Scottish musicians experimenting with technology

Yann Seznec, Lucky Frame, Found and Simon Kirby on the area where music meets technology

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Scottish musicians experimenting with technology

Yann Seznec

Advances in technology have long played their part in pushing music forward as an art form, from Kraftwerk’s devotion to drum machines and synths to Grandmaster Flash’s canny knack with a crossfader.

And with technology now more accessible than ever, a growing number of Scottish-based musicians and artists are harnessing it in groundbreaking ways. Alternative songwriters such as The Pictish Trail, Jonnie Common, and Conquering Animal Sound all combine devices such as samplers and loop/effect pedals with more traditional instrumentation, creating something new and unexpected.

Taking things in an even more experimental direction are the likes of FOUND and Yann Seznec, both of whom showcased their work at Scotland’s first ever Music Hack Day in August 2012, organised by the Leith Agency and Scottish Music Industry Association.

‘We’ve almost got to a point with technology that if you can imagine how it would work there is a way of doing it,’ says Simon Kirby, Professor of Language Evolution at the University of Edinburgh. Kirby is also one quarter of the band/art collective FOUND, along with Ziggy Campbell, Tommy Perman and Kev Sim (who also creates electronic music under the moniker River of Slime).

FOUND, who are signed to Glasgow-based label Chemikal Underground, have received international acclaim for their installation-based sound and music projects including the BAFTA winning ‘emotional robot band’ Cybraphon and their mind-bending collaboration with Aidan Moffat, #UNRAVEL. Their latest project is a smartphone app designed to be a souvenir for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The app’s soundtrack constantly changes depending on how close the listener is to the city and in which direction they are facing.

According to Campbell, no matter how useful technology is when it comes to the creative process, the ideas always have to come first. ‘With #UNRAVEL we were like, let’s come up with a really ballsy, ambitious idea. We’ve no idea how we’ll do it or if it’ll work, but if we just sit and come up with the idea and give ourselves enough time I’m sure we can figure it out.’

That said, technology itself does influence the final result in unexpected ways, as Perman points out. ‘For Cybraphon and #UNRAVEL we built the mechanical musical instruments before we could write anything for them, so we had to learn how to compose for them. That made us write music that we wouldn’t have written otherwise, which is what made it interesting.’

Yann Seznec records music under the name of The Amazing Rolo and is founder of Lucky Frame, a small Edinburgh-based company which produces music-based smartphone apps and other quirky creations. He developed a unique instrument for Matthew Herbert’s One Pig project, dubbed The Sty Harp, by hacking discarded gametrak controllers (‘an obscure, failed motion controller’). As a result he is now a part of Herbert’s live band, and has performed in a number of exotic locations round the world.

‘Certainly in the past few years it has become much easier to access and use technology in a creative fashion’, says Seznec. But despite the rewards, it’s still not a simple process. ‘It still is quite frustrating and time consuming in many ways, and sometimes I need to just sit down and play some piano or build the simplest thing, just to clear my head.’

Indeed, both FOUND and Seznec emphasise that when faced with almost limitless possibilities, focus is essential. ‘If technology isn’t providing any limit, then you need to take your limit from somewhere else’, says Kirby. Seznec agrees: ‘The best thing to do is to design a really focused project for yourself, then work out what tools and knowledge you need in order to do it, and then do it. Stay focused on your creative goals, rather than getting lost in the world of software or hardware possibilities.’

Matthew Herbert: One Pig

Never one to pander to convention, Matthew Herbert takes musical innovation to extreme levels with this sound experience built entirely around the noises made by the titular animal. The live show consists of music made from samples recorded during the pig's life, as well as featuring an 'interactive musical pig sty' and a…

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