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February 2010
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Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 01:35 am
A recording diary

To get you in the mood for the next release in the Creation Advent Calendar -- which will take us up to 1991, and my Hippopotamomus album -- I want to give a much more hands-on, unglamourous description of how an album comes to be recorded.

It's easy to get carried away with the sociology, the poetry and the glamour of an album, and forget the fact that recording is work, sometimes boring, repetitive and frustrating work. I've found my diary from 1991 and transcribed the entries dealing with the period -- a couple of weeks in March and April of that year -- when I was at work in the studio, recording Hippopotamomus. It's full of details I'd quite forgotten -- the fact that my brother came into the studio and laid down a spoken-word exegesis of deconstruction, for instance (it was supposed to go at the end of Bluestocking, but got replaced by my French ex reading some Duras).

There'll be a proper Hippopotamomus entry later this week with the songs themselves, the themes and assessments and context. The glamour! But here -- straight from the horse-faced young man's mouth -- are the interestingly boring details of how Hippopotamomus got pieced together, day by day, and how I came home to Cleveland Street and played the mixes to my New Zealand flatmate Vicky. This will be boring for many -- perhaps nobody will read all of it -- but that's kind of the point. It's here (under the cut) to show that being a musician means getting up in the morning and going to work as a musician. Oh, and queuing at Safeway for sandwiches.

Monday March 25th 1991

I phone Radio Rentals (once Vicky's demanded I get up to read Suzy's letter; there's one for each of us). Up to Euston Road for a taxi, carrying the Technics. The cheery driver takes me through the daffodil-filled Hyde Park and is pleasant until he calls a group of blacks on Fulham Road "Winnie Mandela's fans". We find Shorrolds Road and a long-haired, cut-faced Doug stumbles to the door in a tracksuit. Set up my keyboard and decide to start with The Painter and His Model. Do a vocal, replace most of the Technics sounds or put them to tape (a call to Key West confirms it's impossible to cut off the speakers). I explore Fulham; can't get Select anywhere. Shop at Safeways, full of mumbling, slow idiots. In fact it's much more provincial and proletarian than I'd imagined, not up to Chelsea. They do have my records in HMV, though. I ring Noko, leave a message. He calls at 7; is now a raga remixer. Devoto is a photo librarian! Will come down tomorrow. We slowly drag towards a mix (late afternoon, I fall asleep in my chair). Then I recast the song, making it more easy listening, setting the vox higher. We finish, sipping beer, at 10.30. I tube home. Vicky is watching the police cars on TV, snaps about dishes etc. also offers me some pulpy broccoli soup. I ring Thomi, who tells me the book jacket is in the Sunday Times (McLaren-Ross, me raising glass). I listen to the song, decide it's too polished and wimpy. Styron on Late Show.

Tuesday March 26th 1991

The usual dramas with Vicky about the broken TV remote -- ring Radio Rentals etc. As I'm leaving, she tells me to wash my cup. Outside it's cold. During the long wait at Edgware Road I read Tamms' Eno book. This whets my appetite for what is in fact a dullish day at the mixing desk. First we redo The Painter and his Model. Give the whole mix 100% compression. Then put a small "room" on the sound. This holds it all together better. I munch the chicken tikka sandwiches I've bought at Safeway and drink Doug's tea. Then we acoustically record all the Technics sounds for Pornography and I do a vocal -- two, in fact, one used as a reverb-swamped backing vocal for the other. Two bass sounds. Rhodes and Pro-Rack piano. Doug takes ages trying to program some mutes and failing. I go out to Safeway again and buy us more sandwiches. Noko arrives at 7.30. I play him Ventriloquists and the tracks we've done. He likes Pornography best, wants to play on it and add mix ideas. But some people arrive and we're shunted into the kitchen, where we discuss Devoto's 'Paul Morley mindset' etc. Then do several stressful mixes of Porno. Noko drives me home in his old Saab. It's hard to communicate, he's so into music, so affable. He borrows 2 Luxuria videos (interviews). The kitchen is full: Sam, Michelle and Malcolm are being educated into the Partridge Family by Vicky. I get a Ragam. Listen to tracks.

Wednesday March 27th 1991

It's a beautiful clear day of penetrative sun. I put on my sunglasses. Exchange looks with a black girl dancing with a huge teddy on the Edgware Road platform. At Fulham I queue for ages at Safeway with a pile of sandwiches. People are all so stupid looking. Fulham's Labour base becomes clear. At the Spike we load up Song in Contravention. Doug has actually worked with Galliano, plays me a track about cheese. Starting with their sample, we bring in a Jupiter 8 chord pad, D-70 strings (beautiful slow patch), a fat bass, and all the while the sun is on the white wall and bouganvillea. I go out for a paper, make more use of the diagonal streets which are a short cut to the tube station, where I get the only readable paper: New York Review of Books. This is actually fabulous; opinionated, excitable, political. Add some weird ascending bleepy noises on the Jupiter. At 5 we start to mix, Doug lights his grass. I startle Sally in the kitchen reading NME: she vacates quickly. The song is 'beautiful', but small adjustments take ages. Finish at 10.30. I get a takeaway MacFish burger which drips on me on the tube home. A man who has pissed himself hides his head in turned-up collar. When I get in Suzy is on the phone: she's down, talks of saving enough to come back to London. I play my songs excitedly. Vicky is unimpressed, though eager to share various smells and new tights with me. Play Dream Warriors in bed and wish I was that fresh (though not that boring).

Thursday March 28th 1991

Vicky and I take turns waiting for the Radio Rentals people. I read NME and, for once, have a civilised breakfast. Tube to Fulham. It's vaguely sunny. Okay the mix of Contravention and, embarrasedly, get Monkey for Sallie up and running. Leave out superfluous Technics pads. The 'acid' sample is dirty, distorted. I do a growly vocal. It's very quick to mix. We re-trim the Kontakte sample. Doug keeps demonstrating Notator functions like force legato and the Transform page. Angie rings, will visit on Tuesday. 'Monkey' finished, we get up Painter and Model again. While Doug goes out for a sandwich, I mix it anew. We sample 'Time from the Missing Channel' from the Dream Warriors LP and then put a very rhythmic gate on it (and the 'guitar' synth part). This works brilliantly, makes it much more compelling and contemporary. Commit the final mix at 9. Listen on the little cassette. Finish early. I wait half an hour for buses, starving. Catch a 14 to South Ken tube, opposite an African mother in white robes. Vicky is in a good mood, laden with merchandise from Our Price. She's got me the Galliano LP. I ring Elaine, just back from Leeds. Rather dull conversation about her field trip etc. She may come down next week. Simon and Tim arrive and have a dull, assertive discussion about who can / can't sing, who's 'happening', etc. I eat Vicky's pasta, ring Mick Head for her, listen to Lou Reed's rather good Metal Machine Music and Galliano and my stuff.

Friday March 29th 1991

Listen to Galliano in the bath. Take this and the Lou Reed tape in to Spike (wait at South Ken for a bus -- none come, so I hail a cab). Noko is already there. We transfer the Technics bits to tape for Ventriloquists and Dolls. I do a quick, but good, vocal. Then Noko sets up his guitar sound; delay, reverb, distortion etc, through Doug's AXX-man. Noko gets pretty excitable, apologises for wasting our time as he lays down solo after solo, getting less and less spontaneous. Eventually we blend his first, McGeoghish low solo with a high 'Boredom' simple one. Then he does a shimmering slide through the whole song, but takes a while to find something that fits with the chords and it's pretty laborious. He stays while we fit a rhythm break in. I go out for pistachio nuts and some provincial Fulham sandwiches. Later it's the off-license for Budweiser and Perrier. We begin mixing, programming mutes, and it all falls into place and gets 'funky'. Noko's girlfriend (?) Christine arrives and they leave, taking their heavy equipment. Doug and I get a good mix a bit later. D. is in a mood for fulsome tributes. The vocal sounds rather middish, but I keep it. Circle line home. V is in a sullen mood. We watch Ross on Almodovar, I get a Macdonalds, V snaps about dishes (get a life, V!) and I listen bewitched to Ventriloquists and then Luxuria.

Saturday March 30th 1991

I leave, clutching my sampler to my knees on the tube, reading 'Travels in Nihilon'. Precocious little girls misread the names of the Circle line stations. I take a taxi from South Ken -- a codger who gets lost in Fulham, stops the clock, promises 'kindly' to put a bit extra on the receipt then pockets the difference himself. We set up and tape Technics parts from Ate A Girl Right Up. Douglas Benford arrives at 2.30. I go out to Safeway for sandwiches. A mad Irishwoman in the queue wants to knife and hatchet the cashier and customers. Douglas starts to play around with the Casio CZ1. I'm 'sent' into the garden, where I have hand sex with a cat. Douglas gates then twiddles EQ knobs on a string part he's written over the break. This sounds very Shamenesque. I video the 'happening' mix. Unfortunately Doug has arranged to go to Jeffrey Bernard is unwell and so we whack to DAT something rather feeble and reggaefied and I catch a bus to the West End (Douglas has left). There's a vibrant, happy feeling as I walk up Charing Cross Road. At home I grab my cassette and don't talk to V. She, however, comes into my room to point out that Je T'Aime is on at the Scala next Monday. She's nursing her spots. Snaps at me when I switch off the heater. I order a Ragam. Call her a pig. She sulks. Vici MacD phones, talks about Vic Reeves, Artscribe, Steve's new flat, the end of cynicism. Fight on the street. 'The Servant'.

Sunday March 31st 1991

I forget to put my watch forward an hour and am 'late' at Spike. I've brought a whole bag of food from the Indian supermarket and an Independent, so I eat and read as Doug sets up a remix of Ate A Girl Right Up. Do some Casio SK1 trumpet pads on the 'cannibal' sections, restore old bass drum pattern. We get a new mix on DAT at 3.30 or so; it's acceptable, but not great. Douglas arrives -- no, first Preacher Harry Powell and his brother, shy and bearded, enter bringing the Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swann. Douglas gets in just as I'm doing a husky vocal. Then we all cluster round the mic and do backing vocals for the 'Hip hip, pop pop' choruses. Only Harry's voice is really good, so that's what we sample. Then take the long, low 'mud' from Flanders and Swann and spin it in. Then Douglas does an acidic bit on his CZ1. The 'boys' all leave to see some comedian perform at a Mexican restaurant somewhere. I'm in a nervous, peevish mood. Read about Slovenia in the Sunday Review. Doug sets up a mix, I take off reverb etc. Don't realise, as I mix, that I've overrun by an hour and a half (new time). Get a slightly chaotic version and leave. Fabulous moon, last Circle line train. Vicky has, thank God, a NZ friend, Alex, in; built like a shit house, he's very easy to talk to. We eat pistachios and drink Australian wine watching Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam. I show them the video of last night's street fight, play Hippo and Ventriloquists to... acceptance, merely.

Monday April 1st 1991

I start the day by asking Vicky to come into the studio with Tammy at 2. Ring Mark to request an exegesis of deconstruction (dialogue with Catherine, who I also ring). Also Tammy. Shop, eat, leave (the tubes are mercifully quick). I'm an hour late, nonetheless. Do a vocal (guide plus choruses) for Marquis of Sadness. Transfer the Technics tracks (Doug doesn't bother to separate percussion sounds). Tammy arrives at 2.30, having forgotten the number and rung lots of bells. Vicky gets there at 3, all dolled up for Dominic, whom she may (she doesn't) visit later at Tower Records. Tammy has laid down a rather out-of-tune vocal. Vicky's, when she's learnt it (actually I coach and conduct her through line by line, patiently) is little-girlish, rather pretty. After three hours' labour, we go out together to Henry J. Bean's and I get a ghastly burger and soggy chips. Back at the studio, Douglas arrives to collect his keyboard. He listens to a couple of tracks. Everyone goes, and Doug, quietly denigratory of the girls' chatter, mixes studiously. I highlight usable bits of Tammy's singing, mix her deeper in reverb and Vicky high up. (She's given me Justine's phone number in exchange for a meal next week.) We get a good mix at around 8. Doug then spends an hour trying to put in a very uptempo jazz drum sound -- great on its own, it doesn't work with the song. I zip off at 9, catch a 14 bus through town (interesting people). Play V the song. She laughs. Watch TV (French arts, French porn) til one.

Tuesday April 2nd 1991

Two calls wake me -- one summons Vicky to work, the other is Catherine cancelling her singing session this evening. I'm cross. Leave a message asking Angie to come. Lots of mail, including a letter from P, which manages to be prosaic, dull and utterly tragic at the same time. I read Magazine Litteraire (Derrida issue) on the tube. No District line trains, so I take a cheap cab from Gloucester Road. Do a vocal for Bluestocking, then Michelin Man and A Dull Documentary. Substitute the Technics tenor sax parts on the latter with sampled ones. Spend a while correcting the drum pattern on Michelin Man. A second, less growly vocal on Documentary works better. Visit Safeway for sandwiches. Everybody seems slow and purposeless. Later I get Budweiser from the 'offy'. I'm deliberately cool to a woman who has been cool to a black. Doug chats about Australia, lyrics, Thatched Cottage. Mark and Gillian arrive (as I'm carrying the beer home). Mark has prepared a speech about deconstruction. When Angie arrives we record a dialogue. A the thick Northerner, Mark the party pedant. Fits of giggles. Douglas arrives. M, G and A leave. Douglas fiddles with his CZ101, but I'm impatient, let him do only rudimentary noises. He goes. Doug copies Technics stuff to tape. I leave just before 10. It's raining. Catch an 11 bus to Victoria, tube home. V is out. I watch C3 and tapes. Ring Catherine, who talks for an hour about my taste for youth, tension, moving house, her new, effeminate boyfriend. On TV 'Slashdance' fails to live up to its title. Vicky arrives, reads me articles from Frisco magazine. Listen to Zoe tapes.

Wednesday April 3rd 1991

Receive a Complete statement: I'm only £200 away from the black on my whole account. Bathe, don polka dot tie, get a Circle line train. Read about Vic Reeves in NME. Taxi from Gloucester Road. Arrive at three minutes to 11. Doug has taped Technics parts to Michelin Man and we start the mix. Doug, perhaps upset that I rejected his jazz drum idea, leaves me to the mixing, going elsewhere. After, say, 40 minutes of juggling, effects-testing, EQing, I commit mixes of each of our songs -- Michelin Man, Bluestocking and A Dull Documentary. Munch sandwiches. I'm quite cool and bossy. Try a slowed then speeded drum loop on Documentary, but it works better with weird delays and transpositions. Michelin Man isn't great. I'm unsure about the dialogue at the end of Bluestocking, and mix the two tracks, to uncertain effect. Make a cassette off DAT at 7ish. Call a cab and leave, Doug cool and noncommittal, probably relieved it's over (he keeps the DAT... 'If it was any other company, man...') Cab home with a reticent Irishman. Order a Ragam, play Hippo and Galliano and Jordan. Watch TV with the sound down. Ring Tammy and Vici MacD, who goes on for ages about Vic Reeves (I see his show for the first time). Vicky gets in and demonstrates new clothes. She likes some of the new mixes.

On Friday April 5th Vici MacDonald -- who has the official function of the "judge" of my records -- comes round to listen to the album:

Vici MacDonald comes round from Steve's house at 7.30. Vicky is watching TV in her usual wilful way. But everything stops for a play-through of the new LP. I tremble before the verdicts: she likes all but Dull Documentary and Painter. Ventriloquists "is a work of genius", Pornography beautiful. She raves about the Telecom tower re: Contravention.

On Wednesday April 10th I visit Paul White at ME Company to give him instructions on the sleeve:

8.30 -- immerser on. 10.30 -- bath. 11.30 leave for Kentish Town. Along Leighton Road in carefully-chosen grey, cream, black plastic. A summer day of languid sensuality. Up the spiral stairs to the ME company. The office is big and chic, Paul White has a view south over the Telecom Tower, London. He's baldish, stubby, quietly friendly, but inarticulate and not quite as fizzed to meet me as I am him. He likes the Michelin Man idea, finds a big, cropped image of him, chooses orange and blue, and looks up a Disney hippo's head. We discuss Duffer and Banderas and he says 'I think I can do this'.

On April 11th Catherine finally turns up for her reading. The deconstruction dialogue is replaced by a passage from Marguerite Duras. The album is finished. Hear it here later this week.


Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
Missing channel nursing her spots.

Something for you and Hisae to enjoy!



Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 08:05 pm (UTC)
Recording Stars forever

Hi Nick

I find it interesting you refer to the "work" of recording this album. I remember an entry on your website when you were recording Stars Forever where you sounded almost ecstatic with the joy of it - I had the impression of you isolated, immersed, like an astronaut seeing everything from far distances, and entranced with the beauty of what you were creating.

Was Don't Stop the Night so very different for you? I have to say that I like Stars forever much more...


Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Recording Stars forever

You know, the difference is between studio recording and home recording. Once I started recording at home, I could basically lose myself in the process of work. I've never felt at ease in the kind of relationship where you have ideas and delegate them to an engineer. Or to a band, for that matter. I'm sure some get off on the hierarchical relationship, but it makes me profoundly uneasy, and there's always a huge boredom, as one person works and the rest twiddle their thumbs, do crosswords or drugs or whatever. Working on your own, you're always absorbed in something. And you're not connected to "the engineer" or "the band", but to universals: everybody who'll hear the record, "God", people you've loved, the characters in the songs, people you miss...

ReplyThread Parent

Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)

The first time i came across you was when Douglas gave me a copy of a Happy Family cassette which i'm sure came with a booklet with some of your diaries in it, that was before we met. This is pretty much how i remember making records in those days too, a lot of sitting around, boredom, disatisfaction and waiting for people to do what you wanted them to do. The diet was the same for me in the studio although sometimes i forgot to eat altogether. It always seemed a miracle when a record when a record appeared at the end of it all.
I remember the flat with the Andy Warhol cow wallpaper and you and Vicky arguing like a long married couple though you were not an item. The food yes, you proudly told me once you hadn't left the flat for three or four days and had been living on complan which was a kind of vitamin drink to keep people alive who couldn't eat. It tasted foul.
I think you started home recording around this time because i remember dropping by once and we both tried to play some fuzzy guitar over something you were doing and neither of us could make it work. And wasn't there a pub a few doors down that was always empty?

Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: complan

Ha, Complan? I'd forgotten about that! I'm sure it's true, but the gourmet crew are going to give me an even bigger kicking now for being so puritanical.

My home recording started in 1993, after Vicky had moved back to New Zealand. Her Andy Warhol cow-wallpapered room then became my studio, and I made Timelord there.

ReplyThread Parent

Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
Re: complan

Blimey they still make it. Perhaps you were right all along........

"Complan provides the nourishment you need when you are off colour or recuperating from illness. Complan is absolutely packed with the good stuff you need. It's fortified with 12 essential vitamins and 6 minerals for health and vitality."


ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Dec. 17th, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC)

Interesting. People shoul have a good idea like yours.
i'll glad u visit my page too.

Thu, Dec. 18th, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)

Thank you for posting this. It must be difficult to post an old diary like this, but it's really a fun read for some of your fans like me. I've really been enjoying the Creation Records tracks you've posted so far. There are a lot of tracks I had never heard before. You're giving me the second-best Christmas present I'm likely to get this year (Joemus being the best).

Thu, Dec. 18th, 2008 10:25 am (UTC)

This was written at the peak of my fascination with Momus and for the young me the records evoked an existence a million times more exotic and refined than the one described here. I'm not sure that if I had been privy to these details at the time it wouldn't have taken away from the magic of the albums. And I'm not sure that even from this distance it doesn't take the shine off a little to have such complete insights into the conception of these masterpieces (for me they are), but I can't help reading, I want to know. Those first records have always been things of wonder, and now I need wonder no more.
I'm reminded of the excitement of seeing you live for the first time after the release of Hippopotamomus, some dingy club underneath the arches, it seemed an inappropriately unglamorous venue as we entered, but as it transpired it was the perfect setting as you previewed most of the songs from the Ultracomformist that night, will the mysteries of that album be unravelled this advent? For better or worse- I hope so

Thu, Dec. 18th, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC)

It is demythologizing, of course it is! But it leaves out the writing, and all the sex that informs the writing. I really wanted to show how boring the actual recording process can be.

The Ultraconformist won't be included in this series, we're just doing the Creation albums.

ReplyThread Parent
Thu, Dec. 18th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)

Well tell us about the sex and the writing then! Ahh go on.

ReplyThread Parent

Sun, Dec. 21st, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
dear desperate diary

listening with "acceptance merely".being a fellow musician i know that feeling so well as you nervously play people close to you, your work for the first time.im sure your own mind fills in the relevant aesthetic blankety blanks of the song that probably remain obfuscated and a mystery to the listener.the wee nuances get lost etc..how can they ever really be expected to give the reaction you require...impossible.
in my opinion your last four works have somewhat devitalized you early albums.i certainly dont mean diminished their musicality ..just..just . its just your last four are totally out there miles ahead of the(contempory) competition.in many ways because of this youll never be relevant and in time,your innovation is self defeating.
what would momus of today say to the rather cocky,snobbishly opinionated middle class boy who wrote these dairy musings.. i wonder.part expose part self aggrandizing vignettes .its very brave of you to print, very inclusive indeed and great,great reading.maybe a mike alway type "edit"or spin on these would be fun or even the unreliable tour guide(of 2006) fellows interpretation would make fascinating reading also,just a thought.
hope you continue this reevaluation of you albums right up to joemus(your best?).please.!
ps you come across a wee bit patrik batemanesq at times when describing the destitute londoners .im sure you were in character whilst writing.
the lunatic engineer.

Sat, Dec. 27th, 2008 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: dear desperate diary

I also prefer my last 4 albums to anything I did in the 90s and to most of what I did in the 80s. "Self-defeating innovator" is now printed on my business card (though perhaps I should add "and partners", because a lot of the innovation this decade has come from John and Joe).

I think this blog shows I'm still pretty cocky and snobbishly opinionated, alas! And the internet has only made me more impatient in supermarket queues.

ReplyThread Parent