April 1987 A4 32 pages
photocopy reprint (last 2 copies)
Example article extract
A couple of years after Bill Nelsonís time as a frequent performer in the UK singles charts as leader of the band Be Bop Deluxe, I was reintroduced to his music via the release of an album called SOUNDING THE RITUAL ECHO in 1981. The music contained on this extraordinary record was such an unexpected pleasure that Iíve been hooked ever since. All of which results in this article - the instrumental music of Bill Nelson.
This is music that contains a number of important lessons and principles that should be observed by all musicians (especially those working at home), who are trying to create new and interesting musics. For while he has worked in vast numbers of big time professional studios, all but one of the records I will mention here was recorded at home, sometimes On "broken or faulty tape machines", domestic 4 track in other words. The reason for the creation of these records has always been an artistic one and not a commercial one. Itís music to be listened to - itís not a product, a Ďunití to be sold. So lets look, listen and learn.
THE PARAMETERS OF THIS CHRONICLE
When I decided to write this article I didnít quite realise what I was letting myself in for, in terms of the vast quantity of instrumental music Bill Nelson has released in the last 6 years - itís
extraordinary, 11 albums for a start. So, to make things easy for myself and to limit the length of this article for Audionís sake I will only cover the full albums of instrumentals (and one 12" EP). The tracks that have appeared on B sides of singles, as bonus tracks on 12"s and on his albums of songs (his Ďrockí output), will have to be left for another time, as will the series of EPís only available to members of the club ĎAcquitted By Mirrorsí. I will also miss out his involvement with the Japanese music scene, as both main inspiration (along with Kraftwerk) for the techno-bop bands and as guest musician with the likes of YMO, Tsuchiya, Takahashi etc. All the releases discussed here are still available (some in re-released form) and the current catalogue numbers will be given at the end.
THE START OF DREAMING
SOUNDING THE RITUAL ECHO (ATMOSPHERES FOR DREAMING) was originally released free with his rock album QUIT DREAMING & GET ON THE BEAM and if anything showed the gulf between the public and private sides of his music this was it. On the sleeve Bill explained the albums existence, "The music owes its existence to a very personal and selfish obsession.... They are presented here not only as a form of personal exorcism, but as a public demonstration of the private art of practical dreaming". The role of the artist is to explore his own world, his dreams, ideas, views and present them to the world at large.
Recorded at the Echo Observatory (the room above Bill's kitchen), this album is played entirely on synths, with each side having itís own character. most of it is dream like, reflective, moody and atmospheric. But there are a number of up-tempo pieces among the 15 tracks. At this point you will be expecting me to list the music that this album reminds me of Well - I canít think of anyone! The music has a quality all its own, one I canít compare with anyone else. All manner of classical, experimental, avant-garde and rock composers can be imagined from the music, but the truth is somewhere between all of these styles. Itís a haunting and original work. In the sleeve notes Bill seemed to promise more to come. It did.
SOUNDTRACKS - THE THEATRE
Early in 1981 Bill was approached by the Yorkshire Actors Company to provide the soundtrack to their forthcoming production of "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari", a reworking of the classic 1919 silent film. The idea of the production was to build on the originalís expressionist style by adding mime and dance, while, as in the film, using no dialogue at all. The soundtrack therefore had to be more than just a collection of music, but had to relate exactly to the moods and settings of the various parts of the story. Because of the limited time available to the project Bill was under considerable pressure and he did produce the completed score, "after several days intense work and a certain amount of last minute editing"
Released as DAS KABINET the music is dark and brooding, with only occasional brighter flashes during the early part of the story. Iíve only ever seen the original film, but I can well imagine the score working brilliantly with Robert Weineís masterpiece. The music is for the most part fairly simple - a line or two of synth, a burst of electronic percussion, but it conveys vast amounts of information. One of my all time favourite atmospheric albums, dark and brooding. The Y.A.C. toured with this production as recently as early 1987.
Almost a year on from his original commission Bill was asked again to provide the company with music, this time for a production of LA BELLE ET LA BETE. An Arts Council grant helped with this venture, with some of the money helping Bill upgrade the Echo Observatory to 8 track. As before it was to be an adaptation of a classic film, this time Jean Cocteauís 1946 gem (one of Billís heroes).
The nature of the plot made the music more romantic, more impressionist than its predecessor. It also had to be more episodical to help portray the complex story-line in a short space of time. (The 90 minute film is condensed to a 40 minute play.) Let Bill describe the results - "Within the finished music can be found references to Georges Auric in the use of simulated snare drum rolls, to Gyorgy Ligeti for the montage of chord and choral effects, and to Erik Satie for his oblique harmony and purity of line. Hopefully these influences are absorbed naturally into the overall framework, providing both a personal tribute and a key of reference for the discerning listener". Added to that is an extensive use of Ďnaturalí sounds. I will admit to finding this album a little hard work for the first few listens, but it has certainly grown on me, as I now rate very highly indeed.
A MISSING PIECE OF THE JIGSAW
SAVAGE GESTURES FOR CHARMS SAKE is a 6 track mini album made up of tracks recorded during the same sessions as his 2 previous Ďrockí albums. Longer pieces than weíve encountered up until now, they again show a wide range of styles. ANOTHER HAPPY THOUGHT is perhaps the ultimate Japanese sounding instrumental, a gift to all documentary film makers. (Yukihiro Takahashi has suggested that Bill is actually more Japanese than the Japanese in his outlook to music -perhaps thatís why heís so highly regarded there?) Far more ambient are tracks like Narcosis and Portrait Of Jan With Moon & Stars which features single piano notes and Fripp like guitar over a synth drone. Not only is this album not recorded at the Echo Observatory, but it also has a guest musician on one track - all the other work in this article is played totally by Bill.
Written by Gary Scott
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