Destruction is also Creation!
The weirdest recording technique we've ever heard, honest.
Just to prove that rock 'n' roll madness didn't begin with Bill Haley's kiss curl, we take you on a trip down Strange Street. How good are today's digital eccentrics compared to yesterday's analogue oddballs?
HOW WEIRD could you be if someone paid you? No seriously. Could you be as strange as, say, oh, off the top of my head the Dada-ist movement of the early nineteen hundreds?
You'd be surprised just how many bands have plundered Dada for names and inspiration... The Armoury Show (a Dada exhibition), Cabaret Voltaire (their club), and The Art Of Noise (a Chamber Orchestra... of sorts).
Last year there was a resurgence of interest in the movement's tone poems. So much so that an offshoot of Virgin decided to honour their ethic in the making of a new album, employing Dada's approach to art (which made Punk look as dangerous as an Andy Williams' song over a McDonalds' tannoy).
To this effect they recruited Jakko Jakszyk — he of the extenders story the other month, which is how we got to hear of it. Jakko, they said, record an album where every sound comes from real life; not an instrument in ear shot. In the ensuing months, more musical rules were broken than we realised existed, so how could we resist telling you about it?
First Jakko had to get his sounds. He hired a portable Sony F-1 digital recorder (using Betamax tape), blue-tacked two PZM mikes to a hinged board for stereo and drove off into the snows of January; first stop the park, lobbing bricks into the river and at climbing frames in the kids playground.
There followed visits to Heathrow for a squeaking escalator and a less than successful tour of Whipsnade Zoo. Of course, every time he set all the stuff up, the hitherto raucous beasts immediately adopted a glowering silence. "I started doing all sorts of unethical things — poking animals with sticks and kicking cages... nothing."
The drum pattern came from doors — a heavy front door for the bass drum, a slammed metal boiler door for the snare which offered its own special ambience — "well, it was in the kitchen" — and a clicking fluorescent light switch for the hi-hat. "I programmed them all up, then got a drummer friend in to play them with dynamics from a MIDI-ed up set of Roland Octa-pads."
Up to this point, any sampling enthusiast might have considered the same open-air course. But it was when Jakko walked into the studio with his samples that the true Dada-ist elements of chance came into play. For example the bass line — the sampled spring of a leaf table — was played listening to a click on the rhythm track, but with the monitoring turned down so no-one could hear the actual notes being played. The first time anyone knew what the bass line was, was when the multitrack recording was played back. To ensure following melodies didn't run too far astray, Jakko would select notes that fitted harmonically, assign them to the Octapads and play, but again with the monitors turned off.
Not strange enough? Okay, how about hiring two monkeys from a film/theatre supply agency to play samples by jumping on a keyboard. Yup, they ran up and down a set of Greengate ivories, triggering Jakko's French mother saying 'Excusez moi': "very proficiently, as it happened, though we panicked a bit when John Kongos, who owned the studio, came in just as one of the monkeys crapped on channel 11.
"Unbeknownst to anyone else, I'd also miked up the control room so as well as recording the monkeys triggering the sound, I had a recording of everybody's reactions to the monkeys triggering the sound, and I used that as well.
"The best bit was the bloke who brought the monkeys who's obviously used to doing a lot of film work. He was on his Motorola phone all the time but you only ever heard one side of the story."
The early moments of the album include the monkey man telling someone "So she's bloody lying there, and I says 'I am the Temple Of Venus' and she says, 'so where are the fuckin' snakes?".
Then followed the act of spinning in some of the original Dada tone poems as vocal lines, and mixing — a full mix, a dance mix with extra echo, and a cut up mix. "We made chinagraph marks on beats and bass drums, cut up the tape, threw the bits into the air and the engineer spliced them together again — some lengths were shorter than others, some backwards, but it all worked rhythmically."
Not even the cutting room will escape the Dada theory as one side of the first 12 inch will have two cuts running parallel — remember the Monty Python album "Matching Tie and Handkerchief"? When you put the needle down at the start, you'll never know which of the parallel tracks it will slip into. Unfortunately, neither does the man in the cutting room. Apparently Britain has one expert in this field. He explained the delicate, exacting process involved in cutting the first track, calculating the time so as to leave a precisely gauged space between the grooves. And the second track? You drop the head on the acetate and hope it fits. If it doesn't, you do the whole thing over again.
And so we arrive at the finished project, tentatively ascribed to "The Blue Blouse". Anyone out there weirder than this?
Feature by Paul Colbert
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