Wednesday, January 26, 2005


We are the clipboard kings! Word documents, sub-folders, two big bottles of beer and a comprehensive audit. Plus crisps. Lots of crisps. How much more rock’n’roll is it possible to get?

Tonight we’re opening up all the files we have on every potential album track, and trying to get ourselves on the same wavelength. Sure, it's all very well adding that fantastic series of interlocking piano riffs to Cut Down The Middle, but if no-one else in the band knows that you’ve done it (and you’ve sort of forgotten yerself,) what’s the use?

On most of the music we've ended up chaining many different bits of recording software together... it’s fun because each program gives you a fresh take on the song, a new approach, and between the three of us we often surprise ourselves with the combined impact of ideas generated miles or even years apart. But it can also trip you up; often it's hard to keep track of what's been added or amalgamated in any given arrangement. Imagine living in a house where new rooms keep appearing at random... you open a door and suddenly you’ve got an indoor heated swimming pool you knew nothing about.

"This song has a swimming pool," you say. "Why didn’t somebody tell me?"

"Oh, yeh. Sorry, should’ve mentioned that. I installed it a while back but it makes the whole chorus smell of Chlorine. So I just sort of shut the door and left it there."

"You know," someone else says, "That’s funny. Just the other day I was thinking that this song could benefit from 20 lengths of backstroke."* ...And you all nod sagely.

This is how art gets made, people. It's like walking fully clothed into a swimming pool you haven't got: Inexplicable and largely unscheduled.

So I’m not going to write about the hours spent slowly sifting through guitar takes we couldn’t remember recording because we were drunk or stoned or maybe even not actually there, or the analysis of serial piano parts where one note changes every 34 seconds. No, I won’t bore you with that, or any accounts of the painstaking re-loading of projects in order to line everything up to 115.84 bpm (rather than the troublesome 116 bpm it was beforehand. Integers? Fuck ‘em) which just wouldn’t interest you in the slightest I’m sure, and I’m not even going to mention the intriguing sine waves that suddenly cropped up all over Compatible, I wouldn’t do that to you, in the same way that I wouldn’t bang on and on about experiencing the dawning realisation that half of untitled pop song only exists as midi files and nothing else, and that the DPS12 and MPC2000 for all their good points have got - how shall we say - less than perfect MTC synching. The crisps? They were Sweet Chilli flavour, since you ask, and we ate the whole goddamn bag.

* You might like to know that I originally mis-typed this as "This snog could benefit from 20 lengths of backstroke" which is altogether a far better sentence, resembling one which you might read on a much more interesting blog somewhere else.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Police helicopter
Your wonderful searchlight
You lull me to sleep at night
I can't sleep without you

By grace of your bass response
By grace of adrenaline
I'll fall flat upon my face
To fireworks and soaring strings

This is the first verse of our song Molotov, which will hopefully be making an appearance on the album.

The lyrics were written in a flat I used to live in located slap bang on one of Bristol's busier arterial roads. The regular presence of a police helicopter wafting around directly above our house was surprisingly calming (I've always found it easier to sleep with some sort of white noise burbling away in the background) and I was fascinated by its contradictory aspects: a weapon of oppression, a measure of security, a public nuisance, a watchful presence, a horrible racket or a lovely, shifting droning vibe high above your home... all of this inspired the song.

Mrs Rorschach and I have now moved to the centre of Bristol, which means - if anything - more police helicopter action. But tonight when I heard the slow buzz overhead, with the album in mind I grabbed my minidisc and started recording it.

I wandered around from room to room, headphones on, mic in hand, trying to find the "sweet spot" where the tones of the helicopter would sound best. I needed a solid, set location to get the full effect of its shifting position overhead; what interested me was the way the drone fluctuated as it crept from window to window. But at every point I was frustrated by my flat. I switched the central heating off to stop clicks and rumbles from the boiler, but that still didn't do it. I couldn't move too much because the fantastically sensitive microphone was picking up little 'tic-tic-tic's from the burglar alarm's infra-red detectors. If I opened the windows, traffic noise spoiled the effect. I could hear the TV in the flat upstairs (almost impossible with the naked ear...) but persisted, trying to record something usable.

And suddenly, after about 20 minutes, I thought: What the fuck am I doing? What is this going to be used for? I'm not making a fucking Pink Floyd album. I don't want a song that mentions helicopters to actually have a fucking helicopter on it. What was I thinking? Is this going to be a po-faced version of Yellow Submarine? Put the minidisc down and make a cup of tea, dammit.

Hey, I thought, the kettle sounds really interesting mixed with the sound of the helic-
STOP IT. Stop. Ferfucksake.

Does The Pixies' Monkey Gone To Heaven have the sound of a monkey in it? No.
Does Bjork's The Anchor Song have the sound of an anchor? No.
Does Tom Waits' Downtown Trains have the sound of a train, downtown or otherwise? No.
Does The Velvet Underground's I'm Waiting For The Man have the sound of a man? Yes, but that doesn't count.
Does Aphex Twin's Kladfvgbungmicshk have the sound of a kladfvgbungmicshk? Pffff. If you need to ask, you oughtn't to be told.

Failure - and how you handle it, what you do when it strikes - has always been a key focus of my creative process. I'm fascinated by the results that out-and-out mistakes (or sheer incompetence, for that matter) can get you. "Fail again. Fail better."

So tonight I came to the conclusion that the last thing I want is for Molotov to sound literal, to turn it into some sort of stomping, antagonistic dirge. Somewhere in our sketches and arrangements there is an insistent, sharp, graceful edge to the song and we need to push that into the foreground.
Or die trying. Whichever.

An interesting failure link for y'all:

Thursday, January 20, 2005


An acoustic set tonight, supporting Leave Land For Water and North Sea Navigator. It was at the Metropol in sunny Bedminster. Remember how I said our version of Army Of Me was skeletal? Yeah. I'm afraid that tonight it had brittle bone disease. Notes snapping off all over the shop.

Otherwise things went OK. It was slapdash and under-rehearsed as we were added to the bill at the last minute, but fun nevertheless, and I want to play the songs out and about more now.

The Metropol is a pretty big space (about 500 capacity) dotted with red iron pillars. As our audience shuffled in slowly from the bar we could only see them in sillhouette, and I told them they looked like Night Of The Living Dead. With pint glasses. Is that a good thing to say to your audience before you start playing? Hmmm.

Hey, audience! Correct response to me telling you that you "Look like Night Of The Living Dead"?
"At least I don't look like a ginger David Blunkett."
That should shut me up.

It does get me wondering what we look like on stage these days. Actually I think we've got most of our bases covered:

Doug is obviously there for the ladies, with his perky physique and twinkling eye. He's also regularly seen walking around with a child cradled in one arm, so that's a poster op right there. I can see it now, Doug naked from waist up, little Milo by his side, caption: "My two favourite things are commitment, and changing myself." BEST. SELLER.

Neil's got the pink pound sewn up for us. We know this from exhaustive consumer surveys. I did wonder what they'd make of his new platinum blonde streaks and slightly bigger hair, but the latest figures have just come in and it seems to be playing well on Canal Street.

And then there's me if you're some sort of perverse freak that likes weird stuff. Y'know, unsettling stuff, stuff that looks like a cross between Bigfoot and a corpse*.
*actual description from Nightshift Magazine.

Hell, if we lost a few pounds I think even I could fancy us again. But then there's the old adage, "Don't get laid where you get paid." Having said that, we didn't earn any money tonight, so...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Our cover version of Bjork's Army Of Me has finally been squeezed into 128kpbs of Mpeg and hurled at the Icelandic One's listening crew. I say 'crew' but I have no idea of how they'll be sifting through their - no doubt huge - stash of remixes and interpretations. I'd like to imagine some sort of towering Chris Cunningham-designed cyborg device, mass processing every single file and sorting them into relevant subcategories: Screaming seagull choirs in this folder. Low filtered, speaker-destroying double bass drums in that folder. Then, once its job is complete, it will roar to life, unplug itself from the ethernet connection and stomp across country like a twenty foot high Mechazilla stuffed full of TUNE, towards the hut deep in the forest where Bjork lives. The Cyborg will obviously have a terrible headache, so Bjork will make it some green tea and they will sit by the open fire, talking of campanology and screensavers, or perhaps just quietly contemplating the enormity of the task ahead.

Something like that.
Stop laughing at me.

Whatever the results, it's been immensely enjoyable doing Army Of Me. And healthy. The tiny amount of time we had to pull it together meant that its construction resembled word association: you're forced to trust your instincts in order for things to move quickly enough. If that was even partly the thinking behind giving remixers and musicians such a tight deadline on this project, then hats off.

It also meant that we finally had to implement our long-standing plan of sending each other mixes and ideas via the web, meaning text after text from yours truly every time a new arrangement was uploaded onto the server: "nu mix online now. gdnight" Which of course meant "3am. Bshng head agnst brk wall. Pls dn't h8 me. Does cello snd shit? I need a drink. Pubs shut. Fridge = no beer. Arse. gdnight."

Neil has a regular habit of working into the small hours. Don't know how he does it. At about 1 am my ears begin to pick up inordinate amounts of background noise, and the floor starts to slope around like a boat.

If working late I also invariably have music-related dreams during the night which are rarely pleasant: one of the worst involved playing a gig where the pieces of my drum kit were slowly moving away from me in various directions of their own accord...

These recurring nightmares are probably influenced by gigs we did at the LagerhoUSE in Freiburg, Germany. The first time we played there, it was done using borrowed equipment. The bass cab made Doug sound like he was playing a massive rubber band on a spade. I was presented with a drumkit consisting entirely of rototoms. Neil had a guitar amp with one huge illuminated red button on it and nothing else. Halfway through Weightless he thought, fuck it, I need a boost, and pressed the button. The resulting sonic boom, well... lots of people have asked Doug what prompted him to cut his hair short, having worn it long throughout his late teens. Answer: the blast of horrible scything noise from Neil’s amp when he hit that red button was to blame. It flattened Doug against the wall, and when the poor boy collapsed to the floor, his hair came away from his skull in one piece, floating calmly off the stage and into the audience like a little brunette jellyfish.

Satisfied? Now let us never speak of this again.

Anyway, cutting a long story short(ish)
Our version of Army Of Me ultimately proved to be a spindly, skeletal lullaby, with sinister undertones. Most of the sinister was provided by a gloriously dissonant ‘cello part from our first session musician in years: Chipper from North Sea Navigator, Money, Max Milton Quartet and various other eminent Bristol bands (Chipper’s real name is only available via a written request made under the Freedom Of Information act.) She is wise beyond her years and has more CDs than London has teeth. It’s great to be working with someone who enjoys chilled-out atonal string arrangements as much as she loves Grindcore, Speed Metal or “The Fucking Champs.” In fact, Chipper comes out with band names that were anyone else to mention, I’d be convinced were made up.

Am I getting old and ignorant? Or are bands breeding like rabbits?

Final thought for the day: “Blazing Squad.” This is what happens when E17 don’t use condoms.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Neil's in town for his weekly visit. So. 3 things to work on tonight.

First, a bit of acoustic strumming to keep our act together for some upcoming gigs.

Secondly, the recording of a track we're submitting for Bjork's charity album:
I'm overseeing the mix of this later on in the week, as we only found out about the project 2 days ago, and the blinkin' deadline is Monday, innit?

Thirdly, a look at angel tech r.i.p.
In 1999 I'd been listening a lot to a Mogwai track called Mogwai Fear Satan and decided that self-referential song titles were the bomb; hence this little paean to our own demise.
At the time some people thought it was a suicide note concerning our relationship with all things corporate, or maybe even a splitting-up song, period. Bah! Couldn't be further from the truth. I don't whinge about stuff like that... well, not in song, at least. Bigger fish to fry.

We're on the 4th fully-fledged version of this tune. We've had: chiming electronica with a sampled vocal riff bleating all the way through it; gone down a sort of Pixies-ish route combining thrashy, badly tuned guitars with clattery, overpowering drums; done something with kalimbas and heavily processed drum machines...
It all sounded fantastic and had us very excited at points, but somehow didn't hit the nail on the head when you began singing over it. This perplexed me for a while and we went in all sorts of strange directions, for instance...

Doug works for a charity which helps people with disabilities of various kinds to make music through new technologies. As a result, at one point we had a touch-screen pad hanging around the studio which enabled someone without a voice to speak, pretty much like the type of thing Professor Stephen Hawking uses. Except this one could sing. You dropped notes onto a stave and typed the words beneath, and away it went.
I spent a very long afternoon teaching the bloody thing how to do angel tech r.i.p., cutting the tune into sections so the machine's limited memory didn't continually dry up, doing all sorts of odd things with the timing to see if it would throw any subtle nuances into the way the computer interpreted each word.
Sometimes you hammer away at things like this against your better judgement because it seemed like a good idea to begin with, and even when the results don't sound so hot, you carry on all the same in order to avoid having to confront the essential problem. It's like a flowchart in your head, which goes:



So somewhere on my hard-drive there exists the entirety of this track sung by a (slightly nasal) learning aid. No doubt its time will come on a remix somewhere. In its own right it does sound quite beautiful, in a lost, lonely and fucked-up way.

Then, a few weeks before Christmas I sat down at one of Neil's old, dying keyboards (a Farfisa, as it happens. Lots of big clunky switches, mmmmmm switches) and padded away at the chords to angel tech r.i.p., quietly, absent mindedly, because I was bored and couldn't think of anything else to play. Neil pounced on it. "We should use that." He said. "We should build it up from that."

Another good argument for short-circuiting yourself and fucking the flowchart.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


This will, technically, be the third angel tech album. A series of demos made in Freiburg were compiled onto a short LP in 1997 for our own amusement, and in 1999 we recorded a bunch of stuff at Realworld Studios whilst we were signed to the Palm Pictures label. The latter album, "We Superheroes Bruise Easily,"* will probably see the light of day at some point... but more of this anon.

The new record has been in gestation for the best part of four years. Leaving aside the fact that not even whales, elephants or really, REALLY lazy foetuses have gestation periods of that length, here are a few damn good reasons for the delay:

1. We were washing our hair.

2. OK, Neil and Doug were washing their hair. I've been waiting for mine to do that whole thing where it "gets clean." You'd expect results after 8 months, but no, it's like a fucking toffee apple up there.

3. We only recently started using computers to record things. Beforehand we were stamping the tunes onto Pianola rolls and etching them onto wax cylinders. Interesting side note: if you scratch a wax cylinder hard enough, you can get it to feed back.

4. We've got into a rut whereby every song is now recorded in a series of perpetually shifting, never-ending alternate versions. They're like fractals, but fractals with really bad backing vocals.

5. Doug and his wife, Mary, had a kid, or something.

6. Neil ran away to London. Like Dick Whittington hearing that the streets of the capital were paved with gold, Neil heard that the streets were covered in "crack," and couldn't contain himself. Unfortunately it was a typo. Despite this he still lives in London, but we're working on a cunning device to keep him permanently in Bristol. It resembles a giant version of the boardgame "Mousetrap." The thing is, every time we think we've got it rigged up properly, Doug knocks something over and the whole shebang goes off like a cunt. This is obviously taking up quite a bit of time. Yeah? Yeah, right.

7. We got involved in art, which is always a mistake. The art in question is a performance company based in Bristol and Nottingham called "Bodies In Flight," and we've been collaborating with them as composers and performers, and it's actually fun, so it diverts us from the songwriting every now and then. I asked one of my friends who'd never seen Bodies In Flight before to describe a recent show we did with them. His reply? "It felt like a fantastically violent slap round the face with a really well-bound thesis."

8. We want to do this shit properly.

Our aim is: by April this year we will have a rough assembly of songs, plonked onto a CD, and in a good enough state to play to people (friends, industry friends, family friends, musical friends, etc.) And hopefully, sometime in summer, a genuine angel tech LP we can flog on our own label... unless anyone gives us any offers we can't refuse...

* "We superheroes bruise easily, y'know..." a quote from Grover in Sesame Street, delivered whilst in the guise of SuperGrover.