The future is being played out in the back room of a house in Dundonald, east Belfast. Here, Alpha Chrome Yayo has collected his vintage synths and arranged the brilliant bits of culture that inspire his art.
e has created more than 30 music collections in this space. Songs for thought, meditation and joy. Christmas album and culinary companion – decorated with a menu book. It has all the tunes for your bath time, a campfire romance with a robot and a quiet oriental ceremony,
The output is plentiful and the quality level is admirable. Alpha Chrome Yayo, otherwise known as Peter McCaughan, has set up his online stall on Bandcamp. Many international fans buy tracks and give compliments. Peter gives them bonus tracks, and this is how new friendships are formed.
There’s an interest in Chevy Chase’s edgy comedy and gentle presence. The impeccable wit of the Frasier series is another reference. It’s probably no surprise to learn that Peter’s turning point in the movies was a vision of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter traveling back in time in 1989.
“One of my earliest memories is watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when I was a little guy and I was kind of obsessed with that sound. Not just these crazy jerks who go on weird and wonderful adventures, but also their sounds. From that moment on, I wanted to make interesting sounds. And that includes Bill and Ted’s metallic hair…”
Having studied saxophone and piano, Peter created his early instruments to accompany his Dungeons and Dragons games. It’s been four years since the Alpha Chrome Yayo hit the interstellar market.
“I haven’t stopped and I certainly don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” he says. “I spend about eight to nine hours a day in this little studio. This is a refuge for me. I never get sick from being here. It’s always nice.”
His Instagram feed is another exciting area, home to jam sessions, daring recipes and manga creations. It also gave us a chance to see the development of his water feature in the garden, complete with a shishi-odoshi bamboo fountain.
Peter, apparently, was pleased with the sound of the device and the arrival of the neighbor’s frogs.
He is a fan of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ambient music and has referenced Ryuichi Sakamoto’s film work. This is evident in many ways on his excellent new album Private Garden.
“It’s probably obvious to anyone who’s seen the artwork or listened to the music that I’m heavily influenced by many Japanese artists. I don’t want to be a cultural appropriator. I have a lot of respect for culture, I always emphasize where my influences come from and why I like what I like.’
And is it mutual interest? “I’m very happy to say that I have quite a few fans in Japan now.”
At this point, Peter becomes a little secretive. There’s some work going on that he’s really not ready to talk about. A non-disclosure agreement has been issued from him. Potentially big deals are imminent. That might include video game soundtracks, he can’t say for sure.
“Maybe I’ll get a trip to Tokyo at the end of this,” he whispers. “Who knows? It’s nice to hear that I’m getting good feedback from places where I get a lot of my inspiration from.”
Although he works in a personally chosen place, Peter knows that there are related artists and subcultures. Its fans may also gravitate towards themes such as synthwave, vaporwave and planderphonics. But he prefers not to be constrained.
“I’m so fickle that I don’t want to stick to any one genre. I make things noisy, sometimes meditative. I have amazing rap robots and Japanese jazz fusion.
“There are fantastic music scenes and it’s nice to welcome you into their world. What I do is a little different because I tend to make everything from scratch. But the end result is sometimes similar—a slightly liminal celebration of strange times past and imagined futures.
“At the same time, it’s a nostalgia drive. I love nostalgia. It’s a very powerful thing that I use, but it can also be a crutch. So I try to look ahead as much as I look back. I hope that’s something that people will understand when they enjoy what I’m doing.”
Part of Alpha Chrome Yayo’s journey is about finding half-forgotten technologies. He clearly likes his oriental synth that echoes the sound of traditional koto strings. These days there are samplers and interfaces that can do a similar job. But Peter will not have software simulation.
“I could probably make the same sounds a lot easier and a lot cheaper. But there’s something about using that dusty old gear – whether it’s the sounds that are ingrained in the circuits, or the sensibility of using something nice and old with a bit of history in front of you. The same with any interest. There are always wormholes to descend into. And life is too short. If you can swing, just do it.”