Saturday, June 15, 2019
So, I decided to mark the 40th anniversary of Unknown Pleasures by composing a Joy Division tribute, Day For Night, which can be heard here.
Cast of characters (in order of appearance):
Genesis P. Orridge
Ralph Gibson, Hand Through Door, from The Somnambulist, 1969.
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
15 years to the day since this wonderful gig at Tramway in Glasgow, which gave us The Scottish Play DVD, I thought I'd mark the occasion by trawling the memory, with an edited version of a letter to a friend at the time:
Photo/backstage pass sorted, Paul Smith has asked me to take a shot of the boys in the gardens of Tramway before or after soundcheck, so I’m at the venue by 4 as per the Wire schedule of arrival in Glasgow, though it’s not clear whether 4 is the time of their arrival in the city or the venue…
Slaking my thirst after the long walk out of the city centre to the venue, there’s no sign of the lads. So I make direct inquiries at reception, and am brought round to the production manager’s office. He doesn’t know when they’re getting in. I go out to the gardens to get some ideas. Though I’m excited by the prospect of doing this photo, I’m also terrified. As time ticks by, the terror mounts. I can’t get any fucking ideas. I return to the bar and try to read my book. But I can’t concentrate. I’m on edge.
After what seems like forever, I hear some unmistakably familiar chords emanating from the stage area. The lads have landed. I wander in and meet Graham as Bruce is doing his line check. Refreshments are offered in the dressing room. I’d murder a cup of tea, but there’s a fridge full of Stella, so I opt for a beer. Try and relax me for the photo shoot (some chance !).
We’re chatting away and Colin comes in. ‘Hello !’ he beams. ‘You're looking very well… tanned as well !’ he says as we shake hands. ‘Yeah.. I’m out on the bike a lot..’, Then he disappears and I sit down with Graham again.
He had suggested in an email resuming a previous phone conversation about the collaborative album with John Duncan, so I’ve come prepared with my Dictaphone. Stories unfold and people wander back and forth. He nips out for his line check and Bruce appears. Greetings exchanged, he flops down on the couch. He seems very tired, and conversation fizzles out after a short while. Time enlarges. Eventually Graham appears. “You alright Bruce ?” he asks quizzically. “Meditating” comes the reply.
Graham resumes filling in the background to Presence. Some very interesting stories there. Then they’re all called to soundcheck. I nip out with them and get a few shots. Then we’re all back in the dressing room with Paul and they’ve to do an MTV interview and a radio interview.
The lads are back and Paul decides to do the photo. I suggest they do the radio interview first. “Nah, let’s do the photo..” he says with a sweeping hand gesture, as though to clear us all out to the gardens. We all walk out, with Paul leading the way. He seems to be going to some specific part of the gardens. The greenhouses. They been out here already? Fuck ! “Bruce wants a shot looking down in between the greenhouses… we were thinking of using it for the cover of the DVD…” Shit Smith, now you tell me ! As if I didn’t feel terrified enough !
I’ve got the lads lined up in my sights and they don’t quite fit between the greenhouses, so they have to rubberneck a bit. It looks shite. I snap away anyway, changing lenses to get different perspectives. They are smiling back down the lens at me, being model models. Before the lads go back inside, I think I should really get something else. So I say it to Bruce. “Where do you want to go ?” he says. “What about that seat over there with the tree growing out of it… ” “Yes… problem is, probably everyone else has used that…” (shite !!) “OK… em… what about over here in front of this chimney, there’s a path leading up to it that’ll give us a similar perspective to the greenhouse”. “OK”. They line up patiently. Mmm. This is a bit better. Bit more depth. I suggest Rob takes off his wooly hat as it’s sat lightly atop his head and makes him look 7 foot tall. Change lenses again for some close-ups. It’s after 7 and I really don’t want to detain them any more.
Then we notice a whole bunch of security had assembled at the entrance to the gardens and were milling about. Penguins on parade. Bruce thinks it could make an interesting shot if they mingle with them. I think it’s a brilliant idea. Someone from the venue comes out and Colin asks if it’d be OK to be photographed with the security. The woman doesn’t exactly say no, but she seems unsure, but this is enough for Colin. They scrap the idea. Shite !! It could’ve been great… even if we did a less posed one with the security more in the background… but the opportunity has been squandered. I think it could’ve been a classic. I should’ve pushed it a bit more. As we wander back inside, Colin remarks that they’ve never appeared on any album cover (apart from the back cover of Pink Flag & Chairs Missing I think to myself).
All aboard the tour bus and we’re off. The driver’s tuned to some dreadful station playing what I thought was Eddy Grant. Colin corrects me. “It’s Men at Work”. “Jesus ! You’re right… what a godawful band…” “One of the most loathsome of the 80s” Colin says. The flute on the track reminds him of the fact that Mike Thorne used to play flute. And wear glittery trousers. Well… whaddya know !
The bus pulls in to the hotel and we’re only a few yards from where I’m staying, as it happens. I repair to the hotel bar with Graham and Bruce. About 40 minutes later we’re sat in the hotel’s Thai restaurant awaiting our orders. I’m introduced to Susan Stenger. Bruce is sat opposite me, and he’s gone quite again. For a minute or two at a time he just closes his eyes. (Maybe he is just very tired. Or listening.) Graham, to my right, is, by contrast, always the lively conversationalist. When we leave, I thank Paul, and he just says “EMI”. Well I suppose it is a Mute night… and Mute are now owned by EMI…
The bus gets us back to the venue shortly after 10, and Pan Sonic are melting the concrete. The new material is stunning. Bruce had said earlier that they were going to ‘drop the bomb’. Well it was a pretty explosive set. I met Ilpo afterwards and told him how much I enjoyed the set, and the time they played Dublin, with Bruce, FM Einheit and Caspar Brotzmann. He’s grinning happily.
Back in the dressing room I say to Graham how outstanding the new Pan Sonic stuff is. He tells me he has a CDR of the new album (not out for a few weeks), sounding very pleased with himself. “Well you’re a cunt, aren’t you ?” I say. He smiles broadly. Paul says “feel free to help yourself to beer… we’ve plenty of it…” he says motioning to the extra boxes under the table, “..it doesn’t always get drunk…” So I start as I mean to go on, and bring a bottle out to the public area, which is now rammed with people. I wander about to see if I can spot any Ideal Copyists. Then I notice Mark, Paul and Chris. It’s great to see them, and we chat away until the start of the Liars set. They’ve reduced to guitar, drums and electronics, and most definitely shed the Gang Of Four influence. It’s an enjoyable, if somewhat shambolic set. I spot Graeme Rowland in the crowd, and I suggest he joins me backstage for a beer with the lads, but he disappears.
Grab another beer, and back out to the public area. I spot Irmin Schmidt, shake his hand and thank him for years of listening pleasure with Can. Time’s moving on now, and it’ll be Wire’s turn to make some noise soon. I disappear backstage. Things are running about 20 minutes late. Wire have left the dressing room now and are waiting to get on stage. I grab my camera gear and head out to take up my position with the film crew, between crash barrier and stage. It’s the most surreal sensation as I walk out from backstage, as, for a few seconds as I walk across, the whole audience looks expectantly at me…
“Nice one chaps” I say as the lads collapse exhausted onto the couches after a storming set. Paul is cracking open the champagne, and hands me a glass. The atmosphere’s really good now, everyone’s relaxing. People are snapping with their digital cameras. Bruce hands me a G&T. Cheers ! Some more champagne and beers and it’s getting on for 3. I have just been informed that the hotel has a 24 hour bar. Holy shit, this party never ends !
Back on the bus, back at the bar, downing the beers, here we go. I meet Project Dark’s Kirsten Reynolds, and chat with her for a while. She very kindly gives me a copy of their Gramophone Deluxe CD. Bruce comes over and we’re chatting for a while, but it’s here I start to find significant gaps in my memory of what was said. It’s nearing 5. Upon needing the assistance of the architecture to guide my safe passage to the toilet, I realize I’m quite pissed, and decide to make a quick exit. “Let us know what you’re up to…” Bruce calls after me as I struggle out the door. “YeahshurrBrucceseeyelater”
I wake up next morning and notice I’ve slept in my clothes. Jesus ! At least I had the good sense to take me boots off ! It’s 9.30. But my watch has stopped. Shit ! What time is it – I’ve a plane to catch !! Lash on the boots and race downstairs. Ten past ten. OK. I’ve missed the breakfast. I approach the receptionist.
“Any chance of some breakfast ?” I croak.
“Breakfast finishes at 9” she responds chirpily, with a sadistic smile.
“I got in very late last night”
“I slept in”
“Ah go on…”
Jesus. She’s not giving me an inch. Well fuck you missus. Fuck you very much.
Friday, February 01, 2019
Vacant Possession (2019) 14' 10”
This piece, which was made for Project Arts Centre's show 'Active Archive - Slow Institution - The Long Goodbye', has been woven from field recordings, radio recordings, answering machine messages and concert recordings made in the 1990s, and also includes some TV and music from the time. The field recordings were originally made for my CD album for Project Arts Centre, Invisible City (1999), as part of their 'Off Site' series of exhibitions during building renovations.
Going back to these recordings twenty years later is a curious experience, a time machine to different times, where, in a digital surgery of grafting and transfusion, presences are reanimated, spirits invoked, vacated spaces haunted. It's a sonic seance, a poltergeist's pantomime, an entropy tango. I'm reminded of how Iain Sinclair pithily described the editing process for London Orbital (2002), his film with Chris Petit: “The choice was stark: become a digital mudlark, rummaging through exhausted footage for retrievable images. Fool's gold, dropped down the toilet bowl of the culture.”
This piece functions like a radio play or cinema for the ears, where hybrid scenes are stitched from various parts of my record of the decade, and different characters appear and disappear. Though the recordings were not part of any attempt to exhaustively document the decade, merely part of an ongoing continuum of recordings of things that interested me. Edits from solo and collaborative performances of mine colour the second half of the piece. Wading through the tapes, there were some things I'd completely forgotten (and glad) I'd recorded.
Certain signature sounds are salient parts of the landscape for me, and work like 'soundmarks' or sonic landmarks. The particular texture of Dublin bus engines, and the call of the Moore Street traders that is pure music to me, no need to loop it or add to it, it's music 'in the field' in the best sense, part of a continuum of village vendors calling out across time the world over. Their calls are almost gone now, sadly, in a changed landscape and regulatory framework where traders, since the beginning of this year are not allowed to pass licenses down through families, as they had done for decades. I fear it's the beginning of a process that will see them eventually leached out in favour of larger developments.
Radio was more a part of my media landscape then, and hearing certain sig tunes really takes me back – Morning Ireland, Gay Byrne (the point where I switched off), Myles Dungan on Today at Five, Scrap Saturday (satire the likes of which we have not heard since). Callan's Kicks, try though it might, just doesn't cut it like Dermot Morgan et al used to so hilariously.
The 90s was a time of enormous flux and upheaval in the built environment, and thankfully I had the presence of mind to photograph various sites around the city as they underwent significant changes. Looking back over these, I'm reminded how much dereliction, open space and abandoned property there was (going back 20 years or more). It was a gap-toothed city, with areas steadily accumulating value till the developers swept in for the kill. Signage on some empty properties would flag it as 'vacant possession', meaning there were no sitting tennants, the building was well and truly empty, and free of any potential impediments to development.
RTE radio 1 pips
Evening, Charles Street flats
Late night, Mountjoy Square
Propeller plane over Trinity College
Gay Byrne, housewife of the year contest
Archaos (FR) performance, Tallaght, 1991
Bow Gamelan (UK) performance, Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin 1990
Mike Murphy & Stephanie MacBride reviewing Sculptors' Society of Ireland 'Random Access' artists' soundworks CD, produced by Crocodile Records, 1994.
Concrete pouring, Morrison Hotel (former Ormond Printworks) 1997
DJ Shadow – edits of 'Midnight, In A Perfect World' and 'Changeling' (1996)
Scrap Saturday RTE Radio 1 satire programme with
Dermot Morgan, Owen Roe & Pauline McLynn
Birmingham 6 River Parade of Innocence, December 1989
Myles Dungan, 'Today at 5' RTE Radio 1 news programme, 1995
Marian Finucane, phone-in about censorship
Tricky – opening vocal from 'Pumpkin' (1995)
Scaffolders, Grafton Street, 1997
Moore Street traders, Talbot Street butchers, Mary Street home wares shop, 1995
Roller shutters, Moore Street, 1997
Car alarm set-up, 1997
Max Eastley aeolian sculpture, 'Pine Ghost', part of Sculptors' Society of Ireland
exhibition, 'Ireland & Europe', Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, 1997
Fergus Kelly prepared bass solo perfomance, for 'Body Without Organs' event,
Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin 1999.
Scrap Saturday, 'Maurice Pratt' (Quinnsworth) Gulf War skit
DART leaving Tara Street station 1997
Master Musicians of Joujouka performing for Dave Fanning radio show, RTE, 1992
Frank Rynne interviewed by Dave Fanning about 'Here To Go' show at Project, 1992
'Alan Partridge'/Steve Coogan
Fiach Mac Conghail
Frank McDonald talking about the Civic Offices
Duo with Max Eastley, Arthouse, Dublin 1997.
Joan Fowler mentioning 'In A State' show - Project Arts Centre's contribution to
Dublin '91 (when we were Capital of Culture)
Scrap Saturday 'Mike Murphy' exhibition review skit
Repetitive Strain Industries (Fergus Kelly, David Lacey, Jurgen Simpson) performance
for Fergus Kelly's 'Invisible City' CD launch, as part of Project's 'Off Site' programme,
Project at The Mint, Dublin, 1999
Project at The Mint, Dublin, 1999
World Cup celebrations 1990
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Friday, May 27, 2016
I recently dug out the HOX Itness album from 1999 for a spin. Sometimes when listening to music, a certain logic of choice for subsequent listening suggests itself within the music. One track on Itness with a rather long, unchanging and insistent rhythm (and little else), made me think of Graham’s earlier 4-track pieces from 1983, collectively gathered on the 1996 WMO release, pre>He. Billed with a sticker on the CD cover as “Previously unreleased archive recordings from ex-WIRE man”, locating it squarely within second Wire hiatus. He would now be post-He and WIRE man, as an active member of that thriving unit, given fresh life with the tranfusion of young blood into the ranks.
This body of work, coming with the customary ‘archive sound’ warning, due to the raw and basic nature of the recording, is immensely satisfying for me, and is something I keep returning to. In fact the very nature of the recording is an inescapably essential part of the very fabric of the music, and the elemental nature of its articulation and atmosphere. Sometimes it fizzes like electricity, raw and volatile, as on the coruscating, flayed and relentless Dolass Violphin, and He Said “Argh...”. Other times it lurks and hums threateningly, as in the magnificent, stately slow ritual march of Lying In State, originally produced for the MU:ZE:UM Traces installation for MOMA Oxford, with Bruce Gilbert and Russell Mills. My first introduction to the work on the compilation came via an early Touch cassette, Meridians 1 (1983), which featured the He Said “Argh...” track. This piece presented such an utterly alien yet intriguing and highly individual soundworld that drew me right in. I was hooked.
Shortly after this I started artschool and a friend introduced me to the music of Dome, and this alien soundworld opened out further and well and truly got its tentacles deep into me. After revisiting the pre>He album, later in the day I felt like drilling down further in time and farther back in the back catalogue and spun Dome 3 and 4. Shortly after Dome 4 finished, and the short Atlas track ended proceedings, I happened across that very word in the book I was reading, in the same paragraph as the word halo, as it happened. Years ago I usen’t to know what to make of these synchronicities, thinking perhaps a strange pattern lay behind them, or a sign was being manifested, but now I look upon them with bemused detachment, thinking in this instance, ‘that was a good strike rate..’
The evening’s listening ended with 3R4, a particularly outstanding and durable piece of work, and like all of Dome’s output it conjures a particularly unique soundworld which seems to stand outside of regular time and inhabit a transitory, liminal space, an audio derive - a soundtrack of restless exploration, cinema for the ear. Like all the best and most original music, it sounds like nothing else. Only Dome could have made this music.
3,4 is a fine example of mounting tension and creeping unease, signalled by the backwash of a slow, breath-like sound, which gives way to intermittent foghorn type noises, guitar slashes, percussive forays and a deep, groaning bass that slithers thickly like a conger eel. Not unconnected, perhaps with the previous track’s intriguing title, Barge Calm - a slow trawl through murky depths is suggested. R unfolds with a slowed guitar loop that bristles with a visceral sense of the very machinery of its making; amplified wound steel strings scraped with hard plastic. Like enlarging a photographic image and repeating it, certain details are thrown into relief and patterns emerge. When this eventually fades, a more glacial calm descends with elongated vocal drones and intermittent sounds lending it a more widescreen feel.
Monday, May 23, 2016
From sixty seconds to sixteen minutes and sixteen seconds, this piece made to mark Bruce's 70th moves away from my approach to the one I did for his 60th. It mines a number of sources mentioned in Kevin Eden's 1991 Wire biography, Everybody Loves A History - music he grew up with, the songs of Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra, and the music, pre-Wire, that influenced him in his 20s, such as Captain Beefheart and Roxy Music. I used these as a springboard to create electronic soundscapes, twisting and stretching edits and loops I'd made in Samplr on my iPad. Some edits were left recognisable, and form some of the rhythmic and melodic content, as well as serving as cultural reference points. The title is made from two halves of two anagrams derived from Bruce's albums Ab Ovo and In Esse. As a gift for Bruce, the piece was put on a 3” CDR sprayed white, with a cover design aping the periodic table, with the element number being Bruce's age, and the scientific number being his birthdate. Not sure how I hit on the idea, but there's a nice link with the fact that Bruce's album, Ordier, was released on US label Table Of The Elements.
Bruce had a fondness for war movies in the 70s, so that gave me free reign to explore various war noises and related references, including the theme tune from the 70s TV series The World At War. I wanted to broaden the mise en scene of the piece by including ads and sig. tunes from some 70s programmes, the shipping forecast, Monty Python, and some of my own field recordings to further enrich this plunderphonic tapestry. Some points of reference in terms of compositional methodology for me were elements of John Moran's The Manson Family, An Opera, Nurse With Wound's Sylvie & Babs, and early 80s Touch compilation tapes, with their penchant for odd confections of media snippets, loops and field recordings. Though not a conscious ploy, one of the Beefheart songs that I used, Veteran's Day Poppy, forms an interesting link with the WWII references.
Some of the TV sig. tunes and ads get a bit of a space theme going, what with the appearance of The Clangers, Star Trek and Dr. Who, as well as the spoof sci-fi ad for a popular freeze-dried potato product, Smash (also a post-Bruce Wire song title). The William Shatner voice-over snippets, “to explore strange new worlds”, and “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, can be taken as a lighthearted allusion to Bruce's sonic explorations. Cross-hatching some of the Sinatra material with the Beefheart songs threw up some fruitful collisions – a drum break from Moonlight On Vermont happened to nicely underscore a vocal snippet from Moonlight In Vermont, sung by Linda Ronstadt (born same year as Bruce). Amongst the studio goofery from Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica used in the piece, the “I run on beans” edit was echoed with a 70s ad for Heinz beans (“Don't be mean with the beans Mum, beans means Heinz !”). Some of the elements in this piece are woven a bit deeper in the mix, and won't necessarily reveal themselves on first listen. Other elements move around the stereo field to create a sense of momentum in a soundworld I like to think of more in terms of a radio play or cinema for the ears. It must be heard on a decent hi fi with good stereo separation, or on good headphones – not computer speakers...
Bomber plane drone
Bombing planning meeting
Bomber pilots talkback
Air raid siren
Whistling bombs, explosions, fire
Lena Horne, Stormy Weather
Frank Sinatra, Stormy Weather
The Red Army Choir
The World At War theme tune & German march
Rain field recording
I Love You, You Big Dummy
Moonlight On Vermont
Veteran's Day Poppy
Trout Mask Replica studio goofery
BBC continuity announcement
Tomorrow's World sig. tune
Frank Sinatra/Linda Ronstadt, Moonlight In Vermont
The Clangers opening voice-over & music
Star Trek theme tune
Dr. Who theme tune
Bert Ford weather forecast
Roxy Music, Remake/Remodel
Monty Python, Bruce sketch and Philosopher's Song
Iceland harbour field recording
Dad's Army theme tune
BBC control room talkback
PG Tips ad
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Jim O’Rourke: Terminal Pharmacy (Tzadik, 1995) - A gem that fails to age, from his prodigous and intriguing output from the early 90s, which involved a lot of composition for chamber ensembles, electronics and field recordings. He was still in his early 20s when these remarkable albums were made. His time in Dan Burke’s noise outfit Illusion Of Safety seeps through in this album, with its extended periods of quiet, sudden edits and understated sections that hover on the threshold of audibility. This music mostly seems to float at the edges of perception, appearing and disappearing, glowing gently, diminishing, creating a space for itself that draws you in and manages to knit in the sounds of your surroundings as part of the landscape. It feels quietly cinematic, from some forgotten place, an impression reinforced by the fleeting presence at one point, of some noirish 40s style brass music lifted from vinyl with surface crackle like a fireside ambience. My own listening preference for this album is a late night one, for some reason, just feels part of night time, with moments emerging and sinking back into the dark. Still remarkably fresh 20 years on.