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While I had already composed electronic music using a Commodore Amiga 500 before the first multitrack recordings, it wasn’t until the cassette Analog-Digital Interface v1.0 in 1991 that I integrated computer sounds into the recording process. I had made several attempts to do so before, using melodies transcribed onto Deluxe Music and Aegis Sonix, but the problem with both of these packages was that they needed to be programmed classically, that is to say in terms of musical notation onto a stave. I was capable of doing this but the results came out stilted and awkward-sounding.
Some time in 1991, I don’t remember specifically when, a colleague of my flatmate, who also owned an Amiga, brought me some disks containing Soundtracker, Protracker, Fasttracker and a couple of disks of samples for them. Tracker programs, which were all available in the burgeoning public domain scene, differed from Deluxe Music and Sonix in that they displayed a continuous loop of four parallel tracks into which samples could be sequenced.
Two bands that I first heard in this year, Front 242 and Big Black, used drum machines in aggressive manners, quite unlike either acid house or techno, which were popular at the time. Also, the combination of unapologetically electronic drum sounds with guitars in Big Black was instructive as well as convenient to someone who had neither the space nor inclination to play drums.
Of course these two bands weren’t the only influences on me when I was adopting this technology. I already knew The Sisters of Mercy and Yello, but I also remember being intrigued by, of all things Killer by Adamski. In the combination of these things I could feel the seeds for a new kind of music.
My first attempt to distill this sound was in the cyber-space-pop anthem Set Phasers to Stun, which was remarkably embarassing but highly ambitious. Being able to record four tracks of samples as well as a vocal and a guitar track expanded the sound vastly. Unfortunately my lyrical and songwriting skills didn’t match my ambition and perhaps the awkward lyric “die before you’re twenty-one” in this track was the last awkward howl of my teenage years.
The album was forty five minutes long: so that it could appear whole on both sides of a C90 cassette for “greater direct access”. The sleeve was hand drawn in stark black and white and photocopied. I gave copies to friends and left a stack for sale at Recollect, a secondhand record shop in Strood, where I had also bought my first guitar to impress the ex-girlfriend from the previous episode.
There was a cyberpunk sensibility to the whole endeavour: the opening track was called Chiba City Blues in reference to Neuromancer and the title of the cassette, v1.0 Analog-Digital Interface, was consciously referencing software numbering protocols as would all of the cassettes until 1997.
But there were still other references in the mix: Behold the Man referred to Michael Moorcock’s novel of the same name and Lightship (Fractal Edge of Relativity) was inspired by James Gleick’s Chaos. None of these references were deployed with any great facility of subtlety, but they give a sense of the world that I felt I inhabited at the time.
I was continuing to fail romantically and academically at the time and I’m not sure that too many friends understood why I was doing this rather than making dance music. I remember telling relatives at the time that this was “my one chance to do something”, which was inaccurate and probably baffling, but suggest to me a depth of monomania and inarticulacy which are probably common at that age.
Next: Some Rudiments of Sublight Speed Astrogation.