So, the first step in sharing my recordings archive with the world at large begins this month with a very special release on Room40 in Australia. It’s a label I’ve respected since their earliest days and head honcho of the label, Lawrence English, aka the man with the rather large hat, has been a fine friend of mine since the 1990s, so it’s a joy to finally have an opportunity to share my work on such a well-respected label.
Mass Observation (Expanded) isn’t exactly what it says on the tin. Back in 1994 I was recording with musicians Jim O’Rourke and Robert Hampson (Main/Loop) in a dark room in a South London apartment. We were quite literally all hands-on deck as we each took responsibility for the faders on the desk, introducing sounds to the mix, unexpected, unpredictable, where the accident reigned supreme, live radio signals spinning across the sound field, music and rhythms melting into cellular radio hiss.
Two mixes were captured directly onto DAT tape. One of which would be officially released as Mass Observation (Ash 1.7), an EP that featured a 25-min version of one of these sessions, and most notably the track which Bjork sampled rather controversially for her Possibly Maybe single, without credit I should add. Until today however, the second longer more expansive mix has never been heard. Each is quite different from the other. Dehumanised communications, beatless, radio signals drawn in live to tape, and accompanied by dial tone pulses and abstract textures, Mass Observation is a highly suggestive picture of a particular place in a city at a very specific time. A form of Sound Polaroid as I tended to call such recordings. Here’s a little film I made that features an excerpt from the album.
This early body of work of mine, in the early and mid-1990s was a study in surveillance. Long before our concerns about data leakage at Facebook, and Siri spying on our private moments, I used the scanner device itself – a modestly sophisticated radio receiver – to explore the relationship between the public and private spheres, lending a deep sense of drama to these found cellular conversations within a contextual electronic score. In many ways, this work pre-empted our reality culture, as it exists today, with our TVs now saturated by Love Island and Big Brother.
In the experimental techno uprising of Britain in the mid-1990s this work proved controversial and memorable. After the Bjork saga which took over several months of my life in a most unrewarding manner, other artists such as Coil and Aphex Twin bought radio scanners and introduced these found voices into their recordings, whilst I continued to create work in this grey area of ambient sound. It’s work that still carries great meaning for me, opening up possibilities with sound and introducing the human voice back into experimental electronic music.
A limited CD of this edition is now available here, and at many online retailers as well as digital. There are around 600 hours of unreleased material still sitting on the hard drives so I’ll be digging into this another day too. In 2019 I’m intending on making so very unique live presentations of this work, with a show already confirmed in Paris, so stay tuned. Buy the album.
Mark E Smith (1957 – 2018) of the Fall was an outspoken, contrary, sardonic and frequently controversial figure in the music world since 1978, and his death earlier this year left an emptiness in many of his fans. I first heard his work listening, almost inevitably if you were living in the UK at the time, to John Peel on his BBC Radio show, and hurried out and bought each fresh new 7″ as they emerged, and the complex series of albums that followed.
I Shout for the Fall opened this month at Bury Art Museum, and I was very honoured to receive an invitation to contribute a new work to this show, to create an original artwork based on a single line from Mark E Smith’s lyric for Fall songs.
How to choose just one lyric from one song though? I thought it best to choose something that offered meaning to me personally so chose a classic early Fall tune Bingo-Master, from their debut EP Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!featuring the line “Worlds of silence in his ears.” A suggestive phrase that connected the world of John Cage with the Fall, with sound and silence, with listening and presence. I found an image of Mark E Smith’s ear, enlarged it and placed the text just off the edge of the picture, to capture that essence of Smith’s lyrics, just on the edge of understanding and misinterpretation. It shares wall space with a host of designers and image makers including Build, Malcolm Garrett, Instruct, Lucy Holmes, Alan Kitching, Morag Myerscough, Spin, Swifty, Patrick Thomas, Tash Willcocks, and many others. More on this show here.
I composed new music for the BBC Radio show The Art of Now this month, with an edition that featured flash fiction to poetry, new music, to soundscapes in a new programme showcasing listeners’ creativity. The home-made masterpieces are submitted by smartphone and marshalled by comedian and actor Jo Neary, taking the listener through the strange and rather wonderful entries, guiding you through eccentric and varied storytelling. Tune in on 12th October to The Verb on BBC Radio 3 to listen me to perform a live work based around the idea of failure too, one of my very favourite subjects!
Radio, of course, as a creative tool has long been utilised within music, and been an influence on my work and ideas, so I decided to make a little mix featuring some examples of such music that I enjoy. In addition, as a treat I’ve opened and closed the mix with exclusive unreleased works of mine from the mid 1990s using shortwave radio and scanned mobile phone conversations. The mix, RADIO RADIO features the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Holger Czukay, John Cage, AMM, Tetsu Inoue, Ryoji Ikeda and many more. Listen here.
I was delighted this month to have an opportunity to share my thoughts and words over at 15 Questions, where I got to write about my first musical passions and creative tools, the technology that has enabled me to do what I do now, collaboration, and my daily routine. Give yourselves a few minutes to read the feature here.
I’m playing a very special show in Antwerp this month too, on 20th October as part of Festival Solair. Back in 2007 I composed the score for an extraordinary production of Kirikou and Karaba, based on the popular children’s animation Kirikou, with an ambitious stage show choreographed by Wayne McGregor. The original feature film tells a story drawn from West African folk tales and the music reflects these origins in a life-enhancing and emotional journey.
The show went on to tour across France and Belgium in enormous venues, and has been the only time I had a personal message from Johnny Depp to say how much he enjoyed it, and an invitation to come and perform for him live some time! How wonderfully surreal indeed. So, fast forward to today and I’m going to present re-workings and unheard mixes from this soundtrack in this very special one-off show. Hope to see you some of you there!
And back tracking for a moment, September took me to Barcelona for a magnificent modular synth event with Befaco, a popular synth manufacturer, located in an amazing industrial area of the city, as yet untouched by gentrification. My set was completely improvised with all the risks that entails but proved to be quite a success, and was filmed and recorded by DivKid so I’ll share the link to this next month.
My new work Fly Us to the Moon, in collaboration with clarinet player Gareth Davis, has its world premiere in Utrecht in The Netherlands at Gaudeamus and seemed to be quite a success. We are recording the work in full in the studio in the next months and it will be released in 2019 for home listening!
Don’t forget my work can still be heard in rather an unusual show at the moment too. Andy Superstar is a dance evening about the lifestyle of the 1960s based around Andy Warhol. In addition to my music will be recordings by The Lovin Spoonful, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, The Troggs, The Velvet Underground, Bobby Vinton, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Joe Cocker, Burial, Annie Gosfield, Bob Dylan and Anders Trentemøller. Choreographed by Jutta Ebnother & Orkan Dann, the show runs until 2019 in Germany.
And in closing I’ve just uploaded footage from my show in London in 2017 at the 22rpm Festival, a performance that was especially emotive and aggressive at the same time. Given that I rarely play live shows anymore savour this little moment on film.
Until next month
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