For a quick overview of my loosely-genred “rock” experiments between 2017 – 2019, try my two Rock Samples compilations. They are both available as free downloads (or pay if you want to) from my Bandcamp site. You’ll find the individual album links below. For a more detailed insight into each of the original “rock” albums I’ve made (including 2021’s Crux, which doesn’t appear on the samplers), read on.
Rock Samples Vol 1 is a compilation of some of my favourite excursions into the dirtier, noisier end of guitar-based rock textures, drawn from a few of my earlier albums – Asp Burger, Gringo!, Tectonic, The Impertinence Of Being, and Cupcake.
I tend mostly to compose on the spot, improvise ideas direct to recording, keep throwing ideas at it and sift through it all in the editing process. Often I leave dodgy bits in because I like their organic quality. Many of these tracks are deliberately rough, some were recorded with only bits of a drumkit (not that I can play drums!), and with very cheap equipment. What matters to me is the overall textural effect, and catching ideas as they happen.
Inevitably, these tracks reference some of my favourite noisy guitar sounds & feels, from a lifetime (five decades) of absorbing sound. So thank you Stooges, Stranglers, Crazy Horse, Duster / Helvetia, Robert Fripp / King Crimson, Captain Beefheart, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Beasts Of Bourbon, early Chris Squires, and the multitude of other musicians who alerted me to the subtleties of loose but well-articulated guitar noisiness.
Rock Samples Vol 2 is second compilation of previously released tracks, some personal favourites that fit somewhere in the pantheistic “rock” idiom. This collection is more mellow in tone, smoother on the ears, at times experimental, other times highly predictable, with cleaner articulation, some summery moments and possibly a major chord here and there, feeling slightly misplaced.
These selections are from the albums The Ears Have Walls, Stelliferous, Tectonic, Cupcake and Music For Avoiding Consensus Reality. I’ve chosen them because, in some sense or other, they have each involved some small new breakthrough in my playing or technical understanding at the time of improvising / composing / recording, which I guess is why I feel closer to them. I think they sit companionably together, and I’m told the collection makes good driving music (although neither of these observations have any basis in scientific interrogation).
Asp Burger (2018)
In early 2018 I had recently discovered that I was of an Aspergers neurological profile, and still reeling from the implications. It was a depth charge that resonated over my entire 50+ years, and the revelation catalysed a period of deep personal review. I was angry at all the mess in my life that might have been different had I known when I was younger (and it gets my hackles up hearing people whining about getting a ‘late’ diagnosis in their 20s). I was also mired in a protracted and particularly frustrating Family Law process at the time. Musically, I needed a burst of something primal, to harness some raw energy and vent a spleen or two.
The impetus of this collection began with the image I drew for the cover – it arrived spontaneously and provided a doorway into the first deliberately primitive tracks Family Law and Coping Mechanisms, and their raw immediacy set the album’s tone. I knew I wanted to explore an abrasive pallette, textures of grind & growl, splinter & scrape, something simultaneously visceral and fractured, but still riding on melody & rhythm, not just shapeless noise.
In choosing distortion as my primary colour, I wanted to find the edges of that distortion, where it began to disintegrate, find the subtleties in the dissonance & the sharp sparkle in the serrations. I drew on certain sound textures from my childhood music memories, in tribute: the earlier edges of bands like King Crimson, Captain Beefheart, Stooges, XTC, Stranglers, X, Gang Of Four, AC/DC… metallic edges, fat fuzz, shards of glass, angular & jagged, slightly skewed…just great sonic colours, and a good excuse to have some fun with a few old rock idioms. I had no finesse in how I arrived at these textures, and most tracks were recorded well into the red, but I really didn’t give a flying frogfart at that point. I still had my friend Ross’ electric bass on loan, so I tried to get it sounding somewhere in the vicinity of a Jean-Jacques Burnel or a Chris Squire, and kept it prominent in the mix. For drums I just banged the bits I’d always banged, having no kit at that stage.
Asperger’s can bring a sense of living on the outside of things, of operating through a window of remove, and from that standpoint the social frameworks many people take for granted really don’t seem important. Like so many others on the spectrum who live without any formal diagnosis, I’ve spent my life inventing creative ways to adapt to a world that makes very little sense yet demands that you behave as if it does. You learn to appear sociably intelligent, emotionally responsive, articulate, capable, creative, while internally you often experience exclusion, confusion & dissonance. Sometimes others sense your dissonance as abrasiveness, without bothering to understand it, turning it back on you as The Problem. The title track tries to illustrate this with its muddy monotone and competing voices – trying to get cohesion out of too many bits, trying to progress it all somewhere but not quite getting a shape…
This album is me looking back through the domino effect of this new information, reviewing the trail of symptoms…the depression, anxiety, family breakdowns, scuttled relationships, lost opportunities, anger at self. It’s the noises of me recognising how I unintentionally isolate myself from those I love, and how they in turn misunderstand my own tangled surface signals. This music is also one way of describing how I shape the dissonance in my head each day into some kind of balance or harmony.
The Impertinence Of Being (2019)
After the purge of Asp Burger, I did an immediate sharp left into an ambient album (which you can read about another time) followed by a fictional soundtrack to an existentialist spaghetti western – most of which was acoustic / latin, but featured a few tracks that carried over the abrasive guitar sounds I’d used on Asp Burger. That album was Gringo! and the tracks are Gringo’s Theme, Bad For Business, Disgruntled Dub and Cactus Flower. I mention them here only as an example of how the process from one album often overlaps into the next, a newly discovered technique opens up a new process as I explore further.
A full year after Asp Burger, I bought a battered old kidsize drumkit for $50 at the tipshop. I couldn’t play but I figured I’d get it to do something. There was nowhere else to put the drumkit but out in the shed, so I moved my recording gear out there. I’d been in a musical funk, in a rut & uninspired, and the drumkit provided a fresh ingredient. I have always enjoyed drumming with my hands (as per djembe etc), the direct contact on the skin of the drum helps me feel my body as a natural extension of the rhythm; I also enjoy using sticks & mallets on dunduns and balafons; but trying to coordinate a foot pedal with my other limbs, and handling my expectations of how a drumkit “should” sound, was very confronting. After a few days of applied grim determination, I knew I was sloppy but I worked out some basic mechanics and decided to record my primitive concussions.
For added challenge I devised some creative parameters. For guitar, all the main parts were to be played on my old rusty-stringed acoustic in DADGAD tuning, running through distortion. DADGAD tuning is lovely for creating pleasantly lilting acoustic folk noodles, but I used the alien tuning to shift my playing habits, and maybe find something fresh for myself. While there’s nothing innovative in the sounds I’ve made, I had to innovate my playing methods to get there. In fact I found myself being able to chord with just one or two fingers because there were always so many nice drone strings going on. This sweetened the chords somewhat and I found myself leaning into a kind of countrified grunge feel – a feel I especially enjoy in early Neil Young with Crazy Horse, and later in bands like Harem Scarem or Sunset Strip, among others.
The other parameters I set for myself were: that I could only use my actual electric guitar through a wah-pedal (which made it more of a compositional element for me), and for bass I was to use the cello, retuned to standard bass tuning and fuzzed out. I’ve said elsewhere that I find fretless instruments very alien, so trying to play rock bass on fretless cello when I can’t tell where the notes are was a challenge. It was literally a slippery slope, and I had to sharpen both my ear & my spatial awareness (with varying degrees of success).
In the end, I just had a lot of loose, noisy, garagey fun. I set my bar low, thinking if I deliberately made a traditional ‘garage band’ album, I gave myself full license to be sloppy and authentic at the same time. I pretended I had a band of mates in the shed with me, making the kind of music I didn’t have the skills to make when I was a green 16 yr-old, in my first band The Deadbeats, way back in the punky Newcastle 80s.
To quote the album notes:
Loose countrified grunge / garage / punky soul with occasional 60s psychepunk leanings. Think: textural.
Tiny old shed at home, in the bush, up a mountain, wallabies and potoroos munching the lawn benignly at the doorstep, birds twittering in the nearby vegie garden & feral peacocks squawking morosely across the valley
RESULT: Loose, noisy and fun. Best batch yet.
All instruments on this recording were deliberately insulted by BD.
PS The cover has special significance for me in that I made the Lizard Dude as a birthday present for my youngest son, who had a certain affection for Black Sabbath and similar old-school rockness at the time. He seemed a fitting mascot for the album.
Cupcake is still one of my alltime personal favourites, that I still enjoy in its entirety (I realise it must sound conceited to some people, but I make music that I enjoy listening to: not because it’s ‘me’ – when I’m listening I hear it as itself, and I don’t think of it as myself having made it. I have the same relationship with my visual art). According to my Bandcamp site, I released this album a week after The Impertinence Of Being, so I must have begun work on said Impertinence much earlier than I thought, possibly late 2018. I honestly can’t remember…..maybe I became so ensconced in ‘rock consciousness’ that it was just another one of those blurred, debauched tours across America….
I think this album emerged when I noticed I was getting a bit more consistent and adventurous with my drumkit skills, and I started getting fancy ideas. I was also more confident with the cello bass in its new tuning, and I’d gotten a taste for the lazy jam element in my guitar playing. I was listening to the Brant Bjork album Jalamanta, and now that I had a drumkit I thought I might be able to approximate some of those grooves, which really just harked back to similar early 70s grooves. I was also immersing myself in Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo’s 1968 album Dreams, so I tried some jazzier rhythms on the kit & cello, opted for (mostly) cleaner guitar tones and took a bit more care of composition than on my previous Impertinences.
The summer of 2019 was a scorcher and Tassie was inundated with raging bushfires across the state. We live in a tinderbox area, high on a hillside (fire travels up), surrounded by eucalyptus forest (think of all that flammable oil), and when it started raining cinders still glowing from a fire a couple of ridgetops away, we (family of five) had to clear out. We went to Heidi’s mum’s house in Hobart and pitched a big tent in the backyard, where we hunkered in anxiously for five weeks. My autistic requirement for solitude was severely compromised, on top of the constant anxiety of whether we’d have a home to return to. And while we all made the best of it, by the end, we’d all had enough. The night we got home, I bought plenty of beer and stayed up til 4 am recording I Needed That, a big satisfying funky dump that ended up as the final track on Cupcake, but was actually the first step toward it.
Other than that, I don’t know there’s much else to tell. I enjoyed finding a bit more tightness in my guitarwork, a satisfying crisp burst or bite in a run here and there. Rapunzel, Rapunzel was an ode to my love (with her long red locks), Snakefeather was written to my shamanic self from a previous identity…I spose there’s a hint of the cosmic or spiritual in titles like Illusionations, Riding The Mandalamind and During The Table, Zen Is Not A Table….even Am I Dead Yet? I wonder what I was up to…..
Crux: A central or critical point. A puzzling or apparently insoluble problem. Also a constellation of hot blue-white stars in the Milky Way. In Latin, crux referred literally to an instrument of torture, often a cross or stake, and figuratively to the torture and misery inflicted by means of such an instrument.
I moved immediately into this album within the same week as completing the diametrically opposed, sparsely emotive piano album The Witnessing Of Paint In Its Drying Moments. I had created the piano album in a period of profound grief and loss, and through my music I was trying to find a way towards accepting many things in my life that I could not change or control at all.
We are often told that we always have the power of choice, and intrinsically this is true, but there are times when one can’t merely choose to ignore or distract from a situation, in order to ‘make it better’. Some people rely on optimism, and that’s great if you have that capacity. There’s a very different process involved in actively accepting things we do not want, that are imposed on us and that we cannot alter. The kind of choices one is left with in these circumstances become much starker, and drive us deeper: do I continue, or do I not? And if I continue, how do I sustain it in the face of such overwhelming loss, how do I find the resources to deliberately move into the despair rather than distracting myself away from it? How can I continue to stand willingly within the intensity of being Nothing, while continuing the daily charade of Meaning?
I am no stranger to this paradox, it has been a theme throughout my life, and it is the hard work one takes on board in the deeper process of self-determination. It is the work described in experiential psychologies such as Zen Buddhism, shamanism and Tantra, which suggest a living dynamic of eliminating self, while being a continuing process of self, nothing more or less than a consciousness & nervous system experiencing itself.
This was the climate, I leapt like ignition from deep grief to the full flash of rage & despair at having to continue, and so I needed noise to give the feeling form. In making the piano music of the previous album, I had been exploring a minimalist classical approach, and in a different way I continued this minimalist thinking to the sonic textures of ‘metal’ guitar.
I’m not really drawn to ‘heavy metal’ and its derivatives as such, but I appreciate its dramatic aesthetic, its sincerity and its humour. Mostly I’m drawn to the people who take the sonic textures of ‘metal’ into more experimental territory – in particular here I’m thinking of Robert Fripp, whose work has resonated with me since I was 6 years old.
The music I created for Crux served both the purpose of catharsis / release, and of deliberate mental focus in order to sustain the force of what I was feeling. As the latter, many of the pieces took on the quality of technical exercises, an emotional remove or cold surface, which helped keep me from breakdown.
This is a guitar-only album. I needed immediacy, I didn’t want the fuss of fiddling between instruments, so once again I set myself parameters: one guitar. Controlled distortion. I experimented with reversing guitar sounds, and with pitch alteration.
The first track I recorded, applying my own intuitive ‘classical’ compositional thinking, was Surface Tension (Life As A State Of). Part of my experimentation involved thinking backwards, that is, imagining a sequence of notes and working out how to play them backwards, so that when I reversed the recording I would get the melody I was imagining, with notes having that ‘sucking’ effect when reversed. Stretching The Membrane is another variation on this theme. Two other tracks – Exulansis and Being Held Underwater – abstract this approach a bit further to create similar sonic soundscapes, comparatively ambient in the context of the rest of the album.
The other compositions were more riff-based in structure, with layers built on varied pitches, and solos often abstracted into texture by reversing the recording and fiddling with them. Name Of Nines is something of a ‘folly’, built on the basis of my name (Bradfield Dumpleton) being blocks of nine letters. Obnoxic Obnostic is perhaps revisiting some themes from Asp Burger – being misconstrued by others as abrasive or too negative at times, the discord of communication when people are too quick to judge. Sometimes in those interactions I experience a bitter kind of contempt for the intellectual laziness of others, when they won’t apply the effort to ask deeper (or at least more clarifying) questions.
When I was 7 or 8, I used to have a reccurring nightmare, from which I would scream myself awake. The dream was not in images as such, but profoundly kinesthetic. I experienced myself as both an infinite blackness that was unbearably vast, and simultaneously, at the centre, an excruciatingly tiny point of intense, piercing white light. The enormous sense of pressure created by the relationship of these two extremes was what I felt bodily in the dream, and was psychologically intolerable, so I woke myself by screaming. I have reflected on that nightmare many times, and think of the phenomenal pressure exerted by the earth over millenia to create an indestructable diamond, and on a cosmic scale, the hyperforces at play between the energy of a star and the surrounding void of space. This is what the album notes try to describe: “A core of light forcing itself through darkness, the mind enduring despite the overwhelming paradox of conscious existence, the internal thermodynamic pressure of continuing to persist from within the membrane of depression and acute autistic self-awareness. To Be, despite the urge to UnBe.”