Dave Stafford, August 2010: At roughly the same time that the first tracks for Bindlestiff’s
first album, “Early” were being created, I began on my own to experiment more directly
with looping on my own, as a solo guitarist, and “Voices From The Desert” is, again
similarly to “Early”, by Bindlestiff, a compilation of my very first, tentative,
experimental/looped solo works.
This sets the stage for a series of solo albums that would emerge more regularly
beginning in 1994/1995, but “Voices From The Desert” can be considered to be the
prototype, the first attempts at using loops, along with energy bows, as a musical
In the early 90s, I was absolutely restricted by the longest “looper” or looping
device that I owned, which at that time was only just 4 seconds in length. This
meant that most of the material on this first album is comprised of “short” loops,
which gives it a completely different character to later works where I had the luxury
of first 8 seconds, then 196 seconds, and eventually, 16 minutes of loop time available.
I believe on one track on this album, “The Scattering”, I may have had the loan of
Bryan’s 16-second delay, which would have seemed like an amazing thing to me at the
time - sixteen seconds. An eternity !
I’m not really sure, looking back through the mists of time to this first solo effort,
just what was used gear-wise, although in some cases I can made accurate guesses.
There is certainly a Boss DD-2 delay pedal, which was the first ever “looper” I
ever had, which I believe could do one second of loop.
Then I graduated to my first Digitech rack device, which could do four seconds of
loop – the DSP-128. This was my main looper for a year or two, until I graduated
first to 8 seconds with the Digitech RDS-8000, and then later, in 1995, to the exquisite
and full featured Oberheim Digital Echoplex Pro – with it’s amazing 196 seconds,
which could be one loop, or divided into up to as many as nine loops, quantized,
reversed, multiplied and otherwise manipulated in the most amazing ways.
But that was the future, back in the very early 90s, for these first five “loop experiments”,
most of the loops were one or two seconds long at the most. So of necessity, this
gives the pieces a very busy, choppy kind of feel, it was just impossible to do smooth,
long, beautiful loops WITHOUT a long delay device, so – well, you just “made do”
with what you had.
All five of these tracks take as their inspiration the novels of Frank Herbert, at
the time, I was re-reading the Dune series, in particular, the last two of the series,
and some of the moods and sounds just evoked mental images of that amazing, fictional
world – so all of the titles on this album, refer to different places and events
in the last two of the five main Dune novels.
TO WALK OUT OF THE SAREER
An unusual lead-off track, and I believe that this entire piece has been reversed.
What’s good about that is of course the whammy bar guitars go in the opposite direction
from normal, which creates a very unique sound, but then when the ebow melodies come
in – there is no sound on earth quite like a reverse ebow.
Mysterious, strange, this weird reverse melody on top of that throbbing, alien “thumper”
bass part – I really like this little piece.
The short loops set up an amazing rhythmic pattern, which to my mind reminds me mentally
of the “thumpers” that the Fremen used, while at the same time, also reminding of
the rhythmic noise of first contact heard in the radio telescope lab in the film
“Contact” – that thump, thump, thump, ominous, dark, that either meant the approach
of giant worms or the existence of far off aliens – recalling, somehow, both.
This little track just seemed like a nice little distraction, a way to ease into
this strange, repetitive, short-loop based music.
DAR AND TAR
The second track, “Dar and Tar”, referring to two of the Bene Gesserit characters
in the Dune series, is more an attempt to do a Fripp-style solo on top of a very
layered ebow backing. I spent ages layering ebow after ebow after ebow onto a giant,
virtual “A minor chord” created from long, individual ebow notes, that just goes
on and on, and then played distorted guitar solos on top. Originally, this had a
very “in-your-face”, noisy, distorted solo on top of most of it.
However, when it came time to remix it for digital, a few years later (the original
Voices From The Desert had first been released on cassette) for the CD release, I
felt so dissatisfied with the “lead guitar” playing, that I removed all of it, leaving
only this ominous, layered backing track, that slowly grows on your consciousness
as you listen. I feel it works far better standalone than it did as a backing –
it is just almost, but not quite, ambient.
Now we are moving into the real realm of ambient for the first time, with the 13
minute long opus “Ghola-Mentat”. This piece is both reversed, and I believe, also,
slowed down, slowed to half-speed by recording at 15 inches per second but then playing
back the tape at 7 ½ inches per second during mixing and mastering (the more I listen
to it, the more I believe that to be the case) but regardless of how I achieved it,
I am very proud of the strange, unearthly mood that this piece has.
Strangeness emanates from it, rather than it being a song or a tune or a track, it’s
really just a strange, subterranean, underworld, hidden, dark, slowed-to-a-crawl
ambient experience. The weird sounding, self-colliding, low-pitched reverse ebows
(apparently the sound of choice on this record) working away, bumping into each other
in random musical collisions, while other ebows drone quietly in support.
This is all energy bow, pretty much every sound on this record is an energy bow,
because, despite only having “short” time duration delays and loopers, I really wanted
to play LONG pieces with LONG notes, and to be able to create ambience using the
brilliant tool that an energy bow is.
“Ghola-Mentat” could be said to be one of my very first real successes at doing just
that – the piece can percolate away and 13 minutes slip by in what seems like 3,
or, it can grab you and pull you along, oh so slowly, and it seems like you are part
of it for hours, even though it’s really only … thirteen minutes long. It has almost
no sense of time, which is a quality that only the very best ambient pieces have.
And then we come to “The Scattering”, which is one of the longest pieces of music
I have ever recorded, and probably THE longest done at “one sitting”.
I remember for this track (which was “side two” on the original cassette) that I
set out to very purposefully see just how many loops I could manage to get going
at once, and then I was determined to see if I could “solo” to that for the entire
45 minute duration of the tape. I almost made it, it clocks in at 43:25, which is
very close indeed to the original intended target time.
It’s a piece that requires a long view, it requires patience, in that there is an
enormous amount of repetition, which is sometimes good, sometimes not, but if you
stick with it, there are some lovely changes of mood, where for example a long running
loop suddenly STOPS, leaving a beautiful silence, which the song then proceeds to
carry on over.
The ebow solo on top of this piece is truly remarkable, that I could play, with that
much bending, with those strange, atonal, Indian and other bizarre scales, with bent
harmonics, all that going on, for FORTY-THREE MINUTES plus, with the quality and
consistency with which I did – is remarkable.
And – recurring themes. At 11.44, suddenly, I am playing a melodic theme that I
hadn’t touched for many minutes. Certain ebow melodies crop up over and over, in
perhaps slightly different forms, at different times, during the piece.
The loops are short, tense, with a strange pulsing quality, like a nervous universe
of uncertain stars, all pulsing unhappily behind this bizarre energy bow melody.
I’ve never HEARD so much bending (the hardest thing to do of ALL with the ebow)
in an ebow solo, or so many pushed up/bent harmonic/vibrato sounds in my life.
The melody is very, very strange. The song just becomes more and more hypnotic as
it goes along, but the lead guitar retains your attention, keeping the elements,
somehow, all tied together.
Then, after what seems an eternity, suddenly, at about the 13:20 mark, one of the
loops stops (when I finally had a second, in between ebow solos) and there is this
amazing calm. Into which the melody plunges once again, but now, sounding strangely
different, the whole character of the atmosphere of the track changing in that one
act of me pushing that delay footswitch to “off”.
Also, the ebow solo takes some very unexpected turns, playing some VERY long notes,
and just doing the oddest, most unexpected things. Long, long bends, long, long notes,
atonal riffs, there is nothing “major scale” or “happy” here, this is a serious journey,
as “The Scattering” is, which refers to millions of displaced people in the Dune
universe – well, this is the soundtrack to that event – millions of human beings
scattered to the farthest reaches of the universe during this cataclysmic musical
event. The ebow drives them there, atop the massed, short, pulsing, evolving short
Sometimes, the melody becomes dislocated, frantic, or does strange bends UP – again,
defying the logic of the ebow itself, this is such an unusual usage because of the
sheer quantity of bends and those strange, strange bent harmonics that end in finger-wagging
Moments of pure melody, where the ebow climbs up and down, moving into the desert
spaces, working along this amazing 43:25 timeline – the amount of concentration needed
to even make it through a take like this was phenomenal.
At about the 19:00 minute mark, some lovely, short bends, added into the loop, give
the next section a very sad, eerie feel – slowly changing the nature of the backing,
too, by making alterations as I went. Then picking up that impossible solo yet again,
and trying to propel it, and myself, through almost 45 minutes of music.
I believe there is only ONE of these, I made no other attempt, because I realised
I could not do it “better”, or more probably, I simply could not do it “AGAIN”.
So while it’s not exactly what I would call “easy listening”, it is hardcore ebow
lead guitar on top of an almost frantic, pulsating layer of yet more, still more,
After the intense experience of “The Scattering”, I felt it was best to return to
the more palatable world of ambient.
IN THE NO-GLOBE
The genesis and creation of “In The No-Globe” is shrouded in mystery, it has a lovely,
dark, super quiet sound that lends it an even more mysterious air, and I really just
don’t quite KNOW how I created this track. It’s intentionally very low level, mastered
and mixed down, normalised to a very low percentage, so it sounds much quieter than
the previous tracks.
This was intentional, I wanted something that was ethereal, almost non-existent,
to represent the experience of being in the No-Globe, a place where ordinary existence
is suspended while the outside world goes on around, out of sync, out of sight and
Wanting to capture the feel of being in a strange, quiet, detached “space”, again,
all of the sound in this track is certainly reversed, and possibly some or all of
it is also slowed to half-speed, in a similar fashion to “Ghola-Mentat” but with
a fairly different outcome. Particular attention was paid to the stereo effect,
although how this was achieved is beyond me.
While I can’t tell you a lot about how “In The No-Globe” was made, this was once
again, one of my very first forays into ambient, and I think this track is one of
the most successful on the album, and is a very good representation of using creativity
to achieve a particular goal. I really, really like the eerie, strange, sound of
this track, how it sounds like it’s slowly revolving, moving not just left and right
in the stereo field, but actually spinning AS it moves across…an almost imperceptible
feeling, lovely, delicate, so fragile that if you breathe, it might break.
Wind-like sounds, slow-swooshing like alien birds landing ever so deliberately in
an alien desert, winding down to earth, drifting, lost, bewildered creatures floating
through slow moving space and then suddenly alighting…only to lift off again and
float from space to space to space.
I can imagine that this could be the soundtrack to a dream, a strange sort of mildly
disturbing/while at the same time mildly exciting kind of sci-fi dream, where impossible
things are happening, impossible sights and sounds – and “In The No-Globe” is the
The quiet mix, the intentional bringing down of the album’s tempo, it goes from the
full on noise of “The Scattering” to whispered clouds of nearly invisible music,
cloaked in mysterious waves of ambient sound, gradually wandering off, disappearing
almost without you noticing.
Fading into silence, the track gradually dissolves into what becomes the conclusion
of the five unique moods that are the tracks that make up “Voices From The Desert”.
After 18 years, it still stands up well enough for a first try. I am certainly
very proud of the two very ambient tracks, and the rest have survived the test of
time well enough.
To attempt a forty-three minute piece armed only with the most primitive of looping
devices and to do as well as I did, well, the pieces on this record arrived easily
and naturally - not bad for a first attempt.