I love records with lots to read.
This record contains a lot of interesting quirks and personality traits all of its own. This is mainly due to its method of recording. It was recorded in its entirety on a Teac A3440 four-track machine between August 1983 and April 1985 and in the next few pages I’ll be giving away some of its deepest, darkest secrets.
I hope this album will convince people that great music is not big- money or big-promotion or big-studios but the special feeling that, I believe, this record has captured.
Sometimes restriction can be a great asset. Here is an account of the methods and tricks I used to create the fifty-two minutes of music you are about to hear.
P. S. Hope you enjoy it !
P. P. S. Try headphones.
I KNOW I WON’T
This first track was the first time I ever touched my own drum machine and the whole idea of being able to play along with a drum beat at home was a terrific thrill.
Andy and I, having grown up in Liverpool and Manchester together, were always great Beatle fans and, consequently, harmony fans. This was our first four-track attempt at multi-layered vocals; totally restricted by so few tracks, we managed still to get the end result sounding pretty much how we wanted it by repeatedly transferring already recorded parts to the one track, leaving space for us to do the vocal things that we wanted on the other three.
ART ON THE RUN
Recorded around the same time as “I Know I Won’t”, we were faced by a seemingly impossible predicament by “Art on the Run”.
The drum machine I had was an incredibly simple affair with a limited speed control and a limited amount of pre-programmed beats, none of which fitted the rhythm I wanted for this song. The closest we got to it was a kind of samba beat with no snare in it.
I’ll never forget the hour of experimenting to come up with ways to get a snare onto the track. We started with biscuit tin lids, pans, waste paper baskets until we eventually discovered the perfect thing — the Sydney Morning Herald.
We placed the microphone as close as we could to the paper and recorded with me hitting the headlines in the appropriate places. It wasn’t so easy either; after a few hits the paper would start to rip, there would be shreds of it all over the room, and the stick would get stuck in the tears. It was really hard to be consistent but we persevered and the backing track was born.
Otherwise the track is like the last track with the harmonies in the chorus. Also in the chorus you can hear a quick two note cello sound which recorded by playing my violin bow over the E-string of my Hofner bass. This gave us an unusual atmosphere which worked very well for the song.
NIGHT IS OVER
Harmonies, harmonies and more harmonies. This song is our tour de force of harmonies.
It, in technique, is actually a mixture of the first two tracks as it contains multi-layered vocals like “I Know I Won’t” and the good old Sydney Morning Herald as in “Art on the Run”.
We must have spent hours on this track!
When I play it back, the song seems to have captured everything I wanted it to in this primitive four-track recording form. So often songs like these first three lose their essence and their character when taken to the clinical twenty four track studio with all its sophisticated equipment. We may have had big drums, clearer guitars, more perfect vocals but none of that guarantees the personality that these first three tracks have as a result of being recorded at home in comfort, purely for the love of doing it.
This song was musically inspired, totally, by borrowing one of those 301-space-echo things that I’ve never used since. I just immediately found a wonderful progression with my Rickenbacker twelve-string that sounded great through this alien unit which I didn’t really know how to work.
The drum beat was quite straight-forward; the idea had been picked prior to turning the drum machine on. The gull sounds at the beginning and the middle of the song were again inspired by this strange device as I was messing about, whistling, when I was doing the lead vocal. Atmospherically it fitted the song perfectly!
The night I recorded this I was also doing a gig. I was still actually singing the ‘She Tries’ bit in the middle when I heard the horn blaring out signaling the fact that I had to rush off. I pressed the stop button and ran out the door.
SLEEPY METAL BOX
This was an exercise in simplicity. I’d done so many multi-track things that I thought I’d try a completely different approach.
I purposely restricted myself to using just the four tracks without putting anything together to gain space for overdubs. I have a really interesting twelve-string Eston acoustic guitar which has a quite distinct sound to it, which I bought for $70 in a music shop in Tasmania. It only fits in sometimes, but when it works it really is unmistakable! The other time it worked well was on “A Month of Sundays” on Remote Luxury.
Anyway, in this basic recording I think I captured something that I probably never would have if my limitation hadn’t been there.
“Velvet Fuselage” was just finished as I was off to play a gig. “Hamburg” was totally written and recorded starting five minutes after I arrived home from a gig.
For this song, like “Velvet Fuselage”, I had a borrowed piece of equipment which probably helped evoke the atmosphere, namely Steve’s fretless bass which put a different slant on the backing track and inspired me to play one of my first major keyboard parts.
It still amazes me when I hear it as I rarely touch keyboards and I don’t consider myself particularly competent. When I listen back, it sounds quite believable. It was, I think, a mixture of a firm idea. perseverance and luck.
I also borrowed Andy’s acoustic twelve-string for this one and, hopefully, with the end result managed to conjure some kind of rainy, grey, moody Northern European city effect.
HOW COME THEY DON’T TOUCH THE GROUND
If you could only have seen me sitting there by myself trying to get this one together! Talk about restriction!
I’d borrowed Andy’s Fender six-string acoustic and, of course, it had no pick-up in it. I had to mic it up with my Shure Unidyne B microphone which is hardly suitable for the job as it just doesn’t pick up enough level from the guitar. And this guitar is particularly quiet in its projection of sound.
I had to sit in exactly the same position for consistency’s sake. I had a microphone stand that was stuck on one height and a stool that was too low. So I had to sit on two telephone books and cross my legs so that I could get the sound hole of the guitar anywhere near the microphone.
Of course the next problem was how could I be in this rather precarious position and start the tape?
Luckily one practical piece of equipment that I had was one of those remote control units that plug into the back of the machine and can start it from as far as the cord reaches. It’s basically the same button set-up except it’s on the end of this long cord connected with the machine. The stool I was sitting on was one of those ones that had steps, on one of which I placed the unit.
Somehow through all of this I had to concentrate on playing the song correctly!
So I took off my left shoe and sock, climbed into position, placed the R.C. unit on the step and started the track. Another thing about this unit is that you have (to) press the Record and Play buttons at the same time in order to get the machine in record mode. Only having one free foot, I had to place a heavy object on the Record button so that with my one free big toe I could knock it into record mode with ease. Ha ha!!!!
Of course I didn’t play the song all the way through perfectly and had to, at various times, stop, rewind, get back into position, play the tape back and drop myself in where I’d made the mistake — hopefully unnoticeably — and carry on like this until I had the whole thing finished.
It was perhaps the most frustrating afternoon of my life and I would have done almost anything for a helping hand. I think I could write a book about this song by itself!
This is the one song on the album that I used the famous GIZMOTRON. The cello sound on this track is done with this amazing unit. If you’re not familiar with this incredible invention, I’ll explain. It was invented by Lol Creme and Kevin Godley and I think is one of the major reasons that lOcc (one of the great unorthodox recording technique bands) split in two.
To try and explain, it is a unit which you fix to the bridge and body of the guitar — causing quite a substantial amount of damage I might add!!! It basically consists of a small motor which revolves a smooth cylindrical bar sealed in the casing of the unit. On top of this there are a series of buttons connected to little plastic wheels that have serrated edges; when pressed, one side of the wheel is turned by the revolving cylinder and the other serrated side rubs against the string, creating, if punctuated the way I have on this track, the said effect. You can either play chords or single notes.
On the chorus part of this song I was pressing down three of the buttons at once trying to emulate a cello but at the end, there is a kind of solo consistent lead part where I am holding just one button down on one string and going up and down the neck to create this unusual soaring sound.
The keyboards on this track, too, are quite unusual in as much as they
are infinite repeating notes. I did this by simply having the repeat on my analog delay unit turned up so that the note didn’t stop until I changed keys. I hope all that was worth it.
WINTER SPLINTER BAY
So then I bought a drumulator. It only appears on this and the next track, “The Lantern”, mainly because I was touring a lot and didn’t have my four-track set up any longer.
It enabled me to turn this, which was originally a poem, into a song, by developing this unusual and rather powerful beat. The big effect on the intro came unexpectedly. Paul, the engineer, used the backing vocals on “I Know I Won’t” as a trigger through an A.M.S. reverb unit and an infinite delay. I thought it would sound just great going into the track!
This was recorded at my friend Yve’s place, where I lived for a while and had my four-track set up. I did a lot of half-finished things in that period for some reason — but this one, at least, was completed.
It features Ann Carlberger on backing vocals and is basically quite self-explanatory in its performance. No real tricks on this one.
The solo in the middle is done with two tracks of EBO’s; one amazing thing about this song is the number of chords that are in it. Sometimes you can just find a progression that keeps on going. This song has ten different chords before the singing in the chorus even starts.
I don’t usually write them like that.
This originally came out on the Persia E.P. in Australia and the Remote Luxury album in the rest of the world, and is included really to give you the opportunity to listen to what happens to a song when it goes from its original demo form to its twenty-four track conclusion.
The twenty-four track version of this song is certainly different — and more acceptable as a finished piece of contemporary Rock Music – but I think I can safely say that, as far as entertainment value and listening pleasure, it most certainly isn’t better!
For some reason I never got the amazing guitar sound happening on the twenty-four track version. Sometimes you just can’t regain those moments you achieved in your wonderfully limited lounge.
I wasn’t really intending to mention influences on this record, or talk about anything more than the practicalities of recording the tracks. In this track and the next I have to mention the obvious influence more to attract the attention of the present generation of record buyers who probably have never heard of some of the great artists of the unhip, uncool, not talked about etc. seventies.
I can safely say that if the wonderful Kevin Ayers didn’t exist, then neither would this! In its vocal and its black humour I really got it from him. It’s supposed to be a kind of macabre track — like a musical version of The Avengers; strange, happy folk who may be responsible for your death.
TRAVELING THROUGH THE SEA OF SUN MACHINES
No, this is not music for some kind of wild episode of Doctor Who! It’s not even a four-track recording. I did this on only three tracks. “It sounds like it!” some people may say, which brings me to justifying its existence to those of you who think of it as nothing more than a piece of avant garde twaddle.
To continue from the last track, in the seventies I was very influenced — and I might even say obsessed — by the German Avant-Garde bands; and, in England at that time, all the records of Can, Amon Duul, Neu and La Dusseldorf were readily available. I preferred these bands to Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream. I did start to like these bands later although at first I found them too electronic-sounding.
Anyway, if Can, Amon Düül, Neu and La Düsseldorf hadn’t existed then this track probably wouldn’t have either, or maybe I would have invented it.
These groups were such an innovation that I almost feel like taking this opportunity to write a history of the bands mentioned in order to turn people onto them!
I don’t say my track is so like them (perhaps mostly Neu-like), but definitely influenced by them. I urge people to go out and look for their records, whether this track does it for you or not.
It was recorded, like “Soft Murder”, by putting the drum machine through a delay to create an atmospheric rhythm. Next I played the bass line and then the keyboard and it really didn’t work! So I thought, “What if I turned the pitch control to full?” I did that and it all seemed to make sense — to me anyway.
In the mix we threw the track from left to right to get some kind of (a) physical effect from listening to it — and that’s about it.
Holger Czukay is the most active of all the individuals involved in these bands and has had a few solo albums out, like Movies, Der Osten ist Rot and his latest album, Rome Remains Rome.
He worked with Jah Wobble and The Edge on Some Stuff. He was the bass player and tape edit wizard with Can, and his contemporary material is
probably a good place to start — work backwards from there. In 1982 I had the pleasure of meeting him and he was the most charming of men. I hope he hears my album.
All I need now is the chance to do an album with Conny Plank, the great German producer who worked a lot with these groups. He, too, is still very active working on the first Eurythmics L.P. and many, many more great records.
THE WIDTH AND THE HEIGHT
The final track! “Why?” you might ask. Well, it was actually one of the very first and also the most recent tracks that I worked on.
I wrote this before I even owned a drum machine. Consequently some of you may recognize the sound of a Roland 808 which I borrowed. I had been quite inspired by Bill Nelson’s large number of home-recorded discs and he used one of this type of machine. As soon as I heard the sounds it made, I thought I was him!!!
The keyboards again, much to my own surprise, came out quite well on this track if you don’t listen too closely!
But this track has a strange tale that goes with it. In 1983 this song called “Stroke My Gown”. I never liked the way I sang it so, on various occasions, I re-did the vocal tracks to make it better. After God knows how many tries from 1983 until now, I suddenly came to the grand conclusion that I hated the melody.
This really threw a new light on things!
I spent quite a time trying to sing different melodies with the same words over the backing track until it drove me up the wall. After a time, though, I decided not only to scrap the original melody but to scrap the original lyrics as well. I had some more lyrics which I thought I could use and with a little bit of patience, and a little bit of help from Ann, came up with what you now hear. The track is phased to give it the strange vocal that it has.
So there you have it!
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making and writing about it. I hope you can concentrate on the things that give this record its personality and not let the flaws detract from what I’ve wanted to communicate.