albums of the year

so there it was then. not one of the best years for a lot of reasons, but they're outside the scope of this essentially superficial and frothy blog, for which we should be thankful.


so i'm sure you're dying to know - what were peter's most nicest records of 2010? unusually, i liked quite a few this year, though for most of the time i seem to be listening to stuff made before i was born or at least while i was in short trousers.

s. carey - all we grow
this is a ludicrously beautiful record. kind of like a less precious and clever sufjan stevens maybe. minimalist but lush and often really moving. at least i thought so. thanks to rory for pushing this one my way.

john zorn - the goddess
every now and again zorn comes up with a corker - the problem is finding them in his ludicrously huge release schedule. marc ribot is especially wondrous on this. some beautiful writing - reminds me a bit of something mike gibbs might have written in the late 60s - shades of carla bley and gary burton's 'a genuine tong funeral' too.

rumer - seasons of my soul
sadsack MOR devotee that i am, i found this largely irresistible. yeah, it sounds like a lot of other things but that's why i like it.

stian westerhus - pitch black star spangled
at the other end of the scale. this is dark as fuck, as my mother might have said (not really). somewhere between sonny sharrock and keith rowe but not like them or anything much else.

christopher willitts - tiger flower circle sun
this has rarely been off my personal stereo over the last couple of months. good music for winter walking though not quite as individual as his previous, surf boundaries. mr willitts himself is claearly an unreconstructed hippy judging from the way he writes and talks about his music, but i can ignore that.

frazey ford - obadiah
lucy got me in to the be good tanyas a few years back, for which i'm eternally grateful. i like the willie mitchell type production on this album - the band really get that tight but loose vibe down that you hear on those al green or ann peebles records. and trish klein is one of my favourite guitarists.

exploding star orchestra - stars have shapes
i liked this one a lot. kind of the AACM goes electronical. i can't help wondering how they get the money together to take a band this size out on the road.

clang sayne

live in brighton, back in august.

captain's gone

don van vliet has died. we were obviously unlikely to see another album from him, but nevertheless, it's a sad time for devotees of the long lunar note. chris has written a rather lovely and thoughtful post on his blog, so there's no need for me to say much here, other than to post my favourite picture of a rock group ever.

city of lost angels

last week i had the pleasure of playing in petra jean phillipson's band for a short run of a performance of 'city of lost angels', a sort of gig/dance performance at notting hill's print room based around petra's rather wonderful album 'notes on death'. other members of the band were mr paul may on the drums, guitarist fred lyenn jacques and nell catchpole on viola. also featured were fontane liang (harp) and joanne leigh gibson, whose opening treated tuba improv was pretty transcendent.

the performance was not without challenges and was pretty far removed from the concept of a standard gig; it took place in the round with the band members on plinths in each corner of the space, and of course the arrangements had to be pretty tight in order not to screw up the choreography (four dancers made up the company and did an amazing job, particularly on the last night when the place was extremely crowded). but we managed to pull it off. the second night was my favourite - it seemed to crackle with energy. this FT review is from the first night.

in Dublin

i'm not long back from Dublin and the Forwind records night at the Severed Head Gallery. nice sets from everyone involved (including sonnamble - finally a gig that wasn't a horrifying disappointment either for us or the audience). despite nasty weather etc, a good turnout and a lovely night was had by all.

here's most of james o' sullivan's solo set. nice!

2 london jazz fest gigs - the first

unusually i saw two jazz festival gigs last week.

not herbie hancock, fortunately.

the first was the william parker/hamid drake trio with alto saxophonist zhenya strigalev at the baltic restaurant. a strange venue in some ways, and the audience was split between expensive looking people eating and scruffy jazzheads nursing bottles of polish lager. parker is a hero of mine and this was a nice opportunity to watch him at work. wearing a beaming smile much of the time, he grooved, swang and squealed away in rock solid fashion. the set seemed to be mostly improvised, with a few ornette-ish heads thrown in at times. things were mainly kept at a reasonable intensity, though a spidery ballad near the start of the set opened up some nice melodic interplay between parker and stigalev. strigalev is one of those players that i've heard a little of but whose immersion in such a wide variety of projects makes you wonder what he actually really wants to do. still, it's a way of getting more gigs i guess, so fair play to him. in this context he coped pretty well, i thought. there was a bit of ornette, maybe even rollins (in his freer moments) in some passages. hamid drake is a restless groove machine, constantly shifting the ground underneath parker, who nevertheless dug in at every rhythmic shift. there's a lot of mingus in parker i think - that same elemental, er thing. a solo where he played with pulling the g string off the neck so it buzzed (sounding a bit like a large fly hitting itself against repeatedly against a window) was very reminiscent of charles at his punkest.

some things didn't work too well and sometimes drake's rock/funk tendencies got a bit much, forcing the music into stasis, which isn't where it wants to be. an encore featuring drake on frame drum went nowhere much, but my feeling was that they'd have been happy to go on all night if they could, and that counts for a lot. a nice gig.

great album covers of our time - no 1

years ago i was given a whole lot of stockhausen on vinyl - hymnen, carre, telemusik, stimmung, mixtur - all the hits. in fact there was even a double album called stockhausen's greatest hits. really. but kurzwellen became one of my faves, much to my mum's annoyance.

the instruments are (from the composer's notes) piano, electronium, large tam-tam with microphone, viola with contact microphone, 2 filters with 4 faders, 4 short-wave receivers. and it's a sort of directed improvisation. and it's strong stuff. as is the cover.

by most standards this probably wouldn't qualify as music. as you might expect, it's atonal, peppered with bangs, bleeps, squeals, static and scrapes. and it was a double album. certainly my mum found it utterly repellent and i think, genuinely upsetting that anyone would want to listen to it. i probably slightly enjoyed this reaction.

i remember showing her the cover, in the hope that the picture might convince her that these were serious musicians. they wore suits and looked as though they had washed recently. and they were on deutsche grammophon too. that was a label for proper music, wasn't it?. i think she was actually slightly horrified that karlheinz and chums looked like bank employees rather than the usual bearded, longhaired creepy types to be found lurking on the album covers that usually littered my room.

i loved that cover, because it represented some other world - where people wearing suits and who probably didn't take that many drugs made weird noises for a living. it exuded seriousness - i got the feeling that these guys had devoted their lives to making this alien, harsh, unforgiving music. their world was as foreign and exotic to me as the worlds of haight-ashbury in 1967 or new york in 1977 or chicago in the thirties. and it still is.

ICP Orchestra

ian sent me this, for which i thank him unreservedly. it's fucking brilliant.

in church

a few weeks back i was invited by mr paul may to a session with himself, carolyn hume and charlie beresford. installed in a wee studio at the bottom of carolyn's garden, we generated a couple of hours of improvised music, some of which arrived like fully formed songs. it was good stuff, and the recordings backed that up to the extent that we all got rather excited about it. it felt to everyone involved that we should do more. so last night we did some more, this time in the rather lovely surroundings of St James' church in Weybridge, where paul and carolyn have recorded before. i do rather like churches but have never recorded in one. generally i end up playing in acoustically dead or aesthetically uninspiring places, like most musicians do. and there was something about that church that was sort of unique. it had enough, um, 'churchiness' to give the ambience a certain seriousness and calm yet was kind of welcoming enough to allow us to feel comfortable. and it had a great acoustic - not too cavernous or harsh, but live enough to allow us to exploit the possibilities of the space. man.

as well as singing, playing guitar and providing the odd spot of bamboo mouth organ, charlie is an excellent engineer and we set up pretty quickly, spaced around the choir, altar and pews. it was great to play in such a beautiful acoustic, though our initial positioning meant it was sometimes hard to make out exactly what everyone else was doing. this may have been a plus point as it led to some really poised, delicate stuff. moving closer in allowed us to stretch out a bit. the more we played the more i became aware of what worked in the space, turning the bass away from the mic from time to time to send high bowed squeaks and harmonics towards the back of the church. on the quarter hour, the clock would strike. the bell itself was pretty much inaudible but the muffled rumbles, thumps and strikes of the mechanism could be heard from the tower. as it struck twelve, we were recording a spacious, percussive improv, punctuated by dark piano rumblings. it felt like a special moment.

while we were setting up i took the opportunity to shoot a bit of footage of carolyn and paul warming up. also included is a brief snatch of us exploring the musical possibilities of the humble jam jar lid (another paul may innovation).

charlie will be mixing and editing soon, and i can't wait to hear the results. some of it felt pretty magical, and i think we covered a lot of ground. again, there were things that felt like songs; at other times it was more like morton feldman or one of paul bley's early trios. etc. etc.

note that paul's pose here is a homage to the cover of frank sinatra's nice 'n' easy, while the rest of us are attempting to look like sensitive artists. as charlie noted, we do not look like the kind of people you'd invite to tea.

without the beatles...

one of my favourite alan partridge moments is where he solemnly declares that wings were 'the band the beatles could have been'. we're meant to laugh at alan for getting it hopelessly wrong - opting for paul and linda's cosy platitudes over the beatles' experimentation and lennon's edginess.

of course it was actually paul who chose stockhausen as one of the characters to adorn the sleeve of sgt pepper, while lennon's experimental phase was inspired either by psychedelic drugs or more crucially, yoko. lennon was essentially a rock and roller with the occasional pretension to something else more significant. if you ask me.

which of course, you didn't.

the beatles were on the radio a lot when i was a kid. 'penny lane' was one of those records that i remember hearing that alerted me to the possibility that music was a good thing - that it could for a few minutes, take you somewhere else. i must have been five or so when it came out. but the beatles were never to be part of my musical education. as i grew up to be a music obsessed nerd it was clear that popular music would not have been the same without them, but to this day i don't think i've ever heard all of 'revolver' or the white album. and i don't really feel the need to.

this is possibly due to snobbery. and it's true that many of those things i do love (todd rundgren, for instance) would not have been what they were if it wasn't for those loveable lads from liverpool. but i think partly it was a sense that i wanted to discover things for myself. the beatles were universally accepted as brilliant. their greatness was a fact, as much as these things can be, in the same way that bach, mozart or beethoven were great. they were up there with the mona lisa, van gogh's sunflowers, the sistine chapel or macbeth. unassailably great, important, and impossible to have an unmediated relationship with. i felt that i wanted an intimate relationship with the music i listened to - this didn't seem possible with a group whose every utterance had been pored over, analysed and dissected by everyone on the entire planet. much as i enjoyed dissecting music, i wanted to be able to do it for myself. so todd rundgren or spirit or brian eno or pere ubu or john cale seemed like better choices.

at the age of 15 or so, i bought a copy of the 1967-1970 compilation for my girlfriend julie. julie liked the beatles a lot. her friends were all into the undertones. when we split up so she could become a lesbian, i was awarded custody of the album. i would play it occasionally, mainly for penny lane, but the music felt like it was happening somewhere else, to someone else.

my lack of interest in the beatles puzzles some of my friends who possibly ascribe it to perverse snobbery, and it's always surprised me a little when i find that some of them have a deep knowledge and love of the moptops. though just this morning i discovered that one of my colleagues shares my feelings - he acknowledges that without them, a lot of the things he loves wouldn't exist, but he essentially he doesn't have any interest in them.

today i listened to that blue compilation again. and felt the same things; i knew every note, every funny noise, everything. and yet with a very few exceptions (all by paul, natch) i felt unmoved or unengaged by any of it. i think i might genuinely agree with alan partridge, and not for comedic effect. it's probably a consequence of a weird set of personal circumstance, but 'listen to what the man said'. 'silly love songs' or even 'let 'em in' mean more to me than the entire beatles catalogue put together. with the exception of 'penny lane', of course.

lennon, meanwhile, remained a massive fucking irritant to me, and not in a good way. if i never hear 'imagine' again it will be too soon, or read some fawning mojo, Q or uncut feature on his lost weekend or whatever. still, two things lennon related stand out for me - one was hearing my daughter sing 'merry christmas war is over' at a christmas concert (she was 6 or 7). and i cried buckets, because for once it seemed to actually mean something.

and then there's this, which still gives me the shivers. don't ask me why. i wish it didn't.

Neptune Is Mars

Neptune Is Mars - Beyond Science

this is a new trio. this was recorded at our second or third rehearsal. i suppose what we do could be called psychedelic electric jazz but it's sometimes acoustic and not really jazz or psychedelic either. but here it is.

the guitarist is grahame painting. who used to be in family fodder, baby fox and others and has played on records by daryl hall and, er, sonia. i think the guitar/drums dialogue is rather sweet on this.

me and paul may are the rhythm pals.

what's it for? listening and trying not to think

most music is in some way functional. it serves a purpose, whether it's to make you dance, enhance your hipster cred, send you into religious or psychedelic ecstacy or make you cry like a baby. to do this it usually requires rhythm and/or melody. a lot of people like words too.

for a long time i've been listening to things that have none of those ingredients. when i was about 17 i borrowed this record from the hospital radio station where i volunteered (yeah, i know).
i'm not sure what attracted me to it. maybe i thought it was going to be like jean michel jarre. it wasn't. it was a compilation of early 60s 'classical' electronic music.

it was nothing like music, or at least what i understood to be music.

and one of my first thoughts was 'what's this for?' i suppose i was feeling the same kind of thing audiences did in the early 20th century when things started to get weird in music. 'what do i do with this? where's my way in? have i got anything i can throw at the conductor?' in fact, about a year later i did get something similar when my mate's brother threw us a copy of schoenberg's 'pierrot lunaire', he told us that it was 'the hard stuff''and to stop listening to captain beefheart.
by this time i probably knew every last bleep, whirr and whoosh on my electronic music album. i'd now been allowed to keep this as careful examination of the hospital radio station logs revealed that shockingly, no-one had ever played it. there certainly hadn't been any requests for it.

i thought about coercing one of the patients into requesting ilhan mimaroglu's 'le tombeau d'edgar poe', but realised this was not in my best interests. if i wanted to hang on to the album.

it's constructed entirely from a recording of a bloke reading a poem and starts around 3.30 on that clip. it probably took a long time to make, with splices, scissors and loops and filters and all that. that bit interested me and was probably my way in to it - working out the how rather than the why. but there was a kind of sensual pleasure too, though it wasn't music that provoked a quantifiable emotional reaction, maybe i just like funny noises. but i'd grown to kind of love it.

on the other hand 'pierrot lunaire' made me almost sick. this was written by arnold schoenberg, who upset a lot of people by coming up with serialism, he upset me too. without any semblance of key structure and not much in the way of a groove, this seemed like an interminable sucession of equally unpleasant dissonances. i wasn't ready for arnie, and i didn't know what he was for.

i know what he was for now, i suppose. he just came up with a different musical system from the prevailing one. but each time this happens (which it seemed to do for a fair old while), it demands, and sometimes offers, different things for the listener. the danger is that talking about the, um, 'avant-garde' is that it becomes something that's done either in technical terms or intellectual wankery or just fluff. and music is more about the sensual, the physical, than any other art form.

this partly because it's hard to talk about those things. i'm currently listening to an improvised duet by marcus shmickler and thomas lehn, made with electronics. it's a
bit like this but less noisy.

i could talk about it in terms of what kit they're using and probably come up with some attempt at a colourful description of the music eg 'sounds like a malfunctioning shortwave radio stuck inside a spindryer' or whatever. but there's something else going on, and it's that sensual thing. a pleasure in abstract sound, an attempt to make some sense of it, however vague or ephemeral - to go with the flow, man. intellectualising it just robs me of any pleasure i might get from it. so best not to.

there's some electronica that concerns itself with going straight for the brain in a very direct way. stuff with pure sine waves etc. i had a hearing test recently that sounded quite like a ryoji ikeda album i have. i suppose it's that kind of thing that's led our crumbling, pleasure-thirsty society to the brink with digital drugs.

anyone who knows anything about this kind of thing will know that report is at best, stupid. it'd be fanciful to think this might lead to gangs of shifty hooded teenagers queuing outside rough trade to score the latest sachiko m album, but you never know.

co-operative filtering

one of the main reasons i shop at my local co-op in tottenham high road (apart from their reasonably priced and responsibly sourced foodstuffs of course) is their music policy. while i usually listen to music on my phone while i'm out (hey kids, how cool am i) i've often been forced to remove my headphones in the co-op as i become aware of what they're playing on the p.a. the first time this happened, steely dan's 'haitian divorce' was responsible. the next track was stevie wonder's 'higher ground', then blue oyster cult's 'don't fear the reaper'. i walked round convinced thet the next track would be something awful by foreigner or don henley or some other plum, but this didn't happen. in fact, so attuned to my own peculiar taste was the co-op musical director's choices that i fully expected them to start playing some anthony braxton or early pere ubu or king tubby or john dowland.

that didn't happen either, and it's probably just as well. this morning i was in there again. there didn't appear to be any music on. i was listening to morton feldman's 'music for the rothko chapel', pretentious tosser that i am. then it struck me that maybe they were playing morton feldman as well...

so i thought about some ridiculous scenario where i might walk into a supermarket and immediately get a message on my phone...


so they'd have all my last fm profile data, so they'd have a good idea what i like. and maybe my amazon history too. and they'd play me music. this gives me the illusion that they care about me in some way, and of course they could tailor their list based on detailed cctv analysis of my shopping habits to give me some wee subliminal help with my shopping. for instance, they'd know that about 5 minutes into my shopping trips i'd usually made it as far as the frozen food section, so maybe they could slip in charles mingus' 'eat that chicken'.

except they'd know i was a vegetarian so they wouldn't. but you get the idea. it'd have to be subliminal though, and not out of the realms of your usual listening.

i'm open to offers on this marketing idea. and i've posted a copy of it to myself so don't try anything.

crap drummers

many years ago i heard someone say 'a band's only as good as its drummer'. i used to trot this one out occasionally too; as a bass player i have a vested interest i suppose, but as a maxim it's not a bad one. imagine led zep without john bonham, coltrane without elvin jones, the sex pistols without paul cook, the corrs without

but here is my own rogue's gallery of crap drummers; players with successful bands who are, er, crap. in my humble opinion.

1. nick mason - pink floyd

this may be a bit unfair - after all, mr mason (who seems like a rather nice chap for an overfed rock star type) is quite dismissive of his own abilities and would probably rather be flying helicopters or driving very fast cars than plodding away at 90 bpm behind one of david gilmour's endless solos. but if there is a drummer more deserving of the adjective 'plodding' i've yet to hear them. my good mate chris always maintained that nick's finest moment was the 'funky' bit on floyd's 'echoes'. listening to this recently i realised that nick had actually overdubbed two drum parts on this. a good indicator of a crap drummer is the presence of additional drummers ether on stage or on album credits. even as early as 'the wall' there are three other drummers credited.

2. ed cassidy - spirit

this is a band i rather love and in a way it's hard to imagine them without ed's ham fisted interventions, but here we go. and again, ed is a great bloke with a great hairstyle so this is again, slightly snarky. before spirit, ed was apparently a jazz drummer and played with people like gerry mulligan and roland kirk. presumably this was as part of a pickup band at jam sessions or whatever. i can't imagine he got many return gigs. ed's role in spirit seems to have been more about keeping his stepson randy california on the rails, so he probably spent the time he should have been practicing talking randy down from acid trips or finding him twinkies at 3am. there's a partcularly hilarious and strangely moving moment on a spirit live record where after a protracted drum solo of such awfulness that it's sort of hard to believe, randy says 'let's hear it for the greatest drummer in the world - ed cassidy!'. irony was not one of randy's strong points, so bless him.

3.graeme edge - the moody blues

someone once asked john lennon if ringo starr was the best drummer in the world. lennon's reply was that he wasn't even the best drummer in the beatles. arf. but that didn't stop him from being a major influence on nick mason or especially graeme edge, whose leaden playing is so devoid of imagination that it takes ringo's contribution to 'strawberry fields forever' as its sole template. admittedly the moodies were never the most energetic or innovative combo, but even so mr edge's contributions are marked by such a lack of drive it's hard to believe he was actually conscious at the time he made them. mr edge has been augmented by a second drummer during recent live appearances. even so, his drumming is much better than his poetry.

4. larry mullen - u2

remember, u2 are larry's band. and in some ways his stiff, unresponsive one dimensional skinbashing is perfect for the biggest band in the world. so it's maybe beyond criticism. but still - after god knows how many years you think that there might be some improvement - some subtlety perhaps, an acknowledgement that maybe that merely ripping off stephen morris' work wth joy division or any other post punk drummer might be a bit of a dead end. but no. it's a dead cert that any rhythmic nterest you might be lucky enough to hear on a u2 record or gig comes from a sampler and not from larry. but that's's his band.

floating to the top

one of the fabulous things about t'internet is that it allows us to express our views about anything at any time. like what i'm doing now. brilliant!

many years ago when i used to read the NME and it wasn't in colour and it were all fields round here etc i used to be fascinated by the letters page. this used to be full of things like 'i've just read your review of the new crispy ambulance single and you are clearly a moron. not only that, you are a deaf moron who wouldn't know good music if it crawled up your arse' etc. this would then be followed by some clever insult from the letters editor probably involving the correspondent's arse. and so on.

this seemed to me even then to be confusing subjective opinion with some kind of objective truth. the fact that nearly always the combatants in such debates went for the man and not the ball proved that really there was nothing to talk about. person a liked it and person b didn't. only one of them was being paid to put their speed fuelled ramblings into print, while the other had to pay for records and gig tickets and could probably only afford cheap whizz.

a while ago i wrote reviews on a regular basis and on occasion was subjected to the occasional rant from an aggrieved punter. it used to hurt a bit because i always thought i tried to be reasonable and back up my opinions in some way and didn't really want to be one of those arsehole critics confusing their opinions with fact. but i think it just goes with the territory. critics are generally arseholes, and i was one of them.

never mind.

but there still is this notion that some music is just intrinsically 'good'. browse through youtube's clips of classic rock types (anyone from little feat to steve winwood to richard thompson to camel) and at some point you'll see a comment along the lines of 'this is proper music. britney spears can't even play an instrument'. this conflation of technical skill with 'good' music is the closest you'll get to a coherent argument, however flimsy it is, and it's considered as the trump card by its proponents.

there are records that do seem to transcend criticism. it's a brave soul who'll dismiss 'nevermind', 'kind of blue', 'ok computer', 'astral weeks' or 'revolver'. it's fun to do it, but it's a pointless exercise for the most part. they have the weight of received opinion in their favour accumulated through god knows how many mojo articles and 100 best album lists (btw, i only own one of those records. check out my individuality!)

but does that mean they're intrinsically good? 'kind of blue' is only just over 50 years old. it's not quite the mona lisa or henry v or beowulf. surely time is the best judge of what's good. whatever that means - but i'm taking it to mean stuff that has some kind of widespread resonance, a crowd-sourced acceptance of 'quality'.

and there are two examples that spring to mind. recently radio 4 ran a series called 'soul music', which concentrated on telling the stories of much loved pieces. one of the oldest was this...

now there's a lot of choral music not unlike this. but somehow the miserere has stuck in people's imaginations (starting with mozart, who risked excommunication in copying it down). that it's survived for over 400 years must say something.

similarly, this was recently (to my surprise) voted the nations' favourite aria by radio 3 listeners...

now i generally don't like or understand opera, but i heard this version and immediately fell in love with it. i wasn't aware of it's popularity at all - though i do listen to a fair amount of classical music (early music in particular) i just avoid stuff that has singing on it. so mine was a completely unmediated response. i knew nothing about it, it just resonated with me. and i'm not the only one, obviously.

death to the metronome

fellini's orchestra rehearsal is probably the best entirely fictional film about music and musicians i've seen. an orchestra, opressed by their despotic conductor and corrupt union mafiosi, revolt and install a giant metronome in the conductor's place. until they decide that the metronome is too oppressive as well. meanwhile someone appears to be demolishing the oratory in which they're rehearsing. in the aftermath of their revolution, the conductor gives a rousing speech - 'we are musicians. let us follow the notes on the page'. quietly, the orchestra put away their spraycans and guns, take up their instruments from the debris and play, only to be immediately harangued by their conductor once more. 'gentlemen, from the beginning...' are the last words we hear.

the political allegory is obvious and kind of depressing, but fellini's love of music and musicians shines through. the orchestra members talk about their instruments, their neuroses, their drinking. some are passionate, some disinterested, some screwed up. it's funny, sharp and sometimes really moving.

the orchestra is a peculiar thing. i've never been in one and am unlikely to be. the closest i got was being part of a motley band of amateurs playing alvin curran's 'maritime rites' on the millenium bridge a couple of years back.

not quite the LSO then. that clip was one of the graphic score bits where we were required to improvise more or less freely, but we did have to play proper notes as well. the best bit for me was the rehearsal, where our first task was to play either a c or a c sharp. there were probably around 120 of us. it was a glorious bloody noise, and the communal aspect of it was quite powerful. there was a sense (however peculiar the results) of a common goal.

but to watch a proper orchestra in rehearsal (as i've often done in my job) is something else. when the musicians aren't playing, they're reading the guardian or checking their phones or joking with each other, there's not much of a sense of engagement with what they're doing (fellini pulls a similar trick in his film where a group of violinists huddle around a radio when they're not playing to listen to a football match). this seems a strange way to make music and reinforces the notion of the orchestra as a bunch of skilled workers doing the composer and conductor's bidding. smaller ensembles are a different animal, particularly those without a conductor, it's hard to imagine one of the smith quartet checking their facebook status during a lengthy rest.

outside of the top-down hierarchy of the orchestra, it's a mish-mash of troubled democracies, benign dictatorships and god know what else. the big bands in jazz probably come closest to the orchestra model, and the dictatorship can be less than benign...

recent activity

so, in self indulgent mode, a round up of where i've been dragging myself and my bass around recently...

lucy jane - after a series of unfortunate events involving broken tape machines, unwanted distortion and endless uncomfortable phone calls, we ended up mixing our recordings in sunny rochdale at lisa stansfield's gracielands studio.
thanks to a hugely lovely and talented bunch of chaps, we've ended up with a superb set of mixes done in record time. our engineer steve was incredibly quick and amazingly creative, coming up with some really lovely slightly eno-esque treatments for a couple of tunes. luckily he appeared to genuinely like the music, which always helps. plus, it should be said that we'd got some generally very nicely recorded source material from our sessions at dropout. lucy writes about it here.

we've also been doing a few gigs. we're not a pub indie band or a glorified karaoke act which means that in the wrong environment it can be hard work. but when the sound's ok and the audience are listening (or at least are quieter than us) then it can get sort of magical quite quickly. on the rare occasions we manage to hush a previously rowdy audience, i get the feeling that this is quite special stuff.

clang sayne - laura's moved to ireland these days, but is back in london as i write. we've done two gigs this week - one at cafe oto (london's hippest venue, according to matt) and last night at the gladstone. plus a radio session for resonance fm's dexter bentley show and recording this weekend. it's still a tidy little unit, and coincidentally winterlands is still picking up nice reviews, including one in the current wire mlagazine. for the gigs, we've gone back to doing more 'song-y' material rather than the more improvisatory stuff we've been exploring lately. even so, we never ever play the same song the same way twice anyway, so anyone turning up expecting to hear the album played live was likely to be disappointed. which is fine with me.

sonnamble - the new line-up's settling in but there's a sense that there's a lot of territory still to explore. conor's treatments and the playing seem to be finding a nice synergy. playing live wasn't easy for the duo, mainly because it takes a decent sound system and a fair amount of time soundchecking to get anything like an environment where we can get a good performance. the quartet might be a thornier proposition still, but i think we'll manage it....

the bay city rollers with ann margaret

everything about this is fantastic. honestly. via metafilter.

more sonnamble press

a v. nice review here. plus we've been getting a few plays on late junction too. world domination beckons...


Canon 3 by astrogarage
this was sort of based on pachelbel's canon in d, or rather eno's (him again) reworking of it on discreet music. but instead of applying a rigorous compositional reprocessing of it like wot he did, i ended up just mucking about with the sound of four double basses and a wee bit of synth. i wasted most of an entire day on this, mainly to avoid cleaning the bathroom. i'm not entirely sure it was worth it, but i decided to finish the piece before midnight as it seemed like i would end up dicking around with it for weeks and then binning it. and in the meantime the bathroom would turn into some kind of cross between a turner prize entry and a biological experiment.

brian in brighton 2

so off to 'be right on' again to see brian and chums do pure scenius. three sets of structured improvisations and rough compositions presented in the form of a lecture by brian and chums. these chums included the necks, so why chris had to persuade me to go is a bit beyond me. but i guess i thought that such a pairing could only be disappointing, such was its promise. anyway...

we watched two of the three sets. this review pretty much chimes with everything i thought, so no need for me to write more, other than that i'd love to have seen what messages eno was sending to each musician's screen. i don't think anyone else has ever done this (i may be wrong) - the idea of 'conducton' has been around a while but relies on gesture rather than words and anyway such ventures seem limited to 'free' improv. it's something eno's been interested in for a while; to take musicians out of their comfort zone and to avoid the plod of 'a jam'. and for the most part it worked; some beautiful moments, and nothing much outstayed its welcome. chris heard someone remark that it 'was very avant-garde'. i was surprised at the comparatively small size of the audience compared to the previous week's gig. maybe brghton isn't as hip as we all think...

brian in brighton

off to brighton last saturday for a top quality day with some friends doing the kind of things londoners do in brighton - fish and chips, arsing around on the pier etc, then to see icebreaker and bj cole perform brian eno's apollo at the brighton dome. brian hisself (in his sixties and still sexy) came on and introduced the music, which was played to a special cut of the film it was written for (al reinert's for all mankind).

the film interested me much less than seeing/hearing just how icebreaker were going to tackle the music, mainly because i've seen it a silly number of times. jun lee's orchestrations were subtle and inventive, and this has to go down as the first gig i've been at that featured both panpipes and accordion that i didn't want to run away from screaming. an ending (ascent) was particularly transcendent, particularly in the final reprise where mr cole joined in with some delish pedal steel.

after that, brian returned to the atage and announced 'an unadvertised adition to the published programme - some things which have never been played live before'. the ensemble than played four songs - two from 'another day on earth' and to my shock/delight/amazement etc, two from 'before and after science' - 'julie with...' and 'by this river'. i blubbed a little bit. that's not something i ever thought i'd hear (bri famously does not do this kind of thing), and though the buzz was nostalgia-driven as much as anything, these were rather lovely versions. the closing 'and then so clear' with bri's vocoded sexchange vocal, was absolutely fucking swoonsome.

i remember you

I remember you by astrogarage
made in response to metafilter's monthly music challenge - this month's was to cover the song that was number one on the day of your birth, this was done pretty quickly and (oh, the horror) features me singing. this is not usually a good idea but somehow my pained adenoidal warbling seemed to fit the song. the version that was number one when i arrived was by frank ifield and remains one of my most hated songs of all time. here's my original submission.

clang sayne on resonance

the other saturday night, three quarters of clang sayne (james was stuck in new york due to icelandic volcanic stuff) trundled off to borough high street to resonance fm for a live session on jonny mugwump's exotic pylon show. we were paired with time attendant and i am a vowel who were armed with a whole range of electronic and noise producing gadgetry, plus occasional field recordings and spoken word interventions from jonny. the brief was to do what we liked with an understanding that we'd sort of alternate between units a bit. it was quite an enjoyable session, though at times it felt a bit clunky. this was mainly because there were two (or maybe more than two) very different aesthetics at work. but when we found the mid-points, it was kind of sweet. a listen to the podcast reveals subtleties i certainly wasn't aware of at the time...our bit starts around 35 minutes in.

watson, marsh and may...

..were in a studio today, recording some improvised music. nice studio, nice microphones, nice outboard, nice and extremely competent engineer. and tea, sandwiches and spicy cashew nuts. living the dream.

and lots and lots of sunshine. i was extremely tired and slightly hungover - not my most professional behaviour perhaps, but it did mean i was in a slighty spacey frame of mind which in turn meant i wasn't at all nervous. we spent time listening to things as we went along so we had some idea of how good it was, whether we were covering all the areas we usually did, and to take a break (always important). anyway it didn't take long before we had enough decent stuff to stop playing and let jon the engineer run off some mixes. it's a nice, warm, live sound.
this trio does have something a bit different going on from most free improv; i suppose it's closer to free jazz actually, though sometimes it gets all micro-abstract, there's a lot of pulse and melody, though often stretched and perverted somewhat. ahem. it was a good day, and i'm pretty sure we've got some really nice stuff down on disc. hurrah!

red shift

Red shift by astrogarage this is more like it; the usual amorphous nonsense. this was made very quickly using just a korg prophecy - no outboard or processing other than a bit of compression.

british gas

British gas by astrogarage
a possibly ill-advised attempt at what might be called 'dance music', constructed recently in a few hours using the wonders of garage band and two ancient synths (a novation basstation and a korg prophecy. plus a bit of radio static and a brief vocal loop lifted off a north london pirate station. keeping it real, eh, what?

sonnamble in the mix (and expanded)

conor's just alerted me to a rather nice mix on fluid radio from M Ostermeier, featuring a track from the sonnamble album. we also featured on ed pinsent's sound projector show a week or two back on resonance fm - listen here. and a track or two will be played on late junction on april 29th.

so rather than sitting on our arses and basking in all this er, media attention, sonnamble are hitting some next level shit, as i believe the young people say. we've doubled in size with the addition of sonic warriors chris jones (guitar) and andy willis (percussion), meaning i can concentrate on double bass.

two sessions so far have been pretty sweet. chris's guitar seems to be a great fit with conor's patches. andy's stripped down the kit to snare and cymbal and the two of us generate sparse, slow grooves under chris and conor's shifting clouds of chords, drones and glitches. learning what not to play, as ever, is the key and the most difficult thing to do. it's good to be playing with andy and chris again. currently it's kind of sounding a bit like the necks meets ashra meets fennesz, but others may beg to differ. we'll have some stuff to listen to up on the interweb soon.

laurie anderson - delusion

i saw this show the other night. it was funny, beautiful, often sad. sometimes a bit annoying. i'm still thinking about it.

nick drake

just watched the nick drake tribute gig on bbc four (available to watch on the iplayer till sunday 25th). i always approach such things with extreme caution and (to me anyway) drake is one of those people whose songs resist interpretation by anyone else. this was a mixed bag. the musical arrangements were mostly tasteful and at times pretty inventive. when the latter came together with a decent vocal performance the results were pretty good. lisa hannigan went all pj harvey on black eyed dog and probably topped the lot. green gartside (who's basically drake on helium) and harper simon (to my surprise) came close. the rest ranged from ho-hum to, i'm not sure...misguided would be the kindest way of putting it. this also goes for robyn hitchcock's matching polka dot stratocaster and shirt. drake's songs fall apart under the weight of vocal overemoting; anything that sounds remotely american is going to finish them off for a start. but - and this is a big but...there was a lot of danny thompson, which is always a good thing.

le manche

matt has often pointed out to me that being born and raised in dover makes me practically french. i'm not sure about this, but i do like a lot of french music. despite the fact that air and justice have done a lot to restore french cred and that gainsbourg and brel will always be hipster faves, there is a perception that not much has ever came out of the place, which is a little unfair. and the same goes for belgium, while we're at it.

what follows is some of my french faves, or at least ones i could think of and that were on youtube. pourquoi? parce-que.

znr were the duo of hector zazou and joseph racaille. they liked satie, especially the silly bits. they liked short songs. they liked the clarinet, they did two albums, of which my favourite is traire de mecanique populaire, from 1978. the four tracks from it below don't quite sum up their range, but they are quite swoonsome and somehow very french, even though there's not much accordion around. i got into them because they were championed by chris cutler's wonderful recommended records, and i think i was initially kind of baffled by them. joseph racaille's solo stuff is good too. he's ended up as one of france's foremost exponents of the ukelele, but we won't hold that against him.

francoise hardy
i was rather taken aback when i realised just how much ms hardy i'd been listening to, according to last fm. i really like her 70s stuff when she began to take a bit more control over what material she sang and started writing her own. and she's still at it too, with a new album just out. and that stuff's good as well. strangely i hate hearing her sing in english for some reason, but i'd argue that french is one of the best sounding languages to sing in (along with portugese). whatever. you may find this to be unashamedly saccharine and dripping with eurovision stylee MOR awfulness, but i don't. so there.

here's a band who gave birth to their own sub-genre (zeuhl), wrote songs in a fictional alien language (take that, sigur ros) and sounded like a mix of james brown, carl orff, john coltrane and god knows what. christian vander, their leader, is about as french as sun ra was american, if you get my drift. snooker legend steve davis's favourite band, as everyone knows but somehow can't quite believe. even thought they want to. and this rocks.

pierre bensusan
he's very good.

goodbye's too good a word

someone asked me the other day how many bands i'd been in. by the time i'd worked out an approximate answer they'd lost interest but it set me thinking about how all those bands had ended, or how my involvement with them had. and maybe why. too.

i'd also read simon's rather nice piece about moist, in which he refers to our (entirely amicable, i think) demise. he got it spot on, i think. we had run out of steam, weren't really coming up with any new material, just getting together before the monthly gig to make sure we had a vague idea of what we were going to do. andy, our irreplacable drummer, was also about to move out of london, so it was unlikely this situation would improve without a certain amount of commitment,

i remember before our penultimate gig simon, ralph and i were standing outside the fleapit. i was suggesting that maybe we should go in a more acoustic direction. this was a not entirely unselfish suggestion; i'd switched from electric to exclusively playing double bass, and with moist it really wasn't working out. the band was too loud for me to compete. when amplified excessively, the bass would sound horrible or inaudible and my playing would suffer as a result. and, i suggested, we should be more improvisational, a bit freer. but definitely quieter.

anyway, simon said that he was essentially interested in doing entirely the opposite thing; more electricity, more structure. maybe we should call it a day. so we decided we'd do a farewell gig and that would be it. it was all very quick and efficient. i was, i think, a little taken aback at the speed of it. we told andy when he turned up and he said something like 'oh alright. have you got a roll-up?'

drummers eh?

as simon says, we did go off in very different directions. so it was, i think, the right thing to do. having said that, we have played together since and it was brilliant. and it may happen again.

and i played electric bass. yeah, whatever.

it's potentially difficult to write about this kind of thing without upsetting people, but i've generally been lucky in that none of the breakups i've been in have really been nasty. in two cases, the bands kind of just stopped. we'd have a gig after which we just woudn't ever bother to get together again. lob's demise was like that. we'd done a few cds. they had airplay, nice reviews. our final cd made it to (wait for it) no 6 in the jazz fm cutting edge chart. the band had been going for about six years and had seemed to rejuvenate itself whenever someone left or joined. no-one had done either for some time, and after a period of really good stuff happening it had, a bit like moist, run out of steam. the last gig we did was a showcase music industry thing in nottingham. we were playing our cosmic beat driven improv epics in front of possibly 7 people (that's one more than was in the band). everyone else was in the tent outside listening to some gypsy band with a mad cimbalom player ripping it up. which is where we should have been too. we were not at our best and it was hard work. worst of all, as we came off the stage a very polite but insistent woman insisted that we had ten minutes left and we should go back on. we did, but the experience didn't raise our game.

the weird thing was we all had a really good time doing the gig and got on generally a lot better than we usually did. or so it seemed to me.

so we said goodbye to each other in the wee small hours at a service station in the middle of nowhere and never bothered to organise another rehearsal, gig or anything else. a few months passed and then one of us (possibly me) sent an email saying that unless anyone felt otherwise, they'd assume we'd broken up. and we all assumed we'd had. again, all of us have played together since, and some still do.

my favourite exit was not one of mine, but the guitarist in the first band i was in - the semi-legendary uncle lumpy and the fishdoctors. this guitarist had not fitted in fantastically well in the group either musically or socially, and proved whatever doubts we may have had about him at a charity gig (comic relief, in deal castle). he'd had some equipment problems. when these persisted, he became agitated, smashing his guitar on the stone floor, and chucking his effects pedals all over the place, resulting in a hail of bits of wood, strings, metal boxes and nine volt batteries. he then left the building,

to our credit we finished the song, rather like the band on the titanic. the applause may either have been muted or otherwise, i can't remember. then adrian, our drummer and wit, announced quietly, 'we are now a quartet'.

that's the way to do it.

japan (in a dishpan) and manafon

in between protracted bouts of newsom-swooning i've been cocking an ear to david sylvian's manafon. my first experience of mr batt was at a japan gig at folkestone's leas cliffe hall. this was around the time of their debut album, the charmingly titled 'adolescent sex'. they were glammed up in a kind of new york dolls stylee but played more like bowie or roxy. they did not go down with the regulars at the venue, who would flock there weekly for a diet of prog, reggae (there was a lot of reggae - the taxi gang would always stop off in folkestone on their way to europe) and, er, hawkwind. you had to go to canterbury to see anything punk or post punkish, which was kind of ironic. the headline act that week was, i think, er, jim capaldi. despite the many synth solos, the proggers were not keen on the lipstick and eyeliner which were clearly signs of having sold out to the teenage girl market. the few punks were not impressed with the band's musical virtuosity (or the eyeliner, come to think of it). a feeble but persistent drizzle of cans and bottles persisted pretty much throughout the last half hour of the set. i don't remember anything about jim capaldi.

the next time was on top of the pops a few years later, when it took me a while to figure out that it was the same band. and they were good - by this time i was deeply into eno, talking heads and the like, and mick karn's bass playing was very like that of my idol percy jones. but there was something deeply annoying about them as well. it was david sylvian. the bowie-esque faux cockney twang had gone to be replced by this honeyed existential croon and dreadful lyrics that hinted at significance but actually had as much as any of jon anderson's. i bought 'tin drum' anyway because i had decided that richard barbieri was brilliant; just like eno but with more technique.

i hate that video with a passion that surprises me even now, it must be said. i only remained at all interested in what dave did from then on because he always ended up working with people i liked. deep breath - jon hassell, holger czukay, danny thompson, jaki liebezeit, robert fripp, kenny wheeler, marc ribot, even percy jones (what you might call a sylvianian family). i bought a fair number of his records begrudgingly. i liked the instrumental ones best (sylvian's very good at atmospherics), because that voice, and those words....they would literally make me wince. mainly because i could hear every word pronounced immaculately, so none of his painfully crafted jean paul sartre or jean cocteau references could escape me. jon anderson never made that mistake.

a few years ago he made the really not very predictable move of hooking up with derek bailey for 'blemish'. manafon is the same kind of thing. sylvian sings over free improv, not with it and tinkers with it abit. it's recorded first and then he does his thing. which makes it kind of unique as far as i know, at least as a method you'd use for an entire album. the voice is huskier now and has a lived in quality which is hard not to warm to. it sounds more like a real person. and the words are great, much sparer, conversational, often dark. they're like a less playful peter blegvad at times; allusive and elusive at the same time.

so he's got a stellar cast of top notch improv/noisy types of various persuasions from sachiko m to fennesz to john tilbury to keith rowe to evan parker etc etc etc in various combinations. some of those combinations were made later using protools or whatever, but that doesn't matter. this isn't really about free improv as a process. these are stretched songs, none of which are particularly hummable, as if you hadn't guessed. that said, there are ghosts (sorry) of song structure from sylvian's electronics, synths and guitar. it errs towards the minimal, as you might expect from the cast.

i was about to waffle on about how much i'm sarting to like this record but i've just seen chris's rather positive appraisal, of it, which i think is pretty spot on.

damn. it seems i really like some records by david sylvian and joanna newsom.


back when i was writing reviews i got sent a copy of joanna newson's 'the milk eyed mender'. i didn't get very far with it, and tossed it into the box of cds to go to the charity shop (known in the office as 'the box of shame'. eventually a colleague discovered it; he was already apparently a big fan and was rather disappointed in my inabilty to appreciate her genius.

it wasn't that i thought she wasn't a genius but that i just couldn't get past my immediate dislike of her voice. i thought i had a high tolerance of peculiar singers whose voices could be described as an acquired taste, but i wasn't too bothered about acquiring a taste for this one.

when 'ys' came out featuring arrangements by van dyke parks etc i tried again and met with a similar level of success. by this time it had become clear that ms newsom was doing something that was probably really good and was certainly not much like anything else that was going on and that a lot of people really liked it. but i just didn't get it.

so the announcement of the release of the three cd 'have one on me' didn't really register with me as a potentially gripping event in my rich cultural lifestyle. ahem. but then i read a review that mentioned how her voice had changed as a result of a medical condition; joni mitchell was mentioned. and kate bush, this was somehow just enough to pique my interest again so i ended up listening (in a distracted way) to NPR's stream of the entire album. after three songs i'd ordered it.

i can honestly say i've not been so in love with a record for some years. and so far i've only listened to disc one. i like it so much that i don't really want to write about it and anyway there's enough people out there doing that already, and far better than i could. i think i'll end up checking out the earlier ones again at some point and maybe i'll end up completely revising my opinion of them. but i'm not in any hurry just yet.

the only problem i have with the album is the series of photos of ms winsom poncing around in her underwear (see above) which look like the kind of things you'd see framed on the walls of a gents hairdresser in the 1980s. it doesn't quite sit right with what i hear, somehow...

rip charlie gillett

i've just heard that charlie gillett (oft referred to by gideon coe as 'the silver fox') has died, i used to love his shows on GLR/Radio London (the best local radio station in the world for a wee while in the 90s, i'll wager). best was radio ping pong, where charlie and a guest would play alternate records and talk about them. i met mr gillett a few times and he was a lovely bloke, both ridiculously knowledgeable and passionate about music in a quietly infectious way. i didn't always share his tastes but he taught me a lot.

i still have a cassette recording of his ping pong session with brian eno (yeah, i know, him again) which is a lovely two hours of gospel, doowop, afrobeat and amusing banter.

i think i'll dig it out now and give it a listen.

thanks mr gillett.

in the studio

i have a love/hate relationship wih recording studios. while i'm inevitably drawn in geeky fashion to the flashing lights and am actually interested in the specs of compressors, eq units and even patchbay configurations, as a musician i am filled with trepidation upon entering them. which is why my natural inclination is to avoid studios in favour of less formal, DIY recording methods. that works some of the time (with lob it seemed to work quite well) but there are some occasions where recording needs to be done 'properly'.

once you're through the studio doors, there's a lot of decisions to be made. some are probably best left to the engineer, who will for a short time be effectively a member of your band and not just hired labour, with any luck.

the trick is to find a set of circumstances to record in that both enable you to give a good performance and get the sound you want. that could mean anything from putting up one mic in a local church or by a river at dawn and just playing, or a month or two in an air conditioned box dropping in, double tracking, sampling, splicing, looping, precessing etc, etc, etc. this last scenario is more likely if you don't really know what sound you want.

even within the studio there are of course loads of ways to commit your genius to disc for the edification of future generations. most bands i've been in have chosen to record more or less live, sometimes opting to do overdubs, sometimes not. this can pose all sorts of problems; playing effectively in those situations relies so much on where you are and what you can hear. if the double bass player needs to be near the drummer then that makes the engineer's job a bit trickier and your recording a lot less malleable, so you weigh that up. will it work if the singer's in another room and you've got your back to her? is that more important than being able to get a clean sound? there's usually a compromise point. where that point is depends on time, money, mood, communication and possibly the prevailing wind direction.

i've just spent the best part of two days recording with lucy and paul in a sweet sounding and eccentrically, beautifully scruffy studio called dropout in sunny south london. we still have overdubs and mixes to do but even the rough mixes we've taken away sound rather lovely. we've been very lucky with our choice of engineer in particular, and the fact the studio has a cat is most important.

meet stewart.

we've been recording to tape. which is great. it just seems to avoid the kind of brittleness you can get sometimes with digital. it's a bit more...forgiving in some way. and we've been recording without click tracks, pretty much live. so the focus is pretty much on collective performance.

here's a member of the collective.

one of the reasons i like playing with lucy is that we never do anything quite the same way twice. there are very few prearranged endings in the repertoire, for one thing. most of the arrangements have kind of evolved organically and can change a bit. even the more tightly arranged material has a bit of suppleness to it. so it's an inexact science which relies on the musicians being comfortable and able to concentrate, listen and give a reasonably consistent, error free performance in what can be quite an alienating set of circumstances.

this isn't always easy, and for the more sensitive among us can lead to an attack of the horrors, as it slowly dawns that every mistake or lapse of taste you churn out could potentially be around to haunt you and possibly others for ever. i speak from experience. what i really loved about dropout was the way james (our engineer) and tim (his assistant) made sure that when the tape was running, the lights were low and the monitoring was right and we could all see each other and we were as happy as we could be. they would even secretly record the run throughs just in case we delivered something wondrous while we weren't thinking about it too hard. this is the kind of stuff that makes it worth doing things this way.

zeros and enos

the other day i chanced upon this stylus review of fripp and eno's 'equatorial stars' by matthew weiner. it's a grudging review (unlike the rather embarrassingly breathy one i wrote at the time), and though my love for the album has cooled a little i thought mr weiner's reaction to it was at best, a little harsh. but this passage caught my eye...

I'd suggest, rather, that the problem is that Eno, perhaps the premier analog synthesizer pioneer in pop, has never gotten comfortable with digital technology. From his wild, careening solos with Roxy to his groundbreaking instrument "treatments" with the EMS Synthi One suitcase synthesizer he utilized on the Bowie and Talking Heads records, Eno always sought to infuse an element of sonic chaos into the proceedings. But listening back to "Pierre in Mist" from 1992's Nerve Net, one is struck by how utterly ill-at-ease Eno sounded as he played rambling solos on saxophone presets, pitch-bending to poor, often embarrassing effect. It's been more or less that way ever since, as he's searched in vain for a sonic palette that can give him the same measure of (non-) control with which he sculpted such pioneering studio-as-instrument recordings as 1982's On Land and the trio of Talking Heads records Eno helmed at the dawn of the '80s.

that seems to me to be sort of spot on. there are holes in the argument; it was the advent of digital technology that allowed eno and byrne to concoct the kind of cutup effects liberally applied to voice and instruments on 'fear of music' and 'remain in light', not to mention 'my life in the bush of ghosts' (which mr weiner praises elsewhere in the review). later on he accuses fripp of the same failure to get to grips with digital technology. though this is i think a bit more justified (fripp often midifies his guitar to trigger acoustic piano sounds, for gawdsakes. and the results are foul). he then cites fripp's 'blessing of tears' as a career highpoint (despite the fact it was clearly made with a hefty arsenal of midi gimcrackery) thus blowing another hole in his premise.

but hey, let's not nitpick. oh, yeah, too late. so anyway, he's sort of spot on. the trouble of course is that working digitally (as pretty much everyone does these days) multiplies your options exponentionally. the fact that you can do pretty much anything means that you sometimes end up doing things you probably shouldn't. with tape and analogue synths, there was a lot of work involved. if you were going to make a loop, it was a bit of an effort, and (if you were me anyway) the results might be unpredictable and unusable. programming synths was a pain. loads of that work's been done for you these days. adding reverse echo to a track in ye olde worlde of analogue meant flipping your reel of tape over, playing it backwards while feeding the output of your chosen track out through a mixer, through a delay and recording that onto a spare track or two on your recorder at the same time. then you'd flip the tape back over to audition the results, rinse and repeat etc. in most digital audio apps that's a matter of a few second's work. your options are of course limited by both your willingness to explore them all and to some extent by the design of the software or instruments (or software instruments even) that you're using. but then multiply that by the bewildering rate that technology advances and you have some idea of he creative shit creek you can so easily row your sonic boat into.

musicians like eno, t. dream, kraftwerk, and even herbie hancock who made a name for themselves pushing the envelope of analogue technology naturally have felt the need to embrace the brave new world. sometimes the results have been horrific, not in kraftwerk's case of course; they were digital even when they were analogue. the technology changes so quickly, you either say (as eno has attempted) 'hold on a minute. i haven't really explored this thing here yet' and stick with a certain bit of gear, or you end up surrounded by 682 bits of kit you only use the presets from. sometimes (as with t.dream) you lose everything about you that might have made you interesting as you upgrade from creaky mellotrons and moogs to shiny roland or yamaha boxes.

i've been lead up that creek a few times. luckily, i only do that kind of thing for my own amusement so luckily my feeble soundblaster-driven epics from the 90s will remain off the public record, for which we should all be grateful. the problem is that it's often hard to remain in control. and even harder to realise that you might not be in control at all. sometimes of course loss of control is a good thing ('embrace hazard' is one of fripp's maxims). it's ironic that the most interesting things being done with digital technology are by those who are making it more analogue - more unpredictable, or warmer, or whatever. there are those whose aesthetic (for want of a better word) is strong enough that they'd produce something that was recognisably 'them' no matter if they used a hurdy gurdy and a wah wah pedal or a macbook stuffed with more sofware synths that you could count. i think my friend justin spooner's one of those....