Whispering Foils (2000)

Background to Whispering Foils
It was time to move away from the minimal approach of Spoombung. Discovering the saw had naturally lead me into a more melodic area - I always reserve the bass and the sampler for experimentation, but I didn't want to muck about on the saw - I wanted to play tunes. Also, I thought I'd been playing 'difficult music' for long enough and felt ready to attempt something more accessible. The idea was to build from the Spoombung sound but find a way to integrate the melodic elements. The ingredients were straightforward: prepared bass, sampling and simple tunes- a little bit of melody, but not too much. The picture was complete when I asked Dominic Murcott to record the album and augment it with his marimbas and vibes.

Janie Armour: accordian & organ
Charles Hayward: cymbals
Kev Hopper: bass guitar, musical saw, sampler
Dominic Murcott: percussion, tuned percussion
Sean O’Hagan: guitar & vocals
Andrea Spain: clarinet & bass clarinet
Ian Smith: flugelhorn & trumpet

Recorded and mixed by Dominic Murcott at Studio 54
April to September 1999
Additional recording at Surrey Docks Studios
Assistant engineers - Tony Egbe , Rachel 'love Kitten'
Mastering by Phil Darke at Darkside Audio

Notes on the Tracks

1. Waiting For Baby
I love the sound of pigeons cooping! This was the obvious choice for the first track on the album as it is exactly how I began the album - waiting for a baby to arrive in September '98. You can hear all the main elements of the Foils sound - the repetitive prepared bass with it's rattling strings and chiming harmonics, a little bit of abstract sampling and a simple tune played on the saw. The quirky, stuttering marimba solo in the middle of the song is pure Dominic - he took him no time to get the right feel for the track.

2. Canary Lights
The tune grew out of the bass pattern that runs all the way through the song. Changing the key of the riff proved difficult hence the song only has two chords! The melody was played on an old mandolin i found hanging around Dominic's flat. I've got a good view of Canary Wharf from where i live in Deptford - I had this image stuck in my head when writing the tune. It really looks quite beautiful from Greenwich at night.

3. Starfields
This track grew out of another insistent repetitive bass riff. The tune on the saw followed on from that. Charles Hayward's splashy, Chinese dragon cymbals were recorded on my portastudio at his rehearsal space in Deptford and then transferred to ADAT later. I couldn't believe how explosive they were! Dominic's glockenspiels rounded the whole thing off nicely.
I bump into Charles practically every other day as we both live in Deptford, South London, so I'm always getting involved with his projects at the Albany Empire or meeting him at the Entelechy events ( an organisation promoting disabled and older people's activity ).

4. Lamalou Les Bains
This was the second track written under a big fig tree while on holiday in the South of France near the small town of Lamalou Les Bains - a surreal place with a Casino and a major hospital specialising in bone fractures. The bars and restuarants are full of people encased in strange shaped plaster casts. It was a great holiday because we didn't do an awful lot apart from sit around playing saws, guitars and eating and drinking. After a few days of playing together, Sean knew exactly how the saw worked and what kind of tune suited it, so it came together quite quickly.

5. Riker 2
This is, perhaps, the most successful use of the Foils formula so far - I was really pleased with the combination of propulsive, harmonically rich prepared bass and the rigid, written tune for 4 instruments ( bass clarinet, clarinet, accordion and vibes) on the top. Once I was happy with the bass part I began writing the tune on the sequencer using sampled approximations of the instruments. I then presented the parts to the real musicians. The hand percussion was added by Dominic later on. I don't read music so handing out computer print-outs of music felt very odd - the musicians were so accommodating, asking me how i wanted it here, how I wanted it there, etc, and I was really thrilled with the results.

6. Shaeffer's Noose
I've known Phil Durrant since the mid-eighties and now play along side him in Ticklish with Richard Sanderson and Rob Flint so I'm very familiar with his bizarre musical approach and trademark fizzing, spitting, squelchy sonics. A short, sampled, looped portion from his album, 'Sowari', forms the basis of this track. Unless you know Phil, it's unlikely you would ever guess that it was originally played on a humble violin.
This is the most sample cut'n'paste style on Foils, although you can hear me making a rare appearance on guitar. There's also some vibes and real tubular bells ( played by Dom at Goldsmiths college in New Cross)

7. Return of the Bung
When I came up with the prepared bass riff ( which consists of two overdubbed parts) I thought WOW! - this is so complete it really doesn't need much else to it - just the faintest hint of structure and a little soundscaping. It's probably the closest related cousin to the majority of the Spoombung tracks - hence the name.
I was in two minds whether to add the African- sounding guitar part at the end as I generally resist any temptation to 'go ethnic' but decided it sounded quite good anyway - so for once, I made an exception and left it on!

8. Skitch Pics
This was the most complex track on the album and took the longest time to record - almost 5 months - and if you have a listen you'll understand why - there's nearly every tuned percussion instrument known to mankind featured on it. It also took a lot of beg borrowing and stealing by Dominic for access to studio time and some of the more obscure instruments. The different parts then had to be painstakingly compiled and stitched together at Dom's home studio.
It all began with the tentative, stop/start bass section and a few drones and filter effects that you hear at the beginning. I then handed that to Dom with a few loose suggestions about melody and structure and he came up with the rest. The initial results featured quite rigid parts for the instruments but he eventually improvised quite a lot of it.

9. Mr Chuff Chuff
This was the first tune written under the big fig tree in France. It started out with me whistling the tune to Sean and him finding the chords and adding little bits to it. I'm quite a fan of 30's music ( although Sean is not ) and I think this came out in the the song even though the hand claps and rhythms devised by Dom and Sean were meant to detract from that style as much as possible. The pigeons reappear on here - I love them - they make the most beautiful sound of any bird and they are not 'rats with wings'.

10. London Bells
I didn't know if Ian would play the tune I wrote for him as I know he prefers to work quite spontaneously, but he surprised me by playing it note for note. The middle sequence of descending flugel notes was sampled from an old improvised session between the two of us around the time of Spoombung. Ian originally asked me to remove them after he added muted trumpet in the same section, but I decided to keep them as I got so used to that track and I liked the effect of the trumpet parts on top of the samples.
The track was constructed, once again, from the bottom upwards. The clunky rhythms on the outro were created by Dom sampling a tambourine with one of those toy microphone things that goes on your key set .

11.Whispering Foils
The tune started out as a saw idea - sort of corny hammer horror - very grim and terminal sounding. After a while the tune began to evolve and split up into a guitar part and saw part. When I played it to Janie she added a few chords and harmonies. It then went through a long gestation period were it was all reorganised into 3 discrete sections and the marimba, vibes and flugel were added giving it a lighter, more cloak and dagger feel. It ends with the sound of ropes clinking away on boat masts - that's my favourite sound in the whole world. The original inspiration came from several idyllic childhood summer holidays at a rented bungalow in Humberston Fitties near Cleethorpes. I used to fall asleep to this sound. Incidentally, this is exactly the same bungalow as Robert Wyatt mentions on his 'Schleep' album sleeve notes. Recording this sound proved difficult as I couldn't really organise going up to Humberside. In the end a friend of mine, Ian Hockerway, recorded the masts at the 'poor-man's marina' in Brighton. The gentle, peaceful sound I was after alluded me - in fact I think it sounds really cold and windy.