Sunday, August 2, 2020

Holding Torches - new single

'Holding Torches' was released today and features two completely different versions of that song. Which one resonates best with you?


Saturday, July 25, 2020

FLUX TRAX REMIX

FLUX TRAX's REMIX of the Painted-song BREATHING SECONDHAND AIR is expected to hit the streaming services and stores on Monday 27th July.

FLUX TRAX aka MAGNE HOVEN can certainly be called a veteran DJ, remixer, and composer within the realms of electronica, deep-house, techno and related genres. His music is "characterized by references from late 80's and 90's club house music with modern beat structures from Moombahton and Afro-House [plus] elements of Latin American music, found sounds and rhythm boxes from electronic organs."

'Breathing Secondhand Air' is perhaps one of the more popular Painted-songs, and I am very honoured to have had it remixed by Magne. In fact, HIS version is one of my all time favourite songs from the Painted-catalogue!

Spotify, Tidal, and Apple users can click here for direct links to Painted Romans on these services.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Less can be more

Electronic instruments and pop music have pretty much been two sides of a single coin throughout pop history. Although guitar is what I probably do best, my passion for synthesisers and samplers sometimes has a tendency to obscure that fact. Many of my compositions often privilege the keyed instrument over the strung one. The peculiar ease of creating and making so called electronic music today sometimes makes us forget just how intricate and time consuming this used to be. Hardware synths, samplers, sequencers - often combined with tape recorders such as reel-to-reel, or the gadget that I often used, four-track cassette portastudios - had musicians spend long hours gazing at small displays while flicking through oscillator, LFO, filter and envelope pages (if they weren't analogueheads, that is), tweaking the sounds in the gear at hand in the best of their ability. Once pleased with the result, procedures of saving the sounds and programs came next. Writing them to internal memory or SCSI hard drives was heavenly swift. Writing them to floppies, as often was common with old samplers and synths, could take quite a while. Loading the programs from floppies into internal memory often took longer. Not to mention undertaking midi transfers, which allowed for a well earned coffee break, lunch or, for the efficient chefs among us, a light dinner.

Hardware electronic synthesis equipment usually has a plethora of possibilities. One single digital midi synth unit (and I LOVE the vintage digitals) may for example be 16-part multitimbral, which equates to having 16 imagined persons simultaneously playing one synth each. A sequencer makes the job easy, assigning 16 different midi channels, one to each part. My own center piece was for years a highly treasured 1985 Ensoniq ESQ-1 hybrid synth (ie with analogue filters) with an in-built 8-track sequencer. Instant access, instant action, no messing about with all sorts of settings inside a computer DAW. It was lovely, and it makes its appearence, I guess, in pretty much most Painted Romans songs that are available online, not to mention all the songs by Wallpaper Silhouettes that featured synth.

Modern computers are powerful tools and I myself use DAW and have been since around the year 2000. In fact, when my previous band, Wallpaper Silhouettes, recorded songs for what became the first album, we used a stationary PC with (if I recall correctly) 128 megabytes of RAM, a Pentium 2 or 3 processor, and a 19GB hard drive. The sound was recorded through a Creative Audigy sound card which only had a blue stereo mini jack input. For drums we used a nice budget Sennheiser microphone (which I still use today) and a dirt cheap mic from a local supermarket. The cords had jack plugs on their ends, not XLRs, so we inserted them into a jack splitter and fitted that into the sound card, thus recording the kick drum on one channel and either "all the rest" or only snare drum on the other channel. This all went straight into the lovely Cakewalk Pro Audio 9 DAW from the late 1990s. Post-production demanded much from the computer, because we were crazy for reverbs and echoes. Bouncing processed tracks as we went through the mixing stages solved all of the problems related to crammed RAM, CPU overload, latencies and what have you. However, the results always had "near-studio" quality. Less seems to be more.

Back "in the days" when the gear itself placed natural limits on the production process, one tended to shatter those limits by strength of knowing little to nothing about the alternatives. A four-track cassette recorder could easily be turned into a 12 or 16 track multi-tracker; the tapes could be flipped for reverse effects, a couple of stomp boxes could be added to the effects loop, tape speeds altered. Strangely enough (and many people say this) the natural limitations of the equipment made for boundless opportunities. We certainly took advantage of that. Less is more, and having been there is something I cherish. Indeed, hardware is still central to my own song making and recording. Just for the fun of it, and also for nostalgic reasons, here are some of the gear that have come and gone and put its lasting sonic impression on songs of mine.

Ensoniq ESQ-1
Arguably the most user friendly vintage synth in the world. Digital in the handling, analogue in the sounding, the ESQ-1 is a powerful hybrid so-called wavetable (8 bit) synth with those sought after analogue Curtis chip filters. It features an amazing 3 oscillators, and within it everything can modulate everything. It's a synthists wet dream, I tell you! It's all over the music of Painted Romans. Check out the tune 'Waiting for the Day'. At the end of the second chorus you can hear an example of some of the weird and wonderful noises it can make (a noisy, helicopter-like filtered sound). I sold the synth, and it aches.

Kawai K1
I barely got a chance to use this one. But am fully aware of many of its capabilities. It's a hansdome synth with an 8 bit quality to it. No filters but capable of really complex sounds. It can do anything from hard industrial to the lushest of.......lush... I would love to have it back.

Yamaha PSS288
Brilliant little consumer keyboard with sweet presets. Had it for years, but went mad one day and threw it away. In fact, the strange percussive beat in "part 2" of the tune called 'The Long Hour' comes from this keyboard. I must have sampled the sounds and sequenced them from there. Also, the organ and bass organ in the song 'Passion Running Late' are also presets from the PSS288. Love(d) it!

Alesis SR-16
A classic "dance band" idiot drum machine. Pristine 16 bit sounds of its time, but totally boring. However, it's super easy to program patterns, and a lovely machine to have at hand in a writing and demo situation. Mind you, I bought it in the nineties and still use it on recordings from time to time. In fact, I do like it. Yes.

Akai S1000HD, Akai S3000XL, and Akai S5000
The excellent Akai S-range samplers are hard to top. Those mentioned here are all 16 bit machines. But with ten years separating the former from the latter, they are sonically very different. The S1000 was my main sampler for many years; used on loads of Painted Romans recordings. Its filter lacks resonance, but one never misses that due to its dark, brooding, dense and powerful sonic quality. Mine had a 40 megabyte hard drive fitted inside, which was very helpful. The S3000XL is also a beautiful machine, similar to the S1000 but sporting a cool digital filter. The last one, S5000, is more reminiscent of a computer. The sound format is WAV and the sonic specs are everything that you would expect from a modern computer (though 16 bit). It has tons of RAM too. I sold the first two, but the S5000 is a keeper, both for its usability and a promise given.


E-MU ESI-32
Lovely sampler and very different in use compared to the Akais. I think I used it on a collaboration track with the British artist Patrick Wray. The song was called 'Power Ballad'.





Casio FZ-1
The most amazing sounding sampler I ever used. Crystal clear yet lo-fi. I never got into the programming of it; the whole thing was very tedious. But I managed to create some samples with it. The FZ-1 is audible in the track 'Jeopardize'. A real killer sampling keyboard which actually spat on the specs of contemporary Akais and E-MUs with its 16 bit engine and a whooping 1 megabyte of internal RAM. It must have weighed around 20 kg, a real tank!

Roland W-30
A fine lo-fi 12 bit sampler keyboard with a sequencer used on some recordings. It just couldn't compete with the flexibility of the Akai in my case, but I really miss the board and its particular sound quality.

Korg M3R
This was a very-very-mini M1, using the Korg AI-synthesis. Its sounds are wide and relatively smooth. Whether organs, bells, "analogue" pads, or drums, they all sound lovely coming out of this 1 rack unit, especially with the addition of internal effects. Love it and still have it.

Yamaha DX7
My first real synthesiser, this was vital in my previous band Wallpaper Silhouettes. I sold it before releasing anything under the moniker of Painted Romans. The DX7 and its FM synthesis is what it is: wonderful if you know how to control the machine, awful if you're a newbie. I fell somewhere inbetween.

Roland D-110
This was a short affair, and I sold it because... I don't know why I sold it. Programming it can be compelling, but I really enjoyed the sounds. I've noticed that the D-10, D-110 and D-20 often get slammed online. That's unfair. They sound warm and almost analogue at best.

Kawai K4
This is similar to the K1, though it sports "better" 16 bit sample waveforms and a resonant digital filter. It's crisp and can sound a bit harsh at times. On the other hand it's very capable of creating lush and dreamy soundscapes. Basically it cuts well through the mix. The acoustic simulations are not bad either. There are, as expected, loads of parameters to tweak here. I used it for drums and those voice-like sounds in a song called 'Rest Is Up to You', and also in the "B-side" called 'Rites'. It is to be heard on many of the songs appearing on the 2020 album 'Pass'.

Korg Triton LE61
The triton is probably the newest synth I have ever owned, dating from the early noughties. It's a classic workstation type synthesiser capable of covering most needs. Not a pretty board but quite wonderful sounding, though perhaps slightly clinical and dull. It ain't however going anywhere soon.

So these are some of the hardware electronics (come and gone) that have influenced the sound of Painted Romans. We all have different approaches to making music, our preferences are idiosyncratic. However much I dig certain synth plug-ins (that I also use a lot!), I cannot escape the sweet smells of vintage plastic. Hands on buttons and sliders are my preferred tools of the trade, but these days I am less interested in buying vintage stuff as the prices are soaring compared to only five years ago. Old gear is also prone to serious expensive electronic failures. Anyway, if you have come this far: thanks a lot for reading and I hope this "rundown" has been of some interest. Now: if you yourself make music, what are your tools of the trade?

Monday, July 20, 2020

The bound-up Scientific Being and the Privilege of the free Artist: a simple Tune in a complicated Reality

Please note: I wrote and published the following text back in 2014, but have chosen to publish it again. It deals with questions relating to artistry, academia, feelings and rationality. It still holds true for me to this day, so without further ado...

Having enrolled in academia, training in the objective, neutral and empirical analytical models and methods of science, it has somewhat become very clear for me how the methods of a discipline in many ways stand in sharp contrast to the subjective and irrational freedom that the «fine» arts allow for. Harking back to some of the ideals of Romanticism, I find myself in a kind of continous internal strife: on the one hand seeking to implement the academic mindset - one of more or less unbiased and argumentative thinking, while on the other hand feeling a strong obligation to remaining artistically free to express personal viewpoints, often based strongly on emotions, and not letting the rational mind take control over the free-spirited passion of creating music; though never forgetting that by looking beyond the abstract and elite-created laws and norms governing the people of the world, all of us are in fact free to think, mean and speak as we choose.

Upon seeing video images of the Gaza War of December 2008 - January 2009, I found myself writing the lyrics for a song - entitled 'Rest'. It was pretty much triggered by emotions - tears rolling down my face - in front of the television set, one situated in an overly safe environment, and in a distance that made me feel shameful yet utterly and sincerely sad. My own interpretation of this relatively short song lyric is that it's free from prejudice - almost, but that it reflects my own opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict nonetheless. It's an opinion, however, that is not really biased towards one or the other; it doesn't propose any kind of solution to the inherently complex situation; this would be the domain of the rational political analysts, and indeed (perhaps most) one for the populations that are directly involved in, and affected by, the brute forces of war. Instead it presents the notions of one simple man, living in one simple and peaceful country, far-far away from any conflict remotely resembling the Israel-Palestine complex.

Thus it might be fair to evoke the criticism towards the outsider who takes it on himself to comment on events that he, by fundamental lack of knowledge, really isn't entitled to comment on; indeed, perhaps even the top-down attitude of Orientalism, suggesting that this kind of expression has no place in the world society of our time. And I couldn't agree more. The ever increasing tendencies of simplifying what is actually highly complicated processes in play can only be a sure path of destruction. One highly illustrative example of this is the Western expressive feminism's hit on the veiling of Muslim women. In few (if any) imaginable ways do their views contribute in any significant way in altering the situation regarding the veiling of or by Muslim women, which seems to have been one central aim for this movement as exemplified by certain media-exposed topless activists who have had a habit of appearing in front of mosques. Indeed, many of the reactions evoked have been quite the opposite from what these particular activists are looking to achieve: their demands and actions have rather been felt as an attack on Muslim womens' autonomy. Go figure! By not taking into consideration and appreciating the many layers of structures that exist both within and outside the human experience, the activism turns out to be nothing more than an "us" versus "them" campaign, living up to the simplified and mono-explanatory world view that polarizes various parties by not even considering, for example, highly relevant factors such as personal and collective feelings of identities and freedom of choice.

Rather than inviting to constructive dialogue and, I would think, some sorely needed understanding on the part of the activists, it is exactly this kind of antagonism that exacerbate tensions, when they should in fact be reduced (in a global sense). The world is very colourful, though some particular world views may perhaps see it in bleaker terms. It was, in any way, never black and white. The tendency of a firm belief in one's own views doesn't seem like a formula for peaceful and nuanced co-existence and understanding. Blame, which often derives from hard-edged attitudes, can only result in a cyclical un-doing; a negative self-fuelling trap.

The kind of personal view reflected in the song 'Rest' may be one of despair from being unable to do anything constructive. The Norwegian (i.e. my geographic location) way of dealing with the conflict has been to take sides, often involving a boicott of Israeli products: a specially marked socialistic attitude in Norway (the political Right tries to avoid this). Again, I feel that taking sides is both simplifying and antagonistic. Somehow the only side that should be considered is that of Israel and Palestine taken as one; a co-existence wherein at least two sets of needs are accomodated. Central to this image is peace and freedom from fear; and noone is blind to the fact that one of the parties bears a considerable responsibility, partly in light of its war machine's superiority.

Utterings like the above are of course both naive and utopian; herein lies the privilege of the so-called free artist, and I myself entered into this egoistic doctrine around the age of seven and have therefore considerable training in this. But by being just that, naive and utopian, perhaps words like these can contribute to a positive and constructive attitude in general: we need less hate and antagonism in a world where everyone has become their own editor, and where, indeed, everyone is entitled to express themselves in ways unprecedented in the world's history. Unfortunately though, naivity is what it is – silly, to say the least - and probably counts for nothing in the very moment that someone points a weapon at you. Being just a simple song, as 'Rest' ultimately is, in no way does it reflect the layers of intricacy which importance I've already emphasized. Land; religion; personal experiences and the embededness of violence and hatred that I can only assume grow in step with the continous recurrence of violent outbreaks, are a few of the factors that seem to pertain and distress the particular region, and other recurring conflicting regions. No, the song is what it is, a simple one, expressing what perhaps others too are quietly thinking when struck by feelings of powerlessness: that the situation seems without hope.

However, this view is truly sad. When reflecting on the critical climate changes that are going on, I tend to think that perhaps as the world's dominating political and economical actors make room, either willingly or by internal or external force, for the younger generations that have everything to win by taking this unprecedented global problem seriously, then truly a revolution for the better might take place. This basically means that I'd advice optimism on behalf of young people. One must realise that the world these days experiences an increasing number of conflicts of various scales, both cold and hot, that seem to point in the direction of more antagonism and more division. This summer (of 2014) the Israel-Palestine conflict escalated again to horrific heights, once again becoming the civilians' hell. I wonder: could a similar (hypothetic) scenario like that of a generational process in which young people are working for a safer future ever take place in this region; or will the political and ideological stances of the respective parties only continue to integrate the next waves of generations as missiles and fireshots continue to be launched from both sides? The answer is a non-given, partly by considering that «[A]bout 1,000 units [are] to be built in parts of Arab areas of occupied city that Palestinians want for their future state» (retrieved from Al-Jazeera, 27th October). . .

The priviledge of the artist is tied up with an obligation to express something, while at the same time there is also an obligation to maintaining the diversity of the world. But however hard we try to remain unbiased and objective; however we choose to work for peaceful resolutions by claiming to accomodate all parties etc, our sympathy will always «slide» towards one or the other. . .

Please feel free to listen to the song 'Rest' here:



Hey!
You're one that pray
Now the time is right;
thousands can't be wrong

Hey!
How can you be
a soldier in - 2009
No friend of mine

Hey!
can't understand
why there is no
end to a war

- fought over land
Cut off their hands
Noone will rest
All dreams are hurt -
beyond repair

- Mats Davidsen, July/October 2014

Saturday, May 30, 2020

2 short videos

The 'Everything Moves' EP was released in 2011. It is a fully instrumental 6-track release recorded quite spontaneously over a few days that same year. Its main instrument is the classical guitar; making it perhaps entirely different from most other Painted Romans releases. The classical guitar was my first (own) guitar, and I had it many years before acquiring an electric one. Thus my love for it... However, the decision to make an EP using solely this guitar, was very much inspired by the lovely music of Noemi Lila.

Click on these two thumbnails to hear both a 'studio' version and a live vocal version of the song 'Ok!'



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Power Ballad! A collaboration

The returning visitor will be aware of the total absence of new updates within these pages. That doesn't mean that there is absolutely nothing going on; indeed, I did publish a posting advertising that a new Painted Romans release is on the steps and due in 2013. However, while I'd be more than happy to elaborate on it here and now, let me rather try and stear your (highly appreciated!) attention towards a current collaboration project.

A few years back, marvellous experimental (multi)artist Patrick Wray, whom I'd already been corresponding with, approached me with the idea of collaborating on a tune that would carry some traits of a classical 80s power ballad. Mr Wray was in the process of writing and recording a new album at the time, one that is currently awaiting its anticipated release. Having already expressed my admiration for his music, I was very excited about both the concept and the possibility to contribute on his album.

So I went ahead and wrote and recorded an electronic piece; a sort of big sounding, rather bleak and slightly down-tempoed tune to which Mr Wray, utilising his extensive, well crafted and intriguing lyricist and singing skills, would write and perform the vocals. Thus having sent the musical piece to Mr Wray's place of residence, I waited...

The result blew me away! And seeing that we both feel that it turned out so successfully, it'll only be natural to collaborate again; an EP... However, this is not the time to elaborate on that either!

Do have a look and a listen to 'Power Ballad' here - and please: crank up the volume!

More about Patrick Wray at http://www.patrickwray.com