title:

artist:

released:

genre:

 

live

bindlestiff

1994

semiambient

Dave Stafford, August 2010: By the time of the “Live” album, Bindlestiff has had perhaps 18 months to develop its repertoire and this was one of our more “high profile” gigs – we’d been invited especially by the Sonic Arts Gallery to play a special one-off concert.

 

It was very low-key, with a small but very attentive audience, and I will never forget the amazing sensation, of playing very carefully through our set, eight carefully-chosen, carefully-sequenced pieces, ending with our absolutely best piece, the stately, slowly developing loop that is “Without Difference”.

 

After the final track, the applause died down, and totally unplanned, unscripted, Bryan looked around the audience and said “are there any questions?”

 

There were.  In 1994, pretty much the last thing you might see on a night out to an unknown concert would be a live, looping ambient duo that sounded more like Brian Eno-meets-Bill Nelson than anything else.  So there were…questions.  A lively discussion followed for perhaps 15 minutes, and then…the show was over.

 

Unfortunately, no microphones of any kind were set up, as Bindlestiff did not have vocals or really believed much in “announcements”, we were an entirely instrumental band, and we would speak to the audience without microphones, from the stage, as appropriate. This is also why there is no crowd noise or applause on the record, it was recorded “direct”, no microphones whatsoever, so all that was captured was the sound of the band – nothing else, including the concluding question and answer session – was captured.

 

Another little known fact, during the set up for the show, the band noticed that the owners of the venue were at the back of the stage, having a little pre-gig “smoke” – so apparently, for them, booking an ambient band was a way to get high as well as hear some good music!  I’ll never forget that, I think they thought no one was watching, but it was obvious to me that the organisers were having a pre-concert party, wanting to upgrade their ambient experience with a little herbal “enhancement” !!

 

During the performance itself, each piece brought polite applause, but the audience was … quiet, almost as if they were afraid to disturb the music.  Which makes sense to me when I listen to it now, because the music is clearly coming from a very different place indeed.  It sounds fragile yet powerful, intense, otherworldly at times – but not like a “live band” that you might see on a casual night out.

 

This album really begins to show the musical prowess of the group, and the version of “All For Knot” here demonstrates that while the Dozey Lumps may have actually disbanded by 1992/93, that they were still, somehow,  very much alive and well in late 1994, where, in the middle of the electric loop “All For Knot”, this amazing reverb-laden, fragile beyond words, acoustic guitar duet takes place…and then fades away, only for the running loops of “All For Knot” to be picked up and honourably completed…not to mention the strangely-mixed but entirely viable version of the Lumps “Just Like Fog” – again, the Lumps had not really performed for the previous 12 - 18 months, yet, both “Just Like Fog” and the central acoustic solo within “All For Knot” are proof positive that the spirit of the band lived on, at least through the latter part of 1994.

 

As time went on, and we approached the final active/live performing year of the band, 1995, the acoustic pieces did disappear, probably first, “Just Like Fog” (because it was so bloody difficult to play) and then I think “All For Knot” – for the same reason.

 

I believe that originally, “All For Knot” did not have an acoustic midsection, and was instead, a new-ish 1994 Bindlestiff electric loop.  Not too long before this gig, the arrangement had been changed, and this incredible, delicate piece of acoustic loveliness was dropped right into the middle of a running piece of electric music.

 

What a brilliant thing to be a part of.

 

This is the actual, complete concert (minus end discussion) that occurred on that night back in 1994, what you hear is what occurred on the night.

 

 

THE NIGHT SKY

 

So beginning with “The Night Sky” – this was a relatively new composition, which had recently appeared in rehearsals, and it was and is one of the most formless of all Bindlestiff songs.  If I recall correctly, it took us a while to even figure out/remember “how it went” or even what it was called.

 

But by the time of this concert, it did have a reasonably well-developed form, and it’s a joy to play as it’s very much a piece constructed around a single chord.  The fade in, was actually how we started the piece, so what would happen would be, we would mute our instruments, and create a loop without being able to HEAR it, and then once we had our “silent loops” captured, we would look at each other, and gradually bring the sound in.

 

And then begin playing on top of, and altering, the loops we’d started with.  So for me, it’s just layered energy bow guitars, in a big reverb “room”, and for Bryan, many beautiful textural synthesizers, including a lovely “wispy” sound that I don’t recall being on earlier versions (there are many, many live versions of this track on various rehearsal tapes from 1994, all unreleased).

 

So this was the first official outing for “The Night Sky”, and I love this version, it’s just absolutely lovely, the energy bows long and sinuous, bending mysteriously on top of the lush backdrop that Bryan had created, a sound of mystery and intrigue with this strangely wailing ebow melody on top of it.  At one moment seeming ambient and lovely, the next, strange and almost dissonant, “The Night Sky” evokes a range of feelings that are very difficult to put a name to.

 

Starting with this track was a nice, effective way to lull our audience into a false sense of security, with something melodic and lovely and gentle and “nice”.

 

This was an intentional tactic because we were setting the stage for the next track in the set, which is an entirely different musical animal.

 

 

THE WALL OF NINTHS

 

This unusual track, title courtesy of Bryan Helm, began life, probably during rehearsals, when we did an improv that was quite, quite dissonant.  It was also a direct outgrowth from the fact that I had acquired my first proper synthesizer, a Yamaha DX7S, and I was now playing guitar AND synth at almost every live Bindlestiff show.  This really allowed us to stretch out, and the brilliant thing was, I could capture BOTH guitar and synth inside my loop, which suddenly gave ME many, many other amazing voices, but also became like a “third member” of the band – as if we were suddenly TWO synthesizer players and a guitarist, instead of one of each as we had been up until I started playing synth on stage.

 

So this dissonant improv we’d done in rehearsal, I remember thinking, I’ll NEVER be able to play THAT again, but, what we did was listen to the rehearsal take, and then sort of chose certain sounds and events we would ALWAYS incorporate – and then for the rest – total anarchy.  ANYTHING went.

 

If you listen to ten different takes of “The Wall Of Ninths” from 1994 – 1995, you will hear ten very different pieces of music, with very few elements in common.

 

It would run anywhere from six or seven minutes, to maybe fifteen in some extreme cases.  It’s only reliable characteristic, which is in EVERY take, is its consummate strangeness.  Weirdly harmonized ebow guitar notes, looped in an intentionally atonal way, with blasts of white noise, or my mysterious “motorcycle” voice on the synth, driving across the stereo image of the track.  Other whooshing and space ship noises emerging from both synths, in the end, I probably played MOSTLY synth and not a lot of guitar on this track.

 

But – always very enjoyable to make, because its just a lovely miasma of unrelated but beautiful sounds.  It sounds like a miniature science fiction movie sound track, but with ebows.  The version played here is quite short, but is quite representative of what “The Wall Of Ninths” sounds like.  For a contrast, it’s interesting to compare this 1994 version to the “studio” version from the “LOUD” album in 1995 – the same, yet, very different indeed.

 

Because another year had passed, so our approach to “The Wall Of Ninths” would have been altered by more shared experiences, so the 1995 version is longer, perhaps more varied – but undeniably, the very same song.

 

We probably placed the track second in the running order to get it out of the way, in the hope that that it wouldn’t scare them off, and that they would stay for the more melodic music to come.

 

 

DESCENT

 

Following on after this adventure in dissonance is another exercise in what I can only called “formlessness”, this track is perhaps most closely aligned with or akin to both “The Night Sky” and also “Without Difference” in that it rests basically on one tonality throughout, although in the case of “Descent”, there is a trademark moving bass line supplied by Bryan that makes it appear to have chord movement, but in fact it’s entirely based around one chord, just as “The Night Sky” is.

 

“Descent” had a long strange history, there had been an early cassette-only Bindlestiff track called “Spiral Ginger”, which I believe had acoustic guitars on it, but that somehow, I have no idea how, gradually evolved into “Descent”, which may have been the “electric” loops that had been originally laid over the acoustic guitars of “Spiral Ginger”…

 

So in the early 90s, you had, never released, only on cassette, “Spiral Ginger”, which mutated slowly into “Descent” by the time of this album in 1994, so it was “Descent” in 1994…interestingly, in 1995, when re-recorded for the “studio” album “Quiet” by then, it had acquired the title “Spiral Ginger/Descent” – so, full circle it goes…

 

Nonetheless, “Descent” is a lovely, quiet, ambient and very intense piece of music, which hopefully prepared the audience somewhat for the next piece, which is the aforementioned “All For Knot”.

 

 

ALL FOR KNOT

 

Feeling very “major scale” and upbeat when compared to the previous tracks in the set, it starts out with a lovely “jangly” loop courtesy of the Roland GP-16, my latest acquisition, which had been previously owned by Robert Fripp, and I was just coming to terms with the sounds it could make, and this lovely thin, jingly, jangly sound starts the piece, followed by a short, major scale ebow riff.

 

Bryan joins in with various lovely and ambient synth parts, we both solo, some bass notes are dropped in by our trusty synthesist, Mr. Helm – and then suddenly, as if from nowhere, this amazing acoustic guitar duet begins.  Sitting here listening to it 17 years later, I am still on the edge of my seat, waiting for the mistake that never comes, amazed at these two young men – having the sheer nerve to play this atop the strange array of electronic loops running away underneath.  

 

A number of different moods are explored, with Dave playing melody and Bryan playing an amazing and varied array of chordal and picked parts…which then dissolves into “picked” notes from both guitarists….which gradually leads to the end of the acoustic section…and then the piece reverts back to it’s ordinary guise as “All For Knot” – electronic loop.

 

Musically, now, I just never expect those guitars to come in.  You listen to the first three tracks, and you think – this is all ambient.  It’s all synths and ebows and stuff like that – so, this carefully prepared and expertly performed acoustic guitar duet is a real standout, and it makes both this song, “All For Knot” and the album from which it comes, “Live”, utterly unique in the Bindlestiff canon.

 

I am extremely proud of this track, I think it really shows, in one nearly 13 minute piece, just what we could accomplish with JUST TWO PEOPLE.  From lovely ebow melodies to wandering organs to the most amazing acoustic guitar parts…eventually, I take over on ebow, Bryan continues to play acoustic, picking notes mandolin style as only he can, and then eventually, he drops out, returns to the synth, and the piece winds down, sans acoustics (except for those that stayed in the running loops, of course!) to it’s foregone conclusion.  It’s “All For Knot”.

 

 

PACIFIC GRAVITY

 

Next comes “Pacific Gravity” which is unusual in that it’s one of those rare tracks where both Bryan and myself loop, and play, synthesizers ONLY – there are no guitars whatsoever.  The basis of the piece is a lovely, very simple bass line, which Bryan sets up at the beginning, and then we gradually join in with our varying keyboard parts.  None of these are proscribed, this is a very open-ended piece, sounding very different each time it’s played.  I would alternate between churchy organs and other washy sounds, where Bryan might be a bit more harmonically adventurous in terms of bending, modulation and warping sounds – although I certainly ALSO did all those things in this performance.

 

On the surface, it’s a very ambient piece, but interestingly, a lot of the playing is very, very active and quick – yet, the bass part, and the backing loops, keep it in the same mood, no matter where the soloists go.  This track is the only piece from the concert which can technically be considered to be “incomplete” – but only in the tiniest of ways – perhaps three quarters of the way along, the tape ran out.  Bryan noticed this immediately, and turned it over, but of course that means that several seconds at least, are “missing” from the track.

 

Later, back in the digital studio again, I managed to take the two halves and do a LONG crossfade, which seamlessly restored the entire piece, in much the same way that I repaired the blank section of “Ariel Adrift” (see the entry for “Early” by Bindlestiff).

 

In this version, we really stretch out, and there are some beautiful stereo moments, where synthesizers drift beautifully across the stereo field, and some ominous, bass laden moments, there are doldrums, where the piece almost comes to a halt…and then slowly, ever so incredibly slowly, builds itself back up again.

 

“Pacific Gravity” certainly falls into the “formless” category of ambient that Bindlestiff has many examples of, this version though, really captures the essence of what the track was supposed to be – a long, improvised, but basically calm, peaceful music journey.

 

We very, very rarely both played synth, or had tracks with absolutely no guitar.  Listening to this version of this lovely track, I now wish we had done so far, far more often.  It makes a very nice change from the “standard” configuration of looped keys/looped ebows that most of the songs are made up of.

 

An island of calm in the middle of the performance, where we could really stretch out and just dream musically.

 

Of course, the use of loops really, really thickens the sound, so you might have, the bass loop, and Bryan probably has another loop going, I probably have one or two going, and then we are both also playing live on top – sometimes textural/chordal live, sometimes “soloing”, so you do get the full, full sound of six, seven, eight, or more, keyboards layered on top of each other – but just the two musicians driving the piece.

 

A lovely, long, live fade takes us to the next track, which once again is something COMPLETELY different.

 

 

JUST LIKE FOG (BANK)

 

One of the very last live performances EVER of a track from the Dozey Lumps catalogue, this is one of the Lumps’ finest pieces, “Just Like Fog (Bank)”, which here, has a bit of a strangeness to it in terms of the way it’s mixed – we are both supposed to have a fair amount of reverb on our guitars, but, because it’s live, and we weren’t perhaps totally prepared for the switch from two synths to two acoustic guitars….

 

…it ends up that Bryan’s guitar (stereo left) has too little reverb, and my guitar (stereo right, lost in the clouds of reverb) has a bit too MUCH reverb.  However, the performance itself is good, we honourably discharge the song, and in some ways, release the legacy of the Lumps for good, because as we move into 1995, we’ll no longer perform this, or any pieces involving acoustic guitar.

 

So this is the farewell to the Dozey Lumps, three and a half minutes of acoustic guitar melancholy, which then leads to a Bindlestiff classic, at this point, we are wanting to pick up the mood of the concert a little bit, we’ve just had quite a few very serious, ambient pieces, so now we are going to do something active, to break up the pattern.

 

 

A CHINK IN THE ARMOR

 

This version of “A Chink In The Armor” is quite well developed, especially when you compare it to the very early version from the first album, “Early”. We played this track a lot, and as time went on, the intro got longer and longer and longer.  So this starts fairly ambient, with some long ebow notes, but then, quite suddenly, all hell breaks loose, I begin the ebow melody, and Bryan starts soloing furiously on Amazing Jazz Organ.  

 

I absolutely love this take – we dive into this song with purposeful intent, and I am just amazed by the intensity of the track.  We obviously KNOW this track inside out, Bryan is so, so comfortable with the organ parts, just comping and jamming and slamming as need be.

 

I get the ebow loop going consistently, and then bring in some live jazz guitar, which is possibly a bit less successful, even having a few very questionable notes at one point, but that’s really overshadowed by the quality of the rest of the track. The loops are impeccable, synced up MANUALLY, rockin, Bryan’s soloing is absolutely masterful, so, the guitarist is allowed to have his one moment of infamy…

 

A lot of different guitar tones are employed in this piece, to give the illusion that different guitarists are taking different solos, again courtesy of RF’s Roland GP-16 which has some really lovely guitar sounds available.  I made the most of the GP-16 in this particular track, getting a very thin, Strat-like sound out of my decidedly non-Strat Ibanez Destroyer – instant single coil sound at the push of a foot switch.

 

As the end nears, I start a slightly cloudy loop of single guitar notes, the track fades, and then the ebow returns to bring us full circle back to the beginning, again.  This was an unplanned and unusual ending, it just happened – and I think overall, except for that one somewhat hazardous moment of guitar solo, that this is a really excellent representation of what this track should be about – it’s fun, it’s got a beat, but it’s also got loops, lovely ebow lines, and some “normal” guitar solos as well as amazing, killer organ riffing from Mr. Helm.

 

One of Bryan’s finest moments, the composition that really got Bindlestiff going and was the one “constant” throughout our entire career – wherever we went, we always, always had, “A Chink In The Armor”.   I love it.

 

 

WITHOUT DIFFERENCE

 

So now, from this momentary diversion into a somewhat more normal sounding piece of music, we move to the final piece of the evening – and one of the most extraordinary pieces to evolve out of the minds of Bindlestiff.

 

At this point, we’ve already been rehearsing and performing “Without Difference” for some months, and that shows, this is a very mature version, stately, slow, deliberate, and absolutely gorgeous.

 

Earlier versions, just started out immediately with the main melodic themes.  But by this time, we’d slowed the track down, and added in a huge, super ambient ebow section in the beginning.  So we have effectively a couple of MINUTES where long, long ebow notes slowly grow and grow and grow and loop, melody lines are introduced, some are captured in the loop, some not…

 

The track builds so beautifully, even though there is a strange section after the introduction, I quickly re-establish that amazing energy bow melody, and Bryan underpins it with the synth wash from heaven…and “Without Difference” moves, almost imperceptibly, slowly, along to bring the show to a close.

 

Very quickly indeed, it quiets down again, becoming extremely minimal, with Bryan now taking over completely, adding in bass drones, lovely synth melodies, while I try to maintain a very ambient set of layered, long ebow notes to accompany him.

 

Another amazing, long, live fade, and slowly, “Without Difference” wanders off into the distance, ambient, calm, beautiful – this is one of my very favourite of ALL Bindlestiff tracks, and this live version is a lovely incarnation of it.  An unusual return of the ebow loop for a moment, and then, the show is over.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

The fact that this show took place in 1994 seem utterly irrelevant to me, it could have been last week, or next week, and it would still have the stately, timeless beauty that it does.

 

As with all live albums – it’s not perfect.  The musicians are human.  But given that this is just two people, and there is no clock or MIDI sync, EVERYTHING has to be done manually – I feel that this is a remarkable performance, and one that I enjoy very, very much, to this day.  “Live” has an otherworldly, fragile sound that I find absolutely irresistible.

 

 

 

Please see the entry for “longest” to read what happens next - the previous album is “early”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

notes from the guitarist’s seat:

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