Beachwalking EP – track notes and background

A three track EP “Beachwalking” by Charlie Phillips came out on 17th September 2021.

Check it out through the Bandcamp player below (if the player doesn’t display, you may need to refresh your browser).

It’s also available on Spotify and all other major music services.

Here are some background notes on each track.

Track 1 – Beachwalking

This track ended up being an experiment to see if I could take an idea from nothing to release-ready in a day. Did I succeed?

The initial idea was a simple chord change over a simple electro beat. This was done during my daily sketch process, where I take my phone and just bash out whatever comes along. One idea per day, every day. Leave the idea without listening back to it for at least a week or two, blind arrange it into a basic structure, then listen to assess if it’s worth taking forward or not. Repeat. In my case many hundreds of times, as I’ve been doing a daily idea sketch every day since November 2019.

Sometimes these sketches seem OK at the time of doing them. Most of the time you don’t know if they’re any good or not. The point is just to do them. This particular idea seemed to have something in it which could be taken forward without having to wait for the later review stage. So I got as far as I could during the initial session, then worked on it on the phone a couple more times during the day. I then put it into Logic on the laptop in the late afternoon, doing the more complex sound and arrangement edits. One final mix session in the evening and it was ready to export. And this is the version you have.

It’s also the first time I have sung on anything for about 25 years. And I got the track title wrong on the coverart!

Track 2 – Catch Or Stay

Catch Or Stay is based around a few samples I recorded on my phone on the London Underground. Nothing too exciting about that, but this was the first time I had used the tube for over 18 months, due to lockdowns and other restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

You forget the atmosphere, sounds and other sensations of that environment, even though you blank them out when you face them every day. I really noticed the sounds of the tube. Even the dullest were things I hadn’t heard for ages. But I particularly noticed the weird sounds that come at you from all directions, if you keep your ears and mind open.

Catch Or Stay is one such sound. The track is based around a single snippet of a single announcement over the PA system at Green Park station. I can’t remember exactly what the announcement was – and it definitely wasn’t saying ‘catch or stay’ – but the rhythm and sound lent themselves to being some form of atmospheric vocal hook to build melodies and a beat around.

Track 3 – Magdala Terrace

When lockdown restrictions were lifted in May we were able to have a couple of nights down by the coast. It was so nice to be in a new place, and to explore a beautiful historic coastal town.

One evening, quite late, I wondered if it would be possible to make a track just using the sounds I could make with what was literally on the table in front of me. There was some cutlery, a wine glass, and of course the table itself. Was I able to make an entire track using just the sounds I could make from these items, and fairly quietly so as not to wake the house?

By far the best noise was the classic ‘finger around rim of wine glass’ sound. By sampling a single sustained note and pitching it at middle C, a single sampled note immediately becomes a full instrument. Chords, arpeggios, as they are or with effects, are all there. I thought this sound may be a bit too obvious, but when adjusted to have a fairly slow attack (ie a soft start to each note), and playing nice chords, this created a haunting backdrop, reminiscent of an oboe. This wasn’t intentional. It’s just the way it came out. But when placed together with various other sounds and notes, there is a certain ambience to this track. It’s almost classical, and very unlike most of the other electronic music I do. Even though it is produced using very modern electronic music techniques.

Was I successful in creating the full track from scratch with only the sounds for a wine glass, knife, fork, table and chair? Not quite. There are a couple of synthetic sounds in there. One is the dull piano part. I tried very hard to create this without using a synth, but I couldn’t get the melodic aspect I needed for it to carry the notes properly. The other bit which required external assistance was in the mix. Using very quiet recordings made on an iPhone, two problems came up. One was that the volume of most of the samples was low, so needed boosting to level up to everything else, especially when all parts play together. This had to be done using a bit of third party gear in Logic.

The other issue was the recording quality of the samples. They sound OK, but when you are mixing several sounds together, you’re needing to adjust one against the other. This requires shaving (or hacking) bits of the frequency range off from parts, so they don’t interfere with others in the mix. With low quality recordings to work from, there’s less frequency to adjust. This means you end up with neighbouring sounds either remaining in overlap, and sounding muddy, or being cut to the extent that they lose their definition. Sorting this out did take a bit of thought, but hopefully the end result is OK. Even if the production is a bit scrappy, I like the atmosphere and the different musical direction this took as a result of the sounds I had available. Listening to it now, it almost sounds a bit like something from Inspector Morse. What do you think?

One final thought – Magdala Terrace is the name of the street opposite where we were staying. I’ll leave the location as a mystery for now though – one for you or Morse to solve.