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The Oscillation

Artist

Veering between krautrock edginess, droning medicated tones and noise driven no wave fuzz, The Oscillation recalls the kosmische musik of Neu! and Tangerine Dream interpreted with an eye on Pil’s dubbed out punk funk, Miles Davis’ experimentalism and Spacemen 3’s strung out blues rock. 

Over the space of 15 years, The Oscillation have released 10 LPs and numerous EPs/singles earning world-wide praise for their recordings and explosive live shows.

Beginning in 2008 when DC Recordings released the debut “Out Of Phase”, The Oscillation quickly expanded into a formidable live force and independent self-releasing machine. They released “Veils” on their own label, All Time Low. This was followed by “From Tomorrow” and “Monographic” in collaboration with French label Hands In The Dark. The live ensemble has featured numerous different musicians with Demian Castellanos and Tom Relleen at the helm, plus the live visual manipulations of film maker Julian Hand. Now, almost fifteen years and hot on the heels of 2020’s ethereal and hauntingly powerful “Droneweapon”, The Oscillation return with “Untold Futures”, ripping a hole in Spacetime continuum.

The Oscillation

Digging into the creative process, Byta speaks with artists, musicians, producers, DJs and anyone involved with music creation. A conversation about how they create, collaborate and share music. From studio setups to routines, and the first person to hear about the next 'big' work.

Where are you based?

I’m in Walthamstow, London

How, when and where did you start making music? Are you primarily a musician or a producer, or do something else?

I started playing clarinet aged 6, saxophone at 14, then to guitar at 16. My saxophone teacher was a total dude. He’d been around in Soho in the jazz scene in the 60s and was pretty eccentric, he was pretty much like the professor guy “Doc” in Back To The Future and had this quite mad look and sense of humour. He tried to get me into jazz and encouraged me to start improvising. The lessons became more like just one hour of jamming with him on the piano playing something simple then me trying to come up with melodies over the top. I def wasn’t great but ultimately he did me a massive favour because he planted the seeds of improvising and coming up with my own melodies, pushing me to go beyond myself, and beyond playing from sight. I’m extremely grateful to him to this day for that. For some reason (a few years after I’d left school) I called him fairly early in the morning on the comedown of a really intense and quite difficult acid trip, which could have really gone the wrong way, but he was really cool and wanted to know what I was doing musically and was very encouraging still. He ended up telling me not to worry about it and that he’d done loads of speed and stuff in his day so that kind of gave me a picture that helped understand where he was coming from.

At around 16 years my music taste suddenly changed to stuff like The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds” and punk and I got into guitar, which I guess had been calling me the whole time but I hadn’t been listening or it wasn’t the right time. From that point I pretty much did nothing but play guitar and things seemed to happen quite suddenly, in terms of wanting to do music and moving towards some kind of sound in my head. Over the summer holiday after GCSEs I had this epiphany that I wanted to be a musician. So at 17 I gave up school, and moved from Cornwall to Manchester at the height of “Madchester” as it was known then, with The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays being the main thing going on. That’s another story in itself really but I moved there to get far away from where I was at, which was nowhere really ha ha, in many ways. So that was 1989 and I didn’t release my first album until 2007. There was a hell of a lot of ups and downs, wanting to give up, but not allowing myself to, blind perseverance when it often seemed I was completely deluded for a lot of that time. Let’s just say things didn’t happen overnight but that’s ok with hindsight.

I guess I’m a mixture of musician and producer, it feels quite intertwined to me.

Who would you consider some of your biggest influences when it comes to your “sound”?

I think my approach is to steal or borrow, whatever you want to call it, from all over the place so that you end up with something that might hopefully seem original. My feeling is that all the things you hear, discover from other bands, if you try to replicate it you end up making it your own by default anyway because you can’t really copy someone else’s soul… So whatever you do is going to be your own, whether it’s a good or bad emulation or not, or whether its originality stands up is another thing but you have to just go for it as much as possible and try to remove yourself from any judgement while you are doing it.

It’s quite hard to know where to start really. I think The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds” gave me a kind of sound template I really liked, along with Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. In the 80s there were a lot of psyche bands using reverse reverb or reverse delay on vocals or guitar that I immediately got into and still use a lot. The multi-layered guitars that Loop were doing, and the way they would be panning around and going up and down in volume, which I think they maybe took from Blue Cheer but I can’t be sure! I think the way Loop were layering stuff was a massive influence though, as it’s not just loads of parts doing different things but many parts doing quite similar things that then build up this weird layering effect where you find dimensions within the sound. Their cover version of Can’s “Mother Sky”, was quite a really pivotal point for me when I heard it the first time, something about the sound made me feel like I was instantly levitating. Also MBV were doing a lot of layering effects and parts where you’d then have loads guitars or vocals processed in different ways to give it more dimensions, I can’t be sure that’s how they got their sound but it feels like it.

Another thing I liked was the Mary Chain thing of having some guitars just feeding back without being played. Any time I’ve heard about an idea I’ve had a go to be honest, even if it’s not something I’d pursue. I read somewhere that there was some heavy metal producer who used to get a certain guitar sound by recording the amp through a concrete tube so I tried that with a piece of plastic guttering pipe ha ha… Not quite to the same industrial level but I really like the fun DIY aspect of recording because sometimes that can be the thing that might be a missing link in the sound of the track.

I immediately needed to find out how Jimi Hendrix was getting certain sounds so I read about Eddie Kramer, his friend and effects builder who would try to create effects pedals that could recreate sounds Hendrix had heard in his dreams, like the phaser or flanger. I guess he’s immediately known for using the wah-wah which I personally still love, some people can’t stand it though. But you can do a lot with that beyond the basic function of it. Like have it just stuck in one place, which was how Mick Ronson got his guitar sound. I discovered that’s quite a common thing which you’d never know about if you didn’t stumble on it… and you can do that with any sound… I think that’s what I found really exciting, that all the effects you can put on a guitar, you can put on anything and everything. Doesn’t always work but you got to try it, if you don’t mind going down time consuming rabbit-holes only to find it was better how it was in the first place ha ha.

This is stuff I’d read about either in biographies, or overviews of the making of an album with the producer/engineer getting enthusiastic about how the record got its sound. To me the production and sound is definitely as important as the track itself.

Explain your creative process? Do you have a routine?

I have no routine at all, it’s either on or off it seems. I’ve definitely done the sleep deprivation thing a fair bit, and equally I’ve done the “ok I’ve played guitar for 20 minutes, I’m done” lazy vibe. There have been times where a day has become a week and then months, and I would barely notice the passing of time. I don’t really do stuff in a disciplined way or force myself to do something for the sake of being creative. It also depends on if I’m working a day job or not as that can really change things in terms of energy and time being structured in this weird set up Matrix/Truman Show type existence. At the moment I’m not really pushing myself very hard because for a couple of years I did a lot and I’m waiting for my next call from myself.

What is your “studio” setup?

My set up isn’t really that amazing or out there in terms of high-end gear like mixing desks, pre-amps and studio space. I still record at home as I pretty much always have. I used to just have a cheap Avid M-Box to the disgust of most people and used to get a kick out of that for some reason but I’ve got a better set up now. I’ve recently upgraded when my old computer totally died on me and now have an Apollo Twin UAD and finally the latest version of pro-tools. I was still on some version from 2007 a year or so ago.

As I said before I really love effects and I discovered quite quickly that plug-ins don’t do it for me when it comes to reverb/phasers/flangers etc so I really love outboard gear for most of that. For things like compression, eq and stuff I use plug-ins though.

My favourite effects units are Yamaha FX500, Boss SE-70 and recently I got a Lexicon MPX 1 (as a carrot on a stick incentive to myself to finish mixing the new album.) I’ve got quite a few other things but they are great for multi-fx. I’ve got a couple of basic things for analog reverb I like.. one is called Realistic Stereo Reverb System, I think it was made for DJs to add reverb or effects when DJ-ing or something but it’s really cool. I’ve got some of those half rack Boss ones, RPS-10 for pitch-shifting, RRV-10 for delays and reverbs. I got quite a lot of cheap gear that has some good character. The things I’ve mentioned are as high end as I go and then it’s downhill from there but I love all of them.

What is your process when working with other people? How is collaboration different in the studio vs working remotely? 

I don’t get too involved in long-term intense collaborative projects but I seem to have found the balance I like when I do collaborate now. At the moment I’m learning a few songs and playing bass for a friend Agathe Max for her album. I really enjoy my role of literally just playing bass and not getting involved in the song-writing. I had a project with Tom Relleen that we finished just before he passed away which we started 10 years ago. That was really easy (when we got around to it!) and that came together quite quickly without over thinking it. Usually both of us in the same room doing our parts with each other present. There were a couple of tracks where I did some stuff at home and then sent him stems or vice versa. I had a project called Booze with Milo from Binary Chaffinch/Chromehoof, and that was very intense creatively.

Maybe as I get my creative stuff out of my system exactly as I want with The Oscillation and solo projects, then I’m really happy to let go of the ego and just do what someone else wants, the liberation of responsibility is great.

At what point(s) are you comfortable letting other people hear what you are working on?

I used to play people the basic ideas a lot out of enthusiasm, thinking they could hear what I was hearing, but then I realised I was hearing a potential that they couldn’t and so it would often go quite badly for my ego ha ha.

Nowadays I prefer to play stuff that is pretty much complete rather than when it’s half realised and not feeling that confident. 

Do you share your work in progress (streams or downloads)? Any technical frustrations?

I can’t really think of anything to say here. Other than sometimes the WeTransfer link might have expired! Or I might send someone a version and follow it up with an email saying, “please don’t listen to that track I sent you, the vocals are terrible” or something like that, and then work on another version and then dislike something else… (hence, see my above answer!)

How do you know when a track/album is finished?

When I genuinely feel that spending more time on it will result in a serious mental health problem. By the time I’ve arrived at this conclusion, I’m usually pretty much on the brink of insanity due to over listening.

How do you listen to the final mixes/mastered work?

I listen at home on the speakers I mixed it on, then try it on various things like my hi-fi or headphones. I quite like my bluetooth speaker that I listen to a lot of stuff to when I’m just doing menial stuff rather than going for an audio experience as if it sounds ok on that it’s usually pretty ok. For some reason I can’t get into listening on my hi-fi, unless it’s to check a vinyl test pressing or the totally finished thing.

How important is pre-release security when sharing new work?

I usually have total trust in who I am sending it to, and I think those people always know and appreciate that bond of trust without having to say, “please don’t share with anyone”. Sometimes I do say that and I immediately feel that it didn’t need to be said. I can say that I’ve not had any horror stories at all, luckily!

Who on your team gets to hear the final versions first and why, what formats do they each need?

I would normally just send an mp3 and a wav. I don’t really have a team so yeah more like bandmates/friends and the label if I’m putting it out with a label.

Outside of your inner circle who are the people that will need to hear the new tracks next?

I guess the distributor if you are self-releasing which I’ve done a few times, and then a PR person if you’re using PR or a radio plugger. I can’t really think who else, to be honest I’m kind of making this up as I go along to sound professional.

Anything you are working on, anyone you are working with and want to share?

I’m working with my friend Agathe Max, learning bass for her new album, at the end of last year I finished mixing an album for Jem Doulton and he’s putting out a track a month which is a cool idea. After a lot of hard work, there’s finally a new Oscillation album coming out this year on October 29th this year…