the eldritch circle, 2018

Harry Houseago - 284565 - Major Project

I) Introduction

   i) Major Project Overview

   ii) Achievements

   iii) Rationale - A New Start

 

II) Methodology and Process

   i) Making Trouble - The production of Trouble Enough Will Find Us

   ii) Turning Eldritch - Creating the h. eldritch brand narrative

   iii) Eldritch Manifestations - Preparing for and organising live shows

   iv) Unleashing Trouble - Launching h. eldritch and releasing the EP

III) Evaluating Eldritch

   i) A Picture on the Mirror - Positive Reflections

   ii) Inconstant Star - Areas for Improvement

 

IV) The Eldritch Vision

   i) Future Visions

   ii) To the Water, to the Stars - Conclusion

1) Introduction

i) Major Project Overview

 

This project combined the production of an EP, a release campaign, and an all-encompassing artist relaunch within a solo musical project as h. eldritch. This was intended to implement lessons learned throughout my artistic career, both within the Commercial Music course and by personal experience. The project was an opportunity for a fresh start as a solo artist and a framework to retune my public voice by utilising diverse multimedia skills. My intention was always that the resulting music and outward narrative should be maintained long after I graduate, as I continue as h. eldritch. 

 

This document is a comprehensive account of the various creative and practical processes that comprised the h. eldritch launch, the creation and release of ‘Trouble Enough Will Find Us’.

 

ii) Achievements

 

The production of ‘Trouble Enough Will Find Us’, aided by Tim Morris and Dick Beetham

The construction of a website and other online platforms for h. eldritch

Multiple DIY photo and video shoots

The creation of online promotional content

The organisation of multiple live shows

Strategising and launching h. eldritch

Releasing ‘Trouble Enough Will Find Us’

 

iii) Rationale - A New Start

 

In 2011, when making my first album, I received advice from my then-manager that has been in mind ever since: “What you choose not to do is just as important as what you choose to do”. The original context was a photoshoot then under consideration for another artist but for a less-than-credible publication. Whilst not directly relevant to me at the time, I was increasingly to realise the importance of controlling my artistic output and protecting my image.

 

Years later, in 2015, I had a similar conversation with my second manager, Phillip Tennant, when completing an EP. He revealed a strategy to pitch me as a brand new artist under a new name. His reasoning was to prevent interested parties from distraction by some of my earlier and, what he perceived to be, less currently-relevant creations that were still online. A lot of content originating from my younger days and previous management existed online under the ‘Harry Houseago’ name. Much of this was on channels over which I had no control. A new name and purging previous material was the proposed solution. Unfortunately the majority of online material was outside our ability to police. It existed on external channels. This meant that any effort to cull material was focussed on my own channels which, ironically, featured higher-quality content. That was material of value. It might have become, over time, stylistically incompatible with my developing artistry - but that was part of an evolutionary process attributable simply to growing older and gaining experience. So, I was not entirely “bought into” what was a blunt approach rather foisted upon me; re-invention should be something more profound and inventive.

 

As the relationship with Phillip grew less productive, the only effect that this ‘spring clean’ had was to render previous efforts such as the album, tour, videos, and my 2014 Gigs Big Busk Win somewhat wasted; by virtue of removing much of the momentum to bet all on new material generated during a short new partnership. Another effect of enforced working just on new recorded material whilst my public persona was to be allowed to settle, was that my established audience seemed to grow distant. At University, this effect was deepened after my focus on Pepper’s Ghost, and the tentative return and then departure of Phillip under a less formal and less committed partnership.

 

So by 2016 I accepted that I was going to be making a new start.

 

Some experiences on this learning curve did provide the opportunity and genesis for the h. eldritch project. I had developed as an artist over the few years involved, had leant a fantastic amount and above all I now had the space to tailor a persona properly aligned to my thinking as a 21 year old artist, still recalling that advice from 2011. 

 

Complications regarding branding and social media analytics are secondary to the creative evolution that comes with growing older and more independent. After a few years of feeling gently “instructed” and “persuaded” by my older collaborators and yet seeing few real benefits, I was feeling that the best route to making music that was more contemporary, personal, and idiosyncratic. It was to produce both the music and the branding myself. I began my taking creative ownership, becoming h. eldritch and creating Trouble Enough Will Find Us.

 

II) Methodology and Process

i) Making Trouble - The production of Trouble Enough Will Find Us

In that context, working in professional studios had begun to feel stifling and frustrating, not  liberating and creative. I was having ideas that I could not implement as I wanted or intended, just because of the time they would take to realise when paid for by the hour. There was too much creative compromise involved. I also desired to pursue a level of musical experimentation that I knew I would feel uncomfortable with when working under restrictions. I needed more room to experiment; more of a laboratory than a production plant. In fairness, it was in those commercial studios where I was part of many discussions regarding genre and subtle production details regarding my own evolving music. That had been valuable learning but the results of those sessions were only partially fruitful and fell short of what I knew was possible; although the musical results had begun to hint at the direction I was about to take in self-producing my work as h. eldritch. All of this came together in my committing not only to self-produce, but to adopt a new fully-fledged persona.

 

The key advancements I was looking to secure in self-production included:

 

  • The ability to spend greater time recording and arranging layered guitar parts in particular- something that I had begun to do even when working in commercial studios taking advantage of their selection of amps, etc. 

 

  • Taking advantage of more time but also the more familiar and comfortable environment within my home studio. I found that even using virtual amps in that environment produced results more satisfactory to me than those achieved in studios such as Sugar Cane, despite using Richard Ashcroft’s Vox there. Acoustic guitars also recorded really well and as I wanted with the specific sound (reverb, character) of my home studio.

 

  • Having the opportunity to craft relative snippets of sounds and effects that might feature only once in any track but which were important parts of the final recording - such as effects at the start of Ghost/Half a Man.

 

  • Experimentation with different arrangements of the songs with expanded track counts, to refine and achieve exactly what I wanted - not having to commit prematurely to arrangements. There are many different versions of songs all of which can be good, but I have learnt that it may take a few iterations to reach the most interesting.

 

  • Having space to experiment with new ideas some of which can be difficult to implement and achieve, such as the reversed lead guitar part in For a Moment - created with a reverse delay, playing a riff in reverse a bar early. You need some room to fail in the first attempts.

 

  • Being able to try out lyrical and melodic options within a full arrangement better to explore the effect in a finished record.

 

Lyrically, I was interested in introspection and analysis of interpersonal relationships, using surrealist language and thematic imagery to harness the power of subliminal suggestion.

 

I utilised connotations of colour to suggest acceptance and serenity in the listener: ‘this is a green light’ (For a Moment). I used self - deprecating humour to reference my largely monochrome colour palette and the sadness and submission of black in the song Antimatter: ‘paint the walls and ceiling black and I’ll be back’. I embraced freeform, emotive surrealism and open metaphor with lyrics such as ‘you’re under my eyelids’, ‘[I] hid beneath your pillow’, ‘I keep her in a picture on the mirror’ and ‘I didn’t wake up for two years’. I also tried to include thematic and conceptual imagery, with powerful emotional connotations from the collective consciousness, by romanticised references to science, religion and transcendental ideas; all to reinforce those subliminal suggestions:

 

From Ghost/Half a Man:

‘you’re the ghost at the end of my road’

‘here you are, inconstant star’,

‘god is in the streetlight’

 

From Antimatter:

‘there’s no constellation mirroring our lives above us’

‘hallelujah antimatter’

 

From Headlights/Dry:

‘only flaw in your science/ two lonely mortal bad liars’

 

The surrealist qualities and references to supernatural and scientific thinking informed greatly the ambient and experimental electronic elements of the music’s production, as well as inspiring the imagery used to surround and promote the music.

 

The first track to materialise in a way comparable to its eventual EP version was ‘For A Moment’. The core of the track was formed in a single day by myself working alone after having reaching a limit to what had been achieve to that time by my collaborations at Tilehouse and Sugarcane studios. It was the first time that I began to write a track by focussing on production elements and arrangement before melody or vocal line. Building up a skeletal arrangement of a warped bass guitar, live snare drum, sampled kick drum, and ambient electric guitars played with an eBow, I began to work on creating the effect chain for the lo-fi acoustic guitar ambient part (heard quite audibly at 0:25, after the word ‘no) that features throughout the track. My ambition for this track started out as ‘James Blake with guitars’. This also lead me to create, in the same session, the bitcrushed chordal stabs (0:32, 0:36) and the reversed guitar lead line heard from 1:01 onwards. Some of these parts would be practically impossible to realise live - especially the reversed lead part, as recording it required envisioning the desired result of a inverse part played a bar earlier. As I built the track, I refined the vocal line and lyric, using the sonics of the tracks as my inspiration - a process that I repeated with every subsequent track.

 

The experience with ‘For a Moment’ epitomises what I was looking for in terms self production regarding the attention to detail and experimentation. This work on For a Moment set the standard for the other tracks on the EP.

 

The rest of Trouble Enough Will Find Us started life as a series of demos produced for the live shows I had still been playing as Harry Houseago in the third year of my degree, culminating in my Komedia performance. In anticipation of these performances I was already refining my high-tech, one man band set-up. I was already building in enhanced elements to the tracks but only up to a standard that was achievable in time for whatever gig was coming next. This meant that there was little logical method to the order of the individual parts of the track and there were multiple versions of the arrangements. Often the demos consisted of a guide acoustic guitar track (which I played live in shows), programmed drum samples, synth bass and the most crucial, definitive keyboard, vocoder, synth bass and ambient parts. Things were not fully-fledged but definitely taking shape and attracting early attention.

 

At one of these live shows I then met Tim Morris, who was to become my co-producer and mix engineer. He loved the show and we were to find common ground regarding our creative approaches. Our initial bond was formed after the suicide of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. I had modified my standard set to make room for a rendition of ‘Numb’ in tribute and during that show I unplugged the guitar to walk around the venue and deliver the song acoustically. Tim came to me and mentioned that he had recently returned from a show that Enter Shikari  (who he tours with as their MIDI and playback technician) had played alongside Linkin Park. My rendition had reminded him of Chester warming up in his dressing room. I felt like our meeting and potential collaboration seemed very natural and symbiotic, which was an attractive proposition to me after a number of more structured but ultimately not entirely empathetic relationships.

 

Tim’s roles in the production of the EP involved editing and adding to my demos, recording live drum, percussion and vocal parts, creative re-amping, and mixing. Our first session was at my home studio and consisted of exploring my demos, adjusting tempos and structure, and tweaking the direction of one song, Antimatter, that we felt needed the most work. After this meeting I produced a second demo of Antimatter which served as a starting point for Tim and I to take a fully-attuned, collaborative approach to that track. After Tim had moved his equipment into my studio, we spent just over a day per track to complete all additional production and tracking, including live drums, percussion, additional guitars, tweaking synthesiser parts, and recording and comping lead and background vocals. Antimatter required two additional days work, as we felt it was the least initially complete demo of the five. A comparative listen to the final versions of the songs on the EP against the previously-recorded live demo renditions does show that the songs generally retained the same spirit and many of the exact same musical elements, except perhaps Antimatter, which was produced more collaboratively.

Trouble Enough Will Find Us - EP

Trouble Enough Will Find Us - Demos

It may be a fair question whether there was any tension in my decision to move to self-production and yet collaborate with Tim. Certainly I could have covered his areas but there was no compromise for me in Tim’s role as a facilitator. There were a number of ways in which this helped with the objective balance to the finished tracks; and in allowing me shift energy away from aspects of audio engineering of less interest.

 

The first was in some guidance as to self-recording guitar parts after hearing the live versions. Tim was also able to add some good bench-marking as a vocal producer.  I doubt that I am alone as a performer in some struggle to remain level-headed when recording and editing my own vocals. Some experienced professional ears added an invaluable guide to the whole process. An inherent part of the “liberation” that I was looking for was to work at my own home studio. This obviously meant less technical resource compared to a commercial studio, but it proved to be helpful in a number of ways besides just delivering the space to be creative and to experiment and the comfortable environment to get the most confident performances. I was able to take full advantage of instant access to more musical resources, such as pedals and percussion, including my orchestral bass drum and toy synthesisers.

 

The next decision, to use Dick Beetham as the mastering engineer for the project, was a fairly simple. He had worked with Tim before, so that there was a valuable, established understanding there, but he had also mastered some projects which I thought very compatible with what I was looking to achieve - Alt J’s first, and very successful ‘An Awesome Wave’ and also an album for the folk artist Seth Lakeman. I was very confident in his artistic empathy and in the critical understanding of what I was looking to deliver.

 

I had never planned to master the EP myself. I am glad that I was open to the idea of working with an engineer and producer, but the successful realisation of the EP only emphasises to me the importance of picking collaborators carefully to ensure the right dynamic for a project to flourish.

ii) Turning Eldritch - Creating the h. eldritch brand narrative.

 

eldritch

Adjective: Weird and sinister or ghostly.

‘an eldritch screech’

Origin: Early 16th century (originally Scots): perhaps related to elf.

 

- taken from The Oxford Living Dictionary

at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/eldritch

Last accessed 14/5/18

 

My early management had seen reinvention as being important and, whilst I can see the issue as a very young artist gains a few years, their approach seemed to me to involve limited renaming and re-packaging. As I came to my own artistic turning point, I was interested in something much more profound and creatively expressive. My thinking was more to do with deeper alignment between artist persona and the music, between visuals and sound, between ideas and language. On the practical level it was also to do with retaining the control of my artistic output by virtue of my own social media channels. It was much less to do with simply leaving behind any older material. 

 

So there was to be a precious opportunity to combine artistry with commerciality, but also to achieve a really strong projection.

 

Some creative and personal philosophies I was attempting to embody within the music and any new persona were: eclecticism, multiple simultaneous stylistic influences, ambiguous, surreal lyricism, and tempering my pop-melodic writing tendencies with some folk and indie conventions. 

 

There was nothing about the EP that was to be rough-and-ready sounding or conveyed any DIY aesthetic, despite being created through limited means. It was hugely important to me that the finished recordings should not let down in their production quality the richness of both the new persona and the music I was looking to create. Equally, h. eldritch, as I was to become, required real depth and tone; something that would never be achievable or capable of being fleshed-out without genuine reflection of my personality as revealed in the songs, my own interests and values. There has to be honesty and integrity even with some artistic invention, and the music must always come first.

 

The name ‘h. eldritch’ was constructed from the initial of my first name placed in front of the obscure adjective ‘eldritch’, a word of old English origin meaning ‘otherworldly’. It summaries my creative vision well, whist having the phono-aesthetic qualities of a surname, albeit a suitably unusual one. h. eldritch still sounds like a name, but a very standout, characterful one. The lowercase stylisation was inspired by the poet ee cummings, who famously eschewed punctuation within his work to create a sense of timelessness, and wrote his own name in the same manner.

 

To consider h. eldritch simply as an adopted contrivance would imply a falsity that is neither intended nor present. In the same manner that any songwriter and producer wants to create art to embody some specific ideas, themes, emotions and concepts, I want to present my own in a sympathetic way that will accentuate and expand their resonance. Embodying all of this in h. eldritch is as simple as presenting the music and visual style in the way that I believe is most honest to the intention. I am myself, yet eldritch i.e. ‘H’ (eldritch). Any individual who has the ambition to be in the public eye has to distil themselves and their thoughts in some way to allow for the public dissemination of private aspects of their life. An additional reason for the commitment to this name is the possibility of the project’s scope expanding in future to include a much larger creative force, whether it be musical, visual, or otherwise. If this were to occur, I would rather the project not be badged just under my real name to the point of ignoring the contributions of others. Comparable examples to what I intend are projects that have developed from solo endeavours to group pursuits. These include Nine Inch Nails (masterminded by founder member Trent Reznor in the studio, expanding into a fully collaborative band for live performances), and Bon Iver (initially a solitary studio undertaking by Justin Vernon that has developed to full creative collaborations with session musicians over the course of three albums).

 

The persona of h. eldritch comes across strongly in the visual styling so that the music, the lyrical content and the full presentation gives something complete to the audience; something offering a more immersive experience right down to the prosaic level of the merchandise stand. I wanted to communicate the idea that h. eldritch was more than a musician. Instead, h. eldritch was an entire entity personifying a complete world with an aesthetic all of its own. My ambition was to create, or at least strongly to suggest a larger world which the character inhabits. This has to be a construct presented with a sufficient and sustainable depth that the most engaged or curious listeners could fully explore it over time but with an immediate impact intended to engage even those making just a chance encounter. 

 

Because of presenting this world primarily through my online presence, there was a balance to be struck between making the presentation accessible to all viewers and yet elaborate and surprising enough to generate long-term commitment from, and interest for, the core audience. The world inhabited by h. eldritch is also the best means of communicating what I want to say in way that offers the greatest return to those most engaged; those seeking the strongest identification with h. eldritch. There is no dissembling in that at all. This is a sincere and honest creative offering. The importance of ‘superfans’ i.e. the especially engaged and fanatical members of a fanbase is arguably more important than ever in an age when fandom can run riot on the internet and direct-to-consumer models are easier than ever before to implement. It has always been important to me that the world of h. eldritch should be instinctively and emotionally recognisable to those most receptive to the music, even before they have imagined it or have been there. 

 

The music itself informed and guided everything when it came to creating this world, and the process of refining the visual identity began by attempting to balance the challenges and contradictions present in the music. The EP was cutting-edge sonically, yet it had its roots in acoustic folk music; there were vintage tape and valve overdrives used in the mix alongside very digital distortion and glitching; and there were gentle acoustic finger-style guitars underscored by harsh, buzzing, digital synth basses. There was a sense of slightly warped familiarity created by using acoustic samples in wavetable synthesis, and the use of room reverbs helped in trying to conjure an image in the listener’s mind of the kind of environment in which the music was created and which the character of h. eldritch inhabited.

 

The combination of the definite folk DNA and the intended supernatural, mysterious and moody ambience of the EP lead me to research further into some art styles that had long appealed to me. These ranged from the symbology and iconography of European folk magic and esotericism to the empirical, scientific and anatomical etchings of Victorian England - art styles that both subliminally suggested the world of h. eldritch and helped to frame the music in the wider artistic context that I wanted. These graphical styles had also been recently used to great effect on releases such as Bon Iver’s ’22, A Million’, Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘A Different Kind of Fix’, and Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Recorded Songs’; all of which align closely to the intended audience and genre categorisation of ‘Trouble Enough Will Find Us’.

 

Critically, researching into European folk magic traditions helped me to understand the construction of the mysterious symbology that led me to create ‘The Sigil’, a wordless, vaguely cruciform icon that brands content with the presence of h. eldritch. The Sigil achieves this without breeding familiarity-related contempt through needless written repetition of the name. Additionally, the Sigil itself is intriguing, rather mysterious, and suggestive of religious iconography; a slightly wry nod to my ambition to cultivate a loyal fanbase for the project. In folk magic, sigils are symbols, made up of the letters of an entity’s name (usually an angel) superimposed upon one another. Sigils are used in casting spells of summoning. I hope that the Sigil for h. eldritch provides the strongest and most rewarding association with the artist for those responding to the music and self-identifying as within an inner-circle. I would later acknowledge this directly in the promotional cycle for the EP by naming a private Facebook group made up of my closest supporters as ‘The Circle’.

The Sigil

My natural taste in fashion aligned well with what was conceptually appropriate for h. eldritch. The other visual stylings were similarly extensions of my natural aesthetic. By mixing subtle sartorial nods to Victoriana, nu-goth and contemporary tech wear styles in a muted and monochrome colour scheme with distressed silver jewellery, my wardrobe embodied a similar anachronism to the music; I believed with a subtle, tasteful but darker gothic edge.

 

I decided to begin the process of giving life to h. eldritch with a DIY photoshoot in my studio so as to obtain my primary press shots. Working in isolation allowed me to experiment with wardrobe, physicality, and photographic techniques in an unpressurised way. Using my Sony RX100 mk3 on a tripod, a pair of low-cost soft boxes, LED work lights and a plain backdrop, I amassed nearly 300 shots. These ranged from wide portrait shots utilising Vermeer-style soft lighting and soft focus to intimate backlit profile shots, arranging the soft boxes behind me. I experimented with cropping, saturation, contrast, and overlaying layers of noise and ‘grunge’ textures, and even some code-based image glitching software in attempts to visually mimic and parallel my production choices. After these experiments, I felt that a desaturated colour palette over-laid by a layer of filmic or digital noise created a moody, mysterious impression with an appropriately digital lo-fi edge. To add mystery and a signature personality to my favourite shot, I explored ways in which I could obscure the face, resulting in my main press shot that features a superimposed ‘rip’ over the eyes. In a second photo shoot, conducted two months afterwards, I focussed on capturing photos of myself interacting with the live set up I had previously used to shoot a video. The inclusion of the live equipment in the photos carried things over consistently into tour posters and other miscellaneous materials.

Selections from Photoshoot I

Selections from Photoshoot II

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My website allowed me the greatest flexibility of any online platform to flesh out the h. eldritch world. I began to explore visual options and directions across multiple different drafts using the highly flexible visual creation service WIX. The layout of some initial designs, influenced by the online ‘rabbit hole’ type sites of Radiohead and ARCA, mimicked those of fashion and culture magazines such as ID. They allowed me to experiment with iconography and mysterious sections of text and the photographs from the preliminary photoshoot. However, myself and some test audience members felt they were confounding in their navigation and also ‘blocky’ in appearance. It was during the resulting refinement of the layout of the website that I explored the idea of obscuring my face in my primary press shots to build intrigue and develop h. eldritch into a more layered concept than simply a two dimensional character. I simplified the methods to achieve a strong initial visual impact to new visitors to the site by creating a large, high-definition GIF out of my main press shot by superimposing a stock photo of a ripped piece of paper across they eyes and deleting the solid section in the centre of the rip. This resulted in the photo appearing as if the eyes had physically been ripped out. By creating short video of the image in front of a strobing black-and white background (In Final Cut Pro X) and exporting the video into the free HD video to GIF software Instagiffer, I created a high-resolution GIF to immediately grab the attention of site viewers. This unexpected dash of visual flair not only surprises visitors to the site but also subtly suggests a contemporary live light show and some of the harsher electronic elements of my music.

 

I purposefully tried to reject using a traditionally laid out header navigation menu on the website. This was difficult to achieve, as the vast majority of website templates are built around such a menu due to their high degree of compatibility across multiple devices. Instead I wanted to present the navigation menu system around a (royalty-free) depiction of a hand as used to indicate a process in a ceremonial blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church. I created a mock-up of this menu system by arranging pages of the website on the fingers of the hand to mimic the original instructional layout of the image, but this asset could not move to allow for the screen dimensions of different devices. Though what I intended would be achievable in raw code, I was reticent to delve into building a website from the ground up with HTML. As a result, after experimenting with a number of website building platforms, I found myself returning once again to WIX after their implementation of a feature that allowed assets to be pinned to corners of a device’s screen, allowing for this graphical menu to float atop the background in the corner of a devices’ display. For the final website, I spread a total of eight pages across four fingers of two hands, and arranged them at opposing bottom left and top right corners to mimic the layout of a suit symbol on playing cards, as well as to reference the magical concepts of the ‘left-hand path’ and ‘right-hand path’, as seen in depictions of The Baphomet; representing nefarious black magic and benevolent white magic respectively - connotations of the words ‘sinister’ and ‘dexter’. 

 

The website is now scalable across devices with screens of various sizes, and this graphical hand menu is necessarily replaced by a traditional drop-down list on mobile screens.

I had long-felt that Victorian anatomical drawings possessed great charm and elegance, and whilst searching through online resources, I came across the artwork of Otto D’Ambra, a Milan-born illustrator and tattoo artist working in London. His image ‘Modern Anatomy - Adam and Eve’ depicts, in the style of a Victorian-era anatomical etching, two human hearts linked by shared arteries. The image expresses the powerful idea of two individuals feeling inexorably linked in an understated and elegant way, and ties in neatly with the concept of ‘Half a Man’, from one of the EP’s songs. It was absolutely attuned to all my underlying ideas and I knew it had to be on the cover of the EP. After a friendly email to his representative, I was allowed to use the image for free besides a “thank you”. In my initial self-released CD run, behind the CD tray there is also a genuine complementary Victorian etching of the body of a fly.

Artwork Proof for CD release of 'Trouble Enough Will Find Us'

iii) Eldritch Manifestations - live shows

The songs and the live show developed in a symbiotic relationship, with the objective of creating moments of visual drama and to allow for the playing of multiple instruments within the same song in live performance. My ambition to perform sections of intensive live drumming immediately contrasting with a moment of stillness and quiet solo vocal informed my decisions about the songs’ structures and dynamics. However, if during the process of arranging the definitive version of a song for the EP, certain tweaks had to be made to achieve a superior finished recording, I treated the recording as the priority.

 

As I had been developing the songs and the live versions together, I did not have to re-learn the live set (a somewhat complex process of experimentation, technical tweaks, and muscle memorisation) after completion of the EP.  I did improve multiple aspects of my performance as well as the technical realisations of them. My approach was to remove any guitar parts from the playback apart from the most ambient and unobtrusive ones. Any moments when an audience member would be able to hear an obvious guitar part being played whilst not being able to see me doing it were avoided. This meant that sometimes multiple parts were approximated by me for the live shows, but those changes were artistically valid slight reinterpretations as opposed to being particularly reductive. Similarly, the moments where I play live drums and vocoder parts are chosen to reinforce visually the transitions between different sections of the songs and to represent dynamic shifts. This helps keep attention on my performance, flitting between instruments, as opposed to on elements of the sound that are not actually being performed live. For any few audience members who may accuse me of a reliance upon a backing track, I also include at least one song that requires no playback whatsoever in sets that are long enough to allow me time to do so. In smaller venues with invested audiences, I will often unplug my guitar and deliver a song acoustically from right in amongst the audience; something usually afterwards reported back to me as a special and memorable experience.

 

Sonically, the live show was improved by the production of the finished EP tracks. This was because I made sure to obtain individual instrumental stems from Tim’s final mixes for use in the Ableton Live project I used for playback. Informed by Tim’s knowledge of professional quality playback rigs from his work as a live technician with Enter Shikari, as well as by my own independent research and desires, I designed a combined playback, multi-channel DI and monitoring system to use for my shows. That not only streamlined my total equipment set-up time but also greatly increased the reliability of the computer - based set up and allowed me to run a personal, full in-ear monitoring mix that I had complete control over. This meant that my mix of playback, live parts and click track was consistent every night. I eliminated the problematic feedback generated by some of my filtered and warped live acoustic guitar patches and my live vocal performance became more dynamic due to my improved ability to hear myself.

 

Avoiding acoustic drums, I began to use an Alesis Controlpad to trigger acoustic samples for certain sections of the songs played live. Although this means the set up neither looks nor sounds quite as dramatic as before, it is considerably easier to manage, reducing the time and effort required to set up and tear down. I repurposed some dressmaking stands and made some custom mountings with which to mount both the sample pad and my vocoder. This made them easy to move on and off stage with a single hand. I then painted the sample pad, vocoder, stands, and rack box with a cohesive colour scheme and mounted lights to them so that the whole set up had a uniform aesthetic.

h. eldritch tech spec and stage plot as of April 2018

I have also refined my manner and demeanour on stage. I choose my language more carefully, delivering both serious commentary and jokes with language appropriate to h. eldritch, referring to my set up as “my ghosts and my machines”, for example, and refining my song introductions to keep the audience’s interest: “this is a love song about particle physics”, introducing Antimatter. These changes combined have been received very positively. Many report how strongly now the tone is set and how unusual, immersive and engrossing it is.

 

The process of booking h. eldritch gigs to support the release of the EP began by calling upon old contacts. After securing a support slot for Glass Peaks at their Moles gig (April 21st) in association with Kojo Promotions, that was to be my first show as h. eldritch. As the EP and live video were released earlier in that week, the flurry of attention h. eldritch had been receiving meant that my opening slot was far better attended than their headline slot.

 

As my style of live performance is unusual for a solo performer, I considered it vitally important that venues and promoters could watch a well-shot and edited live performance to get a sense of the show. However, I still wanted this to have an interesting aesthetic. The live video for Ghost/Half a Man was directed and engineered by myself and shot by my mother in my home studio, under my guidance. Inspired by the music video for Youngr’s ‘Too Keen’, we set up drapes to cover the white walls and made a backdrop featuring the Sigil to obscure the control room section of the studio. Using the Sony Rx100 Mk3 (with some built-in active image stabilisation) mounted on a £30 shoulder rig from Amazon meant the camera could move freely around me and keep a stable image to provide multiple interesting angles for a one-take video. After shooting multiple takes with flat lighting provided by my photography soft boxes, I decided that the resultant look was not quite stylised enough for h. eldritch. Instead, a halogen work light hung from a ceiling beam simply and cheaply provided a single overhead light, positioned to suggest not only a stage spotlight, but to semiotically appear as a divine beam. I decided to ape a vintage film look in post-production by using a desaturated colour grade and film noise overlays, remaining careful to not resort to low-quality vintage effect presets within Final Cut Pro X, my video editing software.

Ghost/Half a Man - Live Video

At that time I was applying for July and August gigs to venues around London, Bath and Bristol, using a vast spreadsheet of venues that myself and some previous collaborators had been building up for the past year. I initially planned to populate social media with more live performance videos in the interim period between the Moles show and July in order to maintain momentum and interest in the live shows. Despite some worries I had regarding maintaining the frequency of my live appearances after the first Moles show, my fears were unwarranted as more gigs came flooding in. Getting through the initial application to the Bath Introduces competition lead to another Moles appearance the following month, which was even more well-attended, as well as a slot on the Main Stage at the Bath Festival’s 70th Anniversary Finale Weekend - with an audience of around 6,000. Support slot offers came in from other Bath Spa Commercial Music students and locals from the Bath and Bristol scenes including artists like Firewood Island and Steve Strong.

Schedule of confirmed h. eldritch gigs

APR 21

Kojo Promotions presents: Glass Peaks / Kalpa / h. eldritch - Moles, Bath

 

APR 30

The Blue Lagoon, Bristol

 

MAY 5

Bath Introduces at Moles, Bath

 

MAY 12

Steve Strong / h. eldritch at The Golden Lion, Bristol

 

MAY 26

Main Stage, Bath Festival Finale, Bath Recreation Ground, Bath

 

MAY 30

Douglas Joshua Single Launch and Songwriter's Circle - Komedia, Bath

 

JUNE 4

Firewood Island / Delight a Thief / h. eldritch - The Crofters Rights, Bristol

 

JUNE 14

Swallowfall / h. eldritch / Asian Hawk - Mr Wolf's, Bristol

 

JULY 13-15

Once Upon a Time In the West Festival - Milk Float Stage

 

JULY 20

Hope and Anchor, Islington

 

JULY 22

Dummer Faery Festival, Dummer Down Farm, Hampshire

 

JULY 26

Bird's Nest, Deptford, London

Organising a Google ecosystem around the h. eldritch email address, comprising a Google Calendar to input gigs, gig application templates in Google Docs, and the venue database in Sheets, allowed me to enlist some of my family members; who volunteered to help in sending out emails whilst keeping track of the cumulative efforts and total applications.

iv) Unleashing Trouble - Launching h. eldritch and releasing the EP

 

Once the EP was complete and the visual style defined, the deadline for the EP’s release revolved around my desire to capitalise on the potential audience for the project within the University community (specifically those on the Commercial Music course) and local music fans of the Bath and Bristol music scenes who were already aware of me from previous projects. Whilst I toyed with organising a launch show for the EP, the fact that I would simultaneously be launching a whole new artistic identity would make a combined launch show extremely ambitious. Obtaining a reasonable audience would be a challenge. Instead, I decided to schedule the release for the day before my debut show, with Glass Peaks at Moles. This was an attempt to keep a surprising pace for my audience, to keep excitement levels high.

 

After considering pursuing labels for distribution of the EP, I decided that, as a debut release so early in the life of a new identity I had crafted so carefully, I needed to self-release to set a precedent for my future output. I still planned to pursue independent Spotify curators and bloggers immediately following the release.

 

I also pursued producing a narrative video that I could use to precede the release of the EP, as is a common industry strategy. Some DIY experiments proved very effective - most notably an exploration into found-footage style filmmaking, aping imagery often found in psychological thrillers. I went so far as to contact a video director and source a location for an initial concept I had for a video for Ghost/Half a Man, the song which Tim and I both felt most suitable as a single. This video would revolve around ceremonial and horror film imagery and would be set in a spooky disused house. I concluded that developing the concept and making the video would take far too long. Instead, I released the live video for the song to lead into the EP release.

I was conscious that I did not want my social media accounts to have a casual, candid and unfiltered tone for two reasons; the first being that maintaining this style of presentation lacked interest for me; and the second being that I felt it might somewhat dilute the overall creative aesthetic of the project. I decided to focus the majority of my efforts on Instagram as I felt a strong affinity with its visual emphasis and natural inclination towards the weaving narrative. This was reflected in my historical engagement metrics on the platform - I engaged my audience most strongly. As my existing ‘Harry Houseago’ account performed reasonably well, with around 600 followers, I decided to harness and re-brand it for h. eldritch rather than create a new account. This was a decision also informed by the knowledge that I would be starting a new Facebook page for the project and I did not want to reduce my communication channels with my existing audience.

Social Media Links

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Instagram

I archived all the previous posts from the account and initially posted a series of mysterious videos containing images of the Sigil with cryptic captions suggesting a change of direction for the account. I had also never used the Stories feature as I was aware that using it for the first time would send a wide-reaching notification to the majority of my followers, and thus I wanted to save that for a message of great importance. I eventually used it to share a promotional video announcing the release of the EP, the name change to ‘h. eldritch’, and the first gig I would play under the name, the day after the EP’s release. I later used the Stories feature to forewarn my followers that I was changing my username handle so as to minimise confusion. After the re-branding, I have posted once a day almost without fail, with post content ranging from photos of live gigs to press shots and thematically related imagery. I have been careful to further weave my artistic narrative to my audience in the captions of these posts by taking on a heartfelt and sincere tone using language thematically related to my imagery and lyrical style, I believe keeping my tone engaging and engrossing to my audience. These posts are also shared on the Facebook page and Twitter account to populate those platforms. I have maintained my use of the Stories and Highlights features to present further a narrative to my audience, such as to relay the timelines of my experience in the Bath Introduces competition and playing on the main stage at the Bath Festival. This provides reinforcement and reward to the members of my audience who contributed to my success in these experiences by supporting me at live shows.  It respects their contribution, which further engages them and keeps their interest. I similarly re-branded my existing Twitter account.

The ‘Harry Houseago’ Facebook page and historical branding had now been left behind for me and what had been my established audience.

In order to boost the organic reach of some of the first posts on the new page I created a private Facebook group of 22 close personal friends for the purposes of crowdsourcing organic post shares and engagement, named ‘The Circle’. Initially withholding information about the intention of the group and keeping my tone mysterious helped to engage the members. The first task given to this group actually occurred the day before the launch of the Facebook page and involved the dissemination of various images of the Sigil captioned with the phrase ‘Who is h. eldritch?’. As many of the members of The Circle were close friends of mine within the community of the Commercial Music course, even other individuals on the course who were not members of the group began to share the images to join in with their friends, some even remixing the image to make it their own without having to be asked to do so. The day after the coordinated sharing of this image was the launch of the Facebook Page and the release of the live video of ‘Ghost/Half a Man’. The members of The Circle were once again enlisted to share the video, and often captioned their posts in a stylistically relevant way of their own accord. The independent creativity and resourcefulness of the members of The Circle indicates the effectiveness of creating fun tasks for friends and fans to undertake, and the importance of genuinely valuing their time and energy; helping to build a truly close bond using social media. This was a learning process for me as I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception of this tactic, a small-scale implementation of many similar crowdsourcing techniques that have been used in larger promotional campaigns.

Evidence of the 'who is h. eldritch?' campaign

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III) Evaluating Eldritch

There was a fair amount of experimentation and constant re-evaluation involved in my methodology. The least successful endeavours tended to be creative experiments kept private, many of which may simply need revisiting in future to be perfected. Within the realms of reasonable expectation, I am proud of what I have achieved , which has met my objectives. This has been working largely alone but with carefully crafted collaboration where this added to the process and enabled artistic freedom. 

 

I was conscious before deciding to overhaul my entire image that defining an aesthetic so specifically can both further engage some listeners and potentially deter others. Given today’s vastly oversaturated music market and the current age of  “cult-of-personality”, I decided that this was a risk I was willing to take in order to stand out and be seen, as well as for creative fulfilment. I am seeking enduring, not ephemeral, success. A clear flame burning steadily for longer. I believe my efforts form the very beginning of a process that may set me up for that, so on that level the project has been fulfilling and successful. Only time will tell.

i) A Picture on the Mirror - Positive Reflections

 

Though it is difficult to quantify empirically, there is sound anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of my promotional efforts. This has been reported to me by students and lecturers alike, and is reflected in the attendance and support for my live shows. I am proud of the independent and creative efforts on the part of some fellow students in sharing and distributing h. eldritch content. That is a strong endorsement.

 

On a completely subjective level I have creatively achieved my musical ambitions assisted and facilitated by a successful collaboration with Tim Morris and Dick Beetham that I have steered throughout.

 

I have forged a strong voice for my online social media communications that is enjoyable and engaging enough for me to maintain. Though I thought I would need to plan and schedule my posts rigorously, I have found the process of maintaining my online narrative instinctively easy and fun. I have achieved a far better relationship with social media accounts than treating them as an uninteresting burden requiring a depleting amount of energy.

 

Despite the old Harry Houseago Facebook page’s audience of over 1,500 followers, the visibility and engagement level of the posts on the new h. eldritch page are actually higher on average than posts on that page from the last 3 years - proving my long - held theory that the Facebook algorithm had been greatly suppressing my posts from the page for years. My priority was obtaining higher engagement levels as opposed to rapidly reaching the greatest number of total page likes. Launching this new page completely achieved this.

 

I have expanded my technical knowledge of photography, videography, studio lighting techniques and post-production. Whilst my focus is on creating the music, this knowledge will undoubtedly help me in future when working with collaborators in these areas. 

 

Finally, I personally believe that the the musical and visual elements I have created are cohesive and sympathetic to the point that both aspects elevate the other to create an overall rich artistry greater than the sum of its parts, and this relationship sets the standard for me to follow as the project goes forward.

ii) Inconstant Star - Areas for Improvement

 

Most of my objectives have been realised within the limitations of resource. 

 

Some of my ambitions for creating narrative, documentary-style visual content tracking the development of h. eldritch proved too labour-intensive to achieve entirely on my own during the time period of the module. Equally, experimenting with photography and videography have yielded many effective if early results and there are strong ideas to be revisited in future.

Selected Video Content, both used and unused

I have yet to perfect my voice on Twitter, despite being a lyricist and creative wordsmith. I feel like popularity on the platform is often down to a user’s ability to create controversy or popularist social commentary, neither of which I am inclined to do. As a platform popular with music bloggers and industry figures, I feel like this is an area to understand, and I may have to settle for taking a more casual tone than I naturally favour.

 

There is a delicate balance to be struck between maintaining a consistent artistic voice and being sensitive to differences in audience and situation. The style of h. eldritch is not for everyone. For example, while both were very positive, the subtle contrast in the audience’s reception of my four-song set at the Bath Festival with that of my two Moles shows belies their different audiences. The Moles audience is younger and perhaps less mainstream in their musical taste than the Bath Festival crowd as well as being more familiar with the tone set by the promotional efforts for h. eldritch and the music. This meant that the Moles audience was slightly more prepared for and receptive to some of the more experimental sonics of my live show and my slightly theatrical demeanour than was the Bath Festival audience. I was conscious that this might be the case. A cursory glance at the rest of the festival line-up and branding can help estimate a reaction to some degree. Some dialling down of some of the idiosyncrasies a touch may be something to explore at some festivals in future, provided that is without compromise.

 

The process of pursuing coverage from bloggers and Spotify curators following the EP’s release was one that required more time than I could effectively give. By making sure I received feedback from every publication I sent music to, I am able to choose more carefully what song to send to each curator through being more informed about personal tastes.

 

IV) The Eldritch Vision

i) Future Visions

As I develop momentum with h. eldritch over the foreseeable future, no doubt the project will grow in scale along with my audience, however rapidly or slowly. As the time and effort needed to facilitate expansion increases proportionately, it is inevitable that running all the h. eldritch operations will require a larger team than just myself with periodic collaborators. I will have to delegate some responsibilities. To achieve this without creative dilution, I see my future role as the primary artistic director and face of h. eldritch, releasing myself from some technical and promotional aspects to focus on creating music with more ambition, keeping the h. eldritch live show surprising and innovative by constant refining and updating, and further spearheading the visual efforts. I look forward to collaboratively producing longer narrative music videos and allowing myself the time for further artistic and technological experimentation. I plan to work within the established infrastructure of PR management, a live agency, publisher and label in the future, though the individuals and groups I work with must be appropriate to the project. I would rather take some reasonable extra time to connect with empathetic collaborators than prematurely risk unproductive relationships. Again, I am aiming for long-term consistency. I plan to get more mileage from Trouble Enough Will Find Us for the next few months by gigging in support of the project whilst I refine the follow-up music. I plan to implement a larger promotion campaign for whatever the next release will be, involving an external press agent and Spotify plugger - neither of which have been involved to date.

 

With regards the next release, recent writing is firmly in line with my current material, with some experimentation into rhythmic micro-timing in beat construction and some greater focus paid to refining the songwriting in a stripped-back context. Longer is spent writing simply with voice and acoustic guitar, focussing on the eternally most-important melody and lyrics before layering additional production elements possibly too soon. I would argue that nearly all conventional songwriting wisdom would argue that this is no bad thing. Working with Tim was productive, and he is enthusiastic about being involved again. That remains a strong likelihood, though what I have learnt through making ‘Trouble Enough Will Find Us’ will allow me to handle more of the final engineering and production work myself.

 

In the meantime, engaging my growing fan base should have powerful rewards with regards to crowdsourced promotion and potentially even content creation. This can be incentivised with exclusive rewards and enhanced experiences. Even as I move back to South London in September, I will try to stay as connected as possible to the musical and creative network I have been building in the South West. Bath and Bristol shall always be second homes to me. My artistry and unique live show are well suited to the trendy and creative districts of South and East London that I will target with London as my base of operations. The strength of my live show is central to my plan for building a fanbase closer to home and there is an astounding potential for the development of the h. eldritch live show. 

 

After conversations with lighting designers and contacts from Tim’s professional tour production community, I have researched and begun to design a system for running a pre-programmed, scalable lighting and video display rig controlled directly from the laptop and Ableton Live session as currently used for performances. Running alongside my click track would be a separate, silent midi channel with pre-programmed single notes. This channel would produce no sound and instead output to Resolume Arena, a programming running simultaneously on the same machine. This program would contain all the lighting cues and video content arranged in a grid, each space in the grid corresponding to a midi note triggered by Ableton. Once the initial system is built and the cues and video content created, programming entire song sequences would be straightforward. The laptop’s HDMI output and an Ethernet - DMX hardware junction box could send the cues and video content from the computer. My current practical use for this system revolves around repurposing vintage black and white televisions as video display screens viable in smaller venues. These would show ambient visuals revolving around stylistic and thematic imagery as well as being able to approximate strobing effects. When not running off playback, the system could also be foot-switch controlled. In the next few months I would like some first incarnation of this system functioning.

 

Another technical innovation to be explored in my live shows is 360-degree performances, with the audience arranged all around me. My existing set up can be expanded to suit this fairly easily with the addition of extra instruments, and possibly this could even involve a surround-sound mix of the show, with dedicated speakers arranged underneath different instruments. Organising my own shows when I could do this and advertising their unique appeal could help draw a greater audience because each performance is especially intimate and memorable. An FOH speaker malfunction before the Glass Peaks show actually allowed me to set up in front of the stage and approximate this in a real situation, to universal enthusiasm and excitement from the crowd.

 

I am in no way averse to bringing other musicians into the live realisation of h. eldritch, though currently it is useful to be self-contained for practical reasons as well as giving an exciting spectacle. Adding a live drummer would bring some three-dimensionality to performances, and it would be interesting to explore how an additional multi-instrumentalist might breathe further life into the performance. In the near future I will explore this for larger gigs, but I wouldn’t want to detract from the drama of a one-man performance, nor would I want to limit my gig selection. I will not stop playing solo any time soon.

 

Encouraged by working with empathetic fellow creatives like Tim Morris and having carefully defined the sound of h. eldritch already, I do plan on pursuing more creative collaboration with musical and visual artists in the immediate future. That provides not only creative and social fulfilment but also builds valuable networks and connections.

ii) To the Water, to the Stars - Conclusion

 

Reflecting upon the entire project, from the first studio sessions with Tim to performing the finished EP on the main stage at the Bath Festival, I firmly stand by the convictions that initially motivated me to craft a unique artistic identity and commit to it whole-heartedly. Much more has succeeded than failed both subjectively in the realm of creativity and considering what was reasonably possible in terms engaging the potential pool of fans within the University student body and Bath and Bristol locals. As my ambitions reach far into the future, the benchmarks by which I may judge my success and failure range from my social media growth within the next six months, to my inclusion in industry showcases such as next year’s Dot to Dot festival. Some factors that can only be measured years from now.

 

As h. eldritch, in six months time I would like to be:

 

  • Courting management, PR and perhaps labels for h. eldritch, if not already being committed.

 

  • Releasing my second EP, along with the calling card of a high-production narrative music video.

 

  • Consistently gigging at a rate of around 6 good shows a month.

 

  • Featured in a greater number of music and art blogs and on external live music video channels such as Sofar Sounds or Balcony TV.

 

  • Engaging dynamically with my online audience, having grown my follower count on each platform by around 400.

 

Within ten years time, I would hope to be:

 

  • An internationally successful touring artist.

 

  • Associated with one of the larger independent label families such as Beggars Group, Secretly Group or PIAS.

 

  • Recognised as an innovative, independently-minded and trend-setting artist, one not simply following the crowd, in the example of Bjork or Tom Waits, with a history of critically acclaimed music, influence and crossover appeal.

 

And most importantly,

 

  • Followed by a loyal committed audience who appreciate my continuing individuality and credibility, allowing me financial stability, creative fulfilment and positive influence.

 

h. eldritch 

with the assistance of Harry Houseago

01 June 2018