The Visitation — White Noise
White Noise was formed by David Vorhaus, Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. The latter two were pioneers of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the facilities of which were covertly used for a couple of the tracks on their album An Electric Storm.
(For the uninitiated, Delia Derbyshire is best known for the original realisation of the Doctor Who theme tune, among many other revolutionary electronic compositions. Brian Hodgson made many sound effects for Doctor Who, including the sound of the Tardis.)
An Electric Storm was released in 1969. It somehow sounds both mind-bogglingly ahead of its time, while also being distinctly of its time.
White Noise didn’t have a studio, so they had to develop their own makeshift equipment by connecting tape machines together with basic electronics. An Electric Storm was made before Robert Moog developed his modular synthesiser.
Synthesisers were about to democratise the creation of electronic music. But they also made it less of a craft. Painstaking effort and skill were required for the tape manipulation techniques that created the otherworldly sounds pioneered by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and their peers. It became a lost art.
According to the liner notes on the 2007 CD reissue of An Electric Storm that I own, David Vorhaus was originally intent on releasing a single. The head of Island Records told him to make an album instead, giving him the £3,000 he said a hit single would be worth.
This track, The Visitation, took three months to complete alone. When Island Records enquired as to the whereabouts of the album they had paid for, White Noise were forced to complete it overnight by improvising drums over tape loops and other noises. Even that track sounds almost unbelievably ahead of its time.
But upon release, the album sold just 200 copies. The world wasn’t ready for electronic music. But An Electric Storm is the definition of a cult slow burner. And it was highly influential on the more commercially successful electronic musicians of the 1970s and onwards. Not that many of them pressed ahead with the tape manipulation techniques.
The Spell of a Vanishing Loveliness — Cornelius
New Cornelius albums are few and far between. In fact, he has released just four albums in the past 21 years. But when one comes, it is always one of the highlights of the year. He is one of the most distinctive and innovative artists going.
I have just listened to his latest album, Mellow Waves. This song isn’t the most sonically interesting on the album — but it is probably the best. It’s the only song on the album to feature mainly English lyrics, written and sung by Miki Berenyi, who was the singer in Lush.
A good interview with Autechre in which they reveal a little more about their techniques. It explains a fair bit about why their sound is so unique, and why other people can’t (or shouldn’t) emulate it.
It gets a bit hazy in terms of what’s a musical idea and what’s a piece of technology. If you make a sequencer that only makes one type of sequence, and you’ve used it twice, then I guess you’ve used the same musical idea twice…
Our system is great for making Autechre tracks, but I’m not sure if everybody else wants to do that. And if they do, I’m not sure I want them to.
Phylactery — John Callaghan
This wonderful reinterpretation of Tilapia by Autechre appeared on Warp20, a box set celebrating the 20th anniversary of Warp Records. (Rather scarily, that occasion was itself almost 10 years ago.)
There were two CDs of Warp artists covering classic Warp tracks, and a lot of them are really good. But John Callaghan’s effort towers above everything else on it.
It probably takes a lot of guts to attempt to cover Autechre, never mind a track as strong as Tilapia. But Phylactery boldly reinvents it, and possibly ends up being even better than the original (although as John Callaghan says in the comments to this YouTube video, both have their place, for different reasons).
In case you’re not aware of the original, here you go:
We tend to think of musicians as architects, who fully control the sound they compose. But here, Austin Kleon outlines how it is in fact more like gardening. Top musicians like Prince, Ralf Hütter and Brian Eno appear to subscribe to this approach.
Brian Eno says:
One is carefully constructing seeds, or finding seeds, carefully planting them and then letting them have their life. And that life isn’t necessarily exactly what you’d envisaged for them.
The analogy certainly works well with Brian Eno’s generative music. I remember a radio interview where he described being the opposite of a control freak — a surrender freak. (This is the only reference I can find to it.)
I would like you to tell me how you feel about “see on see”.
Sean Booth replied: “surprised”.
That question when someone is trying to get into a band — “Where should I start?” — is perhaps especially difficult to answer in the case of Autechre. Their music is unique and uncompromising. You almost need to learn to read Autechre, because it is sonic world lives by itself. It is difficult to relate it to anything else.
That situation escalates when the artist has 13 albums over 25 years under their belt, the latest of which is eight hours long.
This article makes a good attempt at introducing Autechre to the uninitiated, by splitting their music into different types: club-friendly, austere, strangely beautiful, melting computer, endurance test.
OK — Micachu and the Shapes
I have been shamefully late to discover Mica Levi, and Micachu and the Shapes. This is a track from the band’s 2012 album Never. It contains a lyric that made me laugh out loud, which doesn’t happen very often.
The time Aphex Twin opened for Björk
Shuffle mode has just reminded me of the time Richard D James (best known as Aphex Twin), using the pseudonym DJ Smojphace, opened for Björk at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2003.
From the YouTube video description:
For almost 2 hours Richard played nothing but “noise and feedback” from the backstage, only appearing in stage to cheerily wave goodbye in front of a very, very pissed audience.
Listen to the booing! Delightfully funny.