Sofa Sound  Newsletter

21/ October 2001


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Serious times, growing more serious by the moment.

This has always been and remains a newsletter intended to keep you up to date with CD releases, tours and the like.

There is a new release and some of this letter refers to it.

But I would be doing myself and you a disservice if - this time and this time only - I did not also take a few moments to air some modest views on what has been and what is currently going on around us.

I hope you will understand the spirit in which this is written. Just another single human voice....

Until later, as always...thanks for listening.


The air is thin.

I'm writing on October 10th. In such times of liquid uncertainty, of thoughts and reactions scudding like unexpected clouds across the consciousness hour by hour it seems somewhat strange to be delivering a newsletter which is fundamentally concerned with music.

I don't feel I have any particular insight into what happened on Sept. 11th and what's happening now. Some aspects of these events, though, have resonance with themes and concerns which I've expressed in my work over the years, as many of you will realise.

Forgive me, then, if I make the following brief points. The analysis is not deep and I do not intend to climb on a soap box, but I need to get this off my chest.

1. Of course I share the shock and grief of all at what happened in September; there was horror and there was heroism.

2. We are all going to die and some of us are going to have violent and sudden ends. We should already have been living with that consciousness. Tragic though each individual death among the thousands was its essence was no different to that of, say, a fatality on the roads.

3. The world is changed in degree rather than fundamentals. Most of the planet has lived with terrorism for decades. And if we have a campaign against terrorists it must be against all terrorists and all who support them.

4. Our fixation and dependence on news as entertainment is implicit in all this. The impact of the second plane on the WTC was, of course, scheduled to be in effective prime time. Very modern.

5. The speed of modern media delivery gives us scant time for consideration. In our high-tech way we are, therefore, every bit as vulnerable to manipulation as are the word of mouth protesters of the Muslim world.

6. The movies have shamefully and consistently imparted a warped vision of violence. These "entertainments" have twisted sensibilities.

7. There is no godly justification for religious terrorism. No religion sanctions murder. The terrorists now have what they wanted: a war both material and propagandistic. They also want the return of the Dark Ages. This is not Islam.

8. The aim of terrorists is, of course, to terrorise. It is, therefore, our responsibility to go forward with life in as normal a manner as possible as riposte to terror. More sobered than ever, I intend to do so.

9. Even in the midst of hostilities our only hope for the future lies in more understanding and communication. The earth is not flat. We can only make it safer, better, if we also make it more caring and fair.

Of course, there is much, much more.... I expect that all that has happened and will now come will eventually filter into my work; where, hopefully, I will be more cogent. Forgive me, please, if all the above has been stuff you know all too well; but I feel I would have been false had I not put it down here.

Oh, finally. Amid the horror an image almost of absurdity came to me. For the nth time I watched those buildings come down and the rubble rise up. I had once stood up there with Guy Evans. Now I looked at the screen. Where we had been was unimaginable blue sky.

I feel my legs scrabbling to find balance beneath me.

In thin air.

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Meanwhile, normal life goes on. A new CD is now about to come out: "Unsung". It's effectively the third in an unconscious series initiated with "Loops and Reels" and continued with "Sonix". It also bears something a familial connection with "Spur of the Moment" and "The Appointed Hour". As Artist for this release (and any subsequent ones in the genre) I've therefore decided to present myself as Hammill/Sonix.

The broad brief of this stuff, as you'll appreciate, is Experimental. That's not to say, of course, that I don't continue to regard approaching the writing and recording of each song proper as an experimental act; but sometimes things come along which appear to be in a place apart. So it was with this collection.

Evidently there is No Vox on this CD; nor are there any "directional" (for dance, for film) pieces here. Nearly all of it came about while I was in that fog of research for foundations which is the initial stage of conventional songwriting. Sometimes I start from a musical figure, sometimes from pure blocks of sound. Usually, drawn by whatever sense of architecture I possess, these initial sketches coalesce into a Thing which will become a Song. These Things - as I say in the liner notes - seemed reluctant to do so and remained resolutely apart. Over time I grew to see them as a collection whole unto itself. Hence this release.

In my view, "experimental" does not necessarily mean completely off the wall at all times. Some pieces here do, indeed, fall off the brickwork; but others are relatively calm, logical, ordered. To my mind there's always a slightly alien air about proceedings; indeed, my feeling about the CD as a whole is that it's something of a soundtrack for an unknown landscape.

Several pieces are fully played instrumentally; others use sound purely as building blocks...akin to making music out of clay. There are also some instances of cloned, or alternatively reflected, works. There are even two pieces which are on (highly conscious) automatic drive.

"gated", "gateless", "1 meg loop" and "eyebrows" are all more or less conventionally voiced and structured instrumentals, with guitar and bass predominating. More abstract, at least in their starting points, are "delinquent", "delighted", "deliberate" and 2 "Pole" pieces. These involved the recording and subsequent manipulation of fragments until a certain symmetry was achieved.

From a similar - but more radical - planet I fell upon "exeunt" and "861 and counting". The former is a completely fractured expansion on the simplest of drum fragments, extended, dubbed and put into full overload; the latter an interference pattern built up from a tiny element of guitar pushed through fractionally different delay times, all on or about 861 mSecs, hence the title.

The "automatic" pieces are "handsfree" and "the printer port". I got a jolt one day when I attempted to print something out from my Mac, only to find that my MIDI system was still of my sound modules was "playing" my attempted letter, or whatever it was. I hit the record button immediately. This may sound mad...but after much work on the resulting "music" something cogent, if strange, has emerged.

I see now that while I've given (somewhat equivalent) notes on all the above in the CD I neglected to mention one piece, "exp". This is an overdubbed collage and heavy edit of various fragments of disparate musical stuff. Effectively It fits in the middle of all the approaches.

The CD is something of a landscape of the Other. Its progression is not always stately, but the fundamental passage is from comparative order, even sweetness, through chaos and back out the other side. Diverse though the material is, I find that there is some consistency of journey about the whole enterprise. It won't be for everyone and, as with its predecessors, doesn't immediately link itself to my "main", songwriting work. But this is, as always, music to which I have applied myself with diligence and - I hope - intelligence.

Historically, work such as this runs alongside the main thrust of what I do. So it is that I actually completed these pieces before "What, now?". In the wake of the release of "The Box", though, I felt I would not be doing myself any favours by putting out such an essentially abstract CD and that a "songs" one should precede its release has been delayed until now.

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The Miscellany

Another release was originally due to come out about now: a remastered and enhanced version of "The Margin", the K Group live work. The stuff of life and business has, I'm afraid, overtaken it and it's had to be shelved. It may now come out some time in the next few months; but a degree of "wait and see" now hangs around this one.

I'm currently working on new songs, for a release some time early next year, I hope. I'm working on a Theory about this project at present...we'll see if it stands the test of time. So for now I'd better keep quiet.

Touring: I've just played two wildly different solo shows in Rome and Norwich.

There will be more shows in Italy in late November/early December and Caracas is booked in for Nov 24th. Japan also looks most likely early in 2002. We're also *really* trying to sort out a UK tour. I, for one, intend to keep travelling. In this, as in most other things, I most strongly urge you to stay updated by checking from time to time. It's there that news is to be found most reliably and frequently.

(As we all know, news of my work and tours is rarely, if ever, to be found in the mainstream media.)

Finally, two releases which I mentioned last time: Random Hold's "Avalanche" and David Ferguson's "The View from Now"...back in April I was assured that these were about to come out. I've not heard anything since, I'm afraid to say. I feel personally let down. We will not be carrying these in the future, should they ever appear.