The Making of the 5th Leafcutter Album

Tunis album out now.

tunis detail

I’m really happy to say I have a few copies of the new album and it’s looking and sounding lovely – I all ways wanted a CD case that wasn’t made out of plastic!

Have a listen to the opening track ‘A slowly growing beautiful’ while you read the rest of this article:

This is a semi-live album recorded in a Cathedral in Tunis, using only sounds recorded in and around Tunis. The concert was recorded and I worked with this material back in london to make the material for the album. Some of the tracks are totally live and others use live elements with added sounds and instruments.

I think you can purchase the album and listen to all of it HERE thanks in advance from me and the label if you choose to buy it.

Take care,

Leafcutter John x.

tunis all

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Tunis album artwork printed

It’s real! IMG_0160

More soon,

Leafcutter John x.

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New Leafcutter John Live Album finished

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | Music!, The Making of the 5th Leafcutter Album | 3 Comments

I’m really happy to say I’ve just finished work on a new live album project. I don’t actually have a release date  yet but everything else is pretty much in place.

The project involved going to Tunis and recording a load of sounds from which I made a live show. The show was recorded and then a little studio tinkering later the Tunis album was born. It comes out later this year or early next on Tsuku Boshi Records.

Here are two full tracks for your listening pleasure.

take care,

Leafcutter John x.

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Parallel Anthology, Whitechapel Late show Live Recordings.


I’ve been busy working on several live projects recently and thought I’d take a moment to tell you about one of them. Along with Patten and Karen Gwyer I was asked to devise and perform interpretations of two folk songs originally recorded back in the 50’s and now out of copyright. It’s part of a project inspired by musicologist, record collector, and artist Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Eileen Simpson and  Ben White who organised the show have collected parallel public domain versions of the anthology recordings not closed down by copyright – from non-attributed folk versions, to commercial recordings whose proprietary interests have expired.

For the first tune I stuck a contact mic onto a hi-hat and played it with my hands, a bow, and a vibrating Cappuccino foamer. The sound of the contact mic is fed to max where it goes through a plug-in i’ve been working on which can make chordal clouds of sound.


Our Goodman – Leafcutter John, live at Whitechapel Gallery.

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Our Goodman – Originally recording – Thomas Moran, 1954, Ireland

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For the second song I used a wooden box with a contact-mic inside it. The outside of the box has lots of sound making things attached to it. For the show I attached a very brilliant music box which is programmable using punched cards. I transcribed the melody of the original song, punched it out and again fed all the sound to my max patches which were used here to re-arrange the original melody.


No Sir (Oh no John!) – Leafcutter John, live at Whitechapel Gallery.

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No Sir (Oh no John!) – Originally recording – Emily Bishop 1952, England.

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It was a fun show, thanks Eileen and Ben!

For more information about the Parallel Anthology project look here.

J x.

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Transfer, electronic music at Goldsmiths. Fri 16th Oct. 7-10pm.

I was really please to be asked to play this gig, Alex (who contacted me) is an amazing chap who all ways seems to be organising interesting events (dorkbot, plackard, etc) 

Book tickets for the gig (scroll down to near the bottom of the page) 

How to get to Goldsmiths

Big Black eyes micro-song remixed by Bluermutt

It’s amazing how fast things can move sometimes. Within hours of posting my first micro-song I received an email from Bluermutt in which he commented that he’d never seen a remix of one of my tunes, which is true. I sent Geo the stems and a week or so later he sent me this little beauty.

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I hope you enjoy his interpretation the original is below if you have not heard it.

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Bluermutt Myspace

Bluermutt Web

Thanks Gio!

Leafcutter John.

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Micro-Song #2

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 | Micro-Song, The Making of the 5th Leafcutter Album | 5 Comments

For this micro-song I’m turning what could be described as the national instrument of Greece, a country which for many reasons fills me with joy. The Bouzouki is capable of a wide variety of sounds and emotions and I have not used mine as much as I should so it’s perfect for making a micro-song with.

This micro song is truly experimental in nature. I started of by recording the instrument using my little sony d-50 and my binaural Soundman mics. I gave myself the rule that I could not use my fingers directly to play the instrument in the conventional sense. So I used soft beaters to hit and scrape the body and strings. I used a rubber balloon to create low pitched farts along the strings, and a jaw harp with it’s vibrating metal component against the strings (that’s not me in the video!).

With the sounds transfered to Logic I set about layering parts of the recording to create a composition. I used some compression to get the level up in places and a touch of reverb to tie the sounds together a little. One of the great things about using binaural microphones is that because you wear them in your ears any movement of the head results in panning in the recording. This technique is very evident in the micro-song. From the screen grab you’ll see a MIDI region, this is a sampler playing sections of the original recording.

To listen to the song I’d recommend using decent speakers or headphones as you’ll not hear any bass on most computer speakers.  

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Take care,

Leafcutter John. 

To find out more about the origins of the micro-song idea read I thought you used to be a musician once?

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Goodbye Curse of Greatness

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 | Micro-Song, The Making of the 5th Leafcutter Album | 1 Comment

This post follows on from: I thought you used to be a musician once?

Thank you all for your kind words of support and encouragement. Although I was nervous about posting what I did last Sunday the response through comments and private emails has been overwhelming and very positive for me in the last few days. Your comments and suggestions have truly helped me look at the situation afresh and for this I feel very lucky.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered writers block and I suspect it will not be the last. This time has probably been the longest sustained period where I have not been able to produce work with that certain special something I crave.

The good news is that I feel like I have identified a major cause of the block I was experiencing. The problem as I see it is one of approach and I have given it a funny name, which as we all know is the first step in beating anything. I’m calling the problem “THE CURSE OF GREATNESS” and it goes like this:

  1. I want to make a song, but I’ve been taking with this amazing label who really love my last album and want to release my new work so whatever I do it’s got to be GREAT.
  2. Write for a few hours, record a few ideas….
  3. Listen back, nothing GREAT, back to step 2.
  4. After a few days going between steps 2 -3. Listen to the other GREAT artists on the label and wonder how they made such GREAT music?
  5. Get desperate and try ‘borrowing’ some ideas from other peoples GREAT songs.
  6. The result is not as GREAT as the source, back to step 3.
  7. After a while you feel you have to send something to the label so you take the least crappy idea and work it into a song – not GREAT but the response is ok from the label so back to step 1. 
I guess that’s an over simplified version of my cycle of the last year or so. I think the problem is fairly clear. Of course, given the choice, I would want my work to be in some way great. But using this as a starting point can only set me up for immediate and un-ending disappointment. 
My dictionary and thesaurus suggest:
the quality of being great, distinguished, or eminent Elgar’s greatness as a composer.
eminence, distinction, illustriousness, repute, high standing; importance, significance; celebrity,fame, prominence, renown. genius, prowess, talent, expertise, mastery, artistry, virtuosity, skill, proficiency; flair, finesse; caliber,distinction.

Quite a lot to think about while trying to write a song!  Interestingly many of the words listed relate to things arising from other peoples perceptions. Distinction, eminence, repute, importance, significance, etc, etc, cannot be objective as they arise from people’s very subjective view. Seen from this angle greatness can be separated from the work. For example: work can exhibit elements of greatness but the choice of being great or not is not embodied in the work itself, rather it comes from some where else.
Ok, these are my immediate thoughts on the subject and they are not fully formed yet. However I have a strong feeling that trying to make oneself appear great is misguided and possibly the least effective method of actually making great work.
So the alternative (for me at least) is to go back in time to a point where I did not think about greatness at all. A time when I had not released any music and no one had any opinion of my music. What did I do then? As far as I can remember, my method was based on exploration. I had a childish sense of play which lead me in unknowably wonderful directions (it’s like Tina knew all along, i’ll pass on the Valium though). Finished works were composed of elements, with were themselves results of experiments. Working like this was exciting, joyful, and surprising. If I compare then with now I realise that at times I’m missing all three elements. 
I think the idea of making sketches will lead me back in the right direction as it’s is very similar to the way I used to work. In the last few days I have made a couple more micro-songs and to my delight I have felt the joy of old come back into my working process and the pressure of judgment lift.
The great thing about the results of an experiment is that the results are what they are, you can interpret them but they are never wrong. With that in mind I present micro-song number 2 in my next post.
All the best,
Leafcutter John.

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I thought you used to be a musician once?

It’s been over a year and a half since my last album came out. Since then i’ve been busy with lots of different projects. Learning new skills, playing music with my band and with Polar Bear. In the whole it’s been a very happy time. Since January last year I have been trying to write new material for what I hope will be a new record. The strange thing is that when I listen back to what I have recorded a lot of it strikes me as not being quite right. This is not my self-conscious ego talking, well maybe partially but there is definitely something a bit broken in my creative process when it comes to songwriting. A particular problem has been the writing of lyrics. This can be really difficult at the best of times but for me over the last year it has often felt like I have absolutely nothing to say. This is of-course absolute rubbish as I’m sure something is in there but it’s been impossible thus far to get it to come out. I have managed to make a few pieces but my feeling is that they are not very good or trying to be something that I’m not. Trouble is I’m finding it hard to know what I ‘really’ am.

I have tried various methods to coax the timid little rabbit out of it’s burrow. I have tried the ‘write something every day’ method which produced material but it was, err really really bad. I then tried the ‘don’t do anything unless you feel like it’ approach which lead to me staying in bed a lot. I then went back to listen to the ‘something every day’ material which made me feel pretty depressed but I decided that I had not given it enough time to work so I started on it again which lead to yet more crap. Crap on Monday, crap on Tuesday, and on Wednesday more crap for a change… You get the idea. At one point I was ready to toss in a stick of dynamite down the hole and put an end to that stubborn furry little bastard.

There is lots of advice to ‘cure’ writers block available on the web – but let me warn you. If you happen to be suffering to the extent that you are desperate enough to take this ridiculous step you might also be sufficiently weakened to actually try some of the methods. Take it from me JUST DON’T OK! Take for example lovely Tina Morgan. She advises in her ’10 Ways to Beat Writers Block’:

3) Take Prozac – seriously – if you’ve been suffering from the symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor. There may be something he/she can do to help, be it medication or therapy. (of course, always check with your doctor before taking any medication)

Are you fucking serious!? I can quite do without developing a drug dependency. Oh and by the way Tina not being able to work properly for a year is fairly depressing but something tells me the pharmacist is not the one I should turn too. From the insane to the ridiculous she goes on to suggest:

6) Play on the jungle gym, crawl on the floor after your toddler for 20 minutes – not just for the exercise but also for down time from life’s problems and to marvel in the joy of exploration. 

Well I have no idea what a jungle gym is and I have absolutly no desire to get a toddler in order to find out. Perhaps unfairly I chose her as an example but there are countless others peddling such well meaning crap. there must be some great resources out there for the blocked, it’s just that I didn’t find anything that didn’t either make me laugh, cry, or want to disable the author. I guess the problem is that each person gets blocked for different reasons and there really are no simple answers or any website, book, or guru that can be consulted for them. The answers annoyingly (but simply enough) lie within.

You might by this point (in what is turning into an essay), be thinking “Why the hell are you putting this shit out there for everyone to read, just deal with it man! You are not getting my sympathy”. Or “Are you going to tell me you discovered the secret of becoming un-blocked and then try and sell it to me?” Well I’m really quite nervous about posting this blog, I’m not sure how people will react. But when I made this new website I put in a category called “The Making of the 5th Leafcutter Album” in which I imagined would document the triumphant making of a masterpiece (that’s sarcasm btw) Anyway I have decided that it’s time to start writing about the album, come rain or shine. I love all the things I’m studying but my number one desire is to communicate with people through song. When it works it fills me with an indescribable joy when it’s broken I want desperately to find a way to fix it. That’s the first reason I’m writing this and it explains the lack of new music here. Secondly there are probably loads of people currently stuck or experiencing similar things to this and it can’t hurt to share one’s experiences. The third reason is that I would like to try and publicly un-block myself by producing a series of Micro-Songs on this blog. I think one of the problems I’m having is that I try and do too much in a single song and I get very uptight thinking about how well or badly I can play and sing. I tend to obsess over some tiny detail which can, in the end de-rail the whole song I’m working on. 

If you are a regular reader here you will no doubt be aware that I’m currently learning the programming language Processing. In Processing a program is refered to as a sketch. At first I thought the idea of sketching code was cute but slightly ridiculous. But the more I sketch, the more Inspired an idea it seems. Thinking of coding as sketching removes the implication that code has to be long, tedious and hard to understand. An idea can be expressed quickly and with a minimum of fuss. It can be scruffy, half finished, broken and still somehow beautiful. In short it’s exaclty what I need for my songwriting.

So what is a Micro-song?

  • Short and not overly complex
  • Self Confident
  • Not concerned with virtuosity or eliminating errors
  • Honest and true (It does not have to pretend to be anything other than what it is because it’s content)

I tried today to write my first Micro-Song and freed from the rubbish I had floating about in my head about what my music should sound like I managed, with relative ease to create something which I’m actually very fond of. As a song I’m not sure what it means other than that I managed to make something that I don’t despise.

I humbly give you “Big Black Eyes” (haha)

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“Don’t move over, don’t move over. Good night, night, night-night. Big black eyes. Never sleep.”

It’s late but I’m going to post this anyway, please forgive spelling and grammar.

All the best,

Leafcutter John.

P.S. this is for Maria & Seb, may you never tire x x x.

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