Instrument, music

Andy’s Instruments #3: Octave Mandola

After the synthesiser phase I went through just before Christmas, I’m back playing (mostly) acoustic instruments. I find mandolins to be a bit fiddly sometimes, so I thought I’d get a bigger version of the mandolin, the mandola. Except I’ve never seen a left-handed version of one, but I did find a lefty octave mandola (aka octave mandolin*). So I bought that.

An octave mandola is tuned the same as a mandolin, but an octave lower. Mandolins are tuned the same as violins, so the octave mandola is between a viola and a cello in pitch. The tuning is not the same as guitar tuning, so it takes a bit of mental adjustment to play if you’re coming to mandolin playing from guitar, as I am**. None of the usual chord shapes or scale shapes work.

Another big difference is that mandolin family instruments have 8 strings, 4 courses of 2 strings tuned in unison. That can be quite painful on the fingertips to start with. And can take an age to tune up.

Anyway, here is me improvising/twiddling. Sorry for the darkness and bad framing!

I’ve not given up on the synths, my next move will be trying to include them on recordings made with the octave mandola. That should be quite interesting.


*The reason for the confusion (short version): When Gibson made mandolins in the early 20th century, they made a larger version tuned a fifth lower (C-G-D-A-instead of G-D-A-E) which is the same as a viola, and they called it a Mandola. In Europe, there already had been a Mandola (mandolina means ‘little mandola’) so the C-G-D-A instrument became known as an alto-mandolin. In UK and Ireland, the smaller instrument is often known as Tenor-Mandola, the large as Octave -Mandola.  I hope that’s all clear now.

**After a month of playing nothing but mandolin instruments, the guitar suddenly seems huge.

Instrument, music, studio

Andy’s Instruments #2: Korg Volca Keys

I’ve been going through a bit of a synthesiser phase of late, and one of the instruments I’ve bought is this great little device/toy – the Korg Volca Keys.

It’s about the size of a video cassette (ask your parents/grandparents/ancestors) and is a fully functioning synthesiser.  The keyboard is a bit basic, with a touch-sensitive strip rather than actual keys, but the device features a built-in sequencer and a MIDI-in port, so it’s a lot of fun.

It runs on batteries (6 x AA) and has a headphone socket, so it is nice and portable. It has a built-in speaker which can sound a bit tinny, so it’s best plugged into an amp or loudspeakers. But most things are.


album, music, studio

Clear Out

Now the album is out, it’s time to deal with this lot – the test CDs I burned over the past few months while I tweaked the sound, loudness, and the running order of the album. It took 35 versions to get it ‘right’, or as right as it was ever going to be.

I’m tempted to keep them all until we’re rich and famous, and then auction them for lots and lots of money. This is, of course, delusional.


Since I wrote this, I have found a further three four Haven Avenue CDs down the back of my desk.

album, Avebury, music

‘Haven Avenue’ album now out

After a very long gestation – a year? Something like that – our album of Ambient Poetry* is now out there for you to listen to and hopefully enjoy. And possibly buy (no pressure).

We were inspired by the neolithic stone Circle of Avebury and the surrounding landscape** – real and unreal. Some bits are real, some bits imagined by ourselves. The bit with the talking crow probably isn’t real.

The poems and field recordings are all by Daisy, and the music and other things are by Andy.

You can listen on the player widget below.

It is also available to buy from Google Play. Other services  (iTunes,  Amazon, etc) should all be live by next week.

EDIT: Now on iTunes and Spotify.


*Please, please, someone suggest a better term than that. How about Ambient Folk Poetry?

** And therefore possibly a concept album. There’s no law against it.

landscape, music

Andy’s Ambient Selection #2: ‘On Land’

Ambient 4: On Land” is an album released in 1982 by Brian Eno, and it is one of my favourite albums. It is not music to play at a party, or to entertain or impress someone. The music seeps, it hints, it evokes.

The music is barely music at all, some of it is more like the ghost of music – or the  ghost of landscape. Some tracks almost seem like phantasmagorical field recordings.

There are no voices, no beats, no guitar solos. It is perhaps an album best experienced as an immersive virtual environment experience. I have no idea what ‘Lantern Marsh‘ looks like (it is a real place, not far from where Eno grew up) but the mind-picture conjured up by the track is surely better than reality could possibly manage.

“What qualified a piece for inclusion on the record was that it took me somewhere, but this might be somewhere that I’d never been before, or somewhere I’d only imagined going to.”

Brian Eno

Probably the best explanation of it is from Eno himself in the liner notes (here) where he also explains an ambient speaker system he had devised by accident…




landscape, music

Andy’s Ambient Selection #1: ‘Substrata’

(The first in an occasional series where Andy quacks on about some music he likes)

I don’t just listen to ambient music, honest. but sometimes I’m just not in the mood for loud guitars or something with drums on.  Times like that – often late at night after drink has been consumed – I put on an album like this.

This is an almost beat-less album,  filled with beautifully glacial synthesizers, location recordings of Nepalese glaciers, and field recordings of melting ice and winds howling around mountain peaks.  This is the kind of album you can put on and be taken for a journey. Or as David Stubbs wrote in Melody Maker:

“The best ambient album I’ve heard in an ice age, an album of terrifying, desolate and all-enveloping beauty.”

Biosphere is  Geir Jenssen  from Tromsø, northern Norway, the most northerly city in the world,  350km above the Arctic circle (also the hometown of Röyksopp). It’s hard to see how that environment couldn’t have influenced the sound of the album. The original album sleeve being pure white and icy blue re-enforces that idea.  This is an album that has a sense of place, and I rather like that.

A lot of people claim this is the greatest ambient album ever made. It might just be.

The album can be purchased from Biosphere’s own Bandcamp








Ableton, music, studio

It’s all gone quiet… except here

I’ve been working hard on mastering the album, beginning to see why it’s recommended that you get someone else to do it. It can be hard to get perspective on something if you are too close to it.

It can be difficult to get the loudness of each track correct – it needs to fit with the perceived loudness of the preceding and following tracks.  Also, I need to listen to the music at much higher volumes than I am used to, so everything sounds different anyway. It’s all good fun. Kind of.

And when that’s done, we need to work on the album cover… (but that’s a post for later in the month).