Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-01-24 - 12:55 a.m.

The last place I stopped musically (more or less) has come to light - a minidisc that has got some of the elements that turned into Bodyspace Lullabye - which is on the KK site and occasionally gets played (at least in part) - as do Robin’s Paul’s and Gilbert’s Luls which are alongside it .

Before those elements on the MD, are the pieces I did in March 2003 just after my return from NYC. I did them on the CZ101 - which has since developed trouble - I think it’s the output amplifier - and apparently there s some bloke in Leicester who takes an interest in ancient synths. Anyway I got to an approach to piece-making with the old synth - and I thought at that point I had made 5 of them. One of them has ended up on the Dhorn page on the KK and has some furious Gilbert guitar on it (which I am not sure he likes - my excuse is that it is part of the spirit of that specific time).

I have managed to rescue the first of these pieces - so that makes two of the five which have been corralled. I am fairly sure that the third one is identifiably there. The set is meant to be called NYC0303 marking a specific point in the unfolding of this decade.

Have I found an application for the Gamut String - alongside a drone plus guitar thing that is emerging? Is there anything wrong with working mainly on specific operations and transformations - for example keys a major third apart say - over rich drones. One of the important things about keys a major third apart is the distance - say between C (no sharps) and E (4 sharps). You might think that 5 sharps is further - except its B which is only a semitone slip - and 6 sharps which is related through the chromaticisation of dominants eg in Debussy and Charlie Parker or 7 sharps which is a semitone slip up. So then you are at 8 sharps which is the other major third step as the key of G sharp. So there s a kind of maximum distance between C E and Gsharp (Ab). Can a rich drone tie these distant harmonies together?

FOPP has an amazing jazz DVD deal - five pounds for 4 Ralph J Gleason public TV programmes from the 60s. Ben Webster/Jimmy Witherspoon, Sonny Rollins/Jim Hall. Charles Lloyd/Keith Jarrett plus the great Trane 4tet. Its 28 dollars on Amazon and I paid half that for just one of the sessions in New York. Its quality material throughout. At one extreme Webster plays a Duke Ellington classic at break neck speed- at the other Jarrett is inside the piano doing Gagaku style improv and duetting on soprano with Lloyd on tenor.

I also bought some late 40s early 50s John Lee Hooker sessions from Detroit - which led to an important new bit of information. The producer of those sessions was Bernard Besman who was a pioneer recording experimentalist. He put a cardboard box under JLH’s feet, he overloaded the guitar mike to get a fuzz effect from an acoustic guitar and he placed a speaker in front of a toilet, miking it and mixing back to create possibly the first ever example of slapback echo. By all accounts all of this was to flesh out the sound to avoid the extra cost of bringing in a band. All of this is happening about the same time that Les Paul is making his great innovations in NYC. I think that when Hooker and Miles Davis meet during this period something really important happens.

Here’s some Besman bio:

‘Besman, whose family fled Ukraine in 1921 and arrived in Detroit in 1926, had played piano and co-led a "sweet" band during the 1930s; before service in World War II, he operated a booking agency. Pan American was moving a lot of Vitacoustic product; by 1948 it had sold 175,000 copies of "Peg o' My Heart." Most of the companies it handled were "race" labels, however, including Aristocrat, Aladdin, Modern, Savoy, and Specialty. Sensation never did get its own distribution outside Pan American's home territory of Michigan and Ohio (it would conclude alliances with other labels later in its history). Despite the impression created by such coverage, Vitacoustic did not get outright ownership of the material that Sensation had recorded. Rhodes' contract, for instance, was jointly owned by the two companies.’

Savoy has some famous Charlie Parker sessions.

This arises as a facet of a page on the Vitacoustic label. Vitacoustic started in Chicago in 1947 :

‘The launch of the new label was announced in a Billboard story datelined March 29, 1947 (it ran on April 5). The headline of the story, "Putnam Springs New Waxing Technique With 'Vitacoustic'," focused on reporting the new "third-dimensional" recording technique devised by Universal Recording Studios. The Billboard scribe said, "Putnam's gimmick, while hard to describe, is said to make a band sound as if it were in the listener's room, similar to a good wired music system in a restaurant with four or five speakers set at the right places."

This article is one of the first to mention the use of echo to bring a fuller resonant sound to records--a development that has been generally credited to Universal Recording. Putnam might have been shy about describing what the studio did to get that more resonant sound. Art Sheridan, who was there at the inception of the echo technique, said, "Bill Putnam and Bernie Clapper [who founded Universal Recording] developed the first echo chamber by running a microphone and a receiver into the adjacent ladies' washroom, which was that old-type tile thing--it had great resonance--and while we were doing a session we put a guard outside the door so that nobody would come in and flush the toilet."

Such is innovation - but it looks as if Besman heard through his link with Vitacoustic about using toilet resonance. The really interesting thing is that he tries it out on the Delta Blues!

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