Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Fergus Kelly - Scenes Unseen

This piece celebrates Wire's 40th anniversary, which fell on the 1st of April, the date of their first gig as a four piece in 1977, at The Roxy.
It's a light-hearted, affectionate tribute which takes edits of songs from the first phase of activity ('77 - '80) as a springboard, tapping into various suggested cultural reference points, and interviews with the band, which are threaded through with humourous asides via Max Wall, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Monty Python, Steptoe & Son etc., the music of The Beatles, Captain Beefheart, Roxy Music, Small Faces, Frank Ifield, Helen Shapiro and other conceptual/thematic tie-ins.
For example, my way of deciding on what elements of field recording to include were to scan lyrics and draw out some salient aspects. The image of water features a fair bit, a train (Other Window), fireworks (French Film Blurred), shark ('A dorsal fin breaks the water..'), but instead of an actual shark recording, I used some of the Jaws soundtrack.
There were some unintentional synchronicities, such as when Colin is talking about The 15th, and the clip about decimalisation happening on the 15th of February 1971.. which also ties in with the fact that he says 'if I had a pound..' Cut to Taxman, cut to Rob's redundacy, cut to Cream (as Rob was a Ginger Baker fan), cut to Heartbeat, as Rob is the heartbeat of the band... and so on. I used some of Ligeti's music too, suggested by the fact that Colin remarked in Kevin Eden's Wire biography about MikeThorne's breadth of producer's experience encompassing everything from 'Ligeti to X-Ray Spex'.
The decision to limit the Wire source material to the first phase was taken for a number of reasons: firstly, in time-honoured Wire tradition, to keep it simple. Secondly, it's the period where I initially discovered them, via a schoolfriend who lent me a copy of 154, and my head was turned.
The spaces opened up by this record, musically and lyrically, were places I wanted to inhabit. I felt in my element. I was smitten. Gilbert & Lewis' inscrutable and intriguing cover design, coupled with Dave Dragon's art direction created an artifact that seemed to fit the music perfectly, but not in a literal way. I loved the openness and clarity of the Futura Medium font used for the lyrics.
Thirdly, the piece marks the 40th from the point of view of origins rather than an exhaustive overview. Something more chronologically comprehensive would've taken me considerably longer. Anyway, more than enough of a rich seam to mine in the first phase !
The piece functions more like a radio play or film for the ears, with a cast of characters that enter and leave at various points. The song edits are deliberately brief, which ties in with Wire's charcteristically stripped approach. They enter the scene, then exit stage left. There are jump cuts, cross-fades, subtle layerings, superimpositions, cross-hatches, buried fragments, partial echoes, glimpses, traces, imprints - parts of which will not be immediatley obvious on first listen. It's woven densely as a rich plunderphonic tapestry. A filmic trawl through various points and connections, a sonic constellation.
The title functions on a number of levels for me: on a basic level, it refers to the idea of a radio play being literally scenes you don't see, but hear. The strip-mining and re-combining of older Wire material to make 'new' tunes – ore from yore - could be taken as scenes unseen (harvesting the Harvest years). On a general level, the orchestration of all sources creates unique scenes.
There are also the theatrical echoes within the cover of Chairs Missing, with curtains framing the flower adorned table, lyrical echoes, 'never lacked a sense of theatre..', 'please don't turn a deaf ear..' 'symphonic in persuasion' and the 'unseen ruler'. Wire also famously flirted with absurdist theatrical elements at the end of the first phase, as captured on the Document & Eyewitness live album
Bovine Oboes (for Bruce Gilbert)
From sixty seconds to sixteen minutes and sixteen seconds, this piece made to mark Bruce's 70th moves away from my approach to the one I did for his 60th. It mines a number of sources mentioned in Kevin Eden's 1991 Wire biography, Everybody Loves A History - music he grew up with, the songs of Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra, and the music, pre-Wire, that influenced him in his 20s, such as Captain Beefheart and Roxy Music. I used these as a springboard to create electronic soundscapes, twisting and stretching edits and loops I'd made in Samplr on my iPad. Some edits were left recognisable, and form some of the rhythmic and melodic content, as well as serving as cultural reference points. The title is made from two halves of two anagrams derived from Bruce's albums Ab Ovo and In Esse. As a gift for Bruce, the piece was put on a 3” CDR sprayed white, with a cover design aping the periodic table, with the element number being Bruce's age, and the scientific number being his birthdate. Not sure how I hit on the idea, but there's a nice link with the fact that Bruce's album, Ordier, was released on US label Table Of The Elements.
Bruce had a fondness for war movies in the 70s, so that gave me free reign to explore various war noises and related references, including the theme tune from the 70s TV series The World At War. I wanted to broaden the mise-en-scene of the piece by including ads and sig. tunes from some 70s programmes, the shipping forecast, Monty Python, and some of my own field recordings to further enrich this plunderphonic tapestry. Some points of reference in terms of compositional methodology for me were elements of John Moran's 'The Manson Family, An Opera', Nurse With Wound's 'Sylvie & Babs', and early 80s Touch compilation tapes, with their penchant for odd confections of media snippets, loops and field recordings. Though not a conscious ploy, one of the Beefheart songs that I used, Veteran's Day Poppy, forms an interesting link with the WWII references.
Some of the TV sig. tunes and ads get a bit of a space theme going, what with the appearance of The Clangers, Star Trek and Dr. Who, as well as the spoof sci-fi ad for a popular freeze-dried potato product, Smash (also a post-Bruce Wire song title). The William Shatner voice-over snippets, “to explore strange new worlds”, and “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, can be taken as a lighthearted allusion to Bruce's sonic explorations. Cross-hatching some of the Sinatra material with the Beefheart songs threw up some fruitful collisions – a drum break from Moonlight On Vermont happened to nicely underscore a vocal snippet from Moonlight In Vermont, sung by Linda Ronstadt (born same year as Bruce). Amongst the studio goofery from Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica used in the piece, the “I run on beans” edit was echoed with a 70s ad for Heinz beans (“Don't be mean with the beans Mum, beans means Heinz !”). Some of the elements in this piece are woven a bit deeper in the mix, and won't necessarily reveal themselves on first listen. Other elements move around the stereo field to create a sense of momentum in a soundworld I like to think of more in terms of a radio play or cinema for the ears. It must be heard on a decent hi fi with good stereo separation, or on good headphones – not computer speakers…

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