Broken Chip: “The bush is my refuge.”

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Martyn Palmer is a musician and sound artist living in Australia working under the alias of Broken Chip. He uses synthesizers and found sound/field recordings, which are often looped to make gorgeous ambient experimental music. He’s released his music on Flaming Pines (UK), Feral Media (AU), King Deluxe (CA) and A Future Without (UK). His most recent work is Beyond, a beautiful suite of gentle electronic ambience that’s he’s issued himself via Bandcamp. We were quite captivated by the stillness and peaceful nature of his sounds and wanted to know more, so we reached out to Palmer via email.

Cyclic Defrost: Where did the Broken Chip name come from? What do you think it says about you or your music?

Martyn Palmer: The name Broken Chip came about because of the 80017a VCF/VCA voice chips failing in my old Roland Juno 106 synthesiser. When these chips start to break, they have a detuned, raspy and fuzzy tone which I initially enjoyed and started to use within my music. At some point only one voice worked which rendered it unusable. In the end I spent more time repairing the synth than acyually playing. The music I made during this period sounded broken/corrupted due to these voice chips and thought it would be a good name for the project. Many years later, the synth is no longer in my possession and the name basically has no bearing on the present work I do.

Cyclic Defrost: I understand you are based in the Blue Mountains. To what extent does your environment impact upon your work? I’ve noticed yourself released work all has nature photography as artwork.

Martyn Palmer: The local environment affects my creative output immensely. The bush is my refuge – the sights, sounds and smells always recharge my creative spirit. The only time I feel truly connected to this world is when I’m immersed in nature. There are of course other sources of inspiration that come from other art forms such as photography, film, paintings and writing. The artwork on my releases are moments that I captured serendipitously, in a way this is my approach to making music, so I think they pair quite well.

Cyclic Defrost: How do you think you arrived at your current approach to sound?

Martyn Palmer: As I started out creating music, I was much more rigid in the way I structured pieces. There were drums and basslines along with melodies and chord structures that were all in sync with one another, I guess you could say it was pretty standard on-the-grid programming using a sampler, Juno 106 and Ableton Live with some soft-synths. My second album “Into the Diamond” (2012) basically dropped all previous work methods for pitch shifting and granular processes using software. I also avoided quantising.

The transition from hardware to software certainly assisted in the direction of my music. I’ve now come full circle and employ several analogue synthesisers and loop pedals along with a small modular synth/effects rack that has a few granular modules. Cassette tapes are also used throughout each release. I still use a computer but it’s only for recording and making minor edits.

Cyclic Defrost: What do you use cassettes for?

Martyn Palmer: I have a few cassette and micro-cassette tape recorders that have different duties. I use a Denon tape recorder for recording final mixes to get that lovely natural tape saturation. Some of the smaller handheld recorders have built-in mics which I use for recording short sounds to get interesting textures – I then record these sounds into a sampler for further manipulation. Occasionally I’ll use a tape loop by modifying a standard cassette tape – this loop is around 5-6 seconds long and can be a great way to build up drone sounds.

Cyclic Defrost: It feels like a quiet music contemplative music with plenty of space is important for you. How do you approach making music?

Martyn Palmer: When I’m making music there are certain times during the day that I find unconsciously direct my mood for sound types. Early mornings usually bring about denser sounds, long droning chords with long reverbs – this to me is what dawn sounds like. Late at night is a completely different sound type – this is where it can sound a little darker/eerie and minimal in structure. Having said all this the most important thing for me is improvising – this is my main approach to making music.

Cyclic Defrost: What do you enjoy about creating and using loops? Because they don’t sound like loops – at least to me.

Martyn Palmer: For me looping sounds is a form of meditation, capturing a melody or some chord progressions, listening to them loop over and over is just so satisfying. Lowering the pitch of a loop is one of my favourite processes – the sample-rate changes and the loop becomes longer and this is where you can hear the aliasing come in (distortion and artifacts). I like to run several loopers at once asynchronously to get a more evolving movement of sound – I think this process makes the loops sound less like loops.

Cyclic Defrost: You seem to like to work with quite minimal instrumentation for each work, and it varies between albums. Does limiting yourself assist you creatively or is it more about what you have access to?

Martyn Palmer: I find it overwhelming when there’s too much choice. One or two synths that I know really well is the best work flow for me. This gives me a greater focus in creating sounds. I don’t have a lot of gear so that is also a limitation.

Cyclic Defrost: What is your favourite thing about your music? It could be a piece of gear, a technique you like to use, the emotional state it puts you in etc – whatever.

Martyn Palmer: It’s the process of making music which is the thing I most enjoy. Creating and processing sounds into something pleasing to the ear is such a good feeling, so yeah it’s definitely the emotional state that creating gives me which keeps me going.

Cyclic Defrost: On Beyond the four pieces just feel like they blend into one, and it becomes a joyful though quite hypnotic experience. What were you thinking about when you were creating it?

Martyn Palmer: Apart from deciding what tools and instruments to use, I actually don’t think about anything when I’m making music. I’ve been doing for so long and many aspects are second nature to me. I’m an improvisor, so I just play something until it sounds right, once I get a good vibe from it I hit record. It’s all about feeling for me.

Cyclic Defrost: What prompted you to self-release Beyond?

Martyn Palmer: It’s the instant gratification that Bandcamp offers in terms of releasing music whenever the urge strikes. There’s no dealings with lables and the lengthy process of waiting for their schedule to play out for your release to be heard. Labels certainly play their part in the scheme of things and I appreciate what they do – but sometimes doing it all yourself is extremely rewarding.

Cyclic Defrost: Okay, I didn’t think I was going to confess this too you, but I love meadows. When you’re walking through the bush and suddenly you happen upon a small, unexpected meadow in the unlikeliest of place – it’s just incredible. So, I have to ask, Forgotten Meadows – what are we talking about here?

Martyn Palmer: It’s exactly what you described. I came across several clearings not far from where I live while out riding my bike on the fire trails. One particular track involves walking due to the unridable terrain. After a lot of bush-bashing through prickly mountain devil shrubs a wonderful natural field of grasses and small wildflowers was revealed. In late winter early spring the ground is covered in wild flowers and it looks amazing. The proper name for this type of natural clearing is a hanging swamp. I came up with Forgotten Meadows due to its slightly more poetic quality than hanging swamp.

Cyclic Defrost: What do you think your music is for? Do you think much about what happens when you release it out into the world?

Martyn Palmer: I hope it’s used for background ambience in a room or home or for travelling on planes and trains. Once it’s in the wild I rarley reflect on what happens to it. Initially I try to encourage people to go and listen to it, however, that only lasts a week or so because I don’t want to pester too much.

Beyond is available now. You can find it here.

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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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