Ambalek is a British musician, photographer, and software engineer, who enjoys the pursuit of hand-played electronic music, preferring playing and recording music live rather than pre-sequenced composition.

His first commercial release was Fremder on Seil Records, and has released subsequent records with Seil and My Ambient Machines.

Release process

To create this sonic diary, I worked in the studio every day of August, 2023, keeping notes along the way. Since it was a diary I thought I’d involve elements from around my life, and one of the ways I did that was to record sounds from things relating to my friends and family. There are voice samples, and samples made from my wife and daughter’s musical instruments.
Before starting work on “diary#3” I put together a modular synthesiser that I could use as the hub for most of the work, along with fast and easy to use instruments like Digitone.
I used KeyStep to play notes, and ER-301 to record phrases and loop or otherwise compose sounds.

2023-08-04 and 2023-08-05 (Etching)
After a few days of using the modular I tried running sounds through Wingie2, Cocoquantus, and several guitar pedals, then recorded them into ER-301. I used acoustic guitar with Wingie’s mic as well, and found this added the kind of brittle sun-kissed quality I was looking for. I changed the layout of the loops on the ER-301 so I could make an A/B structure, then created a bass sound with the Digitone. It took a few takes to get the hand played bass sound right. Prior to this track I had already created three other pieces that were not used in the final release.

2023-08-06 and 2023-08-07 (Topography)
Cocoquantus (a low bitrate delay) flip and skip experiments lead to D major chord inversions, layering acoustic guitar through Wingie’s mic again. The next day I found adding a transposed minor variant gave the track more depth, so I recorded variations of that until I was happy with the overall structure, and the track flowed naturally.

2023-08-07 and 2023-08-08 (Aquarelle)
Perhaps inspired by the summer, I was flicking through work by various German watercolour artists, and found myself recording phrases on my wife’s piano then layering them with Borderlands on an iPad. These artists inspired the names of several tracks on this release.

2023-08-10 (Iain)
I temporarily switched to a more minimal setup with iPad (AUM) and OP-Z, thinking that I should prepare a portable setup for when I’ll need to travel this month. There was an unexpected similarity to the musician Paperbark in some of the sounds that I greatly enjoyed playing.

2023-08-11 (Aquatint)
Retaining the inspiration of the previous track, but changing my methods, I used my modular with guitar pedals to create layers of hand-played formant sounds.

2023-08-13 (Gongue)
After a few days of experiments that didn’t lead to full tracks, I used one of my favourite instruments, Plumbutter, to create sounds that were bristling with noise and complexity that ended up sounding surprisingly like 90s rompler flutes.

2023-08-23 (Windward)
Acoustic guitar drones with OP-1. Inspired after reading about tides and tidal patterns, I used slow interacting LFOs to pan and fade drones, then recorded guitar pluck samples using the OP-1.

2023-08-26 (Daughter)
I used some of my daughter’s instruments like the Ukulele to create playable samples on the OP-1. In particular I found Ukulele as a bass sample very interesting, I think the effective sample rate loss by dropping the octave down adds more texture.2023-08-28 (Sylt): Many, many layers of OP-1 ukulele and guitar sounds through pedals, recorded to ER-301. A subtractive modular bass sound played as an overdub.

2023-09-01 (Mizuchi)
OP-1 samples of my wife’s voice and her woodwind instruments. Vongon Ultrasheer, mechanical keyboard typing sounds, sampled and processed by the modular. Since recording these voice and woodwind samples I’ve used them on several more tracks.

Studio tour

Process: 6 questions.

What is your favorite time of the day in the studio?

Any time when it’s quiet. I like working late, particularly around 22:00 to 01:00.

Can you name one piece of gear essential to your process?

I find a good sampler crucial – I do make music without samplers, just using synths and guitars, but a sampler lets me get where I want more efficiently than anything else. One reason for this might be that I grew up using trackers on 16-bit computers.I love recording sounds from all sorts of places, particularly acoustic instruments, synthesisers, and voices, and then being able to envelope and play the sound. I typically stay away from sequencers and love hand playing things as much as I can. The particular model of sampler isn’t important, it could be OP-1, Digitakt, pretty much anything as long as it has an envelope, filter, and an easy way to play notes.

Do you have a track composition routine?

I think about how I feel and what I want to say emotionally, then find intervals that capture those feelings. From there I find the key and chords that closely fit with those intervals, and then I start experimenting with sound design.Once I have a drone or chord progression, I start layering more incidental melodies and textures on top. There comes a point when it starts to sound like a track, which is when I’ll add bass to anchor it to the right place. Near the end of production I like to experiment with ASMR sounds, adding high register textures.

Any imposter syndrom?

Somehow I don’t think about it, I make things and share them, then if anyone notices and says anything about it I consider the comments and use it to focus on what resonates with people. I’m in a few small chat and social media communities and the people in those places are so warm and encouraging that I’ve greatly enjoyed sharing music, videos, and photography over the last few years. I have my own struggles and relationship with depression, but I try not to let that undermine creating music.

Favorite book?

Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

What's inspiring you right now?

The environment vs. the sprawl, finding little pockets of nature in unexpected places, listening to music with my eyes closed, my wife’s sense of humour.