13 April 2013

Analogue Observations


Below is a remix I recently put together for the compilation album ‘Interpretations on F.C. Judd’, which is a follow-up to last years outstanding compilation of Fred C. Judd's own works 'Electronics Without Tears'.

(If the track is not showing in your browser here is the direct link to it on SoundCloud)

If you think my track sounds quirky, or dated even, that’s because it’s meant to. Many of Fred Judd's instructional Musique Concrète themed experimental recordings, while interesting to hear, have a dry tone, which didn't appeal to me as much as his more melodic Radiophonic works (his description). I wanted to capture the lighter, eccentric vibe from some of Fred's more rhythmic tracks. Also I found it impossible to resist using a couple of clips of his distinctively clipped British voice in the mix. For the project Alex from Public Information allowed us access to digitised files of Fred's music and tape experiments, and if I could have I would loved to have put my track together on tape, but no longer having any kind of tape machine put paid to that. So I recorded it in Logic and restricted my plug-in use to just a few 'retro' valve and tape emulations.

Funnily enough Fred and me go back years… not that I ever met Mr Judd, in fact I wasn't even aware he was such an accomplished electronic music experimentalist until recently. But his written body of work had quite an influence on me getting into DIY electronics and creating my own electronic music. Apart from being a quintessential British boffin and Radiophonic music pioneer of the highest order (who knew!?) from the 1950s through to the 1970s he wrote many electronics and electronic music 'how to' books and contributed to and edited various UK electronics themed magazines. One of those magazines was the hugely popular Practical Electronics, which from around 1968 I would buy monthly without fail. It was in Practical Electronics in the early 1970s that I first saw the original guitar effect circuit (though not one of Fred's designs) that I adapted as the now infamous Gristleizer processor unit. But I did build many of Fred's circuit designs too: little mixers, reverbs, filters and oscillators. His 1972 book 'Electronics in Music' was essential reading for anyone interested in the topic: full of useful audio schematics and circuits, photos of exotic and expensive looking synths, equipment and studios - it was my 'go to' book for years. It's recently been reprinted and is well worth checking out, if just as an historical document of that period.

Having been recorded in the 1960s a lot of Fred's material is very much 'of its time' and by todays standards some would consider it naive sounding, although to me it has a wonderful almost otherworldly quality. His composition and recording techniques would be near impossible to recreate now - even if one were using the same workflow of signal generators, DIY electronics and tape based recording and effects, because I think there is something fundamentally different about the mindset of experimental electronic composers back in those mid 20th century pioneering days - some would call the heyday of the UK experimental electronic music scene. I can't quite pin down what made that mindset different - maybe it was the absence of distraction we inhabitants of the 21st Century suffer so badly from now? I'm not particularly nostalgic for those days, or even their indefinable mindset: progress equals change, the past is another country and so on. I'm just making some general observations about 1960s British experimental electronic music,  Musique Concrète, Radiophonics or however you'd like to term it, not just F.C. Judd's music. Back then we in the UK had the BBC Radiophonic workshop producing some of their best works alongside accomplished electronic experimentalists such as David Vorhaus, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Brian Hodgson and of course Peter Zinovieff and David Cockerell of EMS and many more. 
Relatively affordable tape machines, synthesisers and DIY electronics were popular and readily available - amongst a certain demographic at least. That period was a time of great innovation and change and at the tail end of a purely analogue era. But it was also before the widespread use of 'off the shelf' computers in music, before synchronised tape machines, synchronised rhythm units and Basslines, before digital audio and decades before MIDI, DAWs and plug-ins… but they still managed to produce some truly exceptional sound works full of expression and energy.

To a degree I think I'm allowed to include some of my early solo works and definitely Throbbing Gristle's first album within that category. I'm not blowing my own trumpet (that's Cosey's department) and I was nowhere near as well equipped or technically accomplished as those I've mentioned but I feel my own and TG's recordings from the early 1970s' have a similar nebulous energy within them. In my recordings it was partly my enthusiasm at just being able to successfully (and repeatedly) record, manipulate and replay my own DIY electronic discursive meanderings which was somehow supernaturally and permanently impregnated into the oxide of the tape, or am I just hearing it that way through the mists of time? I doubt somehow that few musicians today could record material using just 1960s' techniques and still achieve those kinds of results and reactions, but like I said: there was a different mindset then. And I'm not saying anyone should or would even want to sound exactly like that, it's just another observation about where we as electronic experimentalists were then, so to speak. And I've no doubt in 50 years time people will be making similar observations about this period in the timeline of experimental music.

If you are interested in seeing more of F.C. Judd's work check out Ian Helliwell's wonderful documentary 'Practical Electronica’

The 'Electronics Without Tears' and ‘Interpretations on F.C. Judd’ albums are released by Public Information and available here:



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