a couple of his Logic Audio files with me as he has been working.  I was also very interested by one of his ‘work in progress’ pieces which is just played on electric piano.  I suggested that he reverse the whole thing and play the file at half speed.  He did this on my suggestion and sent me the file saying he didnt like the result very much.  I did!! So i took his file, cut it into tiny pieces and reassembled it at random and then built a whole new piece around it.  This is now called ‘The Brain Remembers How to have Seizures’ on our CD and it is one of my favorites.  Kevin has been encouraging people to collaborate with him on a ‘duet’ project.  He is only allowed to use his pro-one analog synth and his collaborator can only use one instrument or their voice themselves.  I have adapted the piece i did with Kevin and have used it on our CD also…so many thanks to both of you.

My next steps are to think about some additional audio clips from Haley’s ‘interviews’ on some of the pieces.  I will also probably to do some rudimentary tidying up of the mixes/arrangements tomorrow, as well as think of titles for some of the untitled pieces.  I will not deviate from the ‘kindergarten’ approach to production and mixing i have adopted for this project.  I also need to be thinking of some liner notes and cover art.  I might make some photos with Haley if she is available but i might also just use some random pictures from my rapidly growing collection of photo experiments of my own

I wish I wasnt feeling so exhausted most days from my real job, this might sound and feel very different if that aspect of my life was different at the moment

Lets see what the next week brings…