Smargaid Maerd

(From my blog):

It has come time to share with the world my 2002 album Smargaid Maerd. Follow the link to see the updated artwork and extra lyrics. I’ll briefly explain the story and thinking behind each of the songs, but first a little background to the situation:

2002 was a time of software transition for me. Since 1996 I had become very comfortable with using Fast Tracker 2 to compose the songs I wanted to make. But by this time the sonic limitations of FT2 were becoming painfully obvious. It was noisy, it didn’t employ a full stereo field, it had timing issues, and you had to render fancy effects like reverberation in other programs. My needs were outgrowing FT2, so I began looking around a bit. An early version of Fruity Loops presented itself as an interesting way of sequencing simple blocks of music but run them through live effects (DSP or VST effects). This was a whole new world to me, and one that was a little daunting - how does one control all these options and sounds? Initial experimentations with any new tools usually involve some ‘going overboard’, and most of the results are captured here in this album.

The paradoxical trouble with Fruity Loops was that it never offered the same detailed musical control that FT2 had, but it did offer this whole new sonic world. I found I was a craft master at FT2, whereas Fruity felt like playing with kids lego. Fruity really channelled my new music into simplistic techno quickly - ordinary mechanical beats with uninspiring percussive sounds. Where the juice was for me was playing with effects to create large and sometimes distorted ambiences - dreamy atmospheres that I could never ever achieve in FT2. So many of the ‘results’ were disappointing in their rhythmical and structural quality, but exciting in their atmospheric and emotional quality.

There were other more specific music influences being injected at this point in time. A similar sort of approach was being evolved with the ‘live band’ I was in at the time - Pneumatic Bell (which I will have to blog about later). We had an interesting combination of heavy progressive rock grooves juxtaposed with repetitive echo-reverberated soundscapes. This idea translated instantly into my own composition, save for the progressiveness of the band’s drumming. Other obvious influences at the time were Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol 1, Silo’s Instar, Underworld (mkII), Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, Simon Floth (Fable), Distance, The Cure’s Pornography, Moby’s Play The B Sides, and Fennesz with Endless Summer. These and many more sounds were going into the melting pot of ideas.

Another influence was dreams. At the time a few of us were heavily into David Lynch’s films. Lynch makes proto-surrealist dramas that explore the struggle to solve issues through our subconscious at odds with the nightmare of oppressive American culture. This ‘solving problems through dreaming’ theme was appealing, and generally syncronised with my intuitive feelings at the time. There was a lot of happy positive energy in 2001 going on into 2002, deriving simple joys out of the flow of nature like the wind through the trees or rain. Switching off ‘over thinking’ was a welcome change for a university student, and more attempts were made to flow with intuition, to feel some sort of essential animist love, to seize the moment. This applied to the songs being made. Think less, just write. Fruity’s simplicity allowed for fast composition. I could get myself into a relaxed state, often late at night, and be on the edge of sleep where different emotions and logic were coming through. This is why the songs are referred to as being ‘dream diagrams’ - they’re as close as I could get to jamming intuitively with electronic composition. Of course, in Lynchian style, I borrowed one of his language motifs and made many of the sounds and ideas backwards. Hence Smargaid Maerd is a subconscious reversal of dream diagrams.

It is a good document of the feel and energy of that time. Most of the tracks were made in the Block 5 Tutor’s Flat in Mary White College, looking west. Enjoying new freedoms, new responsibilities, but just before a heavier time in 2003 when the gnawing insanity of teaching decided to make it’s presence felt… An innocent time.

To this day I’m still slightly unsatisfied with the collection, and see it mostly as an experiment with new ideas and software. It perhaps runs too long. However, some of my friends have received it surprisingly well, especially fans of minimal electronica. For me the standouts and the the ones that still make me very excited are Moor Der Eht and West. A commercial record it is not. Most of the ideas attempted here were later fleshed out and solidified a year later during the writing of 2 Smargaid Maerd.

On with the songs! They are free to download!

  1. Approximately 300m From Martin’s Song - This song came about via an association with Martin Kidd. Martin had written a neat little ditty song called “I Like Cheese” that had a simple uplifting feel to it. As far as I could tell Martin saw it nothing more than a joke, but I thought I could counter that and do an ‘arty’ remix. I took his track, hand-sliced it up into millions of bits, reversed it, and blurred it so it ended up being a big glitchy-cloud sound. To make the song more my own I added new sounds. In the centre is a pitch-shifted bass-jam of my electric 6-string, heavily distorted. It rolls around a melancholic phrase, probably being the most organic sounding element on the whole record. On the left and right are heavily effected sounds made from wah and microphone feedback, occasionally whistling and phasing like wind. Thematically I was interested in the conceptual possibility of looking at a song as if in a state of dreaming. The picture is fuzzy, and weirdly emotional. It’s at a ‘distance’ from the original, so the title jokingly refers to that as if it were scientific analysis.

  2. The Postmodern Blues - This is the only track on Smargaid Maerd that has been made entirely in Fast Tracker 2, so it has a slightly different sonic character to the rest of the songs. The most obviously difference is the beat complexity, and generally it feels more organised. The tune was built up out of a guitar riff that was dependent on echo creating rhythm behind it - I just translated this into the tracker with the buzz-bass. The tink sound is a recording of my water glass that sat on the desk. Most of the song was composed in a temporary large room with and a beautiful view of the university deer-park (while listening to lots of Moby and enjoying the wind blast warm air through the trees). There were meant to be more words with this song that didn’t get recorded, the only ones the spoken ones in the bridge. It’s somewhat fitting, ironically and academically that these words were not included:

  1. Airport - Airport is the first of the pure Fruity tracks, and a loose play on Eno’s idea of ‘ambient’. It was a sheer joy making something that sounded so big! Additionally, after years of making fairly dark and heavy music it was a good change to make something that sounded uplifting. Nothing to it really, just a slow building groove, with rising melodic ambience, until the heavy open high hat drives it home. I can’t remember at all how I got those little zings going in the ambient pad - just an unexpected side-effect perhaps!

  2. Beauty - This is a real favourite and never grows tiresome for me. I wanted to play with the idea of a really slow fade in. The trouble with slow fade ins is that you tend to forget it’s fading in as you get lost in the groove. And this is pure electro-groove. Ambient shimmering and cold echoes make up the background. The centre piece is a weird synth I made using a gate to cut it out if the sound became too thin - so I really had to mash the keys to keep it going! The long evolving note structure is a round of a MIDI-jam (the first one I’ve ever recorded). Again, instead of playing classic-lead melody, I made the melody more like cloud, more like emotional atmosphere. For me, this comes very close to nailing the intuitive beauty and energy at the time, the flow of those moments. Hence the title. The then it cuts! Awake from the dream!

  3. Moor Der Eht - A title reversal of ‘The Red Room’ is a reference to Lynch’s dream-room in the Twin Peaks story. It’s a strange place that dreamers go to find clues for what they’re working on. Both sensual and nightmarish the Red Room has a little man in there that has a funny way of speaking. It is backwards forwards. The speaker’s dialogue is learnt backwards and then performed in such a way. Then the recording is reversed so the dialogue comes out ‘normal’ again, but as a result it sounds mighty strange. I used this technique to perform the dreamy spoken-word in this song, the slipping into sleep but retaining a lucid sense that reality is still there, which says:

This song, like many at this time, was initially completely composed on piano. In Mary White College I was lucky enough to have access to three separate pianos and nice rooms to play them in. To maximise simplicity, Moor Der Eht was made on the black keys. Another mechanism that helps the ‘forever rising’ feel of this piece is that the chord sequence is 5, instead of the ubiquitous 4. The simple beat still totally excites me, as does the blistering distorted ambience making for intense energy and atmosphere. One of my favourite songs of all time. Took 3 days. After years it still makes complete sense, and it represents a positive energy that is a subtle personal ideal.

  1. Pneumatic Bell - A cover of a Simon Floth (Fable) song. It’s not a patch at all on Simon’s orignal four track recording, full of spooky ambient noise and magical distortion. Out of all the tracks on the album this one I am most unhappy with, and at several stages thought of removing it completely. However, it remains here in it’s full ugly and weak form for you to enjoy. It’s layered ambience still fits in well with the rest of the work at the time, but it is held back by stiff drums, and weak vocals. At the time I wasn’t the most confident or skilled vocalist, but I made matters worse by recording this take while having a cold! Thus you get a rather blocked up delivery. The lyrics are an interesting philosophical take on alienation and the unnecessary noise of modern living. A little like the words of Postmodern Blues, this seems a little out of place with the dream theme of the rest of the record, but is a strong reflection of what we were thinking and feeling at the time.

  2. Happy Song - Edited down from a larger live session, Happy Song is a transition piece of pure experimental noise. It’s built largely out of the side-effects of phasers pushed too hard, only later to be cut and reverberated in a strange industrial soup. The title is a little ironic (like a lot of my previously dark sarcastic works), given that no noise like this could have a happy character to it. But in being a live performance, it was nothing but intuition: and intuition at that time was a happy thing!

  3. On The Edge Of Sleep - Floating down through some sort of dream scape I sometimes wonder if this song should have been longer. Like a dream it’s just a moment, a short focus. Nail on the head.

  4. Kjop Kjop was an experiment in putting together clichés in an odd way. Over-compressed like a bad radio station broadcast lies some epic commercial trance music. In almost absurd juxtaposition is a rough live bluesy guitar jam, with at times no connection to the backing or style. The two slowly come together, but not enough to join worlds. Dreams can be like that sometimes: you’re riding in a car and there’s a whale looking at you.

  5. Coils - A friend with a healthy imagination explained to me one day that Coils sounds like people pulling a lot of masking tape off boxes in room! That wasn’t the intention at the time, but much like Kjop it was to create odd spaces that didn’t belong with each other. The tape sound, beat and bass are all stuck in a boomy small room, while the dream piano floats epic and large on the outside somewhere. And yet another dream scene that floats away prematurely.

  6. O Week - Composed on piano first during the university’s “O Week” (orientation week) this didn’t translate as well as I hoped it would into Fruity. One of the high percussive elements was a sample of my scissors snipping. Overall, another short repetitive groove slides into a windy landscape. Private and contemplative. Representing thinking about subtle moods and energies away from the crowd.

  7. Spy Music - And then we drift into Spy Music. At the time Simon or someone commented that the 7/8 riff sounded like spy music (for some reason), and it hence stuck. Again the song could have been longer, but instead ecstatically blows itself out in the murk of heavy filtering prematurely. An abrupt fade wakes the dreamer…

  8. Optimism - This is one of the first tracks I attempted to do in Fruity. Much like an earlier song called Gradiva, I was specifically aiming for the most uplifting dance song possible. In the end it doesn’t quite get there because of the crazy bass phrasing, but it does positively add to the euphoric ambience thesis.

  9. Funn - Funn is a nonsense title, as it is nonsense music. Quite possibly the most rude percussion track I’ve ever made. I get visions of ecstatic bean bag creatures bouncing around having fun like some sort of acid cartoon. Ambience comes in on cue and we’re dreaming again. And then another silly abrupt fade out to awake again. At this point I probably should mention that it was and still is a habit of mine to siesta in the mid afternoon for a short while. Because of the lighter sleep I have grown very used to being awoken out of a dream and remembering it, or having a dream continuing while needing to be awake.

  10. The Red Room - This is an edited reversal of Moor Der Eht, keeping in theme with the Lynchian dream reversals. Most of the percussion was taken out to emphasise the ambience and descent of the chords. You can also hear on the left the original performance of the vocal track - me trying to say the words backwards.

  11. West - I’ve always felt that this song had an urban-hiphop feel to it, particularly with the heavy beats. But that’s as far as the similarity goes. Quickly composed, West is a tribute to witnessing many beautiful New England sunsets from my crude studio in Block 5. There is a strong Distance element to this track. I like this song a lot, but there isn’t much to say about it. Just another groovy dream scape.

  12. Suburban Buddhism (Mechanical Automatism) - Like Optimism, this is one of the very early Fruity tracks. Most of it was composed on holiday at my parents place in suburban Taree. Derived out of quiet Sunday afternoons with empty streets and decaying architecture, this track mines that vibe. The quiet holds the magic, prompts internal imagination. And it is also sad. This is Buddhist nirvana but not a healthy one - one made from sitting in suburban boxes, mindlessly watching TV, not active, not social. A different dream state.

  13. Approximately 300m Inside Martin’s Song - Track 1 backwards.

So there you have it. Enjoy it in it’s entirety. Let me know what you think, and if your dreaming matches to anything here. Dream on.

Update: some of the image files for the artwork were broken. I have now fixed these up.

interesting! i, too, experimented with fruity after i upgraded to windows 2000 and couldn’t conveniently use impulse.
i’ll check these out over the next couple of weeks :)