Rupert Lally is a British musician, who lives in Switzerland. He’s been around for quite a while producing several albums solo and in collaboration with Norway-based Espen J.Jörgensen. His new album Day One was released on Bandcamp on 15.01.2016, and will be featured in a CiTR broadcast on 17.01.2016, at some point during Bepi Crespan’s portion of the day (details on the CiTR website: www.citr.ca)
We had a little talk with Rupert about this project and his love for the modular.
Horizontalpitch: You’re quite a prolific musician, both solo and with Espen J.Jörgensen and you cover a wide field between ambient and what could almost be labelled as rock. Tell us a bit more about your musical background and your various (both past and ongoing) projects.
Rupert Lally: Well, as is so often the case, my prolific nature is actually only there to mask the fact that I get bored very easily. A bit like the character of Sherlock Holmes, I constantly need to keep my mind occupied with some project or other – musical or otherwise. As much as I adore being a stay-at-home Dad to my two lovely children, I can’t survive without some kind of creative outlet … hence the various projects.
As for my musical background, it’s quite varied. My father and grandfather were musical arrangers and copyists, and because my father had been pushed into piano lessons at an early age, he decided not to do the same with me. As a consequence, my musical education began when I got a cheap acoustic guitar for Xmas when I was about 11 years old (after my step-dad saw me pretending to play along to records with an old tennis racket) and I got enrolled in classical guitar lessons, which gave me a fairly good grounding on the guitar, but at the time, frustrated me because the teacher wouldn’t show us chords – so I couldn’t just strum along to records. I also played drums in a marching band at about the same time.
Later, I switched to bass guitar and played in the high-school Jazz band, but basically my education consists of 3 years of classical guitar, GCSE music lessons and whatever I picked up along the way playing in various bands.
By the time I finished school and went to university, I’d developed a certain amount of interest and knowledge about sound engineering and bought myself a little 4-track tape recorder so I could continue making music on my own. At University, I studied English Lit and Drama, and towards the end of my final year, I got interested in combining my interest in music and sound with Theatre. I’d discovered both Brian Eno’s music and Walter Murch’s writing on film sound design by then and was busily applying techniques from both of them in the work I was doing.
When it came time to leave, I inquired about the possibility of doing some sort of post-graduate course in music and sound for theatre and I ended up on an MA course at London’s prestigious Central School Of Speech & Drama doing just that. From there I began a career as a freelance composer and sound designer, which has been (more or less) what I’ve been doing ever since. Since 2000, I’ve scored somewhere close to 100 Theatre shows, composed the title music for TV programs on ITV and had my music used in films and video games.
In about 2006, I began my solo recording career properly – principally to have something to do between paid jobs, but also because I had more experimental ideas for compositions which were never going been accepted in the framework of commercial work. I made my own CDs and sold them and was lucky enough to get a little bit of airplay on Resonance FM in London and it’s just sort of spiralled on from there. Over time, the commercial work for Theatre and TV has lessened and my own work has slowly come to the forefront more; particularly since I began collaborating with Espen in 2012.
These days, I divide my time more or less equally between creating music for a modern dance company and a multimedia company here in Switzerland and my own releases. This last year (2015) has seen me put out two solo releases, not including “Day One”, plus a new album with Espen. That’s a pretty relaxed year for me. 2013 had 2 solo releases, 4 with Espen, a single for a side project, plus producing someone else’s e.p.
HP: Day One features an astronaut who is about to exit the air lock of his spaceship to step onto an alien planet’s surface (for the first time I guess). Despite this the album does not reference the cliché sounds from vintage sci-fi movies. What’s the connection?
RL: (laughs) Well, the connection’s fairly tangential, ultimately … Despite, not initially being created with a narrative in mind, as the work began to take shape It began to suggest images to me of someone alone, exploring a hostile alien environment. Once I had that then, obviously, I chose to pursue the idea more consciously, particularly when I drew the cover art. Even now, though, it’s not like there’s a complete narrative there, more that it simply suggests that sort of vibe to me. This actually happens quite a lot when I’m working – I guess it’s a logical consequence of spending so many years creating music for other media, even when no image or action is present you naturally end up creating your own in your head.
HP: Tell us a bit more about how you made this album. What is your creative process like?
RL: Here, unlike some of my other solo work or that with Espen, there was a very clear concept. The initial idea in creating this piece, which was created for CiTR FM in Canada’s ’24 Hours Of Radio Art’ Day, was to do something with the concept of “24 Hours” – the obvious solution was condensing hours into minutes and creating a 24 minute piece made up of 24 1-minute sections. At this point, I just started composing little pieces with the modular of 1 minute or more. Eventually, when I felt I had enough, I edited them together in a sequence which seemed to work. The resulting piece was still very fragmented, needless to say; so I began overdubbing more tracks of modular, as well as some sounds made using percussion or household instruments.
HP: How did you create the other tracks on the album, using the same approach?
RL: Yes, they were done during the initial sessions for the album, using exactly the same approach as the 1-minute sections (a single patch for each composition, recorded in one take), the only difference was that I could find a suitable way to edit them down to 1-minute! So, in the end, knowing that I would need some additional tracks to fill out the album release, I kept them as they were.
HP: The almost total absence of rhythm in these tracks is a consistent choice on many albums of yours. What do you think about the current trend of making dance-oriented music with the modular?
RL: I really like a lot of the stuff I’ve heard, on the Tip-Top Audio compilation for example and particularly Surgeon’s tracks, are fantastic. I’d like to try stuff like that myself, especially now that I have the 4MS QCD and the Dinky’s Taiko (in fact, I’ve become more interested in drum modules lately, as they don’t need an external VCA, just a trigger – which saves space in a compact system). Who knows? Perhaps my next release will be more “beat orientated”.
HP: Why did you choose to work with the modular, here on this album? And in general, what fascinates you about this instrument?
RL: Working with the modular is still a fairly new thing for me. Despite, buying my case and my first few modules in Oct 2013, it wasn’t until this year when I finally released an almost entirely modular recording : “Scenes From A High Rise”. Making that album was so much fun, that I began thinking about releasing more modular music as soon as I was finished. The process here – creating short 1-minute sections of music – seemed perfectly tailored to the modular environment. The patch (and they were all made from single patches, no multi-tracking whatsoever on the initial pieces) therefore became the composition; and as the compositions were necessarily short then even a relatively static patch had it’s usefulness when viewed in the context of the whole piece.
Ultimately, the joy of the modular, for me, was the realization (after owning one for two days) that what I wanted wasn’t a synthesizer at all, but a compact electronic music production system. This necessitated me taking the “complete voice” beginner’s system I’d purchased, back to the shop and swapping it for a case and a few modules… An expensive mistake (and not my last since starting down the modular path) but a vital one, nonetheless. My system now, although small, can be whatever I need to be: synth voice, drum machine, fx processor, sound effect generator etc. I cannot predict completely how it will be when I switch it on each time, nor do I want to. Like a musical collaborator, it brings something new every time … It’s certainly the best cure for “composer’s block” I’ve ever come across.
HP: What’s your modular like? Which are your go-to modules and how do you build your patches?
RL: Here’s my modular as currently stands:
This is (more or less) the same system that both “Scenes From A High Rise” and “Day One” were made on. The only major changes are that I also used a Pittsburgh Modular DNA Symbiotic Waves and a Make Noise Wogglebug and I had Doepfer and Pittsburgh clock dividers rather than the 4ms QCD I have now.
As you can see, it’s only a small 6U system. I’m resisting getting another case until I’ve filled this one as effectively as possible – though that day’s fast approaching as I’m not planning on getting rid of any of these.
Mutable Instruments are my favorite module maker – Almost every module has multiple functions and they are, without a doubt, some of the most solidly-built modules in Euro. They get used a lot. Braids, in particular, gets used on everything. I remember watching Surachai’s demo video of it just as I was getting my first modules. Personally, I would rank it as one of the greatest Eurorack modules that’s so far been created. […] Clouds was essential in creation of “Scenes From A High Rise” and here as well. I installed Matthias Puech’s Clouds Parasite alternate firmware, whilst it was still technically in beta, halfway through the creation of the initial pieces and the additional “Oliverb” mode got used almost everything. The Harvestman Double Andore is another module that gets used on virtually every piece: for envelopes, LFOs, I even cranked it up to audio rate and used it as a percussion sound source on a couple of tracks. I have the Orange/Pink EPROM with the additional waveforms installed and I find it’s digital nature compliments the Mutable stuff really well. The ALM Busy Circuits SBG and Dinky’s Taiko were both bought towards the end of the sessions for “Day One”, and I used the SBG to run the modular through guitar pedals and amp simulators for some of the album’s more aggressive sounding tones. I even bought it from Matthew Allam himself, at their stand at the Brighton Modular Meet – I think he thought I was insane when I asked him to autograph the box it came in! (laughs) … but it meant a great deal to me to meet someone whose equipment I really like, tell him so and hand him some money for something he made … that may sound silly, to some people but there you go … Finally, the microbe modular Meta Sequencer is a great little module that I use all the time. It will generate a random sequence to a pre-selected scale and number of steps too, which can be a great starting point for melodic patches.
As for building patches, there are so many sources of inspiration it’s hard to list them all. Sometimes, I’ll have read about a type of patch or seen a video – such as Ben Wilson’s (DivKid) great module videos and want to see if I can achieve something similar; Other times I’ll hear a sound on a record or in a film that I’ll dissect and try and recreate … On plenty of occasions it’s simply a case of: “I wonder what It would sound like if I modulated this parameter with this source? …” Certainly, I try not to be overly scientific about my patches, I think curiosity and being open to randomness can be just as valuable “creatively”…
HP: What does “playing a modular” mean for you?
RL: Personally, I derive a great deal of satisfaction in creating patches that are a composition in themselves and then making subtle tweaks to certain parameters once I’m recording… Even when I’m creating, say, a lead patch for an overdub, that I’ll trigger via midi – I’ll always be tweaking envelope “Attack” times or the filter cutoff as the audio is being recorded … That to me is the great beauty of an electronic instrument that has an analog interface and no patch memories – it encourages you create all those little timbral variations that you could never be bother to if you had to program them in a sequencer. In that sense, it’s closer to when I pick up a guitar … This sense of: create a sound that you like and capture it, now, before the moment is gone.
HP: You live in Switzerland, does that influence the music you make and if so, in which ways?
RL: Not sure, really … Ultimately, the music comes from within me and it still sounds like me whether I write it in Switzerland, England, At home, on a plane, in a hotel or sitting in the back row of the theatre, during the middle of a rehearsal … that being said, where we live is quite rural – we have a Forest at the top of the road and a lake at the very bottom – and I do often come up with ideas or concepts whilst out walking the dog around this beautiful bit of countryside!
As a little bonus, here’s Rupert Lally’s making-of video for Day One, where he shows his patches and tells us a bit more about how he created the tracks on this album.