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the maze car blog

but why ...?

this blog is a medium for maze car to emit ramblings on music, retro tech and general sound mangling experiences. for more info and new tunes, check out the website too!

no surprises

writer's blog Posted on Thu, March 22, 2018 19:30:32

it’s been a while since i wrote on this blog, but it seemed like a good time to leave an update!

a wee while ago i dropped a demo of my next single ursa major data miner, which you can hear on the soundcloud and download for free. it will be officially released this year, but other commitments mean that it’s not the priority at the moment.

i am suspending the maze car solo project for a while to concentrate on collaborating with some other great songwriters, and hopefully over the next few months you’ll hear the fruits of our labour.

the sound will be a bit folktronica and more accessible than my experimental stuff. we’ll put out some initial releases on voxel records to test the water. i’m really enjoying working with these songwriters at the moment smiley

the picture above is the cover from my 2014 single trust me. i thought it was particularly apt at the moment, seeing as facebook have got themselves into trouble allowing themselves to be exploited by propagandists to influence elections. don’t get me wrong, facebook is an integral part of modern life and invaluable for people communicating and sharing their experiences. but there was going to come a time when the sheer volume of personal data was going to get abused, and unfortunately fb and the like need to shoulder some of the responsibility that comes with great power. ok, so my track ain’t hit material, but i think the lyrics capture the moment!

all the best to yuz and look forward to new and interesting releases on voxel records!

air dog

writer's blog Posted on Sun, June 04, 2017 19:12:29

over the last few months, i have been doing a bit of research into dubstep and experimenting with its production. this is all to support voxel records’ electronic music adventures series, which you can read on the homepage.

dubstep is a style i particularly like, but i’ve never tried writing anything like it. despite my glasgow upbringing, i have also lived and worked in south london, which is very much the epicentre of the dubstep earthquake. it’s such a melting pot of influences that it’s not surprising that so much awesome club music grows up there.

so initially, i thought this would be easy … you like the music, you know how they do it, you make your own, right? ermm … not so. i actually found this project really hard.

i am not a dj and i don’t really do a lot of performing these days. i’m also not part of any collective that specialises in this kind of music, so i started with lots of preconceptions but no experience of constructing it 😛

after some digital digging through dubstep tracks old and new, i got the general feel. i decided to make something that demonstrated how lots of different styles (synthwave, tech house, glitch and even metal) can slot into the power of dubstep production. i sketched out a structure and gave myself 4 minutes to play with.

modern tracks seem to build up reasonably quickly, exploiting filter sweeps, and most producers make use of drops between sections to maximise dramatic effect. i really like the technique of building to something quite frenetic at the end, so i allowed a minute or so of some pacey riffs at the end.

tracks often start with spacey reverb and delay effects on samples, or even more obvious skank rhythms. this is no doubt the influence of dub reggae and ska.

the tempo is really slow to start with, which makes a full tempo wall of sound at the end even more dramatic.

so i had a structure that would build up through some kind of filter sweep with delays and off-beat rhythms. then, it would plough into some wub-filter effects but still hold the pace back. the last section would drop into something with energy at high speed.

the next thing to check out was how the bass lines and riffs work. apparently, much of dubstep naturally gravitates to mixolydian scales, which straddle ominous minor keys but also provide blues/funk options. bass lines in dubstep are more about intensity, rhythm and effects, but it is important to keep them in key with any lead parts. my moog sub phatty was pretty much the only candidate for bass line duties.

the mid-range and top end are traditionally peppered with thin, electronic drums; but quite a lot of tracks these days belt out bold, hollering riffs that leap up and down the octaves. this is something that is in line with the cheesy retro tones of synthwave, but turns everything to eleven in terms of filters, overdrive and sub-oscillators. this is how we can get a really beefy lead sound from an otherwise puny signal.

this got me thinking about effects. the trademark of a lot of dubstep is the wub or wobble filter. this is a bit like riding the cutoff frequency of some meaty filter, in a triplet or syncopated rhythm. so for this i got out the totally insane wow 2 filter from sugar bytes. this thing is often uncontrollable, but it is pretty easy to make basic wobble filters.

the wub isn’t the only critical effect, though. i pored over my selection of delays, other filters and distortion. i have a pretty god stock of these; but to create the beefy lead i decided to run the juno ju-06 through my moog mf drive pedal.

finally, i noticed that there’s quite a lot of random glitch effects in a lot of tracks. i’ve owned a copy of illformed’s glitch for many years, and recently bolstered it by adding effectrix. these software plug-ins allow me to make sequences of all kinds of effects; and when combined with heavy sounds they can inject an attitude and rhythm all of their own.

this gave me a decent palette to work from, so i set to work finding some riffs. i basically played around with octave leaps and arpeggios for absolutely frickin ages before i got anywhere near something that felt right. this was by far the hardest bit of the task.

whilst dubstep is simple in terms of melody, some people can just locate those amazing hooks which sound even better when they’re fucked up with high-speed effect-sequences. it was a bit harder for me this time around :s

as i layered the instruments up and tore them back down, i was pretty conscious to avoid over-producing the track. one important thing to do is to keep the instrument synchronised rhythmically, so all the sounds hit home hard together. it’s also important to leave lots of gaps and drops between riffs and sections to keep that stuttered, implied rhythm undulating.

one of the most exciting things for me is inter-working riffs, sounds and effect sequences. it’s a bit like jazz, where instruments play off each other. but in dubstep, they do battle.

this kind of structure might build up some drum breaks into a big fill, or it might be a glitch-off between two sets of effected instruments and riffs.

the general idea is that each component take its turn for a bar, and then another component has a go. the riffs, beats or effect sequences then develop over a section of eight bars to climax together, and then the track drops away into a kind of breather section before starting again. there’s probably a name for all that, but who knows …?

i literally sat with bits of paper trying to work out what these things were doing. as a drummer, it comes quite naturally to me in performance terms because it’s very much how jungle and breakbeat work. however, getting this kind of thing programmed into instruments and effect sequences was really hard.

eventually, i managed to create a few riffs, wubs and breaks and i dropped them into the structure i’d planned out earlier.

mixing the track was also really hard. like a lot of club music, you want to keep the dynamics and power up in your face. with modern dubstep, it’s harder than normal because you’re trying to mount an assault on the whole frequency spectrum and yet still keep bold riffs and consistent rhythms between instruments. it took me ages to create a viable mix.

when i sat my track next to some of those i’d picked from the crate at the beginning of the project, i got that common feeling of totally missing the point and producing something puny compared to the muscle of the real thing.

but at the same time, i was trying to blend of a number of different flavours in the dubstep cook book. it’s a bit like trying to create the subtle flavours of a good curry from hand-ground spices when everyone else is just wants to pile on lashings of hot sauce. so why bother? that was definitely a learning experience for me – sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the hot sauce out of a bottle, but just tip it all in there.

so, good dubstep is really about extremes of production and expressing the attitude of urban nightlife. but its influences allow many other musical styles to grow a pair and maximise their appeal. i really enjoyed making this track, and learnt a lot, even if i am no true dubstep aficionado 😀

the track is called air dog and you can listen to it on soundcloud here.

why air dog? well … it’s the name of a dog toy made by the same company that makes the wubba. i used to throw this for our old staffie in ruskin park, and coincidentally it is one of the names given to the wobble filter that pervades most dubstep tracks. so there you go 😉

formula techno

writer's blog Posted on Mon, December 12, 2016 17:26:01

since the single release, i have been helping to research the meaning of techno. rather than some pythonesque quest for the unattainable, the aim of this wee project was to listen to old and new music labelled in this manner and try to create something in the same vein.

i don’t tend to frequent a lot of dance floors these days, i don’t dj and i don’t make music by searching for samples and launching clips. but it seemed a good idea to broaden my horizons, so with the Voxel Records remit i got listening and made a short track.

i started with the korg volca beats. this is a great little analog beat box which lets me do some hands-on tweaking. i played around with bass drums and hats for a bit – the stutter function gave the hats a nice wee shuffle, and the bass drum rang deep. i recorded the clips into the daw to play with later.

i usually start tracks by noodling with sounds from various synths; so i spent a bit of time playing with the juno and the animoog to find some timbres. the juno is a really straightforward analog synth, but the animoog is far more complex. so i selected the juno for some spiky lead and filtering duties, and the animoog for haunting undertones and pads.

after messing around and creating nothing for a bit, i diverted my attention to structuring the track. my experimental stuff follows unconventional structures – so this was a chance for me to plan ahead, according to a tried and tested format.

most techno tracks seem to follow a similar pattern: setting the timbral landscape in the first minute, then building up and breaking down rhythms and textures before finishing with a full groove at the end.

there are lengthy sections (e.g. 16 bars) where the track may be totally stripped bare or revert to atmospheric sound effects; but by the end everything is full and pacey.

i drew up some charts to get a grip on this structure malarkey, and put some markers into the daw as a guide. a bit like a project plan smiley

another key thing was to avoid snare drums. this is really hard for me – i bloody love snare drums. but, according to my techno formula, they take up too much space in the mix.

instead, i spent some time creating a set of hi hat patterns in BFD. i decided to use some acoustic hats for this, because BFD lets me record and program all manner of funky rhythms. i got a set of loops that i could use throughout the track – but no snare drums allowed smiley

once i had recovered from this emotional distress, i went back to noodling with the synths. i got stuck into the sub phatty and the bass station for the low end.

i created a throbbing filter envelope on the bass station and an evolving, monotone rhythm track for it.

the moog sat well with a shuffling arpeggio, and it loves to have its filters tweaked, so i practiced some old skool knob twiddling and recorded the results into the daw.

finally i captured some custom pads that i made in the animoog, and a sticky arpeggio/filter sweep from the juno.

with everything now in the box, i started moving sections around and doing the mix thing, before sticking the result up LANDR for a cheap, shareable master.

you can download the result for free now from the red six soundcloud site. enjoy smiley

good to know

writer's blog Posted on Sat, November 19, 2016 16:38:20

time for some retrospective on the initial responses to the new single

it’s always good to learn how people react to new music. in fact, next to doing a lot of listening myself, it’s probably one of the most important ways to grow as a producer.

Those Shallow Games has received a lukewarm reception so far from various bloggers, but there has been a small ripple in the ocean of potential listeners which has increased my modest fan base a wee bit. i’ve still to collect the general view of Dub Croaky.

it’s hard to hook people on new music, because they need to take five or ten minutes out of their day to listen – so i’m always happy when someone picks up on the track. experimental music that doesn’t fit into a particular category is much more of a challenge to push. i’ve enjoyed blending breaks, big synths, complextro, dub and more into my last few singles but the results aren’t necessarily accessible to many listeners.

the freedom of experimenting is what makes solo work enjoyable; but my songs are structurally non-standard and there is no guarantee the left-field influences i blend actually “work” for many. i reckon i fit into the “grade b” of experimental indie electronica production, but now i think i might try a more traditional approach to writing.

i am currently working on an offshoot project for voxel records where i’m trying to produce a taster of techno. i don’t really know much about the formula, but my investigation should help me simplify my own productions whilst making something accessible to more listeners.

thanks go out to those bloggers and listeners who responded to the track – more stuff is on the way soon smiley

at long long last

writer's blog Posted on Fri, November 11, 2016 16:40:57

and so, after much mucking around and various hurdles, the new single is finally emerging from the release pipeline smiley

the tracks will be available for FREE download on Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Orfium and this wonderful FREE deal will last until the next single is released. i think the next release will also be free from these stations initially … and so on. of course, they will be available through all the usual iTunes/Spotify/Google/Amazon stores as well – so feel free to stream the shit out of it!

the final version of Those Shallow Games ended up with a mixture of my vocals and speech synthesis – hopefully the theme comes across in the track. Dub Croaky follows the same retro-game inspiration but is totally different, and was really a chance for me to play with analog toys and complextro. both tracks have changed a bit since the last demo!

i don’t know the precise release date yet, but i reckon the free downloads will be available from early next week and in the pay stores by 21 november.

i hope you enjoy it – now on to the next project smiley

work and non-work

writer's blog Posted on Mon, October 03, 2016 19:12:16

i guess a lot of writers have this problem: i got to the stage where the next single was in the almost done state, and then i discovered a nice wee chord sequence which demanded i include it.

i have since found myself furiously trying to get the thing to fit sweetly in the track. it’s that kind of “well … it doesn’t not work, but …” situation. so having written half the lyrics i now find myself in a tight loop ironing out the wrinkles of the new notes and rhythms. ach.

still, as long as i release it this year i am still upholding my annual commitment to voxel and the indietronica smiley

another problem with this part of the process is the lust to start the next project. i’ve been swallowing up so many good sounds recently i really want to see what effect they’ve had on me. this is the trouble with how i work solo: i like to make every part from the ground up, so the only thing i don’t do is the mastering.

there are some new ideas coming out at voxel in our journey into the classification of music, and this means i will be experimenting with styles that i’m not familiar with. the general idea is we decompose a cross section of tunes from a given sub-genre and have a go at making a track. i guess it’s all good for the production palette, but it’s a bit daunting when you have to compose within a boundary. i’m hoping something interesting and accessible will come out of it!

electronic family

writer's blog Posted on Thu, July 28, 2016 19:34:36

a break from the studio and all that other stuff saw me take a long weekend in amsterdam. here, i was taken by the hand and introduced to electronic family 2016 – a young and intimate one-day trance event in the bos.

i spent a great day here absorbing different flavours of trance among a mellow crowd which kept the true spirit of festivals alive. there was some truly deep bass quaking the ground and some really nifty squealing from the decks – i am more of a drum and bass guy, but the vibe of this festival could well rub off on me in future projects.

back in the studio, i have decided the path to complete Those Shallow Games – the joy of speech synthesizers! i found a couple of interesting gizmos out there in the web – now it is just a question of getting them to spit some interesting noise onto the track. get ready for something between arcade and retro-yello here …

shake it all about

writer's blog Posted on Sun, June 26, 2016 17:52:03

bye bye europe. another close call on the recent refeyendum, and more uncertainty to come. it was a bitter campaign between two factions, stained with conjecture, untruths and xenophobia. i think it would have been better to make the facts about the EU clear, rather than just making shit up and trying to scare people. anyway, it’s done now.

throughout all this, i have been remixing Those Shallow Games in preparation for the next single. this has been a bit of a slog, and involved some rearrangement as well as intricate mixing and balancing – although i think i am almost there. all except for a vocal. there is a chance i may enlist the help of a real vocalist, but time constraints may mean that i have to do it myself :s

either way, i’m fairly happy with the mood of the track, the sounds and the balance. it still has the retro game sounds in (the shallow ones), and the main riffs, but i tried to enhance the bits of the groove i liked. getting the bass to be deep, fluid and manageable required lots of moog-twiddling! hopefully the single will emerge next month …

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