Sofa Sound  Newsletter 10/March 1996

X my Heart....


Past Newsletters

Current Newsletter

Greetings once again.
For once I'm happy to be able to announce - more or less on time to boot - the release of some absolutely new recordings, as trailed in the last newsletter. It seems like an age since "Roaring Forties"....
Descriptive/narrative stuff follows herein. Suffice it to say that I am well satisfied with this work, particularly in terms of the interaction of musicians. It'll be up to you to form your own opinions, as always, but my own feeling is that this is a really cohesive collection.
Expect the next newsletter towards September. There WILL be a fair bit more - and of a varied nature - to report then, I can assure you!
In the meantime, as always, thanks for listening!

X my Heart

This is my twenty-sixth solo recording and was produced , as you will already know, over several months of 1995 at Terra Incognita. Nearly all of this newsletter deals with this new work...there's much to write about!

Perhaps the first thing to say is that this is neither a BeCalm nor an Aloud! It's placed in the Middle Ground....

The tours of 1994 and 1995 with Manny, Stuart and David (the phQuartet) were challenging for all concerned. The nominally bass-less ensemble with two nominally lead-only players on the left and right wings took a degree of work, rehearsal and performance to bed in properly. Once the parameters within which we worked best as a unit were established it became clear that a very wide range of musics could be covered. It was with at least half a mind set upon these possibilities that I entered the recording of the songs which were eventually to form "X my heart". As a result Manny, Stuart and David (in various combinations and guises) are the only players on this album apart from myself. Their contributions are, I believe, outstanding individually but perhaps more importantly are completely sympathetic to each other when taken as a whole. There are moments of soloing but for the most part these are ensemble pieces. Some of them almost sound like live recordings; they are certainly living ones in any event.

With one or two notable exceptions, the nine pieces fall more or less into conventional song format, but with a variety of musical sub-texts. Some of the musical elements: systems music; Celtic instrumentation and melodic phrasing; classical orchestration; tone rows; guitars, guitars, guitars; vox. Manny, David and Stuart were often working in the dark as far as other parts were concerned and the sympathetic benefits of touring together were most evident here. In a number of cases we spent a useful period of time examining the possibilities of each piece before actually playing any notes - allocating space and responsibility to each instrument and player in advance. Paradoxically, this left us freer, rather than more considered when the time for playing eventually arrived.

Unusually (for me at least) one song , "A Better Time"is present in two different versions: one acapella (dense vox here)and one more fully arranged by Stuart in his controlled violin rather than Hooly mode. The two versions top and tail the CD.

The songs are self-contained, but spin over one to the next in terms of musical palette and lyrical concern.

The subject matter falls fundamentally into two camps: sense of memory and sense of time and place. The two are, naturally, subjectively as objectively, interchangeable; taken together they produce what passes for identity.

Perhaps the songs about memory focus more on what is lost than on what remains or is gained; and therefore on what identity one can patch together from the gaps which increasingly occur. Sometimes these are self-inflicted, out of self-destruction or self-preservation: the end result is the same. Sometimes they are more randomly imposed from outside. In any event, one is left only with what one knows as a personality and has to make do, or go forward, with that.

The time and place songs offer the simple thesis that one MUST accept the present if there is to be any chance of comprehending past or future. Wishing and hoping is not It. So "...I'll never find a better time to be alive than now..." implies that, indeed, there will never be a better time but also that there will never be a WORSE time than this. There will never be any other time than that which currently occupies the consciousness. Only memory tells us otherwise; and this is not as reliable or non-selective as we might wish.

(How can one break free, without breaking things? Know the moment without walking away from it? Observations only, here....)

In my dream world these are what might almost pass for pop songs. They are also monologues; and conversations with several imagined or alternative selves. Some of them are jokes. With serious laughs involved.

The recordings were made digitally on the twenty-four track ADAT system. Such sequencing as there was - since most instruments were recorded live - was on Cubase Score running on a PowerMac. The principal use of sequencing was on drum parts: all of these were played on Manny's Ddrum system into the computer, where they could be edited take by take...NOT quantised into submission! Since the "Virtual Kits" involved here are fundamentally cymbal-less only hi-hats and percussion were recorded live.

Some keyboard parts were also sequenced; as I've often banged on, my feeling is that, properly used, computer recorded music can be exactly that, with no greater or lesser soul element than that done in any other way. Nonetheless, most things here are in real time.

The mixing desk set-up was somewhat unusual: a pair of Yamaha Pro-1 16-channel digital mixers running in tandem. This is a powerful though (initially) complex system; riding the learning curve occupied a degree of my time in the early stages of recording and overdubbing. The benefits of my current system are that it is completely portable - so that I could record my own piano at home - and unintimidating in terms of size. As a result I felt unconstrained by physical space in the making of these recordings. I think this shows in the openness of aural space, too.

In sum, what do I think about it all? It seems to me that, granted that this was a recording project which took place over a considerable period of time and used (rather than was used by, one hopes) modern technology to a reasonable limit, there is much of a live feel about these songs. Takes were not laboured over: either an idea - of mine or of one of the other musicians - worked within one or two efforts or it was abandoned. So there is a certain sense of freshness here. Most of the songs were fully conceived and written before a note was committed to tape, so there is a certain form. Most of the ideas are inter-related, so there is a certain conceptual continuity; no, not a concept album! Within the contexts of what I regard The Song as being capable of bearing and what I perceive as properly reactive playing I think that the work here embodies much of what I have been trying to achieve over the last few years.

Not Calm, then, not Loud. Short(-ish) songs. But no, it's not easy listening. Easy Listening Still Aren't Us. But it's my continued belief that if there's Something to be Got it has to exist at more than merely the surface level...and that there are a few subterranean caves waiting to be discovered herein. Good luck and good listening; let me know what you think....

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The Miscellany

Certain major changes have taken place in the world of Fie!, particularly with regard to distribution, with the onset of 1996.
Firstly, Rockport is no longer the licensed label for Fie! in Germany/Benelux (apart from the ones still licensed to them, of course). In future CDs will be distributed directly by Rough Trade in these countries. Direct distribution will also go to Switzerland, France and Scandinavia. I hope that this system will work out well; if you observe or encounter any difficulties, please fell free to let me know about them!
At long last, Fie! will also have domestic releases in the US/Canada and Japan. These will be through Global Discipline Mobile, Robert Fripp's label. It's strange but ironically simple that after all these years we should both find ourselves Record Company Supremos, but it makes sense. I'm delighted that we've survived the various storms of our careers and continue to feel so positive about music. The first release will be, of course, "X my heart" - somewhat later than in Europe, on May 6th. Other releases will follow and the catalogue will also be available from DGM's mail order department. (Incidentally, all of you may well get some communication from them in the near future, as, in a unique motion, we have extended the Sofa Sound mailing list to them. This is a one-off, so if you want to be on their list as well as ours you'll have to respond directly to them!)
I trust and hope that this new arrangement will be beneficial to all concerned, you included; and also that a direct connection means that, at long last, I will (eventually) once again perform some concerts in these countries!
It all goes to show, I hope, that I remain as serious about Fie! as a label as I am about the music itself!

Live shows: at present I can only be vague about prospective touring this year. I DO know about the following:
Lille, Zenith, April 20th. This is the long-foretold concert with the Orchestre National de Lille. In the final eventuality, I will be performing two songs with the orchestra as part of their anniversary celebrations, along with various other singers. So it's far from being a solo show as such! One of the songs will be "...Looking-Glass"; the other must remain, for the moment, a surprise! Some possibilities of radio/TV recording of this one....
London, May 17th.
E'en as I write a show - of a nature yet to be arranged - has been confirmed for the Barbican Centre on this date.
Israel, May 9-11th.
News and/or confirmation of this is also still coming in. If it happens, two (solo) shows are involved as well as a Masterclass. No, I don't know what that will involve either. "Listen to Yourself" would be my best present guess.
Sounds of the Dolomites, July 31/Aug 2.
I will be doing two performances in this festival; they will be strange and unusual; I suspect that I'll have to tell you about them retrospectively....
The 1995 shows could have been characterised as "far-flung": I do intend to do much more of a "normal" circuit in 1996. This will certainly include a European tour in some guise or another; I know not yet if this will be in band/duo/trio/solo form, or anything else... I also hope, again, to travel more widely. It's all in the future mists.
As so often,watch the press for details....

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