Monday, May 05, 2008

Cathedrals of Hiss/New Online Studio

It's Bank Holiday Monday and a good time to blog. I've had a recent period of unwellness and been somewhat detoured from working on Inlets' Daughter but have found myself engaged on two different projects...

I was recently sifting through some old cassettes of music I had recorded over the past 25 years or so with the vague idea of digitising some of them to place on my new website (see 2). One of them stood out from the rest for a couple of reasons: it was uncharacteristically very badly recorded*, with lots of hissss but it also stayed with me, wanting to play it again and again.

This cassette was labelled '4 Point Paint' which was an improvised gtr duo I formed with Robin Watts in Southampton in the early '80s. The name comes from the fact that we commissioned to be made (from a local electronics firm) a signal splitter which allowed us to output our guitars to four seperate amps. Across some of these connections we placed effects pedals (phasers, flangers etc.) so that we created a kind of surround sound - when such things were uncommon.

It would be true to say that we never really developed the system or even played live as much as we might but this was a colourful time when Robin and I were in several bands and had other commitments.

We played a handful of venues including (from memory):
• Southampton University Concourse,
• Southampton Civic Centre
• The Deannery Annexe, Southampton (twice, I think),
• City Centre, Above Bar, Southampton (near the art gallery),
• A field with some cows (Robin also had a spare car battery which we used to power our outdoor ‘gigs’).

It would be fair to say that we left the musical world (even the musical world of Southamption) relatively untroubled - perhaps with exception of the cows - but we definitely had something. Our playing was underpinned by a rapport developed from our repeated improvising together, and our style was under the influence of systems music, enabling us to move into combining and offsetting patterns of notes one moment and then veering off into new areas the next.

As I have described, most of our band time was spent improvising together and from these improvisations we would develop frameworks for music to play at our live performances. The rediscovered cassette contained four such improvisations.

...And so at first I digitised the 4 Point Paint tracks with the intention of removing as much of the hiss as I could without spoiling the sound of the guitars. As I worked with the tracks however, taking them into Logic Audio to mix hissed and unhissed versions together and gnashing my teeth and cursing at the whole idea of hiss a great deal - I gradually began to see that hiss was perhaps not my enemy and that I should embrace hiss and even use it as my guide ;o) (which means I realised I could gently reinvent the tracks, with subtle reverbs and new additions here and there and use the hiss as a guiding aesthetic). I then became interested in not just documenting the past but using it to produce new material.

From there it was a short step to designing a CD cover and preparing to release a VERY limited edition (of 2 only) of '4 Point Paint'.

The main revelation however, has been that I can view my past recordings as ingredients for new work - so more of this later.

* This was an era in which I veered between working in recording studios and double-tracking cassettes on my warhorse of a Hi Fi.

I've also sporadically been trying out some design and content ideas for which will work as a kind of 'online artist's studio' (and I'm busy trying to define that term) in parallel with the Chameleon Lectra site.

more entries on the above soon

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