Simon James

Electronic Breeze

I am an image in a ball of glass. The World is suspended there, and I in it.

The second project by Simon for Lo Recordings in the SPACIOUSNESS series.

Simon is a master of electronic manipulation, an alchemical wizard whose previous work has been released on labels such as Golden Ratio Frequencies, Castles in Space and Death Waltz Records.

These two long form pieces were created to sit gently in the background, to add a subtle tint to your space or experience.

Based on the south coast of England in a rare area that overlooks mainly industrial works on the otherwise tourism focused stretch of seafront. His musical output can sometimes reflect this location and sees him combines electronic sources such as the Buchla 200e Electric Music Box, with field recordings and experimental sound treatments.

Originally created to play in a physical space created by architect Ab Rogers for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, it was important that my compositions connected with the positive philosophies of Maggie Keswick Jencks, and contributed to a space that would be stimulating, elevating and inspiring.

My initial idea was using a generative composition technique that would create a slowly evolving piece with controllable elements. My main instrument, the Buchla Electric Music Box synthesiser, lends itself to this approach.

Nick Luscombe, (who commissioned the work) suggestion of wind chimes led me to find a French company, Zaphir, that make a  beautiful range of wind chimes, each with a different series of notes. With this discovery a compositional approach had started to form; I would create two pieces to be used at different times of the day, each using one of the wind chimes, with subtle electronics that would loosely mirror those chimes.

I programmed the Buchla Synthesizer with the notes from each wind chime and created a generative self playing patch. If left alone this setup would play forever, randomly playing back those preprogrammed notes, but never repeating itself. The ‘Source of Uncertainty’ module (a key element of the Buchla modular synthesizer) providing an ‘electronic breeze’ to activate and modify the notes. My role as a performer involved directing how this breeze would affect certain properties of the electronic sound – the intensity, speed, pitch range, amplitude envelope, timbre and position in the stereo field. This material was recorded first.

I then added Kalimba via the Ciat Lombarde Cocoquantus, a lo-fi cosmic looping device. This added a dusty warm fuzzy character, sometimes happy to sit in the background, with occasional musical motifs peeking out and interacting with the Buchla electronics.
The wind chimes were added last. I let the Buchla electronics track guide the intensity and timing of the performance of these, continuing the idea of the ‘electronic breeze’ running through these pieces.

At all times I was conscious of the space in which this music had to exist and how it would be experienced by the people using that space. It had to be quite contained – too intrusive and it would be a distraction, possibly even annoying. On the other hand I knew the space would be multi purpose, some people might be there to relax whilst others might use the space to work, and so I wanted it to have moments of calm contrasted with the occasional gentle flourishes, like little mind activators. I spent a lot of time getting this balance right both in the performance and the mixing, the latter requiring space and time to live with the material.”