Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I should paint the [blue] room

There was a time when I immersed myself in electronic sounds. Those synthetic beats and the squelch of the 303. Around then – back in the early nineties - the band I was in [which was mostly in my head] had mutated to a three piece – drum machines, analogue synths, sequencers, tape decks, guitars and dub bass. I would set up elaborate recording sessions – those bedroom beats – emanating from the record deck or sequenced on the Korg – with the Roland Juno 6 providing the arpeggiated pulse of the post summer of love.

I was no Aphex Twin.

But those moments exist – locked down on C60s and C90s – waiting to explode again when I eventually buy the Amstrad Studio 100 from ebay – to reanimate them and revel in more nostalgia. [but i said no more nostalgia rides]


These [acidic] experiments were fuelled by the electronica that was slowly filling my waking and walking hours and drifting ever more into my dreams. I was a postman at this point, in communications you see – after all that degree had to count for something. Being a postman had its pluses – its positives – you get to the sorting office – you sort your letters – pop them in the frame – bag up [I am carry bag man] and get out – the time is then yours – through those concrete streets, that when you wondered stopped you going under.

And at weekends I would fill my head with electronic sounds. In the clubs at volume – through purchases across northern record stores and Nick, Danny, Darryl or Chris’s recommendations

And over the last week I have attempted to listen to The Orb.

It had been a week of oddness, of vagueness and cravings and hallucinations as infections rolled around my face and seeped into my teeth. I’ve felt like this many times – all full of something and reeling. And wanting to paint the house - but not moving a muscle - feeling that draining feeling and not sleeping. 

And I always return to the ambient ways of the techno pioneers. Lying upstairs as Smokebelch slowly beats its 13 minutes into my skull and soothes the gums that swell and provide far too much heat in my face. And then mustering the energy to get down stairs and selecting The Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume Two – whilst putting on Football Focus as Papa Doc Crookes and Robbie Savage banter over Swindon’s form or whether Blackburn deserve it this season.

I think I first heard Aphex Twin on John Peel – Analogue Bubblebath or possibly Didgeridoo - all analogue production and rolling acid lines. That DIY approach – recorded on cassettes and cheap four tracks. I remember getting our first computer – a Spectrum 128+ - Daley Thompson loaded in bleeps and whirrs – and simple programming to make it hold a note. You could get a Cheetah keyboard to link up with it – I coveted that keyboard. Never bought it or received it – but imagined the possibilities of machines making music. Richard D James made the sounds in all our analogue heads – those echoes and arpeggios that soothed the soul and chimed with the industrial backgrounds of steel towns.

Washed out and slow – rhythmic but not precise.  Pure ambient work[s] for the sleepless youth.

But I was talking of The Orb and their ambient riffing. I have been trying to listen to them. Not lots of Orb songs – just Blue Room. The epic prog –ambient tune that made it on to TOTP. It’s 47 minutes long. Taking me back to those days and nights when sleep was not required.

It was the day of my twenty first birthday when Alex and Thrash played chess on Top of the Pops – this odd appearance on a pop show for the teens all awash with dub bass and swirls and squelches. I watched it with Paul and then ventured to The Beefeater on a roundabout on the way into town to buy my own and others drinks as I came of age. Listening to The Orb live was a wonder – a vibrant dubbed up sonic experience for the new age. I remember Kilburn Ballroom – bedecked in laser light and smoke – all dark corners and exchanges as their dub merriment carried us upwards and onwards. Music was opening up back then. We were listening to all sorts – everything and anything went.

Thrown in the mix by the good doctor.

And I guess that’s the same for all the young ones today – as they raid the vaults and collide the sounds into new spaces and experiences for their own long nights and emerging dawns. But these electronic sounds are just as important as Heatbreak Hotel – this chain reaction from machines to man through minds and switches and chains and patches – as musique concrete gave way to loops and moogs and the radiophonic workshop switched us on to the low LFO [the work of the good doctor again – except this was a different one – Alex has yet regenerate]

Thrown out at two o’clock onto Kilburn High Street all disorientated as lamp light beams stretched and radiated glows signalling the way home. We decided not to get the night bus – navigate our way through streets and across roads – back street suburbs and mansions as eyes widened to the dark and laughs and nonsense came readily from our mouths.

The Orb could have that effect – all soothing and safe in their ambient arms. And on this magical mystery tour of North London past Abbey Road and houses with one light on – I glanced a bin bag – a simple black bin liner. No reason to get it in my sights – but I fixed on it nonetheless – as we made our way to Trafalgar Square – when buses could drive all the way around it – and between us we opened this bin bag up – a random sack on the roadside and out tumbled ‘Turtle Crazy’ by The Toy Dolls – all glaring cover in a two colour print.

It was a sack full of them – unplayed and unplayable I suppose – but a sack full nonetheless - I would say it was a unique moment – but things like that happen when you’re young and fancy free. But finding them in that sack somehow chimes with the Orb’s sense of fun – that playfulness that keeps your feet dancing and your head expanding.

It was good to listen to The Orb – it was good to get back to my electronic roots – and in the midst of revisiting that room in my room – I stumbled on this – what The Orb do best.