The Ears Have Walls (2017)

Between 2003 – 2016 I was pretty obsessed by acoustic music from all over the world, in particular the authentic voice of acoustic instruments.  I’d pushed my acoustic guitar playing into increasingly complex territory with the gypsified Spondooli Brothers duo, dabbled in a few other folk instruments like mandolin & balalaika, and when I began playing ukulele in 2006 I vowed it would remain my primary instrument forevermore.

Well, my intentions were sincere and I certainly gave it a good bash.  For almost a decade I barely touched another instrument.  Guitar offered me nothing anymore, I was too habituated.  And while my uke-playing also became increasingly complex as it evolved, the inherent simplicity of the instrument made it far more approachable all round.

But.  By the time I came to record the Pigbox albums, I’d hit a plateau with ‘solo ukulele’.  This was when I first started using a laptop interface for recording, and also around the time I’d been contributing some percussion samples to the musical experiments of my neighbour, Ross Douglas, which he used in his Stromatalites adventures.  His loose methodology, of grabbing pure sounds and manipulating them digitally beyond recognition to create interesting atmospheres, really opened me to other possibilities in home recording.  After getting familiar with recording via laptop on a few albums, I arrived at The Ears Have Walls.

I’m particularly fond of this album because each of its eclectic tracks are signposts to the many other musical directions I was yet to pursue. 

Tracks like The Fox (and What The Fox Dreamt), Lord Of The Flies and Breakfast Of Dogs are the first indicators of a more abstract experimental spirit, of throwing disparate elements together, with a loose rhythmic backbone but edges of dissonance and contained chaos in the sound textures.  I’ve since applied this to many recordings, but it’s more obvious on albums like Language Systems, Offkiltered, and the Music For… trollogy. The voices on The Fox are my two youngest children when they were 2 & 4 – I’d found a forgotten recording I made of them hearing their own voices for the first time, as they spoke into a mic while wearing headphones. My daughter spontaneously created a story about a girl who becomes a fox, hence the track’s theme.

Return Of Dark Return and Monobrow were both previous recordings that I reinvented by deconstruction, and which firmly established another creative approach I’ve since used many times since: that of cannibalising my own work to create something new. 

I had begun a tentative return to electric guitar on Pigbox and more prominently on Skin & Threestringbox, realising a new sense of the instrument that I hadn’t felt with acoustic guitar. In my first bands as a teenager, I really only played electric guitar to be noisy.  Now I was paying more attention to music by Tortoise, Papa M, Duster, Helvetia, and the quieter electric guitar experiments of David Pajo and Tom Verlaine.  On The Ears Have Walls, the tracks Equine Ox, Quizzical Portent and Waking Life are still my favourites, they still feel like some of my most inspired guitar experiments.  These tracks point directly to the trilogy of albums that followed (Tectonic, Melancholia and especially Stelliferous), and my renewed appreciation of electric guitar as an instrumental element that didn’t really feel guitar-like anymore.

The elecroacoustic tracks Water & Skin, Much Thought After and title track The Ears Have Walls opened me to the use of subtle electronics with acoustic sounds, and the use of relatively simple progressions repeated to create atmospherics.

Also acoustic, Fingers Of God Across The Horizon remains pretty special for me too.  My neighbour Ross had picked up a Turkish saz (or baglama) during his travels overseas, a remarkable microtonal stringed instrument with a unique sound – I borrowed it briefly and recorded a few ideas, some of which became tracks on other albums (Transmogrification Blues on Skin, Thoughts As Mountains Passing on Threestringbox), and this one, a pair of improvisations woven together, with some subtle electronic and vocal touches that add space to the piece.

The cover image is a photo I took of the beautifully eroded sandstone cliffs at Randalls Beach, nearby to where I lived at the time.