somadrone
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somadrone

Dublin, Leinster, Ireland | SELF

Dublin, Leinster, Ireland | SELF
Band Alternative EDM

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My favorite space to create music in is in my room in San Francisco, on 14th St. The building I live in was uprooted and moved from a place called Dolores Park after the great earthquake of 1906. It’s quite small, but that’s fine – I crawl around among the wires like an ant. I have a lot of light, natural daylight. There are three bay windows, so I watch the sunrise in the east and set in the west, like at home, only eight hours later. It smells of an old gold rush San Francisco. The front door has a leaver at the top of the stairs that opens the door. This is quiet common in SF. It was built for the lazy, or for shooting the sheriff if he were to ever rap upon your door.

Most of my musical arsenal is still in Ireland (although I had to sell a lot of it to fund this self-indulgent trip). Having said that, new instruments bring new sounds, new ideas. I currently work with the following gear:

1. Moog Opus III
2. Moog Sonic Six
3. Vox Continental Organ
4. Matel Synsonics Drum Machine
5. WEM Tape Echo
6. SP-404 Sampler
7. Fostex 80 ¼ 8 Track Reel to Reel recorder
8. Other Bits and Bobs
9. Old Reliable – My Fender Jazzmaster
10. Laptop
11. A broken Oscillator
12. A Electromyometer (its measures sound waves made by skeletal movements)
13. Lots of vintage lamps (on loan)

The most important thing for me to have in that space is my ever fluctuating musical thought. I have to strike a machine up to get it going, but when it does it can go either way; really great, or absolutely terrible. I have to catch it when it’s in a good mood. I swim a lot so that helps wash out the cobwebs and demons that lurk beneath. Walking helps too. If it were a physical thing, I guess it would be my guitar. It often acts a starting point, so it’s good to always close to the source. Sunlight; a foreign concept of an Irish expat. Abstraction.

I spend 90% of my time here. I have always been a bedroom dweller. I think Brian Wilson put it best, in ‘In My Room’ when he said, “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to”. It becomes bit of a vortex also; It served as a prison when I was finishing up my PhD last October. I lecture at the Art Institute of California, San Francisco, so I work a lot at home. I usually work during the day, and write and record at night, weekends also. I found a new place for the weekends though. I am a member of the SF Photo Center, and every Saturday I go and print and develop photos. I am going to be part of a catalogue they are releasing next year. Being in a darkroom is the most peaceful place in the world. I find it very therapeutic. I read a lot here too, usually when I am bouncing down files, or just looking for route of reference.

Isolation is probably the most important element in creativity. Since I moved here, knowing relatively little people, it’s forced, rather than by choice. I miss my family and friends, as they were obviously an important part of my formal influence. I am more focused when I work alone, wandering around the shallows of my ego. I do miss a second opinion and set of ears every once in awhile. Quality control comes in and out of question.

When it comes to starting a piece, modes and moods is what it boils down to for me. Left hemisphere brings the logical, sequential and rational. Right side, right time: Intuitive, Random, a bit of both perhaps. I watch a lot of films. Music is transitory, where as film grabs a hold of you. Not to say that sound does not, it just operates differently. Observations, reflections and experiences; lots of new ones over here. I have been using ‘cut-up’s lately (as done by William Burroughs and David Bowie) to help me generate lyrics. Musically, its very organic, no real plan or goal in mind. Sometimes using Brain Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ is fun. They are a pack of cards he and an artist called Peter Schmidt invented. They are essentially a deck of cards, with different sayings like ‘Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance’. Sounds like a load of jargon, but it can work.

I like various things about this space:
Situation: It’s in a new city that brings new experiences and situations. All that happens day-to-day is documented in this place, through thought, writing and sound.
Light: Three bay windows overlooking 14th St bring an insane amount of light, which brings lighter moods. Sunsets are very inspiring here, especially when I am sitting at my desk watching it happen.
Coffee: Downstairs coffee shop, great cakes too. They make a mean carrot cake. Something like this is not only inspiring, but filling too. - Musical Rooms


One-time Connect 4 Orchestra man, then the new kid in The Redneck Manfesto, Neil O’Connor’s Somadrone project reaches new heights with this third release. Depth of Field sees O’Connor move away from the electronic ambience of the first two releases for more organic and slightly more straightforward territories.

This time the vocal is more prominent, while pushing the boat out in terms of musical dynamism, with a unbelievable command of what appears to be the contents of a music shop.

There are parallels here with Mercury Rev’s Deserter Songs, but without the bombast or Jonathan Donohue’s whiny vocals, more with musicianship that embraces elements of classical elegance without losing sight of what makes a good song.

Keys remain his forté, and tracks like ‘Conversations’, ‘Desiring Machine’ and ‘POV’ are sweet exercises in gentle layers of various keyboards guided along by his vocal or melodies that are a pleasure on the ears.

O’Connor said he wanted this album to be structured along the lines of a pop album. If more pop was written like this, the world, I think, would be a better place. - wearenoise.com


Conventional wisdom dictates that releasing an album during the final month of the year is a bad idea: the music press are usually in full-on retrospective mode before November's out, with all manner of looking-back and totting-up of year-end lists well under way. It can be easy for new releases to get lost in these frantic circumstances, and you can’t help but wonder whether any artists putting records out in December are in any way commercially-motivated.

It's rather convenient, then, that Somadrone – the solo recording project of The Redneck Manifesto’s Neil O’Connor – should have such a defiantly uncommercial sound to begin with. Although album number three Depth of Field is a more conventionally song-based affair than much of the San Francisco-based producer's previous material, this is still subtle, slow-burning stuff: eight tracks of mostly patient, minimal atmospherics. Opener ‘Vapours’ creates a sad, mournful mood through plaintive acoustic guitar, strings and melancholy vocals. Following it, ‘Providence’ must go down as a bit of a misfire: its slow-pulsing synths and drowsy harmonies are ultimately not up to the task of sustaining a six-and-a-half minute running-time. Much better is ‘Conversations’: a bleak-sounding piano intro gradually unfurls into a swelling, string-laden number. The instrumentation is busy but never cluttered, reflecting O’Connor’s concise grasp of dynamics.

The layered and intricate production on Depth of Field is pleasantly soothing – hypnotic in places even – and as a result it’s possible on first few listens to miss the attention-to-detail at work. Make no mistake: this is most definitely a headphones album, best accompanied by a wintry walk. The downside to this is that unfortunately Depth of Field loses much of its ‘depth’ during casual listening, straying dangerously close, in fact, to background noise territory. Much like Jim O’Rourke’s The Visitor LP from last year, which drew on similar influences (Reich, Glass, etc.), it’s a disc that rewards the more attentive listener. Penultimate track ‘POV’ is a fine example of this, its evocative minimalism and chiming coda perfect for the early hours. Closer ‘Ephemeral’ goes for a slightly different vibe, signing off on a menacing-sounding groove with an almost bluesy feel to it. A sign of things to come? Who knows? For now, Depth of Field will certainly do very nicely. It would be a crying shame to see it disappear beneath stacks of Now That’s What I Call Indie Landfill! 2010.
- Ragged Words


When not making epic post-rock goodness with Dublin legends The Redneck Manifesto, Neil O’Connor has a tidy sideline in the form of solo project, Somadrone. Crafting a finely-welded mesh of electronica, pop, rock and classical styles, his sound is at once expansive and inviting. It is also a new one for O’Connor, whose previous solo work often reveled in synthesized soundscapes with overtones of modern classical composition. On Depth of Field, O’Connor flexes his songwriting muscles in a clearer, more direct manner than we’ve heard before, with the understated vocal accompaniments helping to keep things interesting.

The album really kicks into gear three songs in with the beautiful, piano-led ‘Conversations’. Beginning as a stark and sombre piece, it blossoms half-way through into a starry expanse, with bleeps and synth-mangling galore swelling up to take the track over and eventually drag it down to its final chords. It’s the first of many truly breathtaking moments on this record.

Where on previous records, O’Connor employed the use of unusual instruments such as Indian drone machines, theremins and vintage synthesizers to varied effect, ‘Desiring Machines’ shows him at his most concentrated and accessible. Beginning with a propulsive beat and distant, double-tracked vocals, it develops into a haunted pop song, not a world away from something we might have heard from Bell X1 before they started listening exclusively to Talking Heads.

While the entire mid-section of the album is near-flawless, from ‘Conversations’ through the impeccably arranged ‘Cinders’ to the golden rush of blood that is the ending to ‘POV’, the best is saved for last with closing track ‘Deadlines’. Brooding and bass-heavy, it wouldn’t be out of place if played at a drugged-up, strung-out, early morning party in a warehouse in some unnamed city in Eastern Europe. It is a perfect closer, blowing out with a wash of noise, peppered with seemingly random blue notes.

Depth Of Field is an outstanding release, standing alongside Strands‘ debut album as the finest mix of rock, electronic and classical influences to be found anywhere this year. A late contender for your favourite Irish album of the year?
- Slate Magazine


I HAVE BEEN VERY lucky, musically, in my life. I have been on a number of composition residencies in the US, won awards and gigged all around the world. But the performing arts and higher education have been hit hard in recent years, and even with a PhD and a successful music career behind me, I have not been immune to the recession in Ireland.
When I left school I trained as a filmmaker at the Institute of Art and Design in Dún Laoghaire, and got into music while composing soundtracks. I went on to do an MA in Trinity in music and media technology, which honed my skills in composition, and when that finished in 2005 I began my PhD there under the composer Donnacha Dennehy.
I was very involved in the independent music scene in Dublin at the time, gigging as part of Redneck Manifesto, who were gaining a strong following, and as Somadrone, which is my own electronic outfit. I was lecturing in three third-level institutions, which paid well, and receiving a scholarship for my PhD research. Life was good.
Coming towards the end of my PhD in 2009 I was excited about the future, but one by one my teaching jobs were cancelled. I lost all my work within a couple of months. The cutbacks in funding for higher education were beginning to take effect, and part-time staff members like me were the first to go.
I applied for an arts visa for the US and headed off for San Francisco in January 2010. It was hard to leave because I had worked very hard at building a musical career in Ireland, but the move felt like a positive step forward for my academic career. It was tough finding work at first but I landed a job in the Art Institute of California where I stayed for almost two years, teaching acoustics, sound design and composition.
The work was interesting and I was gaining great teaching experience, but Ireland was always on my mind. In 2010 I flew back four times for gigs and album launches, and I continued to apply for teaching posts in Irish universities.
When I was offered a job in an exciting new project due to begin in September 2011, I gladly packed up and headed home to take up the post, finish off my PhD and give Ireland another go.
However, the project was pulled at the last minute and I was left stranded. Throughout the winter I contacted all my old places of work, and sent letters to every department in the country who taught anything related to music or audio. I didn’t receive one positive response.
I distracted myself for a while by throwing myself back into music, touring with Redneck Manifesto in Japan, and joining Jape as their drummer. I had a fantastic time, as the members of the band are some of my best friends, and it was great to be gigging again. But I had spent almost a decade in higher education, and felt I needed to put academia at the forefront of my career.
I could not rely on gigs as my only source of income. I had borrowed heavily back in the heyday and I was running into problems with the banks.
By March I was worn out. I was living in a house I couldn’t afford and signing on the dole, which felt so wrong when I had studied and worked so hard. The social-welfare officer tried to encourage me to do a Fás course, but what use would that have been to me?
The mood of the country had changed a lot too in the two years I was away. My brother was struggling, and my father had just retired on half the package he would have got a few years previously.
What was happening economically was not only affecting me, it was affecting my family, my friends.
The music scene in Ireland was also different. Record labels were disintegrating, music shops were closing down, and other bands and musicians were noticing a downturn in numbers at gigs. The demographic of gig-goers, young people in their 20s and 30s, don’t seem to be able to afford to go out as much now, and large numbers of them have emigrated too, especially outside Dublin. My last Dublin gig at the Unitarian Church was sold out, but the last show in Galway had only 20 in attendance.

To say I was forced to emigrate would be too strong, but I did try my hardest to stay in Ireland and couldn’t make it work. After six months, it was time to make a choice to find a more stable source of income. I knew if I came back to the US I could find something.
It broke my heart leaving for the second time. I had gained momentum musically back in Ireland, and was very happy. Jape had just won the Meteor Choice Music Prize when I flew out to New York in April.
By the end of that month I had been offered my old teaching post back in San Francisco, as well as two different jobs in New York. While in Ireland, I was made to feel lucky to have a job, but here attitudes to work are very different. I am complimented and made to feel appreciated, which is strange but nice.
Brooklyn is a hotbed for music and the opportunities for performance are huge, but I am starting from scratch in a way. The last gig I did in New York attracted a tiny crowd and - Irish Times


4/5

"REDNECKS KEYBOARDIST MAKES AMBIENT BEAUTY"

Those familiar with Neil O'Connor's previous work on keys with the Redneck Manifesto will know what to expect here. So will anyone who caught his mentor Roger Doyle's fringe show The Room in the Tower, self described as cinema for the ears. The mood set will haunt you long after the album itself has ended, and while not completely different from anything you've heard before, it is, quite simply...gorgeous.

Throughout his career, Somadrone has become skilled in a variety of genres (folk, jazz, electronica, rock) and they are all funnelled into this, his third 'drone album. You'll catch a wisp of one before another overpowers it and before you can take either on board they've fused together and dissolved. The overall ambient airs start with a steady beat, flowing vocals, strings and bleeps over it, flat-lining you into one mood before shimmering to life and massaging you on to the next.

More structured than his previous work, the wavering choral vocals crystalise the more freewheeling instrumentals and each track laps towards its end before flowing out and starting again. There are touches of Brian Eno, Thom Yorke and Air to the whole album and at points a less bleek Bowie, circa the Berlin trilogy.

This is five o'clock in the morning music, used to bat away the sunlight creeping through the curtains. Just lie back and let it take you. A pleasure.

-Coamhan Keane

Key Track : Providence - Hot Press


4/5

"REDNECKS KEYBOARDIST MAKES AMBIENT BEAUTY"

Those familiar with Neil O'Connor's previous work on keys with the Redneck Manifesto will know what to expect here. So will anyone who caught his mentor Roger Doyle's fringe show The Room in the Tower, self described as cinema for the ears. The mood set will haunt you long after the album itself has ended, and while not completely different from anything you've heard before, it is, quite simply...gorgeous.

Throughout his career, Somadrone has become skilled in a variety of genres (folk, jazz, electronica, rock) and they are all funnelled into this, his third 'drone album. You'll catch a wisp of one before another overpowers it and before you can take either on board they've fused together and dissolved. The overall ambient airs start with a steady beat, flowing vocals, strings and bleeps over it, flat-lining you into one mood before shimmering to life and massaging you on to the next.

More structured than his previous work, the wavering choral vocals crystalise the more freewheeling instrumentals and each track laps towards its end before flowing out and starting again. There are touches of Brian Eno, Thom Yorke and Air to the whole album and at points a less bleek Bowie, circa the Berlin trilogy.

This is five o'clock in the morning music, used to bat away the sunlight creeping through the curtains. Just lie back and let it take you. A pleasure.

-Coamhan Keane

Key Track : Providence - Hot Press


Depth of Field is the 4rd long-player from San Francisco-based
Somadrone, AKA Neil O'Connor, who has played keyboards with the
Redneck Manifesto.
The album is a marked progression that adds vocals, acoustic
instruments, brass and strings, and more traditional song structures
to the dreamy atmospheric, ambient mix.
An outstanding electronic pop album, ideal for 6am on a Sunday morning
- file somewhere between Brian Eno and Air.

- Mark Kavanagh - The Star


Depth of Field is the 4rd long-player from San Francisco-based
Somadrone, AKA Neil O'Connor, who has played keyboards with the
Redneck Manifesto.
The album is a marked progression that adds vocals, acoustic
instruments, brass and strings, and more traditional song structures
to the dreamy atmospheric, ambient mix.
An outstanding electronic pop album, ideal for 6am on a Sunday morning
- file somewhere between Brian Eno and Air.

- Mark Kavanagh - The Star


Discography

2002 - 'Lets Depart' - Mango Music
2005 - 'Fuzzing Away to a Whisper' - Trust me I'm a Thief Records
2007 - 'Of Pattern and Purpose' - Trust me I'm a Thief Records
2010 - 'Depth of Field' - Skinny Wolves Records

Photos

Bio

Somadrone is Irish Composer / Musician / Filmaker Neil O Connor. Neil has studied with Roger Doyle, Jurgen Simpson and completed his PhD in Composition (specializing in graphical notation) with Donnacha Dennehy at Trinity College Dublin in 2009. Beginning his career as a filmmaker, Neil has been involved in a diverse range of musical activities including folk, jazz, rock, electronic and electro-acoustic music. His work was been shown/performed at the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, Fringe Festival, Resonances Festival @ IRCAM Paris, 60 X 60 NYC and is involved with the YCC (Young Composers Committee). Incepted in 1995, Somadrone began as a project to document some home recordings on 4-track recorders. This was released in 1999 as a 10” e.p limited to 100 copies. The latter years involved playing, recording and touring in Europe and America with Irish Acts: Redneck Manifesto, Connect Four Orchestra, Goodtime John, David Kitt, Si Schroeder and Jape. Instruments such as Vibraphone, Harp, Theremin, Indian Drone Machines and Moog synthesizers feature on 2005’s “Fuzzing Away To A Whisper” released Sept 05 on Trust Me I’m a Thief records. These collections of recordings are 2 CDS from six years of producing. They range from electro-acoustic pieces to pop music and incorporate elements of early Kraftwerk, Broadcast, Brian Eno and Steve Reich. While pursuing a PhD in Music, and finishing work in the US with New York’s Bang On a Can Ensemble, Somadrone’s third album (2007) “Of Pattern and Purpose” was assembled. The first to incorporate vocal accompaniment, it is composed mostly of miniature symphonies and electronic interludes. Recent projects include a featuring on Wire Magazine’s Wire Tapper CD and a residency at the Institute of Electro-Acoustic Music, Stockholm.