Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Safe Substitute

A Safe Substitute the Storm Bugs’ magnum lo-fi opus originally released on Cassette by Snatch Tapes in 1980 is now available on red vinyl from Harbinger (cat no Harbinger 096).  Tracks from A Safe Substitute have appeared previously on compilations but this is the first time it has been released in its entirety - a faithful transcript of the Snatch Tapes cassette release complete with a scaled reproduction of the original sleeve artwork and full liner notes detailing the recording of each track.

Here are a few words on A Safe Substitute from the Mutant Sounds blog
‘…this is everything a fan of left field D.I.Y. song structure perversion (U.K. stylee) could hope for. Much of what's heard on A Safe Substitute (fragments of which would re-appear elsewhere) were generated from that great old British analog beast, the VCS3 synthesizer, a machine used to more tonal ends by the likes of Franco Battiato and Pink Floyd and here providing swaying pendulums of corroded bloop, greyscale warble and hollowed out rhythms triggered from filter fucked arpeggiations, upon which they graft passages of alternately morose and plangent song structure fragmentation.’

Hitchcock still by JS

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Any re-issue of an album from the 1960s or 70s will proclaim that it has been digitally re-mastered – the term (and indeed the prefix re- itself) implies both a return to and a revelation of something. There is an implication that through the process of digital re-mastering we might find again the elusive lost original. An original which existed at some point in the analogue past and in an analogue form. The digital promise is that through the act of transference from reel-to-reel tape to a string of bits we can travel back in time and our analogue original can be regained and preserved.

But did the analogue original ever truly exist or is it a mythical creation that haunts the re-mastering process always threatening to be revealed yet suitably unobtainable causing albums to be re-mastered not once but several times?

Let s don our white lab coats and take a look at the steps in digital re-mastering process. Firstly we must go to the vaults and take out the master tapes. The master tape would normally be large 10 inch ¼ inch reel to reel tapes recorded at 15 IPS (inches per second) and containing a two track recording. These recordings were usually mixed from (depending on the era) 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128 multi-track tapes.

However there may well be more than one reel-to reel master. Until the late 1960s both a stereo and a mono master would be produced. The mono master would not simply be a mono mix-down of the stereo mix but a separate mix from the multi-track often with a quite different sound from its stereo counterpart. Whether stereo or mono a further reel-to-reel tape would be made from this ‘original’ master by the cutting room engineer as he adjusted EQ and levels in an effort to make the vinyl record sound as 'good' as possible. Cutting vinyl was (and is) something of an art and certain cutting engineers would be valued for their work in knowing just how much could be squeezed onto the disc. Porky’s Prime Cuts for example was the name given to work by the mastering engineer George "Porky" Peckham who was famed for cutting discs - for example Porky cut a number of the T.Rex hit singles of the 1970 such as Metal Guru (and indeed also the Table Matters EP by Storm Bugs).

So already the ‘original’ analogue master tape is becoming a shifting target. A digital transfer from the cutting engineer’s master might in theory sound more like the vinyl record but that then doesn’t take into account the degree to which a pressing can shape a sound. A cutting engineer may for example have boosted the treble in places (especially towards the middle of the record) which on the finished vinyl sounds fine but if transferred to digital would sound too bright and so on. Then there is the issue of hiss. Engineers in the pre-digital era spent considerable time trying to eliminate the background noise which any analogue system naturally produces. Digital technology has accustomed us to a hiss free soundscape and the advent of noise reduction hardware and plug-ins will tempt all but the most resolute to remove at least some of the hiss not to mention clicks, pops, crackle, hum and other analogue undesirables.

This all assumes that any version of the master tape is still in existence. Had the two track master been destroyed we could if we still had the multi-track tape mix the tracks once more. However a final mix down in the 1970s (before automated mixing desks began to appear) was often a very much an on the fly process with many hands on the mixing desk faders bringing different musical parts in and out as required throughout a song. Furthermore some effects such as echo and reverb might have been applied only at the mixing stage and so to recreate the sounds we would need to have the same effects units available and maybe in a similar way to the moving faders adjust them during the course of the mix. It soon becomes clear that replicating the original mix is going to be a far from easy task; we might approximate it but probably not reproduce it.

The re-mastering process then become not so much a one-off event as a series of séances in which the producer assisted by the latest algorithms and the finest new plug-ins attempts to make contact with the phantom original and call forth its presence - only for it to fleetingly appear before receding once more to the other side.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Exorcism in Colour

Can the hauntologogical be exorcised?
Adding colour by hand it was felt brought photos ‘to life’ though often as not the overall effect was often far from naturalistic or realistic and gave many pictures a somewhat other worldly quality. An analogy can be dawn with the clever handiwork performed in many an American funeral parlour whereby a sallow corpse is turned into a presenatable body an idealised frozen represntation to be viewed by the grieving relatives. In the case of the hand coloured photograph the tiny death (La petite mort) of the back and white image is replaced by a lifeless yet preserved colour image; set apart from the moment fixed (moment fixe).

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Patinas of the Past

..arguably the boundaries between past and present are blurred such that there is an ongoing dialogue between the two. One might even imagine that the library and soundtrack music of the 1970s which so inspires the bands labelled as hauntological may not have been recorded in the past at all but could have been recorded now or indeed in the future and have simply seeped through the fluid pores of non linear temporality to physically manifest itself as piece of vinyl in the 1970s or as a download now or as who knows what at some future date.

Ah if only…..
 ‘Holding a battered copy of the Ziggy Stardust LP in one's hands, it can seem like a repository for nostalgic residues, as if the grooves in the vinyl were in some way the sculptured marks of time¹s passing.  Rather than let the sediments settle, the idea behind Suicide Suite was to create a means of once again setting in motion the sounds and images that have lain dormant since 1972.  Suicide Suite dose not aim to remix or add to the original but rather to create a ghostly twin; an echo of the LP that occupies a parallel but somewhat warped trajectory.‘

Through a Telephone Box Darkly

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Library Sale

As part of the American Ground festival in Hastings the library had a sale on - you know the sort - the ones in which they get rid of lots of interesting books to make way for popular autobiographies. Anyway I'm not complaining as I picked up some rather fine titles at 40P each. It occurred to me that if in a year's time you were strapped for cash and could not afford the new £9,000 university fees you could do worse than read these titles from cover to cover (total cost £3.20). Mind you my education was a little like that...


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Secret Scuplture

In the 1960s and 1970s you might be forgiven for thinking that there wasn't much sculpture on TV - in fact there was a significant amount of subliminal sculpture by anonymous artists used as a backdrop behind bands and singers as they performed on TV shows. Echoing the contemporary sculptural forms of the day these often bold and yet unassuming works (they were never mentioned or acknowledged) have never been catalogued and are all but forgotten. Many no doubt had a short life span and some were probably destroyed after the performances in which they were used. Youtube (as ever) gives us an opportunity to revisit these works. Here are a couple of stills and an edited Barry Ryan video in which a rotating wire construction take up roughly a third of the on screen time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Touch and Play

Passing by the modernist toy shop of Paul & Marjorie Abbatt (2Bs and 2Ts) at 94 Wimpole Street I noticed Goldfinger carefully cutting out wooden letters, his Savile Row suit protected by a jute apron on which the small splinters of wood landed before being brushed towards the floor.
Stepping inside the toy shop to take a closer look at the merchandise I was approached by a nice lady in a blue cardigan who said ‘you may touch and play’. Goldfinger nodded and smiled adding ‘toys should be functional in design and educational in purpose”. I sensed though his mind was elsewhere, no doubt contemplating his big new commission at the Elephant & Castle.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Modularity for Modern Living

The flexibility of the living space is derived from its modular construction in which numerous adjacent square and rectilinear sections can either be used independently as individual zones or combined together to form larger units as required. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's just an illusion

Use the scroll bar on the right of your screen to scroll up and down quickly.

Fewer frames make finer films - Contracted Cinema

Contracted Cinema – the reverse or, better still the inverse of expanded cinema.

In terms of defining that which we seek to invert namely expanded cinema, we could choose Gene Youngblood’s interpretation – a fluid liquid a go-go of art and life colliding as retinal consciousness which, for years had all the appeal of some bad hippy trip but now, in the age of media convergence seems timely and prescient. Alternatively we might prefer the English somewhat more sober focus on expanded cinema as involving the transformation of the spectator’s reception of the cinematic.

So contracted cinema then is the opposite of all that? In trying to achieve contraction we might try simple physical ploys like ensuring that all seats have a restricted view with pillars and obstacles between them and the screen or indeed we could take out the seats and make the audience stand to attention or slump against the wall. We might ensure that the sound is all but inaudible so audiences strain to hear over the amplifier hum or indeed we could crank up the volume sending the punters from the auditorium with ears bleeding. In terms of timing the contracted cinema programme should always begin before the audience arrives and end before they leave. But you protest, this is all too familiar, this is nothing new, your contracted cinema is what we already experience when we visit artist projections in the gallery; the black box in the white cube.

Bother - we need something less simplistic than just making life difficult for the audience or spectator. So contracted cinema could mean just less of everything; a sort of rationed cinema. Our slogan could be ‘Fewer frames make finer films’. To be fair though film stock was always so damned expensive that an excess of celluloid was rarely a problem it was video that could and often did go on and on. ”Cut out the bits you don’t need”. Sounds like a recipe for lo-fi. Should we be considering the material nature of the medium and how to foreground this, reducing everything down to the bare essence. Hell why not dispense with the whole paraphernalia (if we set light to it, it could be parafinalia) and just look out the window?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

English Vernacular

Whitstable doesn't have any grand buildings or architectural masterworks it does however have a lot of good old English Vernacular as per this example. For no particular reason I had a go at sketching the building which was slightly tricky as it was raining and I was standing up holding the pad in one hand and attempting to draw with the other - oh and I hadn't done any sketching for quite a few years. Excuses aside it did demonstrate almost straight away how much more of a building you 'see' when you draw it rather than photograph it if only as you repeat the action of looking back and forth from the building to the paper having for a split second to memorise what you have just seen and then reproduce or interpret it. Clearly I will be signing up for the summer water colour and drawing school.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spotting and Foxing

1st edition, hardback with inscription on frontispiece. The pages are clean and bright although slightly yellowed. The cover is a little grubby with some staining. The corners and spine are bumped and worn. The spine is split in the middle and repaired. Damage from what looks like sellotape. The dust jacket is clipped with tiny closed tear to rear, slight bumping to illustrated boards, some spotting and foxing to endpapers and closed page. Ex library stock has a number of stamps throughout the book mainly on the back of the colour plates. Numbers written on first endpage, light shelf wear, showing signs of rubbing and marks, but still pretty neat. Early pages have a few pencil notes, though generally book is clean and very readable. A used second-hand book. Condition: Fair.

Friday, June 17, 2011

High Street

Spent a few days last week down in Whitstable. It had been some ten years or so since I was last there and though undoubtedly a little more touristy it still manages to avoid being like a novelty model village. The high street has working fishmongers, butchers, bakers, greengrocers, hardware shops etc all run independently, just as you used to find on any high street before the advent of the supermarket and which, you still find in most of mainland Europe (though yes I have heard the reports of Boulangeries closing at an alarming rate). It is not so much that one should be nostalgic for such times or romantic notions of ‘community’ but a working high street (and I would contrast this with the boutique foody artifice of Borough Market) just makes the quality of life so much better.