Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The idea for this recording project began a couple of months ago, when I discovered a few old cassette tapes stored away in a forgotten box in my garage. The contents of the tapes might be described as 'domestic field recordings'. Recorded by my late father, they document family life in the house that I grew up in during the month of September 1977. There was no script, no 'performance'. It would appear he simply pressed 'record' and let the machine capture the random sounds and conversation that drifted through the house. Why he chose to do this is unknown, and barring a séance, I am unable to ask him about it. But I do know that this was during the period that my parents were on the verge of separation, and perhaps he simply wanted to document something of our life together before it all got torn to pieces. It's a credit to him, my mother and grandmother (who was living with us at the time) that everything appears to be very calm and normal in the house - whatever personal battles were going on between them were presumably suppressed for the benefit of me, their eight-year-old son, who appears to be a happy, boisterous child, oblivious to the impending destruction of our cozy little family unit.

Hearing those tapes for the first time was a headfuck experience - the nearest thing to time travel I'll ever experience. Listening on earphones, I felt like a fly on the wall observing this part of my past that I have only dim memories of. But I don't wish to dwell on that aspect any further - it's private, and after all this is supposed to be about the music, not the mad ravings of a sentimental old fool.

At some point I decided that I'd like to try setting some of these recordings within a musical framework. The direction was never in doubt: it must be haunting, ambient, beat-free, and evocative of the time when the recordings were made. But I didn't want to use any obvious musical quotes, no cheap-shot gimmicky samples or naive melodies. I wanted it very amorphous, merely a suggestion of musical color within a framework of shifting lo-fi texture. And I wanted the dialogue to be indistinct, like it was coming from another room or from the other end of a corridor. I wanted to retain the tape-hiss, random drop-outs, warbles, muffles and flutters of the original tapes, so I mastered all the music on an old, much-used cassette, in the hope of capturing as much 'undesirable' audio degradation as possible. I don't want to go into too much detail about the actual track-building process (which I consider irrelevant) but I will say that there is no proper sequencing involved. The tracks were arranged very loosely using sampled loops. Once I had a basic musical 'sketch', I'd record to cassette modifying the elements in real-time, trying to capture as much spontaneity and unpredictability as possible.

After about a week of fairly intensive late-night recording sessions, I'd created seven pieces with a total running time of just under half an hour. At that point I felt like I'd got something out of my system for the time being and stopped. The first four pieces all feature sounds from my father's tapes. The very first track features a TV newsreader (inadvertently captured in the background - true 'lounge ambiance') reporting on an event which, if you listen closely, will give a clue to the precise date on which it was recorded. Several of the later pieces dispense with my father's recordings, hanging in a pure textural stasis, before reintroducing them towards the end. But the final piece uses dialogue sampled from an old vinyl LP called "Children Talking", which was a spin-off from a popular BBC series that originated on radio in the early sixties. Why? Well, let's just say it has a quality that seemed to resonate with the overall mood of the project.

My Modyfier submission is the contents of the 30 minute cassette master in its entirety, without any additional digital nips or tucks. It's a very personal project and I'm quite pleased with this first volume, though whether it has the power to touch anyone else's soul remains to be seen, as I haven't played this to anyone before. My hope is that it will at least induce a state of reverie within the listener, and perhaps direct their thoughts and feelings towards their own near-forgotten childhood experiences.


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