Echo Collective – The See Within

I spoke to Margaret Hermant and Neil Leiter – the core of Belgium-based modern classical unit Echo Collective – in February 2018. At that point two albums featuring the Collective were about to be issued – World Beyond, a classical interpretation of Erasure’s World Be Gone that was the focus of my interview, and a classical reinterpretation of Radiohead’s complex, sonically challenging Amnesiac. Leiter had hinted at other projects, one of which was a collaboration with Maps, which surfaced as 2019’s outstanding Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. 

The other project Leiter mentioned is what became The See Within, the first Echo Collective album to contain original material. At that point in February 2018, The See Within wasn’t even written; it merely existed as an idea, something he and Hermant were keen to do, but its execution seemed relatively remote. Their publisher, on the back of performances of Amnesiac and the reception to World Beyond, suggested that they should be prepared to “clone themselves” as classical interpreters for hire. It was clear when talking to Leiter that the idea, lucrative though it may well have been, had limited appeal: the goal was their own music, and what became The See Within thus became a driving focus. 

Neil Leiter & Margaret Hermant by Julien Bourgeois.

The See Within contains eight pieces for strings and magnetic resonator piano, an adapted piano that allows long, string-like tonalities to emerge. The album finds the core duo of Hermant (violin, harp) and Leiter (viola) collaborating with a third member of the collective, Gary De Cart, whose use of the MRP on standout pieces like ‘The Witching Hour’ or the lengthy ‘Respire’ gives the album its distinctive melodic character. Despite the emergence of strange, alien sounds and textures (for example, the opening moments of the evocatively-titled ‘Glitch’ or the gentle, evolving music box clusters of the beatific ‘Unknown Gates’), the Echo Collective mantra is to avoid studio effects other than subtle reverb. Theirs is an approach born of the concert hall, of live music, of being able to use instruments to their fullest potential, without resorting to the studio to achieve their idiosyncratic artistic vision. 

The result is an album that stands out in the crowded marketplace of modern classical music; an album that also stands apart from their previous interpretative or collaborative work yet feels inextricably linked through the way that Hermant, Leiter and De Cart interact with one another. Here you find moments of improvisatory freedom overlapping with rigid composition, of traditional playing effortlessly overlapping with instrument adaptations, giving each and every piece on The See Within an acoustic personality and sonic resonance unto itself.

A more engaging modern classical album you will not find. 

The See Within by Echo Collective is released October 30 2020 by 7K! Echo Collective are published by Mute Song.

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Gaia and George. 

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence 

Kumo – Euclidean Patterns

Kumo - Euclidean Patterns

I’m going to be completely honest here – I don’t get the maths and science behind this new EP from Jono Podmore’s longstanding Kumo alias. Here’s what Podmore has to say:

One of the many things that Euclid, the 4th century BC Greek mathematician and the Father of Geometry, left us is the first algorithm: a method to compute the greatest common divisor between 2 given integers. The algorithm is used in particle physics and computer science, but in 2005 Canadian mathematician Godfried Toussaint noticed something extraordinary when he applied it to musical rhythm. Using the algorithm to distribute beats and silences as evenly as possible in a bar generates almost all of the most important world music rhythms, from Sub-Saharan African music in particular. For example, if you have a bar with 8 pulses and you want to have 5 beats in that bar, the way the algorithm places the beats gives us the Cuban “Cinquillo” rhythm, which has its roots in West African music. 

The examples are endless: 13 into 24 gives us a whole series of rhythms used by the Aka Pygmies of the upper Sangha. Euclid lived his entire life in Alexandria in Egypt, and Herodotus said that the basis of Greek culture was African. Maybe there’s another strand to that relationship we’ve only just uncovered. 

The 3 tracks on this EP use all the Euclidean rhythms in bars of 9, 12, and 13, but going further, as the algorithm is used to generate the harmony too. Chords and modes can all be derived by spacing the notes across the octave, for example, 6 distributed evenly across 12 generates a whole tone scale. 

– Jono Podmore, notes to accompany Euclidean Patterns – https://sound-space.bandcamp.com/album/euclidean-patterns

See, it’s like I understand the words – individually – but when you put them all together into three paragraphs, that GCSE A in Maths from 1993 suddenly seems pretty useless. So I’ll do what I usually do and focus on what I can hear instead. 

‘South African Euclid’ begins with a wiry tendril of electrical current which provides the constantly-evolving thread weaving throughout the track, sometimes keeping itself quietly amused in the background and at others rising noisily to the surface; there it vies with a squelchy, acidic pattern, breathy vocal samples and a juddering African rhythm developed with the Euclidean method. The EP’s second track, the wittily-named ‘Euclid On The Block’, carries a latent urgency that could be a restrained form of drill and bass, all frantic percussion and murmuring synth sounds that threaten to coalesce into a club-friendly synchronicity but which instead prowl edgily around a menacing, omnipresent bass tone. 

The EP’s final track, ‘Thirteenth Euclid’, sits somewhere in between its two Euclidean siblings. Opening with overlapping organ tones, the piece opens out into what feels like a delicious electronic bossa nova, only with unpredictable synth interjections like alien transmissions issued from a distant galaxy where you might ordinarily expect to hear a Stan Getz solo. 

It should come as no surprise that Podmore has chosen to infuse this EP with this type of intellectual exploration of the science underpinning rhythms. He currently holds down a job as the Professor of Popular Music at Cologne’s Hochschule für Muzik, whose professorial alumni include Karlheinz Stockhausen; one imagines that Stockhausen would have approved of the deconstructivist approach to applying these mathematical concepts to musical theory and the exacting precision with which Podmore has developed the three tracks included on the EP, while also leaving room for sounds to float free of their grid-like shackles. 

Euclidean Patterns by Kumo was released August 14 2020 by Sound-Sense. 

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence  

Isabella, Jasper And Simon Fisher Turner – Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody

Isabella, Jasper And Simon Fisher Turner - Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody

Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody is an album by Simon Fisher Turner and his two children, Isabella and Jasper. Its release was prompted by a conversation between SFT and Charles Powne from the Soleilmoon label about a specific album of children’s music, which in turn gave Fisher Turner pause to mention a project he’d been working on using the recorded voices of his children, which turned out to be this album.

It is a deliberately personal album, but one that is faithful to an aesthetic that Fisher Turner Sr. has been employing for the last few years under the banner of Guerrilla Audio; the concept also extends as far back as you care to look in his back catalogue, right back to when he first alighted upon a Revox tape machine. It involves making discrete, covert recordings that find their way into later sound works, adding a naturalistic, unpredictable quality alongside electronic structures; they sit somewhere between field recordings and the wiretapped conversations of vintage Scanner. 

In the case of Savage Songs…, the fifteen pieces included here represent the majority of the lifetimes of Fisher Turner’s two children, now deep into their teenage years. They are constructed from recordings that Fisher Turner made of them while they were growing up – little nonsense poems, overheard conversations, early attempts at French, the sounds of innocent young minds hard at work learning or playing or inventing fantastical worlds that they then inhabit, even if briefly. They are like tiny time capsules of Isabella and Jasper’s youth, otherwise lost to the mists of memory and age were it not for their father’s idea to recor them. The effect is both universally nostalgic for anyone who looks back with misty eyes on the all-too-rapid maturity of their children (and who wishes they’d preserved those memories better; more respectfully; more completely), yet also deeply personal for Fisher Turner who so attentively documented their growing up in this way. 

Nostalgia might abound in the mournfully-arranged pieces like ‘Cream and Latin Odor’, ‘The Sad Skipping Story’ and ‘The Mighty Dinosaurs’ (the latter with The Elysian Quartet), which have a sweetness and poignancy in the musical accompaniments, but a sense of inevitable playfulness can also be found here. ‘OH YEAH, forget about it, YEAH’ judders along on fragmented electronic patterns like sonic hopscotch, underpinned by a dismissive refrain from Isabella that, from a teenage mouth, would sound cutting and hurtful; ‘BlahXBlahXBlahX’ is noisy and rambunctious, nudged forward by retro computer game chip sounds and a processed “blah-blah-blah” refrain that suggests young Jasper was completely oblivious to his dad following him around with a microphone; ‘Squirrel Song’ is a stentorian waltz set to springy synths that commences with some gentle harmonising from the two young Turners; ‘JAZZ JAM corner’ sounds like a short offcut from The ResidentsCommercial Album

In his honest, truthful and tender press release Fisher Turner says that there will be no second volume, in spite of the hours of unused recordings that remain on his overflowing hard-drive. His children are now 17 and 15, and the idea of being trailed around by a doting father with sound intentions no longer seems as fun as it did when they were tiny. Savage Songs…, then, represents a loving gift; a one-off; a unique paean to unique childhoods and the unstoppable act of getting older. 

Savage Songs Of Brutality And Food. By The Extreme Angels Of Parody by Isabella, Jasper and Simon Fisher Turner is released September 4 2020 by Soleilmoon.

An email to Simon Fisher Turner, 6 August 2020. 

Dear Simon, 

Thank you for sending this across. 

I have to say, for all sorts of reasons, the press release moved me profoundly, and I confess to having shed a tear while reading it. Anyone with children who have suddenly grown up almost without you noticing – because it wasn’t sudden; never could be; you just didn’t see, or perhaps refused to accept, the signs – would recognise some of the sentiment in that. And that’s before I have even listened to it. My two daughters are 14 and 12. I don’t recognise them. I’m just some old fart whose music tastes they do not want to understand and who is boring because he tries to work hard to provide for them. 

I remember once, probably in 2008 or 2009, sending you a text from St Albans. I was waiting outside a uniform shop where my now-14-year-old was being fitted out for her first school uniform. I have no idea why I said this to you, nor what conversation we were in the middle of at the time. You told me you could relate. It felt like her future and her sister’s future were starting in earnest. Now they try to customise their uniforms, skirt length, hair length etc to the limits of what might get them a detention and I’m still waiting outside shops while they try on clothes. 

Strangely, too, something in your press release text made me nostalgic for my own childhood. It was the reference to Soleilmoon asking about an album of children’s songs. I had such an album as a kid. It was called All Aboard, a beautiful LP that had all sorts of classic songs on it, like Bernard Cribbins singing ‘Right Said Fred’. It also had ‘The Laughing Policeman’ on it, which got scratched on one of the policeman’s laughs, creating a locked groove that was utterly disturbing for this toddler playing nearby and might explain why the cut-ups of Burroughs and loops that I read about (before hearing them) fired up my imagination so much. I kept meaning to buy a second-hand copy while the girls were small, and now they’re not. And neither am I. 

I look forward to listening to this and writing about it before release. You can probably guess the thoughts and nostalgia with which I will approach it. Think of this as a preview. 

Thank you, 

Mat 

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

Easy - Radical Innocence (cover)

“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

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

From Isolation 1 art.jpg

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

danielaveryalessandrocortini_illusionoftime

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.

daac_sundrawwater

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

Erasure – Chorus : References & Influences

chorus-exploded-square

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)

londonbeat_ivebeenthinkingaboutyou

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)

charlierich_themostbeautifulgirl

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

hackedepicciotto – The Current

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I have three experiences of Blackpool, the town in which the ever-wandering duo of Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke recorded The Current.

The first is, I am told, a brief trip there as a child in the way home from Scotland, of which I remember absolutely nothing. My mother advises me that I was eighteen months old. The only memento I have of this is a small black and white photo-booth strip.

Then, almost thirty years later I watched an episode of a show called The Hotel Inspector, one of several programmes scheduled in the wake of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in which some egotistical know-it-all pokes around in an establishment, shows just how utterly disgusting it is, and then comprises a strategy for how they will radically improve it. The thing that stuck with me about this show was not a very dubious establishment managed by a very colourful character, but the statistic that the average room rate for one of the 1800 hotels in Blackpool was £20 – and lest we forget that an average suggests there were many rooms available for substantially less. Hotel room rates act as a barometer for the economic prospects of a location, and on that measure alone, Blackpool was woeful. I mean, I’ve paid more than that for an hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska and that place didn’t have a ballroom, tower or a beach to improve its appeal.

Finally, maybe around the same time as that, I hauled myself up to Blackpool at some ungodly hour in the morning to support a colleague who was presenting at one of the significantly more expensive hotels in the town. As he came off the stage and legged it to the exit, he whipped off his microphone and whispered to me, ‘Get me the fuck out of here – this town makes me want to kill myself.’

But some of this is precisely why de Picciotto and Hacke chose to move to Blackpool for The Current. It is a town, as they put it, left behind by gentrification, a forgotten relic of Victorian-era tourism, a place dominated by sickly, E-number-heavy boiled sweets, faded seaside grandeur and an unlikely landmark – the Tower – forever destined to be unfairly seen as a poor architectural cousin to M. Eiffel’s more famous example, despite being arguably almost as impressive.

All of this, plus the presence of the Irish Sea the couple could see from their window, gives tracks like ‘Petty Silver’ – replete with its creepy melodic tones reminiscent of ‘The Carny’ by The Bad Seeds, grubby, fuzzy electronic rhythm and sub-bass slowed down to a unnerving prowl – an unexpected, if turbulent and utterly skewed, symphonic edge. It would be glib to say that such a track carries a sense of mystery as Danielle de Picciotto intones an especially bleak poetry, but there is nevertheless a sinister, Old Testament good vs evil thing going on here.

Elsewhere, opening track ‘Defiance’ is nudged onward by a gloomy bluesy guitar, bass and violin formation that might as well have blown in from the sand of a sun-bleached Nevadan desert rather than the brown sand of Blackpool. Here we find overheard voices, strangely celebratory and yet weirdly affecting when taken outside of their context, bells, snarling electronics and a vocal from de Picciotto that emphasises we are all made equal despite Blackpool’s economic fortunes suggesting that this is anything but the case.

It is an effect that plays out across The Current, in a fashion not wholly dissimilar to the sound of the Detroit-centred Crime & The City Solution album American Twilight (2013) that both contributed to. On the standout ‘Onwards’, that manifests itself as a violin section that is enough to cause claustrophobia and panic, the beautiful harmonies between Hacke and de Picciotto never quite offsetting the churning urgency of the strings, sounding not unlike the end of the world as we know it. The album’s title track begins with a soundfield of unplaceable, hissing, droning sounds evoking comparisons with Hacke’s role in Einstürzende Neubauten, though even that band never quite managed to sound this bleak; ‘The Banishing’ carries a strained, muted edge courtesy of a rich, undulating, thunderous rhythm, chanted vocals and vaguely optimistic strings; ‘Third From The Sun’ begins with rich otherworldly sounds intended to remind us that our very existence owes itself to accidents and astral coincidence, before descending into a ominous wall of beautiful, ugly sound laced with psychedelic motifs.

This is not an album for the faint-hearted. By the time you reach the mournful ‘Upon Departure’, with its proggy, thick Violinksi tonalities, insistent strings and impenetrably savage drums, or the damning social commentary of ‘The Black Pool’, you might be forgiven for wanting to say, like my former colleague, ‘Get me the fuck out of here.’ Break through the gloom and a strangely human, hopeful, elegiac dimension appears. It is the sound of an unexpected optimism and a spirit of unity and of being in this together in spite of the state we’re in.

That de Picciotto and Hacke were able to freely up sticks and pitch up in Blackpool, with an album released on the very day where the UK is expected to sever its ties from Europe, and where such freedom of movement will be once again restricted, is perhaps the most overtly political statement of all those enshrined in The Current.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence