Phantom Chips

Phantom Chips - pic by Louise Brady
Phantom Chips - pic by Louise Brady
Phantom Chips at Supernormal Festival
Phantom Chips meets Future Primitive
Phantom Chips - Lerango drone
Phantom Chips - foot oscillator
Phantom Chips Unconscious Archives #10
Phantom Chips on tour with granpa

Phantom Chips makes noisy melodies with analog electronics, field recordings, wearable synths and homemade tape manipulators. She makes otherworldly monsters and invites you to join in wearing and playing. Phantom Chips is the alter ego of Tara Pattenden, and her instruments include drones and foot oscillators. She plays Cafe Oto on 15th February, and we talked to her about her compositions and instrument-making.

Beartown Records

Phantom Chips - experimental electronics

Phantom Chips - pic by Louise Brady

What are you working on music-wise at the moment?

I’m in the early stages of creating some new recordings for Beartown records. I’m also reworking the physical interface of some of my tactile instruments to improve their playability, and also their durability.

How would you describe your sound?

I have trouble describing my sound. I know it on a macro level and can’t step back to describe it as a whole. It’s been described in reviews as ‘a crisp sizzled interface; like an electrocuted typewriter’ and ‘music box miscellany, IDM, and audience terrorism intersecting’. I like repetition, but get bored easily, so things never stay the same for too long. I used to make largely harsh noise. With Phantom Chips I employ more melodies and synthesizer sounds. I don’t think I would have started using these sounds if it weren’t for learning to build instruments.

How do you compose?

I compose through a combination of improvising and shaping sounds. I’ll often start by constructing sounds; editing and picking out bits of recorded sounds that I like, time-stretching and editing to the point where new sound appears. I’ll use these sounds and loops in samplers, and muck about to create new compositions. Then refine and rework the compositions created this way. It’s a process of editing, playing and re-editing.

Field recordings are part of your work too, where have you recorded and what adventures have you had.

Teufelsberg in Berlin was one of my favourite places. I lived in Berlin 10 years ago; the radar towers were still in good condition then and produced a super long reverb. My other favourite reverb is in the hallway in the tower block I live in.

I’ve had some confused neighbours. I was recording in Brisbane one night, hitting objects and recording the sounds close up, drawing the attention of the cops (well, it’s Brisbane) so I have them on tape asking what’s up. It’s pretty funny. I would say my approach to field recordings is to collect sounds to work with as notes. The recordings rarely stay intact or appear for more than few-second loops.

Do you improvise a lot live

Yes, especially when I’m involving the audience. Sonically, my show is improvised within an idea or group of sounds. I have an idea of how I want the set to flow and what kind of sounds and intensity. I have groups of sounds that I use together and next to each other.

Tell us about your wearable noisemakers and getting the audience involved

I’ve always been interested in interactivity in my work. At art college I was making CD-ROMs and experimenting with microcontrollers to create interactivity beyond the screen and mouse. Part of the charm of the wearables is they are incredibly satisfying to play and I want to share that experience.

Two wearables that I currently use are the noise tentacles and the synth harp. The noise tentacles are a belt/strap-on with four tentacles on the front. By squeezing and bending the tentacles you create a whole heap of bass and noise. This works on body contact so its sound can vary from person to person.

What I really love about this costume is there is no way to look elegant or cool when you play it. I normally try to jump up on a table or somewhere high when I introduce this instrument to maximize how ridiculous I look. This disarms the audience and breaks down barriers between us. I’ve spent a lot of time developing how to interact with the audience.

The other main instrument I use are stretch based oscillators, their pitch being controlled through stretch. I have the harp synth that I play myself and various other stretchy bits that I take out into the audience so they can be involved without being on stage. I’m constantly evaluating how to improve this interaction and want to employ some conducting techniques in the future.

What is your go to gear for live, in the studio, and when you are making things

I own a lot of gear by Gijs Gieskes. He makes really inventive electronic instruments, often based on arduino chips and beyond what I could invent myself. I own a Hard Soft Synth 2 (HSS2B), Hard Soft Synth 3J - which is also a video synthesizer, DEP2 - bit crusher and sample delay effects. I’ve just bought an Analog HD2 kit which I’m yet to build; it’s based on a skipping hard drive and makes great jarring noise.

Apart from the noise makers that I build I also use an SP-404 sampler and Samplr on the iPad. Samplr is my reason for buying an iPad and the best sampler I’ve ever used. It makes excellent use of the touch screen and is a wonderful tactile way to play with sound. The main software I use is a wave editor called Amadeus.

How did you get into building instruments

I had an interest for a long time and had a go at building a few kits but I was never sure if I was soldering correctly. I learned to read schematics and built a few simple things on stripboard, but still was not very confident in this. By the way, soldering is easy.

I attended quite a few workshops but it was Derek Holzer’s Neanderthal electronics workshop that enabled me to really understand what was happening and to explore on my own.

What have you made so far

I’ve made a whole heap of lunetta instruments (synthesizers based on digital logic chips) including a 10 step sequencer, waveform generator, and general weird sound machines. The instrument I’m most proud of is a tape step sequencer. It’s a 4 step sequencer that changes the motor speed of a tape recorder that is playing back. So with a normal 4 step sequencer you could play back four musical notes in a loop, the tape step sequencer plays back a tape at four different speeds/pitches in a loop.

Other wearables, besides what I’ve described earlier, include a sample hood and glove outfit, stethoscope-based instruments for voice manipulation and a two-person light-based costume. I produce a drone machine for sale and will be developing this and other instruments to sell this year.

Phantom Chips - Lerango drone

Where do you want to go with your instruments, do you want to keep them hand-made or scale things up?

Everywhere! For the instruments that I’m building to sell, I am looking into circuit board production. I’m chatting with an engineer to use the synth harp with arduino and midi. I want to create installations for galleries and public spaces.

I will be exploring the use of motors and pulleys so that I can create automated compositions for installation.

Phantom Chips - foot oscillator

What are your plans for 2016?

It’s shaping up to be a busy year! I have some gigs coming up these next weeks. I’m really excited to be performing at Tectonics Glasgow in May. I’m planning a US tour with Scraps and Solypsis in May/June; and I’m probably joining the Fkn Bstrds on European and Russian tour in September. I’ll also be doing a few workshops including some at Goldsmiths University.

16 Feb Rice屎Corpse / Granpa / MXLX / Phantom Chips, Cafe Oto, London
7 May BBC Tectonics, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
20 May Sh*twife + John Callaghan + Phantom Chips,Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester

  • Phantom Chips’ instruments are available to order from her website