A Guide to Hidden Live
A few months ago I was contacted by André de Ridder about how These New Puritans could work towards doing an integral performance of Hidden from start to finish. we'd been working towards something like this for a while, so it was exciting to be contacted by someone who wanted to make it happen and who could operate in the opposing musical spheres a performance like this demands. after we met, the Barbican and Britten Sinfonia got involved for the UK date, as well as the Pompidou Centre in Paris etc. for each show we'll be joined onstage by a chamber orchestra of 12 woodwind and brass (alto flute, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, flugelhorn, 2 french horns, baritone horn, bass trombone, tuba) and 2 percussionists (playing taiko drums, vibraphones, live foley techniques (!), knives, chains etc etc). this will be the fullest realisation of Hidden imaginable. also, sophie will be re-joining us for these shows. anyway, i'm now staring the process of arranging the music for this ensemble / line-up, which I should finish by mid-to-late September...
This is an email I sent to everyone in the These New Puritans team, to let them know what we were on about with this album. all these ideas were absolutely secondary to the personal process of making music and having fun and trying to make something good. but they were either in the fronts or the backs of our minds while we were making it or once we'd finished. if it doesn't make sense to you just ignore it and listen to the music (which is the only thing that matters really - that's why we made an album, not an email), but maybe it will be interesting if you like the music. it was really me saying "Oiy".
OK... here you go:
From: Jack Barnett
Subject: an email about TNPS' album
Date: 14 October 2009 11:53:47 GMT+01:00
I thought i'd send everyone a rough email just detailing some stuff about the music which might help you (or not) in working on it.
if i've left anyone out or if you think it would be productive for anyone else to read this within the team, please forward it to them --- thanks.
The new These New Puritans album is called Hidden. Graham Sutton and me produced it and it was mixed by Dave Cooley. It's completely different to the last one.
it has quite strict musical components...
1) beats / percussion / taiko drums / foley techniques
taiko drums are japanese temple drums. they're not particularly historic. we hired three of them. two of them were too big to fit in the studio (see pictures) so we recorded them in the adjoining warehouse. all of the percussion (tamborims, roto-toms etc )is through-performed and not programmed. the rhythmic language on the album is pinched from i) 90s and 00s dancehall and ii) 20th century post-minimalism (especially later steve reich). in fact, when pressed (by session musicians etc) on what the music was like we would say that the album was "dancehall meets benjamin britten", which is partly accurate. the album is quite sub-heavy (anglo-carribean tradition)
I wanted parts of the album to have the crispness and clarity of film sound effects. so i got into foley techniques. we recorded sounds of knives being sharpened. and spent an hour in B & Q testing the sound qualities of various kinds of chain. me and graham drove to various hardware stores and grocers getting the right components to make Foley recordings. e.g. we smashed (with a hammer) a melon with cream crackers selotaped to it (simulating the sound of someone's head being smashed in). for some of these we used binaural recording techniques (roughly: using a dummy head to simulate the sound-reception of a human head). you can hear the melon on Fire-Power.
2) brass and woodwind ensemble recordings
we recorded a massive chunk of the album in one day with a thirteen-piece woodwind and brass band comprising two clarinets, alto flute, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, flugelhorn, two french horns, baritone horn, trombone, bass trombone and tuba.
the main reference was benjamin britten, especially his opera Peter Grimes. in fact the landscape evoked by that was really important... the sea, the melancholy marshes of the thames estuary etc.
i like benjamin britten's parochialism / insularity / rejection of the 20th century avant garde.
anyway, in order to do this i learnt how to notate and arrange for wind band (and piano, childrens choir, mallets etc etc)
a long time was spent with arrangements bouncing between me and ryan lott. in total he worked on three tracks (four if you include canticle, which is actually just the woodwind sections of the second half of '5') and i worked on two of those arrangements and the remainder (including session parts). speaking of '5' - it is the oldest piece on the album (i started writing it 6 years ago).
more generally, the composition was based equally between manuscript paper (a lot of it) and sequencing software. i stopped segregating my ideas for this album so all these techniques combined.
me, graham and ryan flew out to prague and we recorded all the brass and woodwind ensemble parts in one day.
bypassing the usual practice of maintaining the 'dignity' of classical instrumentation, we used crappy' dancehall pre-set sounds/ US pop and rnb sounds.
because the worst thing for ensemble brass / woodwind and classical instrumentation to enact is credibility / poshness / authenticity !!!!
but they were part of a more general, abstract idea for a kind of music. all the programmed stuff is deliberately anti-electronica - the only thing worse than trying to enact credibility with classical instrumentation is trying it with some tech-y programming.
dave cooley (j dilla, mf doom, madvillain) mixed the album in LA and gave it hardness. it took a long time and a lot of emailing and skype-ing but in the end he did and made it a better album.
4) close, solo woodwind, brass and mallets
one of the last steps was inviting session soloists to play individual parts for various songs. it was like a production line ... + because the compositions changed little from when i first played the demos to graham. when the pianist came in she thought she was playing on a contemporary classical post-minimalist album (she just played to a click and gm midi). we focused on the lower range of woodwind (contrabassoons !)
actually the final things to be done were me and graham going to a school hall and recording some kids singing on a few tracks with a mobile recording set-up, and getting heather marlatt from Salem to do some vocals (in New York i think) and emailing them to us (on Attack Music). or maybe that was earlier on - i can't remember. george's idea to have the kids on attack music was genius.
i won't talk about the themes / meanings of the songs, they're probably better if you listen to them.
the album is anti-distortion, anti-reverb, anti-experimental and anti-literary.
the reasons: distortion is easy and old fashioned; we used real ambiences not plug-ins; this is pop, experimental music is too easy; we're sick of people talking crap about us being a literary band and all that kind of thing.
thanks for reading this far --
i hope it's helpful...