Monday, August 10, 2009

Unleash Hell: Luvox and Knuckles Part 2

Old habits die hard. I still resort at the end of 2002 to using 'here's some we prepared earlier' loops in my creation of 'tunes' for Luvox and Knuckles, albeit more sparingly and with a more confident grasp of effects, largely reverb and chorus. Here are some example from November of that year. The first is Luvox, the second Knuckles.

B Grade Movie

Primitive Theory

I really needed to access greater music and loop creation software, IBM Craptiva's protestations notwithstanding. Enter Bayou Ben in early 2003. He got me in touch with the goods I needed. With painstaking effort (and many a late night session) I come up with 'It's Who You Don't Know'. (It, along with the greater number of Luvox 'tunes' referenced in this post live on The sounds now come more slowly, but also more thoughtfully (although that might not appear to be the case). I also at this stage on produce and engineer exclusively through the use of headphones. You might want to do the same in listening to tracks. That and/or really crank up the volume.

Here are some tracks that date to the time around 'It's Who You Don't Know'.



I was really excited. But with excitement would easily come greater disappointment with stuff that didn't work. One tune - 'Stool McCluskey' - really irritated me, and still does.I just couldn't get it right. 'Tendon' became the blueprint for 'Tendonitis (Luvox vs. Knuckles Remix)', a superior piece of work. Check it out, if you want.

What followed was a period of concentrated activity and intensity, as I started to sort out the innards of the software I had to hand. The body of work from this time started with the playfulness of 'A Word From Our Sponsor' and the doof from hell of 'Daddy, What's the Economy?'. It also coincided with the posting of Luvox and Knuckles' tracks on That being said, there is not a lot from that period that holds up well today. For Luvox, I can still look back with fondness on and listen to 'A Word From Our Sponsor', 'Daddy, What's the Economy?' and 'Take A Picture, It'll Last Longer'. As for the Knuckles set at the time, it still commands my respect - especially 'Triumph of the Gutless Over the Weary of Heart' and 'The Relentless Ego (Knuckles vs. Knuckles 1987 Primitive Theory Mix)' - which is probably due to there being less material by Knuckles as contrasted with the 'churn them out' number of Luvox output.

2004 -5 is an interesting time for both Luvox and Knuckles. It certainly seems that way in retrospect. Previously both projects were aimed at filling a meaningful void in my life. From late 2003 onwards, they became part-time propositions as I became more active in conducting Continuing Education classes at U of Q. But also I was really developing my command of the 'Luvox sound'. I was learning more about my craft, and becoming less reliant on the music I was listening to. Take these two numbers, the first being from Luvox, the second from Knuckles.

Neo-Conservative Dub Reaction

Insurgent Carpark

'Insurgent Carpark' would be reworked to become 'Sound of Necessity' for Luvox. (I am really proud of 'Sound of Necessity'. Carl really liked it as well. 'Sound of Necessity' and 'The Old Is New Is Old' are strong members of the set at the time.)

The relationship between Luvox and Knuckles would often work that way. Something envisaged for Knuckles would, more often than not, become attributed to Luvox. A Luvox track could just as easily - but, in actuality, very rarely - make an appearance in the Knuckles repertoire. If anything, Knuckles would function as a 'remixer' of Luvox 'tunes'. Here, lucky punters, are some examples from the last active days of Luvox.

Tickets Available From the Usual Outlets (Clean Mix)

Tickets Available From the Usual Outlets (Knuckles' Intrinsic Value Mix)

Sum Res Cogitans

Warning, This Is A Smoking Movie (remix)

Both mixes of 'Tickets...' have not been released on the internet before. 'Sum Res Cogitans' would later be remixed and become 'Sum Res Cogitans (Knuckles' Epiphenomenalism Mix)'. That is a good mix that subdues the overblown synth menace of the original.

Luvox and Knuckles have been inactive for some time now. They have not disbanded. They have just been overtaken by more pressing circumstances. So please consider them as ongoing propositions. Until I tell the computer 'You're out of the band', by which time it will retort 'You can't sack me...I quit!'.

Now to play some real music.

The Unsleeping Eye: Luvox and Knuckles Part 1

The unofficial output of my musical projects Luvox and Knuckles is prolific. This is especially the case with Luvox in the first half of 2002. Luvox was me and the IBM Craptiva working with an arsenal of loops and limited music creation software. It was very much a cut and paste affair. Still, I worked at a furious pace. Craptiva wouldn't let me do mp3s of my 'tunes' - plus Craptiva was without a CD burner drive - so I would email files to Dogga to render as mp3s and burn to CD. God I asked so much of him. (No Dogga, no Luvox. Period.) I still have the first CDs he burnt for me. Dogga went as far as to do labels for these recordings, incorporating the name 'OpShop Hop', the imagined home and label of this work. Eventually I would acquire a CD burner drive for the feisty Craptiva.

I have looked but cannot find the original mp3 files of these early recordings. They exist on CD. One day I may get around to putting them up, but I sincerely doubt it. These 'tunes' are extremely sparse and crude. If anything, they are sketches or outlines needing refinement and extra layers of sound. It was undeniably fun and empowering, but I was getting ahead of myself. A demo CD was personally delivered to 4ZZZ. A track off the demo called 'Super Boss' - an eight minute collage of beats and sounds that more resembled turntablism than anything 'electronic' - was played on The Demo Show. That was exciting. All power to the Zeds.

The first 'official' Luvox output was a 17 track CD-R called 'Avoid Machinery If Affected'. This was August 2002, and the development from the early blunderings was significantly noticeable. This reflected my growing confidence with the editing software, plus the availability of a seemingly never-ending supply of 'here's some we prepared earlier' loops of beats and sounds. These loops were either commercially available, found on CDs accompanying music software magazines or downloaded from the internet. I was learning at this stage to structure beats, and then to layer them with intricate sounds. There is also minimal use of effects software. Here's a taste of what was on that CD-R.

War On Terror


Malin Genie (Gassendi Mix)

Informal Introduction (Affirmative Mix)

Howard's Way

'TBA' came to be included on a Blatant Propaganda sampler. 'Informal Introduction' was particularly liked by Carl at the time. 'Howard's Way' is Dogga's favourite (I think). Shell Poole did a magnificent cover for the CD. I was so impressed and excited.

'Avoid Machinery If Affected' is a very diverse affair (a natural outcome, I suppose, if the original sounds are not your own). There is no 'Luvox sound' as of yet. But it does establish what come to be dominat themes in the recordings by Luvox. Living in the shadow of September 11. Anger with life in John Howard's Australia. Playing around with philosophical terms and concepts in titles for 'songs'. Trying to stare down personal demons. The mood here, nevertheless, is infectious and ebulient.

Come September 2002, there is the always difficult second CD-R project. This is 'Revault'. It is a mixture of cannibalising pre-existenting Luvox 'tunes' and new work inspired by new loops and sounds I come across.

Research Assistance

Soul Blindness

The Stench of Cowardice


There is more of an ambient or trance feel to these recordings, largely because I am becoming more confident with effects in the mixing process. Still not original source sounds, but a significant learning curve for me nonetheless. I am also having fun with titles such as 'Break It Down' (DnB BnB Mix). Moe at the beginning of 'The Stench of Cowardice' is a survival from an early sketch called 'Popularism Is For Morons'.

What follows for a month or two is a series of forgettable and underwhelming CD-R EPs: 'Digital Schmigital' and 'Happy'. I get stale with my loop supply. I also get carried away with the idea that, while committed to the principle of sharing music, I am still expecting people to pay money for my crap. In time I dispense with that idea and resort to creating sampler CDs to give away to people. Again, having fun with titles: 'Beerbahn', 'Sabbatical', 'Progress Report'. Eventually I settle for '[edit:sample]'. Swish.

I was throughout this period posting Luvox tracks on the internet at a place called AcidPlanet. One of my online peers - a chap going going under the moniker of Inchworm - invites me in late 2002 to do a remix of one of his most recent tunes, a piece called 'A Single Caress'. Luvox the non-musician was so chuffed to be asked such a favour by a demonstrated musician. I took Inchworm's sparse and hauntingly beautiful piano lines and dutifully came up with this.

Inchworm: A Single Caress (Faith Mix)

I learnt a lot from this exercise, particularly the idea of a remix. I was so chuffed that Inchworm was happy with my labour of love. (I am still proud of this effort today, even if the source sounds are not my own.) I would eventually gift 'Inchworm: A Single Caress' to people at Christmas time that year on a CD-R entitled 'the sanity clause'.

Also making an appearance on 'the sanity clause' for the first time was my alter-ego Knuckles.

Theme From Knuckles

Life At The Outpost 1987

Knuckles was named after a Killdozer song. He was necessary to the musical development of Luvox, especially if I wanted to realise the ambition of being an 'experimental electronica' act. Earlier in the year Big Arthur had described Luvox as 'techno'. I was resentful at the time, but Arthur, of course, was right, just as Richard Watter was correct in stating that there was no 'Luvox sound'. It was becoming obvious that I needed to make my own loops, beats and sounds. The idea of Knuckles was to realise those possibilities by getting back to bare basics. With 'Theme From Knuckles' and 'Life At The Outpost 1987' I thought I was realising those ambitions, albeit rather crudely, naively and in a raw fashion. I was working with the most minimal of music creation software. A lot of the sounds on display are just drum machine loops thrashed to an inch of their lives by me stuffing around with effects, predominantly reverb and distortion. 'Theme From Knuckles' would eventually be remixed by me over a year later to become 'Theme From Knuckles (Life In Reverse Mix)'.

The original idea was for Knuckles to be an entity separate from Luvox. In time Knuckles would become the conduit through which I realised Luvox. It was hard to maintain a split musical identity.

My flirtation with Knuckles then drove me to start crafting the 'Luvox sound'. Late 2002 saw me contemplating a set to be entitled 'Philosophical Fragments'. A track sequence was envisaged and I commenced work on 'tunes'. 'Philosophical Fragments' would never see the light of day.



The Relentless Ego

The work on 'Philosophical Fragments' is limited by my technical incompetence as a non-musician, plus the very minimum of requisite software. I also felt that the sounds coming out belonged more to Knuckles than Luvox. Tracks like 'Resurrection' and 'The Relentless Ego' would eventually be assigned to the Knuckles setlist. 'The Relentless Ego' in particular would get the full Knuckles treatment in 2003-2004 and become 'The Relentless Ego (Knuckles vs. Knuckles 1987 Primitve Theory Mix)'. That version lives on

It had taken close to a year, but I was now making my own noises. I was, I felt, on the way to getting the 'Luvox sound'.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Land of the Lost and Over the Edge

Greg Sage's outfit Wipers - formed in Portland, Oregon, in the late 70's - have been, and continue to be, the most important band in my life. They were an epiphany, the likes of which I have not experienced ever since. That is a big call, especially considering the amount of music I have listened to and enjoyed over the last twenty years. Wipers mean a lot to a significant number of people. A lot of my friends feel passionate about them. (Carl and my brother Tim are, perhaps, the greatest champions of Wipers I know.) This enthusiasm is similarly shared by others around the world, as evidenced by the amount of webspace devoted to this band on the internet. I can't assume to add anything significant to the literature on Wipers; others are far better placed to do that. Rather, allow me to offer a series of impressions on what Wipers mean to me, by reflecting on two of their great albums: 'Land of the Lost' and 'Over the Edge'.

I first came to know of Wipers in 1987 through their track 'Let Me Know', which was included on the soundtrack to the film 'River's Edge'. It is a tight rocker, filtering the basics of rock'n'roll through the urgency and energy of punk. Drums, bass and guitar drive together as a relentless unit. There is even a hint of psycho-billy in Sage's heavily reverbed vocals. When you watch the film, you realise that such sounds are a perfect accompaniment to the emotional wasteland that the characters populate. On the soundtrack album, though, Wipers share the same soundscape as bands such as Slayer and Hallow's Eve. In the company of such bedfellows, Wipers look, sound and feel different from the rest of the pack. I really liked 'Let Me Know' and keen to know more about Wipers. However, I was more into my Dennis Hopper phase and took guilty pleasure in the thrash metal that made up the core of the 'River's Edge' soundtrack. (I think Slaughterhouse Joe at one stage attempted to cover 'Lethal Tendencies' by Hallow's Eve off that record.) There were also other factors at play. Hotel Breslin was coming to an end. Academically, I was about to immerse in an honours degree in philosophy. Musically, I was diving headlong into the sounds of the SST label that Carl had pioneered and championed. Sonic Youth were also happening, with the 'Sister' and 'Daydream Nation' albums. I had plenty on my musical plate at this stage. That was 1988. By year's end I had passed my honours degree and was looking to move to Melbourne to undertake postgraduate studies.

I did not have a specific agenda to procure the music of Wipers in Melbourne. It was something that, by accident or design, occurred to me while I was perusing the shelves of Au Go Go Records one day. The memory of 'Let Me Know' came to me, and I decided to see where that would lead me. Sure enough I found not only the album that this track came from, 'Land of the Lost', but also other Wipers albums. I was beside myself with joy and excitement. My enthusiasm was also shared by the bloke who served me at the counter. No 'High Fidelity' attitude here: he was genuinely excited by my interest in and eventual purchase of 'Land of the Lost'. The feeling was mutual. Within a fortnight I was back to obtain every Wipers record they had in store. I would discuss each purchase with the store clerk, and we developed an unofficial admiration society for the virtues of Wipers. Thus began my love affair with this important band. It also represented my coming to feel affection for my newfound home.

I am obliged to sing the praises of 'Land of the Lost' not just because it was the first Wipers album I bought, but also because it is a great rock record. I know it is an album that Carl swears by. The experience and appreciation of it is also enhanced by listening to it on vinyl. That is its natural home. It is also central to the concept of the album as a work split over two sides. Side 1 is a driving rock'n'roll experience that never takes its foot off the pedal. 'Driving' here is the operative word, not just with regards to the sound itself but also to the appropriate geography of listening to these tracks. You easily imagine yourself being in a car cranking out these tunes. I can only attest to the power of assuming the passenger's perspective. (This is an observation made by many others besides myself. Tim, in particular, constantly invokes the metapor. It also features in a number of reviews of this album I have read.) From the muscular opening track 'Just A Dream Away' through to the side closer 'Land of the Lost', you are transported on an unrelenting rock journey. The five tracks that make for Side 1 move along at a breathtaking pace. 'Just A Dream Away' kicks into 'Way of Love', cranks into 'Let Me Know', goes flat out with 'Fair Weather Friends' and hits the final destination with the title track. This one slows the pace a bit, but does not relent on the rock intensity: 'We're going to get there at any cost/Just take a trip to the Land of the Lost'. (This pace and intensity would subsequently be purloined by the commercial face of Seattle grunge, slowing the pace to a dirge with Black Sabbath riffs.) The end point is reached with a wall of persistent feedback that refuses to die until the stylus is released from its duties.

Side 2, in comparison, is a more tender affair. Without sounding too wanky - if that is possible for me - it feels like an exploration of what we find in the Land of the Lost, where the lost are the lonely of heart, and the trepid explorers are those aching to explore the ways of the heart. Hence titles such as side opener 'Nothing Left to Lose', 'The Search' and 'Different Ways'. The closing track, 'Just Say', is gently begging, if not plaintive. You can just feel the ache and hurt of longing in Sage's guitar work. And then it fades out. What an experience. What a concept.

As good as 'Land of the Lost' is as an introduction to the sound of Wipers, it could not prepare me for the raw power of its predecessor 'Over the Edge'. This was destined to become my favourite Wipers album. It is pure punk rock, like nothing I have heard in my life before or ever since.

If the sound on 'Land of the Lost' is driving, then that on 'Over the Edge' is totally relentless, both in execution and concept. 'Land of the Lost' drives the listener to a specific destination, to explore new horizons. 'Over the Edge', on the other hand, is committed to exploring a different emotional terrain, of life in a 'Doom Town' (second track), where loneliness and alienation constantly threaten to extinguish your existence. We are being moved headlong to God knows where. Such themes compel and propel Sage's guitar playing. It is searing and restless, but always disciplined. The essence of these qualities is displayed in Side 1's closer (and the closest thing Wipers have to a 'hit' song) 'Romeo', a portrait of desire and its frustration. Sage's bloodcurdling reverb laden scream of 'Juliet!!!!!!', like Brando's 'Stella!!!!' in 'A Streetcar Called Desire', cuts to the bone and the quick of the soul. The imagery of the song is so potent.

You would think that this would be a recipe for nihilism. However, in Sage's hands, there is a genuine sense of compassion and moral urgency. He affects a delicate balancing act between telling it as it is and, at the same time, striving for a way out of this desolate spiritual wasteland for his song's subjects. This is particularly so on tracks such as 'So Young' ('Only the good die young/Oh so young'), 'The Lonely One' and 'No One Wants An Alien'. The final destination of 'Over the Edge' is closer 'This Time', where the subject is driven on to somewhere else ('Don't want to be a part of this'). The move offers a sense of redemptive possibility, and yet still no guarantee of success. It just has to be done.

Wipers as a band move as a cohesive unit on this recording. The production, while raw and straightforward, still betrays careful thought and construction. (The brass sections on 'Romeo', for example, are so subtle and unintrusive that they are mixed almost to the point of imperceptibility.) I fail to find a musical antecedent for this kind of music. It just IS Wipers, and it is a distinctive sound. What followed in the wake of it has done its best to exploit and purloin, but it has done so without understanding the fundamental principles that underpin the Wipers' sound. These are non-negotiable principles for life and making music. You can study how to play like Greg Sage, affect the way his guitar sounded, but that still will not deliver THE sound. To approximate that you need the commitment to being an artist and what that task entails. That, to me, is a small part of what accounts for the originality of Wipers to me. Greg Sage is a true original, because he is an artist, who has the imagination and conviction to follow through the way he envisions things to be, or how music should sound. He is clearly referencing classic rock'n'roll riffs and motifs, but he does so in his own distinctive voice.

Not long after purchasing all Wipers recordings I could lay my hands on, I came across an interview with Greg Sage in the fanzine Bucketful of Brains. In it he declared - this was 1989 - 'Wipers are dead, man'. In 1992, I saw Nirvana at the Palace. The venue was packed to the rafters with kids. After a blistering set from Cosmic Psychos, there was to be nothing but disappointment. The mix was horrible, the show listless. Cobain was clearly ill. It was the most uncomfortable night of my life. At that moment, the world was changed forever.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers

More often than not, my most cherished musical memories are of encounters with flawed gems. This is especially the case with regards to my introduction to Big Star with this, their third album. Shelved until 1978, this album has since then been reissued in many forms, being referred to as either '3RD', 'Third' or 'Sister Lovers'. My vinyl copy, reissued by PVC Records in 1985, goes under the title 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers'. It is to this edition, and its track sequence and mixes, that I will address my reflections.

I had made it my business from the mid-80's to learn more about Alex Chilton. I knew The Box Tops' 'The Letter' before I knew that the singer on that great recording was Alex Chilton. My first conscious awareness of Chilton was of his being the producer of The Cramps. After that, my interest was secured by cover versions of his songs by bands such as Sacred Cowboys and These Immortal Souls. It was part and parcel of my personal agenda of tracking the history of music. When I came across interesting cover versions by bands and artists I was into, I would work backwards to investigate the singers and bands they had covered. (It is how, for instance, I came to make acquaintances with Captain Beefheart and Leonard Cohen.) I still follow that agenda to this day.

I was successful in obtaining some vinyl recordings of Alex Chilton's solo work. One of my favourites is a compilation entitled 'Alex Chilton's Lost Decade', curating Chilton's work as an artist and producer in the 70's. Released on the Fan Club label in 1986, this record is, granted, a curio, but it satisfied my yearning at the time. In addition, there are two cracker tunes - Chilton's self-penned 'Free Again' and a cover of The Seeds' 'Can't Seem To Make You Mine' - that are worth the price of admission.

It was then that I became aware of Chilton's association with Big Star. By this time, though, I was bound for Melbourne.

My introduction to Big Star came about by chance. Melbourne Uni had on campus a satellite store of Gaslight Records. I would frequent it many times a week, particularly if I couldn't be arsed to walk to the city in my lunch hour to inspect Gaslight Sr., Au Go Go, Missing Link and/or Collector's Corner. Gaslight Jr. was a shoebox of a store but, hey, it was a record shop and it satisfied my needs. It was here that I happened upon 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers'. This excited me greatly. I made the necessary transaction and gave the newly acquired vinyl a good home.

I was impressed on first listen, as I was hearing something new and unfamiliar to me. After a few more listens, 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers' came to be a revelation. I had never heard music as beautiful, haunting, aching and yet still uplifting as this before in my life. A lot of that had to be attributed to my previous predilection for the loud, grunty and weird. With this album, however, I was woken from my proverbial dogmatic slumber. It was also tapping into an emotionally complex and volatile stage of my life.

From the moment you accept the invitation to dance on the beautiful opening track 'Strike It Noel', the mood on 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers' is fragile, wavering between the genuinely uplifting and heartfelt hurt and disappointment. This ambivalence is reflected in the way the guitar is largely suppressed in the mix, in favour of reeds, woodwinds and strings. (An interesting choice, considering that Steve Cropper was one of the guitarists during the recording sessions.) When the guitar does make its presence felt, it lends itself to genuine rocking numbers, such as 'Kizza Me' (a great tune that always finds a way onto compilations I make), 'You Can't Have Me', 'Jesus Christ' and 'Thank You Friends'.

But the decided absence of the guitar as a focal listening point, along with the minimal presence of the trademark vocal harmonies evidenced on Big Star's '#1 Record' and 'Radio City' albums, must have come as a complete shock at the time. The sparse arrangements on 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers' emphasise the loneliness in Alex Chilton's voice and lyrics. This loneliness comes across as a disintegration of confidence on the cover of The Velvet Underground's 'Femme Fatale'. (While not a successful move, it is a courageous choice of song, perhaps more so at the time at the time of recording. It represents a major deviation from the Beatles and Byrds orientation of the previous Big Star albums.)

The emotional epicentre of 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers' lies in songs such as 'Nightime' and 'Holocaust'.

The previous affection felt for hanging out on the streets (like on '#1 Record') is here displaced by the need for flight, to be hidden away from the world. My heart breaks every time I hear the lines 'Get me out of here, get me out of here/I hate it here, get me out of here'. I felt empathy with Alex Chilton. I used to identify strongly with that sentiment. However, I learnt the hard way that it wasn't healthy to hold onto that thought. Otherwise you become the burnt offering of humanity captured in the desolate wasteland of 'Holocaust'. Never before have I encountered a song so bleak, so devastating, yet at the same time decidedly beautiful in its austerity and frailty. I am always moved by the emotional honesty and earnestness of this track.

I hope this doesn't paint a picture of 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers' as gruelling or depressing, as I do not remember or think of it that way. That being so, it is still not a perfect album. For example, I find 'Femme Fatale' and 'Kanga Roo' dispensable. 'Kanga Roo', in particular, is just too loose and meandering to my ears. (In a lot ways it is an intimation of future Chilton albums such as 'Like Flies On Sherbet', in which great ideas for songs struggle to rise above the heavy weight of sloppy playing and indifferent recording.) There is an undeniably loose feel to the whole of 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers', but that should not be held against it, given this album's troubled history. It is a miracle that we are able to make acquaintances with it at all. Thankfully we live in a world that is responsive and receptive to such haunting and beautiful music. Perhaps one of the hidden virtues of flawed gems is that they teach us patience, and ask of us a greater sensitivity and awareness than we would normally provide as music fans. It is a testimony to the enduring and emotionally potent force of music. 'Big Star's 3RD: Sister Lovers' certainly asks this much of us as lovers of music. It has always been worth the experience.