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Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 09:45 am
Going Elizabethan

I was going through old DV tapes recently and found video documentation of my 1999 recording sessions in Berwick Street Studios, London with Kahimi Karie for the record that became her Journey to the Centre of Me EP.



It's a fascinating document for many reasons. This was actually the last time I recorded in a "real" recording studio, and was the big budget, major label culmination of a process that began when I recorded for The Poison Girlfriend in 1993 using The Balanescu Quartet. Polydor Japan was paying the bills for the Kahimi Karie sessions, whereas Nippon Columbia (my own label in Japan at the time) paid for The Poison Girlfriend sessions. Neither record (The Poison Girlfriend's Shyness album, Kahimi Karie's Journey to the Centre of Me EP) did well commercially, and from 2000 on the Shibuya-kei movement tanked, so there would be no more expensive musical indulgences like this for me.

But what an indulgence it was, and what a strange record the major label system allowed me to make! I'd moved on from my "analogue baroque" sound to an interest in progressive rock, triggered by a reading of Paul Stump's excellent book The Music's All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock. Since I'd snubbed prog in the 70s, there was a "return of the repressed" feel to my discovery of it in the late 90s, as I rushed out and bought albums by Gryphon and Gentle Giant. (I did, though, own a couple of Rick Wakeman albums when I was 12.)

Gryphon were particularly relevant to the Journey EP; these Royal College of Music grads had written and recorded the music, in 1974, for a National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Tempest, using a mixture of electric instruments and antique krumhorns, recorders and viols. Commissioned to make a new Kahimi Karie EP, and with money no object, I decided that prog rock fused with Elizabethan sounds would be my genre, and wrote five songs (The Seventh Wife of Henry VIII, Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan, The Lady of Shalott, Pygmalism, Journey to the Centre of Me) in the appropriate idiom, a kind of encounter between Kate Bush and renaissance dance music, Rick Wakeman and the earliest extant notated fragments of English music.



Then came the exciting bit. I phoned up the Globe Theatre and asked to be put in touch with the Shakespearean house band. The musical director there gave me the phone number of Bill Lyons, director of the Dufay Collective (although if you click that link you'll see that, as a collective, they prefer to say they have no director). Bill made arrangements around my synth-based demos, came round to my flat near the Barbican a few times, then brought his musicians along to the basement studio in Berwick Street, Soho, where we were recording. Because of the wonderful oddity of the antique instruments, it was the most fascinating session I've ever been involved in, with sackbuts, krumhorns, viols, a shawm, a regal organ, flutes, harps, and other weird and wonderful shapes, forms, and sounds.

In the video you can see Kahimi and her management sitting reading Japanese magazines as the English musicians play, my friend (and Star Forever!) Karin Komoto pulling the rope that feeds the regal with air, and an intrigued Sean O'Hagan (of Microdisney and The High Llamas) improvising chord sequences on the regal as Kahimi supplies it with air.

Videos of Momus recording sessions since 2000 would mostly involve me craning over computer screens, which isn't terribly compelling, visually. But later this month I'll have several days of real work with real musicians playing real instruments, as we rehearse for and then perform the Brel tribute evening Carousel at the Barbican and the Warwick Arts Centre. Musical director David Coulter (ex-Pogues) has arranged the songs for string quartet, horns and woodwinds, ondes martenot, cristal baschet and glass harmonica, harp, accordeon, guitar, bass, keyboards, singing saw, mandolin, banjo...

You could even say there's an Elizabethan element to the Brel arrangements; David Coulter is didjeridu player by appointment to Elizabeth II.

39CommentReplyFlag


(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 08:31 am (UTC)

Does Kahimi still make music? Do you still keep in contact, and influence her tunes? These things are important for me to know right now. n___n


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 08:49 am (UTC)

You can keep up with what Kahimi's doing now via her MyLOHAS blog and her website. She recently married a tap-dancer, and is pregnant. She also has a new album which I think is pretty much complete, and involves collaborators like Jim O'Rourke and Otomo Yoshihide.

KK and I haven't worked together since recording 2001's Frilly Military single in Tokyo (I say "single", but I think it just came out as a free CD with her lyrics book or something). Her music style is very different these days, so it's fine that she has new collaborators and does the lyrics herself. I think the last time I saw her in the flesh was in 2003, though I narrowly missed catching a concert by her last time I was in Japan.


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silkytooth.blogspot.com
silkytooth.blogspot.com
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 09:26 am (UTC)

i think i told you before that i met brian gulland from gryphon - he was the brother of my boss at the fruit and veg shop i used to work at in glasgow.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 09:49 am (UTC)

That's pretty amazing!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 10:38 am (UTC)
David Coulter

I once saw David Coulter playing didjeridu with Peter Hammill (in fact, whenever I see his name, I think, oh, that's Hammill's didjeridu player) - anyway, more prog rock. Did you ever like VDGG?

I'm going to miss this blog.

Stephen Parkin


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 10:53 am (UTC)
Re: David Coulter

VDGG were, weirdly enough, the first proper gig I ever saw. They played at the Edinburgh Playhouse, and somebody gave me a free ticket or something. I just remember it being very loud, and Hammill playing the flute.


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 12:29 pm (UTC)

sorry, those instruments reminded me of this!



....that's not intended as some kind of put-down by the way! I love those tracks and its nice to see 'behind the scenes'.

I've got a lot of prog in my collection. My first songwriting attempts were based on Peter Hammill lyrics, even if the music was very different. I like The Nice myself. Those proggers took more risks artisically than most punk-era bands did (with the obvious exceptions of the likes of Pere ubu, voltaire, and later PIL)


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 12:32 pm (UTC)

That Brel tribute evening sounds fascinating.
Following the demise of Click Opera, where will you announce future gigs/performances?
Will imomus.com be resurrected?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 12:34 pm (UTC)

I think yes.


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idletigers.wordpress.com
idletigers.wordpress.com
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 01:40 pm (UTC)

That video's fascinating -- obviously the instruments belong to another age but so, in a way, do recording studios.

By the way I hugely enjoyed the Book of Jokes. I was interested to see an explicit (both senses) reference to Eric Gill -- the book had already made me think of him. Something of the strangely innocent, frank jolliness of his sexual "experiments" -- seems to run through the novel.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
I know this is

not the subject of this post and probably has been brought up elsewhere, but are you going to discuss Roman Polanski at all here? I ask the author of "The Guitar Lesson" and "The Painter and His Model" for obvious reasons! -Robyn


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
Re: I know this is

We did that yesterday and very tedious it was too!


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parchesss
Parches
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)

Momus, what exactly did you do for these recording sessions?

Did you only write the song (melody and lyrics), or did you arrange/score the music for all those instruments and record it as well?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)

Pretty much everything. Wrote the music, lyrics, arrangements, made sequencer tracks for them, booked the studio time, hired the musicians, made demos, supervised the recordings, worked with the musicians, supervised Kahimi as she sang, mixed everything, produced everything, delivered the final mixes to the record label.

What I didn't do, with Dufay Collective, was arrange and score their parts. That was done by Bill Lyons, who scored arrangements based on the synth parts he interpreted in the demo tapes I gave him. I can't notate music on paper, only via sequencer.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 07:57 pm (UTC)
re: Rock books

Another great (well, jargon-laden, too, but in a hilariously unexpectedly applied way) anaysis of the history of rock music is:

The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock N' Roll
by Simon Reynolds and Joy Press

Just imagine an in-depth analysis of every genre of rock n roll by two grad students with a penchant for post-structuralism, deconstruction and feminism. seriously, it's totally fucking hilarious. you'll never ever think about your favorite music groups the same way again. you've been forewarned.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)

These of course made it to "Folktronica", one of my favourite Momus albums - and I prefer your renditions. "Pygmalism" and "Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan" are really great. I had no idea these were created with real analog instruments. Enjoy your musical foray away from the computer.

Richard


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)

The versions on Folktronic are cut-and-paste between the demos (which had some textures I liked) and the studio versions with the Dufay Collective. Mistaken Memories and Lady of Shallot chop back and forth, as I recall, whereas Pygmalism is entirely the Dufay version.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)

"I did, though, own a couple of Rick Wakeman albums when I was 12."

Ha ha me too. Journey to the center of the Earth with the Royal Philharmonic I think.

I never caught the Journey to the Center of me connection until now :)


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loveishappiness
loveishappiness
O.H.
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)

Coincidentally, Stewart Home was talking about Gryphon on his blog a few days ago. Didn't he once refer to you as an "indie wanker"? I think it had something to do with Bourriaud.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Oct. 1st, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)

I can't really remember who Stewart Home is, but he seems to dislike Gryphon for all the reasons I like them!

"Anyway, to cut a long story short, a few days ago I finally got to hear Gryphon’s eponymous first album from 1973, well not all of it, since two tracks of their pseudo-medieval folk crap was more than enough for me! I absolutely hated it! On their later recordings I understand there is more electric instrumentation and so these are less folk and more prog sounding. That said, if The Banned CD is anything to judge by, I will be happy if I never hear anything else by Gryphon. I guess The Banned’s cover of Little Girl is the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is: ex-Royal College of Music students can’t rock! Gryphon even wrote and recorded the music for a 1974 Sir Peter Hall National Theatre production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and it would seem lacking any kind of pop sensibility would be a prerequisite for being entrusted with this sort of task…."

Not being able to "rock" and not having a "pop sensibility" are big pluses in my book.


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Fri, Oct. 2nd, 2009 06:15 am (UTC)
miss

love this stuff.

a shame it's all over and done with.


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