A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Green World - Vol 67

We're very pleased to announce that Geeta Dayal's long-awaited book for the series about Brian Eno's Another Green World album is finally on sale and fully distributed throughout North America.

As Geeta herself would be the first to admit, it wasn't the easiest book to write - but the results are well worth it. Here's an extract from Chapter 5, "Abandon Normal Instruments."


Eno's insistence on calling himself a "non-musician" was partly a reaction to the prog-rock of the time, and the 1970s emphasis on virtuosity. It was also a logical extension of his interest in experimental music, and his experiences in Cardew's Scratch Orchestra and the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Eno was an emerging type of musician; he was a true synthesizer player. In the 1980s, Eno would become a virtuoso player of an instrument - the Yamaha DX-7.

In a way, Eno's lack of formal training was a gift. It meant he approached the synthesizer for what it was: a generator of complex sounds, not as a keyboard. He came at synths from tape machines, and from using tape recorders as generators of strange sounds. This was in stark opposition to the famed progressive keyboard noodlers of the time, like Rick Wakeman of Yes, who treated the synthesizer primarily as a very fancy keyboard.

Eno's lack of formal musical training made him more predisposed to view the studio, too, as a sort of synthesizer, a way to build new sounds. "The documentary aspect is part and parcel of most recording studios," said Harold Budd. "You perform something and it's captured, and it's recorded and pressed and put out in the world. The part with Eno was just the opposite. You use the studio in order to get the sounds that are going to be captured, you know what I mean? It just put a reversal on it."

Eno may have been a studio maven and a synthesist, but he wasn't much of a gearhead. "Some producers go in, and they say, 'Have you got the Lexicon 224 echo?'" Eno said in a 1981 interview with Jim Aikin in Keyboard Wizards. "'Have you got this, have you got that? Oh, you haven't got that? I can't work here.' Suddenly their world crumbles because you don't happen to have the new Eventide D949 phaser, or whatever it is, and they can't envisage working without this. But when I go into thte studio, I look around and see what is there and I think 'Okay, well, this is now my instrument. This is what I'm going to work with.' Another example would be when you're faced with a guitar that only has five strings. You don't say, 'Oh God, I can't play anything on this.' You say, 'I'll play something that only uses five strings, and I'll make a strength of that. That will become part of the skeleton of the composition.' That's really what I mean, that any constraint is part of the skeleton that you build the composition on - including your own incompetence."


And there's much more, over at Geeta's blog.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ferris on TMBG

D.X. Ferris, author of the 33 1/3 volume on Slayer's Reign in Blood album, has a great piece on Rolling Stone.com about the making of the classic They Might Be Giants album, Flood.

As a bonus, here are two chunks that didn't make it into the final article:


Flood was the band’s major-label debut, the first of four records the group would record for Elektra over the next seven years. The label’s legendary back catalog included the Doors and the Stooges. More recently, it had recruited 10,000 Maniacs and Metallica. The Giants were lured there by A&R rep Sue Drew, who signed Phish the same year.

“What made sense with Sue Drew is that she was very young and had a businesslike approach,” recalls Flansburgh. “Unlike a whole generation of A&R people who had come before her, she was actually not on drugs, and [was] thoughtful. She also had her own taste, and was signing stuff that she thought was interesting.”

Once on Elektra, following in the footsteps of Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop, the clean-cut art-students drew more than their share of sideways glances.

“There were people at Elektra who were almost openly hostile to us,” says Flansburgh. “There were some very famous record company people there. The head of A&R was Howard Thompson. He had seen the band early on at the [East Village hotspot] Pyramid Club, and I have a very distinct memory of him in the back of the room, shaking his head like, ‘No, no, no.’ And this [was] during some of our most glorious days – we had probably 200 people in front of him, completely losing their minds. In some ways, we were kings of a very small corner of New York.”


The Johns spent two two-thirds of their recording budget to record “Birdhouse,” “Your Racist Friend,” “We Want a Rock, ” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”

Flood’s four key songs were produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, an in-demand team whose credits included Madness’ One Step Beyond..., Dexy’s Midnight Runners Too-Rye-Ay, Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Punch the Clock, and the David Bowie-Mick Jagger cover of Bowie-Jagger cover of “Dancin’ in the Street.” (They would later work on Morrissey’s Kill Uncle and Bush’s Sixteen Stone.)

Langer and Winstanley were ace songsmiths. More important to the Johns, though, was Langer’s stint as the guitarist Deaf School, a ’70s Liverpool art band. “That,” says Flansburgh, “was the credit that probably made him seem like a kindred spirit.”

Langer and Winstanley, recalls Flansburgh, “were super-nice guys…. They were hired to be the hitmakers. Clive has the best line that any producer could have in his back pocket: He didn’t think we needed a producer.”

“My sense is that that’s not what he was really thinking,” says Linnell. “But he was saying the nicest thing he could say to us at the time.”

The four Langer-Winstanley songs took money and time. Each tune went through a week of pre-production, followed by painstaking recording. Those songs were also the source of the sessions’ most creative friction. Winstanley liked the duo’s synth bass, but the producers weren’t keen on many other electronics, like the group's pet Casio FZ-1 sampler.

“It’s funny,” recalls Flansburgh. “They had a whole set of technical skills in analog recording, and they were very fussy about getting everything just so. And there was definitely a point where they just stopped really being interested in the technology we were working with. Sometimes it felt like we were, in the old sense of the word, punks – ‘Yeah, you and your boxes. Knock yourself out!’”

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

In the Blink of an Ear

Those of you in NYC might be interested in an event that's happening at Issue Project Room in Gowanus, Brooklyn on Saturday evening, to celebrate the publication of our book In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art by Seth Kim-Cohen.

The evening will feature performances of works by Alvin Lucier, Marina Rosenfeld, Jarrod Fowler, John Lely, and Seth Kim-Cohen. It kicks off at 8pm, and we hope to see you there!

Eno exists!

For those of you who've been patiently waiting for the 33 1/3 Brian Eno volume, I can finally announce that it is, indeed, real. We received our advance copies from the printers in Canada yesterday. It'll likely be another 10-14 days before books reach Amazon, B&N, and all of the fabulous independent book and record stores that have placed pre-orders.

In the meantime, here's a piece Geeta wrote about her favourite Brian Eno album covers. (Including, of course, Another Green World.)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Achtung Bono!

News reaches us via Neil McCormick's tweeting that Bono thinks the approach of Stephen Catanzarite's 33 1/3 on Achtung Baby "sounds bang on". Always good to get that kind of feedback!

In other news, currently at the printers are the 33 1/3 books on Brian Eno (no, really!), Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, and the Flaming Lips. And we'll know, within a month, if the books on the Clash, Nine Inch Nails, Lucinda Williams, and Van Dyke Parks are ever going to exist, or if they'll join the sad stack of 33 1/3s that never saw the light of day.

And I was thrilled to receive an email from Pete Astor in London, which is a good excuse to put this clip up - enjoy: