RTCD16 - Fergus Kelly: Plundered Lumber

Plundered Lumber is a 52 minute album comprising 13 tracks using mostly bass guitar and metal percussion. It's a return of sorts to a form of composing last used about 20 years ago, where an emphasis on rhythmic interactions and melodic interplay was the main driver. I've used little or no processing (apart from some delay and reverb) and no field recordings. Some delays were added after, some used during recording, as a phantom rhythmic element to play against.

The percussion comes from my store of found metals gathered sporadically over the last 35 years (much less in recent years with more restricted access due to municipal recycling – a weird irony !). I've always loved the idea of creating things from discarded materials, building from scratch, and exploring the unique sound colours and textures of industrial materials, a lot of which are richly resonant.

Untrained, I play bass by entirely by ear. I'm under no illusions that I possess any particular skills necessarily, but simply work from the point of view of what sounds good to me and improvise in the moment. I would never describe myself as a 'bass player', and my timing might be a bit fluid at times, but at least I can keep the bass in tune with a handy phone app. At the same time, I wouldn't go as far as Brian Eno and describe myself as a 'non-musician'. I've always loved bass though, and think it's a beautiful instrument; earthy, sensuous and sinuous, infusing the music with a pulsing blood warmth. I'm reminded of what Shellac's bassist Bob Weston said when asked at a Dublin gig in 2017 what he liked most about the bass - “It sounds awesome.” Over the years, certain bassists have really made an impression: Holger Czukay, Tony Levin, Jah Wobble, Barry Adamson, Mike Watt.

I wanted to keep things fairly simple with these compositions, structurally and melodically, leave space and maintain a sense of clarity; create clean, uncluttered arrangements. Sometimes I did build things up, but generally ended up stripping them back. I also wanted to keep them short. I had made initial forays into this in 2012/13, but only got as far as a handful of multi-tracked bass riffs that I wasn't sure what to do with, so they got shelved until I decided where they could fit.

These were used as the starting point for some of the pieces, most were built anew. One of the earlier pieces, Astral Indices, which also had percussion and was more complete, is left untouched as I felt it needed no further elaboration. The other untouched piece from that time, Uncurl An Edge, is my approach to creating a very simple composition but in long form with subtle changes over its duration, a regularity which is gently altered and disrupted, much in the manner of Morton Feldman - an industrial version, using mostly sliced beer barrels and bass. The higher pitched sound that occasionally flits back and forth is a plucked egg slicer.

The album title existed in a notebook I keep for potential track and album titles but, though I never make obviously illustrative titles, this one was unusually suitable in that I was partly raiding my archive to create new work, making good use of things left lying around; dusted down and pressed into service and galvanised with additional material.

In terms of revisiting older methodologies, I decided the spray paint original artwork onto the CDs themselves rather than print onto them. I've used some of the metals employed in the compositions – which creates a nice bit of conceptual continuity – sawblades whose serrated edges make graphically strong images. No repetition occurs across the edition, all are unique.

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