Wednesday, March 09, 2005


There's an LP appearing. Deep in the fog. Somewhere in all this - amidst the broken patch leads, multiple plug-in windows cluttering up every monitor, ancient synths lying upside down on shelves with their batteries dead and power adaptors fucked, useless bird-imitating whistles Doug bought off a bloke in Broadmead, lovely old electric guitars with snap-happy electronics, wine, scrap paper and kazoos - there's a record getting unearthed.

We've got about a month before something has to be committed to a CD-r, and there are still so many mixes, so many ideas.

Mrs Rorschach's favourite word at the moment is "Problematic." She uses it constantly. It is wheeled out first thing in the morning when searching for missing cardigans. It makes regular appearances in pub conversations concerning subjects arty, mundane and social. It is deployed in relation to holiday plans, christmas presents and computers. "Problematic." Say it again! "Problematic." Amen! Rolls nicely off the tongue. Pronounced slowly, it makes you think of a garret room in which all your worries could be filed away in mouldering cardboard boxes. "Problematic."

Writing about the album at the moment is problematic. Having recorded pretty much all the material and made rudimentary arrangements of each song, it feels like we now need to assemble every last bit of data and break the overall 'code.' Our curiosity could lead us in so many weird and wonderful directions, but right now I'm more interested in discovering whether we're capable of making a cohesive final work out of these tumbling, spinning things. Hopefully we're experiencing our last truly nebulous phase, one in which we experiment with the overall 'feel' of the record before knuckling down to some serious mixing. But it is nebulous. And describing the operation is problematic. So I offer the following few vague documents by way of explanation; and hope to emerge from the attic sometime in the near future, having individually boxed, sealed and labelled my gripes.


The story of the addendum
Neil and I are playing around with some drum loops and piano samples for Cut Down The Middle. The pianos are loaded up accidentally from the wrong project and don't match the beats. Intrigued by the lack of any discernable pattern amidst all this I begin playing a second piano part against it. When the loop sticks on a certain chord, my hands do one of those instinctive - usually annoying - things familiar to many musicians, and settle into a favourite progression over the keyboard. Suddenly I'm playing a very familiar piece of music which we last used as part of our film score to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It fits perfectly. Long-lost vocal lines rise slowly to the surface. At random, we've got exactly what the song needed: a third section. And - unusually for us - it doesn't at all feel like pointlessly grafting, say, a steam train onto a badger.


The story of the hexagon
Charlie and Colin, friends of Doug's, lend us some electronic drum kit. Colin's bass drum is largeish and has that whole 80s thing goin' on. It's a shiny hexagonal black plate not much smaller in diameter than my acoustic bass drum, but only about 10cm thick. I'm convinced that were you to heat it to the right temperature it would be possible to griddle beefburgers on the fucker. It sits beneath the sparse remainders of my acoustic drumkit (hi-hats growing a copper-green moss from lack of proper care, snare drum with the words "One day I will hit back" written on the skin in permanent marker.) I can now plug into the computer and play a bassdrum sound that goes "Smmmmmmmmmmnkk," "UOUPT!" or "DOOOOOOOOOOOMF," instead of just "Bp." Doug looks at my rickety gaffa-tape-and-bits-of-string set up, spindly, mismatched but still somehow solid, and says that he'd like the band to sound how the drumkit looks.


The story of the song made of lego
Molotov squats in a corner of the hard-drive and we've no idea what to do with it. Doug has been building a palette of samples (all of them our own, live instruments recorded aeons ago in various studios and rehearsal rooms) from which to build up a coherent whole. It's a mass of coloured blocks on the screen and I don't know how to stick 'em together. The music sounds like so many different bands. I leave it for a week, and when I return for our next rehearsal Neil has found a solution. To do so he's returned to the exact principle upon which we began angel tech: he's given the song space. It breathes, instead of gabbling out idea after idea. And the beginning literally sounds like breathing: an oboe, long, drawn out, pitched unrealistically low, which oscillates for ages before suddenly dropping away, a sheer cliff, straight down into the first word of the song.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


I'm pissing myself off.
I'm pissing myself off because it's proving very hard to shake this desire to re-invent the wheel with every single track we do. To create neat tricks and special effects. Making a film that consists entirely of stunts, 90 minutes of 'em, bam bam bam bam bam bam. Writing a book full of clever puns but nothing much else. Painting a portrait where the eyes literally - and annoyingly - fall out of the frame and follow you around the room.

It's hard to remind yourself that the fripperies and novelties aren't at the heart of what you're doing. When the three of us first had a conversation on this subject a few years back we came up with a phrase: "Everything's already been done... except the washing up." It was a sort of resolution not to get distracted by unfounded and egotistical notions about our own artistic greatness. But this wasn't helped by Mister Brian Fucking Eno, ohhhhh no. A year or so after making this decision, we got 'into' his Oblique Strategies cards (briefly, this is a deck of cards designed to be drawn at random in order to short-circuit some of the conventions of your creative process. They are clues or instructions, depending on how you want to interpret them, and proved very useful to us in situations where we had to work to tight deadlines.) We were horrified to discover that one of the cards contained the instruction: "Do the washing up."

I don't want to do the washing up, dammit. You do it.

What next, an instruction that reads "Gild the Lilly?"

I suppose he might always have meant to literally do the washing up.
...nah. Brian Eno? Do the washing up? He probably has a big polyphonic dishwasher. Bono gave it to him. Along with that digital egg whisk.

Working on the lyrics has been great. I've been taking a central phrase from each song, scrawling it at the top of a page, flicking between pages, scribbling things out in random places beneath the principle line. Different pens, different degrees of legibility. It looks like staggeringly pretentious graffitti. See this on the back of a toilet cubicle door, you'd run screaming from the pub. You'd scramble into the street, throwing yourself onto your knees in the middle of the road as traffic swerved around you, horns blaring. You'd lift your face to the sky, and yell "THEY'RE COMING! THEY'RE COMING TO GET US ALL! IT'S NOT ART, IT'S WANK!!!....... AND IT'S........ MUTATING!"

Yeah yeah, it looks bad, but it's fun and it sifts the wheat from the chaff. You've got to go through these larval stages, crawling around on yer belly, munching at the undergrowth. You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Neil is fond of paraphrasing this as "You can't make an omelette without being a cunt."