other memory / sand island

dave stafford



Dave Stafford, August 2010: Originally two separate albums, “Other Memory” and “Sand Island” were soon merged into first; two complete albums on one cassette, and then; two complete albums on CD with bonus tracks.


The albums were made at the same time, 1996, and, in the same way that “LOUD” is really the outtakes and jams from “Quiet”, the tracks from “Sand Island” were really the outtakes and jams and improvs and loops that were too strange for “Other Memory”.


So, “Other Memory” is the album I set out to make, loosely based on the final two novels in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series, and “Sand Island” is a second record that accidentally got made at the same time.


When I combined them, perhaps just a few months after “Sand Island” was released, I was realistic enough to realise that in some ways, this was really just one very large work, featuring a new idea, the “short loop” but also encompassing some more experimental loops that were originally compiled on “Sand Island”.


In 1994/1995, Bindlestiff had moved more and more towards “long form” looping, which is eminently suited for ambient music, particularly in live rehearsals and in live performance, we seemed to have two “lengths” for loops – 3 to 6 minutes, or 12 – 17 minutes.  Not much in between, although there are some around the ten minute mark.


The long form loop reached maturity on “Quiet”, “LOUD” and particularly on “Distant” from the Bindlestiff catalogue, but when it came time to work on my first post-Bindlestiff solo album, I decided that I wanted to move away from the long form, and see if it was possible to still achieve the kind of hypnotic, repetitive ambience that the long loops always seemed to have, but - could I do it in much shorter form?


That was the question I wanted to answer, and I believe that these two records answer that question well.


It’s interesting to note that the longest track on “Other Memory” is the first one, at 3:32, and only two of the tracks even pass the three-minute mark.


“Sand Island” is similarly made up of very short pieces, with only two full-length pieces in evidence, one of which is a bonus track.  Originally, all of these tracks were of an extremely short duration, and the majority of the tracks remain that way – by intent.


Now, at this point in time, I have graduated from my somewhat limiting 8 second delay, and am now working exclusively with the Oberheim Echoplex Pro, which not only boasts 196 seconds of loop or delay, but can be split into multiple loops, and also has many other excellent and exclusive features that many loopers do not have.


One of those features, “Multiply” is a very simple but very brilliant concept.  You can record a short loop say, maybe 6 or 8 seconds long – let’s say 8 seconds, and then lock that in.  So it repeats, over and over, every 8 seconds.  Now, you hit “Overdub”, then “Multiply”, and start recording a second loop on top of the original.  Now normally, this new overdubbed sound would just be 8 seconds long, if you had chosen “Overdub” only.  But by using multiply, it allows you to play a LONGER loop on top of the original, and as long as you leave it on, it keeps “multiplying” until it runs out of headroom.  So if you did just one iteration of “Multiply”, what you would have is:


Two iterations of your original 8 second loop, with one (new, longer - twice as long if you “Multiply” once) iteration of your overdub, which would loop every 16 seconds.


If you left “Multiply” on for longer, it would then go to the next length, which would be 32, seconds, so you would then have:


Four iterations of your original 8 second loop, with one (new, longer still)  iteration of your overdub, which would loop every 32 seconds.


However, it’s also possible to “Multiply” a MULTIPLIED loop.  So let’s say you have two iterations of 8 seconds and one iteration of 16 seconds, if you hit multiply AGAIN and left it one for 32 seconds, you would have:


Four iterations of your original 8 second loop

Two iterations of your first 16 second overdub loop

One iteration of your new overdub loop, which would loop after 32 seconds.


You can just keep going like this, for as long as the device has memory, until all 196 seconds of loop capacity is used up.


Given that I was working with shorter form loops,, I wanted to use the power of the Oberheim to pack as much pure musicality as I could into a short duration loop.  Using tools such as the “Multiply” tool was absolutely essential to the success of not only this record, but also of later loop albums.




So “Spider’s Web”, the first track on “Other Memory”, is a prime example of this technique, a “multiplied” loop.  I played the short, pizzicato guitar part first, a very short loop, and then locked it once I was happy.   It then loops around and around at whatever duration it is, from beginning to end.


Then, I hit “Overdub” and “Multiply”, and played a new overdub loop of long, sinuous energy bow guitar lines, I stopped “Multiply” after one multiplication, but I left “Overdub” on for a little while to add more backing ebows, so that the background for the picked part was as lush and beautiful as I could make it.


Once happy with that, I locked that loop too, and let the whole thing just run. Then I simply made a recording of the loop as it stood – the piece is done.


I used “Multiply” extensively over the coming years, in different ways, sometimes in conjunction with “Undo”, so you could start simple, build up, and then strip back, removing later overdubs, until only your original simple idea remained – the Oberheim’s design really gave me a creative edge that non-Oberheim users, people working with the JamMan or other available loopers, just did not have - which was a very fortuitous advantage for me.


I took the time to read the manual, to understand the difference between a quantized loop and an unquantized loop, to understand how “Multiply” and “Undo really work, how to set the feedback level, and at one point, I had footpedals attached to the Oberheim so I could control both output level AND feedback level with my feet.  This allowed me to change the character of how loops decayed, by gradually backing off the pedal with my foot as the piece progressed, which was just a really brilliant tool for live performance - and recording.


If I wanted all the parts up front, and desired a very dense sound, I would leave the feedback at full or nearly full, so that none or not very much sound would “decay” and disappear.  But for some pieces, I would reduce the feedback, so as you add new content with your guitar, the old content quickly disappears – which gives you a quickly-changing loop rather than a very, very gradually-changing one.


Of course, you can also achieve a very similar effect by using a very long delay, which naturally decays at some pre-defined rate, as opposed to using a loop, where you can “set” the feedback more readily - set it to 100% if you want to hear every bit of your content all the to the end of the piece, set it to less if want the “earlier” loops to fade away over time and be “overtaken” or “replaced” by the later loops.


For the latter half of the 90s, the Oberheim, in conjunction with the Digitech TSR-24S 24-bit reverb unit, were the mainstay of my set up.  In its most basic form, it would be ebow/guitar into the Oberheim, and then the output of the Oberheim, which is mono, sent to the Digitech were the mono output is converted into beautiful 24-bit stereo guitar.


Sometimes there were other devices in the chain, but the basic “looping with atmosphere“ was delivered by the Oberheim as the looper and the Digitech as the processor/treatment.  I can’t say enough how brilliant and intuitive the Oberheim design is, and with a little study, a little understanding – I was able to really use all of its features to create an almost bewildering array of “different sounding” loops.


It’s a remarkable tool, and I love using it, it’s really extremely versatile and capable.  Sure, there are now smaller, “better” loopers, and while some of them have innovative and excellent features, different features, very few of them pack the quadruple way wallop of “Multiply”/”Undo”/”Quantize”/”Reverse”, which to me are essential if you want the best “looping palette” to work with.





In the second piece from “Other Memory”, “Last Walk Through The Orchards”, I’m using the Oberheim in a different way, just basically using “Overdub” to layer and create the saddest, most heartbreaking A minor “chord” - a chord made of virtual energy bows - you have ever heard.


Once I had the background established, which is literally made up of multiple “A”, “C” and “E” notes, I then carefully played some long, heartbreaking ebow notes and small melodies, trying to be very careful not to disturb the wave of sadness of the backing track, but wanting to express the intent of the song – which is from the point of view of Odrade, of the Bene Gesserit, about to leave her sanctuary, to go off-planet, she takes one last walk through the familiar orchards, which touches off some very bittersweet memories, so by sticking to the minor theme, and keeping the ebows mostly inactive, I was able to evoke the mood of this event very well indeed.


A simple device – create a virtual ebow “chord” out of separate, overdubbed notes.  I used this device more than once, at different points for different reasons – sometimes to create a backdrop over which to solo, other times, as in this case, to evoke sadness – and this track is yet another candidate for the “top five saddest-sounding Dave Stafford loops”.





“Chapterhouse I” is from a series of very simple loops, a distinctive organ figure is the base loop, and then I play live, clean jazz guitar on top – the loop is dropped out just before the end, leaving the simple guitar line to end the piece alone.


A very short piece, but, again, capturing a mood, a moment, and I wanted the minimalist idea of leaving that guitar “unaccompanied” at the beginning and end of the track.  One of multiple versions recorded for the record, only some of which actually ended up on the album.





“Odrade Within” is another very simplified loop, a simple, clean picked electric guitar is the “base” loop, with a bass pickup jazz guitar style melody overlaid.  Again, extremely short duration, it is intentionally made to favour “mood over content”, and I think in a very short space of time, this piece creates a fair bit of feeling and emotion, and I feel that it succeeds well at creating a mini-world of introspection, thought-provoking and self-contained.


I thought of this piece as just being part of Odrade’s experiences, in the “Dune” books, there are many moments when you “see” the action taking place through Odrade’s perceptions, where she consults with “Odrade Within” for guidance, or to evoke actual physical experiences that she had, such as that last walk through the orchards, before going off-planet into danger.  So throughout “Other Memory”, are short, short “pieces” of her experience, expressed through very short loops or compositions that are meant to draw a quick sketch, be erased, turn the page, then, gone... Taken in total though, all the pieces as an aural experience, the pieces represent the feelings and experiences of this character in a unique, musical way.




Next comes one of my favourite “series” on the record, as described elsewhere, I would often create a loop and then perform different “versions” of it, and this is an excellent example of that technique.  I remember I spent most of a morning creating the “backing” for the “Continuum” series, which is a very complex loop indeed – it was created in one loop “slot” of the Oberheim, using “Overdub” and “Multiply” to create a certain sound, and then, COPIED OVER to another “slot” where a different overdub was added, so this allowed me to have one “base loop” (a complex one) that ran with TWO different overdubs, so what I could do, is while I am playing the lead guitar live on top of the track, I can “switch between” part A and part B, which makes it sound more like a song, having two “different” loops to solo over.


This took some time to work out, but literally, when I switch from loop 1 to loop 2, it was seamless, you could not tell, except, the overdub content, which was ebows, different ebows on loop 1 and others on loop 2, so it was like one continuous song (thanks to the BASE loop being identical in both loops) but with variation, achieved by manually switching the parts back and forth WHILE I play the lead solo over the top.


Because I was really enjoying the process, and the track, I ended up doing no less than SEVENTEEN different “versions”, each with a different duration, each with different “loop 1” and “loop 2” sections, in different orders and durations – and each time, playing quite different solos on top – sometimes just a solo, sometimes a solo with portions of it looped, sometimes MORE ebow loops with solos on top – many, many different variations, which took a few more hours.


The whole session probably lasted perhaps six hours, but it felt like I had been listening to the track all day and all night, so the name “Continuum” appeared in my brain, it was as if the track just went on forever, and I would occasionally “pop in”, play a new solo or loops or loops and solo on top, and then “pop back out”.


Later, I assessed the seventeen versions, picked the “best” one (take 3) but also found two others that I felt were very, very good, so in the best Dave Stafford tradition, I actually included THREE different versions of “Continuum” on the record.


“Continuum I” is one of the secondary takes, it’s quite lovely because the entire thing, loop, and solo, have been dropped into a very large reverb “room”, which really changes the character of the loop, and it blends together the soloing and the loop, because they are now all in the same “atmosphere”.


This version really shows the strength of the loop, which just sounds so developed, using bits of high pitch guitar courtesy of the Digitech Whammy II pedal, lots of very careful energy bow work, and just the driving, forward motion of the composition itself – and then suddenly, it ends, falling into the reverb and dissipating into nothingness.





Returning to the purer domain of the “all energy bow” type of loop, this is another wistful, plaintive, sorrowful and sad loop, this time with a fairly short duration “minor chord” ebow backing, built up of pulsing ebows, and then some high pitch and normal pitch energy bow overdubs, but with a slow descending bass line meant to evoke sadness.


This is a strange piece, because while it does sound sad, it actually has quite a bit of “movement”, it is fairly active (when compared to something like “Last Walk Through The Orchards”) but still somehow it achieves its goal, and automatically becomes yet another candidate for the “top five saddest-sounding Dave Stafford loops”.





Next comes “Nullentropy Capsule” and this is a loop containing various ebows, high-pitched ebows, and reverse guitar – once the loop was built and created, it was run through various treatments to see what “sounded best” and this unusual treatment, featuring a Phase Shifter, that I am manually altering the “speed” of as the take is being recorded (with a footpedal, no less, operated with my hand), came out a winner, and makes a lovely and surprising change from all the reverbs, echoes and delays that are so prevalent otherwise in a lot of ambient and loop works, my own included.


Being aware that there is a tendency to always use reverbs, echoes and loops, I thought that by treating an entire track with a manually speed-altered Phaser that I would end up with something a little different, which “Nullentropy Capsule” certainly is.


I think the phase shifter is an excellent effect, and is very underused of late, back in the day, it was the first and only “modulation” style effect we had available, and I can remember using devices such as the Electro-Harmonix “Small Stone”, and being amazed at what it could do sonically.  Of course, when you are making ambient music, or when you are looping, or in my case, when you are doing BOTH, the natural inclination (which I succumb to, in many, many cases) is to run the track through a large, luxurious reverb “room” to give the track ambience.


But in the world of effects, both the chorus and the flanger have tended to overshadow the reliable, trusty phase shifter, but I am delighted that Digitech took the time to include some really beautiful phase shifting patches in the TSR-24S - which is supposed to be a “reverb unit”!  Given a choice of very beautiful choruses, flangers or phase shifters, I think that most musicians would “reach for” the first two almost automatically, and leave the poor “old” phase shifter behind.


In this case, even though the track is entirely reverb-less, the phase shifter imbues a really dreamy quality that creates its own ambient “feel” - and its one that I really like the sound of.


I was glad that I took the time to try that voicing, and the ultra-slow sweep speeds available really help, I love the fact that you can pan SO slowly that is becomes almost imperceptible.  So on this record, and in a few spots here and there on other records, you can find loops not treated with reverbs, but with the trusty slow (or varispeed if I was in a CC pedal kind of mood) phase shifters - long may they reign in the world of effects.




“Continuum II” now appears, fading in fairly quickly, with a dry sound to begin, which shows the naked and almost piercing sound of the high pitched guitar loops (which, in extreme contrast, are reverbed almost completely away in “Continuum I”) and then reverb is added to the track as it is being recorded, gradually, slowly, increasing the amount of reverb, until it is up to near full... when the piece suddenly ends.


Since I was trying to see if short loops could succeed on a musical level as well as long ones obviously do, I was really experimenting with a LOT of different kinds of endings – one of the most successful being the sudden one.  You are listening to a loop, it’s starts lulling you in with it’s repetition, but instead of going on for 16 minutes like it normally would, after two minutes – it suddenly GOES.  Then, another one appears, which HOPEFULLY draws attention away from the fact that your feeling, when the last piece stops so suddenly, is “hey, I was listening to that – why didn’t it go on longer?” but hopefully this tactic keeps the listener moving through the pieces instead of fixating on a single piece, viewing and experiencing the record as one entity, rather than as a collection of unrelated “pieces”.





A fairly “typical” Dave Stafford loop of the time, it is a bit longer than most of these pieces, but it is built around both constant ebow notes and small sections of very emotional ebow melody indeed – creating a fairly sombre mood, the piece grows louder and louder as it progresses…but just gently repeating, with that one beautiful, long ebow note hopefully grabbing your attention each time it revolves.


Then the piece almost wanders away, blending towards silence and trailing away towards the next track.





Possibly one of the strangest “cover versions” of all time, but an interesting one – I’m using one of my favourite MIDI continuous controller patches on the Digitech TSR-24S, deliberately setting it an odd and slightly unsettling interval, so when it does create harmonies, most of them are “nice”, but some of them are “strange” – then once I had that set up, I might have manually adjusted it a little bit during the take – I just got the basic “Fantasia” CC pedal harmoniser guitar patch set up, with my odd interval selected on the CC pedal, and then played “Silent Night”, slowly, on the ebow – and this is what came out.


Not your usual Christmas cover, but, because it is quite unusual, I like it.





A slightly different version of the Chapterhouse theme, one of several that reappear in various guises as the album progresses.  As with other tracks where multiple versions had been recorded, I just recorded several, and then would select the best two, or the best three, or whatever seemed to suit, for the album, and in this way, you get a lot of different, yet recurring themes, that help give the entire record continuity.





“Continuum III” now follows, the strongest and “best” of the seventeen possible versions of the song.  Looking back at this piece from the vantage point of 2010, I see a very ambitious young guitarist trying very hard to play a solo that is “good enough” to match the very high quality of the “Continuum” loop.  That loop that had taken so long to build, it was constructed so carefully, involving so many hours of work - the question was - how do I do this piece justice?


The beginning is what amazes me still – the loop is running, but silenced, ready to bring in with a volume pedal.  So, I hit “record”, turn up my guitar, and just DIVE into the solo, as if it were already in progress, dead cold, and I nail the start, and then, WHILE I’M PLAYING this very difficult, jazz based solo, I bring in the loop, at the perfect moment, and then can relax and just solo away – well, I say relax, I tried this solo more than several times (after all, I did end up with seventeen takes to choose from!), and this is the only one that truly succeeds musically and contains no real faults.


Looking back across the entire Dave Stafford and Bindlestiff catalogue from the year 2010, I still consider the solo on this track to be one of the finest examples of the kind of guitar playing I am capable of when I am “on” (whatever THAT means!).  I was “on” that day, and the speed, quality and confidence that this solo exudes baffles me to this day – it sounds like someone else, I don’t really connect it with myself, although I “know” that I did it.


To start, cold, from silence, then bring the BACKING in, “in time”, and keep soloing as if nothing had happened – to then make it THROUGH that take – and end the track properly – what are the chances?  But – somehow, I managed it.


Certainly, “Continuum III” is the most successful of the “Continuum” series.  It should be noted that the guitar solo is 100% live, and there are no overdubs or edits of any kind.





This track actually HAS a real secret, which is that this is exactly the same loop as “Nullentropy Capsule”, only this time run through the more traditional reverb, but giving the piece a COMPLETELY different character than the other track.


This is one of many cases where there are several different versions of the same track, treated differently, but instead of numbering them, I took the time to give each an individual identity, by giving them unique names – so only if you pay close attention, would you even realise they are indeed the exact same track – just processed completely differently.





Of course this is a reference to Vincent Van Gogh, this is a mournful, beautiful little ebow loop, another of these fragile creations, with an “ebow chord” backing, and a short, mournful looped melody – the track appears, and the moment it has established its mood of sadness and thoughtfulness – it is gone.





Next comes a most unusual treatment, a “dry” treatment, back to the desert theme now, the very naked-sounding loop “Desert Watch Station” is another very short piece, appearing and disappearing almost before you are aware of it, but significantly different from most of the other tracks, due to the complete lack of reverb.


I did very few “dry” treatments, which of course is not a treatment at all, it is actually the COMPLETE lack of ANY treatment, but, on certain occasions, it just seems to be the most appropriate thing to do.  This track sounded BEST with no reverb, flanger, chorus, phase shifter - nothing did it justice, until I tried it with NOTHING.


I wish I had more “dry” versions of some of my loops, but at least there are a few here and there in the collection.





“Desert Watch Station” comes to a very surprising, sudden stop, bringing us to the third “version” of the “Chapterhouse” series, “Chapterhouse III”, the differences between the three versions, being more subtle than in other cases, but each one is subtly different from the others.  For me, it was more about “what kind of different atmospheres can I create” - even using the same basic loop, what variations can I achieve by simply treating the entire track with different reverbs, choruses, flangers or phasers - or by going a “gradual atmosphere change” or “reverb crossfade” - going from “dry to wet” or “wet to dry”?





And finally, to bring the album to a close, well, on the original cassette version anyway, is the lovely “Sea Child Within” – which is an ambient variation of a theme established early on by “Odrade Within” – again, this is the same track, just “treated” differently.  A lovely, wistful end, with the final note hanging in space….


A respectful space was placed at the end of “Sea Child Within” to prevent it from colliding musically with the opening track of “Sand Island”, which is a startlingly different kind of musical experience.





“Other Memory/Sand Island” is a bit unusual in that it only has two bonus tracks, one from “Other Memory” and one from “Sand Island”.


So on the CD version the bonus track from “Other Memory”, which is “Other Memory Within”, was placed at the VERY end of the disc, AFTER the bonus track from “Sand Island” – in an attempt to bring a continuity to the entire, combined suite of two albums.


You have all the tracks from “Other Memory”, then all the tracks from “Sand Island”, and THEN, the bonus track from “Sand Island”, followed by the ONE bonus track from “Other Memory”.  A most unusual arrangement, but, that’s what made sense to me at the time, and I still respect that decision today, which is why the overall running order remains unchanged from the CD running order.


I did want to make it clear though, that musically, and in terms of recording sessions, that “Other Memory Within” belongs firmly to the “Other Memory” album, while  “The Hang-Gul Suite” is clearly the outtake from “Sand Island” – because of the ordering, that may not be very clear despite the clue in the title of “Other Memory Within”.


The idea being to bring the whole experience full circle by “returning” to one of the primary themes from “Other Memory” AFTER all of “Sand Island” is concluded.






The first track on “Sand Island” is an utterly unique piece of music, which came to exist in a very strange way indeed. “The Living Reed” was unplanned, and it came into existence not when I was wanting to create a piece of music, but rather when I was trying to repair my pedalboard.


There was a loose connection in the board somewhere, and in order to troubleshoot, find, and replace the offending connector, I needed some “sound” to be constantly playing, so I could tell when the signal was good, or when it “cut out”.


So I grabbed my guitar, didn’t even put it on properly, and started playing totally random notes, set the looper to record, then overdub, and once there was a fair racket going, I locked the loop, set the guitar down, and proceeded with my troubleshooting.


It took a little while to find the connector that was acting up, and during that time, a very strange thing happened – I recognised, that as unlikely as it seemed, that this loop that had been going round and round and round while I searched for the bad connection – was actually MUSIC.


Now, in its original form, that fact was barely recognisable.  But after replacing the connector and soldering a new one into place, I turned to the running loop to see if I could enhance it so I could capture the essence of what I had almost subconsciously realised.


I tried various reverbs, and they were all unsuitable.  Tried other treatments, still no luck – until I decided to try the stock patch “Bright Detune” – one of my favourites on the Digitech TSR-24S for lead guitar work, but one that I would not normally run an entire track through. By manipulating the amount of chorus, I could “detune” the piece to a state where it made better musical sense than the un-effected version did. I am fairly certain that during the mastering process, I actually varied the speed of the Bright Detune patch, so some parts of the track are effected one way, other parts, at different speeds... which again, helped to shape the unusual character of the piece.


Once detuned, I mastered the track, and it was done.  This then became the obvious choice to lead off “Sand Island” – a bold statement, that would let the listener know that they were not in for an ordinary musical experience, perhaps, a way of saying, if you visit “Sand Island” – anything can happen, even an accident that became music.


Which is exactly what “The Living Reed” is – a piece of music created without intent, by accident – but because it played for quite some time, I started to “hear” something in the apparently unrelated notes, I love the timing of it, the way the notes cluster in a very unnatural way – because there is no plan, no intent, they were VERY quickly added in and locked, and the result, after the serious detune, is clusters of notes colliding in ways that I could NEVER have planned, or executed, if I had “tried”.


That is probably why I enjoy it so much, because it is music without a motive, without my interference – it just arrived and said to me “I am here, record me, you made me, you must now record me!” and I just went along with the idea.


So this piece, borne of accident, borne of random occurrence, but still close enough to being music to…be music, starts one of the more adventurous albums I’ve ever made.  





Following “The Living Reed” is “Kyung-Ju Temple I”, which is a “series” loop, using a process similar to the one used on the “Other Memory” album, wherein several versions are created, and then the “best” are selected for the final album running order.  This version is run through that lovely slowly auto-panning phaser, I remember going into the settings of the phaser voice, and slowing down the panning to the slowest possible setting – and then wishing it would go SLOWER still.


But it’s still a lovely, thick sound, and a very good “treatment” for this fairly hopeful-sounding loop, I think it’s a well-chosen atmosphere given the melodic and loop content involved.





Next comes a piece that is entirely inspired by Phil Manzanera, I had been listening to his album “Primitive Guitar”, and on one of the tracks on that album, he had these beautiful bending, harmonised guitars that I just loved.  So “The Crying Princess” came into being, which ended up sounding NOTHING like the Phil Manzanera track I was mentally emulating, but nonetheless has a remarkable musical life of it’s own.


Another series, then, treated in different ways, “The Crying Princess I” being the first treatment.  Version 1 is processed through something like a plate reverb, with a short reverb time, which lends it a particular, wistful sound.   





Nest, comes “Good-Soon”, a very different kind of loop – first, a short, repeating figure is recorded, as a short loop (in a similar way as the pizzicato loop in “Spider’s Web”, from “Other Memory”, was created) – then overdubbed repeatedly.  Then “Overdub” and “Multiply” are pressed on the Oberheim Echoplex Pro footswitch, and the long, sinuous ebow, a complete contrast to the strident, almost military cadence of the short, picked figure, is overlaid, with perhaps two iterations to give it a “loop” feel.





“Good-Soon” is complete, it just gets going and then is very, very suddenly stopped, only to be replaced by the very odd-sounding “Cheju Island” – which begins with a mysterious ebow, but then reveals its true origins – it is actually another of my “junk loops”, a long loop with a series of musical “events” that take place, over many, many seconds, perhaps over a minute, so the “repeat” point is not obvious, but there are just enough overdubs to give it a “loop” feel.


Some of the same Yamaha DX11 patches were used in this track as were included in the first representation of the “junk loop” format – “Revolution No. 17” – I quite liked some of those strange, almost jungle-like sounds, and took the opportunity to include them in a different “junk loop” – this one, moody, edgy – and then, gone before you realise.





Following directly on the heels of “Cheju Island” is the title track of the album, “Sand Island”, and this is a most unusual loop, with many, many layers, probably first, many long, ebow layers as a basis, and then later, the high-pitched guitars, and sliding whammy guitars (both courtesy of the Digitech Whammy II pedal) added as “overdubs” – a busy, cheerful loop, which again, only stays for a moment – and we now return to our first repeated theme, the second version of this series, “The Crying Princess II”, the same loop, but in a much deeper, darker reverb, which gives it a quite different character to the other versions, and also allows for the “sudden stop” – a way of ending loops that was becoming increasingly popular with me.





“The Crying Princess II”, the same loop as “The Crying Princess I”, but in a much deeper, darker reverb, which gives it a very different character to the other versions, and also allows for the “sudden stop” - a way of ending loops that was becoming increasingly popular with me.


Of all the thematic pieces on “Sand Island”, it is “The Crying Princess” that really gets stuck in my brain, those bends, that longing, wistful melody, the guitars gently bending in eerie harmony... an almost haunting theme.





Then, follows one of the very rare, “long” loops, that managed to creep onto this record.  “Willing Participation In The Dream” refers again to the Dune novels, and this is a rather strange loop that I did early on in the sessions, with some unusual rhythms and chordal resolutions that I was not wholly satisfied with, and I really did not know what on earth to DO with this loop.  


I tried various treatments, but I was never happy with it – until one day, when it struck me – it’s going TOO FAST, and it’s too high pitched – those were some of the issues that were making me unhappy with it, so it struck me that the thing to do was to slow it to HALF-SPEED.  This was duly done, by the simple yet effective method of recording at 15 inches per second and then lowering the tape speed to 7 ½ inches per second when mastering the final track.


By dropping it into a pleasant reverb as well, all of the problems with the track suddenly disappeared, and the resulting track has an incredibly relaxed, and relaxing, “feel” to it – it creates an atmosphere all its own, with moments of sadness, moments of hope, moments of happiness, and moments of mystery.


This is a case where you just have to be patient, you have something that you KNOW has musical value, but you have to work at finding the right tool or effect or treatment that brings that fact to the fore.  The simple act of slowing this track to half-speed, which took me many, many days to hit upon -  gave me one of the most beautiful tracks on the album.





Next comes “Hwang So-Ra”, and for those who are paying very good attention, you will notice that it contains a somewhat familiar pizzicato guitar figure – this track is simply the track “Spider’s Web”, the lead-off track on the “Other Memory” album – turned backwards.  


So from slowing a track to half-speed, to turning tracks backwards, or to treating entire tracks with washes of reverb, phaser, flanger, chorus or other modulation – I would try anything and everything to get unique sounding loops.





The third and final version of one of my absolute favourite themes from the album, “The Crying Princess III” – I’m not exactly sure what treatment this one got, I am guessing a mild reverse reverb effect, or possibly a short gated reverb, but whatever it is, it gives this version the most beautiful sound, each pause in the music is pregnant with expectation, until it resolves suddenly into silence.


Of the three versions selected for inclusion, this is the one that I really feel captures the feeling that I was trying to evoke the best - and it really does sound like a crying princess - a very mournful sound.





Before you can blink, a dreamy, reverbed wave of loop sound is coming at you, the next incarnation of another album theme, “Kyung-Ju Temple II”, this time run through a very, very large stereo reverb, which has the most amazing effect on both the sound of the loop and the sound of the high-pitched “overdubs” within it.


“Kyung-Ju Temple” is simply beautiful, like its namesake, this is probably my favourite of the two versions, the ebow wash so peaceful, the melodies excited, questing – and the high-pitched ebow melody is “answered” by a beautiful, reverb-drenched, low pitched one – a gorgeous accident, as they were overdubbed on different overdub “passes”. “Kyung-Ju Temple II” is an easily-overlooked highlight of this record.





“Hwang Jong-Taek is another “gradual atmosphere change” experiment, where the track begins drenched in reverb, with a lovely wah guitar working over a bed of massed energy bows, but, the reverb is gradually removed (so this is a “wet to dry” type of change) using a MIDI continuous controller pedal to slowly remove the reverb as the recording progresses. During the mastering of the track, until at the end, there is absolutely no reverb at all and you hear the true character of what was originally captured by the loop, the real recording, totally high and dry – and then, its over.


I love the wah-wah guitar, something I didn’t play a lot of back then, and the way the song becomes more and more sterile, more and more real, less of a dream, as it progressed.  This technique is of course more often done “the other way around” – e.g., start dry and move to a reverb sound (“dry to wet”), but I tried a few like this, where it is done with the effect on FULL to start, and then completely removed by the time the track ends (“wet to dry”).





This is a cheerful, busy little loop, with a lot of the famous Stafford high-pitched content, I was really getting a lot of mileage out of the Digitech Whammy II pedal, which I love and use to this day, and it features heavily on this and on other takes on the record.


At this point, it was very much a novelty to play notes two octaves above the top note on my guitar, so I did tend to take advantage of that.


The nice bit in this piece comes when the low-pitched, reverse ebow comes along and gives your ears a break from the high-pitched bits – that reversed part is really lovely.





Next comes another piece that came from nowhere, with a frightening, creepy, fantastic atmosphere.


This piece was not an accident, like “The Living Reed” was, but, the impetus for it was.  I was playing a note on the ebow, in preparation for a take, and using my Digitech Whammy II pedal – and I was changing from one setting to another rapidly.  I noticed that it sounded quite nice, and I wondered…


Could I somehow use this to create a piece of music?  I got a low note looped, a dark, constant noise, and then set up a fairly large reverb as well, so there would be a “cushion” for the sound to rest in.  I then, tapping quickly and rhythmically with my foot, tapped through all the settings (the different pitch patches that are the presets in the device) one by one, all the way around.  Thus was created the basis for “I Could Clearly Hear A Locust Singing”.


So from two octaves down to one octave down to one octave up to two octaves up, 4ths, 5ths, and then all the unusual “pitches” - your flatted 3rd, your 2nd and so on - and many others, a detune, and then – back around again.


The take was simple – start the drone loop going, wait for it to develop a presence, and then start stepping through the patches, step through the whole cycle, let the drone continue, then – LOCK the loop.


You then get this sort of “No Pussyfooting” type guitar sound for a moment, followed by the bizarre sequence of different pitches, then back to the drone for a moment, then the pitches, then the drone, then the pitches – and then - it’s over.


This was the final track on the original cassette of “Sand Island”. I felt that by beginning and ending with very, very unusual pieces, that this underpinned the loops and experiments in between – from strange to beautiful (hopefully) back to strange.





When the two albums were combined for CD release (since their individual running times were a bit on the short side, and the material was all fairly inter-related anyway, I felt it made sense to combine them into one big CD of “short loops”) two bonus tracks were added, the first that appears is actually the bonus track for “Sand Island”, which is, “The Hang-Gul Suite”.



THE HANG-GUL SUITE (Bonus Track from “Sand Island”)


This was a piece of music that I had been working on off and on throughout the “Sand Island” sessions, and again, I did not know what to do with it.  So when it came time to expand the original albums and add tracks, this became the absolutely obvious candidate for a bonus track from “Sand Island”.


This is one of my most interesting and successful “multimedia” pieces, and it incorporates dialogue from Korean television, music and sound effects from Korean television, and a series of musical events, ideas, and small pieces of music that tie it all together.


It starts with a group of young people arriving on Sand Island for their holiday (the title of the album has it’s roots in the TV program that produced these vocal sound bytes) and their excited chatter in Korean, followed by one character saying in English “OK!” which really gets the track started.


Energy bow guitars slowly grow around the voices, we hear the “OK”, more mumbled excitement, and then a gong is struck (this is from the TV audio samples, not done by me) as the ebow swells and dances around in stereo, slowly panning from side to side.


That then fades away, and we hear a woman’s voice, singing in Korean, (she is hanging the washing out to dry in the video) – a visitor arrives, and speaks with her…volume pedal guitars swell in the background, mellow, peaceful, beautiful…the piece comes to a complete standstill for a moment.  The folk song continues, and then…a very quickly picked figure emerges, with high-speed reverse ebow melodies on top of it, the pace of the picking increases, then decreases…and then suddenly, a piece of recorded music emerges, along with two male Korean voices, arguing – the recorded music actually playing on a jukebox on the TV soundtrack (again, from the audio samples, not played by me) as the argument progresses – then I join in on melodic distorted guitar, playing along with the television music, getting a really lively solo going and then, fading away into harmonics and a mad flurry of wah-wah guitar – the argument continues, my wah guitars following…then…quiet, a big reverb room, some final wah sounds, another ebow melody emerges, and then plays out into silence.


A bent harmonic brings us back to the plaintive folk song sung by the Korean housewife, we are back to the beginning of the track – ebow very very gently leading us towards the ending, which is again, the crashing of the gong, but this time, with a shouted admonition, and a strange, stuttering, high-speed-auto-panned bent note harmonic.  “The Hang-Gul Suite” has ended.


How on earth I actually assembled this, or performed it, or even more difficult to fathom, how I CONCEIVED it, I could not say from the vantage point of 2010.  But, listening to it now, I am extraordinarily proud of it, it’s uniqueness, and I feel very, very glad that I DID take the time to create this extraordinary piece of “musique concrete”.


OTHER MEMORY WITHIN (Bonus Track From “Other Memory”)


The CD version of “Sand Island” ends (and all versions now end), strangely, with the one bonus track from “Other Memory” included here, “Other Memory Within”.  In a similar way to that in which “Hwang So-Ra” is a reversed version of “Spider’s Web”, “Other Memory Within” is nothing more than “Odrade Within” reversed – but, if I hadn’t have told you that, you might not have realised – the track appears three times on “Other Memory”, twice, in the forwards direction, as “Odrade Within” and “Sea Child Within”, and finally, in the reverse direction, as “Other Memory Within” the only bonus track from “Other Memory” and the closing track of the “short loops” experiments, experiment which are represented equally well by both “Other Memory” and by “Sand Island”.


“Other Memory Within” brings the whole set to a lovely, introspective close, some tracks just really lend themselves to being turned backwards, and this track is one of those. Of course, this task is made much simpler by employing technology, in this case, the Oberheim Echoplex Pro – I recorded the loop, then mastered the two forward versions, then simple hit “Reverse” on the Oberheim, and, the loop sounded so good backwards, that I recorded versions of it running in reverse as well as the forward ones.


Of course, in the past, this would have involved much annoying turning over of reel-to-reel tapes, so it’s so much easier and faster to “reverse” music now than it used to be.  Almost every looping device I have ever owned had a “reverse” function, and I wouldn’t be without it.







I also have a device or two that allows me to play reverse lead guitar “in real time”, which to me is magic of the highest order, but, that, at this point in time, was still to come in the future, for now, I was happy enough with my technique of “looping it” with the Oberheim; being able to reverse it without turning reels over (bliss); and then “treating it” with the Digitech TSR-24S 24-bit reverb unit.


Other gear came and went, but these two devices were pivotal to the looping work I did on my solo albums as well as that within the work of Bindlestiff.


Thus, “Other Memory/Sand Island” were merged into one, and this remains one of the most exciting, experimental and gratifying recordings I’ve ever had the pure pleasure of making.  I believe that these two records prove unequivocally that short loops can and do work – they don’t ALL have to be over 10 minutes long (as so many ambient works are).


Less is more, indeed.



Please see the entry for “transitory” to read what happens next - the previous album is “charm zone”.


notes from the guitarist’s seat:



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

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