Cracked Machine, 2000
This interview finds Graeme Rowland of Cracked Machine cornering Wire in a room at The Garage during the band's mini-residency in May 2000.
A process of derision to practise with at home.
The date: Sunday the 28th of May, 2000.
The place: a cupboard-like room near the stage of The Garage, London.
The occasion: Wire are at the end of the first phase of their 2000 incarnation. Graeme Rowland caught up with them to interrogate and disseminate. Now read on:
GR: Graeme Rowland
CN: Colin Newman
BG: Bruce Gilbert
GL: Graham Lewis
So, here we assembled in what seemed to be a cupboard in The Garage, London. Wire agreed to speak to me about their 'art', something I'd have deemed impossible having had Chairs Missing entranced in my early teenage years. Of course, I had to buy that album after hearing I am the Fly. Ironically, the Fly had also turned up this evening, bothering Bruce Gilbert as he changed his guitar strings. A sinister.jpgt?
Colin Going Ahead Saturday night at The Garage
Still more mysterious: Edvard Graham Lewis seemed to materialise out of the ether at back of room and soon asserted proceeding DOMinancE and asked me about the spelling of my name. Two 'Grahems' in a room.
Colin Newman left early to meet his family and Robert Grey soon followed after a silence unbroken since introductions under the cover of the DOME, a duo whose thought processes seem so familiar to each other that they often finish each others' sentences
Later by email Colin commented on the fly situation: 'Unfortunately it wasn't so special. The Garage is full of flies! They were dive-bombing us all through rehearsals'.
Feeding on the putrid corpse of rock'n'roll perhaps!
CN: What did your fanzine used to be called?
GR: Kill Everyone Now! Although I didn't go round killing people! Not unless they refused to buy it!
GL: Hence the number of dead bodies.
CN: It's one of the more provocative fanzines.
GR: That's nice to know in a way. I heard you were recording with Steve Albini in Chicago. Rumour had it you recorded seven songs there.
GL: Twelve actually. It was the set were doing in America.
GR: So you recorded He Knows? Do you feel that song is finished now?
CN: This weekend we've been playing it a lot better! Nothing's ever finished!
GL: Nothing's finished! It's a version. It's where we were at when we got to Chicago. What it sounded like playing in Steve's studio. It's a real back to basics kind of recording: analogue recording; group plays; Colin sings. If Colin's happy vocal kept, if not... Four vocals you redid?
GL: Overdubs: I did all my backing vocals, Rob did one drum thing and that was it. Now Steve's going to mix it.
GR: He's known for recording quickly.
GL: Like we are.
CN: We had two days and we wanted to record the set so it was really the circumstance that decided how it was done.
GL: As it happened, the first day we were pretty tired and it took us some time to settle in so it was all recorded on the second day—apart from He Knows, nothing else got kept [from the first day].
GR: Are you planning to release these recordings? You can't have heard them if Steve hasn't mixed them yet!
CN: When we get the mixes we'll see what we think of it and if it's an item it'll be Pink Flag 3.
GL: I had the idea of calling it Unit.
Colin seemed unimpressed by this suggestion: Unit. I'm catalogue numbers: PF1, PF2, PF3.
GR: So everything went well and you got on together?
CN: It was very pleasant. He's converted a factory on two levels. The upper level is accommodation, which is very homely. Steve lives in a part of that.
Graham's words are lost under a wailing wail of feedback on the tape caused by Colin's mobile. An unfortunate interruption or an inadvertent remix? As Graham will later observe, reality is a cut up. The tape recorder knows.
CN: Hello love, where are you now?
GL: A staff of eight. All of whom have been able to accept his work ethic which is hard and gritty.
GR: I imagine that he's really enthused about what you're doing now because he's a big Wire fan isn't he? I thought that in some ways after the Royal Festival Hall that the most similar band around sound-wise is Shellac.
GL: There's more of us so I think they sounded quite a lot sparer than us. I must admit that I rather envied some of the power that Bob had in his amp. When I was in Chicago I had a chance to use one and he's subsequently found me one. Unfortunately it hasn't arrived yet.
GR: Susan Stenger told me on Friday that you are getting together again in August with the intention of writing new songs.
GL: She's psychic!
CN: If I'm not in America, yeah.
GR: Playing live or doing something else?
CN: Doing something else.
GR: And you don't want to say what?
CN: It's okay, everybody knows what it is but I'm not sure whether it's going to happen or not. I'll tell you when it's happening.
GL: It's the longest tour that never happened.
CN: It's a matter of one email really!
GL: It's on a par with the long march of Chairman Mau.
CN: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Fifteen years in the making.
GR: There seemed to be more songs from Chairs Missing than any other album in the Royal Festival Hall set.
GL: I haven't counted to be honest!
Nor had I. The score was actually four all Pink Flag vs. Chairs Missing. Bloody Chairspotter.
CN: That's not really how we think of it. If we're playing historical material, however way we're handling it we really look in terms of what's do-able.
In other words we need; a) somebody who can remember how to play and teach the others and; b) what's practical. There are some things that are very reliant upon an atmosphere and it's impossible to recreate that atmosphere. And then there are some things that we could never imagine playing again in a million years.
GL: Some things the best we could think of was that we could emulate and that's not good enough. That's not what we're trying to do. We're trying to do something unique with this retrospective.
GR: Bruce, you've spoken before about how mistakes can sometimes cause interesting mutations in songs. Do any of you feel that has happened to any of the songs in this set?
BG: Possibly not.
CN: I think we're in a different mode.
BG: I think there are but they might be individual things that occur during a particular moment that can become part of one's own part rather than the overall arrangement.
CN: But it's quite tightly woven, so you can't just suddenly do something completely different. It has to fit within the net of what we're doing. In a way it's like an intention of breaking or creating tension. In the early days we were quite well drilled and it later became more loose and now we're even better drilled.
GL: We get very well drilled. I think then what tends to happen is the time factor on stage changes because you've got more time to think and then what tends to happen is you can find variations and you can find new things to do because that's the stimulating part of it. Otherwise you just keep holding down the same thing every night which is necessary in some places but in other places we can start playing off each other. That's really what's happening. Everyone's listening and then when the stage sound is good we fly!
We can just make it up.
CN: It's really about ensemble playing, or the core of it is. We've discovered that we're quite good at it.
GR: Do you find that having written a song and having an idea of what it's about that later your perception of what it's about changes?
GL: Yes. Many times.
GR: Has this happened with any of the songs in this set?
GL: All sorts of strange things happen. I didn't notice until we were recording with Albini that Colin had actually changed some of the text. Particularly Silk Skin Paws where he'd changed 'I shift the blame' to 'I fix the blame' and by changing one word he completely brought the text up to date, for me. It was a text that I'd written a long time ago and he's put this one word in and the whole thing has changed. It's brought it right up to date so that it's completely applicable to the way I feel now about that piece of writing. Things like that happen. Otherwise I think ambiguity is absolutely essential because then you have the possibility of rereading things. That's why great poetry is great poetry, because when you read it five years later you go, 'Ohaa! That's what it's about!' because you couldn't understand it because you were a different person.
GR: One instance of that is how 40 Versions seems to be about Wire and all the things you've done since the song was written.
GL: It always was. It was very obvious.
GR: But much more obvious now than in 1979. It's more like 400 versions now!
GL: That metaphor stands up. As you say, there could be considerably more. I tried to float the idea, but it never really took off, that perhaps we should call that song 'Between 40th and 41st or 42nd Avenue' or something like that. Because that's what's happened, it's shifted blocks, especially the second part.
GR: I felt it was 40 Versions that differed the most over the last two nights.
GL: It always does.
GR: Were you thinking of schizophrenia when you said that song was about multiple personalities?
BG: All kinds of multiple personalities. The healthy kind and the unhealthy.
GR: The sound of the song doesn't seem to imply a state of poor health.
BG: It shouldn't.
GL: If you go to see a psychiatrist or a therapist they'll say that schizophrenics are supposed to be neutral or not involved. To me it's supposed to represent...
BG: It's the calm exterior with the nightmare going on underneath.
GR: 'A total eclipse arrives now' is a nightmarish image; 'and Niagra falls' could signify change.
BG: Yeah, but that really started off as wordplay...
It seemed Bruce was about to say something very interesting but his words were submerged by a slamming door and Colin declaring, 'Well, I can stay 'til seven so if there's anything you want to ask me do it all soon!'
The thread was lost.
GL: Does that mean we can go too?
GR: One of the other lyrics that's changed is Lowdown, 'Win the game' to 'Play the game'.
CN: With me it's probably just all faulty memory.
GL: If we like it we go, 'Yes!' If we don't we go, 'Er what was that?' It's like the thing that always happens when CD's are released in Japan. You have to have the text translated and quite often they're miles ahead of us in what they did and how things have mutated! It's just more ambiguity if it's good! If it's bad it's just crap. It doesn't work out. That's an accident thing!
GR: Recently there has been some disagreement over the lyrics to A Serious of Snakes. I always thought it was 'I'd rather make furniture than go to midnight mass!' but some people are insisting it's 'make fun at yer'.
GL: It's so bloody obvious! What-did-Jesus-do?
CN: Joseph! Joseph was the carpenter!
GL: Oh yeah, Jesus was the one that hung on the furniture.
GR: I bet he got up to some carpentry as well.
GL: He helped his dad didn't he? If he was a good boy!
BG: If he was a real person.
GL: If he was a real person. Or he could've been trying to make furniture when he got the nails through his hands.
CN: (With an incredulous jovial sneer.) 'I'd rather make fun at yer?!' It's like when we played America the first time people thought Sand In My Joints was 'Send Him My Joints.
Graham can't have heard this misappropriation of his first lead vocal and lets out a hearty chuckle. At least the Americans didn't pre-empt Christmas carpentry by 'Sanding My Joists.'
GL: It's a Christmas carol.
'Baby trains, baby returns, baby kills Mary and Joseph.' And a publican shouts insults to evacuate drunks: 'You tulip, you pea brained earwhig, you punk, you silver tongued... shnake!'
A Serious of Snakes—dropped from the set after the RFH because Colin was bored with it.
GR: If you don't have the lyric sheets then some of the words on Pink Flag and Chairs Missing are quite hard to make out.
CN:I've come to realise that people now have CD's that don't have the lyrics on. The original records had the lyrics on.
GL: Well they can just make it up! I remember—I'm going to get this wrong—on Purple Haze by Hendrix that up until about three years ago I thought it was 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky'. Or was it 'Scuse me while I kiss this guy?'
GR: I always thought it was 'the sky'.
CN:I thought it was 'kiss the sky'.
GL: I always thought it was 'Scuse me while I kiss this guy!'
BG: I always took it to be that, but I assumed. I thought, 'It's funny that'.
GL: Yeah, it's so weird! I was singing along with it with my brother in law who's a Hendrix freak who's like, 'Hang about! You can't do that!'
GR: Then there's the crap joke version, 'Scuse me while I puke and die'.
GL: (Heavy laden sarcasm.) Yes. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Is this most trivial a Wire interview has gotten? Could've gotten sillier. Could've mentioned American Wire fans listening to Generation-X mishearing Wild Youth as Wild Jews or Wild Juice or even Wire Juice. Didn't notice til later that 'Kiss this guy' echoes 'Saw you in a mag kissing a man' from (12XU).
GR: Somebody mentioned recently that all the tracks on Bastard had lyrics originally and you erased them which I didn't think was the case.
CN:That's complete and utter rubbish.
GR: People make up all this misinformation.
GL: They mustn't have very much to do!
CN:Fifty percent of the pieces came out of me playing guitar and recording it to DAT and then me sampling it four years later.
GR: The lyrics to Spaced In came later?
CN: That was just for the live things to have fun twisting it around.
GR: Did playing Outdoor Miner with Malka make you think of reinstigating Wire?
CN: No, it was a homage to Flying Saucer Attack!
(Flying Saucer Attack covered Outdoor Miner: lots of feedback!)
GR: What about all the other bands? It's supposedly the most covered Wire song. When are you getting another Colin Newman record out?
CN: When I've done it. I'm theoretically meant to be doing one this year but I haven't actually done anything towards it. I've got the theory.
GR: What's the theory?
CN: It's not really a 'theory' as such, but I kind of had the idea to continue in the beats/guitar area looked at in Bastard and continued in Malka's My Pet Fish and add elements of voice although not necessarily sung voice.
GR: You have Blank Canvas from the Swim Team #1 Sampler.
CN: That's just a track made out of Hawkwind and Gentle Giant samples.
GR: So is that the Hawkwind remix?
CN: No, the Hawkwind remix is a completely different thing. It's a big f*cking rock track. Kick arse!
GR: Is that Hawkwind remix compilation actually going to get released?
CN: It's coming out in August or September.
Apparently Colin tackles Master of the Universe, which has to be one of the tackiest tunes of all, even by Hawkwind standards. Let's hope he treated it with the same reverence as he did Erasure!
GR: You mentioned a band called Wallstar as a possible Swim signing last time I spoke to you.
CN: Wallstar sadly demised in 1998 and turned into Cuba, on 4AD. They were totally on the moment in about '96-'97 and were doing what nobody was doing. They should've gone further.
Conversation turns to the various releases on WMO and Colin states that he is very unlikely to revisit and rework old material as had been the plan back in 1997 when I last interviewed him.
GR: Actually I enjoyed pre>He more than Hail, which it preceded historically speaking. Oddly my impression of it was that in a way you've come full circle because it's more similar to Hox.
GL: It's purer isn't it? Simpler. Hail suffered from the fact that it was something that I wanted to do for a long time. A piece of technology which I'd dreamt of actually appeared and then John Fryer and I simply used it as much as we could. So consequently it might be a little overworked! Basically there was too much on it. It could have been six records really. I didn't know if I'd get another chance and I suppose I was a little bit greedy really.
GR: On The Haring you have mutated fragments of lyrics from A Craftsman's Touch and Kidney Bingos...
BG: They started life as the start of poems and got introduced into the Wire process.
GR: Would you consider using any of the text from The Haring as Wire lyrics now?
GL: It's an odd thing that happens in that kind of process. We'll get together what we think are good ideas and then a gap appears and something else relates bizarrely to it, and suddenly it's got sucked out of your hands and into Wire!
BG: It has a weird relevance to another small piece of text that Graham or Colin have written, that's how in a sense it gets sucked in.
GL: Then you've just got to put your hands out and say, 'Yes, I know about this!' and get it and if it's applicable use it immediately.
GR: I was curious about whether Another The Letter was written about a specific person or is it about suicides in general?
BG: (With a conspiratorial air.) Shall we tell him? It's an etching I saw once but I can't remember where. It was sort of a sub David Hockney picture. It wasn't by David Hockney but it was obviously influenced by him. It was of two curtains and in front of the curtains was a hand with a letter offered towards another hand behind the curtains. It conjures up the image of this last missive, a suicide note. To me it looked like a suicide note.
GR: Something quite odd happened to me on Friday night when you started playing that song for about a couple of seconds I thought you were about to cover Love Will Tear Us Apart and of course Ian Curtis was a famous suicide...
GL: I wouldn't touch anything that Hook had touched!
GR: The bass at the start reminded me of the guitar intro to Love Will Tear Us apart but then I thought Silk Skin Paws was Ahead when you started it at the RFH, and last night I thought Heartbeat was Strange at first.
GL: It's f*cking completely weird!
CN:Heartbeat is a completely new piece of music.
GL: It's in a completely different key. We put it together yesterday (Saturday). Yesterday we knew it had to change.
Bruce and Colin have got these new baritone Danelectro guitars which are kind of strange tonally. Basically he's forced to play in G so he's like, 'OK so Heartbeat is going to be in G' rather than E or A or whatever it was in. You saw it last night after we'd played it three times and that was the third time. It was good wasn't it?
CN:It didn't come out of the ether. I did work it out beforehand!
GL: I know, but not for everybody else. You had a set of chords and everybody reconstructed their parts. Okay, then you were forewarned and nobody else was!
GR: You (Bruce and Graham) played that song with Big Black—did that influence the new version at all?
GL: I don't think so.
GR: Actually you played keyboards with them didn't you?
GL: I sampled a piece of guitar, I can't remember if it was Steve or Santiago.
GR: Are you sampling anyone on Go Ahead?
GL: I was talking into the microphone of the SK1. I know I'm the only person in the world who knows how to make an SK1 crash! I found out by accident. I've had about five or six and I've sold a few in shops and there are always a few kids around and it goes: Weeeer ooor yumpgh! Then it goes: Vwa-ooom vwump relller rrrrghhhh!
Inevitably some kid says, 'I'll have one of those'. Then they get home and it's crap! It's like, 'What?! This is f*cking rubbish!'
GR: What's that little effects pedal that you're hitting with the stick on Go Ahead?
CN:It's a syndrum clone. Syndrums are not available anymore, certainly not in Southfields. It has it's disconcertingly comedic aspect to it. It doesn't sound like the sound that's coming out of it should really be coming out of it.
GL: Doesn't the guy from Primal Scream have one of those? I think it was in the Independent's 'My favourite bit of technology.' He said he likes it because he can break PA's with it!
BG: It's not cool at all is it?
CN:It is very far from cool! Yes! I think that's the bottom line. Like Sooty on acid or something!
GR: It's great though because everyone else looks so serious playing that song and you're doing all these funny faces and twisting and turning.
CN:It's very hard to be serious!
GL: Did you ever see us when we played that song originally?
GR: No. (I was only nine! Hadn't even heard of ya!)
GL: It was really funny then because Colin had this round syndrum then and he used to hit himself over the head with it and we used to love that! That was when you were scary!
CN:A bit of theatre! 'He's weird, that bloke!'
GL: He's lost it! He's lost the plot!
GR: Was Go Ahead one of the songs you rehearsed before the RFH?
GL: No, we rehearsed it the other day and this one Colin did not have any preparation on!
CN:See ya in a bit. (Exit Mr Newman stage right, off to meet his family. Mr Gotobed departs soon after).
BG: Originally we asked Susan Stenger if she'd play the bassline but that didn't come about and she played with us on Drill instead.
GL: So we just played it once that afternoon and it seemed to work so we played it!
GR: Was it you who changed the words?
GL: Colin came up with an alternative set of words and brought them in and then we did a bit of editing to tune it up and make it more relevant to now.
GR: Because the original words would apply to EMI in 1979.
GL: Exactly, and now that would sound rather stupid or rather bitter, a bit daft really, or senile, so they had to change. We brought it up to date.
GR: You've touched upon the idea of lyrics reflecting alternative realities in an interview I read recently...
GL: That started a long time ago really. It was something we became very conscious of. I had this thing that was inspired by a few things that I'd seen, but particularly by film. There are things you are able to do with film: you can really play with time. I thought straight narrative, which we did a little of at the beginning, wasn't very satisfying, so one thing I considered was what you can do with a jump cut. It's really quite powerful. There's this Nicholas Roeg film with Art Garfunkel and his wife and there's an incredible scene where they're f*cking on the stairs and it's so disconcerting in the way it's put together. It's disturbing. It's not pornographic and it's hard to even say it's erotic. It's just completely disturbing. Then it jumps somewhere else and that's an incredibly powerful thing. So that's something I then consciously worked on. It was a natural development, at that time, of quite a lot of things that Bruce and I had written. One of the processes we used was what Bruce called a game of consequences, where we'd have a notebook—it would generally happen when we were out drinking—I'd write something down and then Bruce would write something down and then I'd write something down. It was fun. It was amusing, but also peculiar and marvellous things appeared. Inevitably people ask, 'Oh, do you use the cut up technique?' That's what your brain does all the time and that's the way we work when we write. Extraordinary things start to appear and once you get the thing then that becomes the thread and it just cascades and really starts to swirl about.
BG: I think the trick with that approach is maintaining the non-conscious...
GL: The essence.
BG: Once you become too conscious of the theme emerging you have to go and have another pint to maintain the subconscious element.
It sounds here as if Bruce is saying that in order to write lyrics Wire have to be pissed. This might be the case but I think what he meant is that they'd need to take a break in order to avoid consciously directing the emerging lyrical themes...
GL: It gets mad. You have to close the book, go and have a beer or a game of darts and then turn the page and start another one and later look back. We always carry notebooks. Don't trust your memory! Whatever the voice says inside write it down! Later it might be of use. There again you're playing this thing with time. You know Alain René?
It was a thing he was fascinated by in the last few years of his philosophy. It's a funny thing because the reason it came up in America was because of these films American Beauty and Magnolia and Shortcuts. Now it seems to be an acceptable thing. When we were doing it at first people kept accusing us of obscurity and surrealism. That's a minor thing. More major subconscious things or unconscious things at work—I was aware of works by Thomas Pynchon, masterpieces like Gravity's Rainbow, which is like—you're changing! And once you've changed you've got to be with it and try to write things that have some sincerity.
GR: If you follow a particular thread in a lyrical theme do you feel that other threads get lost?
GL: It's annoying sometimes, the things that get edited. You think, 'I should really do something with that!' but then something else comes along and you don't have the time or someone else does it.
BG: The thing with the notebook, and the stray lines that get excised from the process, is a year or two later when you're looking through your notebook you find that if you actually add all those up there's bound to be something in there which you can continue with and the thread will be quite different, more interesting and not so obvious.
GL: In lots of ways, as you say, you lose that consciousness of the mannerism of how it inevitably comes about. Every few years, when I need to produce something, I tend to go through old notebooks and edit—bring it up into a new notebook and see how it interlinks.
BG: There's another interesting process with things you've been working on in the same week. You get out the new notebook and you've got a vague memory of what the last thing you were working on was and when you try to remember what it was sometimes you get a very interesting editing process going on. Sometimes it kind of edits itself. Well, you can remember when it's edited itself in your head! There's a much more elegant way of putting that material together. It's an odd phenomenon.
GL: There's the old standby... you wake up in the morning... and you just write it down, whatever it was that... You wake up...
GR: And it changes as soon as you write it down!
GL: Exactly, so you've got to write it down really really fast. Get it down, close the book and go back to sleep. That's the trick.
GR: Do you do that quite a lot?
GL: When I'm lucky! When I'm lucky it's the easiest way of working.
GR: The lyrics of Mercy are phenomenal and that's from a dream isn't it?
GL: Yes, and very little changed from the dream.
GR: I think one of the key words that really sets the scene in that song is 'refugees'. I think a lot of the songs that you've written form themed sequences. The feeling of war torn desolation in Mercy kind of relates back to Reuters and Pink Flag and then later The First Letter picks up a similar thread.
GL: The other ones you mention are all texts that I've written and inevitably it goes back to private obsessions, really. Perhaps I once wanted to be a war correspondent.
BG: I think it's also the leakage from what's actually happening in the world. The uncertainty of nation states. Everything's up in the air!
GL: Everything's up in the air. It's the bloodiest century that's ever been. More wars... there's been a phenomenal number since the second world war. How many are going on at the moment? These things are relevant.
Maybe this is why Mercy has become such an epic desolate cornerstone of the Wire set. Art as a reflection of the chaos and panic of so many people's butchered lives. And the song becomes more relevant every day as more refugees flee and more are sold up the river...
GR: I always think of I Should Have Known Better, Feed Me and Torch It as a trilogy.
GL: Yeah. When love goes bad.
The songs could all deal with the same deteriorating relationship, cataloguing changing feelings of regret, resignation and revenge.
GR: Feed Me was passed over in the book Everybody Loves a History. Was the song too personal to discuss?
GL: I do have to say with regard to the book, this is owning up, that when Kevin attempted to do those interviews I was in not a terribly happy state. All of the interviews were done when I was on the run really. I feel rather contrite about my chapter. They're all songs about distress.
GR: Feed Me is perhaps my favourite of all the songs you've sung.
GL: It was an incredible experience to sing it. It was four o'clock in the morning in Studio 2, which is an old banqueting room in Hansa Studio. It was weird... Bruce's guitar... I was actually in the room when he played that! And that was just, 'I was there!' It couldn't have been anything else. There was nothing to it that you could change!
GR: That song started out very differently. It mutated incredibly.
GL: These things tend to! If they're not right then they have to change and if they don't change they get thrown in the bin.
BG: The moment seemed to come for that song.
GL: Colin just said to me, 'I can't do this. This is yours. You've got to sing it.' He understood that it was going to be a painful birth and it was not one that he wanted to be involved in.
GR: It makes quite a juxtaposition with the other song you sang on The Ideal Copy, Ambitious, which is very poppy and uptempo. Um, perhaps not happy exactly...
BG: It is a bitter little song. But that's what we tend to do with bitter little songs.
GL: It described the circumstances and set up the scenario. It was really funny because all the sequences of letters, IRA...
GL: Well it's about DNA. It's another one of those. We were making what turned out to be called The Ideal Copy but we didn't know what it was called. It was a very hard record to make for all of us for all sorts of reasons. Yet again one night we were having a drink—Bruce wasn't having a drink because he wasn't drinking at the time—and it clicked. I had some bits which, as it turned out, were fairly prophetic because it was about this piece of land outside Hansa Studio which is now the centre of Germany, Potsdamer Platz, which is now the biggest building site in the world apart from somewhere in China. So I'd been writing these things about new technologies, because it was all very very new then. I came up with the image for the cover by accident because I'd left something on the photocopier, that blobby thing. I had this other image which was sheets and champagne and a plant and I put this thing in and thought, 'Ah, that's it! That's what this looks like!' I put it up on the tape machine at Hansa.
BG: So we knew what we were making.
GL: It was like a visual aid. I said to Gareth [Jones, producer—Ed], 'If in doubt, if you don't know what to do, just go and draw a picture, put it up there, get back, and you'll know what to do'. So that was the Ideal Copy because the Ideal Copy makes itself. It then became a case of asking ourselves, 'What is the most ambitious thing?' It's DNA!
BG: DNA copies itself.
GL: It's all we are... if you subscribe to a particular theory then it's all that carries on.
GL: Hosts. As soon as the human beings are wiped out there'll be somebody else carrying it around.
GR: Do you feel it's inevitable that us human beings will be wiped out?
GL: I don't think it'll happen in my lifetime, but who knows? What happened to the dinosaurs? And they were around for an awful long time!
GR: Maybe by then we'll have changed into something else.
BG: 'Give me the button!' is what I say!
GL: As Joseph Beuys said, 'The greatest thing in the world is the atom bomb. This is he greatest piece of work! Give everybody one! I want one in my bathroom! Do not be frightened of this thing. Be frightened of the man who has it!'
Who are the f*ckers with the buttons? There are some pretty dodgy characters out there.
GR: Crazy bastards who have to spend their whole life pursuing that goal.
GR: To spend their lives chasing power they must be insane.
GL: It tends to go towards that. And that's exactly what Joseph Beuys was saying: change yourself.
Bruce certainly has a knack with tape recorders. Just before the tape ran out he offered me an organic chocolate coffee drop and so no dialogue was lost.
GR: Where did the title of the recent Dome album Yclept come from?
BG: One of my wanders through an archaic dictionary. There are words I find and store up then forget about and I find them in my notebook from time to time. Unless there's an obvious one it's sometimes difficult to find a title.
GL: It's always a bit of fun. We like titles!
BG: This one was so beautifully direct: it just means name or title. It's a lovely word to look at as well.
clepe \KLEHP\ (verb): to name or to call.
Example sentence: The Wire album yclept The Ideal Copy was beginning to make itself.
'Clepe' itself is a word that is considered archaic and nearly obsolete, but its past participle 'yclept' (pronounced ih-KLEHPT) continues to be used, albeit rarely. In Old English, the prefix '-ge' denoted the completion or result of an action; in Middle English, the prefix shifted to 'y-' and appeared in words such as 'ybaptised' and 'yoccupied'. Eventually, all such words except 'yclept' fell into disuse. One reason that 'yclept' persists may be that it provides a touch of playfulness that appeals to some writers.
GR: Am I right in thinking that for a lot of the tracks on Yclept that one of you would start a track and then send it to the other and you'd work on them individually?
BG: That's what we did with a couple of things.
GL: Actually three of the things. [The Virtual Sweden trio—Ed.] Some of them are historic things that never came out for various reasons; people didn't like them or they weren't intended to be used or they were just stored away. Three of the things I just played and fiddled about, put it down on disc and sent it to Bruce and he worked on it from there. It was about having an open mind and complete trust. Because of all the things that have been going on I hadn't really had a chance to listen to it until we came back from America and I was so happily surprised. I thought it was really good. I hadn't had a chance to view it outside of the process [of making it].
GR: It sounds like a logical descendent of the fourth Dome album.
GL: That's what I was so happy about! It's like a descendent. We'd talked about doing something in the past but it's like, where do you start?
BG: You've got to find a system.
GL: We have to find a process that's not like one we've done before because we don't want to repeat ourselves. It's got to be engaging enough that we can suspend our own belief. We've got to be able to fool ourselves. We try to maintain a creative innocence.
GR: What are you intending to do with the He Said set that you played at the RFH?
GL: I haven't a clue! I've been working on lots of different things and that was specifically put together for it. A couple of the pieces are in Andreas Karperyd's computer in Stockholm and I've got a whole bunch of other things which I suppose could be another Hox record but I don't know.
GR: I thought that He Said performance came off really well.
GL: Thanks. It's another situation where I had an extremely limited time to rehearse and I was extremely lucky to work with someone like Susan. She tabulated things and she worked out the eccentricities of some things that because of the way they'd been constructed some of these things were like a five and a half hour loop originally because it sounded better that way, therefore the structure of the whole thing was completely strange. Immediately she brought sense to it. It was pretty scary actually.
GR: How did your collaboration with Susan come about?
GL: When we started talking about the whole thing, Susan, and Robert Poss who also used to be in Band of Susans, made it known to us that whatever help they could be in any shape or form, they were willing to offer. I just thought around that and for six months it drove me up the wall really. Then I came up with the idea of doing it with two basses and the G3, because that's what Andreas' instrument is.
GR: You called it He Said but usually you change names whenever you work with different people.
GL: It was called He Said BB2G3. It was on the f*cking screen! It was big enough! This is the thing that I just could not understand! There were all these eagle eyed Wire fundamentalists going, 'Who was that? What's that?' because everybody that I worked with got credited. I thought that was the simplest way of doing it otherwise it'd have to be written in a program, which we didn't have. All the people I worked with were credited!
GR: Then people don't always read.
GL: I've heard it's a dying art! But what can you do? You can't make it any easier! It was called He Said BB2G3 so it had a different name. The reason it was called He Said was that it was the first live performance I've ever done of He Said. Terrifying! What a place to choose! What a f*cking idiot!
GR: There was also a short film of a man ravishing a rose bush and pulling funny faces which you did the music for.
GL: That film was a completely separate stand up piece. Two Swedish artists were making a short film called Universal Body. Susan Akerland asked me to do a soundtrack for a film she was making about Sweden. She and this other Swedish artist called Gunilla Leander, who'll be here tonight, were working on this thing and I'd done a few bits of stuff with Susan and they asked me to do the soundtrack for this film. I asked what it was about and watched some early rushes of it and said, 'No problem!' because I already had something on the shelf. They said it was going to start off with a big bang, and I'd already done a piece for Touch on the same theme.
GR: Has it been released?
GL: On the Fault in the Nothing compilation on Touch. In a black cover with a hole. It's a double CD. My piece on that is called Bing Before Bong (etc. Apres Ski). I used the beginning of it because that's what it's about. I had this idea about what came before the big bang and what comes before the big bang when you use an SK1 is 'BING!' I thought it was like yin and yang, bing and bang! So that formed the beginning of it. I've been working on an ongoing project for Touch, a remix of Chris Watson's recordings. They gave everybody copies of Chris's work, which I already had, and asked them to remix it. That provided the ending so then I just had to work on the middle part. It was hard. I worked three days and nights non-stop and due to the primitive apparatus I used I had to visually cue it to a video then took it and tightened it up in the studio. I worked with them listening to where they thought their film was coming from. It was a good process. Everyone's got quite big egos but there was no conflict at all.
GR: Was that great noisy piece you finished the RFH set with, T.I.T.L.E., which is included on the Brochure CD (PF2), directed at anyone in particular?
GL: A long time ago it was but I don't want to say who. I've got it out of my system. And I do have to say that due to time and so on, I really don't like the mix. To be fair, Colin could only act upon what turned out to be third hand information. The problem is just the time factor. I gave my interpretation of what I thought it should be to somebody and then they relayed it to Colin. Of course what one means by words in terms of sound, words don't really quite make it. He took it by the letter and I took exception to that. It's just one of those things.
GR: Bruce, you were conspicuous in your absence in terms of solo performance at the RFH. Is that just because you've done a lot more live performances in the UK in recent times?
BG: Time was very very short in terms of fitting everything in. I thought about doing something in the foyer where people were coming into the space but in the end there were practical reasons for not doing that. Things started to get really crammed.
GL: In the early stages there had been a possibility of doing a Duet Emmo thing with Dan Miller but as time went on that idea got dropped.
GR: I know you tend to work very spontaneously, especially when you DJ, but sometimes when I hear recordings they sound quite well structured, especially that long track on the Deconstruct compilation where you mixed Phill Niblock and Einheit/Brštzmann and Sonic Youth. I was quite incredulous about that! Was that mixed in real time?
BG: Yes, that was done upstairs here.
GR: That's pretty amazing! Do you use the same methods if people ask you to remix solitary tracks?
BG: No. When it's like that, more formal, it's a different method each time. I do an almost random sampling of the track until something emerges which I can get interested in.
GL: It's funny that... it's exactly what I do! Can I just say something? I was talking to Roger who's been recording what we've been doing and I was talking about working methods, people being unhappy with studio time etcetera, people who bitch about it. We both agreed that if a mix has got to be done in three hours, it's done in three hours. If it's got to be done by tomorrow, it's done by tomorrow. What Bruce just described is exactly how I work. I take a bit out, fiddle about a bit, let this thing fly, then take another bit and let it just flow. If it catches then you just follow it—get it done!
GR: How did you approach the Can remix?
BG: With the Can thing I had several stabs at different approaches to doing it, including playing live in the computer suite at the studio at Mute. Russell Haswell was helping me. We were going through the editing effects, etcetera. We'd used something digitally powerful on one piece we'd done a year before where we slowed the pitch down. We slowed it down so much it started going into this very interesting digital area and we thought about slowing it down again but because of the way the mathematics were it would have taken four hours! Another effect we found was a program for multiplying and multi-tracking sections, and we started messing about with that. Full credit to Russell, he suggested that instead of everything all being at the same time, we stagger it. It's an easy thing to do on a computer, to stagger sounds by tenths of a second. We did an example like that and we could see the potential of it and then went for broke and did it as many times as we could. Another strange phenomenon was that if we had gone any further, it would have been two hours long, rather than five minutes or so, so we stopped it at that point. There are a few gestures, a few other effects on it.
GR: Was there a skipping CD in there?
BG: I was deliberately skipping on certain sections of it, but pretty minimal intervention really. It is essentially the original piece, but as if you had forty record players all starting one after the other.
GR: When you did a performance at the Purcell Room as part of the Parallel Series night, you seemed to be using a set up where you ran CD's through a lot of distortion pedals. Is that what you were doing?
BG: Yeah, one of my working methods then was exploring the limits of guitar pedals.
GR: It was all over very quickly!
BG: These things have their natural length.
GR: Is the title Ab Ovo a wordplay on 'absurdly obvious'?
BG: No. I just liked the way that the letters looked. It's latin.
GR: It's a phrase which you use a lot which is why I though it might be.
GL: Yeah! That's quite good!
GR: So what does Ab Ovo mean?
BG: 'From the egg'.
GL: We're going to walk to the pub, if you want to come along...
I decided I'd taken up enough of their time already and wanted to hear Haswell's DJ set (best DJ of the weekend by a long shot—good and noisy!).
That evening Wire did the main set from the last couple of nights backwards, and started with the encore. This was a piece based on Former Airline on which sax players Terry Edwards and Ted Milton guested, followed by the most perfect Heartbeat ever realised. Later Colin told me by what he thought of the reformed Former Airline.
CN: It was different in soundcheck. It was a good idea conceptually (doing the 'encore' first then doing the set backwards) but actually that piece didn't really come off for me. It kind of was and wasn't Former Airline. I've yet to hear the Garage multi-tracks but suspect that if any version gets used it'll be the soundcheck version.
Originally published on the Cracked Machine website.