Newsletter 8/March 1995
Greetings for the bold New Year 1995!
As you will have realised the Sofa Sound newsletter is
somewhat late this time. In part this is because of the very
nature of the year; in part because there is not much by way
of Hard News to impart to you at present.
However, such pieces of news and other ramblings as I have
are contained herein.
Events will be moving forward rapidly in the rest of the
year but it seems only right to give you an indication of
the present and possible futures at this time, rather than
waiting for more concrete stuff to materialise.
I suspect that I'm not going to be over-visible in
1995...but I shall be working and intend to have a variety
of Stuff out by the end of the year!
In the meantime, as always, thanks for listening!
Getting to grips with it
Some years seem to take an age to get going. 1995 , for
me, has been one of them. Perhaps it's because I didn't find
myself mid-project at the turn of the year, or perhaps
because I was still in something of a state of recovery from
the touring at the tail of 1994. In any event, I spent much
of January, February and the current month in a condition of
consideration and preparation rather than outright
That's not to say that I've been idle; I've been working on
quite a few new songs for a start! In the main, though, I've
been looking at and forcing myself into the ever-present
learning curves without which things will simply become too
Much of the learning has been to do with Studio world,
which, naturally, never stands still. I have taken something
of a sideways technological jump here. You may recall, some
newsletters back, that I've been working on and enthusing
about ADAT digital recorders for some time now. Part of
their attraction for me is their portability and relatively
diminutive size. (And their comparative cheapness both in
purchase price and running costs!). I've now taken an
equivalent step in terms of mixing desk(s).
For some time I'd been getting fed up with the sheer size of
my old Soundtracs 32-channel mixer, which dominated the room
to an intimidating extent. (The altar of Tech.) Yamaha have
now come up with a quite astonishing 16-channel digital
desk, the Pro-1, which is tiny but extraordinarily powerful.
So I've replaced the old behemoth with two of these things
and my control room now has acres of space and, hopefully,
room in which one can both breathe and think! These are not
mixing desks in a conventional studio way - it's not going
to be the easiest of things to record multiple tracks
simultaneously, for instance - but I believe that it's
technology which might have been designed for my normal way
It's advanced stuff, though, so I've had an intensive period
of self-education in how to work the things. Hopefully
that's now completed and I'll be able to use the mixers in
a "transparent" way. I should, perhaps, point out (once
again) that I'm not a lover of technology for its own sake,
even though I can fully appreciate something that's
well-designed in a technological, ergonomic and aesthetic
sense. I only make major technological jumps every few
years, rather than constantly trying to stay at the leading
edge; when those jumps are made, my intention is that I'll
be made more free to make creative actions and decisions,
rather than be imprisoned by the sheer Tech of it all. (The
latter trap is, naturally, an easy one to fall into!)
While heading deeply into digital land in terms of the
method of recording,I have to say that I'm leaning further
and further away from it in terms of what is actually
recorded. I remain comparatively un-enthused by sampling for
its own sake; although, naturally, I sequence and use MIDI
instruments I am not engaged in the perennial search for The
Ultimate Marimba Sample. So I'm trying to maintain a balance
between things while avoiding self-repetition. In pursuit of
that my songwriting, as previously mentioned, has been
taking place devotedly away from the studio and the tech, on
piano and guitar. This has not always been the case in
recent years; but if I've learned anything over the years
it's that I have to keep changing my ways of working in
order to stay fresh.
Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself and making several rods
for my own back. Inevitably, one can only learn about these
things in the process of working with them. My dry runs have
now been completed, and the true practice is about to start
- next week, in fact, as soon as I've finished writing this!
The net results of my latest "student period" , then,
should be available soon. At that stage you can judge
whether or not I've been successful in ignoring the
blandishments of techno-for-its own sake. You'll gather,
though, that I'm excited about the possibilities!
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"Emmene-moi", the film directed by Michel Spinosa for
which I wrote the original music last year, has finally gone
Naturally, this is at present only in France. My suspicion
is that this dark and disturbing story is unlikely to get
dubbed or sub-titled for a showing anywhere else (except,
perhaps, Quebec province!), although naturally we'd let you
know if it did!
In the end Michel used only some of the music I wrote. Not,
I hasten to say, because of any dissatisfaction on his part
with the rest, but because what he used deemed so
appropriate. Whenever the music is there, it's really
in-your-face, rather than noodling away in the background. I
have to say that I think he did a fantastic job in making up
the soundtrack, in terms of the use of my music, the other
(existing) pieces he used and the sound-as-sound.
So, a certain body of (instrumental) work now exists which
will probably be out on CD at some time in the future -
shades of "Loops and Reels". Partly as a result of the film
work, I've also produced some other un-dedicated, non-song,
pieces over the last months. When the vaults are finally
opened you'll be the first to know!
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And no Wheels fell off!
The tour of Europe by the "Peter Hammill Quartet" - so
we were known on our datesheet - at the end of last year
was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling that I can
recall, if extremely arduous as well. Definitely one for the
The risks involved were pretty self-evident: no bass, two
lead players, an almost-untried percussion system for Max.
The lack of any apparent blueprint, however, meant that our
horizons were broad, both sonically and in choice of
material. Things were changing from first note to last and I
think we all felt a sense of exhilaration throughout the
tour. We weren't changing the set overmuch in terms of
material - this because there remained so much to explore in
terms of the songs we were playing and the fact that a
dynamic was established through the set with the basic
line-up of sings. Including "A Headlong Stretch" among the
songs, of course, meant that it was pretty hard to do a
major reorganisation in any case!
In fact, we had rehearsed a certain amount of other
material for this last tour, but by the time we were
underway - and with the mileages we were putting in - it
became impossible even to have a brief
re-acquantiance-at-sound-check rehearsal to lick them into
shape for insertion in the set. Perhaps next time....
Of the fact that there will be a next time for this line-up
I'm as sure as I can be, since so much of excitement remains
to be explored. In fact, one mini-tour is already booked in,
but rather far outside the orbit of 99% of recipients of
this newsletter: finally, we will be doing three shows in
Siberia and one each in Moscow and St. Petersburg in May. As
a tour I suspect this will be pretty wild. There's also
going to be one show in Dresden on 10th June; also "pHQ",
and the first time I'll have played in an ex-DDR city. And
I'll be doing a solo show in Argenteuil, near Paris, two
days before that. Possibilities of further one-off shows in
Poland and Helsinki mean that there'll be a mixed bag of
Spring touring. As for ever so long, the USA/Canada remain
on the agenda in principle but not, as yet, in practice!
Finally, just a few words about what the other chaps have
been up to. Stuart Gordon has continued to write and record
music for TV and radio, including the track for an
award-winning BBC radio play. He's also going to be the
subject of an HTV documentary due out in a few weeks.
Interesting in the anticipation, I think.
Manny Elias has been doing some work with me, as I've said,
and various other bits of recording.
David Jackson continues to work on his Soundbeam projects;
more of this, perhaps, another time.
Paul Ridout won second prize for computer graphics in a
competition run by MacWorld magazine, for the "Roaring
Forties" cover. And he's doing loads of Stuff, as
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You will by now have realised that Sofa Sound/Fie! have
nothing new out as I write. Over the next months, though,
this will radically change.
Initially, there are some re-releases. Fie! has now licensed
back the three Enigma releases for Europe. "In a Foreign
Town" and "Out of Water" will be (re-)released at the end of
May; "Room Temperature (Live)" will follow slightly later.
The latter, the double-CD sound document of the US/Canada
trio tour with Stuart Gordon and Nic Potter, has been hard
to find over here in the past, to say the least; it's of the
school of brutal but vital recordings. The addition of the
two Studio albums - both of which, in different ways, were
watershed works for me - means that almost every album ever
released is now available and current on CD.
The one exception (which has never been out on this format)
is "The Aerosol Grey Machine", the very first VdGG
recording. (Although at the time of making it it was a
I'm encouraged to say that the master tapes for this have
been found in New York. A late summer release maybe
possible, I hope.
There's one other possible imminent CD release; this would
be on Strange Fruit and consist of the solo BBC sessions, as
something of a companion piece to "Maida Vale". More info
will be forthcoming if, as and when this transpires in the
next newsletter. Around September! Or on the back of a
A somewhat bizarre entrant in the "For Sale" stakes is a
book, "The Lemming Chronicles", by David Shaw-Parker. He has
been a "fan" since first seeing the band perform its final
show in the Keith Ellis incarnation; this tome charts his
relationship with the music over the years. That sounds
rather dry and/or trainspotter-ish; it is, in fact, a very
droll and un-pompous piece of work. I laughed till I
stopped. So did my wife, Gail Colson and the rest of the
group. It's published by Pandora's Books, a subsidiary of
the fanzine "Pilgrims" (which to my way of thinking could
certainly take a few lessons from this work in how to be
non-sycophantic without being outright poisonous!) and is
listed on the Order form.
(A propos of books, a successor/inheritor to "Killers,
Angels..." and "Mirrors, Dreams..." remains a perennial
possibility. Some day, perhaps....)
The clothing line currently consist of the old faithfuls:
monogram T-shirts (white) and sweatshirts. The latest
version of the latter is light grey. Very tasteful. I'm
still resisting all calls for monogram socks, ties,
key-rings, golf umbrellas and coffee cups.
If you want to order any of the new CDs now we will, of
course, send them off as soon as they come into our hands.
If you'd rather the money was not banked until stuff's on
its way, please write a separate cheque for the "soon-come"
items if you're ordering anything else as well. May I just
say that we have NEVER tried to rip anyone off - but things
do go astray in the post, sometimes! If you have any doubts,
just write to us!