Cate Brooks is back with her seventh release for Clay Pipe Music. Never one to stand still, ‘Easel Studies’ finds her pushing the boundaries of sound synthesis and experimentation on the Buchla Music Easel while still sounding beautifully beguiling and hypnotically melodic.
“On this day in 2015, at exactly Midday, I took delivery of a wildly exotic musical instrument. To call it a synthesizer would be a misrepresentation; it’s really more of a tactile, living, breathing entity than anything else. It had originally supposed to have been delivered on the day before, but had somehow been mislaid in the labyrinths of the Royal Mail sorting office at Elephant and Castle.
I sat patiently and quietly all morning, waiting for its imminent arrival. I had already read through the ‘manual’, which is more of a concept / design for living, written by synthesis legend Allen Strange.
With Noon approaching, I became a little anxious- my local postie, Barrie, was usually here by about 10:30am and there was no sign of him.
At 11:58, Barrie walked past, completely ignoring my house. Obviously concerned, I stood at the door and waited for him to walk back toward his van. As he came back, he smiled and I called out, quizzically “Barrie?”. His reply was “Yes I have!” and walked back to his van, collecting a large box and bringing it to my door. I remember the weather was muggy and my neighbour was attending to her rose bushes, as the cheery and helpful postie deftly navigated around her busy secateurs.
I took the box inside, opened the top and just looked at the inner box for a while. I took a photo of it, which I still have. It felt like quite a momentous occasion, because I felt that this instrument would take me to different sonic spaces than I was used to. It wasn’t my first experience with Don Buchla’s instruments by any means, as I’d learned to use his 200e system. But this was quite a different beast.
My cat Brillo came to inspect the box and I set the Music Easel up on the floor and plugged it in. The result of that very first experiment became “Pendula”.
In the following days and weeks of that summer, I created many more experiments on the Easel, quite often with Brillo either sat on me as I played, or trying to climb up on the instrument itself, attempting to move the faders and switches himself.
By the end of August, I had amassed some thirty-something pieces, which I put aside for future reference. I had learned a lot about this instrument, its idiosyncrasies, subtleties and ways of working.
Sadly, Brillo died in September of 2015. I like to think that his last summer with me was a comforting experience, curling up and listening to the sonic experiments taking place, as he regularly did for the sixteen years he was with me. The first track on the album, “Con Brillo” is my little tribute to him.
Fast forward to 2021 and I rediscovered all of these experiments. Some were almost unlistenable, but some had a beguiling charm about them- perhaps the sound of someone not really knowing what they’re getting into. They needed mixing and balancing, so I set to work. I also wrote a new piece, with exactly the same recording chain, in the same way, in the same room. This became the suitably titled final track “Hindsight”.
The Music Easel has remained a constant source of sonic worlds for me to explore. It because the main instrument on the album Agri Montana, for example and has cropped up on many other records I’ve made since.
I would especially like to thank David at Postmodular for selling the Music Easel to me, after phoning him and disturbing his Sunday afternoon outing to Hyde Park (sorry about that David). I always promised I would send him a copy of something I had produced on it, so hopefully he will enjoy Easel Studies.”