Listening Notes to accompany the album
by Bill Nelson
Towards the end of 2012 I began work on a series of recordings which were ultimately intended for release as a double album titled 'Grand Auditoria.' The idea behind 'Grand Auditoria' was that it would touch on the diverse musical styles explored throughout my life as a musician. I hoped each track would reflect a different genre from my past, but with a contemporary twist. These were not to be re-arrangements of old songs but brand new compositions. The album would feature rock, pop, jazzy instrumentals, acoustic pieces, neo-classical orchestral compositions, minimalist electronica, ambient and avant- garde experiments, and so on. It would be a way of celebrating the breadth of my music over the years and, hopefully, illuminate the threads that tie it all together.
As each track for the project was completed, I set it to one side and immediately began work on the next. I didn't dwell on the end result of each piece, didn't even listen back to it beyond the final mix but eagerly moved on in anticipation of the next track.
Gradually, over some months, enough pieces were completed to fill the album's proposed two discs. I called a halt to the recording process and listened through to the accumulated tracks to choose a running order. To my surprise, (and somewhat to my horror,) I realised that what had actually emerged from the months of 'heads down' writing and recording was not at all what I'd originally had in mind. True, there was a certain amount of variety in the material but it appeared to have followed a far more 'pop and rock' direction than I'd originally hoped for. Worryingly, I had no idea why this was the case. I couldn't recall any particular inner or outer reason for it straying into such territory. Somehow, it just turned out that way, seemingly of its own accord.
Creating music in such an intensely focused and seamless manner can instigate a sort of trance- state in the mind of the musician or composer. Hours melt into days into weeks into months and life beyond the studio door becomes an intrusion. I often feel as if I'm existing in an intermediary realm between sensible, pragmatic reality and something far more nebulous, otherworldly and strange. No matter how poetic or romantic that particular description may sound, I am not entirely convinced that such a realm is a desirable or healthy place to locate one's life but, worryingly, it seems that I've long ago lost the will or ability to escape.
Eventually I had to concede that 'Grand Auditoria' had been weirdly hi-jacked by something just beyond my reach and it became clear to me that this was now quite a different album from my original concept and as such required a new title to suit its altered nature.
I temporarily put the 'Grand Auditoria' idea to one side for possible future use and decided to re- think the album's title to better embrace the music that had emerged from the months of recording.
Almost immediately after making the decision to shift my creative gears the word 'blip' came to mind. It made me think of an unexpected event emerging from an ocean of possibilities, a bubble on the surface of a calm pool, a 'blip on the radar,' a happy surprise, a little explosion of air and light against a dark background.
The word seemed to resonate with the way this music had 'popped up' out of the void, and it evoked a sound, an acoustic-organic, but also synthetic-electronic sound.
It was this coincidental sound inference which led me to the idea of creating short instrumental pieces to link the main vocal tracks together. This, I realised, would be a similar approach to the abstract guitar instrumentals I'd used to link the songs on the 'Joy Through Amplification' album, though this time I would be working with more whimsical, analogue synth textures.
I immediately began to record some brief 'linking' pieces, recording them quickly and resisting the temptation to polish them too vigourously. The intention was that they would be be simple, direct, relaxed...light, concise and, hopefully, fun. Just as with the 'Ampex' interludes on the July 2012 'Joy Through Amplification' album, listeners are free to treat them as an album within an album or, alternatively, a set of 'sonic sorbets' to refresh their ears between main courses.
Once these interludes were recorded and set in place within the general running order I then made the decision to release the album as a single disc, rather than as a double, choosing certain tracks for inclusion over others, tracks which I felt offered the listener a more cohesive, developmental journey from the beginning of the album to its conclusion.
The tracks which were 'left over' from this process have been gathered together to create a limited edition, hand-signed CDR album, which I am giving as an exclusive bonus to those fans who have supported the 'BLIP!' pre-release launch party by attending the event. This limited edition pressing bears the title 'The Tremulous Doo-Wah-Diddy, (BLIP 2.') It further illuminates the process by which these recordings came about. It also has some more loosely arranged songs with longer improvisational sections.
Well, that's the background to the album. Now here is a track by track breakdown:
1: 'BATS AT BEDTIME.'
'Bats At Bedtime' wouldn't have felt out of place on the 'Joy Through Amplification' album. It's perhaps my favourite track on the album, which is why it's right up front.
I've incorporated non-musical sounds into my music for many years and this track features the sound of the jack plug on the end of an electric guitar cable being shorted out by tapping it on the edge of a metal table which supports my mixing desk in my home studio. The same sound also works in unison with the bass drum in the first verse of the song. One of the guitars is heavily fuzzed and features a broken, asymmetrical solo with both fuzz and octave divider effects. As well as the bass and drums and layers of guitars, an imaginary, utterly synthetic Indian orchestra enters for the bridge section.
The opening lyrics make a surreal, 'wink-wink' reference to 'The Wizard Of Oz,' as follows: “I am the great and powerful Oz, I am the wizard of what once was, I am ecstatic, drunk and giddy, I am the tremulous doo-wah-diddy-wah-diddy...” After an instrumental section the lyrics continue: “I drive a blue car through the stars, in search of miracles and small surprises, boost my mind into bloom of Spring, bumble bees and bats at bedtime...” More Indian orchestra, then a segue into a gentle coda with chiming guitar and ambient choir.
2: 'YOU DO LIKE MUSIC?' (BLIP No 1.)
This is the first of the short Blip interlude instrumental tracks. It's based on a found voice sample which speaks the tune's title. Perhaps this piece connects with my 'Captain Future's Psychotronic Circus' album in that it conjures up a whimsical sci-fi carnival atmosphere via its plastic, '60s Farfisa organ and space-age waltz time rhythm. It's patently a track with its tongue set firmly in its cheek, a candy-floss, sugar pink confection, an antique seaside postcard apparition, a steam-driven fantasy written for a parade of pavilion ghosts.
3: 'WHERE YOU IS, IS WHERE YOU ARE.'
A combination of layered electric guitars, hard drums, distorted Hammond organ, bell-tone electric pianos, a subliminally pulsing string section and lyrics which suggest that we are only ever in the moment, even though our minds are constantly turning over past events and anticipating future ones.
A sample of the lyrics: “I see the moth fly to the flame, I see myself in all but name, sometimes I feel like John Coltrane, like a saxophone in the pouring rain...”
The ecstasy and exuberance of the artist versus the banality of the weather.
A pair of wah-wah infected, neo-psychedelic guitar solos puncture the chiming backdrop, tubular bells enter later as the lyrics sing cheerfully of “ghosts in your window pane...”
4: 'BELL WEATHER.' (Blip No 2.)
The second of the eleven Blip instrumental interludes. The title of this one goes some way towards describing its mood. Glockenspiel, a high pizzicato bass, synthetic strings, a brief, light-filled change of mood. Some things exist only in passing moments.
5: 'YOUR NAME COMPLETES THIS FREQUENCY.'
A sort of techno-psychedelic fantasia embracing reversed guitars, fragmentary electronics, artificial strings, hovering synths and a lyric whose chorus states, “It seems to me that recently, your name completes this frequency...” A short, acid inflected pop-trip into luminous realms of the mind.
6: 'A DREAM OF THEE.' (Blip No 3.)
Pulsing synths, sitar decorations, retro TR808 percussion, mini-moog squiggles suggesting a Blade Runner-like off-world exotica and a voice sample which anchors the title in a vague, mock- religious, nowhere-land....A chirping bird of an instrumental. Evaporates after only one minute and forty two seconds.
7: 'THE FABULOUS MR FUTURISMO.'
Begins with a brief soundscape of abstract noise, leading into an angular piano, radio dial and orchestra riff. The lyrics sing thus: “The Captain's captured his caution horses/kept their treasure in crystal cages...The fabulous Mr Futurismo/waves from his window high in the sky...” A full orchestra joins the piece stating an oblique melodic theme. Elements akin to 'The Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill' album begin to colour the mood before the lyric sing : “Where were you when the snow was falling...where were you when the sun was rising...” Later there is mention of “pie in the sky.” (Is that a God shaped pie or a corporate McDonalds one?) The mood shifts to describe a girl with a 'wiggly walk.' Guitars join the orchestral flow as the song winds its way to a rusty needle-static coda, distressed and patinated.
But just who is this nebulous Mr Futurismo? A time-travelling philanthropist from some utopian world of Far Tomorrow? A techno-gnostic being from beyond space and time? Or, your next door neighbour who has the secret ability to levitate through the ceiling of his 1930s semi-detached bungalow and hover like an angel under silver suburban stars? Well...only you know the answer...
8: 'SPARKLETTE.' (BLIP No 4.)
Another brief instrumental interlude, this one hinting at the textures and moods of the
'Model Village' album, but with a central glockenspiel motif. Also connects with certain tracks from the 'Picture Post' album. The title comes from the name of a vintage soda water syphon company. I do enjoy creating music inspired by the minutiae of memory!
9: 'YOUR SEXY THUNDER.'
Another of my personal favourites from this album. Possibly a song about sexual dalliance, or at least flirtation. It begins with a stuttering electric guitar and a brief blast of electronic sound before mutating into a kind of twisted heavy metal riff over an asymmetric, crippled drum pattern. Features wah-wah guitar, a non-linear arrangement and lyrics which state: “I saw your luxury lingerie in a dream inside my head, you were in my most mysterious thoughts, here in my celestial bed...Your sexy thunder, was always under my skin...” Chorus changes to a more major key mood with Blackpool Tower organ overtones. Wailing, ecstatic wah-wah guitar spurts crazily. Mad piano ending. This too could have fitted nicely on the 'Joy Through Amplification' album.
10: 'METEOR BRIDGE.' (Blip No 5.)
A mysterious start leads to a rattling percussion loop and a squirmy mini-moog melody followed by a cute, bleeping bridge and more moog style leads lines...brief piano section followed by mock '80s synth horns. A track filled with deliberately cheesy, '80s synth irony. The title is a play on 'Meter Bridge,' the area of a recording studio's mixing desk which houses its VU meters. Is this real or is it Memorex?
11: 'IN A CLOUD OF STARS.'
Keyboard intro, joined by pulsing string quartet then french horn, oboe, xylophone and choir, leading to melodic, harmonised vocals. The opening lyrics state: “Restless are the ides of March, the wind that howls beneath God's arch...but here at home by hearth and fire, I fan the flames of heart's desire...” A neo-classical hymn to nostalgic, romanticised domesticity, or something like that.
12: 'BRIGHT AND GLITTERING.' (Blip No 6.)
Another brief instrumental interlude. This one has a rather spooky feel with electronic percussion, electric piano, flanged synth and a sampled voice which repeats the phrase “Bright and glittering in the smokeless air...” An airship gliding by, high in golden sunlight.
13: 'WHIRLWIND WINTERS WIND THE CLOCKS OF SPRING.'
Floating synths, reggae organ, sub-bass, filtered guitar, hand-bells, mellotron-flutes and lyrics which begin “There's a half-moon in the sky, a full moon in her eye, but right now the sun is shining in her garden...Birds are singing in the trees, her skirts are blowing in the breeze, and I'm down on my knees to please my darling...” As John Peel might have said: 'a song in praise of fair weather and sturdy thighs.'
14: 'FLUTTERBYE.' (Blip No 7.)
The title is a play on the word 'butterfly,' which infants sometimes charmingly pronounce as 'flutterbye.' This short instrumental evokes the shining flight of a cabbage-white butterfly as it dances, Tinkerbell-like, amongst the flowers of an idealised English country garden. Mini-Moog lines and a delicately arpeggiated keyboard backdrop hark back to my earliest synth recordings on albums such as 'Sounding The Ritual Echo' and 'The Summer Of God's Piano.'
15: 'PAINTING YOUR SKY WITH MARVELLOUS BIRDS.'
A gentle, trippy ballad decorated by speeded-up backwards guitars, clockwork percussion, electric piano, floating synths and, on an extended coda, a twisted sample of an orchestra which, with the addition of further guitars, gradually transforms into something a little more sinster. Opening lyrics are “Soft treble sings in amber light and all is well beyond the night...”
16: 'PURE IMAGINATION.' (Blip No 8.)
This retro-styled instrumental interlude has an almost cartoon like atmosphere...toytown reggae with a munchkin-like sampled voice. Lead lines are handled by a series of mini-moog tones evoking some of the synth sounds used on Be Bop Deluxe's 'Ships In The Night.' A short burst of musical surrealism.
17: 'NO TWO THOUGHTS.'
A strange one, this. Opening lyrics state: “Weird thoughts wind my clockwork brain...and no two thoughts are ever the same...” Sung over a repetitive, filtered choir sample,Wurlitzer piano and electro-bleeps. The chorus shifts gear and becomes pseudo-romantic with smooth synths, chiming guitar and lyrics which sing of 'lantern light.' A love song for shiny robots. The song ends with a short coda which changes the landscape yet again.
18: 'AEOLIAN MAGIC.' (Blip No 9.)
The word 'aeolian' comes from the greek god 'Aeolus,' the god of wind in greek myth.
An 'Aeolian Harp' is a stringed instrument whose strings produce sound when the wind blows across them. This short keyboard instrumental does not attempt to evoke a wind harp but used a sampled voice which speaks the track's title over a brisk percussion track, electric piano, synths and orchestra. Another blip on the radar.
19: 'DARLING STAR.'
Opens with electric guitar, keyboards and e-bow. First verse lyrics sing: “Sunday morning's little swimmers, seek thou swift the sleeping egg...” Reverse guitars and choir lead to the repeated refrain
“Holy River...Holy River...” Features guitar solos which change texture and direction throughout and a trippy looped guitar coda.
I didn't quite realise until after recording the song that it is probably about the mystical nature of conception and the urge of life's essence towards incarnation and birth. Sometimes interpretation comes after the event of creation.
20: 'DAZZLE.' (Blip No 10.)
The title is spoken by a sampled voice over pulsing synth and jigsaw-puzzle toy xylophone patterns on this short instrumental interlude.
21: 'AFTER ALL THESE YEARS.'
Another of my favourites on the album and, in some ways, one of the 'straighter' more orthodox tracks. Predominantly guitar driven, this is a philosophical sort of song with lyrics which state: “Man goes to the mountain, the mountain disappears...Man goes to the fountain, with all his hopes and fears...Behind the wizard's curtain, nothing to be found, of this I am quite certain, our clocks are all unwound....” The song contains two nice, contrasting guitar solos and coda with guitars that peal like church bells.
22: 'I DANCED IN A DREAM.' (Blip No 11.)
The final instrumental interlude and the last track on the album...A sampled voice states the track's title over a hybrid acoustic guitar/harpsichord pattern whilst a distant choir and curious backwards sounds decorate.
Little melodies emerge from synths to dance freely over all. Ends with the words “And everything glowed with a gleam...”
Music and Lyrics Copyright Bill Nelson 2013 All Rights Reserved.