Friday, 7 August 2020

Music Machine 4 for 8 players

When the installation piece Music Machine 4 for 8 players was cancelled due to Covid-19 in March I looked for an alternative way of presenting it. In common with many people I discovered Zoom and thought that this would be a good way of getting it done. I got a eight people to agree to do it, delivered the kit to them (maintaining social distancing), sent them a video that showed how to set it all up, did a couple of small trial runs and finally recorded the whole thing last week. 

In my trial sessions with Zoom I discovered that while it is great for video and splitting the screen into eight sections it is not so good for sound. I had to do a lot of audio editing to achieve a good result. Here is the final video:

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Music Machine 2

I've had a new case made for Music Machine 2, usually I would use the laser cutter at FabLab Devon but this is currently closed. So I used RazorLab who provided a quick and efficient service with good communication as the job progressed.

Here are some pictures:

Here's a description of how it works:

Music Machine 2 consists of two elements.

The first is a repeated C major triad which provides the pulse for the machine. This pulse is played as quavers at 120 bpm.

The second element is the melody (also played as quavers) that is generated using the following rules:

1. The melody can only use notes from the C major scale.
2. Whilst it is possible to generate notes from any octave, the extreme high and low octaves can only play notes from the triad
(C, E or G). Any note from the scale can be played in the middle octaves.
3. The process is weighted in favour of making a middle octave selection.
4. There is a 50/50 chance that the note will be sustained rather than stopped when the next note sounds.

The machine will run indefinitely until stopped by the user.

This version uses an ultrasonic distance sensor and an Arduino.

And here's some video of it in action:

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

BBC Radio Devon

Just a quick post to let you know that I will be on BBC Radio Devon's Breakfast show tomorrow (Friday 29th May) at around 7.50 to talk about the soundmap project. You can listen here: (or on sounds afterwards).

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Covid Soundmap

Over the last weekend I have completed the covid soundmap. I added the final two recordings to the map and have made a final version of Music Machine 45. The last two recordings were both made on Thursday 21st May in Exeter. The first was made in the morning when I walked into town and features the sound of some of the building work that has restarted on the bus station area. The second recording was made around lunchtime when I walked near County Hall. You can hear the sounds of children playing at the nearby St. Leonard's school. Both of these recordings provide a contrast to the earlier ones that featured bird song and little else; now the sound is dominated by human activity as the lockdown is eased.

The soundmap can be found here:

and all the audio recordings (including the first versions of Music Machine 45) can be found here:

This project was achieved with support from Kaleider.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Audio recordings, locations and process

Here is a little bit more information about the recordings and the process that is gone through to achieve the final audio collage.

I have made the recordings in locations that I have visited during this lockdown period either on foot or by bike. I intend to make a total of ten of these recordings.

The locations were not been chosen in advance; I take my recorder with me and make a recording when I find a suitable spot. However, I have found that my approach to making recordings has changed over the past few sessions. Initially I was happy to record at any location on my journey; I have found that as the project had progressed I actively seek locations that have more interest. So, for example, today I have made two recordings and have decided to use both as they have interesting elements within them.

The first recording I made today was close to an electricity sub station; you can hear the hum from that throughout the clip. The second recording uses my home-made hydrophone that I placed in a small ford in Thorverton. The sound changed quite noticeably half way through this recording as the microphone moved in the current.

The longest clip so far is the one that I made on Saturday in Starcross. I have kept the full recording as there are many interesting sounds on it. There is part of a conversation that two people had on opposite sides of the road, there is the sound of a train announcer, the train itself and a pelican crossing. Because many of the recordings have been dominated by bird song this one felt quite different.

The process that happens once I have all the recordings is as follows. The code for Music Machine 45, in common with most of the machines, is written in python. It is a digital Musique Concrète maker (or should that be mixer?) I can put in as many source recordings as I wish; the machine then decides how many smaller clips it is going to make from the originals. It then generates those smaller clips and decides how long they will be and from which section of the original. Once the clips are generated they are played back at various intervals, faded in and / or out, set to sound at a particular volume and location in the stereo field. As I say, this is very similar to Musique Concrète techniques and produces a work that is multi-layered and built from existing recordings.

Here's the link to the soundmap:

You can listen to all the recordings (including the early finished versions of Music Machine 45) here:

Thursday, 14 May 2020


I was fortunate to receive some funding from the Kaleider Kfund and have been working on a project that uses audio recordings to create a new piece.

My original intention was to create a music machine piece from some audio recordings made whilst we have been in lockdown. This was partly inspired by the Silent Cities project that has asked people to record the sound of their cities during the lockdown. It's described as 'a participatory monitoring programme of an exceptional modification of urban soundscapes during Covid-19 containment'. A similar project that I have contributed to is Pete Stollery's sound map which aims to capture sonic environments which have changed as a result of governments’ actions around the world to curb the spread of the virus.

As with all projects that have a relatively vague starting point the project has changed a little since I started it. I decided that rather than use recordings from my local neighbourhood that I would take my recorder with me when I went on my daily exercise (either walk or cycle). I have now made a soundmap that shows the locations where I have made recordings and it will play those recordings when the marker is clicked. It can be found here:

or via this shortened link:

The orange markers are the sites where I have made recordings. You can hear a lot of birdsong, which is not too surprising considering some of the locations. There is very little human noise; some cars and motorbikes but no conversation. The two recordings that have interested me most are recording 3 and recording 5. Recording 3 was made in a location very close to both the airport and the A30. There is, of course, no aeroplane noise and the traffic is much quieter then usual. Recording 5 was made in very windy conditions, some of which you can hear. The recorder was placed near to a metal gate and, at around 3.38 in, you can hear the gate 'whistling'.

I have written some new software that will manipulate these recordings and then play them back. The machine will edit the full length audio clips into many shorter ones and will add a fade in or fade out to them as well. Once this processing is complete the machine will start playing back the audio files at random times and volumes to create a new soundscape. This piece will change as I add new recordings. The most up to date version can be found by clicking the blue marker (numbered 0) in the centre of Exeter.

I plan to make this project encompass a period of around ten days. It will be interesting to hear how the sound changes as the rules around lockdown are relaxed. In common with many people I have noticed how much I can hear the birds at present and how little traffic there is.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Activity during lockdown

Having spent the past few weeks in lockdown has given me a chance to review some things and catch up on others that I have been intending to do but have previously not got round to.

It was extremely disappointing to cancel the Music Machine exhibition in March. Music Machine 4 for multiplayer was also to have been included in the Game>Play festival that was planned for the summer; that too has now been cancelled.

My current plan for Music Machine 4 is, once it is safe to do so, to make a video of eight people performing it.

As for other projects, today I have set up a live stream that is on the locusonus sound map and this is a part of the soundcamp world dawn chorus day.

I have been making some other audio recordings using my Zoom h2 and its new windshield:

These recordings are for this Silent Cities project that has asked people to record the sound of their cities during the lockdown. It's described as 'a participatory monitoring programme of an exceptional modification of urban soundscapes during Covid-19 containment'.

I have also made a new recording of Music Machine 29 which you can listen to on soundcloud or bandcamp (where you can also buy it). This was partly inspired by Robert Fripp  releasing his Music for Quiet Moments (described as
Hopefully something that will nourish us, and help us through these Uncertain Times.)

Music Machine 29 was composed for the Sonorities Festival 2014. The theme of the festival was 'Remembering and Forgetting'; Music Machine 29 works in the following way:
Music Machine 29 consists of two parts. The first part plays a C major scale (both ascending and descending) and arpeggio. The second part remembers each note that the first part plays and stores them in a list. It will then choose a note from that list to play back simultaneously with the first part. Occasionally the program will delete (forget) some notes from the list and then start remembering again. There is also the chance that notes will be sustained allowing chords to build up.

The piece is performed using a midi wind controller which is played through a Raspberry Pi and it is the Pi that does all the processing work. In the past I have used wind instrument sounds, usually flutes, but for this version I have used strings. I have also extended the piece - have a listen and see what you think!

Music Machine 29 (2020 edition) on bandcamp

Music Machine 29 (2020 edition) on soundcloud

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Music Machine Installation

Tonight was supposed to have been the preview evening for the Music Machine Exhibition. The main feature was to have been an 8 player installation that used novation launchpads, all this equipment is now in various places being kept safe until I can use them as planned.

Whilst we are all indoors there are some Music Machines you can try. Music Machine 4 is available in a slightly different format here:

or Music Machine 4 for string quartet:

If there are a few of you in your household you can play along with this, or join up on Zoom or other video conferencing site and play along with your friends.

Similarly you could try Music Machine 41:

Music Machine 34 (scored for melodica, casio digital horn and viola) but could be played by pretty music any instruments - the casio part must be able to play chords though:

or Music Machine 1:

If you don't want to play something you can try Music Machine 8:

a piece that plays with the idea that we may have misheard Neil Armstrong on the moon.

If you enjoy any of these then there is a page where you can make a small donation:


Sunday, 22 March 2020

Music Machine live stream

Today I have set up a live stream using the locusonus map

If you zoom in on Exeter you will find Music Machines.

Today is Music Machine 1 and I will play a different one each day for the next few weeks.

Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Unfortunately the Music Machine Exhibition has been postponed. It will not be taking place on Saturday 28th March as planned. I hope that it can be rescheduled for a time later in the year and I will be doing my best to make that happen.

Here are some pictures of the wood that has been cut and the stands being assembled:

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Work in progress

Things are progressing well for the exhibition at the end of this month.

Here are some pictures of the launchpads on their plinths (or the design for the plinths):





The prototype is made from mdf but I think we are going to use ply for the final versions, a speaker will also be placed in the front of the unit. There will be 8 of these arranged in an arc around a central controller.

Tickets for the exhibition can be found on eventbrite, these are free and, while it's not essential to book, it will help us to gauge the numbers we can expect so please do book a ticket:


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Music Machine 4 for multiplayer

I'm currently working on a multi-player installation that will be in Exeter at the end of March. The piece will be for 8 players, each will have a novation launchpad in front of them. The buttons will light up and, when pressed, will play a cell of music. Today I have connected four of the launchpads up and tested them - this is how it looks at the start:

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Simon Belshaw & David Sawyer present an exhibition of playable, generative, interactive music and sound works.

28th March
10.00 - 16.00
free admission
AWEsome Art Space
27 Paris Street
Featuring Simon Belshaw’s Music Machine 4, a playful, playable, hands on, multi-player audio installation for 8 people. No musical experience required.
Suitable for all ages. 

And David Sawyer’s Lamelladrones and Sanzachord. Post industrial sounds alongside conventional harmonies contrast electromagnetic energy with hands on experience.