Andrew Booker 2008-01-26 00:47:45

A week and a half ago, four of us did a fun gig at The Plough in E17. Not one of our best in terms of consistency, nor one of most exemplary in sticking to the ambient/chillout theme, but then we always like to step on the gas at the Plough.

The best sections were where we slammed into to some full-on hard grooves, gamely augmented and characterised by the two newest additions to the Improvizone family of contributors. Oli Mayne on Roland SH101 dealt some inventive, colourful and surprisingly full bodied playing for a monophonic keyboard. Peter Sellars on electric violin provided a great new slant to the Improvizone sound, wirily twisting and sweeping through the set.

Though enjoyable, the gig was not enough to lift me out of a bit of a January trough, which you might expect to be caused by our Ember residency going up in smoke (the place shows no sign of reopening after the fire there late last year). You may have noticed before yesterday I had not posted a new download for nearly a month. I usually manage to throw something up at least once a week. And add a track or two for you to listen to as well.

The truth is, I just wanted a bit of a break, and Christmas wasn't it. Sometimes you have to clear everything out of the way before you can relax properly, and having no more gigs booked was a nice opportunity for opening a mediocre red, sitting back in front of the TV, generally embalmed in a little enforced down-time. Of course, a few days was all I needed, and I'm now back out looking for somewhere else for us to play, and having a great time listening through the recordings from the Plough gig in December 2007.

I'm mixing these entirely from Os's recordings. Before now, I've been importing his audio files into my own recordings of drums, drum MIDI and room mics, and had to sync them manually. Pain. And I don't mean the French translation of bread. This time however, because I didn't record room mics or play much MIDI-worthy stuff, I've tossed my recordings and it's made the mixdown a lot easier.

I've got signals for Os, Mike, Nick, Achilleas's clean signal, clean drums and effected drums. Everyone except Os is in mono, and although Os is technically in stereo, there isn't a lot of stereo interest there sometimes, so I add a bit with a very slow flanger (I've been using the bojo flanger for this). That can be hazardous for listening in mono, ie with the audio signals mixed to a single channel, but for these downloads I doubt a single person will be, so to hell with it. Everyone except the bass gets panned off centre to various degrees, while the bass gets a little stereo chorus to warm it up a bit, maybe some compression too. Achilleas and Mike get a touch of stereo delay, just to add a little gooey ambient chaos. I don't usually bother, but this time I have to (manually) sync the delay to the track tempo, because Achilleas's flute mic was picking up the drums, so it's a mess otherwise.

The overall mixdown gets an aural exciter (I use the elogoxa x-cita on its default setting), then finally and most importantly, a little level boost and a 0dB limiter to prevent clipping. It's essential to put that last, as the aural exciter can quite easily cause huge peaks on tinkly percussion sounds and other high frequencies, causing severe clipping.

I generally do mixing late in the evening at home, so I monitor with a pair of Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones. They are noise cancelling, but that is less significant than their excellent audio quality. Without them, I would never hear Os's subbass bits. I then check it doesn't sound too nasty through reasonable walkman headphones, ie you can still hear a bit of bottom end. I almost never use speakers for monitoring, basically because I don't anywhere sufficiently soundproof to use them, for keeping noise in and out. Also monitoring through headphones encourages you to add stereo interest that doesn't seem so much of a priority when you listen through speakers.

Onwards, so as to ensure a steady stream of new downloads to rival the best of 2007, I have to find a new venue, and that means trudging all over town looking for one, then effortlessly convincing the manager to take us on. That may read as arrogance, but what I mean is, if they're not easily convinced, I don't want the gig. I have prior experience outside of Improvizone of nagging venue owners unendingly until they finally coughed up a date, and of venue owners bending over backwards and shoving other bands out of the way... OK, perhaps not quite so enthusiastic... and of those two kinds, the gigs with the keen owners and quickly-procured gigs were always the better ones.

Yawn. More downloads on the way in the next few days.

Fire at Ember: 16 Jan 2008 gig cancelled << | >> Recent gigs 1: On Cartel at the Notting Hill Arts Club 26 Feb 08