Joy Through Amplification
Listening Notes to accompany the album
Joy Through Amplification
by Bill Nelson
1: 'Ampex 1': The first of the 'Ampex' tracks. These are a series of abstract/ambient guitar instrumentals that act as interludes between the more rock-oriented vocal tracks. The idea is that these Ampex pieces function as 'palette cleansers' between the noisier tracks the album offers. They can also be listened to on their own as an album within an album. The title 'Ampex' comes from the name of an analogue tape manufacturer whose reels of recording tape I used back in the '80s prior to my home studio going digital. It also fits in with the word 'Amplification.'
This first track has watery elements, all generated from processed guitar. Virtually all the Ampex tracks are purely guitar generated sounds, though they are often twisted and processed beyond recognition. This one stills the mind before the following 'rock' track kicks in.
2: 'Sex Magic': This song begins with a deliberately coy instrumental reference to 'Panic In The World,' an old Be Bop Deluxe song. This is to trick the listener into thinking that the rock songs on the album might be a return to the '70s era rock music I made back then. But, as the song develops, it moves away from that into something more contemporary and 'pop.'
The title 'Sex Magic' can be interpreted in various ways. It could be a reference to occult sexual practices designed to bring about a change of consciousness and/or a tangible fulfillment of one's desire in the physical world. (As written about by occultist-magicians such as Crowley, Spare and Grant,) or it could be about the 'magic' that happens when a loving couple joyfully abandon themselves to each other without fear or inhibition.
3: 'Ampex 2': Sheets of guitar fed through extended reverbs and shimmering modulations. Volume pedal swells on the top lines. Impressionistic and minimal.
4: 'Vortexion Dream': This song's title was inspired by a company called 'Vortexion' who made tape recorders, amplifiers and other electrical gizmos in the '50s and '60s. It is also partly inspired by Buckminster Fuller's similar sounding 'Dymaxion' car which he designed in 1933, (though I have an instrumental up my sleeve which will use the 'Dymaxion' name when it eventually is released.)
The lyrics to 'Vortexion Dream' refer to 'weird science everywhere' and 'my bright electrola'...The song hints at a kind of steampunk science-fiction. Is it a utopia or a dystopia? (Spot the sly reference in the lyrics to another album of mine...)
Distorted, heavy metal type riff. Knife-edge guitar fills, an octave talk-box style solo-break, double speed motifs.The song ends on an ambient coda that leads us into the next track.
5: 'Ampex 3': An ethereal reverse loop drift with a gentle sub-bass throb ending in guitar chimes and static.
6: 'The Conjurer's Companion': This is an energetic metallic riff-driven track with an almost cartoon-like, tongue-in-cheek guitar shredding intro. Lyrics tell of the conjurer's companion who, "takes off her magic dress, winks and waves and vanishes...a trick of light, I guess..." References to 'swirling ectoplasm' and 'every blessed thing' being 'so damned fragile.' Melodic but raw guitar solo with thick modulation and wah-wah pedal manipulations. A fun track which gives vent to some noisy and fast guitar wrangling.
7: 'Ampex 4': Quite a pretty one this...chiming guitars, reverse whooshes, electrical noises, double and half-speed loops.
8: 'Orpheus Dreams Of Disneyland': I was thinking of the story of Orpheus decending into the underworld and wondered what it would be like if this underworld was instead a kind of ethereal, dark Disneyland. What would Orpheus encounter there? The lyrics are enigmatic enough to leave the answer to the listener. The song features a heavy riff and hard electronic percussion throughout but features a fairground-like middle section with hints of seaside Wurlitzers.
9: 'Ampex 5': Suggests some sort of strange whirling machine, a supernatural carousel perhaps.
10: 'Imps In The Undergrowth': An enigmatic lyric hinting at some sort of invisible occult presence behind the visible world, a song for magicians? Big guitars in layers.
11: 'Ampex 6': Weird clockwork, a child's toy from another world. It has doors and windows from which tiny smiling creatures emerge and return on invisible springs.
12: 'Arco Volta': The title came first. It suggests electrical energy, lightning, a Tesla effect. High energy drums and guitars and a lyric about 'how sweet we were when birds of youth' and 'holy fools.' Short and punchy.
13: 'Ampex 7': A surreal steamboat puffs into an other-dimensional harbour, playing a crazy tune on its whistles as men and women in tall hats wave welcoming flags.
14: 'Fire Gods Of The National Machine': An almost flamenco-style opening. Lyrics about 'ghosts in the gallery' and 'magic priests will come in waves.' From a ballad style first verse the song erupts into a heavy, distorted guitar chord progression. A drifting, dreamy middle section shifts the scene. A variety of guitar tones and textures including some sick-sounding wah-wah effects.
15: 'Ampex 8': A Martian cowboy rides a robot horse across an alien landscape into a two sun sunset.
16: 'To What Strange Place Will This Transport You?': Big drums, big guitars, an orchestra, harmony vocals, echoes and modulations. The title says it all...
17: 'Ampex 9': Imagine an ancient town at night. In the town square stands a gothic clock tower with ornate doors, high up, as if they were the doors of a giant cuckoo-clock. Suddenly the doors open, beams of dazzling light shoot out from all sides of the tower but instead of a cuckoo, a figure resembling Duane Eddy emerges on a mechanical platform, his guitar chiming the hours in place of bells.
18: 'Heaven Holds A Grand Parade': Another mysterious, enigmatic lyric. It hints at a dream-like circus parade whose participants may or may not be phantoms and angels. One of the lyrics says 'this radio is now on fire... no-one receiving, there's no one in this room at all.' Is it a song about ghosts, a parallel universe, the after-life? Trumpets add a carnival atmosphere. Guitars climb and spiral like sonic helicopters.
19: 'Ampex 10': A strange laboratory in a dark forest. A man made of machine parts operates levers and observes glowing dials. Sparks arc around the room. Outside, a horse without a rider gallops by, vanishing deep into the forest.
20: 'Weather Blows Wild Inside My Head': A spooky intro, an almost vocal wah-wah guitar, lyrics that suggest Elvis' ghost dancing in a haunted ballroom on the other side of time. It's a blues from another planet, a song about the mysterious workings of the creative imagination, about obsession and possession.
21: 'Ampex 11': A delightful garden filled with summer flowers through which a miniature railway rattles carrying imps, elves and other denizens from the land of faerie. An old man dressed in clothes from the 1920s places a rose in his buttonhole and smiles.
22: 'Why Does It Do That?': Frantic tin-can drums, heavily processed guitars, metallic riffs, an apocalyptic vibe. Lyric: 'It was as if the clocks had all gone wrong and time was topsy-turvy...' One of the heaviest sounding tracks on the album.
23: 'Ampex 12': A tropical island paradise. A steel guitar plays, gleaming like a chrome snake. Seven beautiful girls dance on the beach, dressed only in sunshine and smiles. But all is not as it should be...the sea is purple and the sky is green.
24: 'These Tall Blue Days Are Lark Amazed': A mid-tempo, semi-ballad. Twangy surf guitars exchange phrases with Chinese sounding guitars. This one is a love song with a strong vocal melody and backing vocals that reference a certain early Beatles song. Ends with a dusting of needle static.
25: 'Ampex Xtra': This is the first of two bonus tracks. The John Barry Seven jamming with The Tornadoes in a space station on the outer reaches of the galaxy.
26: 'Monsters From Heaven. (Flowers And Rain.)': This is the second bonus track. It's built around a strange, looped, distorted blues guitar riff. The loop has a slightly asymmetrical metre. Over this an amplified blues harmonica improvises in a style reminiscent of Captain Beefheart. A slide guitar adds to the swampy, but alien, blues feel. A wah-wah guitar solo adds further tension. No drums on this track. The vocal is treated to sound as if it's coming over a telephone line or from the speaker of an old radio. The lyric says: "This dwelling is humming, with monsters from heaven...thunder and lightning, creatures of flame..."