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....

Playa Durmiente

Playa Durmiente from -GO- on Vimeo.

this is a piece from a friend of conor's and it's rather lovely. the music is sonnamble (from the hotly anticpated debut longplayer).

As They Say

Ólöf Arnalds - Eins og sagt er ("As they say”) from Olof Arnalds on Vimeo.

came across this via the always entertaining metafilter. you need to watch the whole thing really for it to work its magic.

tic tic tic (it hasn't worn off)

when i was 17 or so i met a girl called carol. she was a student nurse who liked talking about her work in some detail. possibly too much detail. anyway, she stole my heart (no, really) but more importantly she also stole my copy of todd rundgren's 'a wizard a true star'. it was some years before i got round to replacing it - i generally preferred 'Todd' and 'Something/Anything', even 'Faithful". besides, it always sounded shit on my stereo.

actually AWATS sounds shit on any stereo, but that's some of its appeal. the drums sound like cardboard boxes. there's not much bottom end. much of the time the meters must have been well in the red. it feels like the tape's almost giving up under the strain of massive overdubbing, halfspeeding, looping and god knows what; synths, glockenspiels, masses of tortured guitars and more backing vocals than you get on the average x-factor winners song. but todd is, well, a genius. AWATS marked his first experiences with psychedelic substances, and it shows. you still get pop songs of a harmonic sophistication that's up there with anything brian wilson or paul mccartney or anyone you could mention ever managed, but laced with an increasing desire to make strange, silly and occasionally overwhelmingly beautiful noises with anything he coud get his hands on. and there's his lyrical capacity to be spiritual, sarcastic, stupid and tender, sometimes all in the same song. compare AWATS to his previous records, and you'll wonder exactly what was going on in his head. you could still trace the reference points - the beatles, laura nyro, the beach boys, jimi hendrix, the who, motown. but they were much fainter this time.

though i'm sure acid hasn't featured in todd's diet for some years, it's part of his appeal that for the most part you still wonder what's going on in his head. when chris told me that todd was going to perform AWATS live for (i think) the first time in its entirety, i wondered how he was going to perform this heady studio confection of proto electropop/prog/soul/psychedelia, even with a big band. it really seemed genuinely misguided to attempt it.

by the time i met fellow todd obsessives sarah and of course, chris (without whom we would not have been there and to whom massive thanks is due) and settled down in ye olde hammersmith apollo (nee odeon) i had worked myself up into an almost ridiculous sense of excitement about the gig. luckily i wasn't the only one.

AWATS was scheduled for the second half, so we speculated on the contents of the first. while none of us would have been silly enough to expect a greatest hits set or even a complete performance of todd's bonkers cosmic synth epic 'a treatise on cosmic fire', i bet none of us expected a set of blues classics by robert johnson and elmore james, played in a sludgy, metallic, occasionally shambolic but apparently sincere fashion. but that's what we got. chris suggested foghat as a reference point, which didn't seem too far off the mark.

so what does go in his head?

if certain sections of the audience were less than impressed with this, they didn't show it too much. but when the opening throb that heralded the start of AWATS kicked in, everyone went bonkers, or as much as their medication would allow. up go the curtains, and then there's todd singing 'international feel' in a SPACESUIT. and so began a ridiculous eries of costume changes which featured todd as a chef, glam rock star, wizard, a transvestite, even donning an inflatable fat suit for 'just another onionhead'. the music was immaculately dispatched, silly time signatures and stylistic jumpcuts all intact. no john siegler alas, but we did get ralph shuckett from the original album. the encore was reserved for 'just one victory' and there was no more. but it didn't matter. chris said that everytime he'd seen todd he'd fluffed the opening to his big moment guitar solo at the end of that song. and this one was no different (see below - roundabout 6.40). but that didn't matter either. i think it's partly why we love him so much.