Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ashes & Diamonds – Collaborations between Philip Sanderson & David Jackman.

In spring 1980 I was sitting in my dank basement in Westbourne Terrace, Paddington when the doorbell rang. Outside was a bloke clutching a crash helmet and manhandling a bright orange moped. “Hi – my name is David Jackman, saw your Snatch Tapes listing in the NME and thought I would pop round”. This sort of thing was not unusual at the time so I asked him in and over several coffees, David talked about the music he was making, his time in the Scratch Orchestra and so on. I no doubt waxed lyrical about this and that and by the end of the conversation he had bought a copy of the newly pressed Storm Bugs EP and I had asked him to contribute to the forthcoming Snatch 2 compilation. 
Over the next few months David came round fairly often, and not only contributed tracks to Snatch 2 but helped to compile it and design the sleeve. Snatch 1 had been a fairly straightforward compilation with six distinct tracks on it but for Snatch 2 there was more material, and we put together a few linking sections and ‘dub” parts – the Scratch Dub for example involving a slightly unholy alliance of VCS3 rhythms and snatches of the Scratch Orchestra, John Cage and the Beach Surgeons (an early Graham Massey project).

Snatch 2 compiled, we began work on some collaborative tracks recording them in the Paddington basement using almost exclusively acoustic sources - pretty much whatever was to hand: grill pans, bird whistles, bongos etc. This was not improvised acoustic music,  rather the sounds were recorded and then manipulated and edited on ¼ inch tape – sped up, slowed down, played backwards and often as not made into tape loops.

The resultant music was a curious hybrid of our respective practices; Storm Bugs recordings were at the time often willfully excessive whilst David’s recordings were stripped-back almost minimal. David’s music was often as not from acoustic sources whereas my own work was electric/electronic. Somewhere between these almost opposites we put together three completed tracks, two long pieces with the working titles of Terrain I & 2, and a third unnamed piece.

Though it was common in this heyday of DIY to record something one week and put it out on tape the following week, for whatever reason the two Terrains were not released on Snatch Tapes, one would appear on David’s Aeroplane label a couple of years later, and one would not be released for another 22 years. 

Once the Terrain sessions were over we carried on collaborating now and then over the next couple of years. In the summer of 1980 David joined myself, Steven Ball and Sarah Pomeroy for a somewhat ill fated live Storm Bugs gig in Maidstone, Kent. David played ezraj, Steven ‘flumper” (an instrument made out of a long piece of wood with a metal ribbon attached and pick-up), Sarah played guitar (or possibly cello?) and I sang or tried to. We had a backing tape of VCS3 rhythms which half way through the gig the soundman at the mixing desk started fast-forwarding. No doubt we were less than note perfect but the sound of a fast-forwarding tape brought an abrupt end to the performance. More successful was some live gigs in 1980/81 in London with myself David, Nigel Jacklin from Alien Brains and other assorted improvisers and experimentalists. A short excerpt from one or more of these live gigs would later surface on the Nigel Jacklin Verdenskang cassette release. As I had better equipment at home than David (i.e. a Revox rather than domestic tape recorders) and access to the Goldsmiths College studio I also helped David out with engineering on a couple of his tracks.

Sometime In 1980 The A & R man at Cherry Red had seen the Snatch Tapes display in Rough Trade and taken a liking to some of the material and consequently we were both included on the 1981 Perspectives and Distortion compilation LP released in the late summer of 1981. Indeed we bookeneded the album; David with the last track Untitled and myself under my Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey hat (with vocals by Nancy Slessinger) at the start with Bright Waves.

In early 1981 I had moved back to Deptford and David, myself and Clip from a band called Orior began to play every Wednesday afternoon in the basement of the electro-acoustic music studio in Morley College (now part of the Siobhan Davis dance studio complex). It was a rather unlikely teaming, I had a bank of VCS3s, Clip had a guitar and a Wasp synthesizer and David had largely acoustic instruments or sound sources such as bowed cymbals and the like.

Sessions would start quietly and then gradually Clip and I would tend to increase the volume on our respective instruments producing a wall of sound in which it became hard to identify individual sources, especially David’s contribution. We nevertheless carried on playing for a number of weeks recording what was in essence live improvisation and completed at least one long 20-minute track. None of these recordings were ever released and indeed to my knowledge no copies exist though possibly there may be a cassette in Clip’s loft. A live and more restrained appearance was also made by the three of us at the 1981 summer concert at Morley College.  
In late 1981 Snatch 3 was released. Whereas Snatch 1 and 2 had been compiled quickly Snatch 3 took much longer possibly as we were trying to be more ‘professional’. The sleeve (designed by David) for example was printed rather than photocopied and I painstakingly screen printed the cassette labels in Pink and Turquoise. There was even an accompanying poster made not with David but with Michael Denton.
Also in 1981 Snatch Tapes released Ritual, a cassette single by David Jackman which, featured Ritual a Jackman solo composition on the A side and Offshore a Jackamn/Sanderson composition on the B side. My memory is that Offshore is the third track we worked on in 1980 though when I discussed this with David a few years ago he thought Offshore was not from the 1980 Paddington sessions but was recorded separately. The cassette sleeve advertised Offshore as being from a “forthcoming duo cassette album”.
Offshore never appeared on the duo cassette album but the following year In 1982 the 0° North Sanderson/Jackman cassette was released not on Snatch Tapes but on David’s Aeroplane label it featured 5 tracks: Ashes & Diamonds, Fade of Light, Terrain, Under Press of Sail and Zero Degrees North. It was a curious compilation as not only did it not feature Offshore but three of the tracks had appeared the year previously on the Snatch 3 compilation. It did however include one of the previously unreleased Terrain tracks.

Ashes and Diamonds is a Jackman/ Sanderson collaborative and features flute loops recorded in 1980. The flute loops were together with some abstract vocals by Nancy Slessinger (who had provided the drifting vowels on the Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey Bright Waves track) and some percussive sounds fed through a 2 Revox tape delay system to create the track. For a while there was talk of it being included on Cherry Red Pillows & Prayers but this never came to anything.

Fade of Light is a Jackman solo track recorded by him in Barnes and quite characteristic of his sound at the time.

Terrain is a Jackman/ Sanderson track one of the two Terrain tracks we recorded in 1980 in Paddington. The longest piece on the tape it is a slowly shifting mix of percussive loops.

Under Press of Sail is a Sanderson seqeuncer/VCS3 track recorded in early 1979 and originally released on Snatch 1 under the Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey pseudonym.

Zero Degrees North is a Jackman/ Sanderson mix featuring the drum loop I had made for the Storm Bugs track Tin overdubbed with ezraj by David. Zero Degrees North had also appeared on Snatch 3 but credited to Ice Yacht.

The next release to feature any combined Sanderson/Jackman input was the 1985 Nigel Jacklin Verdenskang tape “made in co-operation with: Philip Sanderson, Meat Means Bloody Murder, David Jackman and introducing: Zena” to quote the sleeve. The exact contribution of the various parties is not listed further but listening to it a couple of years ago I could identify a number of sections, which were taken from live gigs, which took place between 1980 and 1982.

Also in 1985 I began compiling an LP featuring various collaborative tracks from the previous 5 years in particular a number of tracks made with Michael Denton. As part of this process David (who at the time had a room in my New Cross flat) came into the IPS studio and added home made flute to two tracks. Ups and Downs and Apostrophe S. Ups and Downs was a Sanderson/Denton track recorded a couple of years previously for a video Michael was working on whilst Apostrophe S had been recorded by myself and Steven Ball for another short video project. The homemade flutes made by David have a particular sonic quality, which can be heard on his Organum recordings from the same period.  Here combined with more rhythmical backings the effect was rather different as heard on Ups and Downs and Apostrophe S. The LP never saw the light of day but a cassette version entitled Telephone Music was made in an edition of 5-10 copies. A tape delay version of the flute part from Ups and Downs was made for potential use in a film project and this exists as a cassette copy (unreleased).

There were no musical collaborations between David and myself in the 1990s; I was working on various light and sound installations and he was busy with his Organum releases though as ever we kept in touch as we both shared a passion for bicycle building so much time was spent discussing the merits of 531 tubing, 26 13/8ths rims and Sturmey-Archer hub gears.
In the 2000s as various back catalogues began to be re-issued on CD and LP we began to discuss re-issuing some of our old collaborative recordings. The first of these to be released was Terrain, not the one that had appeared on the 1982 Zero Degrees North cassette but the other Terrain from the 1980s sessions. This was released by Die Stadt as a ten inch single in 2002 backed by Adrift from the David Jackman Snatch Tapes cassette single of the same name.
In 2003 Offshore (the B-side to the Ritual single) was included on David’s Up From Zero CD released by Robot Records. Then in 2004, Fusetron in New York released Up the Middle, Down the Sides a Storm Bugs compilation of mostly previously unreleased tracks. Nestled towards the end of side 2 is a one-minute track called In the Naked Girl’s Majesty.  This was recorded in 1980 and is constructed from one of the percussion loops David and I made for the Terrain tracks with an improvised vocal track.
In 2006 Vinyl On Demand released Snatch Paste - featuring an assortment of tracks from the first three Snatch Tape compilations. Amongst these were solo tracks by David and myself but also Diamonds and Ashes and alternative (and arguably far superior) mix of Ashes and Diamonds from Snatch 3/Zero Degrees North.
And that for the moment is that. David and I did play live together one more time about 4 years ago when he suggested at short notice that we attend one of Eddie Prevost's Friday Workshops, which take place in the basement of a chapel on Southwark Bridge Road. We were the only two participants not to have recognizable musical instruments and it made for an interesting evening as David crashed about banging brooms against fire extinguishers and I made feedback squeaks with a small amplifier and cassette recorder. It was all good fun and there was talk of us both attending the workshop regularly but we never did.

To my knowledge all of the re-issued material from the 0s is still available for purchase from various outlets (see discogs). The original cassettes are much harder to come by however digitized versions do appear regularly on line on blogs, youtube etc (a quick Google showed three sites with Zero Degrees North). The sound quality is often very poor and sometimes the track listing is wrong, but it is the only way to hear the tracks in their original context. 

Jackman/Sanderson collaborative tracks by date of release.
1981 -  Offshore. B- side to the Ritual cassette single by David Jackman (tch211).
1981 – Zero Degrees North. Appears on the Snatch 3 compilation tape (tch 300) credited to Ice Yacht.
1981 – Ashes & Diamonds. Appears on the Snatch 3 compilation tape (tch 300) credited to Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey.
1982 – Terrain. Appears on the Zero Degrees North Jackman/Sanderson tape release (AR4)
1982 – Zero Degrees North. Appears on the Zero Degrees North Jackman/Sanderson tape release (AR4)
1982 – Ashes & Diamonds. Appears on the Zero Degrees North Jackman/Sanderson tape release (AR4)
1985 – Various contributions to the Verdenskang - and it’s there tape (compiled by Nigel Jacklin) (AND 20). See text above for description.
1986 – Ups and Downs. With Michael Denton appears on the Telephone Music Tape.
1986 – Apostrophe S. With Steven Ball appears on the Telephone Music Tape.
2002 – Terrain. The previously unreleased Terrain was the A-side of a 10 inch single on Die Stadt records.  
2003 - Offshore. Included on the David Jackman Up From Zero CD released by Robot Records.
2004 - In the Naked Girl’s Majesty. Track on the Storm Bugs, Up the Middle Down the Sides LP on Fusetron.
2006 – Diamonds and Ashes. Alternate mix of Ashes and Diamonds appears on the Snatch Paste compilation LP on Vinyl on Demand records.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012



Hearing Things

Friday, November 02, 2012

A Redemptive Reading - I know its Gonna Happen Someday

See original blog posting on Pushing Ahead of the Dame

Comment by Gnomemansland...

"I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday: is a cover of a cover of a cover – a deliciously circular retelling that achieves through the process a salvation of sorts. Morrissey’s original is all Manchester pathos; the homeboy living with his mother, NME clippings in the top drawer, walking the streets in a second hand overcoat, yearning, hoping for some way out of the place, for an immaculate reconception of self. 

At the heart of the song though is failure. When Morrissey sings "I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday" you know it just isn’t gonna happen, today, or tomorrow, anyday or in anyway. Morrissey using "Rock N Roll Suicide" as a template is singing to himself, or his former self. He has made the great escape, but he sings to the mirror Morrissey still stuck in Manchester bedroom, chased home by catcalls or worse from skinheads. It is an all but patronising pat on the shoulder for his other self’s failure, and implicitly in some way our own. 

Bowie takes the song and sings through it, back to the original or originals. Back to "Rock N Roll Suicide", and to every song that inspired it, and to all the 50’s faded Vince Taylor inflections and influences that Morrissey so assiduously copied. In doing so he (almost inevitably) overblows it completely. It starts almost where it should end, tortured and tormented, crashing drums, strained vocals. For once in all of the overblown Bowie performances of the 80s and 90s this is perfect, and just what is required. 

If Morrissey’s "I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday" is a song to slit your wrists to, Bowie’s is all stomach pump and salvation. His offer of hope is genuine. Maybe this is because Bowie like Morrissey was a star struck teenager who escaped suburbia, but in Bowie’s case it was a genuine escape, it took longer but once away he rarely looked back. 

Morrissey in contrast for all his elder statesman and recent US chart success is stuck. Endlessly making LPs that sound just like the last. Hiring faceless musicians who sound just like Marr, forever (in his mind) revisiting haunts he has not seen for decades and bemoaning a lost Britain he has long since left. His other self cripples him continuously, Bowie in contrast may not have made a decent new record in years but in some way is free of all of that and his version of "I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday" is ultimately a validation of that freedom.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Arcade Synthesizer

A couple of weeks ago I bought this box and book off Ebay for the princely sum of £25.
The box turned out to be a (semi complete) circuit based on the SN76477 "complex sound generator" chip which came out in 1978 and which was used in a variety of early arcade games. "Complex sound generator" in practice means a synth on one chip with a VCO, LFO, noise generator, noise filter, an envelope (of sorts) and a variety of modulation options. The circuit from the Electronic Synthesiser Projects book is meant less as a musical instrument and more as a demonstration or test box to show off the chip's possibilities. The book contained an addendum sheet to the circuit but even when the changes are implemented it turns out that the circuit as described still has a major flaw such that if wired as suggested the chips overheat and potentially will burn out! Anyway having made sense of it and corrected the circuit before it was a frazzled mess it now is up and running and produces  a variety of rough and ready electronic sounds. In particular it does do what I had hoped it might which is to make a classic Storm Bugs sound which is a ring modulated, low frequency oscillator/noise rumble. This sound was back in the day produced by a VCS3 and I have had difficulty coaxing it from other synths which on the whole are far too well behaved. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lumière and Son – A Discussion, a Selective Commentary & Some Remarks By Michael Szpakowski

Published on the Furtherfield website today a 'Discussion, a Selective Commentary &; Some Remarks' by Michael Szpakowski of the Lumiere and Son project. In celebration of Michael's fine and detailed analysis here is a new (and final?) Lumiere and Son piece.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Storm Bugs - A Slice of Live

If you didn't fancy a trip to Limehouse in the rain and so missed Storm Bugs playing at Abject Bloc on Saturday fear not for the show was recorded for posterity and the first fifteen minutes are available for your listening pleasure. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hollow Gravity

The Hollow Gravity LP is now available to pre-order. There are only 100 copies - and as you would expect from Puer Gravy the pressing is on 180 gram vinyl with etched labels and screenprinted sleeves. So much for the packaging is the music any good?  Well you can try before you buy as Side 1 of the LP is available as a free download here

A reviews of Hollow Gravity by Jerry at Aural Innovations can be found here and by Edwin Pouncey from  the Wire magazine, September 2012 as below.

Philip Sanderson, electronic musician, installation artist, co-founder of Storm Bugs and founder of underground British tape label Snatch Tapes, returns with Hollow Gravity, a beautiful slab of vinyl with laser etched labels that flicker gently on the turntable as the disc rotates and the sounds pulse. This latest solo release from Sanderson follows 2005's album Seal Pool Sounds, a melancholic portrait of zoos that was also spiced with a mischievous erratic humour. 

Hollow Gravity is sombre but still playful, as Sanderson bolts together an imaginary science fiction soundtrack with his collection of analogue synthesizers, delay pedals and any other electronic junk that comes to hand from the pile. The results are zany and mysterious, occasionally flecked with a hint of menace, a sense of danger, a boiling vat of electronic music that occasionally sounds like the work of a mad scientist. 

The A side carries echoes of The Los Angeles Free Music Society, kicking off with an infectious robotic dance track that could have been penned by Doo-Dooette Dennis Duck. This moves into snatches of eerie spoken sound collage, giving the mood of a sonic séance as disembodied voices crowd in and fade away on Sanderson's synthesized ethereal plane. On the second side the darkness that has been slowly brewing finally closes in, leaving the listener marooned on an alien electronic planet tense with symphonic atmosphere.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Funking the Phantom

To vaguely coincide with the imminent release of the Hollow Gravity LP on Puer Gravy, Daniel Blumin at WFMU has kindly asked me to record a session for his Saturday night radio programme (to be broadcast on June the 9th - see at the end for full details).  The 5 tracks revisit some of the ideas and techniques I used in the Reprint project recorded back in 1980 (originally released on cassette under the name of Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey and then re-issued on CD in 2006 by Anomalous). 

As with Reprint the recordings for this session were made using a deceptively simple set-up comprising: an analogue sequencer, a synthesizer and a 2-6 second delay system. The 8-note sequencer plays simple patterns but as they are fed into the long delay the beats begin to multiply and soon busy percussive rhythms start to emerge.
Long tape based delay systems were first used by Terry Riley back in the 1960s. Two tape recorders are employed – set a few feet apart with the tape stretching across the room from one machine to the other. The first machine records whilst the second plays back. This produces a delayed signal but by then passing this audio feed back to the first machine a feedback loop is created in which whatever is played into the system repeats ad infinitum or more commonly fades away after many repeats.

Riley called his system a ‘Time Lag Accumulator’ and used it for long pieces such as “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band” in which he would build up a layers of bubbling tones over which he would improvise.  The delay system with its feedback loop is the “Phantom Band”.
 Tape delay was brought to a much wider audience by Brian Eno who used it in both in his two collaborative LPs with Robert Fripp and on his own 1975 LP Discrete Music. On the cover of the latter Eno helpfully included a diagram. Inspired by this and what I had read about Riley in 1976 I built my own tape delay. I found some cheap domestic tape machines at the local market which ran at 1 7/8 inches per second, this meant it was possible to get very long delays even within the confines of a small bedroom, it also meant that the sound degraded very quickly. 
An aspect of tape delay not highlighted by Eno is that whilst it can be regarded as a generative system it is also a degenerative system in that each time a sound goes round the loop it is coloured by the characteristics of the equipment being used. If a sound is echoed/repeated say 100 times one is in effect recording and playing it back that many times, in other words to use the old analogue tape terminology it is 100th generation. The frequency response, noise and hum levels, wow and flutter of the equipment are thus magnified (in this example by a factor of 100). Using a high end tape machine like a Revox the degradation is relatively slow (though arguably still integral – more of which later) on the cheap domestic machines I was using back in 1975 the sound would relatively quickly break down into white noise something which seemed an interesting and potentially exploitable characteristic.

By 1978 having now accees to Revoxes, VCS3s and a sequencer I began to experiment with exploiting both the noise potential and rhythmic possibilities of tape delay. That Riley called his ‘Time Lag Accumulator’ a ‘Phantom Band’ may have been a reference to the semi autonomous nature of delay systems; specifically that once set in motion they seem to have a mind of their own. Delay and player easily get locked into a particular almost pre determined grooves that are both absorbing and hard to escape.  What often happens is that the player will hit a first note, wait for it to repeat to get a sense of the delay timing, then adds a second note, wait for that to return and then add two more in a counter rhythm and so on. All very pleasing but also after a while predictable.  Using a sequencer can potentially allow one to force the ‘Phantom Band’ to play numbers it might no want to, to in other words funk the phantom.

This was the basic premise of the two long electronic tracks on the Reprint cassette. Additionally rather than simply connecting the output of the playback tape recorder to the input it was fed through a graphic equalizer thus allowing one to accentuate the colouring and sound shaping aspects of the delay system. In both “Reprint 1” and “2” (hear MP3 of Reprint 2 here) this is used to encourage the degeneration of the sound; beginning with minimal rhythms and building into a wall of percussive white noise resulting in a sound not unlike tap dancing or stalactites falling in an underground cave.  

So much for the history why revisit Reprint?  Well partly as this was a session rather than music for an LP I wanted a method that was live, direct and improvisatory. Something one could do in one or two takes or with minimum of overdubs and editing. There was also a sense of unfinished business. “Reprint 1” and “2” were arguably successful in dislocating the ‘Phantom Band’s’ natural sense of rhythm but I thought it might be interesting to see what with a little more time and contemporary equipment could be conjured from the system. There is also something about the nature of echo. When we hear an echo our perception is of something receding, moving away from us and decaying. Paradoxically though the repeated sound travels not backwards in time but forwards into the future, it lingers on after the original sound has gone. It is the past coming back to haunt us. So in revisiting Reprint there is a double recuperation of old ghosts; firstly of the sound itself in the delay system and of a project echoing back from 1980 to the present.

Daniel Blumin’s show is broadcast on WFMU on Saturday nights between 9 PM and Midnight. In the UK this means the show airs five hours later between 2 and 5 AM on a Sunday morning. Never fear though there are of course playlists and podcasts available. The Sanderson session will be played on the evening of June the 9th (New York) meaning the morning of June 10th (UK).

Track Listing
01 intro
02 Running Rigging
03 A Blue Twist
04 Before the Mast
05 Marks and Deeps
06 An End

Monday, April 09, 2012

Die Cut LP Cover

Spontaneous Combustion were an English psychedelic band whose sound was probably about five years too late to be successful but their 1972 die cut LP cover with its crumpled inner sleeve design is a marvel.
Bolan would do something similar for Dandy in the Underworld about five years later.