Some time ago now the license of "The Fall of the House
of Usher" to Some Bizarre expired; after not entirely happy
experiences under this arrangement, a sigh of relief could
be heard from Bath. In the intervening period, of course,
Fie! had become the vital entity - or at least channel for
my output - which it now is and it therefore seemed obvious
that "Usher" should now take its place alongside the rest of
the Fie! catalogue.
The more I considered this, however, the less I liked the
idea. The original version of "Usher" had been done to the
best of my abilities at the time, but today seems,
especially in comparison to some of the recent work, a
little bit clunky at least. I therefore decided that, prior
to re-releasing the opera on Fie! I would do just a little
bit of work on some of the pieces which seemed most lacking
in force or sound to me. A year down the road of recording I
finally finished what is in effect an entirely new version
of the piece.
The original version was as it was for a number of reasons.
On the debit side must be placed my then capacities for
sequencing and arrangement (I have improved somewhat since
then, I believe!) and the technology which I was then
working with On the credit side, at least at the time, was
the fact that the parts and the somewhat austere sound world
they inhabit were intended to be easily transcribed for use
in live performance, which we hoped would be forthcoming
soon after the release of the CD. As we know, this never
happened. The result was that the original recording hovered
in a space somewhere between a fully developed recording and
an "original cast" effort.
My first moves in the act of restoration had to be
assembling the source material. "Usher"'s final form in '91
had been on 24-track analogue tape, often involving
sub-mixes of instrumental passages. I gave myself a backward
nod of approbation for having transferred the whole thing to
ADAT as my last act in analogue recording world.
Nonetheless, it proved something of an arduous task to get
all the parts for all the songs in the right place.
Eventually, though, I had audio and sequences totally
aligned for the entire work and began deconstruction.
The singers remain the same. I have replaced several of my
own vocals as Roderick Usher, especially in places where I
am singing solo. The other vocal performances are the
originals. It's behind these, in "the orchestra" that so
much has changed.
One of my earliest decisions was to remove all percussion
from the piece. Judge Smith has pointed out (in an engaging
piece about this new work, which is included in the package)
that these were in any case anachronisms, survivors of times
when the whole opera was, perhaps, more "rock song" oriented
than in its final form. In any event, those drums had to
Guitars, on the other hand, I wanted in. Over the last years
I've been greatly taken by the use of guitars, alone or in
combination with other instruments, in an orchestral role.
Having learned something about this, "Usher" seemed a most
suitable case to which I could apply my knowledge. I began
laying them on thick and at first only on those "songs"
which seemed to need enhancement.
It quickly became clear that the application of one daub of
paint meant that the whole ship had to be redecorated...or
in this case redubbed, resequenced, remixed.
Scores of guitars followed and further months of work. I
also brought in Stuart Gordon to play violin in a couple of
passages where the use of sampled strings simply didn't seem
to cut it.
This process of re-recording took two or three months of
last year and was followed by a full two months of mixing.
Even if I had wanted to retain original mixes it would have
been problematical by this stage, because the structure and
ambience had changed so significantly.
The whole process was finished in Spring of this year. The
result is a presentation of "Usher" which is at the same
time much more lush and ordered and much darker, denser and
forbidding. This is, after all, a Gothic story!
To my mind the guitars, particularly in combination with the
other elements of the backing, are absolutely the right
instruments to carry the musical narrative. They are
textural rather than rock in character and the dark timbres
are entirely appropriate. It has to be said, incidentally,
that Judge was extremely worried when he first heard of my
six-string intentions for the piece...but is now quite won
As befits a completely new version, "Usher" has been fully
repackaged. As I mentioned earlier, Judge has written notes
about the remaking of the piece and has also provided a
synopsis of the action. The lyrics are contained in a
separate booklet, fully graphically backed by Ridart
illustrations. And the whole thing comes in a cardboard
slipcase. All of this puts it emphatically outside the world
of "just another album".... In spite of its 77 minute plus
length, the opera still fits -just - on a single CD, so that
it can be taken in, as has always been the intention, in a
At present there are no specific plans for a live
performance, although this remains something which is
fundamentally interesting in principle. At present, then,
this CD therefore remains the definitive - now the only
available - rendition of the opera.
Another autumnal release on Fie! is also now out. This is
a somewhat strange collaboration with Roger Eno called "The
Roger and I have known each other - in a distanced sort of
way - since we performed together in Lanzarote at an Opal
event. Since then we've stayed in touch, principally with
Christmas cards. Late last year he broached the
possibilities of doing some work together, in the hope of
coming up with something new and unexpected for both of us.
As I'm sure you'll know by now, I'm always up for work of
interest and so in principle I agreed, but expressed the
thought that we would really need some kind of "Art Glue"
before we could proceed.
I can't remember a blinding moment of inspiration, but I did
come up with an idea: that each of us should improvise for a
specific length of time (an hour seemed appropriate) on a
specific day (April 1, Fool's Day) seemed super-apt) in our
own studios, without any known reference to what the other
was doing other than the fact that something was being
Happily Roger jumped at this idea and so as the appointed
hour of one o'clock drew near we found ourselves in states
of restless anticipation bordering on that of preparing to
go onstage. (This sense of heightened awareness is, for
better or worse, rarely encountered in the studio). Our only
piece of pre-arrangement was to start in D minor,agreed in a
'phone call 5 minutes before the off.
Not without alarums & excursions - I had several
recording machines go critical on me with minutes to go
before the off and had to slam the door on last-minute
visitors - we emerged from our active meditations (or, in
Roger's words "an hour of unsilence") with...well, we didn't
know with quite what, except concentrated individual
We sent tapes off to each other in the hope or expectation
that with luck we might find a few moments of synchronicity,
a few pieces of solo worth and possibly the (combined) germs
of some ideas which we could then work on, together or
alone, to produce something which would mark this hour
locked in music but distanced in space. (It later occurred
to me that, it being April Fool's Day one or both of us
might have spent the hour in joking silence...but happily
this was not the case!)
When I got Roger's tape and aligned it with my own I was
astounded to find that - graced by luck - we had something
quite different on our hands. Our different approaches (mine
a continuous performance, using long loops; Roger's
considered changes of sound and style, with gaps) worked
seamlessly together. We had our hour of music (bar mixing)
without any further work.
"The Appointed Hour" has NO overdubs: stuff has only been
taken away. It stands as a strange but convincing document
of a most specific hour and concentration of minds. In
character it's somewhere in "Sonix" world...but it's really
like nothing else at all, by turns languorous and direct,
with a paradoxically night-time feel.
As this newsletter goes out I'll be on the first North
American jaunt since 1990. Touring has been sporadic this
year but I anticipate -with no firm dates as yet -
considerably more live work early in 2000.
The next studio is CD is about half-way done. There's a
variety of material still potentially under consideration,
so I can't give any absolute hints of direction at this
One major piece of news is that a Web presence will finally
be established in the next weeks. Towards the end of
November you should be able to locate www.sofasound.com.
This will be something of a "white paper" site, on which
newsletters will be posted along with other stuff. In theory
- sooner rather than later, one hopes - you will also be
able to order from the site. There'll be another site for
which the intention is to be somewhat more arty:
The intention is that both these sites will be under
All the above means that you may not be interested in
renewing newsletter subscriptions, since they'll be
available on-site. In any case we'll continue to be earth-
as well as wire-based.
Finally, one new song of mine, "Far Flung", is out on a
charity compilation record, "The Sky Goes all the way home".
We don't actually have copies, but you can find info on this
at their website: www.zoo.co.uk/~nw/thesky