I’m putting these two albums together here as both of them surfaced at roughly the same time, overlapping in their creation in the space of a month or two. Both are continuing a kind of jazz exploration that began on the previous Displacement Ritual album; Angles Of Entry perhaps has a more abstract and agitated shape, whereas Hillbilly Spacejazz aims more for organic warmth. Both albums make use of percussion & cello bass samples recorded at our previous house (see Floater, Kalonga, Displacement Ritual).
In my personal process, both were creative coping mechanisms for a period of dissonance & difficulty adjusting to the limitations of a new environment. As I can’t record live instruments in our new home (due to ‘noise restrictions’), I now rely more than before on laptop-based sound collage, creating with bits of old recordings and ‘virtual’ instruments, and having to use headphones rather than monitor speakers (not particularly good for the ol’ tinnitus).
Angles Of Entry (2022)
Aside from the restrained, smoky dub of opening track Signals, most of the pieces have some element of disgruntlement or irritation in their character, of angularity or restlessness, reflective of my process of forcing myself to fit into an uncomfortable living situation through creative focus.
A central feature of this album is the use of a tenor sax ‘virtual instrument’ from the Pianobook sample libraries. I’ve been coming back to this particular instrument since first using it on Xenografika earlier this year. Saxophone is one of those instruments (along with the oud, clarinet, and classical cello) that I’ve always wanted to play, but recognise they require many years of serious training to have any mastery over – years I just don’t have anymore. The digitally-sampled tenor sax is surprisingly authentic in its sound, and while it doesn’t offer the fluid expressiveness of the real thing, it’s convincing enough to use as a compositional texture. By using multiple tracks set at different pitches for harmonies, the effect suggests a sax ensemble (if you squint your ears at a certain angle..).
One of the first experiments in this collection was Just Apposition (‘just’ here meaning ‘right’, and ‘apposition’ meaning ‘the positioning of things side by side or close together’). I wanted to move away from the material I’d been intensively editing for the three previous albums (Floater, Kalonga and Displacement Ritual), so I returned instead to piano and organ, a repeated theme with soft textures and sustained notes, something slow and soothing to my nerves. The sax lines then wove themselves over the top and decided the sax-centric direction for the rest of the album.
Most of the other pieces grew from there, and as each one progressed, I put more thought into composing and arranging the sax parts, experimenting more with melodies and harmonies. The meandering A Life Well-Limped appeared early in the process, and the sax lines are more synchronised, but by the time I arrived at You Are Here I added more melodic variation in the layers.
The intro theme to You Are Here reminded me of Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial music, the drones of the long Tibetan copper horns, punctuated by spacious percussive thuds and clangs. Although the sax arrangement and subtle tremolo guitar take the piece into different territory, I was still drawn to thoughts of the funerary and ceremonial, of Sky Burial and impermanence. In this setting, the sax also reminded me of the old New Orleans tradition of brass-band funeral jazz, at least in some old recordings I’ve come across. In some way the piece is dedicated to that point of departure we all come to, of the spirit / consciousness / life force released from the physical, back into the collective ether.
The title track, Angles Of Entry, uses a looped sample of the rainwater tank percussion that became a more central feature in the Hillbilly Spacejazz compositions. I used disjointed sax stabs in odd rhythmic timings, to create an angular atmosphere, trying to find a way in…. Angles Of Entry for my own displaced state, post-moving house, hammering the dissonance of my new situation into some kind of adaptive, ‘positive’ shape.
I added the closing track Honkasaurus after completing the others. It was actually an orphaned experiment from earlier in the year, when I was first exploring the Pianobook instruments for the Xenografika album. It was one of my earliest experiments with the sampled tenor sax instrument, so I felt I could give it a home in this collection. The lumbering grind of the rhythm track uses another sampled instrument someone made from recording a rubber band and running it through various FX. For some reason, when I listen to this track, I always hear the ghost of a David Bowie vocal, circa Scary Monsters…
Hillbilly Spacejazz (2022)
A mix of organic and electronically-mutated sounds, Hillbilly Spacejazz may not satisfy popular definitions of either ‘hillbilly’ or ‘spacejazz’, but I make my own tenuous links. In my thinking, the ‘hillbilly’ is in the album’s lofi DIY attitude (and the fact that I’m somewhat rurally reclusive), ‘space’ in its layered atmospherics, and ‘jazz’ in its explorative thinking. I think overall the album has a kind of organic warmth and sense of being wrapped in the night, lowlit as from a camp fire, dreamstalking but with a few daylight ambles in tracks such as Lazy Eye and No Rest For The Rippled.
The bass and percussion tracks on this album have been meticulously cut, looped & collaged together by hand from two completely separate earlier recordings of improvised material. The initial inspiration was to build each rhythm layer first as a foundation, then allow the rest of the music to suggest itself from there.
I still had an as yet unplundered extended hour-long cello bass improvisation on file from the Kalonga recordings, and so I began sifting through it for loopable slices. The first bass loop I created was for the opener, Nightsmoke. I looped a motif containing enough variations to create the illusion of it being played live throughout the whole track. Its fluctuating pulse feels like cautious tendrils reaching out into the darkness, a snaketongue flickering, feeling its way into the air around itself.
The percussion textures are all sourced from another hour-long improvisation I recorded on my phone several years ago, playing on an old rainwater tank round the back of the house with a pair of rubber mallets. I’ve plundered bits of this recording in the past, but this time I performed a more methodical audit, reviewing the entire improvisation and creating a library of loopable segments.
The same improvisation also includes me playing the weatherboard wall of the house, and an old rusty wheelbarrow in the woodshed, loops of which also appear in these pieces. The weatherboards create a woody, primitive tuned percussion effect, which you can hear clearly on Brainfrog and Drifter, and smatterings on some other tracks. Brainfrog was an exploration of syncopated rhythms, like abstracted fragments of information in the mind, trying to find cohesion as they overlap and intersect at odd points.
The resonant tone of the empty metal watertank forms the backbone of Lazy Eye. In order to have both hands free to use the mallets, I recorded with my phone tucked into the front fold of my beanie (it was winter), hence various incidental noises as I played, such as my intake of breath, rustlings and birdsong. When I added a segment of the weatherboard ‘tuned percussion’, the incidental carking of crow in the background created a lazy rhythmic interjection that sounds as if the bird is asking us a question. This lethargic element inspired me to add an offbeat bass riff with a kind of rubbery funk feel. As with many of these tracks, there are often very separate rhythmic layers happening simultaneously, adding a certain underlying discombobulation or even hypnotic swirl.
The metallic clunks of the rusty wheelbarrow form the backbone of Bejungled Dusk, Hesitating, to which I’ve added layers of the weatherboard ‘tuned percussion’ and a deep bass thump sampled from banging the body of an old piano. Somehow, in adding fx to one of the weatherboard samples, a sound like a distant train whistle emerged – I have no idea what caused this sonic illusion, but it conjured up an atmosphere for me, and an image of standing at the edge of a thick jungle at dusk, looking out over an open space of grassy fields, and on the horizon, a passing train’s lonesome wail to the approaching night. Perhaps in this image there was a moment of the hermetic self looking out from its tangled internal darkness, to some distant call of the larger world, separated from it but with a melancholic note of yearning…should I venture back?, the hermit self wonders…
A wheelbarrow loop also forms the erratic pulse in Midnight At The Eclipse, reminiscent of the random clanging of a moored boat’s rigging against the mast, as it rocks gently in the night. This piece is less concerned with rhythm, instead featuring an atmospheric wash, and cello bass embroidered with jazzy latenight watery piano. As I was completing the final edit, there was a significant lunar eclipse happening, one that astrologically heralded a turning point on a global scale, and the beginnings of some major life changes to come. In choosing the title, I imagined The Eclipse as a kind of morose, near-empty late night piano-bar-at-the-edge-of-the-universe (a la Douglas Adams…just amusing myself).
Another weatherboard loop appears (electronically mutated) throughout Drifter, offering a kind of insistent tribal muttering in the background, over which the piece is carried by a spacious, dubby bass riff, and mournful stabs of dubby melodica. Also poking their heads in, the plaintive strains of a harmonica, an understated guitar motif…I pictured a kind of cosmic version of Clint’s High Plains Drifter of old, the shadowy loner drifting across space from one galaxy to the next…
Initially combining wheelbarrow & watertank percussion loops for its 11/4 pulse, Third Moon Of Thelonia emerged as another moody interlude featuring the cello bass and piano. The piano line was spontaneous, but now I hear it as a scene from one of those TV cop shows I occasionally saw as a boy in the 70s.
And finishing the album, No Rest For The Rippled – so named for its restless, fluttering quality, but also as it features samples of me dragging the mallets across the rippled rungs of the watertank. I’d been listening to some of The Dwarfs of East Agouza’s early recordings, and was particularly inspired by the use of the guitars, unrefined and primitive but creating complex rhythmic interplay. Not that my track does anything so artful, but it borrows its breath from something in the Dwarfs’ aesthetic.
For the covers of both these albums, I wanted a break from photo images, toward something that felt a little more hand-rendered and playful. Both are cartoons in their own ways. For Angles Of Entry, the blue-skinned, be-cardiganed music aficionado is deliberately surreal and a goofy visual pun: “I’m all ears!”. It’s also an obscure comment on the ‘angles of entry’ involved in perception – that we ‘hear what we want to hear’, as we filter through the millions of audio signals (and opinions) we encounter each day.
My drawing for Hillbilly Spacejazz was intended to be a mix of organic, psychedelic, cosmic, and playful. The eye emerging from the vulva is symbolising a Birth of Consciousness, the Eye of insight and awareness emerging from the blackness of Unbeing, where Consciousness is described as a cosmic continuum moving in all directions through space, and expressing itself on Earth through physical form. Heady concepts aside, I also like the visual effect of the tendrils moving outward from the centre…if focused on with a meditative gaze, they can seem to writhe and undulate…putting me to mind of morphic resonances and connective mediums in the universe…