The Birdman Of Islington: Stubbleman – The Blackbird Tapes

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Saturday March 14 2020: Pascal Gabriel is performing pieces from his Stubbleman album Mountains And Plains at the Union Chapel in Islington, as part of the Daylight Music concert series. He is accompanied by the various automata he built for live performance; they are an essential factor in realising the many complex layers present on Mountains And Plains, a diaristic album that recorded Pascal and his wife Pippa’s journeys across the USA.

It is a few days before London went into full lockdown. The audience is about half what it should have been in ordinary circumstances, but these are far from ordinary circumstances. That Mountains And Plains concerned itself with travel and the freedom of movement is perhaps ironic in the face of the travel bans and flight cancellations that characterised the coming days. From the stage of the Chapel, Pascal could see a smattering of audience members wearing masks, then still a rarity, but something that would become ubiquitous over the next three months.

Friday May 1 2020: Pascal Gabriel is at home, as we all are by then. He is livestreaming the debut performance of The Blackbird Tapes, a new Stubbleman EP from his London home studio. “It was weird,” he reflects. “From my point of view, I was really just playing to my wife and three iPhones. There was no way of knowing whether people liked it until afterwards. At the time you have no idea what the feedback is.”

By May, with gigs and concerts cancelled and venues shuttered indefinitely, the livestream has moved from the novel rarity to the only way that musicians can perform their concerts to fans. Seeing inside the homes of musicians has become a new normal, in an extended period of such new normals.

Another thing we have become used to is quiet. Noise levels in cities across the world have been reduced to a slight murmur. It’s as if nature is reinforcing its power on the world of sound that we have inhabited in urban environments for hundreds of years; if you pay attention, one sound you will hear more prominently than ever before is birdsong. It has become the unexpected soundtrack to life in lockdown, and it became the inspiration for The Blackbird Tapes.

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Pascal Gabriel (c) Pippa Ungar

April temperatures in London were unseasonably warm. It was a small consolation for the removal of our freedoms, but it was a consolation, nonetheless. One morning, with the windows of their bedroom open, Pascal was suddenly roused out of his sleep. “At about 4 o’clock I heard this blackbird talking to a friend,” he remembers. “I think the nearest blackbird was on our roof, and the other one was probably about 200 metres away. They were obviously having some sort of conversation.” Pascal sprang out of bed and grabbed one of the Hairy Guys – the portable digital recorders that captured the atmospheric field sounds that inspired Mountains And Plains – and he recorded the two birds chatting to one another.

“The blackbird has a beautiful song,” he says, “but I really didn’t think much of it; I just thought I’d record it.” Encouraged by Pippa, Pascal was convinced that he could use the recording as the starting point for a new track, which became the opening piece on The Blackbird Tapes, ‘4am – Conversation’.

Pascal took the recording and then began to manipulate it. “I recorded it straight, as a straight conversation between him and his friend, and then I copied the audio and slowed it down to half-speed. I then copied it again and slowed it down to quarter speed, and then slowed it down again,” he explains. “By doing that, you always have the octave lower each time, and obviously it’s really slowed down. Listening to the four recordings, at those different speeds, it suggested melodies to me.”

Sitting down at his upright piano, Pascal began to lightly compose accompaniments to the layered birdsong, gently augmenting the sounds he’d recorded but never overwhelming them. “I did it very quickly,” he says. “It probably was no more than a couple of days and then I was done.”

When I spoke with Pascal about the genesis of Mountains And Plains, he explained about his ‘Ten Commandments’, the rules that he sets himself at the start of a project which then guide its development. “I don’t think I had ten on this one,” he laughs. “I had only a few, and one of them was ’Don’t distract the birds,’ – basically, don‘t detract from the sound of the birds. I wanted to keep it really simple, to not distract too much from the conversation that was going on, and the magic and unpredictability of what the bird is going to do next. And so I kept everything very delicate and very simple.

“Another of the commandments was that I would only use one piano riff of five or six notes, which are then repeated,“ he continues. “The timings can change, and where the notes go can change, but that’s it – five or six notes, and they repeat, and that’s it.”

When Pascal sent the EP over, he counselled me that I needed to listen to the three tracks with decent headphones, and most definitely not laptop speakers. That was because of the bass sounds that make up the third element of each of the three pieces, made using an Oberheim Two Voice Pro. The synth provides a rich, resonant low end perfectly matched to the topline provided by the blackbirds and the piano melodies crafted in response. “On the bass sound, I just wanted two or three notes and nothing more,“ he adds. “There’s a real jollity between the bass synth, and the piano, and the birds. It really works.”

Having completed the first piece, Pascal then used the same approach for the EP’s two other tracks, ‘6am – Chorus’ and ‘8am – Soliloquy’, each time using the layered birdsong recordings, but leaving them largely unaltered. “It just created something that I couldn’t create myself,” he says. “When you listen to birdsong, you realise how precise it is. It’s random, but it’s also really controlled. I found it fascinating to hear it slowly. I’d just sit on my chair here in the studio, and listen to it over and over again and think, ‘What am I going to do on this? It’s amazing.’ And so, when I did the synths, for instance, I didn’t want them to change very much. There’s a bit of filtering, but it’s very delicate and very minimal.” The only other element that Pascal subtly weaves in from time to time is a sequence created using a GRP Synthesizer A4, its fluttering quality evoking birdflight.

Pascal is here tapping into a tradition in classical music of using birdsong as a motif within composition, something that extends back to the 14th Century, and which can be heard in works by Beethoven, Mahler, Handel and countless others. More recently, Olivier Messaien turned to birdsong many times during his career, basing whole pieces such as Réveil des Oiseaux on the specific calls of certain birds. Perhaps closest to The Blackbird Tapes is Ottorino Respighi’s I Pini di Roma from 1924. The third movement of Respighi’s suite, The Pines of the Janiculum, includes a recording of birds made on the Janiculum hill above Rome, with instructions that the recording be played specifically on a Brunswick Panatrope phonograph.

The EP takes us from the fragile unreality of early morning and concludes with the chiming of bells near to Pascal’s house, indicating that the day must begin. “There’s something sad about it,“ admits Pascal. “It’s like the magic is slowly ebbing away from that twilight morning moment. Early morning is a very special time, even more so because of the lockdown. We’re not going out for work. We’re not so keen to catch the Tube, or bus, or whatever, and we are much more aware of our surroundings.

“And there’s definitely a lot more birds around, and they can hear each other,” he continues. “I mean, this guy, on the 4am piece, was definitely having a conversation with another bird. You probably wouldn’t be able to hear it, or you just wouldn’t notice it at all, if it was as busy as it normally is.”

The Blackbird Tapes wasn’t supposed to be Pascal Gabriel’s next release. Instead, it was intended to be 1:46:43, a three-movement piece inspired by his best time ascending Provence’s Mont Vontoux, the punishing mountain leg of the Tour de France.

Those attending the Stubbleman show at the Purcell Room last year heard the premiere of the third movement, concerned with the final climb to the summit of the mountain; the Union Chapel audience was treated to the first performance of ‘The Green Cathedral’, the second movement, which focusses on the tree-covered middle section of the route.

We have lockdown to thank for giving us The Blackbird Tapes. Just as with the source material that led to Mountains And Plains, this EP would not exist without the confluence of a specific location, caught at a specific time, that would go on to provide the inspiration for a musical response. It provides us with a lasting, poignant memory of the stillness and quietude of the strangest moment in our collective personal histories, giving The Blackbird Tapes a profound, moving and universal significance.

The Blackbird Tapes by Stubbleman is released June 5 2020 by Crammed Discs.

Interview: Mat Smith. With thanks to Sally.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Barnaby Ashton-Bullock – Café Kaput!

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“Viva l’assemblage of husked soul eggshells
Smulched to fag ashen grain
A jackbooted silty compresse in the pavement cracks of les grandes boulevards,
A slur of arid sediment waiting for rain…”
– Barnaby Ashton-Bullock, Odd Oeufs (de Saint-Denis)

Anyone fortunate enough to see any of three parts of the Torsten series will be familiar with the work of poet and playwright Barnaby Ashton-Bullock. As well as featuring an exceptional, career-defining performance from Andy Bell as the doomed, semi-immortal, polysexual lead character, Torsten’s writer Ashton-Bullock imbues each and every line, every lyric and every scene with an unrivalled wealth of language, from the most unadulterated erotic encounter to the most wistful, heartwrenching and nostalgic look back at Torsten’s past.

That same skill can be found in Café Kaput!, a poetry pamphlet published by Broken Sleep Books. Containing 24 poems running from first time sexual experiences to mournful trips to Cotswold country homes, Café Kaput! is a vibrant, colourful, unflinching trip through linguistic possibility, brutally updating the poetic discipline for the modern era. In these verses, nothing is hidden: everything is visible, little is off-limits.

“My influences from a very early age were Harold Pinter, Derek Jarman, Steven Berkoff, and the ability that they had in their writing to pattern the world and to be viscerally honest about things,” Ashton-Bullock explained to me last year, during the rehearsals for Torsten In Queereteria. “I could never read novels. I had to, for A-level, but the language just wasn’t concise enough for me. It was like I’m reading all of this to get this kind of hit, but I’m not getting it. From early on I thought that poetry was the most immediate and violent expression of language.”

“Wotcha m’putrid popsicle!
Sorry the sherbet pips got wet.
Was those lolloping licks at the ‘Welcome Desk’
Like the motel staff’s tongues all had palsy Slurping a rippling slurry of saliva into my knapsack”
– Barnaby Ashton-Bullock, Motel Strange

“Read it if you dare!” cautions Andy Bell in his opening endorsement, and these verses are truly not for the easily embarrassed. Whereas poetry may have a long tradition of obfuscating meanings under layers of calculated, deliberately impenetrable wordplay, with Ashton-Bullock’s pen you have the equivalent of voyeuristically pulling back the duvet covers on the most vivid liaisons.

Café Kaput! Can be ordered directly from Broken Sleep Books here. On Sunday May 17 2020 at 7pm, Ashton-Bullock will be hosting a live online launch party for Café Kaput! – book your virtual seat here.

Ashton-Bullock, his musical partner Chris Frost and Andy Bell recently uploaded a video compilation of songs from the Torsten series which can be viewed below.

Related:

Andy Bell – Torsten In Queereteria : Redux – Documentary Evidence feature, 2019

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Klara Lewis – Ingrid

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A couple of years ago, a cellist friend said to me, of his principal instrument, that “you have to be careful not to get too sad with it.” The inference was that it’s all too easy to make the cello sound mournful. Ever since he told me that I’ve become much more aware of that quality whenever a cello is involved; it may just be my general curmudgeonly outlook, but I often find it hard to identify something other than a nostalgic, wistful or maudlin dimension to music made with the instrument. It’s with that in mind that I approached the latest piece of music by Klara Lewis.

Ingrid is a single twenty-minute piece that uses a brief yet characteristically expressive cello segment as its foundation sound source. My cellist friend reliably informs me that it is “from the Sarabande movement of Bach’s fourth suite for unaccompanied cello”. Who plays the cello, whether this is a passage played specifically for Lewis or sampled from an existing performance are undisclosed details; neither is it apparent why the piece is so titled. Is Ingrid the person playing the cello? Is Ingrid the person this piece is dedicated to? Does it even matter?

These are the kind of questions you ask yourself as you listen to this piece. So focussed do you become on those questions that it isn’t immediately obvious that the cello loop is being subjected to – and placed under significant duress by – increasingly violent levels of distortion. It’s only after about ten minutes that the distinctive qualities of the cello get mangled fully out of shape, becoming growling, snarling, aggressive blocks of over-amplified noise: up to that point, it just sounds like the cello’s plaintive stylings augmented by hollow, distant electronic interventions.

By its denouement, the piece has morphed into loud, almost unbearably brutal sound, the original source passage unrecognisable; stretched, skewed and misshapen; reduced to elemental, metallic impulses on the most beautifully harrowing fringes of sonic entropy.

Ingrid by Klara Lewis is released May 1 2020 by Editions Mego – available here.

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Reed Hays.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Easy – Radical Innocence

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“Their debut album sold more than Sonic Youth’s ‘Sister’. Nobody noticed.” – MuteBank Statement #1, June 1996

I wonder to myself: how many times did I play 1990’s debut Easy album, Magic Seed, after I found it in a second-hand shop in Colchester in 1997? Between that LP, singles by Foil and Technique by New Order, I don’t recall listening to much else for the duration of that long, endless summer at the conclusion of my second year at university; it was a summer of warm days at the beach, cycling to work across town and youthful abandon, and Easy’s Magic Seed became the de facto soundtrack.

At that point, MuteBank’s Statement #1 was my Bible. I had no idea, in those early internet days, that by then the Swedish band had released a second album (1994’s Sun Years) after things didn’t quite work out for them at Blast First. I had wrongly assumed until about two weeks ago that they’d essentially called it quits after Magic Seed didn’t set the world of punky, jangly guitars on fire as it should have done in 1990.

Easy 2 - photo by Eyleen Kotyra

Radical Innocence  finds the six-piece band – Johan Holmlund (vocals), Tommy Ericson (guitar), Anders Petersson (guitar), Rikard Jormin (bass), Tommy Dannefjord (drums) and newbie Ingvar Larsson (keyboards) – showing that the world may have changed immeasurably, we may well be living through extraordinary days, but Easy’s music is dependably unchanged. Matured they may well be like the rest of us, giving songs like the string-laden ‘Golden Birds’ and lead single ‘Crystal Waves’ a wistful, mournful and subtly uplifting dimension, but aside from Holmlund’s voice becoming stronger and less tentative, more confident and more strident, this is still the band that I fell in love with far too late far too many years ago.

These eight songs are poised with a delicate precision, full of their trademark guitar sound but also a vibrancy and energy, best exemplified by the blisteringly good track ‘Memory Loss Revisionism And A Bright Future’. Elsewhere, we encounter the beautiful sensitivity of ‘Day For Night’ led by Dannefjord’s thunderous drumming and atmospheric textures, a savagely open tale of loss and regret bordered by a stirring quality that is utterly heartbreaking. Meanwhile, the title track shuffles along upon fuzzy guitars, grubby bass and vamping organ tones, its lyrics foretelling the one-way street that is the loss of youthful innocence.

Radical Innocence by Easy is released April 24 2020 by A Turntable Friend Records.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Fad Gadget – The Best Of Fad Gadget

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The Best Of Fad Gadget was originally released in 2001 to accompany Frank Tovey bringing his Fad Gadget alias out of retirement for a support slot with Depeche Mode. It was a moment of electronic music history repeating itself, albeit in reverse and on a massive, stadium-friendly scale: Depeche had supported Gadget in 1980, back when they were all a bunch of callow, synth-loving young chaps, Frank Tovey being the first artist to join Daniel Miller’s nascent Mute Records.

Twelve months after the compilation was issued, Tovey was dead from a heart attack. It’s hard not to listen to these tracks, hand-picked as they were by Fad himself, without mourning the fact that he left behind such a brief legacy – a clutch of singles, four Gadget albums and a challenging performance art repertoire that was already honed back when he was fighting over Leeds Polytechnic’s studio space with fellow students Dave Ball and Marc Almond.

Mute’s pressing of the album on vinyl for the first time coincides with the fortieth anniversary of ‘Back To Nature’, Fad Gadget’s first single. Recorded with Daniel Miller, ‘Back To Nature’ nodded to the Ballardian tropes of Miller’s own ‘Warm Leatherette’ statement, but also highlighted Tovey’s wry humour: while its gloomy industrial electronics sounded like a post-apocalyptic world of extreme temperatures, it was in fact Tovey ruminating on sun-loving folk enjoying the beach at Canvey Island.

Its B-side, ‘The Box’, was yet more subversive, its desperate lyrics reading like the stage directions for a macabre one-man show with a performer stuck in a box. After the dry ‘Ricky’s Hand’ single – the sinister counterpart to Depeche Mode’s similar-sounding ‘Photographic’ – Tovey gently moved Miller’s producer’s hand to one side and forged his own path, his 1980 debut album Fireside Favourites dealing with everything from cosy nights around the hearth during a nuclear meltdown on its memorable title track to bedroom frustration, each track a symbiosis of Tovey’s synths and whatever potential sound-making objects were lying around the studio at the time.

Through his ensuing albums – Incontinent (1981), Under The Flag (1982) and Gag (1984) – Tovey developed his songwriting craft, initially through getting to grips with kit like an MC-4 sequencer and then developing a full-band aesthetic at precisely the same time as pop music was dispensing with traditional instruments in favour of keyboards and drum machines. But even as his music matured, anticipating the series of folk and rock-inflected albums released under his own name with the band The Pyros, Tovey was still covering himself in tar and feathers on stage, or stripping off his clothes and spraying shaving foam all over his body, memorable images of which Anton Corbijn captured for Gag and the harrowing cover of this compilation.

His songs never once lost that slightly disturbing potency that had made his earliest singles so insistent. ‘Lady Shave’ made a song about the quotidian act of removing hair a seedy, voyeuristic, perverted show; ‘Saturday Night Special’ dealt with guns and the right to bear arms; ‘Love Parasite’s sleek electronic shapes detailed a sexual predator; ‘Life On The Line’ and ‘For Whom The Bells Toll’ were dour pop songs that betrayed Tovey’s paranoia at having become a father for the first time; ‘Collapsing New People’ took industrial percussion and the looped mechanical sound of a printing press to offer a vivid anthropological assessment of the dispossessed, wasted, vampiric youths he observed while recording the track in Berlin. The compilation ends with the leftfield proto-electro and howling baby sounds of ‘4M’, sounding somewhere between clinical fascination and the soundtrack to the end of the world, but was in fact a tender piece of sound art using the sampled voice of his baby daughter.

It would, perhaps, be too easy to look back on Frank’s wild Fad Gadget years as a kind of grim novelty cabaret sideshow schtick, a product of an anything-goes, disaffected, post-punk British society, his effect on the development of electronic music in the early 1980s easily dismissible in favour of dark-hued works by Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, Soft Cell and others. Observed in hindsight, no other musician managed to fuse art school theatrics and dystopian social commentary so fluidly within the emerging constructs of electronic technology as Frank Tovey did, and the likelihood of another artist like Fad Gadget emerging in these supposedly super-liberal times is unimaginable; we’re all trapped inside the metaphorical cage of ‘The Box’, and no one dares try – like he did – to break out.

Frank Tovey: 8 September 1956 – 3 April 2002

The Best Of Fad Gadget by Fad Gadget was originally released in 2001 by Mute, and reissued as a double vinyl LP in 2019.

Words: Mat Smith.

Note: this review originally appeared in Electronic Sound issue 57 and is used with the kind permission of the editors. Thanks to Neil, Zoe and Paul.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith for Electronic Sound

 

Leo Abrahams / Sølyst / Simon Fisher Turner – From Isolation 1

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This trio project represents the first in Trestle RecordsFrom Isolation series, wherein musicians are invited to collaborate with one another in the form of an exchange of sound files. The project is effectively a variation on their One Day Band programme, only with artists unable to meet and spontaneously develop a piece together for the foreseeable future, this is a virtual way of achieving similar results, quickly, efficiently and responsively. Arguably it’s way more productive than using the internet for Disney + and Netflix.

The first edition pitches together producer and ambient journeyman Leo Abrahams (guitar, FX, electronics), Kreidler co-founder Thomas Klein’s Sølyst alias (synths, sequencer) and Mute stalwart Simon Fisher Turner (field recordings, electronics). The three pieces here are built from sinewy synth sequences that pulse and shift with a purpose somewhere on the continuum between meditative and sinister, alternated with murky drones, impenetrable modular soundfields and vague ryhthmic passages.

Over each foundation pattern we hear Abraham’s processed guitar, occasionally formed as a meditative blues but more often presented as juddering, angular, discordant shapes that give the pieces an uncertainty and suggestion of imminent danger. Those highly textural guitar motifs are joined by Fisher Turner’s guerrilla field recordings, auditory ghosts of unknown provenance – traffic noise, maybe? Water washing onto a Cornish beach? Wind blowing through a bamboo screen? The hubbub of a station platform?

Perhaps unintentionally, those life sounds of real life give these atmospheric pieces a nostalgic quality, a sense of yearning for a time when we all had the freedom to experience all of life’s noisy treasures without restriction or fear.

From Isolation 1 by Leo Abrahams, Sølyst and Simon Fisher Turner can be streamed from the Trestle Records website from Friday April 3 2020trestlerec.com

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Daniel Avery / Alessandro Cortini – Illusion Of Time

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The first evidence of Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini’s collaboration emerged last year with a white label 7-inch single credited to DA-AC called ‘Sun Draw Water’. Only available at the FYF Festival, Mount Analog in LA, the two tracks showcased a perfect, symbiotic pairing between the two.

With ‘Sun’, you could discern Cortini’s trademark, bold synth strokes edged with a dirty, fuzzy industrial quality. Haunting vocal textures and submerged melodies created a brooding, dark ambience, like an alternative soundtrack to Terminator and every bit as dystopian. ‘Water’ was the inverse, offering a richness and depth of colour, an elastic sound occupying the foreground carrying an unpredictability while the background stayed resolutely focussed on clusters of pads and spiralling tones. The effect was not dissimilar to some of Robert Fripp’s experiments with triggered sounds and textures, poised somewhere between a meditative, reflective mood and a restless hopefulness.

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Illusion Of Time was completed in 2018, and cements the vision that ‘Sun’ and ‘Water’ hinted at. Like many electronic projects, Illusion Of Time began as a distance collaboration, the pair shaping and sculpting tracks over the digital aether before finalising the pieces together while touring with Nine Inch Nails.

The album’s title track opens with delicate, mesmerising synth cycles overlaid on top of resonant blocks of sound and white noise panned across the stereo field. The track has a poignancy and sweetness, a sense of optimism in troubled times, whether illusory or not. That approach runs throughout the record, sometimes with a glimmer of uncertainty; ‘At First Sight’ is probably the best example of this, delivering gentle melodies sounding not unlike uilleann pipes drifting across a turbulent, pulsing, bass-heavy sequence of tones.

Elsewhere, we come across moments of intense beauty. ‘CC Pad’ contains sparse, haunting, overlapping pads, creating an effect like gazing across a beatific, frosty Spring morning landscape. In the background you hear a feint clicking sound, creating a suggestion of rhythm or the scratchy rotations of an ancient gramophone. Two brief interludes in ‘Space Channel’ and ‘Interrupted By the Cloud Of Light’ have an evocative, ethereal quality, nodding to an ambient tradition but laced with crackling white noise sounding like the release of intense radiation from a distant star.

Among all of these poignant, brilliant vignettes is the standout ‘Inside The Ruins’, advancing forward on growling synth sounds moving from ear to ear, wrapped in cavernous echo and a sense of imminent, unresolved threat. On this piece it’s hard not to imagine the environment suggested by its title. In my mind I see myself standing in a destroyed ancient temple in Syria while drones buzz and criss-cross overheard, emotionlessly surveying the devastation.

Illusion Of Time by Daniel Avery and Alessandro Cortini is released March 27 2020 by Phantasy Sound. Thanks to Ellie, Naomi and AC.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Burnt Friedman & João Pais / Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit – Eurydike

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Germany’s enigmatic Burnt Friedman is a serial collaborator, hitching his distinctive electronic palette to numerous other musicians over the course of his career, while also delivering with such a prolific level of output that it’s often hard to keep track of his movements.

One of his longest-running collaborations was with Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, with whom he recorded several albums up to Liebezeit’s untimely death in 2017. Their Secret Rhythms concept gave prominence to the drummer’s signature, dizzying polyrhythmic kitwork, attaching that to Friedman’s delicate, unobtrusive electronics. Critical to Liebezeit’s playing was a sense of reductivism, paring his kit back to the most elemental of equipment and yet producing dexterous overlapping, highly detailed rhythms that were usually hard to follow; Friedman’s electronics were thus a sympathetic response, never once overwhelming the master drummer’s sound and weaving their way lightly through and around his playing.

Two unreleased collaborations between the two friends can be found on the B-side of a new EP on Friedman’s Nonplace label. Dating from 2016, ‘Eurydike’ and ‘Star Wars’ are immediately recognisable, bearing those Secret Rhythms trademarks – clusters of sounds, unswerving drum cycles, dubby bass, springy analogue sounds and discrete non-melodies. It would be glib and somewhat obvious to say that these pieces, like so many of Liebezeit’s, could induce a trance-like state, but they undoubtedly code. In these rhythms, and in their framing with washes of sound that drift in like they’re being carried across a field by a breeze, there is a resolution and purpose, a mesmerising momentum constantly bordering on the chaotic but never once going there.

On the A-side you find Friedman interacting with another drummer and occasional collaborator, Porto’s João Pais Filipe, and their two pieces (‘Out Of Ape’ and ‘Fibres Of P’) act like a sonic handshake between the two drummers. Pais’s work is comparatively more full, his rhythms more dense and varied yet carrying the same tension and energy as Liebezeit. On these pieces, in response to Filipe’s wall of sound, Friedman’s electronics are more obvious, less imperceptible, more there perhaps. In Filipe, Friedman may well have found the natural successor to Liebezeit’s legacy, the start of a new Secret Rhythm concept that nods reverently in the direction of what came before.

The split Eurydike EP by Burnt Friedman with João Pais and Jaki Liebezeit is released May 15 2020 by Nonplace. Pre-order link: here

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

Erasure – Chorus : References & Influences

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To accompany the release of a deluxe reissue of Erasure’s 1991 monophonic analogue opus Chorus, I put together a series of additional short written pieces focussed on the album’s four distinctive single videos, along with Andy and Vince’s recollections of The Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour that followed in 1992.

For this final piece, we delve into the myriad influences and reference points that cropped up during the interviews I undertook to prepare the reissue’s liner notes.

Featuring remastered tracks, new remixes, rare session tracks, live recordings and an essay on the creation of the album by me, the deluxe reissue of Chorus is available from Lexer Music.

Deee-Lite – What Is Love? (1990)

Why, Vince Clarke, does Chorus sound the way it does?”

“I tell you why,” he answers. “It was because of the B-side of ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ by Deee-Lite, a remix of a track called ‘What Is Love?’. I was thinking that the timing on that was so incredible. I’d been pissed off with the timing of MIDI sequencers for a long time, because they just weren’t very good, and I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to try and make a track with an MC-4’. The Roland MC-4 is a basic analogue sequencer. But the MC-4 could only trigger one monophonic synth at a time, it couldn’t do chords, really.”

And so that’s why Chorus was an exclusively monophonic, analogue synth-heavy album. Thanks Deee-Lite.

Londonbeat – I’ve Been Thinking About You (1990)

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Martyn Phillips came to produce Chorus thanks to two previous projects. The first was The Beloved’s Happiness from 1990, and the use of electronics on that album was a major draw for Daniel Miller. What clinched it though was his work on a much more pop-oriented LP.

“I was also riding high because I’d produced Londonbeat’s first album,” recalls Phillips. “We had a very big hit off that called ‘I’ve Been Thinking About You’, which got to number one in over 20 countries. It was an enormous record. It’s the most heavily-played record on German radio ever, I think. So Daniel, obviously being a sensible businessman, thought ‘Maybe he could do something with my lot?’”

“That song struck me,” says Daniel. “It was quite a catchy song, and I liked the sound of it very much. It was kind of minimal and quite chunky sounding, to my ears, and I thought that would be interesting to apply to Erasure.”

Phillips’ nous with analogue synths gelled nicely with Vince Clarke, and both brought their own ARP 2600 into the three studios where Chorus was recorded. “He’s a nice bloke,” says Vince, ever the man of few words.

Inspiral Carpets – Please Be Cruel (1991)

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Dave Bascombe was no stranger to Daniel Miller and Mute, and his biggest contribution to the label by 1991 had been his work on Depeche Mode’s transformational Music For The Masses LP a few years earlier. He specifically joined the Chorus project thanks to the single remix he was commissioned to undertake of Inspiral Carpets’ ‘Please Be Cruel’, taken from the group’s second album The Beast Inside.

“I was in the studio doing the mix of Inspiral Carpets, and Daniel played me the ‘Chorus’ single,” Bascombe recalls. “I think he just wanted my opinion on it and whether I thought it would make a good first single. I mean, obviously I hadn’t heard anything else, but I immediately fell in love with it, and was gushing about it, and said it was absolutely great. So that’s how I got involved.”

Of his mix of the Chorus LP, Bascombe is straight to the point. “I just brought some balls to it.”

Charlie Rich – The Most Beautiful Girl (1973)

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When I spoke to Andy Bell for an Electronic Sound Under The Influence feature back in 2015, he called out three things that had left a lasting impression on his younger self. One was the singing lessons and confidence-boosting performance techniques he was given by his choirmaster Mr. Morris as a child, and another was his enduring love of steam engines. Yes, steam engines.

The final one was the song ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ by US ‘countrypolitan’ singer-songwriter Charlie Rich from 1973 that he used to hear playing every Saturday morning at his local Peterborough roller rink. “I was a bit of a country and western fan,” he confessed at the time. “My parents had a lot of those records, and this song seemed to have a bit of a country twang to it. I took it as one of those songs that was very truthful.”

A country influence had crept into Erasure’s music in fairly subtle ways prior to Chorus, in tracks like the banjo-led ‘Don’t Suppose’ from the ‘Chains Of Love’ single. On Chorus, Andy’s love of country music and Charlie Rich’s smash hit single was a direct influence on the yearning, bitter ‘Waiting For The Day’ from the album. On The Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour in 1992, the band covered Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ while Andy was dressed as a rhinestone-clad cowboy, a country influence was pretty self-evident on the Cowboy LP from 1997, and the band worked up countrified versions of their back catalogue for the charming Union Street in 2006. It can all be traced back to ‘The Most Beautiful Girl‘.

ABBA – The Day Before You Came (1982)

‘The Day Before You Came’ was taken from the abortive sessions that followed ABBA’s final studio album, The Visitors, a record that was to Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn what Let It Be was for The Beatles – namely the sound of a band bitterly falling apart. This unlikely single, presented as an almost exclusively electronic pop song, was delivered in a flat, diaristic fashion by Agnetha. It documents the quotidian events of a perfectly humdrum day, which turns out to be the day before someone important comes into her life and turns everything upside down.

This was the group of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and ‘Voulez-Vous’, upbeat disco-tinged songs that might have a sense of longing within them, but which were broadly upbeat and positive. We never find out who the person is that arrives the following day, but something about the tone of this song, its emotionless, near-spoken delivery and the minor chords of its chorus suggest it wasn’t someone positive. Written by Björn, it documented, in relatively shrouded terms, his feelings as he went through his divorce from the singer.

Andy Bell acknowledges that the song was an influence on ‘Am I Right?’, and you can hear that same sense of mystery – and of never quite knowing what tragic event has occurred – in the lyrics and presentation of the album’s third single.

La Belle et la Bête (Dir. Jean Cocteau, 1946)

Jean Cocteau’s movie version of the Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1757 Beauty And The Beast story was a strange mix of cinematic flourishes designed to evoke the art of Gustave Doré and Jan Vermeer, presented with an air of grim, sinister foreboding not dissimilar to early horror flicks.

Andy Bell remembers trying to capture some of La Belle et la Bête’s distinctive essence in two tracks on Chorus – ‘Home’ and ‘Siren Song’ – but not necessarily the sense of turbulent love and mournful longing that Belle displays in Cocteau’s film, which might have been a more obvious reference point. Instead it was some of Cocteau’s film effects that particularly inspired Andy. “There’s a scene where they show this kind of backwards segment of flames being blown out,” he recalls. By modern film-making standards, reversing some tape seems pretty basic, but in 1946 this – and scenes of hands poking through walls holding lights – were what gave La Belle et la Bête its distinctive presence.

To achieve something similar to the visual effect he admired so much, Andy turned to producer Martyn Phillips to create a suite of evocative vocal equivalents. “We loved turning the tape round and doing backwards singing,” says Andy. “There are quite a few backwards harmonies on songs like ‘Siren Song’. It’s just a trick, really, but I just loved that idea of just turning it around and singing on top of the backwards noise.”

Das singende, klingende Bäumchen (Dir. Francesco Stefani, 1957)

Beauty And The Beast wasn’t the only weird fairytale whose influence crept into Chorus. Another was the obscure Grimm Brothers story ‘Hurleburlebutz’, filmed as Das singende, klingende Bäumchen by the East German state-owned film studio DEFA in 1957. A remarkable success at home, Britain’s BBC picked up the film and sliced it into three episodes, forming part of a 1964 series called Tales From Europe.

The Singing Ringing Tree’s weird, freaky, fantastical edge left an indelible mark on anyone growing up in the Sixties that happened to find themselves watching it at teatime. Two of those children were Martyn Phillips and Andy Bell.

“We’d trade visual images,” says Martyn of Andy’s process of writing the lyrics for Chorus. “One image that cropped up a lot was The Singing Ringing Tree. It was one that seemed to capture what Andy and I remembered from watching that film, as kids, on TV. It was black and white, set in this hobbit land with all these strange, magical creatures wandering around. So we’d discuss the energy and the feelings of that, and then hone in on what the words might be saying and what sort of backing vocal blocks we could stick in the background.”

The film’s influence can be most felt again in ‘Siren Song’. “Andy kind of chipped away at that song like a sculpture,” continues Martyn. “Everyone sort of chipped away at it from different ends, but everyone was seeing something quite similar and so you eventually come up with something nice. The influence of The Singing Ringing Tree is definitely there in that song.”

I mentioned the film to Andy a short while after I spoke with Martyn. He had, coincidentally, just bought a DVD of the film for a friend and confessed to still being a little freaked out by it. Sticking with foliage-related matters, Andy then went on to tell me that he’d always wanted to own one of The Music Trees from The Clangers, undoubtedly a relative of the enchanted tree in Stefani’s film. One of the B-sides on ‘Am I Right?’ was, of course, ‘Carry On Clangers’.

C. S. Lewis – The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (1950)

I grew up with the Narnia books. The idea of finding another world lurking at the back of a wardrobe seemed to have a major sway over my imagination as a young boy, a long time before the realities of real life fully set in. I’ve re-read the books countless times into adulthood and watched my two daughters see the magic in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe when they themselves pulled the book down from the shelves of their school library.

In spite of that familiarity, the obvious influence of the most famous of the Narnia stories on ‘Home’, the final track on Chorus and a song originally intended as the album’s first single, had never occurred to me until Andy pointed it out. Yet it’s all there, hiding in plain sight: the child who doesn’t want to go home because he thinks he’s ‘having a good time’ (Edmund Pevensie, a boy forever trapped in his brother’s shadow), the cold wintery landscape, a mystical force that ‘ices over and freezes life’, the roar of the lion (Aslan). It’s pretty obvious when you know where it came from.

Another fantastical literary reference point would come with the Alice In Wonderland-themed video for the album’s final single, Breath Of Life.

The Tornados – Telstar (1962)

Joe Meek was fascinated with electronics from an early age, becoming an obvious fit for the role of radar operator during his National Service, that experience honing his understanding of nascent technology and allowing him to secure a job as an engineer for Radio Luxembourg. From there it was a short hop to engineering records and producing groups, his progressive techniques rightly giving him the acclaim as being the first to use the studio as an instrument itself.

1962’s instrumental ‘Telstar’ by his group The Tornados was electronic pop before electronic pop had even been dreamt of (although Meek probably had dreamt of it, if we’re completely honest). The track was loaded with joyous ahead-of-its-time phasing, giving it the astral effect that Meek wanted to encapsulate for a song celebrating the first TV satellite. However, it was the lead instrument that was totally out of this world – the Clavioline, first heard in a pop context on Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’, and a predecessor to the monophonic synthesizers that Vince Clarke used to give Chorus its distinctive sound.

Joe Meek recording hit records in his rented residence, equipment and cables strewn across the landing and with instruments, tape machines and microphones set up in every room, provided ‘Love To Hate You’ director David Mallet with the inspiration for Vince’s manic, driven character in that video. The inference was that the singular vision that Vince brought to the studio for Chorus was comparable to Meek’s own genius, and its hard to disagree with that.

In Mute-related Meek matters, Daniel Miller recorded a cover of ‘Just Like Eddie’ for his 1980 Silicon Teens LP Music For Parties. The track had originally been recorded by the singer Heinz in 1963 and was produced by Joe Meek.

Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! (1956)

Sticking with Mallet’s ‘Love To Hate You’ video, if you look very carefully, within the opening moments of the film, you see a brief glimpse of a Frank Sinatra CD among a pile of detritus. Songs For Swingin’ Lovers!, Frank’s 1956 album, was a collection of standards recorded in a hip, jazzy style which directly appealed to the tastes of pop music buyers at the time.

Including that CD was a cheeky in-joke by Mallet. Joe Meek routinely admitted his love of Sinatra’s music, and the inclusion of his crossover pop LP in the environs of Vince’s portrayal of pop producer Meek was entirely deliberate.

Speculation is rife that Meek was involved in the recording of Frank’s 1962 TV performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall – the same year that ‘Telstar’ secured him a massive hit – but if he was, he took that with him to his untimely and tragic grave. That said, Meek believed you could use electronics to communicate with the dead, so someone in the modular synth community might be able to ask him.

Words: Mat Smith

Interviews conducted as part of the BMG / Mute Erasure Chorus reissue project, November 2018 to February 2019 in London, New York, my dining room, a hotel room in Edinburgh and a taxi back from Heathrow. Thanks to Zoe, Shaun and Richard.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence for BMG / Mute

Olivia Speaks: Olivia Louvel On [Hepworth Resounds]

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[Hepworth Resounds] is a two-part exploration of the work of sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) by voice artist Olivia Louvel. The first part, The Sculptor Speaks was broadcast by Resonance FM in January 2020 and is followed by SculptOr, released by Louvel’s Cat Werk Imprint label today.

Olivia spoke to Documentary Evidence about the origins of the project and what it as that resonated so much about Hepworth’s work – and voice.

I have always been fascinated by the interplay of voice and sculpture.

I recently researched the subject in The Sculpted Voice: An Exploration Of Voice In Sound Art. The first piece I made on Barbara Hepworth was ‘Studio’, which is now featured on the album SculptOr. For that I recorded sounds in the art and metal workshops at the University of Brighton.

I was familiar with her sculptures – she is an icon – but it’s only when I began to read her writings that things took a new turn, and I could see how I could compose with her words.

I work at the intersection of creation and documentation, often taking existing texts as a point of departure. Delving into her creative process, I could question my own creative process and relationship to sculpting sounds. I visited her Sculpture Garden in St Ives back in 2017 and then I went to the Wakefield museum too. Recently, I attended her exhibition at Musée Rodin, in Paris.

Voice is a material I enjoy manipulating. My practice is built upon a long-standing exploration of the voice, whether sung or spoken, and its manipulation through digital technology as a compositional method.

Largely I use digital tools which employ virtual methods of sculpting, I worked with Audiosculpt (Ircam) and GRM Tools (GRM-INA).

The starting point for [Hepworth Resounds] was her extensive body of writings, which paved the way for SculptOr, a suite of nine pieces available as digipak CD. So the project started with her words but then en route I began to play with a snippet of her voice for ‘Use Your Own Body’, the first track on the album, in which she says that “every sculpture must be touched”. I thought how wonderful it would be to work more with her voice, to touch her voice. And so the project evolved.

‘Must Carve A Stone’ by Olivia Louvel (dir. Paul Kendall)

During my research at the British Library, I discovered the existence of a 1961 tape called The Sculptor Speaks and I was able to obtain the digitised file thanks to Sophie Bowness, trustee of the Hepworth Estate.

The Sculptor Speaks is a 1961 recording of Barbara Hepworth’s voice, illuminating her creative process. Recorded by Hepworth herself in her studio in St Ives, the tape’s initial purpose was for a recorded talk to accompany slides for the British Council. I am creating for it a new sound environment, effectively re-sounding the tape; re-sounding as in bringing a new resonance, a new context to the object, an object which had been neglected, just waiting for a new status. So we could say that SculptOr is based on words, and The Sculptor Speaks is based on the direct carving of her voice. Both objects together form [Hepworth Resounds].

The Sculptor Speaks, as a first iteration, was premiered on Resonance FM on 10th of January 2020, celebrating her date of birth. From this stereo version, I plan to bring her voice in the space – in the context of a multi-speaker diffusion – so the audience can experience the physicality of her voice, discover this rich oral material and acquire a new sensorial perspective on her legacy.

Interview: Mat Smith

SculptOr by Olivia Louvel is released February 7 2020 by Cat Werk Imprint. Buy Sculptor here.

(c) 2020 Olivia Louvel for Documentary Evidence