Monthly Archives: April 2011

New album – Waves – available for free download.

It’s been a white-knuckle ride; this last few days. Can the songs be salvaged? Will it all have been a waste of time? Are these one-off improvisations destined to disappear?

But thanks to some  miracle work from my friend Wayne Pennell, the album has been saved. It’s a little more lo-fi than was originally planned, but the essense is intact. And let’s face it, this was never going to be a pop record.

What it is though is more difficult to decide. Less meandering than the Peripheral Vision material (thus far of course, Peripheral Vision is a record being made one track at a time and could go anywhere), and a damn sight more aggressive – it’s a record that had no foundations until the very second it started being recorded.

The album is in the same order as the songs were recorded. A few beginnings and ends have been tidied up, but that’s all. I did decide to leave in the Adrian Belew tribute on ‘How Can You Laugh?’

The title ‘Waves’ came from the sound and dynamics created by the looping and layering of guitar parts that peppers this record. The more I add, the less accurate it tends to be. Through physics sounds appear that were never planned.

But it’s not all huge distortion territory. Electric Animal,  Wedding Requiem and the title track all contain subtler moments for those who like to relax.

Electric Animal was written as part of Hellp RecordsTen Minute Project‘.

The album is free to download – go for your life!

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Six new tracks…or maybe not.

This weekend I went back  to the room to try and put down a few more tracks for the Eighties record. What I ended up with is a collection of six new tracks that are completely different. Whereas the initial songs I recorded for Eighties were mostly freeform noise pieces (with the odd guitar synth section), and all the songs so far recorded for Peripheral Vision are looped* pieces; what came out this weekend was some sort of bastard son of the two.

My good friend Dave, whose band ‘Holy Ships‘ you should check out, came down again to press buttons and act as a sort of self-indulgence barometer. He’s a progressive, lenient judge as you’ll hear hopefully once the songs are out, but I find having a friend in the room lets me relax about trying to set the 8-track and also makes me consider that these songs aren’t  just for me.

I was worried by the fact that once the mics were set up and the flourescent lights on the ceiling switched off, leaving the room’s ridiculous inbuilt disco lights creating the atmosphere, I still had no idea what I was about to record.

*I’m really beginning to start to appreciate the power of guitar loop pedals. They’re a device you can use to sample something you play and keep adding layers of sound. I’ve been using one properly for a few months now. I began just repeating a single chord and within a few moments had something approaching a new song.

Combining the looper with an ebow, a hand-held thing that let’s you get ‘violin type’ sounds and infinite note length, the material started to come thick and fast. In under two hours Dave and I left with 35 minutes of stuff on disk.

Once I listened back t0 it I remembered how even a couple of hours after the event I often have no idea how I made a lot of the sounds coming out of the speakers.

Unfortunately I also noticed that some tracks have been recorded a bit too loud which has added an annoying crackle in the speakers. This is a hangup from my days with an analogue cassette 4-track where pushing the levels often fattened things up a treat. With digital, it just sounds nasty. It must be said that the recording was meant to be fuzzy,  but in a way that will get speakers pushing air. Ironically, I thought at first it only affected the right hand channel. It turns out my left ear is in worse shape than I had thought as I simply couldn’t hear it. Thank you tinnitus.

Definitely a lesson learned. Four of the six songs may not be usable, which will be a real shame. My very talented pal Wayne has kindly taken the .wav files off my hands to see if there’s anything that can be done.

I should know in a few days, and I’ll keep the blog updated. The two tracks that recorded ok are really exciting – one of them includes an extended section so unsettlingly heavy that all regrets that I just sold my Subdecay Noise Box pedal have gone out of the window .

All this means we’ll either have two tracks available for download or a whole album. Here’s hoping…

More soon.


Sub Rosa’s Subsonic Series – Overview

Released sporadically between 1994 and 2000; this collection of six albums is described by the label Sub Rosa as ‘the Subsonic series dedicated to the electric guitar.’

The series involved twelve different musicians, each of whom has their own level of reputation for doing something different from the norm on their instrument. There are electrics, acoustics, bass, treated guitars, feedback and loops. In fact there’s no doubt a lot more than that going on. But among these albums there are many wonderful occasions where, no matter how many times you hear them, you will never know how those sounds were made. As a guitarist flirting with improvisation, I enjoy those moments where it’s anyone’s guess how a sound came about.

Yep...only five. See below.

The list of collaborations is a mixed group to say the least. But each pairing is matched up pretty well in terms of style, giving each record a distinct feel:

Fred Frith and Marc Ribot. Bill Laswell and Nic Bullen. Justin Broadrick and Andy Hawkins. Caspar Brotzmann & Page Hamilton. Sascha Frere-Jones and Loren Mazzacane Connors. Lou Barlow and Rudy Trouvé.

Quite a diverse list, well matched.

I feel it’s only right to make aware that, before I get too deep into things, I have yet to take delivery of the sixth album: Lou Barlow and Rudy Trouvé’s untitled effort. It should be here soon so I hope it won’t affect my writing too much until then.

That aside, I feel it’s still ok to air my one big criticism of the series – let’s get it out of the way. The first record I got in the series was Page Hamilton & Caspar Brotzmann’s ‘Zulutime’; on which the two guitarists improvise live in the studio together. This struck me as a work of genius.

The problem is – Zulutime is the only record where the two guitarists collaborate with each other.

There will always be records where two rich show-off rock/blues guitarists collaborate and put out more tracks of soulful pentatonics. But how often do albums like this come out in the mainstream? Quite rarely. I say mainstream, of course I’m talking nonsense, but considering when these came out there are some relatively high profile players involved here. Justin Broadrick, Lou Barlow and Page Hamilton must have sold a couple of million albums between them.

My feelings are that a trick was certainly missed by not having the pairs collaborate on the other five albums. Although there’s a lot to keep discovering on repeated listens, the curiosity around what I could be hearing if both players were in the same room never leaves me. What could have been a wonderful alternative to shredder guitar thing (Vai, Satriani and all those G3 types (apart from Fripp) – I’m looking at you) was never realised.

Nevertheless, this remains a series that is as exciting as it is frustrating.

Coming next: Fred Frith and Marc Ribot’s ‘Sounds Of A Distant Episode’

Peripheral Vision / Eighties

There are currently two Kowä Axis records in the works. Both explore very different realms and both are equally informed by the surroundings in which they are made. When each new track is added to these records I’ll blog it too.

Peripheral Vision
is the quieter one. Recorded one track at a time at home, generally on a whim, the music is formed within the boundaries that recording on a residential South London road impose upon you. Not being able to rely on sheer volume means I have to think differently. It also opens up new avenues. The track Streamers In The Willow features the sound of my neighbour’s child playing outside and the combined chorus of birds and aircraft.

Two new songs; Clipper and Idyll One were written and recorded over the weekend and both were added to Peripheral Vision album today.

Eighties
is the loud one. Recorded at volume in an old London library building its theme is the 1980s. It’s a blend of my childhood memories of that period and what I know of it now. The restrictions of only being able to add to Eighties when I have access to the library means that it is very much informed by the mood of the day. Only one track is available, but more will follow soon.

The songs are currently free to download so…fill your boots.

Sub Rosa’s Subsonic Series…introduction.

I can still remember the day the way I thought about the guitar changed completely. It was around this time 11 years ago in a bedroom of my shared student house in Birmingham, UK. This was the first time I heard the record Subsonic 4 – better known as ‘Zulutime’ by Caspar Brotzmann & Page Hamilton.

And I hated it.

I was a huge fan of the band Helmet and in these earlier days of the internet had heard of this one-off side project by the lead singer/guitarist Page Hamilton. I knew he was very much into his jazz guitar and got the impression that this record was an opportunity for him to use some of his jazz skills outside of Helmet. The fact that partnering him on this record was a guy called Caspar Brotzmann, the son of the some famous jazz sax player Peter (of whom I also hadn’t heard), reinforced my expectations of nice modal runs and an altogether more laid-back affair.

How wrong I was. I pressed play, sat back to enjoy this ‘jazz side’ of Page’s playing and was instead confronted with a huge roar of two heavily distorted guitars that paid no attention to melody, rhythm or it would seem; each other. ‘Odd intro’ I thought, expecting something more structured to drop in at any second.

Two minutes later I was still waiting. Two minutes after that things had become arguably more intense, and , christ, there was still seven minutes and fifteen seconds left of this song. So I thought I’d try some of the other tracks. All of them followed this same template of freeform noise.

Disappointed I put the CD back in it’s case. This first exposure to avant-garde improvised guitar would later completely change everything I thought about music, both as a listener and a player.

It was also my way in to the Subsonic series of six albums/guitarist collaborations put out by the Belgian Sub Rosa label in the mid-to-late 90s. The series would feature artists such as Fred Frith, Marc Ribot, Justin Broadrick and Sasha Frere-Jones.

In future posts I will talk about each of these albums and the series as a whole.

So here it starts…

Musician, writer and all-round delusional nobody.

This blog will be the place for me to post Kowa Axis music, write ill informed pieces on whatever takes my fancy and post my attempts at photography.

More to follow.