Shimura Curves

Monday, November 30, 2009

Liar, Liar

This was a very early song, one of the more successful attempts at merging Bubblegum Pop with Electronics. Start with a playground chant of a chorus displaying all the classic hallmarks of 60s Bubblegum - double words, repeated phrases, call and response. A simple earworm of a melody, handclaps, tongue-twisting lyrics and then that gear-shifting key-change for the last chorus.

But the song is a lot more complex that it initially seems - it takes a lot of work to make a three minute song move so energetically. Melodies shift from one instrument to another, in fact, two different synths repeat the riff in harmony, like an electronic conversation, before it passes back to pizzicato strings. The whole song hinges on a classic trick - moving from a minor key for the verses to a major for the choruses.

The sounds were layered quite specifically - watch out for the high harmonic ring modulation during verses to create a sense of dis-ease. OH! And one of my favourite pieces of electronic manipulation ever - the garbled and filtered high-pitched bursts of insect noise at about 2:07 emmulating the "ooh, did you hear what SHE did..." breathless tone of the relentless gossip.

The song is, of course, about my abusive, compulsive liar Munchausen Syndrome ex-boyfriend. A lawyer by day, DJ/promoter by night, he lied utterly compulsively about utterly everything, for every imaginable reason - or more often, no apparent reason.* I didn't even know the full extent of it - I was still finding out lies he'd told people about me, years after we'd broken up. The song was my way of dealing with this, really.

*One of his worst - or at least, most upsetting lies: I'd been due to fly back from NY on 9/11 and was stuck in the airport, without any way of contacting anyone. He got so much attention from having a "dead girlfriend" that when I reappeared on the internet, alive, he MADE UP two dead friends in Brooklyn whom he claimed had perished in the catastrophe. He got himself time off work to "deal with this" - even went so far as to organise a benefit night at his club to raise money in honour of them. (Still never entirely found out what happened to the money, if it went to charity, or if he just pocketed it.)

Anyway, if you like bubblegum, have a listen:

LIAR LIAR - 192 MP3 format

WARNING: @haido has just informed me that this song involves LARGE AMOUNTS OF RUDE WORDS. Please do not listen if you are likely to be offended by repeated incidents of the f-word or the s-word.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Proto-Shimuras Projects No.1: The Electric Bubblegum Arkestra

Yes, hello. It's been a long time since I posted anything to this blog. But with the planned release of the Shimura Curves album (at some point in the future. Who knows when. We're kind of deadlocked over the mastering process at the moment. Hoped to have it out by the end of the millennium, but looks like that isn't going to happen) I decided to go back and trace the evolution of where Shimura Curves came from.

Of course you know about the Great Lost Shimura Curves album or you wouldn't be reading this. And indeed, the other lost album that could be pieced together from singles, demos and out-takes. But did you know that before the Great Lost Album, there was actually an entire lost *BAND*?

The Electric Bubblegum Arkestra, the Shimura Curves that never was. (Though several EBA songs did eventually make it into SC's set to become live favourites.)

After the breakup of The Lollies, I was at a complete loose end. A well-known indie label had been in the process of courting us, and as the principal songwriter, that interest fell on my solo material - except I suddenly no longer had a band. I was still writing furiously, as much as I could, with a 4-track, a drum machine and a sample pedal, in a crazy Clerkenwell flat. That flat, its constant noise, the constant contact buzz (our doorstep was a well known hangout for dope dealers) and the crazy rotating assortment of housemates (a staff writer for an Edgy Style Magazine, an IDM nerd who alternated between a job as tea boy at Warp and an engineering degree in Sheffield, and a perverted Scottish singer-songwriter) was simultaneously the most inspiring and impossible environment in which to work.

Originally, I meant to record with the Lollies' soundman, Jesse, working as recording engineer and producer, but after cutting a 4-song demo (featuring an early version of Other People's Cigarettes) he promptly disappeared. And by disappeared, I mean, stopped answering his phone or his email, ignoring texts, and operating a complicated system whereby people had to ring a certain number of times before hanging up on the mobile before he'd even answer the door. The A&R man who was interested in signing us was not impressed by this sort of behaviour. "Just give me his address, I'll go and get the masters - I used to have to pry master tapes off Kevin Shields back in the day" he assured me, but when Jesse failed to deliver, the interest dried up, and I was left holding the bag.

It was around this time that the perverted Scottish singer-songwriter gave me a particularly good piece of advice. (He was brilliant at advice, having already made every mistake in the book. He saved me from a complete mental breakdown after the first Lollies full-length by quoting Oscar Wilde at me and telling me not to read my press, but weigh it.) He told me, effectively to sack the band and replace them with a shiny silver box instead.

Enter the man who would eventually become the villain of the piece. A few months earlier, I had started dating an experimental electronic artist who became known to my friends and internet buddies as the "Handsome Sound Artist". He lived in a Bloomsbury flat filled to the rafters with shiny metal boxes of all kinds - banks of oscillators, oscilloscopes, primitive synthesisers, van der graff generators, violet ray machines, weird antennae for detecting the microwave background radiation from the Big Bang and the electrical hum of the National Grid with which he assembled the sound collages he released on experimental labels. It was a kind of geek's wonderland where we indulged all these mad projects, as he would obtain various toys and then discard them a few months later after getting bored with them.

One of these discarded toys was a copy of the sequencer, Reason. He'd picked it up, tried to stretch piano tones to be hours long, made some bad ambient techno then gave up. I picked it up, took to it like a effects pedal geek to a synthesier, and started to compose demented bubblegum pop and cheesy symphonies using the Reason Orkester samplebank. We played a couple of gigs as this lineup, with him jamming along on his miniature electrical substation (which meant all our songs had to be in G as the National Grid actually hums at a frequency very close to a low G) - Electricity, Bubblegum and the Orkester soundbank became the Electric Bubblegum Arkestra.

The first single - and only proper release - was the single Elephants, on Manchester's now-defunct Valentine Records.

I wrote the song while on holiday at HSA's family seat in Wiltshire, in an ancient brick pile overlooked by a White Horse cut into the cliff above. I'd only recently encountered the phrase "the elephant in the room" (I think IXL's Mark S had dropped it in a conversation, and I was utterly fascinated by it) and wrote a odd, lumbering Shaffel-fuelled stomper about it.

The elephant in the room at the time was, of course, my drinking, which had reached very problematic proportions by the end of The Lollies. In retrospect, this appears fairly obvious in the accompanying comicbook artwork that I did to promote the release. But, as with much of the EBA's output (and so much of my life at that time, in the foggy alcoholic haze it was for most of the time) things that seem blindingly obvious in retrospect were only really obliquely glimpsed at the time. Songs that I had utterly no idea what they were about when I was writing them (or that I thought was writing about a completely different topic) would become incredibly prescient for situations I was about to go through.

Anyway, track 1 from the great lost EBA album, After The Happily Ever After Is Over (and longtime live favourite in early Shimuras sets):

Elephants (128 MP3 version)