pay your respects - dave stafford

Dave Stafford, August 2010: “Pay Your Respects” is an unusual mixture of musical styles,  one of the most diverse records I’ve ever made.  I was extremely excited about the possibilities: what I could accomplish with loops, synthesizers, mixing song forms with loops, working with mixed/multimedia pieces...

 

I’m not completely convinced that as an album, it has a totally cohesive “identity”.  But it does present an astonishing variety of musical styles and experiences for the listener.  There is absolutely something for everyone here !

 

 

PAY YOUR RESPECTS

 

Having said that, if you consider each song separately, then you start to see some of the paths that I was starting to go down.  The title track, for example, is incredibly ambitious, and the only thing I find disappointing about it is that it really should have had DRUMS – but, I had no drums, nor drum machine – so it’s like a song with no beat.  

 

I like the long energy bow melody, and the mock-fretless bass, which was just a stock voice from the Yamaha DX7 – from a distance, sounding a LOT like a fretless bass.  Organs and ebow vying for front position, propelled by that bass -  I was into that sound because of Richard Sinclair, and the free way that he plays during his tenure with Camel (and Caravan, but I knew the music of Camel first), particularly on “A Live Record” – I was thinking about that when I did this bass part.

 

So the track starts out strong, with some heavy guitar and so on, but then, as it progress, it quickly becomes quite, quite strange – a very short volume control and keyboard motif leads to…a slightly longer Genesis-like interlude of picked acoustic Crafty guitar and tinkling synthesizer, with the synth playing atop the guitar in a different time signature….dissolving into a dissonant cascade of African marimba and synthesizer…which then leads to a very mournful, quiet jazz guitar led section, slow, stately, beautiful.

 

Then suddenly, the song mutates once again, suddenly becoming a strange multimedia experiment.  At this time, in 1995, I was very much influenced by the way Bill Nelson and others were inserting “found voices” into pieces of music, but I wanted to do it in a slightly different way.  So the mid section of Pay Your Respects was my first ever attempt at using found voices.

 

In this case, I used various pieces of dialogue from my favourite Korean TV show,  layered atop ebows, and other found voices, to try and paint some vocal material on top of this piece of music which is, at this point, getting stranger by the minute.  A new Crafty acoustic guitar piece emerges, with a sampled tabla backing, while a strange duet/war of sampled voices follows.

 

Then, a lonely reversed synthesizer, with bit of African marimba and African drum, provides the back drop to a long tale told again in Korean, first a male voice, then a female – and suddenly, this emerges back into MUSIC, with a lovely distorted lead guitar solo sitting top yet another acoustic Crafty guitar theme – again, only briefly…

 

Now, a shuddering, super high-speed auto-panned guitar introduces the next part, with an ominous mock bass and marimbas chattering in the background.  The autopanning slows as both ebow and high-speed guitars are worked in; with a wild burst of high-pitched high-speed guitar racing, clamouring to get to the end of this incredibly strange section of the song….

 

Winding down to earth, the panner speeds up again, wild descending high pitch guitar…falling now, into African drum and fretless bass, the male Korean voice again providing narration to various percussive events – the crowing of a cockerel – and we are back to the drumless “Pay Your Respects” theme, with ebow leading the way to a crashing end.

 

A LOT of musical and vocal information packed in, each listen reveals more detail, so while its a strange, strange way to start, this drumless, churning anthemic piece – and, its only the first track ! The rest of the pieces on the album have so much to offer...

 

 

KAMSA HAMNIDA

 

Now we move from the wholly experimental, the totally improvised, to the complete “other side” of Dave Stafford – a very, very composed track.  We now are working with the standard musical forms, and “Kamsa Hamnida” is one of a very few serious pseudo-classical compositions that have occasionally appeared in the Dave Stafford canon.  Two of those are on this album – amidst experimental music so diverse that they are nearly lost amidst the more experimental works.

 

“Kamsa Hamnida” has a simple chord structure and atmospheric-sounding guitar work. A picked figure is enhanced by both waves of volume pedal guitar and beautiful sounds from either the Yamaha DX7, the DX11 synthesizers, or both.

 

Meaning “thank you (formal)” in Korean, it is titled “Kamsa Hamnida” because I was so glad that I could actually create a serious piece of music using classical AND ambient elements - I felt thankful that the song came out quite well, hence the title.

 

What makes this track particularly magical is the use of reverse lead guitar as the main “melody”, so the track moves along, stately, quiet, sombre, serious, but this joyous reverse guitar, with shards of continuous-controller MIDI harmonised guitar accompanying, take this simple track and elevate it to something quite unearthly.

 

The guitar theme is picked up later by a harpsichord, more reverse guitar/harmoniser guitar beauty – and then, a brief wash of church organ arpeggios lead to a slowed repetition of the harpsichord part, followed by a super ambient reverse guitar section…and suddenly, the track disappears – a quiet moment of calm, peace, and melodic memory.

 

 

THE ROAD TO PONDICHERRY

 

Then, to keep the listener completely off-balance, the sound of hazard and fear returns in the form of the third track, “The Road To Pondicherry”.

 

This track is probably influenced mostly by Peter Hammill, and some of the amazing sounds that he was using on his albums, here, in this track, a sampled Indian drone is overlaid with a VERY heavily gated African marimba (gated so hard that you can’t really TELL it’s a wooden marimba), along with crying synthesizers that mourn that melody – the track is pure terror, it sounds like fear itself, like someone running, trying to escape evil by running down the road to Pondicherry.

 

It also brings to mind Peter Gabriel, some of the tracks on his third album used a lot of these “gated reverb” sounds, and I remember implanting a deliberate “Gabriel influence” there, I was perhaps thinking of “Not One Of Us”, “Lead A Normal Life” or “I Can’t Remember” when I was working on this song.  The ending of the piece especially reminds me of something from that highly influential third Peter Gabriel solo record.

 

 

RELENTLESS SCIENCE I

 

Next comes more dissonance and hazard, this is a piece that is purely of Guitar Craft, I would have recently been on a course, and consequently discovered this riff on the Crafty acoustic -  and then I immediately brought it to the world of electric guitar and distortion!  

 

“Relentless Science I” is exactly that, a riff, a riff-based work, a precise and simple riff, dissonant to begin with, made much more so by adding strange harmonic variations of it, and then scaling it up a couple of steps at a time as the piece progresses.

 

Back at home in the studio after the course, I would take that acoustic idea, and built up an electric version of it.  The very heavy distorted mock bass solo is actually a guitar, at the time, I was running multiple pitch pedals on multiple devices, and I had this two octaves down sound that also had pitched UP components, but it basically was an incredibly wicked sound for guitar, for soloing – so I played a sort of Tony Levin-inspired mock “bass” part on top of the harmonising electric Crafty guitars.

 

This is another piece that cried out for drums, it’s fine as it is, sure, although the dissonant melody is something that takes some getting used to.  If this and the title track had both had drums, the whole character of this record would have been vastly enhanced.

 

A chorus of ebows brings the song to its first false climax, the amazing guitar returns for another runaround solo, and wham, the snap ending to end all snap endings.

 

The interesting thing about this track is that even though the main melodic riff is “annoying” or dissonant, it sticks in your brain, you don’t forget it.  So much so, that 15 years after writing and recording it, I recently resurrected it in a new live version that I performed at the Tolbooth show in November 2009 – so “Relentless Science” has a continued existence even today.

 

 

SCHONSTE

 

Next, comes the second of the pseudo-classical pieces, this one quite a bit more complex musically than “Kamsa Hamnida”, and this time, for “Schonste” (which means “the most beautiful” in German) we have the ebow instead of the reverse guitars as the lead melodic instrument.

 

So the keyboard part would have been first, to set out the structure – first, a stately, descending motif, the bass part being in part inspired by the beautiful “Adagio for Strings and Organ In G Minor” by Tomaso Albinoni”, a piece that I personally find particularly inspirational, so I believe that the idea for the SLOWLY descending bass would have come from that – but the rest, is pure Dave Stafford.

 

Up to 1:35, the piece is pretty much “mock classical”, but then, from there, the piece changes, we suddenly have a slightly Allan Holdsworth-inspired/jazzy mid section, which is entirely due to the beautiful synth patch I used from the Yamaha DX11.  The ebows follow along, continuing the main melody throughout all the sections.  Another pause, and then…

 

The tiny jazz section immediately dissolves into clouds of heavily reverb organ arpeggios, this is a style I love, and have played on the piano since I was very young – full reverb, then just randomise chord arpeggios, manually of course!, up and down and over each other.  A new ebow melody emerges a top this cloud of organ arpeggios, the section meaning to be abstract, dreamy, to lead you towards the end.

 

Our original keyboard chordal section repeats, with the original ebow lead, but suddenly, before the melody can repeat, the tempo changes slightly, the music pauses, and the piece is “left hanging”, with an almost unfinished feel to it.

 

 

THE ULTIMATE SORROW

 

Another complete 180 degree turn of style is next, the absolutely well-titled “The Ultimate Sorrow”.

 

At this point, I had been looping guitar since 1989, so, for about five or six years, and I also had a better looping device by now, so I could really work with loops more and more, and as we will see, the next few albums abandon the “song” concept completely, and in fact for many years, I do nothing BUT loops.

 

This piece, one of many that were demo’d for the record, is obviously in a minor key, but it’s the wistful little bends, the sombre mood, the absolute feeling and SOUND of actual sorrow – that make this piece succeed so well.  Not overly busy, not too long – just long enough – it really hits the nail on the head in terms of a goal being set, and met.  

 

I was trying to make a sad-sounding loop – and I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. This is one of the two or three saddest sounding pieces I have ever done – the most obvious other one being “Last Walk Through The Orchards” from the “Other Memory” album, which is similar to this piece in terms of the amount of emotion that it conveys through the very simple device of harmonising energy bow guitars – in a minor key.

 

The ebow naturally sounds quite mournful, so if you add a dark reverb, and select minor key harmonies, it will tend to sound sorrowful.  Even more so, if that is your intent, which it obviously was with this track. This is definitely a candidate for the top spot within the “five saddest-sounding Dave Stafford loops”.

 

 

TABLA DOGMA

 

And now…for something completely different.  Sampled tabla, a rapidly picked acoustic guitar, lead off  “Tabla Dogma”, which starts drone-like, and then suddenly ends up once again in dissonant-Guitar-Craft-riff territory, with a crashing harmony set atop the rollicking tabla sample – this song is the soul brother of “Relentless Science” really – again, with a similar surprise-stop ending.

 

 

REVOLUTION NO. 17

 

The next track, “Revolution No. 17” was of a particular musical style that I had invented at the time, now that I had 196 seconds of loop available, I would occasionally, just for fun, make an off-the-cuff loop, with the following rules:  the loop would be LONG, 30 seconds or more so the listener is not as conscious of the repetitions; the content would be random and varied; injected mostly during the first two iterations of the loop; and then – just let it run.

 

The entire loop is running through a medium speed auto-panner, so that leads to some very strange “stereo” effects.  The sounds – well, there are one or two ebow drones, obviously, and then, a whole series of some of the stranger stock “sounds” on the Yamaha DX11.  I didn’t use the 11 as much as the 7, but the palette of sounds that the DX11 has is impressive, excellent and distinct from the more familiar DX7 sounds.

 

So I wanted to use some of those sounds, some of which do appear in the jazz section of “Schonste” or on other tracks on this album, so that’s exactly what I did – this piece is nothing more than a droning, auto-panned ebow or two, with many short, strange different DX11 sounds “dropped in” and then the loop is just left to run, then faded.

 

I did a lot of these “junk loops” (as I thought of them mentally) and mostly, they didn’t work out.  They would sound cluttered, or disjointed, or just not right, but this one, had a lovely, mysterious sound to it, I love some of the synth sounds, and I felt it was interesting enough to include on the record.  In hindsight, in some ways, it’s one of my favourite loops on the record (of the looped pieces, anyway).  I just like the feel of it.

 

On the original cassette version of “Pay Your Respects”, “Revolution No. 17” was the final track.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

When it came time to re-build the album for CD release, I took a look at all of the outtakes, and included those that I felt had the most musical merit (since I could now include more material due to the longer CD format).

 

A number of bonus tracks were then added to the CD release, and they have remained as an integral part of “Pay Your Respects” ever since.  I feel that they add a lot, the album was originally quite short, and while it was very varied, attempting many styles, sounds and approaches...the bonus tracks INCREASE that diversity, they show that in reality, the approach was EVEN MORE “broad brush” than it might have appeared when considering the original album without the bonus tracks.

 

 

WANDERING STAR

 

The first of these, “Wandering Star” is a piece using pitch-shifted ebow guitars, looped, the idea being that the backing loop is all high pitches, whereas the over the top distorted guitar solo covers the lower registers.  The track also has one of the first of many “gradual atmosphere changes” or treatments applied to it, in this case, a “dry to wet” approach; this is where during the mix process, the entire track is subjected to a “live” change of atmosphere, where the track starts completely dry, and then as it progresses, more and more and more reverb is added until the very end is enveloped in a massive cloud of mysterious reverb.  

 

I actually got the idea to do that from an XTC single, composed by the remarkable Andy Partridge, called “Great Fire”, where the entire track gradually goes deeper and deeper into a big, beautiful reverb right up to the very end, where it is just totally “drowned” in the most beautiful reverb sound imaginable.  What a brilliant idea!  So I thought - why not do that to a LOOP, and see how it works out?  I carried this technique forward for several pieces on several albums over the next ten years or so.

 

From this time forward, I would often do this to tracks, not always with reverb, not always going from dry to fully reverbed.  Sometimes I would start fully reverbed, and end up totally dry, other times, I would use other effects, choruses, flangers or phase shifters, gradually either appearing or disappearing as the track progresses.

 

Since these were loops, a big part of the process is the fact that you can leave the finished loop “running” for hours and hours and hours, and do different “treatments” to them using effects.  So a lot of the time, I would just trial different effects, and when I found one I liked, I would record it as a possible “version”.

 

I would often do this, taking the same loop, and making recording after recording after recording, each in a different reverb “room”, or with a different effect, applied to the ENTIRE TRACK.  Then at mix time, I would pick the version I liked best, or sometimes, versions, plural, if there was more than one take of excellent quality.

 

On later records, I took this idea to extremes, and in one case, for the track “Continuum” from the “Other Memory” album, I did seventeen different versions, each with a different solo on top of the loop as well, and then selected, in that case, the  “best three” versions for the album.  But that was an extreme case.

 

Sometimes I might just make one or two, sometimes half a dozen, sometimes, if it was really sounding interesting, even more.

 

Certain tracks really come alive when run through certain effects, and it can make a HUGE difference in the way a track sounds.  I was never afraid of running A WHOLE TRACK through effects, which would horrify most producers and engineers.

 

I did it every day!

 

Although to be fair, I don’t really do it anymore, or at least, not lately.

 

So “Wandering Star” became the first of many tracks that were “treated” with atmospheres, and in particular, an atmosphere that starts out totally dry, and ends up, at the end of the track, in a huge pool of reverb.

 

I think “Wandering Star” owes a lot to Frippertronics, more so than a lot of my pieces, because the background loops are fairly short, the solos, long and sinuous.  Like a miniature Frippertronics piece – but still recognisably Dave Stafford.

 

 

KAYAGUM

 

The next track, “Kayagum”, is exactly that, it’s several different short loops I’d made of a kayagum, which is an ancient Korean instrument, with a distant rhythmic drum loop in the background.  This was just done for the sheer fun of it, and I thought it had a unique and interesting sound, so it returned to the fold as a bonus track – yet again a different texture, on a record with more different textures than most.

 

RELENTLESS SCIENCE II

 

Then, we have an alternative (early, I think) version of “Relentless Science” so while it’s titled “Relentless Science II”, I think it was actually perhaps the first attempt, where the solo isn’t quite as precisely developed.  If you compare the two solos, the solo on version II is more improvised, whereas the “album version” (“Relentless Science I”) is more planned, more precise, and is more rigidly composed than this one.

 

Other than that, the loops are identical, it’s only the solo that differs, so, two very similar versions.

 

 

PSEUDO-SILK HAN-BOK

 

Next comes an uncharacteristic track, “Pseudo-Silk Hanbok” which is all about mood, it’s done entirely on synthesizer, into a big reverb room, and named because it bears a passing resemblance to the introduction of a Marillion song called “Pseudo-Silk Kimono” – the “Han-bok” referred to being the traditional female Korean dress as opposed to the traditional female Japanese “Kimono” – so it’s sort of a joke.  Sort of.  But, a pleasant enough little loop, I just liked the sound of it, so I added it back in.

 

 

THE DEATH OF MR. OH

 

Now we move to something extraordinary, “The Death Of Mr. Oh”.  At the time, I was working a lot with MIDI continuous controller pedals, of which I had two, and I spent a long time creating various harmoniser and reverb patches, so that while I was playing guitar, I could make radical and very strange, in the case of this particular customised continuous controller patch, alterations to the sound of both loop and guitar.

 

In this instance, I had built a truly strange harmoniser patch, one that simultaneously sent pitches BOTH up AND down, and at some really odd pitch intervals.

 

So, I took a loop that was playing, and then played live ebow guitar over it, operating the CC pedal as I played – and this is what came out!!  I feel that it’s a really remarkable and truly experimental sound, I’ve never heard a track quite like it.  As the pedal moves, it does the strangest things to, alternatively, the loop, the notes of the loop, the entire piece, the solo, and, the notes of the solo.  Strange, strange events – all thanks to the continuous controller patch “Dave’s Strange Pitch Pedal” (it was called something like that).

 

I love how at the start it just grabs the whole loop, and sends it into various pitch heavens and hells – your brain literally cannot anticipate next where the pitch, or the notes, will go.  I love it !  I wish I had done more with this.  With this track, I achieved a unique and “fun” sound, which is really all thanks to the remarkable Digitech TSR-24S 24-bit reverb.  CC pedals are really a lot of fun if you take the time to understand the power that they have – to MUTATE your guitar sound, to MORPH it, AS you are playing.  Brilliant!

 

 

DECIMAS RETURINING

 

Next comes another sort of alien movie soundtrack, this is “Decimas Returning” named in honour of some badly-created alien characters from the UK sci-fi series “Blake’s 7”.  The strange alien sounds that you hear at the start and throughout this track (some of which are also present on “Revolution No. 17 I might point out) really reminded me of these small scurrying aliens.  A reversed, whooshing background of unknown origin supports the strange rhythmic loop of odd, stock, Yamaha DX11 sounds.  This is another of those rare pieces that utilises ONLY synthesizer, no guitars.

 

 

OUTRO

 

And finally, or, almost finally, we have “Outro” which was literally just a fragment of a guitar solo that originally went on a lot longer, as a whole, it wasn’t good, but this one fragment was quite determined and of a reasonable quality, so somehow I constructed a backing track for it, and salvaged it, turning it into this very brief piece which is the closing piece of the compact disc version of “Pay Your Respects”.

 

 

SECRET HEMP (HIDDEN TRACK)

 

Then, if you leave the CD playing, and you wait for 17 minutes, there is one of those annoying “hidden tracks”, which is an un-credited cover version, a rare vocal work for me, the strange tone poem “Hemp”, which originally appeared on the third Living Colour album, “Stain” (one of my favourite groups and one of my favourite albums at the time) – this is my pathetic, all synth attempt at the beautiful guitar synth that Vernon Reid uses on the real version.  Since it was less than satisfactory to me personally – I mean, OK, it sounds LIKE the original, but it’s one of those tracks that one should NEVER try to cover – and I did anyway.  

 

So “Secret Hemp” was the final, hidden track on the “Pay Your Respects” album (CD version).  

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

If someone levied the criticism that “Pay Your Respects” is stylistically all over the map…I could and would hardly argue.  I would however, say that in terms of true experimentation, that it really pushes some musical barriers, and presents some unusual juxtapositions of instruments and musical ingredients.  It’s never boring, always engaging, there is always something new going on to catch the ear.

 

Taken track by track, there is a lot on offer in this most interesting and quite experimental album.

 

1994 and 1995 were the busiest, most musically prolific years of my life.  When I “moved” the pureambient catalogue from analog to digital, several cassette albums were never released on CD, and still to this day are languishing in the vault, along with a large number of unreleased Bindlestiff tracks as well.

 

I had produced SO much material that I literally could not find the time to convert it all to digital, so I re-compiled, compressed, and altered things, only selecting “the best” works to bring over to digital.

 

Four cassette albums from 1994 have yet to see the light of day, and there are countless additional outtakes and sessions and raw loops and other material, created just before and roughly around the time of “Pay Your Respects” that it was difficult indeed to select what to move forward with and what to leave behind.

 

Obviously, if time permits, I would go back and look at the possible digitising and eventual release of some of those lost works, but in the meantime, there is a very large and diverse digital catalogue to explore in any case.

 

“Pay Your Respects” was a starting point for me, a place that I could move forward from and quite soon afterwards, I found that I was leaving behind the song form, which is still well represented on this release, and very soon, I would create album after album after album of….loops.  So now, onwards, to the Looping Years….

 

 

 

Please see the entry for “Charm Zone” to read what happens next - the previous album is “Voices From The Desert”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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pay your respects

dave stafford

1995

active / ambient

notes from the guitarist’s seat:

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quiet... peaceful...  ambient music.  pureambient music.

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