Thursday, May 26, 2005


Our first evening back in the newly renovated studio.

You might be forgiven for thinking that sound just goes from A to B: that it leaves its source and travels neatly to your ears in an orderly fashion but, ah, no. No, sound is a tricky little lizard. It hides. It wanders, loiters with intent, sulks, zips behind your back when you’re not looking. In any given room there will be traps, echoes, reverberations, hotspots. Sound will find them and screw up your plans accordingly. It doesn’t help matters that in a bout of inexplicable masochism some years ago angel tech chose a pair of speakers* as our principle monitors which are so flat, so harsh and unforgiving, that by the time it squeezes out of the cones any sound is so royally pissed off it will deliberately vandalise your mix. Snarling and fractious, it will either flop to the floor and play dead or shear the top of your head off in a fit of pique. “I didn’t put that frequency there!” you’ll exclaim, “It’s not my fault! Not my fault!”

Here’s the main problem: Before its redecoration the walls of the studio were covered in shelves full of CDs, videos, reel-to-reel tapes and musical instruments, rackmount units, little toy clowns, Geiger counters, stethoscopes, etc. These relatively complex surfaces and the generally absorbent nature of the material actually did the overall acoustics some good; with lots of clutter, the sound has a lot to 'deal' with… it quickly gets tired and stops acting the giddy goat. But now, post renovation and without the distracting mess, working in the studio is - sonically, at least - like working inside a giant cowbell.

Whilst annoying, it’s hardly the end of the world. Hanging a bunch of cushions or carpets in carefully chosen places around the room will create rudimentary versions of what are known as “Baffles” (so called because they confuse the sound into submission) and dampen the echoes. Knowing Doug’s DIY fetish this might even involve some clever-clever stuff with foam or varying lengths of wood. All I know is that by midnight last night we were successfully ignoring the room’s minor shortcomings and making full use of its pretty solid soundproofing. Warping, phasing multiple keyboard parts were played at volume into the small hours, and what might well be the last song to be added to the album’s playlist is now well under way.

*Yamaha NS10s, nearfield monitor fans! We’ve had to buy new cones** for these recently. In reggae sound systems you’ll often see that the cones have been deliberately ripped in order to give the bass frequencies a forceful pumping effect. However, I doubt they achieve this effect the way angel tech managed to: by merrily walking the speaker directly into a door handle. Long story.

**The cones are no longer made by Yamaha, and are pretty scarce. There’s a rumour that the paper they are made out of is cut from an endangered species of tree. Given that the Piano*** I inherited from my Grandfather (which I’m beginning to suspect has genuine ivory keys) has now been installed in the room above the studio, I’m estimating Doug and Mary’s house has now become 11% less ethically sound thanks to angel tech. Next, we’ll no doubt discover that Apple Macs are made from dolphins, or something.****

***It’s a beautiful instrument. Tom Waits once said that even a beaten-up, broken piano is infinitely playable. Whilst this one has a “Jerry Lee Lewis” factor of approximately 0.3 out of 10, (hammering it frantically with the fingering style of a grey elephant ain’t really gonna work) it’s a gentle, graceful thing. Perfect for those vaguely hymnal progressions***** and tentative, murky 4am tunes where the chords bleed into one another.

****This is how trouble starts. Someone, somewhere is going to google the phrase “APPLE MACS MADE FROM DOLPHINS,” it'll lead them here, and I’m gonna get sued. Listen: Apple Macs aren’t made from dolphins. Stop googling crap.

*****Speaking of hymnal progressions, alongside the Piano we took delivery of my parents’ Harmonium, a tallish foot-pump affair of the type you used to find in small parish churches. Its bass tones are exceptional, real rattle-the-windows, false-teeth falling-out type stuff. Doug and Mary’s 22-month old son Milo****** took to it instantly, and worked out how to use it in seconds. He stood, both feet on the foot-pumps, paddling away, reaching vainly for the keyboard. Of course, at his size, it looks as if he’s on the cross-trainer in a gothic gymnasium.

******Milo is influencing the LP in various subtle ways. The knock-on effect of having so many toy instruments to mess around with has given some of the album’s textures a child-like quality. We’ve even developed a process for recording Doug’s violin that can best be described as “one-man Suzuki orchestra.” The Suzuki technique teaches children to play an instrument in large groups, having them perform their scales, sketches and exercises in unison, and in the early stages of the learning process this often produces a dense, somehow rickety sound. We ape this by having Doug play his violin parts over and over again on a loop, recording every pass whilst slightly altering the mic location each time and getting Doug to throw in the odd deliberate mistake or odd tuning. It’s a sort of distortion… but without the blunderbuss of sheer volume. Of course, it also means you run out of hard-disc space about twenty times quicker than any normal, sane outfit would.

Friday, May 06, 2005


So, what? Let me get this straight… your instrument bores you? Wow. Hmmm. Yes. And you’re worried that you’re settling into a series of favourite patterns when you play, that you’re no longer inspiring or inspired? Terrible. Yeah, I know how you feel. I sympathise. It’s got to the point where I can’t sit down at a piano without instantly tapping out the same old chords, with the same old comfortable arrangement of knuckles and the same stooped posture. So to help both of us, a few ideas:

Instructions for drummers

Take your drums to the beach, plus some recording equipment. Whilst the tide is out, partially bury your kit in the sand below the high tide mark. Wait for the sea to start washing back up the beach again. Now, hurry! Make sure to record your drum track before the tom-toms fill up with brine.

Find between five and nine friends. Get each of them to hold a component of your drum kit. Play as normal, but tell your friends to move around in a random fashion at irregular intervals. Perhaps provide your friends with earplugs and thick gloves, especially if you tend to drum like a cunt.

Play the drums whilst also hiding behind them, as if attempting to conceal yourself from the unwanted attention of your bandmates. Keep a low profile. Present as little body mass to open fire as possible.

Instructions for bassists

Get a boffin. Pay the boffin to wire up your bass so that certain combinations of frets and pickups will channel an electric current straight into your fingertips, and thence throughout your entire body. Different melodies will produce different intensities of delightfully heart-skipping electrical surge. Perhaps get the boffin to customise your fretboard so that playing the riff from Temple Of Love by The Sisters Of Mercy will fry you like a pan of chips.
nb. boffins can be found on the internet. If you’re lucky they will sometimes accept payment in the form of interesting Diodes and / or cans of “Dr Pepper.”

Play the bass whilst walking a tightrope. This will hopefully provide you with some considered, fluid and fearful bass lines. A possible variation on this instruction is to actually make the “E” string on your instrument a component of the tightrope itself, so that whilst journeying the length of the rope you’re also sliding the bass along beneath you, bent double like some sort of fucked up tightrope-twanging Chuck Berry, grinning like a loon, sweating, trying desperately not to look down…

Instructions for guitarists

You are legendary Blues guitarist Robert Johnson. You have gone to the crossroads at midnight, to meet the Devil and make a deal; a deal which means you will play guitar like a God for all your days remaining, in return for your immortal soul. Unfortunately the Devil doesn’t show up. You hang around all night, and by 7am you’re cold and hungry. You go and buy a hot dog, then catch a film. The film is Die Hard II: Die Harder, and despite having its moments is not as good as the original. Play guitar as if you are actually Robert Johnson and this has recently happened to you.

Feed your guitar through so much reverb that when you strum a chord it plays yesterday. Invite Albert Einstein to “stitch that.”

Sit on your hands for about 45 minutes. It’ll feel like someone else is playing the guitar for you.

Instructions for keyboard players

At length, contemplate your keyboard. No, don’t play anything yet. Sit for a while. Give it time. Sure, allow your hands to hover in possible formations over the keys, but play nothing. Play nothing. Sit and imagine the consequences of the first chord your hands drop upon. Play nothing, but think about the spiralling possibilities, the chaotic shift of the universe once your mind is made up and your fingertips land, once the notes sound out definitively. What wonders await, what outcomes are denied, what tangents meet? There’s no right or wrong. It’s mathematical but it’s unthinkable. It’s the most important thing you’ve ever played. Let it drop… let it… oh. Right. D Minor? Right. Yeah, D minor…yeah, that’s interesting. Right. No it’s fine. Fine.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Yeah yeah yeah. It ought to be explained that, at the same time as putting together this album, angel tech have been simultaneously working on other projects. As a result the LP is a sort of constant background hum beneath the bursts of more focussed, time-conscious work: shows constructed with our collaborators in the performance group “Bodies In Flight”; film soundtracks; radio broadcasts; educational work. In addition to this we have our own self-contained alter ego called “El Hoover” which involves recording obtuse and often bizarrely comic electronic music inspired by the stuff that never quite makes it onto an angel tech track. We have a whole album of this stuff kicking around.

Meanwhile the studio is currently undergoing serious renovations. The ceiling has been ripped out and stuffed with rockwool… new doors are being added (they lead to the same places, but it’s all framed differently. Which is nice.) The chimney against one wall has been torn away and replaced with a series of magical devices to ensure that the entirety of Doug’s house doesn’t collapse and flatten us beneath a mountain of Edwardian brick and baby toys. And as we’re currently involved in a theatrical tour on top of all this, it feels as though our equipment, resources, time and energy have been burst across the face of the city like a series of giant life-changing zits.

The majority of the recording equipment is now set up in my flat in Central Bristol. This would be fine were it not for the birds outside my window, which - now that spring has finally made its mind up, and sprung - have developed fantastically loud chirrups, cackles and whistles in order to compete with the city rumble. I’m thinking of some sort of air rifle… or maybe a powerful bow and arrow, with the arrowheads dipped in pitch and set alight before being let fly. You’ll be able to spot my house for miles: it’ll be the one surrounded by flaming blackbirds, charred, plummeting chaffinches, and the RSPCA.

I quite like the fact that our music is briefly aping the rupture produced by packed diaries, fuck-you birds and a general lack of sleep. We’ll grab little moments here and there in some provincial theatre to suddenly burst into a series of angry riffs, and these will then find their way onto the latest mix of one of the album tracks. I’ll be up at 6:00am editing a radio ident and it will suddenly strike me that Molotov should collapse under its own weight at the end, struggling, drowning beneath scuzzed-out guitars. So I feed the whole track through a distortion pedal Neil has left lying around called a “Jekyll And Hyde.” It’s silver and shaped a bit like an axe head. Maybe over the top I’ll add the noise of the birds outside, compressing and distorting them until they sound like hellish choirs of bad ringtones. Maybe at 7:30am I’ll crack open a beer. Dammit. Sleep is for tortoises.