Archive for the Uncategorized Category

I’m Looking Through You – Music on Bones

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on January 19, 2015 by dazzlesoundproductions

In the USSR in the mid-sixties the Beatles music began to filter through behind the iron curtain, where there was an insatiable demand for it among Soviet youth.  The Khrushchev era had loosened up the culturally repressive communist empire a little but the importation and sale of western pop music was strictly forbidden so enterprising bootleggers had to find a way to spread the fab gospel from the limited supply of original vinyl smuggled in via ports, military bases and embassies.  The answer was x-rays.  In Russian hospitals x-ray plates were made of soft vinyl.  The record recording booths found on the street could be used to cut a copy of the groove from an official vinyl record onto the discarded picture of Uncle Ivan’s busted head or ribs.  The quality was absolutely appalling, thin and shrill with no bass of course as the vinyl groove was too shallow.  And that was if the stylus of your cheap East German record player could even stay the course.  Even so, for a few roubles you got to hear your idols’ subversive music and practice amateur oncology.

The trade was risky – the KGB prowled looking for market stalls selling illegally imported Beatles vinyl and most purchases were arranged over the phone.  Stasi goons also posed (largely unsuccessfully) as fans wanting to buy but a few questions about the pop scene out west usually alerted the seller to a sting.  Counterfeits with no music only propaganda speech were also flooded onto the market to try and disrupt the underground market.

Bones records were a stepping stone to a much better form of counterfeiting; tape.  Magnetic tape was a common commodity in the USSR because the KGB needed miles of it to bug and record enemies of the state.  Reel to reel recorders were manufactured in large quantities inside Russia and making a tape copy of Sgt Pepper or the Velvet Underground was a simpler process.  That could then be copied several times providing better quality reproduction all round.  Cassette tape was even better and when it came on the scene in the 1970’s, the Soviets largely gave up the fight against western music and even sanctioned a few official rock releases via the state record label Melodiya.  Even so, periodic crackdowns on popular music and musicians continued right up until the Gorbachev era.  Leslie Woodhead’s book “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin” reveals how the fierce love of the Beatles above all other groups was a key factor in demolishing the Soviet Union; an entire generation grew up believing if being ideologically wrong sounded this good you could keep your totalitarian state.

While we are on the subject of covert music from behind the iron curtain mention should be made of Polish postcard flexis.  These first appeared in Poland in the late 1960’s when tracks by Procol Harum, the Doors and Pink Floyd started to appear pressed on small diameter clear flexi vinyl and pasted to a double sided colour postcard.  The Polish communist state was not as violently down on western music and these artifacts seemed to have flirted with official status, certainly thousands were churned out up to the fall of the wall and beyond, Frank Zappa was a particular favourite.

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Scary Songs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2014 by dazzlesoundproductions

With Halloween looming I racked my brain to think of five really scary songs.  Sure, there were multiple fifties death ballads aimed at tapping into teen insecurity and novelty songs like Purple People Eater and Monster Mash for kids, but chilling pop songs that really rattle your cemetery gates?  There are but few like this frightful five that marry unsettling words and sounds to spooky effect.

David Essex – Window

On the B side of one of the gypsy boy’s many heyday hits was this proper chiller.  It has the same dub rock formula he favoured but now with a strange faltering rhythm and falling cadences of cries and whimpers.  The lyrics viewpoint switches from victim to stalker and back again as doomy keyboard notes begin to swell up and then a child begins screaming with terror.  A work of evil genius and bizarre item to find in a teen idol’s back catalogue.

Special AKA – The Boiler

Carry on screaming…after the original Specials line up split Jerry Dammers took time out and then came back with this utterly harrowing tale of violent rape.  It plays out over an almost jaunty ska backing but what makes this probably the most nerve-wracking few minutes you will ever sit through is Rhoda Dhakar’s matter of fact narration of a girl who meets a detestable psycho for a date.  The notes of self-loathing add to an oppressive atmosphere of misogyny and when things get ugly, you need nerves of steel to make it through to the end.  Powerful and diabolical – this record made the top 40 despite a blanket airplay ban!  WARNING: NOT FOR THE NERVOUS

Kim Wilde – Child Come Away

The first flush of Kim’s success was waning when her brother and dad presented her with a tale of a young smalltown teen kidnapped and returned with her memory and personality wiped.  It’s this sinister touch that puts this just the right side of creepy and Kim delivers it with admirable maturity.  It was not what her fans wanted and was a flop, yet shows how early 80’s pop was always reaching for something beyond the obvious.  The video reminds me of Broadchurch rewound thirty years.

The Cure – A Forest

After three strong post-punk singles the Cure got their unlikely breakthrough with a lengthy and moody soundscape that drifts across the speakers in the manner of a certain ad man’s nightmare darting from tree to tree in thick woods.  The simple impressionistic lyrics tell of a boy lured by siren voices into the gloomy forest but it’s the dark music that makes this one a forbidding listen.

Tubeway Army – Down In The Park

Before Pte Numan struck out on his own, he enlisted in the army and was sent to fight robots in the late 21st century.  Or rather skulk about in the shadows trying to avoid becoming techno kill fodder in a neon and concrete playground for machine bloodsports.  This has every dystopian Ballardian cliche thrown into the mix but still paints an icy fearful scene with lots of menacing synths layered over the stately melody.

Britpop – Five Over/Five Down

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 25, 2014 by dazzlesoundproductions

April 2014 marks 20 years since Britpop went mainstream with Blur and Oasis starting to duke it out in the charts and Fred Perry polo sales rocketing.  What was it exactly?  A surge of British bands playing commercially minded pop music with Anglocentric subject matter or a hideous explosion of union flags, beer, tracksuit tops and crass reductions of sixties and seventies influences shoved in a blender with no lid?  Both as it happens, and the last hurrah of a music industry seeing real money sloshing around, not all of which was spent wisely.  There has been anything but a rosy glow of nostalgia in the press retrospectives which is ironic for such a backward looking episode, yet not every group involved had becoming the new Herman’s Hermits as the summit of their ambition.

The sociological or business meaning of it all is unimportant as all that remains is the music.  To wit – five obscure tunes from the hinterland of Britpop which display wit, eccentricity and a snarky Anglo-Saxon tang rather than mockney panto goofiness, to show that it could be worthwhile.  And then five which are the case for the prosecution, that Britpop was guilty of the worst sort of little England posturing and chasing of bland acceptance.  You decide the epitaph because it won’t happen again, ever.

Five to rediscover

David Devant & His Spirit Wife – Miscellaneous (1997)

As Allmusic puts it, these Brighton art-rock nutters created the sort of zany, catchy and slightly menancing musical funhouse at the end of the pier that competitors drowned trying to reach.  The album Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous did not have a dud track on it and the title does yearning existentialism without the bombast.

My Life Story – Strumpet (1996)

Britpop was a broad church – where do the sour Auteurs or subversive Denim fit in?  Just as they represented the fixations of one guy, MLS were the brainchild of camp renegade Jake Shillington but saw their thunder stolen by the Divine Comedy who similarly mashed up baroque pop with arch knowingness.  Even so, I treasured this memorable ode to wannabe cougars pressed on eye-watering pink vinyl and pleasingly showing up in the top thirty.


Rialto – Monday Morning 5:19 (1997)

Leader (and John Lennon double) Louis Eliot hung around the scene never quite finding the door into the party that wasn’t fire-alarmed.  This double-drummer, string soaked jealousy ballad sounded massive and unlike anything else on the radio but was only a big hit in South Korea.

Jubilee – Isle Of Wight Sands (1996)

Another Mono signing with silly neo-mod haircuts this was the b-side of Jubilee’s first single “So Sad About Us” (not the Who song).  It was much better and may have even been a hit, describing a day out at the seaside bent slightly out of shape, with an Oasis style intensity but better lyrics.

Longpigs – She Said (1995)

Best known as the original home of Richard Hawley, and named after cannibal slang their Britpop album was tough and gritty but dare I say, a touch American in tone?  That’s probably why they never broke out, but this remains a great, savage single.

 

Five to forget
Laxton’s Superb – Coming Round (1996)

Hip Beatles reference in our name? Charge account at Merc?  Friends with Chris Evans?  Yeah ticks all the right boxes except one marked good song –  this resembles a Verve discard smeared with sickly strings and staked out as ant food.

These Animal Men – You’re Not My Babylon (1994)

You have to laugh at a band that seemingly regarded the Cockney Rejects as role models and had a logo mimicking Lonsdale (for positive brand association maybe).  Part of the Britpop offshoot New Wave of New Wave (please don’t ask me to explain) along with the equally doubtful S*M*A*S*H, this is several unskilled punk covers bands heard through the wall of a cheap smelly rehearsal studio.

Heavy Stereo – Chinese Burn (1996)

After Oasis became properly massive record companies scrambled to scoop up anything that copied their bone-banging, monolith-worshiping fusion of the Beatles, Pistols and glam rock.  We know how that worked out, acres of fallow, sneering sludge rock, exhibit A.  Being a drug-resistant single cell lifeform, Oasis eventually absorbed Heavy Stereo and other pretenders before expiring from a lack of interest.

Dandys – I Wanna Be Like You (1993)

There’s something nasty in Shed Six, one down from Seven, anaemic bluesy pop drivel with crap lyrics, whiny vocals and too much flanging.

Manatray – Insomniacs Dream (1995)

Lest it should be forgotten that Blur also begat a million photocopies, here’s a reminder.  It could be them except it is one notch down in every department.

Foley? C’est la folie!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 12, 2014 by dazzlesoundproductions

So there you are, a balding unassuming and somewhat naive sound engineer guy who likes nothing better than tinkering with tape loops, sync tones, microphones and all the paraphernalia of your trade.  You get the call – “we’ve had our eye on you – fly to Rome and all will be revealed”.   At the studio address you’re given you find yourself given the once over by an improbably hot deceptionist and directed to a studio down the corridor.  You open the door and in the gloom can just make out some menacing shapes holding steak tenderisers.  Welcome to Berberian Sound Studios.

She says your wife would know the difference

Toby Jones is the unfortunate in question hired (on zero lira an hour) to oversee the post production sound on a lurid giallo horror film featuring rape, torture, dismemberment and nuns.  Lots of nuns.  This 2012 Kermode award winner is a deeply strange movie, not so much for it’s ghastly suggestiveness but for being a movie about Foley 1970’s style.  Foley is the process of adding sound effects to a movie after it has been shot.  It’s an essential part of making a film and can take weeks as  only a portion of what you hear in the cinema has been recorded on set where the director is shouting instructions and the crew is making a racket moving equipment to get the right shot.  In Foley all the sounds you expect to hear, even sometimes including lines of the actors’ dialogue, can be recorded in a studio environment, crisp and clear and synchronized back to the visuals.  This is our man’s job, to map out every part of the sonic landscape and capture it on tape, a process few film-goers give any thought to.

This tape will self-destruct in 25 years, minidisc is the future...

This tape will self-destruct in 25 years, minidisc is the future

Being a violent horror flick, there is much fruit and vegetable abuse, performed by a special team of hirsute melon botherers who hack, slash and sizzle their way through an entire month’s Ocado delivery in pursuit of the yuk factor.  In between takes our sound guy is abused, advised, flirted with and sent into a psychological tailspin from being required to find the exact right stand in for human hair being ripped out and worse, much worse. Cleverly (and thankfully) you never actually glimpse the unforgivably misogynistic horror unfolding on screen. only hear it.  No spoilers but the ending is suitably eerie and opaque, and acted by our anti-hero in fluent Italian.

No love I said scared witless not Whitney

No love I said scared witless not Whitney

Really I would recommend this film only to sound engineers with a firm grasp on reality.  The juicy array of vintage analogue equipment is fascinating to behold and the studio period detail the product of meticulous research.  A key scene finds one of the voiceover actresses mesmerised by the effect of the Watkins Copicat – a renowned tape delay unit – on her singing as Toby adjusts the sustain and feedback to create a collage of elliptical echoes.  Here’s a free VST recreation, now run along I’ve got to do three eyeballs and an evisceration by 3.30.

Tinnitus – Where’s the buzz

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on February 10, 2014 by dazzlesoundproductions

Til' Deaf

Last week was National Tinnitus week but I didn’t hear above the noise.  Yes I have – thankfully very mild – tinnitus (from the Latin “tinnire” to ring) the sound guy’s affliction.  What does it sound like? – a babbling brook to me, the gentle hiss of AM radio between records.  It could be much more distressing some examples are HERE! It gradually crept up on me and is probably down to lax ear protection on a few fateful occasions (a hellish pub jam louder than war in an untreated space a few years back maybe).

Although tinnitus has a physical symptom of flattened receptors in the inner ear, it is at least partly psychological.  All sound is changes in air pressure and our brains translate this into a recognisable one of the five senses.  Tinnitus is when hearing damage is translated into an abstract sound that at its most punitive can drive some unfortunate victims almost mad.  Some treatments are designed to tune the sound out or down, to train the brain to stop awarding this vibration an access all areas pass.  Mine only advances to the foreground in relatively quiet surroundings  and alcohol does make it louder its true.  Sometimes I listen to a thousand running taps in the small hours and wonder if it will get worse but mostly I have learned to live with it.  I now wear proper earplugs at gigs  and monitor in the studio at a moderate level, fleeing when someone reaches for the gain control on their Marshall stack.  I have come to appreciate just how loud loud is as I now live in a volume controlled world.  If you have it and are worried check out the British Tinnitus Association website for lots of info and advice.  You can get your GP to refer you to a specialist if it becomes disruptive to you concentration and well-being.

Vault Of Horror

Posted in Uncategorized on August 7, 2013 by dazzlesoundproductions

unravelling-tape

No not the Amicus 70s bad fashion frightfest featuring Joan Collins being assaulted by a giant mutant rubber plant (I might be getting my portmanteaus mixed up here) but something far worse – the loss of archive recordings and and masters from the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.  This article lifts the lid on the careless archive policy of the major labels for many years which has led to the loss, damage and destruction of a sizeable amount of classic material.  As with all aspects of popular culture (television especially) the story is one of a gradual realisation of the importance of the raw material over and above penny pinching.  This is why policies such as tape re-use, wiping and junking from storage are very rare today.  When it’s estimated that only about 10-20% of all recorded popular music is currently available either retail or second hand the amount either MIA or gone forever can only be guessed at.

The article is quite long so I could pick out the choice WTF moments.  A 1978 fire at the Atlantic records storage facility in NJ laid waste to virtually their entire unreleased archive (names like Aretha Franklin, The Coasters, Dusty, Stax catalogue).  a small mercy was that this was work in progress and material deemed unsuitable for release not the main archive but still a major blow.

In the early 60s RCA demolished their archive warehouse without clearing the thousands of pre-tape metal stampers, acetates, test pressings etc stored there.  Some archivists gained access to rescue what they could after which the building was dynamited sending all the music up in a cloud of dust.  In this case there is at least less doubt that the material was doomed as such a trove could not have survived into the digital age to be converted and saved without someone picking up a vast storage bill on the way.

As mentioned before, the closure of various recording studios left huge quantities of source tapes in limbo.  Ideally, the record company that owned them should take delivery but not always – the entire library of multitrack reels at Olympic studios at Barnes was thrown in a skip in 1987 on the orders of new owners Virgin Music, condemning all future remasters of albums recorded and stored there to be made from first generation copies at best.  When the Record Plant went under some labels passed on the opportunity to reclaim their master reels and some famous big selling artists albums from the 80s were junked as a consequence.

Things are better now, but you have to worry about the new industry practice of supplying digital mixdowns and not stems of a song or album; these are kept on hard drives by various producers working in various locations.  If they hit delete…

Owzat! Quite agreeable actually.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 19, 2013 by dazzlesoundproductions

The Duckworth Lewis Method.  Formerly an obscure equation for guessing the outcome of rained off matches, now the world’s most renowned cricket concept digibongo funk soft rock combo duo.  When Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash hatched the idea of a concept album about the gentlemen’s game down the pub, it must have seemed like the silliest mid off of all side projects.  Yet, nursed to completion and unleashed in the Ashes winning summer of 2009, it was a gratifying success, reaching the top 40 and staying on chart for a good while in the afterglow of victory.  Now the Aussies are back and so are DLM with Sticky Wickets, their follow on, er, up.  On first listen I thought that the idea might be wearing a little thin but this album is a real grower and now I have not been able to feel the summer day complete without a tune or two from it. It’s coming to something when it takes two twinkly Irish lads to provide the ultimate pop soundtrack to a game which thuggish football should have kicked to death long ago, but which is still defiantly thriving (albeit on satellite only for TV viewers).

The two albums are replete with cricket lore and references but you don’t need to be an obsessive; the only prerequisites for enjoyment are an appreciation of the rich and varied emotional landscape of cricket (preferably the long form played for the Ashes) and ELO.  Just in case you aren’t persuaded of the need to hear these songs, here is the selectors’ pick of DLM, appropriately enough the best XI.

Gentlemen & Players

Cricket was a game popularised by usually rich amateurs for whom doing anything so uncouth as playing for money was unthinkable.  Hence the rise of the first class game between two teams, one amateur and one professional.  It was really a clash between toffs and peasants originally but became more civilised and less one sided (the toffs being pretty useless in the beginning) as it survived into the 20th century.  It ceased in 1963 after amateur status was abolished.  This song describes the match in it’s Victorian heyday to an irresistible Kinksy melody.

Meeting Mr Miandad

Javed Miandad is a swahbuckling Pakistani batsman, their highest scoring and highest profile player.  He also may play guitar and be unfazed to find two fans of perplexingly mismatched size on his doorstep after a spur of the moment road trip across Europe and Asia in a VW combi.  At least that’s what is relayed in this jaunty pop song with another earworm chorus.

The Sweet Spot

The sweet spot on the bat where if the ball makes contact it goes where you want for four.  Any other interpretation of this grinding glam rock stomp is incorrect.

Mason On The Boundary

First of several poems to the joy of skulking in the far outfield in glorious summer weather allegedly waiting for the catch of a lifetime.  Swooping choruses and a tinkly piano motif make this a very Pugwashy track but  “Panglossian” is a contribution from Mr Hannon or I’ll eat my box.

Jiggery Pokery

Talking of which…this is clever, witty and ever so slightly smug.  Sung from the viewpoint of hapless Mike Gatting, England’s star batsman who was clean bowled for a duck by upstart Aussie Shane Warne with a delivery of supernatural spin that seemed to defy physics.  Perhaps like Mike you might not relish hearing it too often (and the cheese roll joke is borrowed without credit).

Pedalo

Not on the original album for some reason, but an awesome track – over Beck like squiggly electro riffs and thrashy guitar the pair muse on the perils of the most comedic form of sea transport known to man.  Add off duty England bowler Freddie Flintoff  and shedloads of alcohol and, right there, you have the plot of Speed 3: Pedal or Die.

Sticky Wickets

Takes a while to get going but this Stones/Who rocker is typically diverting.  There may be a double meaning in there too.  Streaker cover star Michael Angelow had a front row audience of two idle players who have been cropped out on the cover because…

It’s Just Not Cricket

Featuring the fruity tones of TMS comentator Henry Blofeld and some surprisingly tart lyrics accusing other sports of lacking cricket’s integrity.  A cosy fantasy but one many people still want to believe.

Out In The Middle

Mason’s team mate too has a lot of time to think as he gets ready to face a hostile bowling attack in the middle order.  The music is easy going soft rock ala 10cc and Chris Rea but graced with the usual velcro melody.

Judd’s Paradox

A string soaked lament inspired by the cricket match in film Another Country and late era XTC.  Cricket as discreet class war again, this time Stephen Fry narrates sounding uncannily like John Betjeman.  The only way this could be better is if it had referenced cult cricket horror classic The Shout.

Line & Length

The technicalities of bowling explained against a snappy syncopated drum loop and stabbing keyboards.  The most current sounding track and one of the best – the electroclash middle eight with Daft Punk synths and girly vocals cooing about aiming for the corridor of uncertainty is genius.

Nudging & Nurdling

Light relief, a cheesy Lieutenant Pigeon instrumental over which a cast of thousands repeat the title.  Intelligibility and accents swing like a Warney delivery but a good time is had by all.

That’s it, so sit back pour yourself a fat Pimms and feel satisfied, now you could bluff your way into Lord’s Long Room!  Who said the DLM was difficult to grasp?