Other spaces: One Hand Three Ears (2021)

More soundtracks to limbo, stasis & suspension – in this case, the grinding halt of a broken wrist, the physical restrictions of doing things onehanded or not at all, the slow process of allowing the body to heal. Coming to terms with not being able to play guitar, maybe for months, maybe not ever. A murk of maybes. Needing some kind of creative outlet, I once again pillaged my archives to stitch these textural patchworks together out of various old bits.

The result, One Hand Three Ears, yet another sketchbook of atmospheric abstractions, atonal meditations & sound experimentia…

Every creative project has some catalyst or other.  Most of the albums I’ve created have been responses to various periods of grief, loss, emotional breakdown, rage, powerlessness, relationship turbulence, despair, physical incapacitation through injury or old-bodiedness, and/or intense frustration at being limited by external forces (eg lockdown, bureaucracy, poverty).  I deliberately return to musicking in order to cope with these seemingly relentless forces in my life, to somehow use the experience as fuel, and transmute it through creativity.  It’s the mental engagement in ‘process’ that matters first, and the balancing effect it has on my nervous system.

Two months ago I had bought myself a cheap bass guitar and was looking forward to composing some music for bass and guitar again.  Then I had a sudden fall, smashed face first on a rock and broke my wrist, some of the most searing, excruciating pain I have ever experienced.

Six weeks in a cast was frustrating and frightening, and after already spending so much of the last year physically limited by a hernia, this was an added layer of incapacity.  The slightest movement at the wrong angle sent pain shooting up my arm, so sleep was difficult even with painkillers.  I spent a lot of time in bed with my plastered arm up on pillows, watching a million old movies and rereading Richard Bandler and Robert Anton Wilson books to fill time without becoming too braindead. All I actually wanted to do was play some guitar.

Finally I became too frustrated and had to find a way to make some kind of music within the imposed limitations.  My onehandedness opted for plundering the sound archives once again, and resorting to cannibalism (of the musical variety). 

Several tracks continue the kind of freefloating loopish liminalist driftscapes I began exploring on the Red Tape Bardo albums, Occupy Your Mind and even Down On The Farm. Ear Am Eye is entirely composed of one small slice of an old ambient guitar track, treated beyond recognition in five different ways, to create the various sounds therein.  A Forest For Dreams is mostly built around the lovely resonances of what I call ‘drill chimes’.  Years ago I bought a set of cylindrical drill-bits with serrated edges, designed for cutting out circles in wood (eg to make wheels for wooden toys).  I discovered that each size of drill-bit emits a beautifully resonant, perfectly-pitched note, quite similar to the small Tibetan bells often used in meditation.  On A Forest Of Dreams, I slowed the chimes down, making the notes lower and giving them more warmth, then reversed them to emphasise the warbling vibrato of the resonance. Other textures I created using the Surge synth plug-in, and a sample of a ‘pedal steel’ app I fiddled with on the album Down On The Farm

Abstrak Construk is a kind of asymmetric dub meander – I think of it as a kind of colourful conversation, say in some kind of bohemian drinking house, between seven very different personalities. There’s an itchy, insect glitch scratching throughout, with percussive interjections from dundun & djembe, embroidered with some careening Egyptian guitar & keyboard melodies borrowed from my earlier dub trilogy. Personally I like its offkiltery, the implied rhythm, thrown out intermittently by the unpredictable bass, which reorganises where the ‘one’ is in the conversation.

The Wrong Chord is a turgid, slowfartsome mess, and is included on the album precisely for what its mess reflects – ie my feelings of limitation, frustration, stagnation and agitation. The flaccid un-note bass loop, the halfhearted wriggles of shapeless electronics, everything rubs wrong.  The track’s main foundation is the bed of atonal, quasiorchestral surges that converge without sense into various dissonant antichords, then disappear into the gloom with a slow gulp.  I already used these sounds (I hope, more ‘artfully’) throughout the Oort album, so I obviously wasn’t trying very hard on this little outing.  As its name clearly suggests, The Wrong Chord personifies those states of dissonance, which is precisely why I include it on the album. (On the other hand, I’ve listened to it five times running as I’ve been typing this, and have found it very inspiring…)

The track One Hand Three Ears is the most rhythmic and – heaven forbid – upbeat interlude on the album, bubbling around a bass & djembe loop, and a thick muted organ riffing over the top like a warm blanket. I imagine the piece as an old cassette found in someone’s car in the 70s, kind of AfroCuban Tropicana meets cheap 60s soul. All the instruments are samples of me playing, taken from several old different recordings and collaged together into a new shape. In some cases I’ve messed with their sound to find new textures, as with the percussion (dundun & djembe).  All the cheesy organ parts I played on the keyboard of my laptop. The slightly abstract outro was a happy accident that I polished up as a surprise ending.

The finale (an imagined Side B on a vinyl LP floating somewhere in spacetime) is the epically ponderous, opiatic jazz-noirish slo-mo of Spatial Interrelational Blues (Return Of The Orifi). The ‘Orifi’ referred to are the mouths of my friends Kushala & Malcolm, players of the didjeridu and trumpet respectively (both instruments being holes you blow air through).  I only have a handful of samples of them playing, and continue to find new ways to extend the life of these sound textures. Everything on this track is slowed down by at least 400% – the plucked instrument that could pass for a guitar is actually a uke, and the bass is vibrating at such a low rate that it often disintegrates into a toneless rumble. When editing, I placed the trumpet and uke tracks randomly, without thought to how they fell together; yet they complemented each other immediately, in their timing and key – another ‘happy accident’.  Some listenings of this track I imagine the didjeridu as an enormous prowling shadowbeast, smouldering over an entire village, others I imagine an immense bunyip wallowing in the bubbling mud of a billabong.

In mood and tempo, this piece is certainly reflective of my current process – but consistent with a larger theme – of being forced by circumstance to slow down the movement of both my physical body and my consciousness, in order to take care of my injury and my mental equilibrium.  In this state of slowed, enhanced consciousness, subtlety and detail seem at a higher resolution. One-handed, there is more attention to the action at hand, being adaptive and creating efficient solutions. And the ‘spatial interrelationships’ of the ‘simplest’ actions – getting dressed, washing up, unscrewing anything – soon reveal their mechanical complexity.  One-handed, every point of contact becomes significant – balance, leverage, angles, pressure, all come into sharper focus, a primal toolkit.  I know this process also from periods of back injury.

The seemingly erratic, elastic rhythmic cycles in Spatial Interrelational Blues (Return Of The Orifi), which languidly bump into each other and form unpredictable cohesion, are for me very trance-inducing and reflective of another process, ie deeper acceptance of circumstance. In this sense, the music carries a philosophical and Zen bent for me, in the context of my life’s own erratic, elastic interrelational rhythms.