Sofa Sound  Newsletter 8/March 1995

Learning Curves


Past Newsletters

Current Newsletter

Greetings for the bold New Year 1995!
As you will have realised the Sofa Sound newsletter is somewhat late this time. In part this is because of the very nature of the year; in part because there is not much by way of Hard News to impart to you at present.
However, such pieces of news and other ramblings as I have are contained herein.
Events will be moving forward rapidly in the rest of the year but it seems only right to give you an indication of the present and possible futures at this time, rather than waiting for more concrete stuff to materialise.
I suspect that I'm not going to be over-visible in 1995...but I shall be working and intend to have a variety of Stuff out by the end of the year!
In the meantime, as always, thanks for listening!

Getting to grips with it

Some years seem to take an age to get going. 1995 , for me, has been one of them. Perhaps it's because I didn't find myself mid-project at the turn of the year, or perhaps because I was still in something of a state of recovery from the touring at the tail of 1994. In any event, I spent much of January, February and the current month in a condition of consideration and preparation rather than outright activity.

That's not to say that I've been idle; I've been working on quite a few new songs for a start! In the main, though, I've been looking at and forcing myself into the ever-present learning curves without which things will simply become too static.

Much of the learning has been to do with Studio world, which, naturally, never stands still. I have taken something of a sideways technological jump here. You may recall, some newsletters back, that I've been working on and enthusing about ADAT digital recorders for some time now. Part of their attraction for me is their portability and relatively diminutive size. (And their comparative cheapness both in purchase price and running costs!). I've now taken an equivalent step in terms of mixing desk(s).

For some time I'd been getting fed up with the sheer size of my old Soundtracs 32-channel mixer, which dominated the room to an intimidating extent. (The altar of Tech.) Yamaha have now come up with a quite astonishing 16-channel digital desk, the Pro-1, which is tiny but extraordinarily powerful. So I've replaced the old behemoth with two of these things and my control room now has acres of space and, hopefully, room in which one can both breathe and think! These are not mixing desks in a conventional studio way - it's not going to be the easiest of things to record multiple tracks simultaneously, for instance - but I believe that it's technology which might have been designed for my normal way of working.

It's advanced stuff, though, so I've had an intensive period of self-education in how to work the things. Hopefully that's now completed and I'll be able to use the mixers in a "transparent" way. I should, perhaps, point out (once again) that I'm not a lover of technology for its own sake, even though I can fully appreciate something that's well-designed in a technological, ergonomic and aesthetic sense. I only make major technological jumps every few years, rather than constantly trying to stay at the leading edge; when those jumps are made, my intention is that I'll be made more free to make creative actions and decisions, rather than be imprisoned by the sheer Tech of it all. (The latter trap is, naturally, an easy one to fall into!)

While heading deeply into digital land in terms of the method of recording,I have to say that I'm leaning further and further away from it in terms of what is actually recorded. I remain comparatively un-enthused by sampling for its own sake; although, naturally, I sequence and use MIDI instruments I am not engaged in the perennial search for The Ultimate Marimba Sample. So I'm trying to maintain a balance between things while avoiding self-repetition. In pursuit of that my songwriting, as previously mentioned, has been taking place devotedly away from the studio and the tech, on piano and guitar. This has not always been the case in recent years; but if I've learned anything over the years it's that I have to keep changing my ways of working in order to stay fresh.

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself and making several rods for my own back. Inevitably, one can only learn about these things in the process of working with them. My dry runs have now been completed, and the true practice is about to start - next week, in fact, as soon as I've finished writing this! The net results of my latest "student period" , then, should be available soon. At that stage you can judge whether or not I've been successful in ignoring the blandishments of techno-for-its own sake. You'll gather, though, that I'm excited about the possibilities!

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The Film!

"Emmene-moi", the film directed by Michel Spinosa for which I wrote the original music last year, has finally gone on release.

Naturally, this is at present only in France. My suspicion is that this dark and disturbing story is unlikely to get dubbed or sub-titled for a showing anywhere else (except, perhaps, Quebec province!), although naturally we'd let you know if it did!

In the end Michel used only some of the music I wrote. Not, I hasten to say, because of any dissatisfaction on his part with the rest, but because what he used deemed so appropriate. Whenever the music is there, it's really in-your-face, rather than noodling away in the background. I have to say that I think he did a fantastic job in making up the soundtrack, in terms of the use of my music, the other (existing) pieces he used and the sound-as-sound.

So, a certain body of (instrumental) work now exists which will probably be out on CD at some time in the future - shades of "Loops and Reels". Partly as a result of the film work, I've also produced some other un-dedicated, non-song, pieces over the last months. When the vaults are finally opened you'll be the first to know!

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And no Wheels fell off!

The tour of Europe by the "Peter Hammill Quartet" - so we were known on our datesheet - at the end of last year was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling that I can recall, if extremely arduous as well. Definitely one for the grown-ups!

The risks involved were pretty self-evident: no bass, two lead players, an almost-untried percussion system for Max. The lack of any apparent blueprint, however, meant that our horizons were broad, both sonically and in choice of material. Things were changing from first note to last and I think we all felt a sense of exhilaration throughout the tour. We weren't changing the set overmuch in terms of material - this because there remained so much to explore in terms of the songs we were playing and the fact that a dynamic was established through the set with the basic line-up of sings. Including "A Headlong Stretch" among the songs, of course, meant that it was pretty hard to do a major reorganisation in any case!

In fact, we had rehearsed a certain amount of other material for this last tour, but by the time we were underway - and with the mileages we were putting in - it became impossible even to have a brief re-acquantiance-at-sound-check rehearsal to lick them into shape for insertion in the set. Perhaps next time....

Of the fact that there will be a next time for this line-up I'm as sure as I can be, since so much of excitement remains to be explored. In fact, one mini-tour is already booked in, but rather far outside the orbit of 99% of recipients of this newsletter: finally, we will be doing three shows in Siberia and one each in Moscow and St. Petersburg in May. As a tour I suspect this will be pretty wild. There's also going to be one show in Dresden on 10th June; also "pHQ", and the first time I'll have played in an ex-DDR city. And I'll be doing a solo show in Argenteuil, near Paris, two days before that. Possibilities of further one-off shows in Poland and Helsinki mean that there'll be a mixed bag of Spring touring. As for ever so long, the USA/Canada remain on the agenda in principle but not, as yet, in practice!

Finally, just a few words about what the other chaps have been up to. Stuart Gordon has continued to write and record music for TV and radio, including the track for an award-winning BBC radio play. He's also going to be the subject of an HTV documentary due out in a few weeks. Interesting in the anticipation, I think.

Manny Elias has been doing some work with me, as I've said, and various other bits of recording.

David Jackson continues to work on his Soundbeam projects; more of this, perhaps, another time.

Paul Ridout won second prize for computer graphics in a competition run by MacWorld magazine, for the "Roaring Forties" cover. And he's doing loads of Stuff, as always.

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The Miscellany

You will by now have realised that Sofa Sound/Fie! have nothing new out as I write. Over the next months, though, this will radically change.
Initially, there are some re-releases. Fie! has now licensed back the three Enigma releases for Europe. "In a Foreign Town" and "Out of Water" will be (re-)released at the end of May; "Room Temperature (Live)" will follow slightly later. The latter, the double-CD sound document of the US/Canada trio tour with Stuart Gordon and Nic Potter, has been hard to find over here in the past, to say the least; it's of the school of brutal but vital recordings. The addition of the two Studio albums - both of which, in different ways, were watershed works for me - means that almost every album ever released is now available and current on CD.
The one exception (which has never been out on this format) is "The Aerosol Grey Machine", the very first VdGG recording. (Although at the time of making it it was a PH-solo venture!)
I'm encouraged to say that the master tapes for this have been found in New York. A late summer release maybe possible, I hope.
There's one other possible imminent CD release; this would be on Strange Fruit and consist of the solo BBC sessions, as something of a companion piece to "Maida Vale". More info will be forthcoming if, as and when this transpires in the next newsletter. Around September! Or on the back of a postcard....
A somewhat bizarre entrant in the "For Sale" stakes is a book, "The Lemming Chronicles", by David Shaw-Parker. He has been a "fan" since first seeing the band perform its final show in the Keith Ellis incarnation; this tome charts his relationship with the music over the years. That sounds rather dry and/or trainspotter-ish; it is, in fact, a very droll and un-pompous piece of work. I laughed till I stopped. So did my wife, Gail Colson and the rest of the group. It's published by Pandora's Books, a subsidiary of the fanzine "Pilgrims" (which to my way of thinking could certainly take a few lessons from this work in how to be non-sycophantic without being outright poisonous!) and is listed on the Order form.
(A propos of books, a successor/inheritor to "Killers, Angels..." and "Mirrors, Dreams..." remains a perennial possibility. Some day, perhaps....)
The clothing line currently consist of the old faithfuls: monogram T-shirts (white) and sweatshirts. The latest version of the latter is light grey. Very tasteful. I'm still resisting all calls for monogram socks, ties, key-rings, golf umbrellas and coffee cups.
If you want to order any of the new CDs now we will, of course, send them off as soon as they come into our hands. If you'd rather the money was not banked until stuff's on its way, please write a separate cheque for the "soon-come" items if you're ordering anything else as well. May I just say that we have NEVER tried to rip anyone off - but things do go astray in the post, sometimes! If you have any doubts, just write to us!