title:

artist:

released:

genre:

 

quiet

bindlestiff

1995

pureambient

Dave Stafford, August 2010:  “Quiet” is quite simply, Bindlestiff’s masterwork.  Although nominally a studio album, most of it is actually “live” in the studio, as a lot of the Bindlestiff catalogue actually is.

 

“Quiet” was a record made from pure necessity.  The band had been rehearsing, making records, and occasionally performing for more than two years.  They had a well-developed and very well-rehearsed repertoire of songs and looped improvisations, and at that point, in late 1994/early 1995, there seemed no reason that this situation could not continue indefinitely.

 

But, unfortunately, there was.  Bryan’s family felt the need to move away from California, which at the time was a quite, quite expensive place to live, and move to Colorado.

 

While this didn’t put an immediate stop to the band, as some months remained before the split, it did mean that unless the band set out to record their repertoire NOW, it wasn’t ever going to happen.

 

So, quietly, with determination, they set out to make “Quiet”.  Many large ¼ inch reels were purchased.  Weekly recording sessions began to have a solid, repetitive existence.  Each Sunday morning then, for many, many months, the band would gather at Studio 17 to lay down tracks, almost always in “live” configuration, with the two players, each plugged into their respective pedal boards, through various processors, and then eventually each stereo output was plugged finally into two channels each, two stereo pairs, on the trusty TEAC 3340S four track reel to reel machine.

 

Then – we played.  I couldn’t say for how long, possibly, three or four months, maybe less, maybe more.  It eventually became clear that we had about 8 to 10 tracks of core ambient repertoire, that we felt best represented the band’s live output built up during 1993/1994/early 1995, and it was those 8 to 10 ambient tracks that we were attempting to capture which would make up “Quiet”.  

 

During the sessions, certain new pieces would suddenly appear, and would make themselves a part of the process.  So a couple of the pieces for Quiet emerged DURING the sessions, and were not part of the live repertoire.

 

Of course, there were another dozen songs, many of them again from the live repertoire, that the band felt were a little too “active” for the core album, and of course as we recorded, we would play ALL of the tracks from the repertoire, both quiet and loud, and again, a different group of “other” tracks emerged that would clearly become part of a second release, to be entitled “LOUD”.

 

This was fairly obvious from the start.  So from a starting point of trying to capture as many “good takes” of as many of the songs from our repertoire, whether quiet or loud – well, that was the initial idea.  In the same way that “new” tracks appeared for the main project, we also accidentally stumbled upon or created new active pieces as well, so those would then be “set aside” for the “LOUD” project.

 

After a number of months of work, we were “done”, and all that remained would be to assemble the two albums – while Bryan was busy assembling his family for the permanent move to Colorado.

 

Of course, Bindlestiff went on to actually make two more albums “at-a-distance” and while both of those, particularly “Distant” are of the highest quality, since they could no longer collaborate in real time, the “Quiet” sessions would be the last time that the full performance prowess of the band could, and would, be captured on a rolling tape.

 

The sessions were mostly relaxed, in fact sometimes, very, very quiet in themselves, Bryan would arrive, we would set up our gear, saying little, or even nothing…I would cue up a tape, hit record…and we would play, just like we had always played.

 

Even more occasionally, with no discussion, with no idea what key we were playing in, we would just launch into ambient or active improvs, and then a few moments later, stunned, listen back to a perfectly formed piece.  That didn’t happen often – but it did happen.  A few pieces on both “Quiet” and “LOUD” appeared in this unusual fashion, unplanned, unrehearsed, and we could never recreate them again – truly one of a kind pieces of music.

 

The magic for me was how effortless it all seemed, these tracks were NOT simple, not easy, yet we got not just one but multiple “good takes” of many of the tracks.

 

It didn’t seem like work, it seemed like something that NEEDED to be done, we needed to preserve not just the work of Bindlestiff, which was deserving in itself, as a unique and amazing catalogue of looped and live music, but also to honourably bring to a close a musical partnership that had begun back in 1988 when I met Bryan on my first Guitar Craft course in Malibu, California.

 

That partnership had seen two amazing groups come and go, first, the irrepressible Dozey Lumps, and now, the more ambient, perhaps slightly more serious musical endeavour that was Bindlestiff.  In fact, elements of the Lumps had been carried forward into Bindlestiff as can be heard on their 1994 “Live” album, so really you could almost look at the entire seven year period, from 1988 through 1995, as one long continuum and collaboration.  But the pinnacle of that creation is absolutely “Quiet”.

 

 

CONTINENTAL DIVISION

 

We begin with “Continental Division”, with its incredibly deliberate pace and sombre mood.  This would be one of the first times in my life that I was able to actually play melodic jazz guitar, working with new standard tuning now for some seven years at this point, I was beginning to achieve a tiny bit of fluency.  Tentative efforts like “Dos Vedanya, Tanya” from the first album are now giving way to serious, careful, melodies – and in this case, given the quality of the atmosphere that Bryan had created, I can hear myself being very careful about the beginning, being very careful about the middle, and being very careful about the ending.

 

This is really Bryan’s tune, and it’s at the start because it has drums, and as with Early, we sequenced the album with the intent of ending up with a very, very ambient feel, so “Continental Division” was placed at the start simply because it has drums, and the other tracks on “Quiet” do not.  Bryan sets up the loop in an identical manner each time. Once he has the drums and the backing keyboard patterns established, he fades the entire track in, and then begins to play live synthesizer on top.

 

All I have to do is play my quiet, careful, “jazz” solo, I don’t do any looping on this track, which is actually unusual – I just play the lead guitar. Bryan provides every other sound, and what a sound it is, oozing texture, with lovely filtered synthesizer sounds SLOWLY evolving, in both the loop and the added live material.  Subtle and beautifully executed organ melodies, work with both the backing and the lead guitar, pulling the whole piece into a cohesive whole.

 

At 1:43 I play a lovely circular riff, but no matter what I do, Bryan’s organ supports, enhances, dances around the guitar melody.  I am manually changing the amount of reverb on the guitar as I play, moving from very wet to very dry, using a MIDI continuous controller patch that controls reverb level.  This enables me to make “space” for Bryan, by sending the guitar notes out into reverb heaven, that brings the organ to the fore, when the guitar goes dry, it moves back up front.

 

The song is quite short, which is atypical for Bindlestiff, but it’s one of those pieces where there is just a certain amount we wanted to say, and no more.  It has an amazing sense of yearning about it, the title referring to the fact that very soon, Bryan and I were going to have half a continent between us, so there is a wistful, almost sorrowful feel to this song that I really love.

 

It should be noted that this is a live performance with no overdubs, recorded live to tape by two people.

 

 

WITHOUT DIFFERENCE

 

Next…well, it’s almost impossible to write about “Without Difference”, the best thing I could say is, you should really LISTEN to it.  This was another staple of live performance, being played at almost every Bindlestiff gig there was, and another piece that evolved over time.  This is a very mature version (especially if you compare it to early versions such as the one on the album “Live”) and after playing the track for a year or two, we’d made a lot of changes – the tempo is slower than it originally was, and the intro, much longer.

 

It begins with a delicacy that is so fragile, with careful, long ebow notes slowly introduced into the guitar loop, while Bryan is building up the most beautiful, textural backing imaginable with his synth, a sound so breathtaking I can just listen to HIS part for hours on end.  Eventually, the ebow begins it’s simple melodic theme, which is captured in the guitar loop so repeats for some time, while the waves of synth POUR across the track and across your mind.  I like the ebow melody, and the way the ebow loops, and the long intro and outro, but it’s those synths that really get to me now – just, so, so beautiful, as if Fripp were doing Frippertronics with a beautiful, synthesizer wash instead of a guitar.   

 

For me, this was always a highlight of any rehearsal or show, I enjoyed trying to match Bryan’s waves of beautiful keyboards with long, sinuous energy bow lines, and sometimes, I succeeded in doing so.  This version captures the essence of what “Without Difference” is all about, it’s peaceful, quiet, deliberate, but at the same time, ethereal and fragile.

 

Sometimes playing music like this was like walking a tightrope – one wrong note, and the magic of the piece might be shattered.  We were fortunate on this occasion.

 

The song gradually fades away, a live fade, because, this is another absolutely live take – live to tape.  If any song is, this is a song of peace, a song that asks us to live without differences, and you can hear the plea for peace in the waves of sound that gently wash over you – a really peaceful moment for the band.

 

 

SIMPLE TRUTH

 

This track was once criticised as being a little too “Windham Hill” but I really don’t see it that way.  I see Bryan’s “musical box” loop as childlike and wonderful, and the strings and bass parts that he layers on top of it are hardly “Windham Hill” – at times, they are nearly ominous.

 

This is my second real piece of “jazz guitar”, playing in a second, different key from Continental Division, again, this is pure joy for me, because Bryan carries the whole track – all I have to do is play lead guitar.  I would say this is far more challenging and difficult to execute than “Continental Division”, and I can remember struggling with my part.  We did many takes of this track on many different days, mostly waiting for me to get to a solo that I could be happy with.

 

And here it is. The execution is very similar to “Continental Division”, Bryan sets up the “musical box/tinkly” loop, fades it in, and then plays live synths and bass on top.  I come in with my guitar part, and I do my bit, but Bryan carries the entire piece, another tour de force one man band performance – and I just get to SOLO !

 

As a guitarist, I’d rarely had the luxury to just sit there, waiting for my cue, and JUST play a lead solo, and nothing else – what a pleasure, because I’d spent most of my life trying to play three things at once at all times.  Bryan’s textural, fully-formed backing tracks really allowed me this freedom that I had never had, and, consequently, it allowed me to REALLY concentrate on the solo – so I think in the case of “Simple Truth”, and also with “Continental Division” – I think my solos are much, much better than they might have been had I had to worry about looping, or playing keyboards or something at the same time.  What a wonderful feeling – just play my guitar!  And being able to get around in New Standard, and to be able to improvise a solo that fit the backing, it was an absolute joy to perform on this track.

 

It should be noted that “Simple Truth” is recorded live to tape.

 

 

PACIFIC GRAVITY

 

Next comes “Pacific Gravity”, the first “full length” piece presented here, clocking in at over eleven minutes, this was another piece from the live repertoire (as were the above three pieces, and most of the others on this record) that would vary significantly in performance.  Sometimes it might only last seven or eight minutes long, sometimes, fifteen or even more, sometimes, it would be very, very calm without a lot of activity, other times, it would sometimes really get going, lots of swirling synthesizers flying about the place.

 

This is unusual in that it’s a piece played in non-standard configuration: there are no guitars whatsoever, we both play, and loop, our respective synthesizers.  The song has an incredibly simple premise, it has a THREE-NOTE bass line, that Bryan loops at the beginning, which then repeats until the end.

 

After that – there are no real “rules”.  I can remember that we did have some structure, we would perhaps try to start out with less activity, maybe with certain voices, but later on, we threw caution to the winds, and basically, anything went.

 

And it did go.  I love this track, sometimes I can tell which one of us might be playing, other times, I have absolutely no idea.  Beautiful tinkling sounds or sombre church organs, melodic work, chordal work, I can remember trying to set up loops mid-song that would run for a minute or two, then I would dump them, and set up, record, and start another.  But you can’t really HEAR any of that going on – what you hear is, the piece as a whole, the sound of many, many looped synths, and two live ones.

 

How it was done, what actually happened – is difficult to say.  But because of the unusual “two synths” approach, and the fact that there are really no rules, it always had a certain “sound” to it, and this version does the concept complete justice.

 

I love how, at about 6:50, a sudden “calm” descends, a long, dark chord, ominously creeping up, backing off, creeping up…the piece almost STOPS, then, out of nowhere, a completely different sounding synth plays in an odd rhythm, then, crazy bending from Bryan – it really WAS “anything goes”, but when you take two creative, capable players, and remove 98% of the rules – I mean, all we had to do was make sure we “kept in tune” with the bass part, which was so minimalist that it was no effort to do that!

 

I love “Pacific Gravity” and I am very proud of this version.  It should be said, that on unheard outtakes, rehearsals and performances from 1994 and 1995, there will be OTHER versions of this song that are just as good as this one.  But luckily, we did well in this instance, and I think this is a very good representation indeed of a very unique and fun song to play.

 

It should be noted that “Pacific Gravity” was recorded live to tape as many tracks on this record were.

 

 

SPIRAL GINGER / DESCENT

 

“Spiral Ginger / Descent” moves us back into the world of guitar, in particular, energy bow guitar, and the piece begins with a very dense loop of many, many ebows, that I would have “set up” just before the song begins, and then faded it in to start the track.  So this is the reverse of “Continental Division” in terms of approach, this time, the ebow loop is the “backing track” (NOT the synth as it normally would be) that I fade in, and then we play live on top of it.

 

I don’t actually remember anything about doing this take, but I would say that this is a rare case where Bryan is playing guitar, possibly my acoustic guitar, because I can hear his trademark high-speed picking going on, and I would suppose that I am playing yet more ebow along to the loop – although possibly, we are BOTH playing acoustic guitar.

 

I believe that Bryan at least is also “looping” the acoustic guitar, so it will be a mixture of live and looped acoustic guitar atop the backing.

 

This song goes all the way back to our first record, although the actual form of it changed and changed again, as it’s name kept changing, and I would say it’s one of those pieces we never really understood or “learned” – but, it worked, it has the lovely descending motif, and we play it well here – a very good version of an unusual piece.

 

It should be noted that “Spiral Ginger / Descent” was recorded live to tape.

 

 

HIBERNATION

 

“Hibernation” is the next track, and it may be one of the few tracks that was NOT entirely live to tape.  This is a piece that just appeared, during the sessions, we had never played it in performance, and it occurred in the non-standard configuration, once again, we are both playing live and looping on synthesizer.

 

I believe though that the bass part in this track has been “reversed”, which at that point in time technology wise, would have meant physically turning the reel over to accomplish this.

 

My surmise here is that we did one take of double keyboards, turned it backwards, and then overdubbed it by playing live synths atop the running reverse track.  That sounds about right, but I actually cannot recall.  I do remember being very surprised by “Hibernation”, I think it has a really unique sound to it, unlike any other Bindlestiff track, and for that reason alone I love it.

 

It’s always a happy surprise to get a “free” track, something that literally comes out of nowhere – especially when it has an eerie, beautiful, unusual sound to it as “Hibernation” does.  So while not live to tape as most of the other tracks are, it’s still just two performances, it’s not deliberately or heavily overdubbed – so it luckily still sounds enough like the other material in substance to fit in well.

 

I think more than some, “Hibernation” actually SOUNDS like it’s title, when I hear it, I get a sense of something hibernating!  Of winters and springs and a long, long sleep.

 

 

SIGNS OF SPRING

 

After “Hibernation”, by accident or design, the next track is “Signs Of Spring”.  This is another gift.  Bryan was playing about with that “springy” bouncy keyboard sound, and I said – I like that, let’s just play something using that sound.

 

So I captured an ebow loop, and we rolled tape – Bryan started playing the synth, and I brought up my loop with my volume pedal.  I then added in live ebows as well as letting the loop come and go, the loop arrived in waves since it had a silence in it, which was ideal for highlighting the lovely, springy sounds that Bryan was making.

 

Six minutes fifteen of springtime, of flowers emerging and animals coming out of hibernation.  I am pretty sure that’s why we called it “Signs Of Spring” – because it’s sort of the cheery, musical “answer” to the sombre, moody “Hibernation”.

 

We just played this.  I think it was take one.  We’d never played it before, we never played it again, but I feel it’s just beautiful, so natural, it’s just very real, nothing pretentious, not over rehearsed – in fact, totally unrehearsed, I think this was done very, very quickly, and captured for posterity – and then it was gone again.

 

It should be noted that “Signs Of Spring” was recorded live to tape.

 

 

THIS QUIET MOMENT

 

“This Quiet Moment” follows, the third and perhaps most spectacular of the “gift tracks”, appearing from the ether one day.  This is completely live, there is no pre-recorded anything, we just start playing, and I am building a loop as we go.

 

Bryan leads with the organ, and I do my best to follow.  Just a lovely little short piece of music that once again, appeared literally from NOWHERE, graced us with its presence momentarily, and then left.

 

It should be noted that “This Quiet Moment” was recorded live to tape.

 

 

WHO IS NUMBER ONE?

 

The next track is really just an ambient adaptation of the familiar Guitar Craft exercise, but altered so heavily that it’s almost unrecognisable.  I believe that this is not live, but was done in a similar way to “Hibernation”, where there was one take of guitar and synth, and then a second take of additional synthesizers and ebow guitar solo – something like that.

 

I love the beautiful tinkly noises that Bryan introduces, that fall away with a couple of delay repeats at the end of each – really a lovely rhythmic device.  Part way through the track, I just stay on a REALLY long ebow note, and Bryan fades the loop away – we just gradually glide away from this simple yet effective piece.

 

Bryan also plays up a storm during the fade, doing a really nice little melody.  This was a track that we had never really played, it just happened quite quickly and once again, was gone.

 

 

INTO BLUE

 

And now, unto the final track – the exquisite “Into Blue”, which, at 23 minutes 20 seconds, was an indication of where the band was going to go next – to VERY long ambient improvisations.

 

I do not know if we played this “live” or not.  My feeling is, “not” – but I could be wrong.  I would say though, that at the very least, that there are ONLY two parts, one looped/live synthesizer, one looped/live ebow guitar.  

 

This was very much Bryan’s composition, I think he had created this amazing, beautiful, incredibly densely textured loop, and all I had to do was figure out what on earth to play on top of it.

 

In the end, I can remember playing and looping over it, I set up a long ebow loop with one very quick section, that revolved and revolved, and that “fast section” repeats over and over again during the unfolding of the track.

 

Other, very long ebow notes, were added to increase the ambience, one technique I had learned during the Bindlestiff years was that, if a loop got too “busy” while you were playing, the thing to do to “fix” that, was ALWAYS, ALWAYS, unlock the loop, and play some REALLY long notes into it – that has the effect of “masking” the busy parts and replacing them with something MUCH calmer.

 

So as the piece progresses, you hear that “fast part” move farther and farther away.  It’s interesting to note, that if you “just listen” to this piece, it seems very ambient, but actually, upon closer inspection, the instruments have quite a lot of “motion”.

 

This often happens – we have the perception that ambient is slow, that it has few notes, that it’s never quick or busy, but, strangely, some of the “most ambient” pieces that I am familiar with, actually have a lot of note activity in them.

 

“Into Blue” is one such – on the whole, it’s relaxing, meditative, calming – ambient.  But if you listen to that ebow, it’s really moving quite quickly and there are a lot of notes.  Luckily, the overall atmosphere triumphs, and the piece IS ambient.

 

I really enjoy “Into Blue”, and the longer, more introspective tracks like it – and I love what they lead to, our next album, even though made “at-a-distance”, “Distant”, is just three very, very long tracks, including an extended version, a heavily modified and extended version of “Into Blue” in fact, called “Into Violet”.

 

If you like “Into Blue”, you will probably like the album “Distant”.

 

This track is the inspiration for what later became “Distant”.

 

With “Into Blue”, the grand experiment comes to an end, and as a live performing unit, Bindlestiff also comes to an end.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

The band do go on to make three more albums, but the body of work represented by “Quiet” and its out take / companion piece “LOUD” will never be heard again in this world.

 

I think that “Quiet” is an unparalleled success, and it really shows the band in their best light.  It’s not often a band gets the chance to sit down and perform their live repertoire onto tape until they are happy with it, but, that’s the privilege we had, and “Quiet” is the end result of that work.

 

There are few albums that I am as proud of as I am of “Quiet”, and it should be said that this was so much due to the patience, persistence and amazing qualities that the “one-man looping band” man, Bryan Helm, brought to the table.

 

OK, I’m the guy who plays the ebow and the ebow loops.  The occasional synth, perhaps.  But Bryan holds this entire project together by creating the most amazing backdrops for me to solo over, which is just the most delightful palette to work with – when everything sounds perfect, it inspires you to greater heights, and working with Bryan on this record, really made me try harder, and play better, than I possibly ever had before.

 

We worked out ways to loop, ways to start, work through, and end pieces in the live to tape format, ways to get better and more beautiful sounds - we just got in there and did it.  It was an honour to take part in such a creation.

 

 

“Quiet” is a landmark album for both Bindlestiff, but also for me personally, I learned so much being in the band, techniques and creative ideas that I could then turn around and apply to my solo works – which is exactly what I did next.  This led to a much improved, a much better Dave Stafford in the studio.

 

 

Bryan Helm, while I moved on to the business of being a solo artist (and having no real vision of how that might work), packed his bags, and drove away with his family, to Colorado, never to return.  

 

The living, breathing musical being that Bindlestiff was existed no more, and while there were 3 more albums produced by the band after the amazing duo of “Quiet” and “LOUD” – we both knew that this, this – as exemplified in particular by “Quiet” – would never be again.

 

 

 

 

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

notes from the guitarist’s seat:

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