The new Warner Flat, this time on the ground floor, was quickly established with a new studio, Telephonecomplex. I acquired my first virtual analogue synth, a Red Sound Darkstar and a new, more powerful laptop, but it took around six months to settle to making any new music that I was satisfied with. There were odds and ends of experiments but nothing was completed until the early months of 2003.
Even though Stella Maris was only two tracks, it was a crucial moment. Using Cool Edit Pro on the new laptop, I moved away from quarter inch tape recording. Quite apart from the convenience of hard disk recording, tape was relatively expensive and not widely available. Cool Edit would allow me to manipulate loops with far greater sophistication than ever before.
Stella Maris One, is a relatively short drone piece, which is densely composed around a melody in the Sephardic Freygish scale. I had been toying with this riff for several years and here with looped tablas, Darkstar warbles and a drone constructed from two seconds of guitar, timestretched to several minutes, it turns into a potent machine.
The second track, Stella Maris Two, is a longer piece, more freeform and improvisational. Again it uses tabla loops, and timestretched drones, but here there is far more freedom. The wah bass and the brittle guitar dance around each other, while a tight synth pans on the beat from hard left to hard right.
In some ways these are not very different from things that I had recorded before, but the focus and the editing are far more controlled. The emphasis on drone was clearly something that was in the air at the time because I was asked by several people, including Mark Pilkington, about playing Stella Maris live. I turned them down because there was no band, this was a recording project. There is no clear indication whether Stella Maris was a new and distinct band from the Entropy Circus or whether this was just the name of the EP. I had seen the name Stella Maris on a church in Hastings one weekend, but it had also appeared in a piece from the 14th century El Llibre Vermell, that I was listening to a lot at the time. The whole editing process came to me during that weekend, and two stones I found on the beach became the cover images for the sleeve.
I had moved onto another set of recording, called Entropy Circus Presents Stella Maris, that autumn when Al Robertson, whose Brixton Alive night I was designing posters for, asked me whether I could put on Stella Maris live. This time for some reason I said yes. In Chewton Road my friends Gyrus and Grufty Jim were living over the road. Jim, Tim and Deo were enlisted into the band, playing acoustic guitar with a fan, jew’s harp and fiddle, and tablas respectively. I was playing twelve string acosutic Since there were already at least two bands called Stella Maris – one from Israel, the other from Bosnia – I decided to call the band The Stella Maris Drone Orchestra.
It was the first gig that I had played since Platform Five(5)’s cataclysmic debut at the Klinker in 1999. It was entirely acoustic and we were playing to a lively Brixton audience. We played an extended improvisation modelled upon Stella Maris Two. It was absolutely terrifying but somehow it came off.
Stella Maris can be streamed or downloaded from archive.org.
Next: Stella Maris LP.