Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I've had a request from M. Anonymous of Anonymoville, Nonameland, Planet Namenverlassen in the Galaxy Sans Moniker. It goes like this:

Anonymous said...
Dear Sir,please could you be so kind as to provide a potted history of the band 'angel tech'?Thank you.

So of course I'm only too keen to oblige.

The second in a series so incredibly dull, you'll find yourself wanting to shove an anglepoise lamp up your own urinary tract just to relieve the brain-battering tedium of it all. Seriously. I mean it. Skip this whole post if you don't fancy ending up in A&E, explaining to the bewildered consultant why there's bits of lightbulb and retractable spring wodged up into your gall bladder.

Doug Bott and Tim Atack first met whilst composing the music to a cycle of medieval mystery plays. They spent some time searching for a sackbut but ended up with bupkiss. On their travels they met Neil Johnson busking Billy Bragg songs, "Her husband was one of those blokes / The type that laughs at his own jokes." They formed a band, what with being interested in odd pop music like Seefeel, Stina, Bjork, The Cure and that. Tim's ex-girlfriend insulted his newly designed keyboard noises, and in a string of slurred vitriol he vaguely heard the words "angel... tech..." obviously meant to berate what she perceived as some sort of hippy shit. Years later the group discovered that there is in fact a book called "angel tech" and, yes, it's full of some serious San Francisco-school hippy shit and no, we do not endorse it in any way.

Revision Notes: Section One

angel tech were invited to Freiburg, Germany, in order to be composers in residence at an environmental conference. They met a mad German called Wangler (later Melchior) and returned to Freiburg to record songs on the railway track outside his studio, and be stung by wasps. They went into the black forest to collect mushrooms and found a high wooden chair in a clearing with no apparent function. Tim thought he could maybe climb to the top in order to make some sort of Faustian pact, but he waited for twenty minutes and nothing happened. Back in Bristol, angel tech did shows where they borrowed TVs from EVERYONE THEY KNEW and plugged them in to each other using signal splitters so that the images slowly degraded across the length of the stage, nothing but static on some of the screens. It looked like an Eastern European branch of Tandy's up on that motherfucker.

Revision Notes: Section Two

angel tech began to develop a taste for unusual production methods and the deliberate pushing to extremes of any technology they could get their grubby mitts on. This led to a work ethic best described as "protracted," and Doug, on several occasions, wondering about SHAVING HIS FUCKING HEAD AND GOING TO LIVE IN A HUT IN THE FUCKING ANDES. A soundtrack was composed to a silent film (Metropolis.) A manager was employed with a moustache like the kaiser (but no matching helmet, despite our best efforts.) A recording contract was signed. In a fit of excitement, Doug broke his arm skateboarding, at which point he officially became TOO OLD TO SKATE TM. National and international tours were undertaken. Gigs were played to an audience of two men and a dog... but that's normal and OK... in those sorts of situations you're only really in trouble if the dog walks out. In the famous Realworld recording studio angel tech met some famous people whilst recording an album which is not yet at all famous in the slightest bit. Whilst discussing vegetarianism Kylie Minogue put her hand on Neil's thigh and kept it there for some considerable time. As a result of this, you can quite happily run Neil through with a scimitar (or similar) any time you like, he will die a happy man.

Revision Notes: Section Three

People often wonder what happened to us after our recording contract ended. Truth of the matter is, we went to the moon. It's typical of angel tech to go to the moon in order to make a minidisc recording of the "atmosphere," only to find that the moon doesn't have one. Picture the scene...

Neil: Oh. Shit.
Tim: We came all this way, and never thought to check whether sound travels in a vacuum?
Doug: Sound doesn't travel in a vacuum.
Tim: That's what I'm saying.
Neil: Well, we know that now.
Doug: That's what I'm trying to say. Sound doesn't travel in a vacuum.
Doug: Look, switch the minidisc onto record anyway. We've come all this way. We might as well just switch it on and see if we can get something.
Tim: Seriously, all we're going to be able to record is the inside of this... fucking... pod.
Neil: Oh SHIT.
Doug: What?
Neil: Nothing. Nothing.
Doug: No. Tell us. What?
Neil: I've run out of rizlas.

Revision Notes: Section Four

angel tech composed and performed theatre soundtracks, doing a show which involved running across a room one hundred times and sweating a lot. Whilst touring in Singapore, Neil vomited his entire body out of every available hole in his body and was taken to a hospital where everyone was impressed with his circular vomiting technique. Doug and his wife looked under a cabbage in the cabbage patch and found Milo (current age 2.5) Tim tried to teach Milo to say "Vagabond" every time Neil walked into the room. Neil tried to teach Milo to say "Weirdo" every time Tim walked into the room. But enough of this, what did we, as adults, learn? Well... we learned how to drag sounds through a computer backwards. Films were made using our music. I started this Blog just over a year ago. For further information go to the first post on this Blog, and work your way... up.

Revision Notes: Section 5
Dodgy Mushroom Sandwich Esplanade Mall 26/10/03
Cabbage Patch
Logic Pro
Ableton Live
Reason 2.5
Boring Boring Blog

And as for the future? Well, as I'm sure you'll have picked up from this journal, what we're doing right now is building up strength in our pectoral fins so that we can eventually haul ourselves out of the water and onto the rich, dark mud of the primordial swamp. We intend to be crawling on land by March 2006, and by September we hope to be breathing oxygen.

The End.


We sent the raw sound files for one of our songs, Molotov, to a friend by the name of Dirk Melchior, to see what the crazy German might make of it in terms of a mix. Molotov as it stands is the collated results of about seven different recording sessions over the last seven years, piano, bass, guitars, drums (both live and sampled) woodwind samples, re-routed guitar doodles, 40 vocal takes etc etc etc... All of this winged its way to Freiburg, Germany via the magic of t'internet. And a few days later, I received this email, with some ideas as to how an extremely frustrated Mr Melchior might deal with such a huge steaming spewforth of noise:

Dear Mr. Molotov, sorry ich muss das jetzt fragen: Ihr meint das ernst, oder ?!

ok, kein Scherz, ERNST!

ok, ok ich hab es auch ernsthaft versucht, aber... schwierig-

Mischen impossible

1. Strategie:

Open up as many Plug-ins as you can, make sure they look serious and important.
Cover the whole screen with their windows and hope nobody is able to find the play-button. Shit! Keycommands! Ah- Keycomandeditor!!!
Change all the Keycomands, f.e. press apple/q to start. No! song will start if they gonna close Logic, witch will happen very soon. Better delete all Keycomands.

2. Strategie:

Send them a attached virus called Molotov 22. Shit! No virus on Macs! Create a Virus!

3. Strategie

Declare war on Britannia! Arrgh, don't mention the war, i am German!

4. Strategie:

Find as many drum-machines as there are at lagerhouse, sync them to Logicsong Molotov21, make them play Acidtrancedrum'n'basshouselambadaspeedmetaldub.
Press play. Mute one drum-pattern after the other. That makes the song much clearer after a while. Not clear enough.
De-mute drum-patterns and open as many Quicktimeplayers with as many kinds of rhythmic sound-fills as you can. Open the real live window for real live noise. Arrrgh Live! forget the Drumachines . Open every sound-file on the computer in Live Pitch and sync it to Molotov in Rewire Mode. Make Michele scream at you. Press stop to make song much clearer, and to listen what Michele wants. Can't understand Michele 'cause of the noise in my Ears. Tinitus? No, Helicopter flying to the airfield beside the Lagerhouse.

5. Strategie

Take iBook, Headphones, hire Helicopter. Mix during Flight.
After you stop feeling sick... Ask Helicopterpilot to fly round your studio. Enjoy Bass-response never heard in studio before. Start thinking of song-lyrics...

6. Strategie
Asking Songwriter about Strategy
"Songwriter, do you have
a) an idea about the song molotov
b) an idea how to get the song molotov out of my head by doing a really good mix (clear you say)
c)A camera- so we could meet @ web and talk about the song molotov, drink beer and be quiet?" *

Liebe, Grüße


It's easy to forget that hidden in the layers upon layers of ideas that constitute each song on the LP there is a chain of agreements between myself, Neil and Doug; the majority of them unspoken, and indecipherable from listening to the recordings alone. Every now and then over the course of our 6 years making this record we've sat down, had a drink, and talked about some song or other (just as Dirk suggests we should do at the end of his email) in order to decide where that song might travel next. These conversations have led to mixes and arrangements that have, in turn, morphed into different things as our interests have altered... And so - in my opinion - one of our problems is that we've spent a lot of the last 6 years making the LP we were interested in at the time, according to the whims of our current listenings and technical interests, only to see it shape-shift as those interests and favourite records have changed. (We're all magpies in angel tech. We swoop for whatever shiny thing presents itself.)

Two months ago -when Dirk sent the email above - the LP was overpowered by its electronica. It was definitely a sample-driven record with a large element of "look at me!" in its programming. Upon Neil's insistence we took the songs into the rehearsal studio with live instrumentation, and systematically went through each track, finding a satisfying way of performing them. Whilst it hasn't changed the fundamental nature of the songs, it has definitely given the LP a more focussed feel, and at the moment it has the sense of record played by a band. Which is something it didn't always have before.

Molotov is a good example of this shift. It used to begin with a cacophony of furious beats, three versions of the same rough-cut sample of me drumming, detuned and filtered in different ways, frequencies battering against each other. In theory, on paper, this sounds fantastic... and it was a great start to the song in some ways. But in others, it was self-concious, flashy... and this was not a good thing for the song. An artist friend of mine called Alex Bradley listened to a rough mix having never heard Molotov before, and within seconds of it starting said "Ah. Right. So you've re-mixed your own song." Ultimately, we stripped most of the beats from the track altogether, only giving them a look-in towards the end of the song, where suddenly they take over and the entire shebang collapses under its own weight. But in the version we now play live, for a good 75% of Molotov it's just me singing over some woodwind samples. You worry about this sort of thing when you perform in front of an audience... you worry that it won't seem honest somehow, or that it will look like a horrible sort of wanky karaoke. But here's the rub: it is honest. We've spent 6 years wrangling this fucking thing, slapping all sorts of crap onto it, and this is the conclusion we've come to. There's no other way of doing it.

On December the 13th last year we performed our first plugged-in gig (outside our theatrical work) since January 2000. It was a small sort of affair for a friend's birthday party, unadvertised, in the back of noodle bar in central Bristol. The sound man walked out during one of the earlier bands ("I find this musically offensive" is apparently what he said. For fuck's sake. You're a sound engineer. You expect to go through life and never operate a desk for a band you don't like?) but luckily there were people in the audience capable of running the show, who weren't offended by certain unexpected frequencies. The monitoring proved a bit of a puzzle, and throughout the evening it seemed to be intent on ripping Doug's head off with sheer volume. But all this considered, the gig went extremely well. There were cheers when we name-checked favourite albums or songs in The Jukebox Will Tear Us Apart, some folks sang along to songs they'd only heard before as acoustic versions, the faces in the audience were those of people either getting swept up in the music, or people intrigued by what this odd-looking set up was doing with its Voyager Space Probe drumkit, violins, coffin-shaped stomp boxes and skittering laptop. All in all? I felt we'd got back on track.

(With many thanks to Dirk for letting me reprint his email, and for all his head-scratching over our reprobate mixing skills. Happy New Year.)

* In answer to Dirk's questions:

a) Yes, I do have an idea about the song. I read a book recently about the riots which happened in St Pauls, an area of Bristol, in the 1980s. One of the people interviewed in the book (a Doctor, who is currently my GP, strangely enough) said that one of the most remarkable things about walking around St Pauls during these riots was that certain streets were fantastically calm and quiet. You would never have known acts of extreme violence, pitched battles between rioters and police, were taking place only a couple of streets away. Molotov is the quiet streets during a riot, and it's knowing that just around the corner, people are smashing windows and burning cars.

b) Do a good mix of Molotov by taking everything out, and only putting back in the stuff that you like. Scrap the rest.

c) Webcams/webchats. Now, we've done this. We know that what happens is that we pull stupid faces into the camera for half an hour, then say goodnight. Shall we do it again sometime?