Monday, July 27, 2020

The Great Disconnect - full sleeve notes

Loosely speaking, this record is a collection of ideas and off-shoots that started life amongst my professional work as a music producer.  

Work done for clients was remodulated, tampered with and deconstructed until it resembled something wildly different from its origins.  The rock and folk music of my day job was therefore alchemised into something stranger, and altogether more in line with my burgeoning taste for electronica, chip tune and found sounds.

Many of these pieces here also feature ambiences recorded on my portable handset; a feature of my production that would grow in prevalence over the coming years.   


That 80s Vibe

This is a remix of an Assfunk song.  Assfunk was a guitar and keyboard duo consisting of my good friend and frequent collaborator Ryan H. Fleming, and his mate Dave.  They put together a blistering CD-R of songs that lasted no more than 59 seconds, with each composition being cut with a hard edit at the one-minute mark.  Their sonic setup - consisting of Casio keyboard drum beats, auto-arpeggiated synth chords and over-the-top hair metal guitar - meant that whatever style they lent their hands to, it sounded wildly silly and genuinely arresting at the same time.  All the pieces were recorded as part of a first-take, improvised rationale.  They did pastiches of hair metal, R & B, ballads and - in the case of ‘That 80s Vibe’ - the John Hughes movie soundtrack.  I was enthralled, and lifted several bars of it to create the spine for a full-blown homage to Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club and other films of that genre I was buying on VHS off eBay at the time.  Hence the outro lyrical reference to Molly Ringwald, and the heavily borrowed melody from Aha's 'Take On Me'.

This track also gave me an opportunity to see what was possible when things were nailed to a click track.  So much of my work at the time dealt with live takes, from musicians who felt uncomfortable recording to a fixed backing beat.  The closing arpeggiated sequence is a good example of that, done with a soft synth from Logic 7.

The Ballad Of Smiley’s Devil

At the time this collection of material was being worked on, I recorded a band called Chronicity.  They were by far one of the best bands I ever worked with.  I counted several of their members as friends, and would go on to produce albums that Pete, Cath and Phil made with their own respective solo projects, namely Wimpy Milkshake and Cath & Phil Tyler.  Some of their number had played in Red Monkey - a band that had once supported Fugazi when they came to play in Newcastle in 1999.  As well as frequently playing at my Ex Libris Records gigs, Chronicity regularly supported Bellini when they came to town, another excellent post-punk act.

The recording of ‘The Ballad Of The Gliding Swan’ was part of their Newcastle University basement studio session, and was recorded live, with some of the best amps, microphones and musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.  This meant that - despite being my first official ‘full band’ studio production - their EP still ranks as one of my best-sounding projects.  The band were happy with it too, though they didn’t play regularly and had other musical priorities at the time, so sadly the recording was never made publicly available.

I took some of the stems of the track and spliced them roughly with a YouTube extract from an early Oprah Winfrey episode, which had been highlighted on the edgy-for-its-day blog Jezebel.  Having recently watched the box set of Smiley’s People starring Alec Guinness, the lyrics centred around a Cold War theme.  I added my own double-tracked bass to the looped sample, put much of the guitar stems through the Kaoss Pad, and whistled.  It was all done very spontaneously, and without much attempt to make it sound coherent.  Years later, I returned to it and tidied it up a little, but much of the collage approach to the arrangement remains.

Cottage Rotoscoped

This marks my attempt to use Ableton Live - a piece of software given to me by associates on my music production foundation degree course at Newcastle University.  Many of them came from disciplines that I hadn;t encountered before:  video game soundtrack composers and DJs of various genres.  The software confounded me, and this was the result.  I resolved to stick with Logic, as it seemed a more intuitive piece of software for the multitrack band recordings I was making at the time.

Holden Simone

Another piano demo, this time done to click track and recorded into the laptop, rather than my old Panasonic tape player.  “Holden” is a reference to James Holden, whose The Idiots Are Winning album influenced me greatly at the time.  “Simone” is a reference to me trying, and failing, to channel Nina Simone’s soulful vocal delivery. 

The timing slips a little at the end.  When I came back to review the track, around nine years after its inception, I debated whether to correct this or not.  Without trying to sound too weighty, the spirit of what these releases are about - the representation of my musical development through my career as a producer - means that such a move would be against the whole ethos of the Unimbued project.  And besides, sometime out of time is good.

Missed Organ

The ‘Missed’ of the title comes from the My Attorney song ‘Missed Connection Room’, which was recorded in the upstairs bar of The Cumberland Arms, in the Ouseburn, Newcastle.  

This particular session was notable because it marked the first time Andy and I collaborated with our drummer-to-be Stuart Stone.  I remember setting up a lot of microphones on his kit, and as a result captured a humungous room sound, thanks also to the wooden floors and hard walls of the space.  This room would host the majority of Ex Libris Records events in the coming years, until it became clear that running live events was not so much of a priority for the label.  

In the corner of the room, behind some stacked up chairs, was a small Hammond organ clone, in very poor repair.  I incorporated it into the take of ‘Missed Connection Room’, and when mixing the song was captivated by the inconsistent sounds the machine had randomly generated as I mashed the controls.  I decided to highlight these sounds in a standalone piece, incorporating cut ups of Stuarts drums and Andy’s overdubs as accompaniment.

As with ‘The Ballad Of Smiley’s Devil’, it showed how the “day job” work of mixing fairly conventional band recordings could throw up unexpected elements that deserved closer inspection… and how these little snippets could - when doodled upon after hours - form their own compositions in their own right.

Plagarising Reality (extract)

In 2011 I suggested to the Heaton Arts Festival - a community project that operated near to where I lived in Newcastle - that I contribute by composing an ambient collage of my field recordings, that could play on multiple hi-fi systems concealed in a church.  Other works of art would be presented in the same space, and as people milled around, they would come into range of various strange noises I had recorded on my Roland handset.

The venue was changed to Heaton Perk coffee shop, which took some of the potential atmospherics away - however it didn’t stop me compiling over an hour of material that ran on a loop in a CD player hidden behind the bookshelves of the coffee shop.  I remember visiting once to find that the staff had turned it down to zero, perhaps because of the moment when all the dogs start barking.

What made this significant was that it marked my first forray into using found sounds that I had captured myself in my work.  This would feature more and more in the coming years, both in productions I did for others (most notably Ian Courtney’s ‘Solitude In Snow’) and my own solo work composed while living in London.

I have selected the most interesting part of the piece here, which features a BBC Radio 4 play about dementia (Paul Whitehouse can just be heard before that particular sample is faded out), the Sacred Harp Choir singing in an old hospital - one that I was invited to by Cath Tyler from Chronicity, my mum describing the view from her cottage, the shore of Blyth? outside my car window, some equipment beeping in the local Metro station and me playing piano in what had been the Bensham Presbyterian Church - a building I used as a recording studio and rehearsal space for four months around 2011.


This began by using a percussion track from a Girls Girls Girls recording as a starting point, and then experimenting with Logic’s Delay Designer.  I had recently upgraded to version 9, which had several effects units that were worthy of exploration.  As with so many of these pieces, this was regarded as little more than a sketch when it was made.  It was only years later that I would appreciate its simplicity and restraint that was often lacking in my ‘proper’ pieces.

The Reckoniser

In 2008 Radiohead made two of the songs on their seventh studio album In Rainbows available for remixing - ‘Nude’ and ‘Reckoner’.  It took me about two years to finally get around to it, but I remember clearly not going to bed one evening and in the morning, this track was more or less finished.

I added my own vocals to mimic the guitar interlude, as well as using stock drum patterns to complement Selway’s parts.  Some samples from ‘Nude’ also appear in the rhythmic outro.

One of my main learning experiences from this was hearing just how roughly edited some of the stems were.  Nigel Godrich was clearly working from 2” tape, and the sections which segued into one another did so without much subtlety.  I was shocked, since I prided myself on leaving no edit un-polished.  However, these imperfections make no difference to the finished piece that Radiohead released, and is a lesson in restraining oneself from endless perfectionism.


The Klopfgeist click track in Logic is programmable, allowing you to alter the pitch and resonance.  This discovery led to the starting point for this track.  The vocal sample came from the Cath & Phil Tyler solo album I was working on at the time - including the rather caustic exchange between the couple that was tacked on the end.  I also added some double-tracked Spanish guitar, and some of my own vocals to flesh out the whole thing.  

The sparseness of the song meant that for years I dismissed it as half-baked… but as with ‘Superlongtermboyfriends’, that would later be seen as a strength.  This was another piece done at the end of a long day of mixing other people’s work, when I was no longer required to keep the production values within the lines, and could stray into sonic territory that was more to my own taste in music.