Things to do when you have a broken wrist: Make a guitar album.
That is, take an existing guitar album, slash it up, mangle it & feed it through the editing mincer until one arrives at a completely different guitar album.
The result is a completely new set of tunes, part growly, lo-fi artypunk, part moody atonal gloomscapes, some dubby moments and a couple of noisy crankers thrown in to defibrillate proceedings. Whereas the album that donated its body to this experiment was definitely Rock, I think ReMangled is probably more aptly in the genre of Rubble.
There were two particular influences on this album’s creative direction:
Firstly, I’m still very much (ie Dec 2021) in the slow process of rehabilitating my left wrist and hand after breaking my wrist 2 months ago. In order to accomplish very simple tasks one-handed, I’ve had to be more minutely aware of every detail in any given action. As in Vipassana meditation, this degree of attention can produce a state of distorted, suspended or transcended time, sometimes felt as a slowing down or sense of elastic space.
As with any similar injury, there are also the inevitable frustrations of being forced to slow down or stop altogether by circumstance (eg can’t play guitar / may not be able to play again). For this album, I wanted musical & sonic textures that gave voice to my agitation as much as my sense of ‘slowing’; asymetric rhythm loops, overlong repetitions, ‘ugly’ distortion & metallic edges weave throughout this collection, in one form or other, to explore that tension.
The second inspiration came from an alternate universe (in which I may still exist as a wayward teenage art student in the 1980s Newcastle ‘underground’). A couple of weeks ago a message appeared on my phone, from an unfamiliar Someone with whom I had apparently played in a punk band – once – at a backyard party in Newcastle a few decades ago. Apparently the gig had been recorded, and this person (the band’s vocalist) was politely asking my consent to some of the recording being included on an upcoming punk CD. I was immediately intrigued and he sent me the recordings. I still can’t remember doing the gig, but I remembered the band’s name (Jelly Set) when the vocalist mentioned it, and one of the songs was familiar on first listen.
Hearing those old recordings led my reminisces to a band I was ‘properly’ in at that time, a kind of cranky thrashpunk ensemble called Puppet Patrol. I played bass alongside my best mate Roger on guitar, Donny Anarchy (real name: Anarchini) on drums, and frontman / instigator Tony. Mostly we played rapidfire cover versions of bands such as Dead Kennedys, and UK / Irish punk bands Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks, Damned etc. In my sentimental flow, I revisited my one existing Puppet Patrol recording, of a typically hungover Sunday rehearsal – not our finest hour, but full of raw energy. My explorative ear then went to the original bands we were covering, and I remembered the DIY punk attitude of discovery and experimentation, the creative minimalism and resourcefulness of that time.
Both of these inspirations pointed me back to my noisy and generally angry electric 2018 album, Asp Burger. In my current convalescent disgruntlement, and needing a guitar placebo, I plundered the Asp Burger recordings in order to mess with some of the sonic textures therein.
Most of these pieces are so unrecognisable from their original sources that instead of calling them remixes I’ve called them ReMangles. And of the 13 tracks on the original Asp Burger, I’ve only made use of 8, two of them twice over.
For instance, A Tear In The Fabric is a portion of Breathe And Push slowed way down, and both were cuttings from the original Coping Mechanisms. The two are linked to the original via the titles: the Breathe And Push describes the coping mechanisms that require continued persistence, patience, self-determination and adaptability; A Tear In The Fabric is a reference to certain moments of not coping at all, the dislodgment of one’s sense of reality. Beyond that rather oblique connection, the pieces bear no familial resemblance to each other. The former is driven by a primitive drumkit and some serrated guitar, while the latter is the most abstract moment on the album, a kind of shapeless anti-music with a weirdly anthemic overfuzzed section of indiscernable melody.
One of the first tracks I dismantled was Integrated System; I’ve always liked its jazzy 11-beat rhythm cycle and some of the splintery guitar runs, so they became the foundation of the ReMangled‘s opening track, Disintegrative System. I sampled the dominant riffs and looped them, then slowed it down until the guitars begin to disintegrate into a rumble. It holds drunkenly together as a kind of lurching, sludgy swing, and is possibly one of the more melodic pieces here.
Each time I reached for a new track to cannibalise, I had a different response. Half of this album consists of very slow spacious pieces, generally providing a grungy ambient mood. My favourite of these is probably Snakes For Ladders; I slowed down a section of I Am My Own Map (itself sourced from the original Asp Burger title track), and the fuzzed-out bass immediately suggested a kind of moody dub pulse that I couldn’t resist. The title suggests the slippery, coiling process of navigating one’s ascent in life through an Aspergers perception, as if climbing not a wobulous rope ladder, but an ever-writhing snake ladder.
For Splinted, I sampled a bare minimum of elements from the original Splintered, to create a kind of postpunk antidub dirge. The title, while a play on the original, is also an outgrowth of what ‘splinted’ can mean….a rigid fixture of support to a broken area, stoic resolve in order to heal, movement held in stasis.
Throughout this album I pay homage to some of the textural territories of early Fripp and Eno, whose work I take immense pleasure in. A nod in this direction is The Rippling Meadow, entirely constructed from one brief guitar sample in the opening 1 or 2 seconds of the original track, The Big Yawn. The sample has been slowed and looped into four seperate tracks, randomly placed at different cycles. As they intersect each other they create interesting harmonies & melodies, that to my ear have a distinctly Celtic quality. The title refers to the rolling meadows where we live, and the liquid rippling effect of the wind passing through the hay as it lengthens.
The album is punctuated by some noisier, more energetic moments. My favourite is Alfred Hitchcock, a punchy punkpop collage, sampling the main riff from Spirals as a foundation for other wacky fun. The ‘Hitch’ reference is simply that my brain connected ‘spirals’ to the swirly patterns in his film Vertigo. I especially like how ‘live’ the outro loop sounds.
Another bit of noisy hilarity at the extreme end is Crackinthebox, cut-up, sped-up & completely messed-up from a small bit of NDP Bitch. I included it here for its highly amusing sonic assault, a manic outburst of sheer panic, as when a carefully-maintained facade suddenly crumbles to expose the terrified insecurity within. Viva Dead Kennedys, death to dictatorships!
Simmering comfortably in the juices of its own groove, and inhabiting a space of its own therewith, is I Am My Own Map. The beat is a straight kick drum that I’ve added delay to, giving it a tribal 6/8 roll for momentum. The guitar elements fell into place easily from there. The metallic ‘tuned percussion’ in the last third was originally harmonics played rhythmically on electric guitar, then run through a ring modulator filter. The title acknowledges where I’ve got to in the years since my original diagnosis of Aspergers, that is, that my autism is one ‘map’ among many, and that all maps (identity / memory) move with the terrain.
The final, and longest, track is Blind & Cumbersome, An Inequitous Beast, cannibalised from the track Family Law. Its opening is a deliberately arhythmic loop intended to disorient, before lurching in and out of its ponderous, bluesy grind of heavy fuzz & tremolo twang. In retrospect it reminds me of some of Sqürl’s excellent music for Jim Jarmusch’s vampire-angst film Only Lovers Left Alive. The title of this new piece is really just reiterating the same dissatisfaction & contempt I was venting in the original – ie that the Family Law system is unjust, inequitable, gender-biased and downright ignorant…that is, if you can imagine a bog of tar with that degree of personality.