Monorail – 1996

monorailcoverMany of the innovations on the v9.0 album are the result of a new recording technology. On all of the previous albums the multitrack parts on cassette were mixed down to another cassette deck resulting in two stages of signal degradation, and a further stage when the cassette was copied to another cassette. This muddy warmth with a hissy background is only really desirable on a nostalgic basis as a lo-fi aesthetic. Sometime in late 1995 I acquired a Philips DCC recorder which improved the sound quality, at least at the mastering stage.

DCC or Digital Compact Cassette was Philips CD quality digital recording format. A few albums were released commercially on this format. It was the same size as compact cassette and the machines were actually capable to playing regular cassettes. To differentiate DCCs from other cassettes they had a sliding shutter over the tape head opening reminiscent of a 3.25 inch floppy disk.

2015-11-08 10.43.12As well as the four track recordings on the Tascam Porta One, other sound sources, such as computer tapes played on a personal stereo and samples played directly from the Amiga were added to the mix in real time during the mastering process to give the album many layers; a collage effect inspired by The Faust Tapes. This effect is used on the opening track Theme From Monorail to create a tape panorama: guitar drones played backwards emerge out of the high pitched howl of the Tascam’s mixer section feeding back on itself and a patchwork of second long segments from the Platform Five(5) archive jumpcut across a channel surfing multi-lane space. While the internet did exist at the time I didn’t have access to it until about a year and a half later.

Monorail is a set of games played with mixing. At its most extreme, the conceptual joke Meditation On Arrangment features a close-miked clock ticking on one side of the stereo, while a toilet flushes on the other side. The message is that music is shit that happens over time. In other places the tracks are more conventionally musical: Boccioni Parkway is a dry thrash of triumphant major key riffing which abrades sparks off scuzzy dissonances. The transforming chords at the heart of this track are intuitions into ideas that I would much later formalise as a fully modal approach to guitar, but not for about another twelve years.

And where Monorail is musical it is largely guitar based, sometimes accompanied by drum machines, sometimes unaccompanied or played with less conventional rhythmic devices; found pieces of metal, radiators, spanners. There is no Kawai K1 on Monorail. I can’t remember specifically why I decided not to use the K1 or midi sequencing on the album, perhaps it was that I had experimented with it so extensively on the VEDiC and VEDA tapes that I felt that I wanted to find other ways to manipulate sound.

The feedback generated by wiring the aux return of the Tascam back into itself recurs throughout the album, as well as samples of a recording of myself running from the bottom of the flat to the top; the flat was above an off licence, and was on several levels. Making this sample was a way to play the whole enviroment. It appears speeded up to various degrees, clattering and grinding across the mix. Similarly there are close recordings of radiators ticking away as they heat up. Perhaps I neglected the K1 on Monorail because I wanted to turn the recording space – Four Station Delongii, the corridor outside, the bathroom along the corridor, the stairs – into a species of synthesizer.

The packaging was similar in spirit; dot matrix printed black coils printed onto random pieces of paper: forms, documents, whatever came to hand. The word “monorail” appears twice on the spines of the fold in black and in white, so that it can be be arranged in the cassette case as either. A hand torn strip of paper describes the album as “MONORAIL ecV9.0″ along with recording data and an ambiguous track listing. Beneath the track listing there is a quotation from Eliot’s The Waste Land: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

Monorail does not specify whether it is an Entropy Circus album, a VEDiC or VEDA album, or something else altogether. In some ways it feels like it is impatient to transcend itself: always not this, or not just this. It bleeds out into the world: it’s cannot be content with being a recording of music by a band, it has designs upon becoming everything.

For all of this, Monorail is anchored in time and space by the track Nostalg2. In the background of this track there is a dictaphone recording of a walk to Alaric’s house on a Sunday morning; cars drive by, the wind blows on the microphone; I knock on the door, Alaric answers, I enter the house; Alaric’s mother Margaret and I discuss the weather.

Margaret died several years later, and this voice on a Sunday morning, haunts the album. Then again, all recordings are haunted by the people who made them, and presumed to use them as a device to manipulate time and memory: making time move backwards, slow down, speed up; falsifying or reinventing memory in its own image.

This was the last album recorded at Four Station DeLongii.

Monorail can be streamed or downloaded from archive.org. (There is an alternate cover design on the archive.org page)

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