Modal Electronics Backstage: Miles Spilsbury – The Physics House Band
Treating synths as instruments in their own right, industry insights and breaking creative blocks while remaining focused on your craft, we delve into the mind of multi-instrumentalist Miles Spilsbury of The Physics House Band.
So, tell us who you are, where you’re from etc?
I’m Miles, a composer & multi-instrumentalist from Devon now living in South London.
What’s on your playlist at the moment?
It’s eternally changing but right now: ‘Aerial 2’ by David Binney, ‘Space 1.8’ by Nala Sinephro & ‘Chicago Waves’ by Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.
Name your top 3 influences on your music making?
People in my life, nature & photography.
Has Music always been a part of your life? Was Music a big part of your childhood? What did you listen to back then?
I grew up with a lot of music in the house and was very lucky to be encouraged by my family. My parents would listen to old jazz records; Charles Lloyd, Joe Henderson – people like that; my dad plays double bass and we still play gigs together. Music wasn’t always such a focus, I only started working hard at it in my early twenties. Weirdly I kinda lost my drive whilst studying at music college and then found it again later.
What inspires you musically?
Individuality and generosity.
How did joining the Physics House Band come about?
A group that I started back in college ‘Cameron Vale’ supported Physics at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds in 2017 (best venue in the UK for those that haven’t been) and we got chatting backstage. Physics asked me to join them onstage that night to improvise on the song ‘Impolex’ and it went from there – a few months later I played with them at Arctangent festival and soon after joined the group. It was smooth and happened pretty naturally.
My approach to synths is definitely from the perspective of an instrumentalist rather than sound designer
Looking at your IG feed, it seems you are a multi-instrumentalist – how does playing more traditional instruments impact your work with Synths?
My approach to synths is definitely from the perspective of an instrumentalist rather than sound designer, there are people who focus more on programming which is its own discipline. I’m drawn to synthesised sounds that sound in place with acoustic instruments and have an organic quality. I’m also drawn to instruments/sounds that are responsive and encourage quick sound manipulation which helps when improvising.
What is your approach to making music – is it consistent or constantly changing?
Routines come and go but there is always solo time to experiment and formulate ideas before bringing it to a group, with Physics it involves a lot of free playing until we stumble across something that sticks. I try to always keep compositions loose enough to capture whatever unexpected stuff other musicians will bring.
Looking at your releases, is there a defining concept that drives these – do you have this from the outset or is it discovered during your creative process?
I would say ‘not really’, different records follow different threads. As far as a unifying concept, I try to focus on documenting the process of myself and other musicians creating rather than aiming for the perfect presentation of an idea. To me the working process is way more interesting to hear than an overly polished product. Rough edges and hearing mistakes is all part of it.
How does the writing process differ from your live performances and what does rehearing one of your live sets entail?
When writing we approach songcraft differently to live performance – live there is more room to explore. Whereas in the studio even if we’re recording an open ended jam we like to have an overall arc talked about, with the listener in mind. These things translate so differently live. Particularly with Physics we love working on the flow of the live set as a whole, not just song by song, I love watching bands that have thought about the set in this way.
My approach to creating sounds involves a huge amount of luck and chaotic knob turning
When you start creating a synth sound, how do you approach the process – do you already have an idea in your head before you start tweaking knobs or is it a process of experimentation?
Theres usually an idea to start, or maybe a texture in a song that needs to be filled. However my approach to creating sounds involves a huge amount of luck and chaotic knob turning. Recently I’ve been making a sound first that sticks and then composing with it – it’s been working well so far. I don’t like the idea of using exactly the same sounds as others have used, I like to make it my own.
How does a track start for you – what is the spark that kicks off the rest of your production?
Almost always sat at a keyboard or with the saxophone, normally with a tiny fragment of an idea that resonates with me, and then everything builds up from there. Often I’ll loop a sound or section as a starting place to start melodic ideas. It’s too easy to get trapped in loops though, I always try to at least make a B section before moving on from a loop.
Do you ever suffer creative blocks? What is your coping mechanism?
I think creative blocks come for us all, the process is so linked to what’s going on in our minds and the rest of our lives. In times when I’m finding it hard to write I just focus on more mechanical practise on my instruments, scales & shapes – even very basic stuff, enough practise and time playing will always end up generating ideas in my experience. It’s just about doing something, anything, and not placing less value on an ‘unproductive’ session – it’s all part of it. Switching up tools and processes can also help with finding new threads to follow.
I like technology the most when it expands my capability on an instrument
How does technology impact your creative process?
As more of a player than a producer I like technology the most when it expands my capability on an instrument. Like using loopers & effects on the saxophone is not just a gimmick, it greatly expands the role that a saxophone can fill and can make it blend in styles of music you wouldn’t expect. Theres definitely such a thing as too much capability, I like to not over-complicate things.
What has your experience of the industry been like thus far and what advice would you give to anyone just starting out?
My advice would be to approach the industry side of things with a sceptical eye, and take time to decide what your personal notion of success is. Don’t set a goal of happiness in industry terms, enjoy what you do and anything else that comes is a bonus.
What is your production setup at the moment? Is it fixed or do you switch things up regularly?
It’s pretty minimal – Logic X, saxophones, Modal synths and a stage piano. I’m happy with this setup for composing: being mobile is a very good thing and I prefer to work in studios when it comes to recording time.
How does the space in which you create impact your creativity?
It definitely has an impact, I guess over the years from practising and creating in such a range of spaces you learn how to keep focused regardless of space. That being said, things definitely flow easier in spaces that aren’t cluttered and having windows is really important. Composing outside is even better.
I use the COBALT for more poly sounds and leads, and the ARGON I tend to use more for sound design / pads…Some modern synths sound like VST’s to me but these 2 have their own thing going on which I’m really into.
So we hear you have the ARGON and COBALT synths in the studio at the moment – what’s your impressions on these?
Both the ARGON & COBALT are really working for me. I love the built in effects and the Drift feature – which helps me find the organic thing I mentioned earlier. The effects are really nice and I use them all the time: having effects baked into patches I design is super helpful for creating quickly and testing new ideas. I use the COBALT for more poly sounds and leads, and the ARGON I tend to use more for sound design / pads. The keybed is really quick and comfy and everything is laid out in a super intuitive way which makes me get lost in making sounds. These will definitely get used a lot live as well once COVID dies down a bit more and Physics gets out on tour again. Some modern synths sound like VST’s to me but these 2 have their own thing going on which I’m really into.
MILES SPILSBURY Sound Pack
Slime for COBALT8 + ARGON8
Physics House Band mainstay and all round great guy Miles has compiled a selection of his own unique patches for both the COBALT- and ARGON-Series synths in his debut preset pack “Slime”. Epic chords, organic textures and a smattering of must-have effects, all oozing with Miles’ unique flavour – this is a must have for any ARGON or COBALT owner.