CD with 12 page booklet
Cover by Cllive Graham
c (12:58) mp3
total time 59:21
Although Machine was completed in 1971 it was not released until 1973, shortly after the release of Journey Into Space. Machine is therefore the first major composition by Trevor Wishart. It was composed at York University and was originally issued on vinyl as 3 sides of a highly adventurous 3LP box set called Electronic Music From York, released by the University’s own record label.
In common with Journey Into Space (also on Paradigm Discs), Machine makes use of a large number of volunteer contributors, mostly from the student body at York. With this recording, however, there are no instruments used.
Instead, the music of Machine is made up entirely from a combination of spoken text and carefully directed improvising choirs that take their lead from prerecorded factory sounds. These are extensively mixed and edited with yet more collected machine sounds and other sources of musique concrète, as well as occasional use of basic electronic sources. The scale of this work, and the degree of preparation involved in scoring it, seem to have more resonances with the world of theatre or film rather than tape composition. Much of Wishart's early work involved the use of musicians and artists being directed to perform in new ways, outside of their usual remit. A combination of late 60s openness, detailed scores that provide frameworks for improvisation and slavish editing have resulted in an incomparable sound work.
With a continuous playing time of one hour, the wild and previously unexplored terrain covered by this pioneering work of British experimental music moves in turn through the full range of possible audio landscapes from the oceanic calm of the doldrums to earsplitting factory mayhem.
The reprint of a pioneering project by Trevor Wishart, completed in 1971, "Machine" could easily be mistaken for a very recent release, so well outlined in its audio landscapes, with carefully combined spoken texts, backing vocals and pre-recorded sounds, thoroughly manipulated and with the subsequent addition of several electro-acoustic edits. The work of the English composer only saw the light for the first time in 1973, in a triple vinyl. It was produced for the label of the same University of York where most of the material was sketched out, before being recorded in a power plant in Nottingham, a Schweppes bottling department, a sheet metal factory, in the Leeds telephone exchange and many other similar locations, using a large number of volunteers, most of them students. No instrument was used in those sessions and, in any case, the drones extracted directly from the machines integrate perfectly, setting against the tonal and improvisational singing, which is focused also on single words and narrative fragments, with hallucinated rhythms of an early post-human kind.
Sound Projector - issue 17top of page
The third in a series of Trevor Wishart records to be rescued by Clive Graham's Paradigm label; the other two were the extremely eccentric Beach Singularity and the most excellent Journey Into Space, a 1973 concoction that found the missing link between Apollo XI and the Morris Minor (sonically speaking of course). And if you really want to get into the work of this great UK electro-acoustic-composer, you need to hear his improvised work as part of Intermodulation (the 1971 recording of 'Performants' might still be available on that David Toop compilation of English music). This release is also another slice of history from the 1972 triple-LP set, Electronic Music from York; eventually we'll get to hear the whole of this limited-release University label record.
This work, comprising four suites numbered Machine 1-4 (over five tracks), is subtitled 'An Electronically Preserved Dream'; and that may clue you in to its bewildering, meandering logic. Part of me was hoping for some sort of hybrid of classical music with industrial noise. Wrong. There are recordings of heavy machinery, but they don't seem to appear very often; it's really more a record of human voices doing controlled recits, a species of concrete poetry, which may be why Graham (curator of the Sound Poets Exposed radio show) selected it. The factory recordings were fetched from power stations, sheet metal pressing plants, machine tool factories, and other locations documented by Wishart in the extensive notes; and there are any number of tape loops and processed recordings chosen from a large pot-pourri of sources, including radio signals, ethnic music, the ocean, heartbeats, moon landing recordings, and even a Palestrina early music recording. Wishart represents what is to me, a distinctly English approach to musique concrète. The French school (who invented it), even though they allowed all manner of wild production treatments of recording tape, seemed to me highly proscriptive about what sources were allowed to go onto that tape in the first place. Wishart's choices conversely are both generous and eccentric, and for that I am grateful. I loved that signature style on Journey Into Space, and I love it here too. Machine is the dotty sort of record that could only have been made in England.
The voice elements, which to some extent dominate the record, are provided by a species of avant-garde choir. The performers were sitting at tables with sets of printed words on cards before them; they were directed, by means of additional 'controller' cards and 'instruction' cards, that governed the dynamics of their vocalising, and the order in which the spoken-word events would happen. The word lists themselves were all carefully chosen, expressing some aspect of machinery or automation. Again, this strikes me as a peculiarly English and early 1970s mode of art production; I'm reminded (as I often am) of the work of the structuralist-materialist film makers, many of whom worked to mathematical systems (numbers, grids, sequences) to determine the structure of their determinedly non-narrative abstract movies. The result with Machine though is anything but conceptual or arid; the voices roar, shout, chant and scream, and the record crackles with a feral energy as a result. One moment to the next, I'm not sure if I'm hearing striking workers protesting the Industrial Relations bill, a rabid football crowd at Old Trafford, or rock fans applauding Jethro Tull at the Hammersmith Odeon. The record has somehow managed to capture some of the grey, downtrodden spirit of 1971 England; I kept having flickering visions of Edward Heath on the TV telling us about imminent electricity cuts.
There are further variations, but Machine's basic set-up is this fascinating lurching that takes place between the pre-recorded sound assemblages and the sounds of the choir; the lack of balance or equalisation in the live recordings (no mixing desk at the start, apparently), and the presence of 'distortion and microphone handling'. These are explained to us as the shortcomings of the limited resources Wishart had available at the time. But to me, these 'mistakes' add tons of atmosphere and grit to what is already a grey and gritty tape-work masterpiece. Read Wishart's notes for the careful arrangements he has made, with full lists of sound sources, wordlists, and instructions given to the choir. I suppose any other composer could take these same building blocks and arrive at something quite different (or fail miserably to arrive at anything listenable); it's likely that a lot of the genius resides in Wishart's skills with the editing blade, and even more noticeably behind the mixing desk (presumably there was such a device available at the editing stage). Wishart's cross-fades and pans here are remarkable, in places causing Machine to resemble a sort of avant radiophonic play, telling an extremely strange dramatic tale. If there's a theme to this story, it may have some sort of implied criticism of the machine age (with attendant Marxist themes about dehumanisation and the growth of Capitalism, sometimes stated outright by the chanting voices), but to be honest all of that politicking is but a footnote to the huge sonic sweep of this canvas. It's a work of impossible ambiguity, and the fourth track is particularly hallucinatory; you won't believe what you're hearing when you reach that combination of wailing voices, early music choir and moon rockets flying 'into the sun'. It is indeed an electronic dream preserved, and one that gets stranger the deeper you go into it. Packed with great archival details, such as Peter Coleman's eye-popping collage images and diagrams from the original score, this is an absolutely essential release. Ed Pinsent 26/07/2008