Sunday, 16 October 2016

A new post about a new album!!!

I felt that I didn't know where to start as it's been so very long since my last posting here. So much has happened, it's actually quite unreal. But, happened things have.

I shall start with something I'm a little excited about. In spite of moving twice in two months, losing my studio and my job and then getting another one (studio and job!!!), I've managed to reach a point where I can say that I am hours away from completing the classical album project. Yes, "Interpretations" is all but done - the mixes and art work are just about finished with only a few minor details on both elements to finalise, the product of 5 years work and I'm quite proud of it. "Interpretations" is a massive exercise in self-indulgence as it comprises 16 pieces of some of my favourite pieces of classical music. Here's the track listing (not in order - still working on that!!!):

"Crown Imperial - Walton"
"Dambusters - Coates"
"Danse Macabre - Saint-Saens"
"Dolly - Faure"
"Gymnopedie - Satie"
"Holiday for Strings - Rose"
"Masquerade - Khachaturian"
"Meditation - Massenet"
"On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring - Delius"
"Praeludium - Grieg"
"Reverie - Debussy"
"Sorcerer's Apprentice - Dukas"
"Toccata - Widor"
"Venus - Holst"
"Waltz2 - Shostakovich"
"Waltz of the Flowers - Tchaikovsky"

And here's how the cover will look:

I decided to go along the download route and so will be releasing "Interpretations" on my Bandcamp page. Sadly, CD manufacturing costs are too prohibitive for me at this time. I seriously contemplated a kick-starter campaign, but, whilst the idea is sound, it would have taken too long and I wasn't confident enough that I could raise the required amount. However, it will be released and to me, that is the most important thing.

When you're close to something being completed and released, it's a cool time as you are filled with so many thoughts and emotions - does it sound okay? And will people like it? Or even, will it sell? Who will listen to it? You get the drift. It's akin to that time when your children take their first steps, utter their first words or even when they fly the nest. A lot of time and emotion goes into producing a body of artistic work, you have an almost parental love of it, hoping it's future is good and that it finds acceptance. My fingers are certainly crossed that it's liked.

I have a new studio in our new home, it's imaginatively called the GTK2 Studio and is considerably smaller than my previous one, but it's perfect for my needs now that I am entirely software-based. I've expanded the software collection somewhat over the last few months - those pesky Waves Audio peeps keep having silly sales that make me buy their gubbings!!! I've got some new synths and a number of effects programs, so am now pretty well stocked up. There are still a few bits and pieces that I would like to get, but all in good time.

Once "Interpretations" is released, I will be getting to work on the next F/R-F album with my son, Callum Raeburn-Fellowes. It was originally going to he his own solo album, but his life is rather full so we agreed that we would turn it into an F/R-F project. He's done the writing, I'll be arranging and adding bits as well as producing it. It'll be called "Autumn's Breeze" and will be ready when it's finished (lolz). It'll be a very ambient affair, bordering on New Age - quite a contrast to our first offering, "Structures of Paradise". The music came about as a result of Callum experimenting with software synthesizers, notably Spectrasonics' lovely Omnisphere. It's a surprising move considering Callum's heavy metal background, but I'm quite excited at the prospect of adding to and producing an already interesting and cool body of work from such a young mind.

Right, that'll do for now, my bed is-a-calling :-)

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

On the move to find our undiscovered country......

Well it's all been happening, so much planned and pretty much all of it in the diary!!!

Some truly amazing gig photography opportunities

The GTK Studio finally as I wanted it and a layout/set up I was actually happy with

An album of classical music destined for a very possible CD release

A series of distance walks planned with over-night camping

However, it's all changed AGAIN!!!!!!

Owing to unexpected house move, all of the above has either been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. As the French say, "that's life".

When I say "an unexpected house move", that's not entirely true. My fab lady Anne and I had been thinking about moving for some time, and essentially, we've had something of a weird sixth-sense inkling that our genuinely brill landlords might be wanting to sell up at some point. We just hadn't expected it to be now. But, from another point of view, and this is how we actually feel about it all, our decision to move was made for us, and we are not in slightest bit unhappy about it - we have basically got what we wanted and we're excited about it.

We've been experiencing a few changes within the household and family, not least all our three children (Anne has a 26 year old son and I have a daughter of 19 and a son of 17) are now VERY grown up and doing their own thing. We've both come to realise that our lovely home (a rather enviable little off-the-road, 3-bed detached bungalow) had the propensity to be too big for us once Anne's son leaves for distant shores in the next few days. The garden isn't big, but it isn't small, and we are not gardeners. We don't need so much room anymore and we are not one of those desperately sad couples who see a large property as a much-desired, sort-after thing, because that's not the be-all and end-all of our life together or what we want from our life together, we're very happy to simply leave all that for the pre-programmed, conformist, factory-produced and materialistic "achievers" in this world - our mentality is far more evolved and we prefer to be living our lives according to our own terms, not to the dictates of others, the satisfaction of society's expectations or the balance of our bank account. And if you are one those types reading this, a simple message - get a life, you're a long time dead ;-)

So, we now find ourselves surrounded by boxes and dismantled furniture, getting ready to find our own undiscovered country that lies beyond the familiarity of the last ten years in this house. In a break from what is, I suppose, considered to be "the norm", we decided to pack first and then hunt for a new home afterwards, and that's almost where we are now. By this coming Sunday evening (the 17th April 2016), it's more than very likely that we will have completely packed the house up ready for the move. From that point, we will begin our search for a new nest and if fate lends us a little hand, we will be ready to go at a moments notice. We even have the move organised - what will go where and when, we have the move crew sorted and even a van!!! Nothing if not organised :-)

So how does this all change the plans outlined at the very beginning of this post? Well, one thing we have already encountered are the costs of using lettings agencies. My ghast has never been so flabbered. I have to say that lettings agencies make estate agents look positively charitable in comparison. How on earth can you seriously justify such horrendously high fees for basically doing next to fuck all???!!! One agency in Norwich (no names mentioned at this stage) wants £720 in admin fees for a couple and that's WITHOUT fees for credit checks (non-refundable), reference checks (non-refundable) and tenancy renewals. Really, I find that most unbelievable. Needless to say, we are inviting lettings agencies to basically fuck off and do one. The words "scandalous", "thieving", "slimy" and "bastards", amongst a few other more choice offerings, have passed our lips. No. We will NOT be using lettings agencies. If you have any sense, and a basic desire to keep a hold of your hard-earned, you'll give them a very wide berth also.

I digressed, but not indirectly. As we will be dealing direct with private landlords, we still need to raise funds to cover deposits and rent in advance - normal stuff, totally acceptable and without fees - and it has been necessary for me to sell my camera and some music equipment. A bit of a bummer, and trust me, I did have a day or two walking around like a child with a broken toy, but ultimately, it's things, possessions, objects and all of these can be replaced, a roof over the head is of greater importance and priority. On the plus side, I still have an abundance of very high quality music software, so music making will not stop. Once the "Interpretations" album is finished, I already have ideas and plans for the next one, which will be all original material, along with one or two (for me) inspiring titles :-)

Talking of "Interpretations", it's nearing completion. I am going to try and finish it before we move, but that is such an up-in-the-air thing it's not true. If not, then once we moved, it'll be the very first thing I focus on. I'm excited by this album, I really am. I've had one or two very prominent musicians give me some feedback on a few of the tracks and that feedback has basically blown me away - and please note that these people will tell me as it is, so no form of pointless bullshit would ever come from them. It's not an album that a lot of people will like because of the massive classical bias, but that isn't my problem, I'm more concerned with producing and presenting a piece of work that I am happy with and not something that is the expectation or demand of others. Such arrogance eh? You'll get over it.

Photography-wise, I just don't know. I've already taken the step of closing down the Neil Fellowes Photography project for now as I estimate it will take me a year or two to get back the gear I have. That's fine because I've had an absolute blast, I've met pretty much all my musical heroes and I've found a few more in the process, as well as getting to meet some really great people, many of whom have stayed in touch, famous and otherwise. And who knows what's around the corner, a twist of fate can change so much in a short space of time. Or not. Isn't that quite exciting?

The distance walks will happen at some point and again, probably later this year. I have this wild desire to get out and experience the world around me in it's most natural form, so walking and camping are featuring very heavily in amongst the many things I want to do. For some of it, I will be joined by Anne, my soul-mate of so many years now, and some of it I will do alone. But do it I will.

For that last few days, I've been reading how people in this life regard other people as under-achievers. Sorry, I don't buy into that at all. People will, for the most part, live life according to their own values and means, each person with different hopes dreams and aspirations - and you have to know, in my world, no one is an under-achiever. I look upon those who make these kind of statements with some kind of condescending pity, as it is they who are the under-achievers in this world, they are the slaves of society and conformity, bound by the quest for the next big profit or the vastness of their bank account. Take it from me, when you're dead, you'll be a lump of decaying flesh swimming in your own fluids on a metal table somewhere, just like the "under-achiever" next to you. Money and status are not important, money and status do not make you a better person, money and status do not buy you respect or admiration. That's down to the individual to earn from others, and it's time the world started to see that.

And on that note, I shall away to contemplate another pile of stuff for packing.

Back soon ;-)

Friday, 12 February 2016

Album, goth metal, photographisting and software......

The "Interpretations" allybum has taken a massive step forward with the acquisition of some new studio software that I genuinely hadn't planned on getting, but, as it's all panning out, I'm bloody glad I did (more on those in a bit). I've got four tracks now pretty much finished, save a little bit of mix manipulation/automation/fuckingaboutamation. I'm really pleased with the way it's coming along and I think I have managed to create "a sound" for it that will manufacture the required separation from the very obvious influences of Isao Tomita and Wendy Carlos. I've had a few people "test listening" and the feedback has been pretty favourable, with the comments and opinions offered proving to be highly constructive and very valuable.

One of my few little "jobs" to do over the next few days is to start seriously looking at some sort of kickstarter/pledge campaign to raise funds for expenses such as CD production and associated licencing. As soon as that's sorted, I'll blather on about it here, but I now have something of a ball-park figure and what I need to do to get there. Another of my little "jobs" is to get my websites updated and a little more "with it". All good fun and it's quite enjoyable walking the do-it-yourself route.

I mentioned goth metal in the title on this latest blithering. And with good reason. my son, Callum Raeburn-Fellowes, is a drummer in a goth metal band called What Lies Within. It's your typical wall-of-sound/noise that you would expect from a teenage band with bags of angst and baggage that you wouldn't want British Airways handling. Now, whilst goth metal really is NOT my cup of tea at any time of the day/night/afternoon/early evening/first thing in the morning/a little after luchtime/just before tea, they are actually quite good. With titles such as "Destroy the Tyrants" and "Killhouse", you know you're in for some serious hi-energy,distorted,over-amped,overdriven,fuzzboxed melancholy, but the guys are getting their act together nicely and are starting to make something of a name for themselves in the fair city of Norwich. They met whilst at the Access for Music college (which is operated in a part of the Epic Studios complex in Norwich's Magdalen Street), where they are in the second year of a 2 year Music Performance Diploma. They took the initial college band further, away from the college context after they found that they got on as a group of teenagers, as much as they did a group of music college students. They've been working hard playing as support for a number of the metal bands around not just the city, but also the county, doing gigs in pubs, youth clubs, festivals and "battle of the bands" events (one of which they won). Tonight (11th February 2016), they did their first "headline" act at a popular live music venue called the B2 and it went very well. I am very proud of my son because he is showing a lot of promise as both a performer and as a showman, something that is lacking in pretty much every teenage band at this time, but that's another story for another time. And I feel very proud for the band as they are proving themselves and focusing on the future as much as the present. One of their quirks is that they have a young lady lead singer by the name of Heather who is, apparently, pretty good at the scream thing. personally speaking, I don't get screamo, I fear that those who practice this dark art are going to wake up at some point in their future and realise that, yes, they sound like a fucking three-year-old having a tantrum. However, we must have open minds and accept that one man's art form is another man's "shut that fucking row up". Anyway, I digress. Screamo and indiscernible ear-splitting wall-of-noise aside, I'm pleased that these guys are doing well and naturally, I get to every gig I can, often with my camera (check out my concert images where you'll see pics of What Lies Within). As per usual, I have done my infamous "a million miles around the bush to make the point" thing. I was both pleased and horrified to be asked to help them prepare a demo and that has now started. It's meant a lot of reading and learning new skills associated with recording rock guitars, drums and vocals whilst at the same time giving me the ideal opportunity to use some of the fabulous software I have been amassing over the last 18 months. We're working on a track called "Tyrants" (it was called "Destroy the Tyrants" but I think they got fed of me saying it sounded a lot of like "Destroy the Toilets" when they performed it), and we have a guide drum track laid down as well as the guitar parts. Hopefully during the coming week, the bass player will come in and do his part followed by the vocals. It's been quite fun thus far, they're a great bunch of kids and I'm looking forward to hearing the end result. An electronic music artist producing a goth metal band. Should be interesting.

The photographic side of life is starting to pep up again. I have three concert dates in my diary with, hopefully, a few more to follow. I'm kicking off the gig season tomorrow night (12th February 2016) with Public Service Broadcasting at the OPEN music venue in Norwich. Really looking forward to this as I am quite the fan of PSB, who I first encountered back in 2014 when they played as part of the Norwich Sound and Vision evening of electronic music alongside Ulrich Schnauss and the Radiophonic Workshop (yes, THAT Radiophonic Workshop - I got to meet them as well the gentleman that created the TARDIS sound and the Dalek voices, Brian Hodgson - my chum, well-brilliant togger Simon Watson, and I were in serious fangirl mode and I thought I would self-combust that night!!!). Anyway, PSB headlined and they were basically brilliant and got a new fan. Talking of Ulrich Schnauss, I will be snapping and reviewing his performance at the Norwich Arts Centre on the 25th March 2016 (another one I'm looking forward to). And talking of the Norwich Arts Centre, I'll be heading there on the 24th April 2016 to tog and review Earl Slick and Bernard Fowler performing David Bowie's "Station to Station" album - support on that night is the lovely Lisa Ronson, daughter of Bowie's Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, and a terrific performer in her right. The begging e-mails are out for other gigs, and as soon as I have some sort of confirmation, I'll blither about it here.

And last on the title of this postering was software. And on boy, the software!!! Waves Audio have been insanely generous again with their sales, and I've taken full advantage. The Nx virtual mix room demo I mentioned in the previous post to this one has now been bought and is really doing the business - it's given me a lot more flexibility and less time needed checking mixes on the studio monitors after a late night session using headphones. I cannot recommend highly enough that, if you are a recording musician, you at least give this piece of programming a try - it's fucking brilliant and worth every penny of the asking price. They will be releasing a headphone attachment soon that will negate the need to use a webcam, and I for one will be wanting that. Also from Waves Audio, was a curious little plugin called Center (I so want to change the spelling of that to what it should be!!!). It allows you to either hear only the sound that comes from the sides of your stereo field or the centre of your mix or a blend of the two. It's fantastic for tracking and getting a finer balance of frequencies and sounds within your mix and when couple with other products toys such as compressors or EQ's, you have a very flexible workflow. It took me a matter of minutes to get the gist of what Center was about and how it does what it does. Again, try it, you won't be  disappointed. And lastly, I got hold of Waves Audio's hugely popular and very famous L1 Ultramaximizer limiter plugin. I did two nights of YouTubing and reading to get to the heart of what this thing does and can do and oh boy, it's a killer. The name of the game is subtlety, too much and too little can seriously screw up your mix, but if you keep it restrained, the end effect is nothing short of stunning. My mixes have gone from "yeah, that's kind of okay" to "WOW!!!" - I'm very excited about completing "Interpretations" to hear the end result and the difference that the L1 has made to my mixes.

Right, enough already.

Time for bed.

So far, I have no work tomorrow, but that can change in an instant, so I'm hitting the hay and aiming to be up reasonably early to get some more work done on the album, before going into photographist mode tomorrow night.

TTFN xxx

Friday, 29 January 2016

"Interpretations" Update

With the GTK Studio computer now fully operational and possessed of a lot more grunt on the processing front, I've been hammering ahead with the "Interpretations" album in pretty much every bit of spare time I have (which hasn't been a lot, I can tell you).

Tonight, I've been working on a piece of music from one of my favourite composers, Sir William Walton, and it's called "Crown Imperial". William Walton wrote it for King Edward VIII's coronation scheduled for May 1937, but alas it didn't get used because the king decided to abdicate to marry an American divorcee called Wallis Simpson (a bit bloody inconvenient if you ask me). Fortunately, it managed to see the day of light later that year with the coronation of Edward VIII's brother, King George VI and then, with something of a substantial revision in 1953 for the coronation of the present monarch, Elizabeth II. It's a very stirring piece of music that, even in its quite modernist form, invokes all the pomp and circumstance that so many associate with our country.

This one has been something of a challenge, because it's quite tricky to take a piece of music that has been written for a high state occasion, full of fanfare-type themes and motifs with orchestral string passages and present it in a more electronic form. I'm kind of there, but something of a concession has been made in terms of the use of percussion and certain instruments, namely the strings and the church organ. To minimise the overall impact of this compromise, I turned to one of my main influences for this project, Wendy Carlos, and listened very carefully to her first two albums, "Switched On Bach" and "The Well-Tempered Synthesizer" to try and draw inspiration for a way through. That happened and manifested itself with one synthesizer that has now seen extensive use throughout this track (and indeed the album thus far), Arturia's Mini V2, an excellent Minimoog emulation. When you eventually hear this piece, the fanfare brasses, woodwinds and some of the basses (alongside basses from ReFX's fucking amazing Nexus²) are all the Mini V2 - it's proven to be a hugely useful piece of software and something of a workhorse.

I still have a way to go with "Crown Imperial" as I replace orchestral sounds with electronic/synthesizer sounds, in particular the percussion sections, the timpani kit really makes the piece come alive and finding an electronic counterpart without compromising the integrity of the track and the project is a bit of a challenge. That said, it's really getting there and I'm very confident that I'll retain the intense majesty (no pun intended) of the original.

Here's a YouTube video of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra playing "Crown Imperial":

Whilst working on "Crown Imperial", I took the opportunity to try out a demo of Waves Audio's latest release, the Nx Virtual Mix Room. The idea behind this is to allow the user to conduct mixing sessions using headphones, something that's a bit of a no-no in the production world. This is achieved by attaching a webcam to your computer, which then tracks your face. You also have to tell the program the circumference of your head and the distance between your ears, measuring around the back of the head. You can then alter the position of the speakers within the program and get it to lock onto the sweet point (the optimum listening position). A lot of people will be highly sceptical of this program, and some would say with good reason, as headphones really are not ideal for mixing because you don't get a true spectrum of sound or a properly defined stereo field. What Nx does is to evaluate the speaker positioning and the  physical properties of the user then adjust the output of the headphones accordingly. I approached this with a totally open mind, not placing any expectations (negative or positive) and found myself pretty much blown away by the clarity, depth, balance and transparency of what I was hearing through my StudioSpares M1000 closed-back headphones. If you're in this music game thing, I seriously and strongly suggest you try out the demo. I've just finished nearly three hours of studio time, all done on the headphones, and the mix sounds as good across my studio monitors as they do on the headphones. I think it safe to say that I will be parting with my cash for the licence before the demo expires!!!

More "Interpretations" updates coming soon :-)

Friday, 15 January 2016

Software Update - Celemony Melodyne

Just had to pop a quick note here about the recent update to Celemony's truly amazing Melodyne pitch-shifting software, of which I use the Melodyne Assistant option.

I installed the new version 4 of Melodyne Assistant last night and it's a really cool piece of work. Amendments to menu systems and a one window interface have given it a really nice look and made it much easier to navigate around it, the pitch detection algorithm seems to be more precise and there's more keyboard short-cuts, something I am a big fan of.

Very pleased, nice work Celemony.

The GTK Studio

My little studio.

My little piece of heaven.

My sanctuary.

My retreat.

It's true to say that over the last four-five years it's seen a number of changes. From next to nothing, to being filled to the brim with synths and tech, back to virtually nothing again. It's really been a whole lot of fun seeing the equipment come and go, doing the deals, plumbing it all and moving it all around only having to plumb it all in again, selling it, doing more deals and then going VERY virtual.

18 months later, I don't miss the hardware at all, in fact, it was probably the best thing to do for me as an individual. I really do prefer the immediacy and flexibility of software-based synthesis and music creation, but it's not for all. And personally speaking, I don't care one little bit if the Arturia Modular V 2 doesn't sound like a real Moog Modular system - never played with a real one and probably never will, so it makes any kind of comment or remark totally invalid and a basic waste of time doesn't it. Anyway, it's software all the way now with a few cool (and aged like me) MIDI controllers to keep it in check.

2016 saw a much-needed update to the GTK Studio music computer. It's nearly five years old now and whilst working on the "Interpretations" album, I've been experiencing it's limitations. However, the positive side of this is that there was no need for me to buy a whole new system (and really, this is where a lot of people go wrong and the computer shops rub their grubby hands with glee), because DIY upgrading is as simple as it comes. Here was the plan:

1. Renew the processor (the most important upgrade)
2. Replace existing HDD with a Solid State Drive (SSD)

I had a budget to work to and so I decided that I would go for a newer and significantly more powerful processor, but, because of the budget limitations, it would not be the very latest one. On the RAM front, I had already upgraded the system's memory from 8GB to 16GB last year, so that was one less thing to consider.

The GTK Studio computer came with an Intel Pentium G840 2.8ghz dual core processor, and it has been brilliant to work with on the music and photography. However, my increased use of high end processing and synthesizer plugins pushed the G840 well past it's capabilities, plus 2016 will see more photography and also more video work linked to the music. I opted to stay with Intel, and the processor I chose to upgrade to was the Intel i5 3570 3.4GHz quad core, which is proving to be an absolute diamond of a thing.

For the SSD, I chose the Kingston SSDNow 120GB V300. It's bloody amazing. The speed at which Windows 10 boots is phenomenal, as is how fast programs such as Photoshop, Cubase and VideoStudio fire up - I certainly wish I'd invested in SSD long ago. However, I made something of an error regarding the choice of SSD size - 120GB has proven to be too small and I am still having to use the original hard drive for the music software, so I have somewhat held the speed back thereby slightly defeating the object of getting an SSD. That said, the 120GB configuration is actually working fine at the moment, but I plan to get a much larger SSD later this year which will mean another re-install session, but I'm okay with that as it will be worth the time investment.

The sale of the hardware back in August 2014, provided me with the funds to really go to town on the software, and one of my first purchases was the incredible Omnisphere synthesizer from Spectrasonics. It's a beast of biblical proportions and can create the most amazing layered sounds and textures. Coupled with the equally fantastic Nexus² from reFX, and you have a real behemoth of a sound palette.

Another favoured company of mine is Waves. Highly regarded and with good reason, their  products are basically excellent. Over the last year, I have taken full advantage of their regular sales and stocked with some pretty stonking bits and pieces, such as the indispensable C4 multi-band compressor or the fabulous V-EQ3 and V-EQ4 equalisers. I have a new and very loving relationship with their dbx-160 compressor/limiter as well as their linear phase multi-band compressor and linear phase EQ.

So, the GTK Studio computer is now beefed ready to tackle the demands of the "Interpretations" album and I have to say that it is like having a brand new computer, such is the speed provided by both the processor and the SSD.