Here is a work in progress from the new Pulco album Artzoo. The tune is called Silex/Moose and may (I hope) be coming out as a 7″ single.
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It was recorded in just over an hour on Sunday 18th Oct. I took my battered guitar and a book of Sheamus Heaney poems and set to work. I had no idea what I wanted to record but I knew that I needed to have an album by the end of it. It is hard to listen to and kind of gnarly but reflects the moment and the performance.
This is me just making up music on the spot. It existed for the time it took to play it in that specific space and is captured in all its glory with the hiss and clicks intact.
You can download Misfit Memo’s for free from Bandcamp
I’ve always viewed painting and music equally. They are both disciplines that inform one another and deal with similar themes and processes but how can visual art influence the way we play an instrument?
The Scratch Orchestra‘s Ian Mitchell once said, “art school is like five years of developing your quirk”
British guitarist Keith Rowe had this to say about developing his own style.
‘At art school you have to find out who you are, what is unique about you, what you have to say…
You can’t take a canvas and paint a Georges Braque, or a Picasso, someone else’s paintings.. it’s an impossibility.
One of the great lessons for me was the professor pointing right into my nose and saying, “Rowe, you cannot paint a Caravaggio. Only Caravaggio can paint Caravaggio.” Suddenly trying to play guitar like Jim Hall seemed quite wrong.I probably thought about that for between five and eight years, just constantly reflecting on how to do it, and, in a flash, I found the solution. Look at the American school of painting, Jackson Pollock found a way- he just abandoned the technique of traditional European painting and worked on the floor. How could I abandon the technique? Lay the guitar flat!’
In order to move forward musically Keith Rowe needed to find a way to reinvent his approach to the guitar that would allow him to understand more about himself and his playing and to do this he drew upon the innovative techniques of the American artists of the 1950’s
Rowe was a founder member of the British free improvisation group AMM that lead the burgeoning experimental music movement during the late 1960’s alongside Cornelius Cardew and Christian Wolff. The British experimental scene between 1965 -75 drew heavily on the earlier work of Fluxus and experimental composers like Cage and Boulez but it also began to use electronics and amplification as well as emerging forms of rock music to develop its approach.
John Cage had written that ‘sound, in and of itself, could be as important as melody, harmony and rhythm’ and this ideology certain informed the work of minimalist composers such as Robert Ashley and Terry Riley. The idea is also evident in Clement Greenberg’s thinking of how Modern art & the Modernist art movement had used art to call attention to art itself and how it acknowledged the existence of the picture plane, the look of the paint and the shape of the canvas first before discussing any kind of narrative that the picture actually contained.
Artists like Pollock & De Kooning had begun creating images in the 1950’s that spoke about the nature of paint and the physical act of painting.
Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the phrase ‘action painting’ in an essay he wrote in 1952 in which he described this new style of painting as an arena within which to come to terms with the act of creation and shifted emphasis from the painted object to the struggle itself, with the finished painting being only the physical manifestation of this process.
It can be seen then that both art and music were changing rapidly during the latter half of the 20th century and that both were rejecting the established forms and structures of the art world and the music industry.
If painting could be reduced to a dialogue which was purely about paint, the physical nature of the materials used and the creative process itself then guitar playing could similarly just concern itself with the simple nature and tone of the instruments sound and the physical process of creating noise.
I recently discovered Fred Frith’s 1974 album Guitar Solos which has encouraged me to re-examine my own guitar playing.
To record the album Frith had added a second pick up at the ‘nut’ end of the guitars neck which enabled him to amplify sounds from both ends of the guitar. He then split the freeboard in two with a capo which effectively gave him two guitars that he could play independently with each hand.
Going against convention, Frith placed the guitar on his lap or on a table top and went on to carve out a place for himself in history for innovation and technique which still has musicians puzzled over 50 years later.
I think that the development of Frith’s guitar playing draws parallels with that of Pollock and his drip paint technique in that both artists engaged and improvised with the point of creation from above and they both challenged the traditional notions of how artists were supposed to perform and approach their work.
When instruments such as the guitar or piano are adapted to change their sound they become known as ‘prepared’. Wikipedia defines a prepared guitar as an instrument that has had its timbre altered by placing various objects on or between the instrument’s strings.
Visual artists can also ‘prepare’ their materials such as adapting the paint they use by mixing it with other materials or reconsidering the surfaces they paint on and how they actually apply the paint.
A finger plucking a string creates an event of sound in exactly the same way that a hand holding a brush creates an event on canvas. When the decision is made to subvert traditional methods of practice we have the ability to take the art to a different level.
Like Rowe I’m aware that right now I’m also at a particular crossroads regarding my own relationship with the guitar and I’m beginning to feel the need to experiment more with the instrument and make some kind of reinvention for myself. I hope that I may find this new sound not only by engaging with the guitar in a different way but also by examining elements of contemporary art practice that interest me.
An artist’s journey can’t be allowed to stand still. If I am to keep my work interesting and fresh it is important to continually search for new sounds and approaches to music making and if that involves drawing sources of inspiration from other places then so be it.
Many years ago I read a book by William Burroughs & Brion Gysin called The Third Mind. It is a collection of essays & poems showcasing their ideas of cut up and collage poetry. Cut-ups involve taking texts, cutting the pages, and then rearranging and combining the pieces to form new narratives.
The idea of using cut & paste and collage in musical composition isn’t new either. In fact I believe that Pavement used cut ups to generate lyrics and musical sections as did Cabaret Voltaire but the concept is also something that’s interested me for years too.
Combined with a love of found sound and field recording many of these elements have found their way into my own tunes over the years. If I’m recording a guitar why not have the TV on in the background and the kids shouting downstairs, a dog barking outside or the sound of a passing car. All of these things make a recording infinitely more interesting in my mind. Very often I grab lyrics at random from the first book or magazine I find. I’m cutting up in real time.
As an example of how I approach composing music with all of these various elements in mind here is the process I have used to begin writing the first song for the next Pulco album.
I started with three separate abstract guitar riffs played to a click track to which I added bass and a 2nd guitar. After creating a rhythm loop to make a frame for the piece to work around I copied and moved about these three sections to create an arrangement for the song. Finally I put in some random bits including a recording of my daughter Myfi playing piano with her teacher. It sounds like a piece that could have been recorded all the way through in that structure (like some bastard son of Beefhearts Trout Mask Replica) when in fact it was shuffled around and constructed in my iPad.
Simon Jeffes from the Penguin Café Orchestra once explained the need for experimentation and innovation in music and it has always rung true with how I feel about it as well. He stated that the qualities of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in music are a very precious thing. If you suppress that to have a nice orderly commercially acceptable approach to music making then you kill off what’s most important.
I’ve often spoken about Pulco music being a kind of sonic autobiography. I listen to my own music when I want to remember a certain period or event in my life and I know which albums represent each part of that life journey. It gives me a context for my life and comforts me in the fact that I can return to the past through sound.
Constructing songs in this way is also an attempt to establish a new form of readability to the experience of hearing compositions that are still essentially pop or folk music.
I think that using a cut-up/found sound technique as a basis for writing music helps the listener create new connections to musical themes and the world around them and naturally as a consequence the range of vision and interpretation of our understanding of sound also expands.
Over a period of time we assembled a 29 minute piece entitled The Wires 2012. The album is a sound art collage created from Jude’s new poetry collection of the same name.
Jude works as an archivist on the Reuters collection and her book interprets selective international news stories of 2012 in a continuous stream.
I took Jude’s recordings of the work and collaged them with audio recordings of my day-to-day sounds and events including a ride on an open top London tour bus, preliminary completions for the Urdd National Eisteddfod and the Star Wars exhibition at LEGOLAND Windsor.
The album is out NOW Via Pethau Garw and can be ordered from the Bandcamp link below
For more information regarding Jude and her work please visit her website
Download this lovely picture of chief scientist Cornelius from Planet Of The Apes http://www.scribd.com/doc/
Colour him in, cut him out and take a picture of him somewhere good then email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll post them all up here on the website !!!
Get involved and have some Monkey fun !
I started a Tumblr site a few months ago to showcase and hopefully sell some the art, poetry and music I make that doesn’t get an official release through Folkwit Records.
The site has developed a bit now and I’ve started to use it as a vehicle for distributing homemade creations that I love by other people.
The site kind of speaks for itself so please have a look if you have a moment
‘Songs For Abandoned Tube Stations’ is an EP of songs by RELYCS, inspired by the sights, sounds and ghosts of the dozens of closed, unused, or only-travelled-through-at-speed Underground tube stations beneath the streets of London. The EP contains 3 tracks – ‘Aldwych Branch Line’, ‘Lord’s Station’ and ‘Down Street’, recorded by me (Pulco), the brilliant Adam Leonard and chiptune master Stephen McLeod Blythe (AKA Unexpected Bowtie) respectively. The music travels from complex and highly evocative subterranean soundscapes, past Adam Leonard’s dark, dripping platform of ominous organ music and finally terminates with Stephens wonderfully simple yet affective chip tune Nintendo Gameboy programming, like the music from some uncreated ‘Super Mario London Underground’ game.
Format for the release is limited edition C30 Magnetic Tape, each with 3 full colour numbered postcards, a credits sheet + a digital download. The tapes come in stickered, numbered slip cases and there will be 30 copies only.!!!
The EP is available from: Pethau Garw http://pethaugarw.tumblr.com/ at a cost of £5+pp or you can just hit the button below
For more info on the other Relycs members see the links below
Adam Leonard – www.themessagetapes.com
Unexpected Bowtie – unexpectedbowtie.com
**** Pethau Garw has limited stock of the RELYCS tape. The release can also be purchased from Adam Leonard at http://www.themessagetapes.com/ ****
A few months ago my friend Ben Mason suggested that if I wanted a really good video making for one of the tunes off Clay Cutlery then I should get in contact with a great Japanese artist that he knew. I dropped Hideyuki an email and he has made a video :0) Check out the tune and click the links below to find out more about this amazing artist.