Stavro

Released: July 2017

Equipment: Waldorf Blofeld synthesizer

I'd not set out to make an album when beginning on the tracks that would eventually become Stavro. After a couple of years getting back into electronic music composition (following a 30 year hiatus) I'd become confident enough to consider a 'proper' instrument and had bought myself a (secondhand) Waldorf Blofeld on eBay. This marvellous synthesizer was far more capable (& complex) than the Korg Volcas I'd been using and I set about exploring its possibilities and learning its setup & controls. Rather than methodically going through the manual I created a series of pieces, starting with a quickly sketched core and picking through (& tweaking) the presets to fill out an arrangement. After a while I realised that this new sonic palette had raised the quality of my tunes to the point where I felt confident enough to package them up and release them into the wider world. As so Stavro was born.

One of the biggest changes to my compositional style came from the Blofeld's arpeggiator, the first time I'd used such a feature. This took a group of notes and played them back as, er, an arpeggio - a repeating pattern of single notes - which could be set to continue until a new set of notes were input on the keyboard. This produced a sequencer-like pattern that could be altered during the piece, letting the song have chord changes, key changes, or just 'invert' to an alternate set of notes. Changing the number of notes could change the rhythmic pattern and my somewhat haphazard keyboard skills added a level of randomisation that made things sound (somewhat) less robotic.

The other big change came with the Blofeld's huge range of sounds, letting me add lush pads, tinkly melodies, full basses, & crashing chords. The stereo effects broadened things out even further with the rotary speaker becoming a very regular feature. The only real drawback was the rather fiddly control interface, leading me to adopt the practice of finding a preset that was close to what I was looking for and then edit it until I was happy. This certainly sped up the sound design aspect and led to some unexpected discoveries along the way.

I'd decided to only use the Blofeld for these early explorations which meant that I didn't have the bass & drum components that the Volcas used to provide. Although they would (occasionally) reappear in later albums I've never really returned to using 'rhythm section' elements as regular aspects of my work.

Comsat4 is a good example of the arpeggiator at work, a driving four-note pattern that underpins the chord sequence and emphasises the contrast with the middle eight. Some great bombastic chords fill out the chorus.

There's a similar feel to Sound&Fury but with a much smoother arrangement. I particularly like the syncopated 'bleepy' line in the middle!

Landlost remains one of my favourite compositions. The arpeggiator line slowly rises & falls like huge oceanic waves while the uneven chord sequence gives it a 'drifting' quality. The lonely 'flute' in the middle gives way to a Mellotron-like 'chorus' of similar voices, blending into the arrangement in a sort of symbolic oneness. There's no middle eight to break the flow, and at the end the pattern breaks down into fragments as it drifts away. A very personal piece for me.

Celestine uses several of the trademark sounds of the Blofeld's PPG Wave heritage, a classic instrument of the 1980's that was always way, way outside my price range. 'Nasal' & 'rubbery' tones, glassy digital piano sounds, and the robotic 'processed voice', all alongside characteristic pads.

As I explored the new synth I set myself exercises when inspiration flagged - starting with a simple chord sequence I'd add accompaniment and see where that led me. Chrysalis was one of the first of these and the only one that ended up being named, later tunes were usually dubbed Exercise n.

Son of Stavro was the first track I completed with the Blofeld, albeit at the second attempt (hence 'son of'). After finding a sound with a strong rhythmic element I added a syncopated delay, set the arpeggiator running, and played around with inversions over a simple chord sequence. My first attempt to build a song on top of this ended up in the bin but rather than scrap the lot I returned to the first element and started again from there. In hindsight this gave me time to let ideas form & develop and the resulting piece was much more musically coherent.

Eurofizz was lots of fun, a return to the poppier side of my output. It's a little sluggish, possibly due to my keyboard played bass & drums, but still has a nice bounce to it.

Dreamwalker set a pattern that I would return to many times in the future, a relatively unchanging central line with an arrangement that swirled around it, often changing the musical context. This version had some lovely drifting & dreamlike elements with enough structure to keep it rooted.

Memoria has a dynamic, driving sequence with big chords to match. A nice example of one of my 'quiet' middle eights.

Exercise 3 developed into a sort of 'barber pole' piece where the chords are always moving but somehow never getting anywhere.