Brian’s latest album Drums Between the Bells, a collection of musical settings of poetry by Rick Holland was released this week, and I think it’s one of his finest. It’s an eclectic mix, distinctive narrators slowly delivering Rick’s text over backdrops that range from the hard hitting Glitch, the sublime Pour it Out and the more textural pieces like Dream Birds and Breath of Crows. There are several track previews at Warp’s microsite for the album.
My credit for this album was ‘Technologicality’, which sits nicely with previous credits from Brian of ‘Digital Archeologist’ and ‘Sonic Archivist’. I was nearly credited as ‘Rudder’ for Small Craft on a Milk Sea. In fact, I had little to do with the main album, aside from moving tracks between computers and some experiments with voice treatments on Glitch – I’m not sure if these were used in the final track.
I was, however, very happy to be tasked with compiling the instrumental album that forms the second disc of the 2 CD set. In principle this was a simple case of removing the vocals… but nothing is ever simple in Brian’s studio! For many of the tracks, Brian had taken old mixes from his archive, chopped them up, treated them and added new elements. Consequently there was a fair bit of archeology going on with this record too. I had to locate projects saved on long abandoned computers running old software, then attempt to recreate the mixes and reproduce the edits.
A few of the pieces required a little alteration before they stood up as instrumentals in their own right. Dream Birds, for example, has a twenty second section with only voice, so obviously that had to be shortened. Sounds are Alien and Glitch both have long sections with only a repeating drum loop, so I either shortened them or substituted more interesting passages from elsewhere. The Airmen drops down to just an electric piano loop in the vocal version, but for reasons I can’t quite put a finger on needed to drop down for twice as long. When I was disassembling Seed Pods, I discovered a percussive chordal part that had been muted, and included it in the instrumental version.
I love the combination of spoken word and vocal – in fact Tim Bowness and I recorded an unreleased spoken word album together about a decade ago – but it’s not for everyone, and I’m glad the instrumental album exists. I think they stand up well on their own, and in a few cases I possibly prefer the instrumental form. In particular the oppressive soundscape behind Fiercer Aisles comes through more without the vocals in the foreground.
The bonus album’s sequence was derived from weeks of considered debate and experiments…. well, actually no. When I played it back to Brian, we put it on random shuffle, found that the sequence worked rather well, made a few small adjustments and left it that way. By contrast, the main album went through a huge number of sequencing changes before Rick and Brian settled on the final one.
Today’s trivia: Grazyna, whose treated voice graces Glitch, also appears briefly 14 seconds into Brian’s tribute to Can.