Dave Stafford, September 2010: The making of “Perchance To Dream” took quite some
time, because both Ken Mistove and myself wanted it to be something that was unique,
something a bit “different” from the Dave Stafford and Bindlestiff catalogues, something
that was a more advanced kind of ambience, something that really created it’s own
world, it’s own mood – it would take you some place special, and you would stay there,
entranced, until the entire record goes by.
We wanted to make a record that once you put it on, you would want to just let it
play forever and ever, it would just re-start, and you wouldn’t mind, you would let
it play through continuously.
Work started on the album not too terribly long after the release of the 1998 double-A
sided non-album single, “Furniture Music” b/w “Portrait Of Emiko With Moon And Stars”,
but while we started soon after that initial release, it took us a long, long time
to finish each track.
I am pretty certain that the tracks appear on the record in the order that they “appeared”
– there was no re-sequencing. So we started with “unglass”, worked on that until
we finished it, and then, moved onto “brittle” and so on, all the way to the last
track, “cloud 8”. I would also though, say that there was some overlap, I am conscious
that at some points in time, two or three of the tracks would exist simultaneously,
in varying states of readiness, but I am pretty sure we tried to finish them in the
same order they were created.
It also took us a while to figure out our methodology, at that time, file sharing
via the Internet was pretty much unheard of, so we were still at the stage of burning
tracks to CDs, wav files, and sending them back and forth via snail mail. A very
slow way to work, if you have to wait a week for an overdub to come back from New
Jersey and you are in California, or Ken would have to wait for me to send him a
CD from California – it took time.
And, we were also both very, very busy – Ken was developing his own looping software,
working with digital music in a myriad of ways, supporting the Elephant Tape web
site, and supporting pureambient.com both technically but also as a performing artist.
Meantime, I was working full time, trying to run the pureambient web site, and trying
to record, mix, master and press a huge number of CDs by a variety of artists who
were at that time part of the label. Not to mention the massive backlog of earlier
catalogue items that had only existed on analogue media – all those needed to be
transferred to digital and thence onto local CD manufacturing. I had a LOT on my
plate – we both did.
But we overcame these obstacles, and while it actually took somewhere between two
and three years to get the record done – I think it was, and is, well worth the wait.
This is a track that walks a tightrope between joy, peace and harmony and terrifying
disharmony and the musical mayhem of dissonance. It is at once - both light and
dark, happy and sad, joyful and terrifying – and that is by intent.
A bright, happy, major scale motif starts us out, and it’s just such a happy sound,
it’s made up, for my part, of energy bow guitar loops that have been treated with
modulation effects rather than reverb effects, probably using my old favourite, the
Bright Detune patch, which renders almost anything you process through it beautiful.
Gorgeous, quasi-percussive synthesizers and hand bell-like sounds ring out, as the
beautiful major chord “chorus of ebows” slowly and wonderfully modulates across the
sound field – and is very quickly joined by happy, bright, major-scale reverse clean
lead guitars, playing a very positive sounding, ascending scale – with a tiny hint
of hazard at around the one minute mark, but then, all is well, the sun is still
out, the tinkling percussion still sending out it’s ultra positive message…the reverse
guitars move down into the bass register, more ringing percussion comes flying out
– it’s the musical equivalent of heaven on earth.
Until…until just after 1:40, when the positive drone is suddenly overlaid with an
ominous, two-note trill, reminiscent (and indeed, inspired by) of the work of Robert
Fripp on the Fripp & Eno composition “An Index Of Metals”. Coupled with that ominous
trill, is a reverse, distorted guitar that climbs up quickly, in an almost ugly,
frightening pattern to a high note, but then is quickly choked off – this riff appears
again and again – and then, is suddenly gone.
Peace returns. While the ominous, overlaid loop was playing, unbeknownst to the
listener, a chorus of acoustic guitars had been gradually added to the piece, now
building up, many, many individual notes being picked at a constant pace over the
still droning major scale chorus of ebows.
As the piece progresses, more voices join the acoustic chorus – until there are many
harmonies, all picking at the same continuous rate, together, in stereo, some on
the left, some on the right, some in the middle, and then, some Mistove-magic synth-percussive
sounds join the ever-increasing twinkling guitars – then our happy, clean reverse
lead guitar returns, about five minutes into the piece, but of course we know what
that will eventually lead to – the loop plays out, the same reverse clean guitar
as in the opening sequence – all of my parts are loops, albeit long loops, except
of course for the acoustic, picked notes, which are just long live tracks, many,
many tracks, each containing a single, picked note.
And that is where the piece goes now, you think it’s going to go back to the “hazard”
part, because the reverse clean lead guitar returned, and that’s what heralded the
frightening part before, but not this time, we want to accentuate the positive, so
we have another lengthy section of again, building harmonies on the acoustic guitars,
as well as more beautiful, bright, shiny synth percussion from Ken – which just sparkles
over the top of my reverse guitar part so, so beautifully.
The twinkling guitars takes a back seat, the reverse guitar suddenly disappears,
and at last, our ominous friend, the disturbing, two-note trill plus ascending “Index
Of Metals” loop, returns, at about 8:10, to haunt us again with it’s terrifying demeanour.
After so many minutes of bright, happy, major key music, this simple, short, almost
creepy little loop sounds far more ominous than it might in a darker setting.
Our clean reverse guitar loop returns one last time, this time juxtaposed against
the looped backing in a slightly different way – now not quite as happy, but still
lifting the piece way back up after the dark passage.
At 10:05, more sparkling, amazing percussive bell-like sounds, like electronic bell-crickets,
appear, and the clean reverse melodic guitars drift across the stereo field gently
– and we realise we are safe, the terror won’t be returning again - the piece fades
quite suddenly into an amazing shower of magic Mistove “percussion” - and is gone.
This piece is as disturbing as “Unglass” is positive. Everything about this piece
indicates some kind of mild musical discomfort, and a very strange, chopped, brittle-sounding
bass riff gives the piece its name.
Sounds don’t so much appear in this piece as shudder into existence, and I love the
unique, almost unnatural musical atmosphere that this unusual work generates. Ken
has done some amazing panning work here, but it is subtly embedded in the overall
stereo field, so it’s not overly obvious – but there is a lot of really beautiful
“stereo” going on throughout this piece.
A distraught, minor key group of looped and layered sounds grows fairly quickly out
of the silence, now fading up quite quickly, and it’s such a bewildering array of
amazing and bizarre tonalities, that the ears, and the brain, don’t really know what
element or elements to try and focus on.
It’s a cohesive, “mixed” whole from the very beginning, yes, you can hear the stuttering,
frightening bass part, you can hear that loops of constant sound are occurring, you
can hear synthesizers playing long, long chords – but a lot of strange events occur
too, a note suddenly pulled down in pitch, or new sounds suddenly emerge, only to
almost immediately disappear again…before the brain can even identify “what” the
It’s like a wave, a big, shuddering wave, containing so many disturbing and uncertain
elements that you can’t really decipher what is IN the wave – is that a flute-like
sound? Is that some kind of warped low pitch piano note? Is it a massively frequency-modulated
synthesizer chord? A loop of heavily treated energy bows?
“Brittle” is both enigmatic but at the same time terrifying, it’s familiar, but not
comfortable – and it fills me with a sort of delighted uneasiness when I listen to
it. I love how many of the sounds almost seem to “shudder” rather than “flow”, I
love the fact that there are events of a short, medium, long and of a continuous
nature, all working together to create a brittle, fragile and somewhat uncomfortable
“place” that somehow, you are drawn to, the shuddering, juddering bumps and sharp
sound events surround you and are almost impossible to make cohesive sense of – so
your brain keeps trying to understand – what is this? Where am I?
Which to me, means, we succeeded in our goal of creating a piece that oozes atmosphere,
texture and a little bit of terror but is still ultimately compelling to the listener
– a unique musical world, that draws you in, and holds you there, safe in it’s terrified
I’ve never heard another piece quite like “Brittle”, which again, to me, is a message
of success, I feel it’s very unique, and I love the mystery and the sound of it.
And now we move into the realms of ambience that are neither light nor easy, that
are not for the faint of heart. Dark, dark and darker still, this is a very dense
piece, and it’s here that Ken really comes into his own again, providing a mind-boggling
array of textural elements.
“Dark Matter” doesn’t so much start as burst onto the scene, fully formed, with so
much activity that it’s difficult to comprehend quite what is going on at first,
but then it begins to settle down, and your brain can begin to assimilate it’s forms.
A long, ghostly, deep, thick loop fills the musical canvas, floating from side to
side, so intense that you think the speakers will burst, whilst mechanised, sequenced,
squeaking animalistic synthesizers fiddle around, meddling, a group of them on each
side of the stereo field, supporting the massive dark loop construction with an alien
chatter of fear and wonder.
Odd musical events keep occurring, but it’s hard to track them, a tiny burst of white
noise here, a strange quasi-piano there…
The title of the piece is so very appropriate, I could easily imagine in the darkness
of space, if stars and comets and black holes and matter and energy each made a sound,
that it would be a cacophonous, cavernous sound like what we hear on the track. “Dark
Matter” – out in the vastness of space, which is so well-suggested by that roaring,
beautiful, “wave” of sound that Ken lays over the stereo field over and over and
over again – it’s just remarkable how very atmospheric this piece gets in the very
short time that it plays - as the shortest of the five pieces on the record, we don’t
get to spend a lot of time here, but that is probably good, because even more so
than with “Brittle”, this is not a comfortable place to be.
In contrast to “Dark Matter”, this track is actually the second longest track on
the disc, and it’s a perfect representation of just why Stafford and Mistove work
together so incredibly well. In a “long form” piece like this, themes can really
develop, plus Ken Mistove had the opportunity, and took it, to do a very unique and
creative job of mixing the track in a most musically compelling way.
This is based on a long, live energy bow loop that I did – that’s the basic track.
Ken then took that track, and beautifully overdubbed it with the amazing array of
sounds, mostly synthesizer sounds, that you hear, which compliment and work with
the ebow loop so, so well, it’s almost as if they were played live together.
So, for the energy bow guitar loop the first time around, you hear single notes,
then, on the second round, you hear a second pair of ebow notes being added in, and
so on – but all the while, Ken’s sounds sneak in and out of the sound field, sometimes
disappearing completely, other times very present, surrounding and engulfing the
ever-intensifying ebow layers.
My part is live, so, it starts very sparsely, I leave big spaces initially, and then,
each time the loop comes around, I add more, so the piece gradually grows and grows…then,
at 3:40, something amazing happens – my loop suddenly disappears, and the MOST AMAZING
noise starts up, this is the “Mistove Magic” at work, an absolute musical thunderstorm
of the most convoluted, twisted and intense, layered sounds you’ve ever heard. This
part of the song is absolutely terrifying…but at about 4:45, energy bows return –
now, it’s the fully formed, overdubbed and locked ebow loop, with many, many layers
– it returns to comfort you, while the frightening wave of sound SLOWLY disperses
– a very, very long cross fade indeed.
But for that one minute, between 3:40 and 4:40 – wow, hold onto your hat. Unbelievable
power and majesty – strong, forceful, compelling, but, brought back to earth at 4:45
when the “happy” ebow loop suddenly returns.
Then, starting around 5:57, high-pitched ebows slowly join the loop, so it’s being
added to again, it’s been unlocked and is being slowly expanded, as the frightening,
swirling wave of terror is slowly fading down to a more comfortable level.
Eventually, that terrifying wave is once again safe, bubbling just under the surface
in the background, while the more positive, calmer influence of the ebow loop re-asserts
itself – the wave disappears completely for a moment at about 6:35, leaving us with
JUST the ebow loop – ah, bliss, peace the terror, for the moment, has been banished.
For a moment – absolute calm, like the eye of the storm.
More new ebow melodies emerge, Ken almost silent, just a whisper, a tiny threat of
that massive sound, hovers in the background, threatening to but not quite emerging.
During minute eight, the disturbing synth layers start to grow, the ebows trying
to maintain a sense of calm, but that edgy disturbance is right there, waiting. It’s
absolutely lovely the way Ken has mixed this, there are huge sections of just ebow
loop, or ebow loop with added ebow melodies…and it’s on one of those, that, suddenly,
the piece fades and ends on a really, really positive note.
So basically, a long, long ebow loop, that is locked and unlocked and locked and
unlocked yet again – sometimes, disappearing briefly, but always, always returning
to restore the calm, to provide continuity to the piece - at the same time, along
with that, this sinister, frightening musical presence in the background – that to
begin, lurks uncomfortably, then, bursts forth with that amazing performance, dominating
the piece from 3:40 to 4:45 – then, slowly settling back…
For the rest of the piece, it’s still there, at varying levels, sometimes, it disappears
into complete silence, but – we keep waiting for it to return.
And it never does.
But it’s the anticipation, the sense of tension that is developed by this methodology
– I just love how Ken mixed his part in with mine, to create this incredibly tense
situation, where the terror is released, it overwhelms you, and then you cringe in
fear of it’s return for the next 7 minutes – and it never does return, which leaves
you with the positive, beautiful layers of calm, reflective energy bow guitars.
The ending is just beautiful, a new and really beautiful ebow melody emerges just
as the piece suddenly disappears, and it ends on SUCH a positive note, which is a
real contrast to the palpably frightening section beginning at 3:40. You would absolutely
have expected a return of that powerful theme, especially in a piece of this length,
the beauty of it being - just the threat of it returning is enough!
I am absolutely thrilled with this piece, and it’s a unique juxtaposition too of
two very unique styles – mine, live, looped, improvised, Ken’s – enveloping, seductive,
terrifying – but beautiful. Weaved and mixed together in such a perfect way – the
terror and the calm, perfectly balanced, exquisitely balanced against each other.
“Slack” is a unique piece in the pureambient canon, I am not aware of any other ambient
piece quite like it – unless it’s the aforementioned “An Index Of Metals” by Robert
Fripp and Brian Eno. But I think in many ways, just due to the way it was constructed,
and then mixed, that this is a truly unique musical experience and could only have
been created by Saffron Matted Voids.
My hat is off to Ken Mistove in particular - first, for his excellent production
of the track and second, for his very innovative and unusual mix of the piece – it’s
daring, outrageous, and it leaves certain musical elements exposed, in the stark
light of day – sometimes Ken’s synth elements, sometimes my ebow loops or loops/melodies,
and the consciousness shifts back and forth between the two themes throughout the
piece as you listen, driven by the way he has mixed the track.
I love how it literally takes you from calm to terror to uneasy calm to sudden beauty,
across over ten minutes of texture and innovation. An unqualified success.
Based on a darker loop, a descending loop, “Cloud 8” grows much more quickly than
“Slack” does, but with stranger harmonies – this is still a classic “Dave Stafford
descending energy bow loop” – but, with a twist – some of the notes that I add in
as the piece progresses are most unusual choices, and there are some lovely, very
carefully added high-pitch and SUPER high-pitch notes in the mix too.
The first minute or two of the piece are really all about establishing that loop,
about watching it grow more dense, more layered, and becoming comfortable with it’s
form. Ken lays back and lets me take the lead, with just the odd, shimmering sound
here and there at first, letting the loop “do the talking” to begin with.
But then, you start to, almost unconsciously, hear some low, almost inaudible tones,
a distant, indiscernible rumbling – so quiet as to almost be non-existent. A mysterious,
fragile synth seems to appear – and is gone before you can even mentally register
it. A sense of stereo starts to emerge too, you hear both the loop and the almost
invisible other sounds in different places in the mix…but basically, it’s still just
the loop – until, at 4:45, a new, longer energy bow riff emerges, played “over” the
shorter layers – and again, joined by supporting synths which are almost inaudible,
so they are felt more than heard.
I’ve never heard something so fragile, a thin, shimmering, near-invisible presence
– listen at 5:33, where Ken inserts such a synth sound, but it’s so well embedded
into the loop that you almost don’t hear it! It’s subtlety on an unimaginable scale
– as if he didn’t really want to overdub the loop, so instead, carefully inserted
sounds that compliment but don’t overrun, that support but don’t distract, that add
but don’t overwhelm – and the effect is, what is really just an ordinary loop, is
gradually, more and more as the piece goes on, is cloaked in magic, which makes it
breathe and live in a way it never would have as a solo piece.
Ken’s tiny, nearly invisible embellishments give the track an ethereal quality that
it did not have before he worked on it, in fact, I was unsure if the loop I had supplied
for him to work on was “good enough”, and we worked on this track for a long, long
In minute eight, you start to hear Ken a little bit more, but by now, the loop’s
repetition has begun to stick in your brain, so part of your consciousness “locks
in” on JUST the loop, but at the same time, you “hear” these other tiny, fragile,
musical events that Ken has subtly added – it’s as if he stuck little bits of musical
enhancement tape to the structure of the loop. Your ears hear a tiny tinkling sound
here, an inaudible bass rumble there, a mysterious, fragile, fleeting noise on one
side, a fragment of a glimpse of a piece of a chord on the other – and it’s all part
of the loop, every single sound in the piece, whether it’s part of my ebow loop or
not – is part of the loop.
Because Ken just “knew”, he somehow knew exactly what to do to enhance this loop,
to take it from the ordinary to the extraordinary. I for one don’t quite understand
how it did it, but that’s exactly why, if I have the chance that Ken would be available
to do so, that I would always get Ken to both produce and mix any tracks I am working
on, solo or group. This piece is a fantastic example of why he is so brilliant at
both, the subtly of his musical contributions is mind boggling, you almost don’t
hear any of them – but if you listen, they are ALL OVER the piece – just so well
mixed, so transformed into the actual loop, that the two separate parts become one
piece of music with a unique identity – and you suddenly find yourself on “Cloud
The name came much, much later – the piece was done or nearly done, as was the album,
and we had no name for it, I had a dream one night about the “other clouds” the ones
“below” cloud nine, so I came up with this idea that it’s slightly less than cloud
nine, which of course would be cloud 8.
That became the title, and with the completion of that, the album was, at long last,
It took three years to make this album, which for me, is a very long time, but, as
an entity, Saffron Matted Voids has a very specific and unusual niche, and both Ken
and myself wanted our first record to be a reflection of both where we had been and
where we were going with ambient and technology-driven music.
It’s unfortunate that during that three year period, I was very, very ill for one
of those years, so we really couldn’t continue work until I recovered, and just as
that illness delayed and harmed the production of my album “all things being equal”,
it also had an effect on this record – but in the end, both albums did get made.
The follow up to “Perchance To Dream” didn’t happen in the intervening 7 years since
2003. Both Ken and I had a lot of other music, business and life issues to take
care of, Ken got married and moved from New Jersey to California – ironically, not
that long after I moved FROM California to Scotland.
Now, in 2010, we’ve decided to partner on a more serious basis, and are currently
working on developing both the new, revitalised pureambient web site but also collaborating
on the creation of the first ever pureambient store. As part of all of that effort,
we are also discussing the possibility of a second Saffron Matted Voids album, made
under conditions now where I am not ill and my condition would not have any potential
negative impact on the project.
We are both still far too busy to undertake the commitment to making that second
album, but perhaps next year we will be able to clear our schedules, and see what
Saffron Matted Voids sounds like in the year 2011.
I look forward to it, I think that “Perchance To Dream” is an excellent debut album,
it sets out a unique musical territory for the band to inhabit, and I also believe
that after some much needed work on our lives, that both of us are now ready to approach
SMV with renewed vigour and commitment.
Please watch this space for future SMV releases, and hopefully, a new album sometime
in 2012 – 2013. The previous record is “Furniture Music” b/w “Portrait Of Emiko
With Moon And Stars.”