Sofa Sound  Newsletter 11/September 1996

Camera Obscura


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With the evident exception of the release of "X my Heart" and the limited amount of touring accompanying it, 1996 - so far and so foreseen - has fundamentally been a year of exploration in half-known yet still unfamiliar areas for me.
As a result, much of this newsletter is retrospective in tone, even if the fruits of the various labours are only now being presented to you.
There is new stuff as well as old unveiled here; some of it is genuinely cutting edge.
So I'll cease this preambling forthwith. As always , with undiminshed force, thanks for listening!

Up the Mountain...

Whether you've been receiving newsletters and/or following my music for years or mere months, I'm sure it's abundantly clear to you that for me live performances must be events rather than mere repetitions. 1996 has seen some genuine ones. The most "normal" part, evidently, was the phQuartet mini-swing through Europe in Spring. If I needed any further proof of the commitment, intuition and musicality that David, Hooly and Max bring to this loose concept it was there in abundance. My feeling generally is that it's for grown-ups...but with a twinkle in the eye.... I still don't know exactly what kind of group it is, but I hope that it can continue to prosper on the occasions when it's feasible for it to do so!

Meanwhile I have been off on various solo ventures, all of which have been genuinely exciting.

The concert with the Orchestre National de Lille had first been posited some years ago. The opportunity for me to sing a couple of ditties with "the band" eventually aligned with their Twentieth Anniversary Concert. Having decided - for the simple reason that the parts were already in existence - that "This Side of the Looking-Glass" would be one of the songs I was disinclined to take a similarly Romantic subject for the other and as a result commissioned David Lord to arrange "Traintime". Such doubts as were expressed about this were, I have to say, met with an adamant front. Confidently was the only way to approach this one. Rehearsals were minimal, as one might expect, and mutual trust high on the agenda; the orchestra's trust in me was doubtless diminished not a little by some creative pitching of mine in the acapella introduction to "Looking-Glass" in the final run-throughs. Modern, or what? In the event I hit the right note and so did the concert. With several other solo performers and a wide variety of material being involved it was altogether positive to feel a sense of mutual encouragement and communality in making music. And from the (not-so-) simple perspective of being a singer it was a wonderfully alternative flight to be searching for the beat in the air which is orchestral world. Priceless.

In Israel I did two shows without any repetition of songs at all. It had been many years since my last performances there and I was particularly struck by the youth of the audience. The Masterclass was more in the nature of monologue than of education; from my own point of view I found elements of the free-association quite instructive. Fundamentally, I traced such elements of the path which have led me to the current uncertain spot as I can discern.

The two "Sounds of the Dolomites" shows in the summer were absolutely top of the world. This is the second year in which this festival (two shows per artist per weekend) has run and I was the first non-classical or jazz artist to be involved. The shows took place at Alpine Refuges, 2000 metres up the mountains. Audience and artist (and, indeed, artist's family) alike walked/climbed for some hours to get there; after a spot of lunch and a beer or two the concerts took place outside without benefit of any electricity at all. Choose the rock on which you'll sit and get going with Vox and Guitar. Both locations were magical; the first show was in brilliant sunshine; the second in gathering mountain clouds, rain and thunder. When these became genuinely threatening rather than merely inconvenient, we all moved back inside the refuge. This was fundamentallt designed for fifty or so people to rest and fuel themselves before a bit of serious mountaineering; two hundred people cramming it the gills to hear the rantings of a somewhat drenched singer was certainly a unique event. The whole experience will live long in the memory....

And for the last act of the summer I re-assembled the phQ for an appearance at the Sziget Island festival between Buda and Pest in Hiungary. Ah, festivals, don't ya love 'em! Actually, no: usually chaotic and undisciplined, without any real possibility of PLAYING. Hence my general reluctance to approach them; I can't remember when I did my last, in fact. I have to say that the organisation for this was exemplary and felt that though it was tough to get the true tenor of a phQ performance over in a field we managed to do so. The wildness of eye and of feeling was certainly exacerbated by the fact that I was sharing the bill with Iggy Pop....

Lessons of '96 (so far) then, in terms of That Live Stuff? I haven't stopped, I haven't stopped, I haven't stopped that yet.....

The New Stuff

Well, actually let's start with a melange of the old. When Fie! was licensed to Discipline in the US and Japan a compilation of songs was put out in tandem with "X my Heart", offering - at a budget price, naturally - some insight into the world of PH music for those who might otherwise be reluctant to get their feet wet. It's now released over here as well, for much the same purposes. By definition, then, it might not be of much interest to you, since you probably own these recordings in their original context. Nonetheless, it's interesting (for me at least) to bang things of disparate nature and time together into the apparent solid form of a CD rather than a tape and you might find it so as well.

This is not a collection of Greatest Hits (well, it wouldn't be, would it?), nor exactly an easy-listening calling-card. The intention is to give some genuine perspective on things. The songs are taken from the Fie! studio albums catalogue, but excluding "X my heart" (too new) and the titles licensed back from Enigma. The tracks are: A Kick to kill the kiss; I will find you; Accidents; His Best Girl; Sharply Unclear; Patient; Planet Coventry; A Ritual Mask; The Noise; The Gift of Fire; Traintime; Gaia; Your Tall ship.

So to get the effect you can just get to work with your CD and cassette blame! I would point out, though, that the CD is at a CD single price, and there's a voucher within it offering any CD in the Fie! catalogue @ £7.00. Roll up, roll up - Marketing Ahoy!

In other words, in as much as anything I do ever has a target audience (it doesn't), this isn't particularly aimed at you, but you might be interested anyway....


I do think you will find this interesting! You may or may not know that David Jackson has been involved in Music Therapy for a number of years now and that one of his principal tools in this work is the Soundbeam system. This is, for want of better terms, a MIDI keyboard in the air - cutting the beam will trigger notes or events in the same way that playing a keyboard would; the nature of the beast means that results are rather less predictable and more exciting than that, though!

Ever since David told me about this system I've been bugging him about putting it to creative use, particularly in conjunction with improvisational playing; finally I had to put my Studio Time where my mouth was and in January we arranged a couple of days in which we'd begin explorations and see what emerged. Months later, it's a CD, "Fractal Bridge", which I produced but on which the music is all David's own. It's extraordinary stuff: not all of it is improvised, but all of David's playing is imbued with his idiosyncratic approach. Some of the Soundbeam-played music in particular could not, I believe, have been reached with any other system. I thoroughly commend it to you...well, what greater personal endorsement can I make but that this is the first non-PH release on Fie! Records? And in terms of its mystery and mysterious effect I can give you no further description or information which would be useful unless you actually have the music to hand and in your ears....


This is my own new/old stuff, although not exactly in the world of the song; the bulk of the CD is taken up by film and dance music. You may recall that I wrote and recorded the music for the film "Emmene-moi" some time ago; this year I have also spent some time working on a dance commission from Luis Bruni and Raffaella Rossellini; the first performance of this work was at the Catania festival this summer. It's fundamentally piano based, if of a rather strange nature. Their original idea had been that I play and sing live; for a variety of reasons I found this completely mad, but did come up with the conceit that the modern, MIDI, version of a player piano could spring into life centre-stage after a taped intro had been played, later to be joined by my singing, also on tape. This, then, is the final nature of the work - although for reasons of expediency as much as sonics I did not use the player-piano in this, somewhat edited recording. It's a musical muse on the subject of labyrinths. The film music present is rather more than was actually present, for one reason or another, in the movie; so churning pads and guitars are as much to the fore as Hooly's controlled violin and viola playing. A couple of pieces of pure experiment in sound and music-making round things off.

My own feeling is that this is something of a second cousin to "Loops & Reels" - do NOT, evidently, expect Songs. Paul Ridout, who is still grappling with the cover even as I write, says that if that's so then the cousin is certainly wearing a suit and tie compared to the relative's T-shirt and jeans. Possibly.

"Sonix" is set to be released in mid-November; if you order it now it will be sent to you as soon as copies are available - but that won't be till late October. Be prepared for a slight wait...or wait to order!

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The Miscellany

One forthcoming show of no little passing interest: on November 3rd I will be performing with Guy Evans at the Union Chapel in London. Whatever finally transpires on this night it should certainly be whacky - such actual songs as we play will be arrived at tangentially and will probably be seen from unusual angles! Although the fundamental responsibilities - and the basis of the set - will be ours as a duo, there will also be other players - but the who, what and how of it all remains somewhat in the lap of the gods as I write. Tickets (£10) are available from The Union Chapel Project, Compton Avenue, N1 2XD or by credit card from Ticketmaster: 0171-344 4444. Further info at present there is not...but it should be fun.
Another one-off will be at 'sHertogenbosch in Holland on 23rd November in the UNtitled music festival. At the moment I've no idea what kind of performance this will be. There is also some possibility of a couple of shows in Russia in December, but apart from these I have no word of any other upcoming live events as I write; they are more likely to be in '97 than this year in any case...
Finally, dare I whisper it? I will be starting to record the next album in the next few weeks. Out in the spring? Nature? Style? Players? All remains to be seen.... What is and is not available....
You'll find that some things have dropped off the list of Sofa Sound stuff with this newsletter. As a point of principle, we try to offer for sale only those things of which we can be assured of regular supplies! We are no longer stocking the "Passionskirche" video; they're simply proving too difficult to get hold of. My apologies to those of you who've waited in vain and increasing exasperation. Nor is "Offensichtlich Goldfisch" retained on the list.
Certain Virgin titles are deleted (at present, at least): " The Margin" and "Over". They will probably reappear in due course.
The monogram sweatshirts and T-shirts are now out of stock and the book is also closed on the "Fireships" and "The Noise" posters. On the other hand, for your sartorial delectation there IS a new generic T-shirt on offer: this is a Fie! one. Black on white, logos akimbo!
Some of you may aready have come across a CD of my performance at the Lanzarote festival some years back, called "Tides" , which occupied a curious position between being bootleg and official. That is to say it was on a normal label but without the slightest approval coming from my direction. I've therefore had to spike it. At one point it seemed likely that we would sell it through Sofa Sound, but this proved altogether too difficult. Just to show you how much care was taken over the production of this CD, 4 out of 8 track listings were wrong, including "Still Life" going under the "Untitled" moniker! I do now have the masters, though, so there's some possibility of an official release at some time in the future. Virgin have also released yet another compilation, "After the Show", but I don't know why exactly; so we don't stock it!

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