Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

#29: Rounding Up and Rounding Off

So for the last blog post of the year and the foreseeable future I thought I'd round up the links to my musical online activity from the last 12 months. At the end of December 2014 I used Bandcamp to publish a bunch of tracks I had recently been working on under the name Duster Jack across five digital eps. This then paved the way for further use of the Bandcamp service throughout the year.
Time To Dust was the first digital album comprising of some of the previously released Duster Jack tracks including some slightly tweaked and remixed versions and two new additions.

Duster Jack: Time To Dust [album] (January 2015)

Android was the next album compiling the remainder alongside two more new tracks.

Duster Jack: Android [album] (May 2015)

My former synth pop music moniker, Production, was revived for a new digital single paying homage to the classic 7" and 12" formats I used to enjoy collecting back in the day. I had started formulating a new Production album of material from as far back as 2003 and after some years of going back to various works in progress, I managed to reach the finish line. 

Desperation [digi-7"] (June 2015)

Desperation [digi-12"] (June 2015)

This was followed by the full album Tonic featuring a longer version of Desperation 

Tonic [digi-album] (July 2015)

In September I decided to transfer some early recordings I made in the nineties under the name S-cape during my years in Salford, and I created a Bandcamp page for these too. I included five CDs I compiled of recordings, plus three earlier cassette albums and a couple of live recordings. Visit the S-cape page for full track listings and audio.

S-cape: The Salford Tapes (Archive '99 Series 1-5) (September 2015)

In September I went through some other Duster Jack ideas I had programmed and written and decided to flesh them out into full tracks. This resulted in an album called Inside Influence

Duster Jack: Inside Influence [album] (September 2015)

I followed up the Production Tonic album with a homage to the six track remix album often released by synth pop bands of years gone by... in the form of a six track remix album called Proud 

Proud [remix album] (October 2015)

While I never regarded Live It Down as a favourite of mine from Tonic, I had so much fun remixing it that I ended up doing a few versions to make up a followup single

Live It Down [digi-7"] (October 2015)

Live It Down [digi-12"] (October 2015)

During the year I also re-packaged, re-issued and re-mastered the tracks I had previously composed and produced under Paul A Jackson for the music for dance in education label Dancesounds. This time I released them as a Production Music Library for media use.. While these are only available to media users on certain platforms, the original Dancesounds albums remain available at my original Bandcamp page featuring Volumes 1-12 plus extra material, that has continued to see a bit of traffic with tracks streamed and downloaded every now and then..

So after a few musically dormant years, it was a good feeling to actually get some projects finished and out of the way. Uploading content to places like Bandcamp helped me draw a line under them and allowed me to think of other things to do next. As I no longer have the same drive and ambition to do anything else with the tracks, and regrettably nor do i have any vision of how or where I could perform live again, it still felt worthwhile to continue writing, recording and uploading.  
As for the near future I had been mulling over what I should tackle next. 

More Duster Jack
More Production
Rework some old Production tracks? 
Finish off some other pending projects?

But I've now decided that it's time to wrap things up. I started the Production musical umbrella over 25 years ago, S-cape is something I see as belonging to the few years I spent in Manchester, the Dancesounds label was a good home for the music I wrote for a specific audience embedded in dance education and performance and Duster Jack was an experiment in creating new music with new musical toys while on my daily train commute. Alongside all that, this blog has been a fun way of offloading and sharing some musical observations, thoughts and memories with some like-minded friends.

I don't know what lies ahead music wise but it feels the right time to draw a line under what has gone on before and do something different.
Many thanks for your support

Paul A Jackson
Duster Jack

Saturday, 10 October 2015

#28: The Remix Album

Alongside the studio albums, occasional live albums and compilations, there is another album type that might show up in an artist's catalogue: The Remix Album. That little package of 12" extended remixes that gets sandwiched between studio album releases which may consist of a handful of usually 6 - 8 previously released, or forthcoming, 12" single tracks. As an avid collector of a band's recorded output, you may already own most of the tracks on there, or if you missed out on the now hard to find 12" releases, it's a good way of obtaining the mixes in one go, often at a budget price. To some it may be viewed as a cashing in of repackaged material, and to others a chance to obtain the extended and re-edited tracks aimed at the dancefloor. My reference point lies in the early to mid-eighties where bands such as the Pet Shop Boys followed up their debut album Please with the six track remix album, Disco. Soft Cell had followed up their debut album, Non Stop Erotic Cabaret, with NonStop Ecstatic Dancing, and Howard Jones had followed his debut Human's Lib with the straight to the point album, The 12" Album. We've also seen Madonna's You Can Dance collection and also The Human League's follow up to Dare with Love and Dancing released under the name The League Unlimited Orchestra.

The Thompson Twins did things a little differently, and instead of releasing a separate remix package, they added them to limited edition releases of their albums. In fact, for their albums Quick Step and Side Kick and Into The Gap, a limited run of the cassette album release came with either an extra cassette, or a second side of various remixes.  Their 1985 album Here's To Future Days contained a 12" single of five remixes including exclusive mixes of some of the album track all with different titles. As someone who finds artist's catalogues fascinating, these sorts of releases add extra interest to the run of singles and albums that make up a band's recorded output.

The remix collection has never really gone away, and often you will find artists, doubling up their CD releases with an extra disc of dancefloor reworking’s, if not a standalone release.

While the PetShop Boys have continued their Disco series with a remix album popping up every few years, they also included a second CD of remixes to accompany their Fundamental and Yes albums, titled Fundamentalism and Etc, respectively. 

As for the remixes themselves, these were often either extended versions of the single releases, with added instrumental passages to turn a 4 minute pop track into anything up to 7 or 8 minutes. Other mixes may include additional sounds, riffs and hooks. One of my favourite remixers was always Shep Pettibone, whose remix work would pop up on records by Pet Shop Boys, New Order, ThompsonTwins and Madonna, and while usually staying faithful to the song structure, he would often add lots of extra percussion sounds. If it was a 12" mix that opened with cabasas, shakers, cowbells and extra hi-hats, then it might just be a Shep mix. Then there are remixes which take just a few elements of a  track and add a new backing track giving a different feel to the original track. It could be a dance version of a previously mid-tempo ballad. Or a chilled out ambient mix of a previous up-tempo pop track.

And so with my recent Production material that has followed the classic release structure of 7", 12" and album (albeit in digital form), I now pay homage to the Remix Album concept with a collection of six new remixes titled Proud. Among them are examples of previously mentioned remix ideas and little tributes to some of the artists, remixers and releases that sit in my collection.

Now available at

Related Blog Posts: 
The Single

Sunday, 20 September 2015

#27: S-cape In Salford

At the beginning of 1993, while in my first year at University College Salford, I bought a synth module to  add to my limited music-making set-up. I can't recall the exact model number but it was a Cheetah rack mounted module with a few little buttons and a LED number display and was meant to be an editable digital synth. With button combinations to access menus that weren't visible made it very non-user friendly and it was a matter of hours before I realised it was an unwise purchase. I returned it and instead purchased a friendlier sound module called Dr Synth made by Roland. This had a multitude of sampled sounds ranging from synth waves, percussion, traditional orchestra and acoustic instruments and others in between. It was also multi-timbral so I could layer a few lines of music at once and it soon became the backbone to my digital orchestra. While there were some editing features in the sounds including filtering and envelope controls, these weren't possible to use when in multi-timbral mode. So for what I wanted to do, I was a little limited if I wanted to run several musical parts at once. 
With some experimentation over the next few months, I manipulated the sound palette by assigning several sounds to the same midi channels and using pitch shift, panning and other features to build more interesting sound combinations and effects.
I found the best way to explore the new sound palette was to sequence up a few little test tracks. So I hooked it up to my sequencer, which also controlled my Yamaha and Korg keyboards, and spent some evenings in my little bedsit programming some electronic instrumentals. The first one, later called Trancewaves, was a sort of ambient trance track and other tracks followed of a similar nature. Either ambient, techno, electro or sometime combinations of all three. All the tracks could be played by the machines with some manual live editing and sound manipulation, and on Sunday 23rd May 1993, I spent the whole night programming extra bits, and recording a cassette album's worth of material. I gave the cassette album a title of 'Welcome To My World' for no particular reason, and decided to give the 'project' a name, as it was different to the Production material I had previously done. So 'S-cape' was born and this became the moniker used really for instrumental electronica music I created with this particular set up. It wasn't tied to a particular electronic genre, nor any sort of song structure, and with it being more experimental, it felt a kind of escape from the way I had previously been working. I later recorded a further cassette called 'N-Trance; where I included more live sound manipulation and playing along with the sequencer lines. As part of Salford University's afternoon gigs organised by Andrew Greenwood, I seized the opportunity to perform as S-cape, having previously performed solo Production gigs. This particular gig was held at a nearby pub called The Squealing Pig where I set up the gear and performed a few tracks including ones I hadn't previously recorded. Included in this set was Patrol where I exploited the experiments I had done with multi-layering sounds on the same midi channel. For this one, I layered up several drum set patches onto the same channel, with individual pitch settings and effects, and would mute and unmute several parts which allowed me to improvise and mix them live. Almost as if I had created my own live drum set, 

I recorded this live set to cassette, and along with some new tracks, compiled the third S-cape cassette album 'Live Mind'. When I say album, I really just mean a cassette with a homemade sleeve that I'd copy for friends who requested it. A second gig at The Squealing Pig followed, along with sets at the Subclub, the Pavilion (a gig which has its own blog post here), a support slot at the Black Horse pub for a great band called The Pudding Spoons and then I was invited to join BoomBooom, who were a collective, who put on club nights and happenings at various venues. Initially I performed at their more ambient BoomBooombient nights at Night and Day Cafe in Manchester, and then later performed sets at BoomBooom nights at locations such as Jabez Clegg, Castlefield, a club in Hulme, a club in York and Manchester's Music Box and Roadhouse. 

Video footage that captures one of the BoomBooom nights at the Night and Day Cafe can be seen here where i have edited down a ten minute snapshot from the original video tape. Filmed by Vicky in 1995.

I'm indebted to BoomBooom and to Andrew Greenwood for giving me the opportunity to perform the tracks live. Making the music was my sole focus in those years, so to play them out of rather large speakers and seeing people dancing around to them was the ultimate high for me, and as I can't ever see it being repeated, remains a most cherished memory. Now in hindsight I wish I had done much much more and pushed myself further to play as many places as possible.  

Halloween BoomBooo!mbience 
BoomBooom had put out some compilation cassette albums and included an S-cape track on one of them before putting out a CD compilation of BoomBooom artists. This was my first encounter with homemade CD production so it was quite a new thing to hear and see a track on a compact disc. BoomBooom also began broadcasting an internet radio show called BlazzNet, as well as broadcasting some of the live gigs, which at that time around 1995 was quite innovative and exciting. 
As I had only been writing new tracks to perform at venues, I decided it was time to record all the latest material, particularly as BoomBooom were to include tracks on compilations and internet broadcasts and had asked me for something to play. I had written quite a number of tracks that needed titles, and I remember sitting in a pub with a notebook trying to come up with a lìst of titles to then distribute and assign to the various works. 

Something I still do to this đay.

A few S-cape gigs including two in one day.
Also a poster for a second Subclub gig. I can't actually remember
performing as S-cape twice there.
By early 1999 I had my own computer which included a CD burner so I was now able to burn my own CD's and print out labels and sleeves - a step up from the cassette album.
I had borrowed a DAT machine, set it up in my flat with all my gear and recorded all the S-cape tracks I had created in recent years, including re-recorded versions of some of the earlier "cassette" sessions. As N-Trance had now been used as the name for a chart topping dance act, I renamed that particular track Intrance, for what it was worth, and I also toyed with the name S-cape a bit too. For certain gigs I dubbed it S-kape, and also while messing around with various fonts, quite liked the look of using a Greek font. So that became a kind of logo that no-one could pronounce or possibly even notice. Not the best promotional move.

A gig at The Black Horse pub in Salford with set list poster.
Also a poster for the first Squealing Pig gig.
In 1999 I put together five CDs of S-cape material, of which I did a few copies on request from friends. At the end of 1999, I performed a final set as S-cape at a club night at Band On The Wall in Manchester, where having now acquired a sampler and new synth module I performed a more improvised set using lots of samples which I looped round across multiple lines and used the mixing desk to arrange the tracks. I had never done that before, and was never to do it again, as within the next month I left Manchester and moved to London. That seemed to close off any avenue I had in performing as S-cape again, as it would mean starting over again and I was now in the middle of recording Production material. 

So I view the leaving of Manchester as closing the door on the S-cape moniker, project, act, entity, name etc. Plus, the name has been used for other things. I like the idea of that name attached to a bunch of tracks I created in those years as being part and parcel of a great experience of having time and opportunity to focus on music creativity; meeting some great people, and keeping some great memories of Manchester. The association with the name S-cape is more than just a name under which I twiddled some dials, pushed some buttons, swept some filters, and sequenced some synths. For me it is a chapter heading of sorts for an audio diary of my time in the North West.
Having said that, I have continued to write electronic instrumental tracks, which to me sound like the natural progression from S-cape, particularly the Dancesounds Volume 2: Classwork album, released in 2002. 
More recently, the Duster Jack material I've been working on is the more electro side of what I was doing in Manchester, and as abstract a concept a project name might seem to some, it feels like a sort of offspring of 

Some live recordings.
NB the left cassette features tracks I hadn't yet got titles for.
Now S-cape exists only as a pile of cassettes and CDs in a box, through which I had a rummage recently. I decided to upload a selection of them to a Bandcamp page as a kind of archive area. Being cassette recordings, it meant the quality wasn't to a high standard, but I quite like the old worldly charm of hearing tape hiss and hum in places. If only for me, it conjures up memories of hitting the record button on a portastudio, in the bedsit of a terraced house in Salford in the early nineties. 

Hearing the live recordings brings back vivid memories of me uncoiling cables and setting up keyboard stands while around me others assembled decor, food stalls, video screens and record decks for BoomBooom extravaganza evenings. It's certainly more vivid than any photograph.

So now the bulk of those recordings are in cyberspace on the S-cape archive Bandcamp page.
S-cape Archive Volume 1 to 5 is the repackaged five CD set of the 1999 live-to-DAT sessions I recorded in my Salford flat over a few evenings. They include some re-recordings of earlier tracks from the cassette albums.
The cassette albums,  Welcome To My World, N-Trance and Live Mind are also there along with a couple of extra live recordings. Live In Salford is the second Squealing Pig gig, and Live in Manchester is the 1996 gig I did at Jabez Clegg as part of a BoomBooom night. 

Depending on feedback and response, I may add to that archive in time. For now, I hope you find them of interest, particularly those friends and supporters at the time who may also share memories of some of those live gigs and cassette sharing.

Friday, 17 July 2015

#26: Music For Dance

At the end of 2001 I was renting a room in South London and had started working on some new music for a new purpose. Rachel, my future wife, prompted the idea of writing music to suit dance education; whereby tracks would be composed, produced and presented to students of contemporary dance tailored to meet their examination criteria. It sounded like a good plan to try out, so I started work on a number of tracks each of which displayed some change of dynamic - be it tempo, time signature, texture, etc. I acquired various sources of reference material and started to build up a library of sampled African, eastern and tribal drum and instrumental sounds, as well as some synth elements. I put together 12 tracks that ranged from electronic synth to experimental sample based works covering a fusion of genres. Added to the album were three tracks I had written and recorded years earlier as S-cape, which had a more electronic ambient vibe. These tracks made up the first release titled ‘DancesoundsVolume One, Choreography’.

We had a twenty pound note and spent it on some stamps, jiffy bags and blank CDs. I burned the CDs on my home computer, printing out the labels and jewel case sleeves, and we put together a flyer with order form promoting the album and sent it out to a number of schools we had addresses of. This was in February 2002 and it wasn't long before we started to have sales. We burned more CDs, printed more labels, sent out more letters and then took more sales. Rachel started building a database, I was building a website and soon we were looking for an accountant. By September of that year, we released a second volume entitled ‘Classwork’, which featured longer tracks structured around a dance class with music for warming up, footwork, travelling and cool down. These were more electronic dance based and more akin to the music I had done as S-cape a few years earlier. We decided to get our CDs burned by a company rather than do them at home, and we started to use printers for the sleeve and promo leaflets. The orders built up and the database grew quite quickly.

Rachel worked on the admin and promotions, including designing the leaflets and putting together guidelines for tracks. I worked on the music composition and production, as well as the website. It was a good team in a modest cottage industry. Volume 3 'Stage Dance' was released in January of 2003 and contained more classical influences with traditional instruments and shorter pieces aimed at use for dance festivals and competitions. I didn't have a strong palette for orchestral and traditional sampled sounds, so I've never been happy with the tracks on this CD; particularly since upgrading my sound library in recent years and listening back for comparison. However, they continued to contribute to incoming sales, and I was soon working on Volume 4 'Solos & Groups', which, like Volume 1, was aimed more at choreography use for dance students. It is probably one of my favourites of all the albums with its wide range of styles and sounds, which was fun to compose and record. 

Volume 5 ‘Dance Drama’ and Volume 6 ‘Percussion’ were released together in 2005. The former contained tracks with narratives depicting street scenes, water, the Wild West, spy drama, communications and machines. These were fun to make as they incorporated a lot of use of my sampler. For the water tracks (stream, river, sea) I recorded the sound of water in the garden using the outdoor tap and a bucket. For the Wild West movie scenes, besides using what sound effects I already had in my sound library such as gunshots, horses galloping and the sound of wind, I took my minidisc recorder to a local pub and recorded the punters and background noise of clinking glasses and chatter. This served as the background for a piece for a Wild West saloon over which I played a honky-tonk piano track. 'Machines' featuring sampled printer noises shifted pitch to depict big factory machines, and communication included my own voice as an answerphone machine and other telephone effects. For ‘On the Street’, I recorded the sounds of traffic on Oxford Street and then cut up the samples around the car horn sounds, which I then played and sequenced as a track.
Great fun to record and put together.

The Percussion album also made use of sampling on a few tracks. All the tracks used percussion sounds and instruments so there were drum tracks, chromatic percussion such as xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiel and use of orchestral percussion sounds only. But I also created my own by recording sounds made by various kitchen utensils and cutlery, as well as hitting pots and pans and shaking containers from the spice rack.

We also started to sell music for dance by other composers on our website. Our promo leaflet had now grown into a catalogue of several pages, more so when we started to incorporate dance education books.

I recorded another choreography album the following year called ‘Composition’, which sits as another of my favourites. Ten tracks blending hip hop influences, with contemporary uses of traditional sounds and some synth effects. Volume 8 ‘Creative Workshop’ featured a mixture of ambient, jazz influenced, and some up-tempo tracks that were structured suitable for different choreographic and class work routines.

Volume 9 ‘Ideas For Dance’ featured more narrative tracks with music depicting space or time travel, pirates discovering treasure, a balloon rising and falling, this time based more on musical themes, harmonies, instruments and styles rather than sound effects.

Volume 10 ‘One Minute Thirty’ provided another challenge as every track had a duration of one-minute-thirty seconds (which served as the title), so each had to maintain some form of structure, and a change of dynamic. This was a mixture of electronic and sampled traditional acoustic sounds across various genres. Volume 11 was titled ‘Musical Cues’ and each employed a compositional device as the basis of each track. That could have been a form such as canon, or a rhythmical device.

We also had started selling digital downloads of the tracks by adding on a digital store to our website. This also meant we could sell music on demand. While we had been providing alternative edits of some tracks on the end of CDs, we started offering a service where I would edit a track to a required length from a customer, and make it available as a download only track. Around the same time, we started providing a music search service where we had dance teachers and students searching for a suitable piece of music for a performance or choreographic task in an examination and on receiving an enquiry, Rachel would select suitable suggestions by referring to a spreadsheet we built containing data pertaining to each bit of music. The customer could then preview the tracks and buy the downloads. This proved to be quite a popular tool and gave us some indication as to what type of music people were after, particularly when we received requests for similar themes or settings. In some cases I would compose and produce new music that might fit some requirements ahead of time, which would then be additions to the catalogue and form the basis of the next album. In 2010, we released Volume 12 ‘Mood and Atmosphere’ which featured more cinematic styles of music with an improved sound palette and some new compositional ideas.

One thing Dancesounds has done over the years is stretch and challenge me a little when it comes to compositional style, sound selection and use of form. Instead of always sticking to 4/4 steady rhythms and standard harmonic structures, I found myself experimenting more with time signatures, polyrhythms, using timbres in different ways and playing around more with sampling and creating new sounds.

In 2012, after ten years, we wound the business down, in part prompted by a house move, a change in circumstances and the quietening down of CD sales. After 12 volumes of work, plus extra albums of edited tracks, extra compositions and commissions, we had built up quite a catalogue of material and a customer base of happy clients.

While a number of CDs are still available through the NRCD(National Resource Centre for Dance), I also put the entire digital catalogue on Bandcamp. I also released Volume 12 through CD Baby which now makes it available across various digital outlets and services such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play, and many many more. The tracks are occasionally played and sold and I recently set about remastering them all with a view to reissuing a selection of the albums, as well as preparing them for availability as music for media by way of a production music library.

This week sees the re-release of albums ‘Composition’, ‘Creative Workshop’ and ‘Solos & Groups’ which are perhaps my favourite three. These, along with ‘Mood & Atmosphere,’ now sit on the other digital services mentioned as well as various others.

Around six years ago, I began editing video footage to a few tracks to give them some life on places like YouTube. I've always been keen to write or edit to visual media, and while I’ve contributed music to a few short films, I never managed to find a foothold in the right place to get any further. So sometimes I just have to make my own and do it myself.

Cracking Codes
Edited video of my trip to Derek Jarman's Garden a few years back. 

 In all the time we were selling the CDs we would occasionally get some feedback from students or teachers who had used our music, but we would never actually see examples of the combined efforts of each art form; except for one time quite early on when we were invited to a local school in Tonbridge, who were putting on their end of year dance performance, using around seven pieces of my music. So it was quite a thrill to see students perform their choreographed routines to tracks from the catalogue. A few years later I began doing a few commissioned arrangements and compositions for stage festivals and competition performances, which were filmed and sent to me. And more recently I stumbled across a few tracks that had been posted to YouTube by dance students showing their choreography routines. So while hearing and seeing evidence of the use of the music has been minimal, it is very rewarding to see.

My competition entry of a short score  to a Wayne McGregor dance video. 
Part of the Royal Opera House Create project competition. 
It didn't win but here it is anyway. 

‘Composition’, ‘Creative Workshop’, ‘Solos & Groups’ and ‘Mood & Atmosphere’ are available in digital stores including ITunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and Spotify.

And the full catalogue remains available at Bandcamp.