When it comes to things that make me happy, its been said that I’m pretty much an open book. Indeed, as I’ve had cause to remark in the past I’ve attained the enviable position of having friends and well-wishers across the land and beyond queueing up to inform me of any imminent cultural developments that might just tickle my foggy fancy. And so it proved once again last weekend when I received a deluge of messages asking if I was aware of an impending BBC Radio 4 programme presented by musician, sound-artist and all-round genius Matthew Herbert, that would undoubtedly be ‘right up my street’- ‘The Art Of The Loop’:
Matthew once made an entire album from the sounds of a single pig’s life, so he’s no stranger to the benefits of loops and sampling. He talks to producers, musicians and loop-creators and experiments with technology ancient and modern; he hears from looping’s defenders and detractors and looks into a musical future which he finds fascinating but many find terrifying. And, along the way, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer.
As you may remember, Mr. Herbert and I have a modicum of shared history. A couple of years ago we experienced something of an altercation involving conflicting respective sonic tributes to former World Service buildings, which caused some to label him my ‘arch-nemesis’. It was a period in my career that came to be known as Herbertgate, though I need hardly point out that I have always been a huge admirer of his work, if perhaps less of a fan of the BBC commissioner that sparked the furore.
Anyway, ‘The Art Of The Loop’ is a predictably fascinating listen and, as ever, what makes Herbert stand head-and-shoulders above so many others is that his work investigates the philosophical and political implications of these looping and sampling process as well as merely demonstrating the clever and beautiful music that results in playing with sounds in this way. At the time of writing, there are merely a few days left to listen again, so I urge you to click here while you still can. I do wish Radio 4 would keep it’s archive online for a bit longer…
Curiously, it was the final sentence of the programme description, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer that really caught my attention on this occasion, providing as it did a sudden jog of the memory back to a simpler time when I was a young undergraduate with big, impractical dreams and very little common sense. For yes, dear reader, I too once made a dance track out of a continuity announcer. What are the chances? Could ‘Hebertgate’ be about to enter a dramatic new phase?
Hardly. Memories of my music undergraduate days are hazy, not because of any time spent sowing the proverbial wild oat, but merely, as my dear old Gran used to say, because I’ve had a sleep since then. But one incident from that time is all-too-well preserved and it concerns a simple DJ culture workshop being run as part of my BA Hons in contemporary and popular music. Not terribly dramatic flashback-material, but stick with me.
Originally arranged by my course tutor and planned as an academic yet informal demonstration of various DJ techniques and their influence on dance culture and modern music in general, the Music Department made the decision to publicise the workshop by inviting a local TV news crew. I assume the theory was to promote the department’s open-minded approach to new and different compositional techniques alongside the more traditional classic approaches they were renown for . But sadly getting the media involved proved decidedly unwise, as that night’s programme transformed a perfectly competent and interesting workshop into that bastion of regional news teams everywhere, the ‘light-hearted “and finally” slot’. Presumably there were no kittens up trees or amusing photos of phallic-shaped vegetables that evening. ‘If the man at the turntable is a doctor and he’s spinning discs’, sniggered the reporter of DJ, saxophonist, sound artist and respected academic Dr. Matthew Sansom, ‘does that make him a “spin-doctor”‘?
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Anyway. incensed at this outpouring of scorn at the expense of my noble profession and filled with plenty of righteous ire, I quickly set about working on a riposte. If the idea of dance music being played at a major academic institution was so ripe for local news parody, I reasoned, how would they feel at finding their words incorporated into a dance track of their own? And so I took to creating a piece of music using nothing but the voices of the studio presenter and the news reporter. The only exception was the kick drum, which is taken from the contemporary Robbie Williams song ‘Rock DJ’ that opened the report, which should tell you everything you need to know about just what a nuanced and thoroughly researched piece of television I was dealing with. In some small way, it felt like making them eat their words. Or dance to them, still haven’t quite decided if the analogy works. Not that any of that really mattered more than getting one over on the establishment. Hear me roar, local newscasters!
The results were… well, look, it was a long time ago. Don’t judge it too harshly…
It goes on for quite a while longer, but I think that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Certainly nothing that will give Mr. Herbert a sleepless night. I know you’re probably wondering how on earth I ever managed to scrape a 2:1, but I’d like to think that what the piece lacks in skilful technique, it makes up for in youthful vigour and rebellious spirit, as well as being a crude but useful way of exploring the compositional techniques that would go on to help create more meaningful and significant later work. I mean I’d like to think that, really I would. The most comforting thought is that these days we’re all a little older, a little wiser, and no longer have to look towards regional news teams to define our existence. For that at least, we must be grateful.
Oh, and I can assure you this marks the end of my trawling the personal archives. I made an awful lot of very terrible stuff back then and thankfully had the good sense to lose most of it. In fact, I’m very glad that I went through my ’embarrassing demo’ years before we reached our current situation where it’s absolutely impossible to lose anything. Rather makes me wonder if sharing this with you now isn’t just shooting myself in the foot…