Friday, March 31, 2006

Coming Soon, Gold Vinyl 45s!


I am excited to announce that within a few weeks I will be launching the Gnostic Rocket On-Line Store.

I have been racking my brain for something interesting to offer those of you who have visited this blog and enjoyed my music. I wanted to do more than offer a CD for sale, given the redundancy involved in making a CD and shipping it to you when I am sure you can all burn CDs at home. So here's what I've come up with.

I have spent the last week or so working with my brother to source a manufacturer and I am proud to announce that I will be releasing a 7" 45rpm record, pressed in gold vinyl. This release will be issued in a limited-run of 200 signed and numbered copies available for a price of $10 CDN each plus shipping. These two tracks will never be made available on vinyl again. I am planning on releasing a new 7" every month or two. Each volume in a signed and numbered limited run, with different colour vinyl each time.

I will also be selling custom thongs and t-shirts.

For those of you who do not buy vinyl, you will still find MP3s at the store for your downloading pleasure. Unlike Sony or iTunes, I am not interested in gathering a tonne of info on you, limiting your choices of platform, or installing spyware on your systems in order to ensure "copy protection", so these MP3 downloads will be free of charge. I am a firm believer that a pay-what-you-can model can actually be viable. You will be under no obligation to pay for the MP3s that will be available here (and are free to pass them on to your friends), but if you enjoy them, please help me continue to create by clicking one of the optional donation buttons. Even a couple of dollars from each person who downloads tracks will allow me to maintain my gear and continue to produce music for you. I am also considering making high-fidelity wave files available via email requests, for those of you who do not have a record player but are not happy with the sound quality of MP3s.

The store will go on-line as soon as I receive the records back from the manufacturer. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rough Mixes - Part Two

Here is another rough mix of a track I am working on for my upcoming album.

Twenty-five Tentacles Create an Interesting Obstruction


This song is comprised of four separate tracks.

Track 1 - Twenty-five Tentacles Create an Interesting Obstruction - The first track I laid down was a slowly evolving patch I created on a Casio CZ1000. I played a slowly moving chord structure on the CZ1000 and ran the signal through the Springboard Dub, adding glitches and tweaking the delay as the track progressed.


Track 2 - Twenty-five Tentacles Create an Interesting Obstruction - The second track is a bass sound I programmed on the CZ1000 (with a soft "slap-back" effect built into its envelopes) that I played by hand.


Track 3 - Twenty-five Tentacles Create an Interesting Obstruction - The third track is a stereo recording from my Korg Electribe ER1 featuring a number of bell-like and percussive sounds. These sounds were modulated with the sample and hold waveform in the ER1, causing them to play shifting and random melodic parts throughout. The internal tempo delay on the ER1 was set fairly high.


Track 4 - Twenty-five Tentacles Create an Interesting Obstruction - The fourth track is a mono recording of my Korg Electribe ER1 playing a kick/snare pattern. This signal was sent through my Korg X911 Guitar Synth's low pass filter (same filter as the Korg MS-20), with sweeping of the filter throughout the track. This signal was then channeled through the Springboard Dub.

As always comments and criticisms are welcome.

Don't forget, I'll be featured as a human canvas at the Vessel show tonight at Ambient Ping in Toronto. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gnostic Rocket at Ambient Ping
Tuesday, March 28th

Tuesday, March 28th
Vessel featuring Phil Ogison and Menno Krant
Ambient Ping (at the Hacienda Night Club)
794 Bathurst Street, Toronto
Show starts at 9:30pm

The originally scheduled show, Vessel will be going ahead next Tuesday, so I will not be performing musically, but will be used as one of three human canvases. See this post for details.

Apologies for the confusion.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gnostic Rocket as a Human Canvas


For anyone who has been reading here, I apologize for the confusion. The Vessel show is still on.

Next Tuesday, March 28th, I will be appearing at Toronto's infamous experimental/ambient music night, Ambient Ping. Now, I have played at the Ambient Ping before (you can listen to a recording of my last show, featuring Sean Beresford on guitar, here). This show, however, I will not be playing an instrument. I will be acting as one of three human canvases for a project entitled Vessel. This is an attempt to explore the definition of music as fine art and the body as vessel for sound and colour. Phil Ogison, renowned ambient/experimental musician from Toronto, will be performing a live piece of music which will be recorded. Toronto outsider artist Menno Krant, will be painting three naked human canvases during the show. The recording will be released as an issue of ONE only, with artwork from the paintings by Menno Krant. There will be five Vessel performances and releases. The show on March 28th will be the first.

Phil Ogison at Ambient Ping - photo by Jamie Todd

Monday, March 13, 2006

Rough Mixes

So here are a couple of rough mixes of songs I am working on for my upcoming album. I've included gear photos and detailed descriptions of how I recorded each track. Constructive criticism is always welcome.


SONG: the old man didn't blink an eye


SONG: a huge blubbery creature with piggish eyes


the old man didn't blink an eye is comprised of four tracks.

Track 1 - the old man didn't blink an eye - Using my Sequential Circuits Drumtraks and my Simmons SDS 1000 I laid down a stereo drum track. Kick, the lower snare, hi-hats, ride cymbal and tambourine are from the Drumtraks. Higher snare and all toms are from the SDS1000. I used my Korg Electribe Emx to run the Drumtraks (midi) and the SDS1000 (4 line outs on the Emx into the four trigger ins on the SDS 1000) simultaneously. Each instrument was sent to the mixer in a seperate channel and some of the sounds were sent through a Danelectro Spring King and then a Danelectro Reel Echo.

Electribe EMX, SCI Drumtraks and Simmons SDS1000

Track 2 - the old man didn't blink an eye - I sequenced a bass part on my Emx which I used to run a FAT Freebass 383, which is an awesome all analog Roland 303 clone. Couldn't resist tweaking the filter and resonance as the track progressed (I'm a big fan of some of the old acid house stuff). The Freebass was run through the Spring King pedal for a little extra "ring".

Freeform Analog Technologies FB383 Freebass

Track 3 - the old man didn't blink an eye - I played the upstroke stabs on my Arp 16-voice Electric Piano, which I find has a very distinct charm (but weighs about 300 pounds). The signal was sent through the Reel Echo pedal with a very short delay time.

Arp 16-voice Electric Piano

Track 4 - the old man didn't blink an eye - I played the Springboard Dub, plucking the strings, striking the instrument in different locations, patching in temporary glitches, and cranking the delay up to feedback intensity and this was sent through my Maestro Phase Shifter pedal.

The Springboard Dub


a huge blubbery creature with piggish eyes is comprised of four seperate tracks.

Track 1 - a huge blubbery creature with piggish eyes - I created a lengthy evolving pad for my newly purchased Casio CZ1000. Basically the pad increases from low to a mild resonance while I hold the note (over about 2 seconds), then when released cycles up and down through increasing levels of resonance over about 15 seconds. I played a low C (with an octave) for 45 seconds or so and then added a G and Eb over top, then release the high notes first and the low notes second. This signal was run live through the Springboard Dub, with glitches and feedback and playing of the springs throughout.

Casio CZ1000

Track 2 - a huge blubbery creature with piggish eyes - I programmed a drum loop on my Electribe ER1 and recorded it with its own internal delay cranked pretty high.

Korg Electribe ER1

Track 3 - a huge blubbery creature with piggish eyes - I played a bass track on my Jay Turser JTB 2B Violin Beatle Bass, with a bit of spring reverb from the Spring King.

Jay Turser JTB 2B Violin Beatle Bass

Track 4 - a huge blubbery creature with piggish eyes - I played a track on my Magnatone lap steel guitar (in low bass G minor tuning [D,G,D,G,Bb,D]). The signal was sent into my Danelecro Reel Echo. The dry signal output was sent through the Springboard Dub then into my Gibson Hawk amp with the spring reverb cranked. The wet signal was sent through my Korg X911 Guitar Synth's low pass filter (same filter as the Korg MS-20) to create a sort of burbling filter-sweep echo.

Magnatone lap steel with matching amp

Gibson Hawk tube amp

Korg X911 guitar synth

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Gear Spotlight - Part 2: Casio CZ1000

So I just picked up a Casio CZ1000 from my favourite gear store in Toronto, Paul's Boutique.

This unit is in excellent condition and came with the three original manuals (in English and Spanish) and the original Casio dust cover!

Here are some shots (Matrix, you'll notice my cat trying to get into the left side of the first shot).






casio_manual.jpg has this to say about the CZ1000:

Phase Distortion (PD) synthesis so it is quite capable of some cool digital/analog sounds! PD is Casio's own take on digital synthesis from the mid-eighties and is found in all of their CZ series. You basically modify digital waveforms (sine waves) to create various sounds. It can create wild new sounds, notably percussive sounds. But it's not too easy to program if you don't know much about waveform theory and design.

Three sets of 8-stage envelope sections are used to modulate your sounds extensively. The first is used to modify the DCO pitches over time. Another 8-stage envelope section in the DCW is used to modify the Phase Angle over time (like filtering). Finally the DCA amplifier also has an 8-stage envelope to modify the volume of sounds over time. For further tweaking the CZ-1000 employs some surprisingly analog effects. Four types of Vibrato make up a simple LFO-type section with triangle, square, ramp up or down waveforms as well as rate, depth and delay settings. Portamento adds that classic glide effect from one note to the next. Double up on the oscillators with 4-note polyphony. Built-in noise and ring modulation. It's also MIDI equipped with 4 monophonic multitimbral parts. However, with only 32 patches (16 preset, 16 user) storage is a bit slim.

Luckily, I also managed to score a couple of 64 Patch EZ-CZ 4 Bank Ram cartridges off of ebay so I'm all set to begin my foray into the world of Phase Distortion synthesis.


I spent last night creating a few patches. Here are some sound samples (and the patch setting for the first sample if anyone is interested). These sounds are all recorded dry, any echoes etc. are built into the sounds using the eight stage envelopes.

Description: Warm Bass with soft slap back

Vibrato [on] Portamento [off] Solo [on]

Octave [-1]

Vibrato: Wave [1] Depth [39] Rate [63] Depth [01]


[first=7 second=0]
[Step 1 SUS Rate=99 Level=00]
[Step 2 END Rate=99 Level=00]


Key Follow [off]
[Step 1 Rate=99 Level=29]
[Step 2 Rate=50 Level=00]
[Step 3 SUS Rate=32 Level=47]
[Step 4 End Rate=02 Level=00]


Key Follow [off]
[Step 1 SUS Rate=99 Level=99]
[Step 2 Rate=70 Level=00]
[Step 3 Rate=55 Level=99]
[Step 4 END Rate=25 Level=00]

Line Select [1+1']

DCO2, DCW2 and DCA2 not used

Detune [Octave=-1 Note=00 Fine=00]

Description: Resonant Bass

Description: Evolving Pad

Description: String Pluck with backwards echo

Description: Quick Evolving Lead

This synth has one particular feature I was unaware of before I purchased it. When running the synth via midi, you can acually use it as four separate dual-oscillator monophonic synths. Here is a recording of the CZ1000 playing four different patches simultaneously (no overdubs). I'm using my Korg Electribe Emx as a sequencer.

Sequence 1

I'm going to be writing a track later tonight using the CZ1000, Theremin, Korg X911 Guitar Synth, Nanoloop on a Gameboy Pocket, Electribe ER1, Springboard Dub, and my Danelectro Spring King (I don't know why this pedal gets such bad reviews, I love it. Will post some sound samples one day to show what I mean) and Maestro Phase Shifter pedals. Will post the results soon.


By the way, if anyone out there wants to use any of the sound samples or bits and pieces of longer tracks from this blog in some of their own work, feel free. I would appreciate a credit (i.e. "Contains a sample by Gnostic Rocket")and a quick email to let me know that you are using it, but I'm not going to get all anal and send lawyers after you if you don't. I will eventually be selling CDs through the blog with tracks that are not available on the website, plus some other cool merch and eventually some custom built instruments. But in the meantime feel free to spread any of this stuff around.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Matrixsynth: Jim Aikin on Melody Over Texture

Me in a serious moment

I have been following the dialog resulting on Matrixsynth from Jim Aikin's comments on the uses of texture and melody in the composition of synth based music.

"Textures can be instantly identifiable, even before the entrance of motivic content, and can carry a profound emotional charge. But I doubt that a texture stays in your head and comes back to you at odd moments the way a melody by Mozart or Lennon & McCartney will.

Again, it's evolution at work. A melody uses syntax, so it gets "filed" by the brain using the same ultra-sophisticated language-handling modules that allow you to remember, word for word, what your Significant Other (or, for that matter, a total stranger) said to you last week. Most listeners don't have the mental equipment to handle texture and tone color in that way."

This is an interesting perspective, but if you drill down a bit further there are interesting questions to explore.

What is the dividing line between "texture and tone colour" and "melodic" features of any given piece of music?

Is it a sharp line, or a grey area?

I think Jim's reference to syntax is illuminating. Wikipedia states the following about syntax:

"All theories of syntax at least share two commonalities: First, they hierarchically group subunits into constituent units (phrases). Second, they provide some system of rules to explain patterns of acceptability/grammaticality and unacceptability/ungrammaticality."

We are all familiar with arguments over the second commonality referenced by Wikipedia. This frames the familiar argument about what constitutes "real" music.

As for the first quality of syntax, it is not possible without repetition of recognizable subunits. So if we utilise syntax as an analogy for melody, melody contains both grammar (commonly accepted scales and frequency intervals) and constituent units (comprised of sounds with an easily recognizable fundamental frequency).

I think about the way that I construct music, and the instruments I choose to use, and I realize that my fascination is how far from the "standard" can I push the constituent units of my particular compositions. Most of us can hear and understand a single note played on a piano as an acceptable component of a constituent unit in the "syntax" of "melody". This is because we are familiar with hearing it in a melodic context, plus its fundamental frequency is very obvious to the human ear. When a melody is played utilising notes on a piano, we can easily recognize it. The idea of a sound needing a fairly obvious fundamental frequency to be an acceptable component of a constituent unit seems intuitive, but as a sound's tonal qualities get more complex we wander into a grey area. Like the line between a distorted, but obviously pitched, note on a guitar and a totally overblown white-noise type distorted sound with no, or many, obviously dominant frequencies.

One of the reasons I have drifted towards exploring experimental music within some of the stylistic restraints of dub music is that it is heavily influenced by the notion of repetition. Both in its simple melodic structures and its heavy use of delay, tones within a dub music structure are repeated often, with subtle or not so subtle temporal alterations. This allows me to build structures out of sounds which,upon initial listen, are not obviously suitable as "constituent units" in a "melodic" context. But both through their repetition (and the resulting familiarity to the listener) and temporal adjustment of these constituent units, a grammatical structure akin to melody can be coaxed out of the strangest soundscapes.

Jim Aikin's point about most people having more "mental equipment" for dealing with melodic qualities than tonal ones is absolutely right, but one of the interesting corrolaries of this notion is that our brain will try and find melodic qualities in soundscapes where they exist only tenuously, if at all. Most of us have had the experience of listening to an overhead fan or the sounds inside a moving car and starting to hear melodies buried in the white noise. It is this feature of how we react to sound that, in my mind, drives the most interesting explorations into the interrelationship of ambience and melody. I want to take advantage of this tendency in peoples brains in order to push at the boundaries of traditional takes on melody and structure.

Just in case you thought I was too serious