Music Matters
Back in the nineties I created a lot of essays all loosely joined by A being about music B memoir related and C pertaining to how place affects creating music and how one listens. A mixed memoir called "Music Matters". Much of it I would heartily disown now , but not all - and who am I to judge now that the work is done, anyway? So I am resolved to dripping out the essays over the next few months, often without comment, sometimes with.
Geoffrey Armes
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Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-07 01:19:28+02:00


In the spring I was up on the King's Road, to meet with Sam Alder at EG records, who was in my life as a kind of avuncular figure, proffering advice and guidance. He believed that I had talent worth nurturing, I of course believed that he should have signed me yesterday, and was resentful that he hadn’t. I had abandoned major-seven jazz-chord inflected styling and was instead exploring the world of ‘art’ material. This meant recording with a battery of borrowed percussion, my bass and guitar, and a tiny Casio keyboard. The ‘studio’ such as it was, consisted of two Revox half-track recorders on which I would ‘ping-pong’ material backwards and forwards, through a small stage mixer. I had found myself increasingly interested in non-vocal music, and the recordings reflected that, confining themselves primarily to groove and texture. Sam suggested that I needed to work on a ‘concept’ or ‘rationale’ for an album’s worth of material. The thing to remember, he said, was that you could put ‘anything over a funky beat’. He talked of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp and how they were ‘really serious’ about music, as a ‘spiritual path’ even, certainly as a vehicle for work on the self, as well as an earner of ‘daily bread’. In fact, to allude to a statement of the philosopher John Godolphin Bennett, the origin of the phrase ‘daily bread’ in The Lords Prayer was rooted in the idea of ‘spiritual sustenance’; and had nothing to do with the provision of food. He advised that if one was truly ‘natural’ for ‘this kind of music’ then it wasn’t worth compromising; it was an inner state of being that shouldn’t be messed with. Confusingly though, he then talked of reality in the music business, giving the example of Jon Hassell as someone who when forced to ‘compromise’, by accepting Brian Eno as equal partner and collaborator, had found this a bitter but beneficial pill to swallow. He suggested that my sound should go to New York, to the ‘Downtown Loft scene’. Sam was in the habit of taking the Concorde at regular intervals to New York for business meetings at that point, unfortunately I, who had never even flown, found the idea of that city distant and untenable. I left his office buoyant though,and strode off down the Kings Road, visions of future successes rolling through my eyes. Just before I left, he gave me an album.

Jon Hassell: Dream Theory in Malaya (1981), Possible Musics (1980): The white noise loaded breath was obtuse, but strangely attractive. Perspective fiddled with and distorted. This wasn’t the first time that I had heard ‘experimental’ music. In the years preceding Punk, John Peel would often play such sounds (Faust, Amon Dül 3, The Third Ear Band, The Soft Machine), but this had a single minded focus I hadn’t come across before. A very particular vision of sound, and of course the Northern Indian song inflected trumpet is otherworldly; wherever that is allowed to run free, good things follow. I was surprised at the lack of a funky beat.

The combination of baby-like moans and shakes placed directly in the ear, balanced with far off sounds with names like ‘Burundi cloud’ and ‘Distant Drum’, makes for disconcerting and hallucinatory experience.

caressed sound caressing the ear the voice human and utterly alien, caressed alien and utterly human voice circular and vibrating shimmers underlay all that water

Possible Worlds(1980): ‘Chemistry’: harmonics bounce and pop, watery drums lurch, slow unfolding layers, a bass ‘solo’... ‘Delta Rain Dream’ floods full band-width energetic trance inducing curling sound, over walls, and bending around this a dark breathy trumpet voice. Immersion. ‘Ba-Benzele’: a herald calls the coming good? That first call, then the answer from beyond the city walls, then the second, then the second response, until finally the rain is called and the people can raise parched tongues to the sky. As I listen to those thunder sounds, the temperature tangibly drops. ‘Rising Thermal 14’ 16’’ N; 32’ 28’’ E’: In the Sudan, birds are borne high, they survey the land below, waiting to swoop low again. The pilgrim, alone, stops to watch. ‘Charm (over Burundi Cloud)’: In the Sudan, in the middle of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, East of the White Nile, the full moon, light lacerating the stone hard pathways of the heights that rise above the camp. Hooded followers of the faith sit and pour tea, talking in soft voices. Ululating song pours from the throat of a man who sits cradling an oud. Above the heights, a mirage: a celestial city, busy with flyovers and trestle bridges, cars hurtling, businesses open and restaurants doing a brisk trade. Parallel fourths are winding and wending across hills, as in a recording studio the musicians sit and imbibe everything, playing both the desert and the town onto the tape....

Possible Worlds

Tynemouth 1981
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-06 00:07:18+02:00

1981 I went up to Newcastle, driving a battered Ford Transit van through the heaviest snow in decades, the heater inoperable, busting to piss every fifty miles, because of the amount of coffee consumed in the effort to stay warm and awake. Steve at the wheel, Gareth, a Geordie Tabla player tapping out intricate mixed metre rhythms on the dashboard next to me. The journey took twelve hours instead of the more normal five. The next day I walked the snow-crusted streets for the first time. I stood out on the bridge approach staring down at the rooftops and quay side market, the faded but elegant old-town spread underneath. Looking behind, the cathedral spires and shopping centres of Newcastle beckoned; pie shops caressing the air with steam. Ahead was Gateshead, brooding in dowdy satellite oblivion, cars streaming towards the motorway, the moors, the South. The Tyne was green and muddy, no boat stirred her to life save a solitary Navy schooner at berth on the South side. I photographed silent and surreptitious. The swing bridge island midstream was kissed with snow. The cottages on the South side glowed pink and soft in the Northern sunlight. Light careened and skidded around the snow covered rooftops and hillside, scrambled down to the lower banks and reentered Newcastle proper via the lower bridges that gaze at the Goliath towers of the higher crossway. Riots have come and gone in the rest of the country, but in Newcastle I’m told, with a smile, ‘no nothing happened here mate, just the usual Saturday night’. Newcastle still acts out the raids of a thousand years ago every weekend. In the small hours I tumble down the stairwell of the metro station into a crazy and comedic scene of fighting and verbal sparring. Boys on the down escalator call to the girls on the up: ‘show us yer tits!’. The girls reply ‘show us yer pricks,’ and this being Newcastle the boys oblige, laying their flaccid members out on the rubber bannister. Down on the platforms a cheerfully violent brawl breaks out, and spills onto the railway tracks, bodies running this way and that in a chaotic melee. Sunday morning I take the metro out to the coast, where waves pound the orange sand at Tynemouth Priory, and imagine the prows of long-ships breaking the head waters at the river mouth. I look across to the other bank, towards the mining communities of Durham, and the root of my paternal Grandparents’ emigration. They had ‘walked out,’ as ‘dating’ was called in the vernacular of the region, since the age of twelve. After marriage they traveled south to renew a lease on life that had ran out in the North during the depression of the ‘twenties. On the metro, traveling back into the centre of the town a sullen skinhead sits and cleans his boots with an old rag, which he then discards on the floor. At this point my mind first opens to the possibility of leaving England. This survey of the long road from the North down which my grandparents came has opened in me a remorseless desire, an onus even, to continue on, to search out further possibilities.

Back in the Nineties...
Geoffrey Armes - 2020-06-04 21:26:43+02:00

Back in the nineties I created a lot of essays all loosely joined by A being about music B memoir related and C pertaining to how place affects creating music and how one listens. A mixed memoir called "Music Matters". Much of it I would heartily disown now , but not all - and who am I to judge now that the work is done, anyway? So I am resolved to dripping out the essays over the next few months, often without comment, sometimes with.