Thursday, 12 March 2009

The violent, building hiss and immediate quiet of coffee boiling on the stove predates this entry. My body has slowed to a crawl, struggling to replenish itself with the potassium, magnesium and complex B vitamins introduced by my recent meal of bananas, clementines, peanuts and dates. For the first time in a long time, I managed to do a proper shopping trip and come home with things I could eat rather than things I could look at or make disappear in a matter of seconds. I woke up having dreamt of riding my bicycle around the streets of Berlin, hopping off curbs and over canals with ease. So, after showering, I recreated the dream (with obvious physical limitations provided by gravity and self-preservation) by riding to the supermarket. I set out along the canal, past the children's park and the point of convergence where three waterways meet. There the water was moving in small wakes, stirred by the slow chug of an industrial flatboat replete with scrap metal. The sun shone, the checkouts beeped and I returned home with food and vigour.

Now I sit, slightly less energetic. My sentences are shorter, thoughts truncated. Having compiled endless press lists and artwork guidelines for the new Preslav Literary School album, I know think about the liner notes. What is to be said of context for music? There must be a standalone value to the sounds, certainly, but I am process-led more than anything. The experience of listening is affected dramatically by knowing something of the source material. All sounds created or found on tape, microcassette and radio is the disclaimer present on the back. But it needs more. What do I need to convey?

Here be ghosts. The compositions are made by taking many tapes (over 100 for the latest release), overdubbing, recording over them, reversing, equalising, layering and mixing. The attempt is to create a synthesis of found and created material in which no element takes precedence or conceptual significance over another. There are focuses, but the ultimate aim is to create one sound. Think of the flatness of radio, or even better of the tuning through the dial of a longwave radio. The sound is one, it is broadcast by the radio, but the different sources and frequencies shape the single broadcast. The movements, if the dial is turned slowly enough, are imperceptible. Occasionally however, something just drops, or a pirate radio overwhelms the reception and the dynamic switches.

That is the sound. The source material comes from childhood lofts, fleamarkets, friends, skips, teenage mixtape obsessionist libraries, field-recordings. I overdub using a four track cassette recorder that allows the omission of certain elements of the tape and the creation of new ones (primarily drones and rhymic progressions). However, spectres remain, coincident remnants of sound bleed through the overdub and remain on untouched quarters of the tape. Sometimes this is deliberate, sometimes it just happens, consequent or not.

Where the concept and execution meet is my fascination with influence, not as a canon, but as a directly fatalist set of consequences. By using tapes in this way, I suppose I am trying, to mirror the infinite amount of collisions, catalysts and creative principles that go into any one work of art. They are unfathomable and irretrievable. Any act of criticism that tries to place lineage or structure within the work is entirely valid, but undergoes an act of creation itself, writing its own narrative forged by its own 'influences'.

In recording my music in this way, I operate a narrative upon the tapes, tapes which themselves have histories, both of sound (heard in degraded quality & ghosting) and in terms of ownership. There is emotional weight in these artefacts; who knows who owned this tape, how they related to it?

Some of them are mine, I am unable to connect with them through memory, but can find a way in through this re-reading and listening once more. It is important then that the new album is received in this light, that the dozens of tiny musical samples (some of which are impossible to discern) that dissipate into the one broadcast are heard, not literally as musical building blocks, but heard as stories, as influences with a narrative written firstly by me in composition and then by the listener who adopts, adapts and begins the entire process again. History is brought more once into line.

But of course, what does this really all mean? That my music is unlistenable beyond the pretensions above? That I've created something that requires a post-mortem justification? How to bring the context of the process to bear and allow the listener to form their own connection? It needs a piece of writing that deals with memory, listening and narrative without ever being oblique. A return to Sebald looms.

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