I know it looks strange at best, manic at worst: I have a heart attack in December and a new album out only three months later. Beginning at the end might, for once, be the best way to start in explanation. Late in the afternoon of Friday 5th December I completed a mix of the final section of the latest recording, stitched it into place with the other material, burned a reference CD and left the studio for the weekend. I'd spent much of the previous month doing the same kind of thing: recording itself had been finished in November and mixing and mastering had been going on since then. I'd spent a couple of weeks in Australia (yes, the Rugby World Cup, since you ask) but even while there had been mulling over and considering what were good mixes and appropriate treatments. By the 5th December I'd come to the conclusion that the simplest approach was best and had therefore backed off from any over-egging of the pudding in terms of sonic massage.Though fairly confident that this end-of-week version was close to being the final one I was still not 100% sure.
Life's slap around the face came in the form of the heart attack I encountered less than forty-eight hours later. If I needed any confirmation that it was time to stop messing around with this stuff it came in this somewhat shocking form. Evidently, I had finished work on this CD and the truth is that this story was already written. So here it is.
There are two main points to make about this release. The first is that the lyrical content is concerned with impossibilities and contradictions of language in various forms and is neither continuous in sense and logic or coherent in and unto itself. The second, and more important, is that the musical piece is a continuous one with a length of over forty-one minutes. Not, you would have thought, the kind of thing to happen accidentally or unexpectedly. But it is indeed the case that, under its own skewed terms, this piece crept up on me somewhat out of the blue.
I began recording back in March 2003 after completing the exit from the studio in Bath and the entry to Mells. As always, I had a certain amount of material - the germs of songs rather than specific ideas - and began scanning through them to source and establish the next direction. The only clarity I had at this stage was that the recordings would *not* be an exclusively acoustic guitar affair, this having been "dealt with" (for the present at least) on "Clutch". I was really completely open about direction, timbre and instrumentation. At this time I also began putting my hand up in the air to grab whatever songs were drifting for me there.
At a fairly early stage the core of the beginning and end sections came to me, along with some lyrical intimation that Language would be at the centre of things. Originally this took the form of one song, but at some point I cut it in half like an apple and inserted the first of the "intervening" sections, "Logodaedalus". (Though for some time to come this remained lyric- and title-less.) Thereafter sections were added, inserted, adapted, lengthened, edited, transposed, adjusted as I went along. In some cases the lyrics, music and junctions between them came easily and early; in others I was stumped and fretting for a considerable amount of time. Eventually it became clear that this was going to - had to - be a complete 40 minute, whole-of-CD work. Thereafter the mission was comparatively simple, especially as the dysfunctional language element came into sharper focus. This meant that the piece as a whole should simultaneously hang together and fall apart both musically and lyrically.
(A digression: I've long felt that the ideal length for a CD remains 40-45 minutes, the old limit for vinyl. I believe that for some reason this is a natural timespan for music to hold the attention. Much over this and fatigue sets in; less is, of course, a bit cheapskate.)
So much for what these recordings consist of in bare history. Now for context and content.
This is the fourth "long-form" which I have produced; after "Lighthousekeepers" with VdGG came the solo "Flight" and "A Headlong Stretch". Some would say that such pieces represent the closest the orbit of my work comes to the world of "Prog", although, as you'll know, I do my best to remove myself from any manner of categorisation. At the very least, these pieces are unified in sharing (complex) elements of a (complex) band sound. "Incoherence", too, is long and complex but does not quite fit with the other three. Though there are "song"-like passages these are in general much closer to the sung-through style of "Usher" than to anything else. Also like "Usher" (in its second incarnation) there are no percussion instruments involved. My original intention had been to add drums and percussion in certain places. However, as I progressed with the recording and dubbing I realised that the imposition of any rhythmic "One" would detract from, rather than enhance, the cross currents of many of the riffs.
I was left, then, with a mutant orchestra (rather than band): principally based around various electric pianos, with shadings of other keyboards, guitars various and an assortment of backing vocals in their traditional roles of agreement or dissent. The final colours were given by the violin(s) of Stuart Gordon and Saxes and flutes of Mr. Jaxon. This kind of instrumental set-up has been present on my albums for a number of years and I find it's still capable of springing some sonic surprises.
Some of the music *is* indeed orchestral; some is spectrally dense; some parts riff in a straightforward manner, others shift the pattern with almost every pass of notes. Needless to say some of it is extraordinarily difficult. (At the end of one section Mr. Gordon was driven to say "That's the wierdest tune I've ever had to play".) Finally, though, I hope and believe that there is some kind of fractured logic to the sequence and that it will repay what is evidently something of a demand on the attention over its 40 minute length. I don't think this one's going to be a hit on the dinner party ambience circuit by the way.
There's shift and discomfort involved in much of the music and the words amplify this in turn. Evidently I've spent most of my working life dealing and being infatuated by language . By this I mean not only English but all words and all spaces between them. I can get by in and follow a few other languages - not exactly enough to call myself fluent, but enough to translate, enough to express, almost to get, sometimes to make The Joke. I grow more and more aware , though, of how often and how strikingly I fail to get my point across precisely, of how often I fail to express myself with clarity. In other words, I wonder about my own fluency in English. I suspect that the sheer frustration engendered by this awareness initially led me towards the subject matter here. It's a given, of course, that if someone doesn't know a word you're using then however precise it may be in its meaning it - and you, by inference - might as well be Martian. It's a given also that our capacities for communication and comprehension define us both socially and personally. It's a given that we try not to give away too much. We know all the time, though, that we Get too little.
Among the stuff that "Incoherence" touches upon, rubs up against, brushes up the wrong way: the loss of everything if/when we're lost for words; limitless meaninglessness produced by thoughtless speech and talking for talking's sake; over-pedanticism pinned to the page forever by its own (obsolete) definition; the word, once spoken, forever in the air; the impossibility of our own presence in the future of which we speak; the mental short-circuitry of a couple of Classic Paradoxes; the way words form in the mind without language; conversation as double monologue; breakages and changes in the meaning of the spoken word by time/memory/analysis; the voice inside the head when the tongue is stilled; and blah, blah, blah....
It's another PH Pop Record, then.
A few final words. I did appreciate the number of good wishes sent to me over the past months and had a wry smile or two at those which quoted me back at myself. Of course even while pondering my own mortality (there's not much else to do) in the cardiac ward a few lyrics had come back to me as if I needed to check on their continued truth in extremis. Above all else, though, I was determined that I was *not* going to peg out with one of the last lines that I'd sung ringing round my head and being among the last on a posthumous release - "...so many things left unsaid and the voice I've been using gone ahead...". That would have been just too biopic, too tragicomic. Anyway, this Whole Story has seen me through...this time.
Finally...Sofa Sound now has a new address: Suite 109, 3 Edgar Buildings,George Street, Bath, BA1 2FJ.
I look to be back at work on stage and in the studio very soon. I might be calmer and more sober; but I hope to be the same (changed) man.