Sofa Sound  Newsletter 17/November 1999

By Appointment


Past Newsletters


Winter's drawing in and I'm still working on the album of songs which I mentioned in the last newsletter.
In the meantime, there are two new releases now out on Fie!, one of which was completed almost in the instant, the other the fruit of arduous toil....
Compared with the "pure song" work they're both some way out in the left-field area of things; details herein.
Meanwhile I have been touring and hope to do more (much more) in 2000.
Finally - at long last - there's news here of upcoming web sites.
Read on!
Until later, as always...thanks for listening.

Usher - The Return

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 go.

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 over!

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 single sitting.

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.

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A Foolish Hour

Another autumnal release on Fie! is also now out. This is a somewhat strange collaboration with Roger Eno called "The Appointed Hour".

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 done.

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 experiences.

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.

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The Miscellany

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 stage.

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 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 continual change!

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: