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piano 506
greaves,cunningham -john greaves, david cunninghamCD cover image by Lisa Schiavon

At the time we recorded this music John Greaves lived in Paris and I lived in London. We worked together during John's occasional visits to London, sometimes with months intervening between recording days. John and myself are very different people as musicians and in other ways. Thorough contingency and accident we evolved a set of working procedures to take advantage of that difference. Material was often recorded in some basic form and left for a while, to be reworked some weeks or months later. This afforded me the comparative luxury of being able to spend a lot of time trying things out in the studio while John was elsewhere, without the worry that he was getting bored with me fiddling about with something that could well turn out to be a waste of time for both of us.
I wanted to explore the current computer technology of sequencers and samplers to find uniqueness. In the same way that certain types of analogue studio equipment can have a unique effect on a sound (especially when malfunctioning). I was looking for characteristics special to computer technology, to allow the technology itself to determine processes and structures within the music.

On some of the songs I rebuilt a backing track based on John's sequenced material to explore arrangements. A mistake at this stage could change the fundamental structure of the song (see the remarks on, for instance, The Fine Friends'). Other structures, as on 'The Map of the Mountain' involved the synchronisation of looped material to enable controlled juxtapositions, creating a structural base for the music.

One of the reasons for working this way was to find a way to integrate song structures with my use of studio processes. This approach has a lot to do with the way I saw this work developing (independently of myself) and because I felt that we had reached the point where any system (song structure or process) had to be relaxed to allow development beyond the bounds of what either John or myself would instinctively allow.

David Cunningham 1992

track by track commentary:

1 the mirage

A series of found materials and structures; the backing track emerged from reworkings of my music for Ashley Bruce's 'Fragile Earth' television documentary on the endangered Mediterranean seal population. I once spent some days living on the beach in Reggio in southern Italy facing across the Straits of Messina. The mirage in the title is the phenomenon of the 'Fata Morgana' , an optical illusion in which the city of Messina appears to float on the waters of the Straits. 'Fata Morgana' is also the title of one of my favourite Herzog films. The words are appropriated by John from a source delivered to him by Peter Blegvad. DC
It is in the key of D, eminently suitable for the 3rd harmonies. JG

2 the magical building

Some of the lines: 'no knife, no hook; keep dry' came from some notes on the work of Amikam Toren, an artist working with, amongst other things, packaging instructions. These notes were stuck on the wall of my studio when John was writing the lyrics. DC
I created a sketch of the frame of the song as a computer sequence, gave it to David, and failed to recognize the result. The idea of concession, of loss of control is important here. The lyric is a little love song in what could be described as a post-surrealist idiom (associations are allowed but not dictated). There is a sung and retained mistake; the reference to 'angels' should have been 'ages'. JG

3 the other friend

Of hollow men and women, le sexe sec. JG
During the recording of his voice on 'The Fine Friends' there was a long telephone call for John. While waiting for him to finish I started listening to individual tracks on the multitrack at the slowest speed that the machine would play. Somewhere in the middle of the music I found this section, based around the guitar drone. On the principle that it would take 5 minutes to make something out of it, John added the little keyboard part and we mixed it. DC

4 one summer

There was a point during the hot summer of 1990, whilst recording this track, that the tape recorder became too hot to touch. DC

5 the emerald isle

Based on the same principle as 'The Map of the Mountain', the music was assembled around a fragment of harp music stolen from the radio. The mix introduces the various added elements with never more than two or three present at the same time. DC

6 the other world

Recorded three or four times in different forms (and also appearing in a different form on the John Greaves CD 'La Petite Bouteille de Linge' -Label La Lichère CD LLL 117), this started as an attempt to make a song shape out of a television news report. Although some interesting things happened, John rewrote the lyrics for this version and it evolved a different shape. Kristoffer Blegvad played acoustic guitar through the track which pulled it away from the direction I was thinking about at that stage so we found ourselves with a structure which represents elements of all the different versions bound by the guitar. DC

7 the frost

The token waltz. There is, incredibly, a word in the french language, vasistdas, meaning an attic window. This dates from a German question in 1784 'was ist das?' (what is that?) whilst pointing at a Parisian attic window. JG
As on the Nyman/Greenaway soundtracks there is always a waltz. This one was recorded on a very cold day. DC

8 the inside

Also in a different form on 'La Petite Bouteille de Linge' as 'Dedans'. I felt that I'd been living in France long enough to write a song in French. I was on the way to Giverny at the time. The challenge of writing in a foreign language meant that the strictures were greater because I don't have so much control. The song is about meeting someone very late in a bar in New York. She talks about the meaning of life but she's just trying to pull you, that is, she is saying 'Rose, c'est la vie' but the meaning is 'o baby...' I didn't set out to write about 'The Large Glass'. JG
For me, the break after the second 'dedans' chorus is the crack in the glass. DC

9 the red sand

A layered, treated studio improvisation based on a bass guitar melody (which has become mostly submerged) the track has the curious structural accident of appearing to be bound together by the last element to be added to the music; Yasuaki Shimizu's saxophone and bass clarinet parts (which were also improvised). DC

10 the fine friends

There is a different constraint in operation. David's vastly underestimated guitar talent made the original voice melody unworkable. Fine friends we are. Be excited by the wind and the rain. JG
I added the guitar parts in John's absence and in ignorance of what the voice melody was supposed to be. The original form of the song remains unheard. DC

11 the open book

This began with a saxophone part (played by our mutual friend Peter Gordon) from an unused piece of music I made for a film in 1987. John added a piano part to the saxophone, the saxophone was removed, the piano was re-edited, restuctured and slowed down and this emerged. DC

12 the same way

A significantly different version of this song appears on 'La Petite Bouteille de Linge' as 'Almost Perfect Lovers'. Both versions are almost perfect but it is the same stuff. JG
In 1987 I recorded a series of instrumental pieces for multiple electric guitars. John noticed that one of the pieces fitted sections of this song harmonically so we unified the two recordings here. Because of this there are more guitars on this track than anything I have ever done. DC

13 the map of the mountain

In 1988 Patti Palladin gave me a copy of a copy of a cassette of some unidentified music from Tibet. I started to make loops out of it, trying to examine the internal melodies. The basis of this track is the juxtaposition of one loop at two different speeds, the slow being the basic pulse and the fast being an ornament. As with 'The Emerald Isle' various elements were were built around this core, but unlike that track the original elements and overlays remain in the mix as the structure formed has its own internal logic. The sustained treated voice is there partly to mask the tape hiss from the cassette loop but could also be seen (along with the bass guitar parts) as a subconscious association with surfing music, most appropriate in a Tibetan context. DC

see also:
the mysterious text
john greaves -discography
david cunningham -discography
greaves, cunningham piano 506

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© 1996 john greaves, david cunningham