Saturday, January 25, 2020

Rumble of The Ruins

So I have a new album out. Whilst listening to your copy the following notes may bring some elucidation. 

1. Rumble of The Ruins 02:23
In 2012 I bought on ebay a one-chip synthesizer, the  SN76477 or "complex sound generator". Released in 1978 the chip was used in a variety of early arcade games and has a single VCO, LFO, noise generator, noise filter, an envelope (of sorts), and a variety of modulation options.

The circuitry needed some attention before it would make any sound, and was always a little idiosyncratic, but was pleasingly crude and a surprising number of tracks were conjured from it including pieces on the Ice Yacht cassette, and The Storm Bugs Certified Original and Vintage Fakes release. The Rumble of The Ruins track was originally intended as part of a collaboration with the Vas Deferens Organization Mutant Sounds boys called the Office Abandoned, but as that project has been put on hold (or even abandoned) for a number of years I decided to record a new version of the track for this release.

Don’t fade don’t fall 
Let the rumble of the ruins calm your storm 
As you sail bye-bye 
There’s a glory hole gaping in the sky 

Red crimson is the flow 
As urban conurbations teem and grow 
For sale, for rent 
Anointed teenage bodies bored and spent

The lyrics nod towards T.Rex (King of The Rumbling Spires) and the William Burroughs novel Cities of The Red Night.

2. Window Sill 02:18
An early version of this track appears on the Linear Obsessional 2017 Christmas compilation A View From a Hill loosely inspired by the supernatural (or should I say eerie) tales of MR James. This version was as they say fleshed out with guitar, shortwave radio, and percussion.

Walking in the woods one day 
I thought I heard a maiden say

Pushing through the bramble hedge
I saw her flaming ginger head

From the comfort of your window sill
You saw the outline of the hill
Climbing up to reach the tor
From the tangled bedclothes on the floor
He rose

Dipping in the stream that night
Under eel pool electric light

Walking down the wind worn path
Into the contours of the past
He rose

From the comfort of your window sill
You saw the outline of the hill
Climbing up to reach the tor
From the tangled bedclothes on the floor
He rose
There is another echo of Bolan in the opening line shared with his song The Wizard, and of course borrowed by him from many a traditional folk song and/or poem.

3. Au Coin du Jardin 04:34
The synthesizer, percussion and voices were recorded live on Ed Pinsent’s Sound Projector Radio Show in March 2019. The synthesizer is the custom made soft VCS3 app built in Max/MSP, I have been tweaking for nigh on seven years. Gradually it gets more character just like the original, but with more routing possibilities, and the ability to save presets, so in many ways it is ‘better’ than the actual, but would I swap it for the real thing - of course I would.  The treated voices describe a famous case of faux archaeology, the Glozel case. Just Google Glozel and find out. To the Sound Projector Radio Show track I added over phased guitar, it is a little tribute to Cosey who is the master of this kind of slide.

 4. Raven Row (You Know How it Goes) 03:06
In some alternate universe this is a sure fire hit from 1986 or thereabouts, but we are in 2020. A draft was played live by The Storm Bugs back in 2012, this version has slowly matured with ever more layers of guitar, strings, vocoder, and what have you added to the simple synth sequence played on the Nanozwerg and RotaSynth. File under London songs.

A lookey-likey lover whilst working undercover 
Took a liking to the brother of someone else’s mother 
He texted her each hour, even from the shower 
Pictures of his manhood hidden by a flower 

You know how it goes from Ealing to Bow 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 
You know how it goes from Strood to Soho 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 

A sea salty sailor said he’d catch you later 
Had to have a drink with a curious undertaker 
Formaldehyde hot toddy coursed around his body 
Rendering his manhood, limp and floppy 

You know how it goes from Ealing to Bow 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 
You know how it goes from Strood to Soho 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 

Searching for a top-up in a backstreet lock-up 
Ending up instead with a petal pink pop-up 
She inhaled briefly, kept on smiling sweetly 
Thinking all the while that this was kind of creepy 

You know how it goes from Ealing to Bow 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 
You know how it goes from Strood to Soho 
You know how it goes down Raven Row
5. The Elephant's Eye 03:00
The repeated synth sequence over which I first started singing had a touch of the Velvets about it, and though not a VU song Nico’s words from We’ve got the Gold came to mind -We've got the gold, we do not seem too old. This somehow morphed into - Please bring me silver, please bring me gold/ Tease me with your memories of being young and bold. Once the opening line was set the other words followed, a song for turning sixty too. Another influence is to the Faces Ooh La La, but the intent of the lines - I wish that I knew what I know now/ When I was younger/ I wish that I knew what I know now/ When I was stronger, is reversed so that it becomes - If only I knew now what I knew before/ When thought was just an impulse and love was something more.

Please bring me silver, please bring me gold 
Tease me with your memories of being young and bold 
Go fetch my suitcase, don’t forget my hat 
I left it sleeping under a Persian cat 

When you’re inside the elephant’s eye 
When you’re inside the elephant’s eye eye 

You might think it risible, you might think it a joke 
I’ve lost all direction, my head is full of smoke 
The trees gather round and beat their drums 
The wind claps and howls and blots out the sun 

When you’re inside the elephant’s eye 
When you’re inside the elephant’s eye eye eye eye 

If only there was a way out of this labyrinth of caves 
A jaunty little melody that rises up the staves 
If only I knew now what I knew before 
When thought was just an impulse and love was something more 

When you’re inside the elephant’s eye 
When you’re inside the elephant’s eye eye eye eye

 6. Funicular Freedom 04:11
A fellow Hastings resident was getting married at the De La Warr Pavilion in late 2018 and I had envisioned this track with its clanging vibes and sedentary procedural pace as some kind of celebration of the event. There are no lyrics per se as this is the first draft of the vocals. This is how I write all the songs just singing along forming words as one goes. There is then usually lots of revision. Pen and paper come out and over a couple of days ‘proper’ lyrics emerge, but in this instance I left things at the first stage with our lead character floating around on the West Hill watching the funicular going up and down. The title is a sly nod to Elton’s Philadelphia Freedom.

7. Funny Money 03:35
In 1976 when I should have been starting my A-Levels at the Grammar school I made a very ill-advised trip to London for a couple of weeks. The lyrics are inspired by this AWOL excursion but any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Musically we are appropriately enough in Pet Shop Boys homage territory. West End Girls being their finest moment.

Eleven fingers, seven toes, metal dentures, plastic nose 
Never happy, ever sad, take your Mandrax, call a cab 

Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Funny money let’s burn and spend 
Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Bunny money in the West End 

Down the Dilly nine o’clock, on the meat rack, pick me up 
Smells like honey, tastes like cream, petroleum jelly in your machine 

Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Funny money let’s burn and spend 
Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Bunny money in the West End 
Bunny money in the West End 

Never happy, ever sad, take your Mandrax, call a cab 
Tastes like honey, smells like cream, petroleum jelly in your machine 

Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Funny money let’s burn and spend 
Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Bunny money in the West End 
Bunny money in the West End

8. If You Take a Table 02:31
Found my old punky voice in the corner of the cupboard gasping for air, gave it and the old guitar a stroll and a breather.

If you take a table, and nail it to a chair 
Make your calculations on a follicle of hair 
A mystical analysis of alien underwear 

Then I don’t mind you wasting all my time 
Conservative affirmative, so absolutely blind 
No I don’t mind you cribbing all my lines 
Affirmative conservative, so absolutely blind 

If you take an astronaut, and pin him to the moon 
Decompress his chamber, and fill it with perfume 
And cushion your desire with a little red balloon 

Then I don’t mind you wasting all my time 
Conservative affirmative, so absolutely blind 
No I don’t mind you cribbing all my lines 
Affirmative conservative, so absolutely blind 

If you take a table, and nail it to a chair 
Make your calculations, pin him to the moon 
Decompress his chamber, and fill it with perfume 

Then I don’t mind you wasting all my time 
Conservative affirmative, so absolutely blind 
No I don’t mind you cribbing all my lines 
Affirmative conservative, so absolutely blind

9. The Golden Fleet 04:12
Another track recorded live on Ed Pinsent’s Sound Projector Radio Show in March 2019 with added guitar. Every time I search on Ebay for that elusive Rotherex jacket it always comes back with "0 results found for rotherex, so we searched for rother" and up comes al the Krautrock gems.
10. Broken Morning 06:58
What better way to end than on a long drone, using my own patent granular stretching system, with swooshes of shortwave radio. It is a bleak affair, I had in mind the 1977 Gilbert & George Red Morning series. This is my favourite G & G phase when their work resembled the style of Penguin politics and social affairs books from the 1970s.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Lumière et Son Revisited

Ten years ago in November 2009 Sam Renseiw and I started a year-long collaboration called Lumière et Son, a vlog as they were then called. Sam made the Lumières, minute long videos in the style of the original Lumière Brothers silent one-reel films such as La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon (1985), to which I then added sound. The videos were originally shown on line at the rate of roughly once a week, but as serendipity would have it they were ideal for the Kerry Baldry curated One Minute programmes, and so somewhat paradoxically several of the pieces reached another (and often wider) audience in the more traditional context of the screening room. 

To commemorate the ten-year interval I have for the last three weeks or so been posting the videos in chronological order on the Snatch Tapes Instagram page. Here also is the text of a presentation I gave at London South Bank University a couple of years ago when showing five or so of the pieces at a colloquium.

‘Lumière et Son’: a collaborative videoblog by Thomas Wiesner (Bergen School of Architecture) and Philip Sanderson (London South Bank University)

Paper by Philip Sanderson presented as part of The City as Modernist Ephemera, a one day colloquium at London South Bank University Friday 16th Jun 2017. 

The modern city and cinema grew together symbiotically, the one reframing the other in a form of topographical dance. We understand, and to some degree, live the city through the screen and the films that depict it, which in turn transform the streets into a soundstage, a mise-en-scène of often small ephemeral gestures. 

The city that never sleeps is all bustle and movement, and from early avant-garde films such as Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera (1929) or Berlin Symphony of a Metropolis (1927) by Walter Ruttman, through to more contemporary examples such as Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982), filmmakers have sought to capture the futuristic movement, sound and speed of the city. To do this the full arsenal of cinematography and editing techniques have been deployed: using combinations of montage, superimposition, camera pans, dolly shots, cranes, helicopters, fast editing, etc. All in an attempt to depict the crowds, moving cars, busses trams, trains and general hubbub of the city.

The inspiration for the project I’m talking about today by Lumière et Son predates all of this by taking us back to one of the very first films, the Lumière Brothers La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895). This silent one-reel film shot from a fixed tripod, lasts approximately 46 seconds and it was this form, that was perhaps surprisingly adopted in 2007 by Andreas Pedersen and Brittany Shoot and applied to making contemporary online video work. The constraints were that the videos should be no more than one minute in duration shot from a fixed camera, with no zooms, edits or sound. Such videos were named  ‘Lumières’ and Pedersen and Shoot set up a web site where contributions could be indexed and linked.  An enthusiastic adopter of the Lumière form was Thomas Wiesner a Danish architect who works under the online pen name of Sam Renseiw. Sam made a large number of Lumières and here I quote from an essay by Michael Spazkowski (2012) characterized by. “…a profound sensitivity to space and to how people and objects move along variously restricted and open trajectories”

Renseiw became a prolific maker of Lumières producing over 400. So much for the Lumière what of the Son? This is where I came in as the 'Mr. Sound' in what developed into a year long collaborative project in which a new one-minute piece combining moving and image with sound was uploaded to the Lumière et Son blog on a weekly basis where it was accompanied by a couple of lines that portray a fictionalised day-to-day artistic practice, somewhat spoofing the videoblog’s usual diaristic nature. So the first entry describes a meeting, “Lumière was studying a composition through a concrete letterbox at the Barbican, whilst Son was listening to music from Baron Blood", or “Lumière takes in a fine Polish performance, whilst Son only has ears for the Portsmouth Sinfonia and eyes for the Sugar Plum Fairy”. These small fragments built-up over the course of the year an online work  composed like the city of several fragments that could be recompiled in any
way the viewer chooses.

But hang on - on the face of it Sam’s Lumières are not in need of audio intervention, however to quote Spazkowski “Another defining stamp (of Wiesner’s Lumières) is a musician’s sensitivity to rhythm and tempo” this together with the fixed camera makes Wiesner’s Lumières especially receptive to the addition of sound, not used it must be empasised to reinforce the visual but to extend and develop it, to use sound to reframe and recontextualise what we are seeing, creating an audio-visual dialectic   

A guiding principle and influence in the use of audio within the project was John Smith's 1976 film The Girl Chewing Gum. The film opens with footage of what looks to be an everyday East London street scene; various people go about their business, walking left then right, crossing the road, pausing a moment and so on. What transforms the footage is an authoritative male voice-over that appears to direct the ‘action’ by issuing a series of instructions such as: “now I want the old man with white hair and glasses to cross the road, come on quickly”.  A ‘cue’ that is immediately followed by a bespectacled elderly man appearing from left of the screen, before quickening his pace as he crosses the street. A stream of other such commands by the ‘director’ are given and each time the on screen ‘characters’ seemingly reacts accordingly. It takes a few moments before we realise the artifice of a voce over added afterwards rather than being recorded simultaneously. 

Smith actively plays with the deception for only some of the street action is directed, and there are moments of absurdity such as when pigeons are asked to fly past, and the hands of a clock are told how fast to rotate. This all serves to confuse and upsets the linear temporal logic of the piece before finally the ‘director’ reveals that he is elsewhere, speaking from a field many miles away. What in part Smith is exploiting is the inherent adhesion between sound and image.

Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Alexandrov were the first to notice this adhesive quality in their 1928 Statement on Sound. Whilst they feared (and rightly so) that sound would be used to reinforce image, to create an hermetically sealed story world, the adhesive properties can also be used dialectically. If this causal link is broken, an asynchronous ‘push-pull’ dynamic is created, as seen in Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum, in which we are seduced by the voice appearing to direct the ‘action’ in the street, before the realisation that the voice was added post-filming, makes us reframe our view of the footage. Nonetheless, momentary adhesion occurs throughout the piece, and there is an ongoing revelation of the audio-visual mechanism at work. Several of The Lumière et Son pieces use variations on this ‘push-pull’ technique, with both voice and music employed to draw out and counterpoint elements within the moving image.

Though I make music myself the audio used in Lumière et Son was predominantly ‘found sound’ taken from a range of sources, including shortwave recordings, film and television soundtracks, YouTube videos, etc. These eclectic sources, mostly originating online providing the scope for a wide range of reframings.

Square Dance (2010) as with Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum,uses the voice as the key audio reframing device. The voice-over from a YouTube line-dancing tutorial repeatedly counts out a series of steps, “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight”. The footage shows a Polish square, which members of the public traverse at different angles and speeds going about their business. As the figures cross the square,many of them appear to fall into step, and in time with the counting, as if following the instructions. The correspondence is often brief, but for these instances, voice and image adhere on screen, and become located in the motion of the pedestrian, before the person falls out of step or exits the frame, only for a new synchronisation to occur as another person approaches from a different angle. We move seamlessly between everyday ambulation and the performative.

Spring Greens (2010) shows a young man and woman in a Danish park/garden. The man has a camera and gestures to the woman who removes her coat and begins to strike various fashion-shoot poses, whilst on the soundtrack we hear a couple talking. The on-screen couple are too far away for their lips to be seen, but their actions and gestures seem matched with the flow and tone of the discussion; she striking a pose after being asked to, he crouching to take a shot before we hear the shutter click. We at first assume that the sound and image are from the same location. The sonorities of the recording are however more interior than exterior, and though unlike Square Dancewhere there is a continual push-pull revelation, here we more slowly begin to question whether what we are listening to is actually from the park. For cineastes there is maybe a certain familiarity about the dialogue, and some will recognise it is as being taken (un-edited) from the soundtrack to Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) with the couple in the Danish park unwitting engaged in a remake or re-enactment of the photo shoot scene originally played by the actors, David Hemmings and Veruschka. 

As per the prediction in the ‘Statement’ (Eisenstein et al, 1928) that synchronised sound would be usedto provide “a certain “illusion" of talking people”, dialogue has developed as the key way in which a faux naturalistic world is created in mainstream cinema. Here the intention is to disrupt such certainties by creating a false adhesion, synchronising voice and action, but with dialogue that slowly reveals itself to be from outside the frame, indeed from a completely different film.  

In these two examples (Letterboxing, Goings On (2010)) it is music that is used as the principle reframing device. In commercial cinema, music is used to heighten on screen action, be it soaring strings during a love scene, or fast tempo beats to accompany a car chase. As Hamlyn (2003, pp167) puts it “music controls the emotional response to a scene”, thereby making it difficult for the audience to create their own reading. The mechanism by which this works is paradoxical, in that though Gidal (1989, pp 29) describes music as“filling the image”, in the context of narrative cinema, music is often sublimated, bound inside the image, almost unnoticed, with the visual element, the ‘action’, deemed to be what is emotive. 

Letterboxing, Goings On and Nutcracking which we saw at the start are examples of pieces that intentionally use music to reframe the visual, seeking to foreground its role in shaping our perceptions. This approach is a combination of that used by Chris Marker in La Jetée, in which sections o Boosey & Hawkes film library music help imbue the sequence of photographs with meanings and quasi-cinematic resonance; along with a nod (once again) to Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum, except in this case, instead of the voice, it is the music ‘directing’ the images.

Letterboxing shows a small group of girls playing rounders. We only see the lower half of the girls’ torsos, with the image cut off by a concrete lintel (creating the letterbox window), nor are the other players or the ball visible; all the ‘action’ is off-screen. Juxtaposed with this image is music from the soundtrack to Baron Blood (1972), which is of the type heard in many films of the ‘60s and’70s, with strings and vibraphone building a ‘dreamy’ atmosphere. Despite the music being composed for a different film, it melds with the Lumière creating a kind of reverie as the girls shuffle back and forth on their base with one of them (perhaps aware of the camera?) performing a half-hearted ballet step. Music and image combine, and yet the sound is not sublimated, for we remain aware the two are quite distinct and can perceive the affect the music is having. Finally, a minor chord sounds, and as if on cue, one of the girls runs out of frame. As when voice and image correspond in Belisha Code and Square Dance, the motion creates on-screen adhesion, pulling the viewer from the reverie and into the frame just as the girl exits, and the screen goes black. Having briefly tied us into the picture, the music then directs our attention out of the frame, and to what possibly lies beyond it.

The Portsmouth Sinfonia’s somewhat atonal version of the Dance of the SugarPlum Fairy (1973) is matched in Nutcracking to a shot of three workmen engaged in repairs to a house on a street in Poland, whilst members of the public walk past. The music creates flashes of adhesion with both the workmen and passers-by. Firstly, the rhythm from the bowed strings corresponds with the motion of the first pedestrian to cross from right to left (in a way not dissimilar to the counting in Square Dance), before the xylophone plays, and our attention turns to one of the workmen all but tapping in time with a small hammer on a tile by a door. We know that he can’t be playing the tune, or even miming to it, indeed he has been tapping all along, and yet we are drawn to the adhesion. The music builds, with a mournful brass section creating a comedic undertow as an old lady enters the frame from the left, pauses for a moment as if awaiting her cue, and then lugubriously traverses the frame, pulling a shopping trolley behind her. 

A nighttime scene outside the Glasgow School of Art is the source of the footage for Goings On. Nothing in particular happens:a car drives up the hill, two men walk past from different directions, and a figure on the right of the screen, who is initially in shadow, steps out from the darkness and rubs his hands. This no doubt innocent activity is infused by the guitar music of Glenn Branca’s The Spectacular Commodity (1981) adding menace and creating dramatic tension where none previously existed. The man in shadow begins to look suspicious: what or who is he waiting for, why is he there? Is the car on the way to a drug drop? Sound and image bind together in a way that seductively reveals the manipulation brought about by the music’s filling of the image. Had the scene been acted, part of a longer drama, we may well have been seduced into the director’s narrative world, but here we can feel our emotions being played with, demonstrating how the unscripted can so quickly and easily become ‘cinematic’ with the addition of a few chords. 

There were 44 Lumière et Son pieces of which today we have seen a few short extracts, all the videos are still available on the Lumière et Son blog and a few have had another life as part of the Kerry Baldry curated One Minute Programme. Focusing on the small scale, the ephemeral, the what might otherwise be unnoticed, the collection forms an alternativedepiction of the modern city in contrast to the dynamics of the city symphony. 

Eisenstein, S. M., Pudovkin, V. I., and Aleksandrov, G. V., 1928. A Statement. In: E. Weisand J. Belton (eds). 1985.  Film Sound: Theory and Practice.New York: Columbia University Press.
Gidal, P., 1989. Materialist Film. London: Routledge.
Hamlyn, N., 2003. Film Art Phenomena. London: BFI.
Szpakowski, M., 2012. Lumière and Son – A Discussion, a Selective Commentary & Some Remarks. Furtherfield.
[Accessed 10thJan 2016].

Antonioni, M. Blow Up(1966)
Brava, M. Baron Blood (1972)
Lumière Brothers. La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895)
Marker, C. La Jetée (1962)
Smith, J.The Girl Chewing Gum(1976) 
Reggio, G.Koyaanisqatsi(1982)
Ruttman, w. Berlin Symphony of a Metropolis (1927)
Vertov, D. Man with the Movie Camera (1929) 
Lumière et Son, videos by Philip Sanderson and Thomas Wiesner available at http://Lumiè The following videos were shown at the colloquium.
Belisha Code (2010)
Goings On(2010)
Letterboxing (2009)
Nutcracking (2010)                
Spring Greens (2010)               
Square Dance(2010)               

Thursday, November 14, 2019

On One of These Bends - Sound Projector review

Rounding off the reviews of the On One of These Bends LP (it came out almost a year ago) is Bright Sparks from Ed Pinsent at the Sound Projector magazine. Well worth waiting for...

...These Bends mostly comprises short and mysterious instrumentals, songs, and structured arrangements that any professional film scoring person should marvel at. The press notes here liken this music to Nino Rota and Henry Mancini, but might I also suggest John Carpenter’s 1980s soundtracks and, at times, the sheer audacity and cheek of Morricone at his finest is also evoked. A bold claim perhaps, but Sanderson is executing some bold music coups here. So far I’ve got a mental checklist that starts with “the best lost Library LP ever” and includes Eno, the Radiophonic Workshop, Cold Wave, and Cluster along the way. Though it’s an elusive, subjective thing, I say that Sanderson does the “Radiophonic thing” far better than any of the recent imitators (Ghost Box, A Year In The Country) and does it without even needing to exert himself...

Read the whole review here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

On One of These Bends - Vital Weekly Review

Nice review in the latest edition of Vital Weekly of the On One of These Bends LP.

Without having read the cover notes I started playing this record and it opened with a very familiar tune. 'Bright Waves' it is called and I heard it years and years ago on one of my favourite compilation LPs, 'Perspectives And Distortion', as released by Cherry Red Records. In them days that label released some of the best alternative pop and beyond music (think Five Or Six or A Tent), unlike these days when they churn out re-heated dishes of post-punk music that you all used have got rid off and now ‘need’ to buy again (I am not a fan to those compilations; I wish Cherry Red did proper CDs of their own history, like a box of everything by Five Or Six). Anyway, 'Bright Waves', was the opening piece back then, credited to Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey, but now we know it is by Philip Sanderson, erstwhile of Storm Bugs and vocals by Nancy Slessenger. Storm Bugs, Sanderson's previous musical project, used crude tape loops and electronics, but occasionally sounded like a great moody pop band, such as on their 7" for l'Invitation Au Suicide. Following that, Sanderson got more involved in doing soundtracks for experimental films and this LP compiles several of those soundtracks. Sanderson explores electronic music here, but moving away from the noise end of the music of that time, and wanders into something that is more mellow and pop like. He experiments with various female vocalists, who add a sort of jazzy style, but there is also spoken word and humming without words. As I noted last week, without the (moving) images it is not always easy to judge the music proper, but as it is released without the images, the composer is confident enough to let the music speak for itself, and quite rightly so. There is an abundance of beauty in these pieces, as well as variation. Guitars are gently strummed, echo is in place where necessary, and so is the reverb unit and throughout Sanderson plays the vibraphone on a bunch of pieces, even when at times a bit processed. This is exactly the kind of experimental 'pop' (for the lack of a better word) that I liked as a young man and that attracted me to such labels as Cherry Red (and Glass Records, to mention another, more forgotten one); that delicate balance between experiment and something that is a 'tune'. A record like this would not have gone amiss in their 1982 catalogue, I would think. But now it's 2019 and I am very happy to see it's release and it begs the question: is there more like this and when can we hear that? 
Frans de Waard, Vital weekly, number 1177, week 14 (April 2019)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Back Projection (Remastered 2019)

In 2014 Snatch Tapes released the album Back Projection. It was something of a first in the Sanderson oeuvre in that it was only released digitally on Bandcamp without any physical format being available, and more significantly it was largely a collection of songs. Of course the first Storm Bugs EP Table Matters back in 1980 contained songs of a sort, and the second single "Tin" was very much a song, however aside from "The Bugs are Back" the post 2000 Sanderson output (Seal Pool Sounds and Hollow Gravity) had been almost completely instrumental with some spoken word. The tracks on Back Projection all started as free-form analogue synthesizer and sequencer improvisations using a long delay time to build up polymorphous patterns. With the addition of vocals and some judicious editing these tracks morphed almost accidentally into songs.

The Bandcamp/digital only release meant the release received limited attention, though Jerry Kranitz from Aural Innovations wrote a nice review using his extensive years of listening to all things Kosmiche and left field to draw out many comparisons, even commenting that the title track was "like a twisted cross between Peter Hammill and Anthony Phillips". Five years on it seemed a good time to give the material another airing, and indeed a wash and brush up by way of a subtle remastering, and in the case of "Wonder Where you Wander" a remix. The tracks have been re-ordered, and there are two bonus tracks, "Window Hill" originally on the Linear Obsessional Christmas compilation View From A Hill, and "White Van Man" something of a tongue in cheek punk track I have grown fond of. Lastly there is new cover image taken from a recent painting. Free to download for the next month. So here goes nothing...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

On One of These Bends Wire Review

In the February issue of the Wire magazine there is a nice review of On One of These Bends by Emily Bick.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

On One of These Bends

In December On One of These Bends a new LP on Séance Centre (a label run by Brandon Hocura) will be released. The LP pulls together for the first time a number of recordings made during the 1980s mostly intended for the soundtracks of various short experimental film & video projects. 

By 1981 the first wave of DIY cassette culture was winding down; the weekly music papers Sounds and the NME stopped their columns listing tape releases and though cassettes continued to be put out it quickly became more of an underground movement focussing on noise music. It had been four years since Snatch Tapes had had its first cassette release and with the simple arrogance that comes with youth I felt that Storm Bugs had done the DIY noise thing. It was time for a change.

Arguably the first seeds of a different approach had been the Bright Waves track credited to the fictitious duo Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey and released on the 1980 Reprint cassette and then on the Cherry Red Perspectives and Distortion LP.  Reworking through a Revox tape delay system a few choral phrases sung by Nancy Slessenger at the Paddington Snatch Tapes HQ, Bright Waves is a floating wall of breathless vocal sound that threatens to fall apart at any moment. The track was part homage, part pastiche of sections of Eno’s Music for Airports; the title intended as an irreverent nod to how ambient can so easily become easy listening. 

This element of pastiche was to be developed in the music recorded from 1981 onwards. Fellow Storm Bug Steven Ball was studying Film Video and Sound at Maidstone College of Art and through him I met another student Michael Denton. Having heard that I had some facility with sound he asked for help recording music for his videos. Visually and sonically the frame of reference was less photocopied black and white grainy industrial, and more 1950s jazz LPs with their use of vibraphones and bright block colour sleeves.  

Both the Goldsmiths and the West Square electronic music studios I used had alongside their VCS3 synthesizers and tape machine set-ups vibraphones. Quite why they had vibes was unclear as nobody ever seemed to play them, but nonetheless once plugged in the motors started whirring and out came that classic tremolo tinkling, a sound like shimmering glass. In the summer of 1981 Michael and I recorded Viewfinder, which combines an analogue 32 step sequencer driven VCS3 pattern with a simple vibes part and clipped guitar rhythm, somewhere between Storm Bugs and cocktail music. The authenticity of the industrial mixed with a dollop of pastiche.

I began recording some new songs at West Square. The lyrics referenced a tongue in cheek celebration of 1950s jet set life style “mixing drinks and aeroplanes”, open top car drives in the Alps and “khaki trips to Egypt”, all somewhat at odds with a life of grime on the dole in South London.  By 1982 I had worked up about four songs in this vein but my own voice seemed ill suited to the new material. A frequent visitor to West Square was a young American woman called Naomi. One day I asked her if she could sing and indeed she could, and so she was quickly drafted in to record the tracks, lending them a quality somewhere between Streisand and the Shangri-Las. The studio was in an old school building outside of which was a playground, and in the quieter passages in Love in a Cold Climate you can hear the playtime primary school laughter.

I spent some time trying to promote these new numbers, even wangling an audience with the head of A & R at EMI. I had sold him the project over the phone on the basis that it was a cross between Kraftwerk and ABBA, which of course it wasn’t. The interview lasted a few minutes before he began fast forwarding the tape to the next track commenting nicely, if disapproving that it sounded like the more experimental end of Kate Bush’s output (Bush was on EMI at the time). Fifteen minutes later I was back on the street with my cassette. I tried with other labels including Rough Trade where Geoff Travis kindly listened to the whole tape on headphones in front of me, but politely said no.  My svengali impresario career seemingly not making much progress I put the reel to reel tapes in the cupboard and moved on to the next project. 

Michael Denton had received a small film development grant from the Arts Council and was working on a short 16MM film to be shot in around Dungeness, a bleak windswept part of the south coast occupied by small shacks, a lighthouse, narrow gauge railway and oh a nuclear power station. The area has subsequently become rather fashionable, a development triggered partly by the filmmaker Derek Jarman buying a cottage there in 1986, and then planting a garden and making a film shot in and around the cottage.  Watertight as Michael’s film was called preceded Jarman’s move by a year or so. He asked me to record some music for the film. By this point I was using a Yamaha DX7 and a Roland SH101 and put together a number of variations on a simple musical sequence. As with all the film music I recorded there was more than a nod to Laurie Johnson (who had composed the Avengers theme and incidental music), John Barry, and of course Ennio Morricone and François de Roubaix. There was over 30 minutes of ‘cues’ and this spawned the main theme Watertight to be found on the LP as well as Everything He is Not.

We are now in the mid 1980s and a former Maidstone student Andrew Fitzpatrick who was working on a project with funding from Eastern Arts commissioned some soundtrack music for his video Tale Chase loosely concerned with assignations in a Paris park and a French poodle.  I recorded the tracks at IPS studios in Shepherd’s Bush, one of the few studios in London where the engineer would not blink if you said you wanted to record a bowed hubcap and a bag of nails, indeed Organum and many other similar luminaries worked there. It was around £25 per hour which whilst cheap for studios at the time focussed the brain. Armed with an old acoustic guitar I recorded three or four pieces using the studio’s digital reverb and primitive sampling to the full. The result was E For Echo, and Echo Complex (both on the LP). The tracks were made without first seeing the moving images, and though Andrew declared himself very happy with the results they clearly didn’t fit the pacing of the video and so an outake from the Watertight sessions was reworked and found to match much better.

Meanwhile Steven Ball and I had been discussing making a film together based on a story much heard in the Medway towns (where we had spent our teens) of repeated ghost sightings of a hitchhiker on Blue Bell Hill in Rochester. The legend went that following a car crash in 1965 that motorists travelling alone up the hill at night would see a woman hitching at the side of the road. The drivers would stop and offer her a lift. The woman would insist on sitting in the back of the car, but as they neared the bottom of the hill the drivers would turn round only to find that the woman had disappeared. The area around the hill is the location for Neolithic burial sites and is criss-crossed by ley lines. A somewhat complex scenario was worked up, a trilogy no less of short pieces which involved not only the ghost sightings, but also a journey across nearby Cliffe Marshes by the ‘ghost’ played by Angela Staples. The approach was to treat the landscape as a kind of shifting palimpsest on which the memory of events that had taken place were in some way recorded, and which could be subsequently activated or played back. 
With funding from South East Arts we embarked on part one of the trilogy Green on TheHorizon. I had a very simple melody picked out on an acoustic guitar, which can be heard about 9 minutes and 30 seconds in on the Storm Bugs LP Up The Middleand Down The Sides. We went into Creekside studios in Deptford and using whatever keyboards they had on offer recorded variations on the theme. Mixed with the voices of Tony Raven and Patricia Hosking plus a drone from an IPS session this forms the basis for the opening theme This is Not a Game. “This is not a game or a competition there are no prizes to be won times to be beaten or rules to follow, you are on your own”.

Following the completion of Green on The Horizon Steven slightly unexpectedly moved to Australia, no reflection on the film, which was well received, touring extensively as part of the Electric Eyes programme. I embarked on the second part of the trilogy Hangway Turning, again with funding from South East Arts. This time the film featured not only the ghost but a psychic investigator called Thomas Cubitt played by Alien Brain Nigel Jacklin. The West Square studio was now located next to Morley College and had acquired new digital equipment including a Yamaha soundbank synthesizer. In an afternoon session a few basic tracks were recorded using the soundbank fed through a VCS3 for added reverb and ring modulation treatments. Three of these pieces from the session, namely Scene of the Crash, Looking Back, and the title track On One of These Bends are included on the new LP.  

There was still part three of the trilogy to complete, though it had never really been established what exactly that might entail, and the project morphed into Shadowman. This coincided with a move to run down flat in New Eltham, a somewhat nothing place on the very fringes of London (you could literally walk down the dual carriageway past the sign that said you are now entering Kent). Feeling somewhat exiled from everything, Shadowman has the filmmaker’s shadow as the only character. The E for Echo vocal loop features as the main music in the film.

Shadowman completed in 1991 was to be the last single screen piece I was to make for ten years, spending the 1990s working on sound and light installations.  Listening back to the two sides of the LP without the moving images its nostalgic musical sequences and feeling of displacement and loss turns it into something of a memento mori for the films, and maybe the decade itself.