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Close to the Edit

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Joe Scarborough

In the ossified culture of contemporary rock, editing is tantamount to sacrilege. Think of the neo-luddite Jack White, and his refusal to record in studios with "evil digital and computer technology". Dad rock clings desperately to imagined ideals of authenticity and its antithesis, artificiality. What is seen as real is what was recorded in the studio, as-live and untampered with.

But there is a contradiction here. Much of the twentieth-century music which is seen as most epitomising a spirit of free expression was created through collage, a Frankensteinian bodge job of overdubs, snippets and samples, a highlights reel plucked from hundreds of hours of tape.

This way of working was made possible by the tape loop techniques invented in the 1950s, and used by modernist composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Daphne Oram. It was quickly adopted by musicians in other genres who saw the studio as more than just a device to faithfully reproduce a live performance.

"I had carte blanche to work with the material," said producer Teo Macero about working with Miles Davis on his 1970 album, Bitches Brew. "I could move anything around and what I would do is record everything, right from beginning to end, mix it all down and then take all those tapes back to the editing room." Davis would apply even more drastic post-production rearrangements to create his next album, the anxiety dream of 1972's On The Corner.

The result is a sort of impossible music

At the same time in Germany, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, two of Stockhausen's pupils, were reinventing the rock band with Can. Their best album, Ege Bamyasi, sounds like the result of a free-flowing, symbiotic relationship between five musicians, laid down in the moment. But the record is actually made up of hundreds of hours of studio playing, edited and rearranged by Czukay using unwieldy tape loops, scissors and sticky tape.

Drummer Jaki Liebezeit hated this process, which was antithetical to his jazz routes. "Holger and me and Michael [Karoli], we decided we'd edit something and cut out the less interesting things," said Schmidt. "That was totally normal." Leibezeit only got involved to make sure the groove had been maintained, and if it hadn't, the rest of the band would have to start the editing process from scratch. "For Jaki, he was a jazz musician," said Schmidt. "Jazz musicians want to play."

Nearly 20 years later, the late Mark Hollis was looking for new studio methods to take his band Talk Talk further from their synth-pop roots and into uncharted territory. 1991's Laughing Stock was born out of some of the most extreme recording sessions ever conducted. Hollis blacked out the studio and removed the clocks, inviting 50 musicians to record fragments of the finished album over a seven-month period.

"The problem with a lot of improvisation is that it meanders away from the point too much," Hollis told an interviewer at the time. He said the creative freedom offered by the label allowed him to record the musicians free-form and then "construct an arrangement by taking little sections of that and building that up from there".

The result is a sort of impossible music. The almost supernatural connection between the musicians and the effortless ebb and flow of tracks like 'Taphead' is, ironically, a construct, a post-hoc rationalisation. The musicians whose parts dovetail into one another are together in space but not in time. Nothing could be more natural.

Sam Gregory

Soundwaves: Music News

Live venue and club The Harley has closed permanently. The owners of the venue on Glossop Road, which opened in 2003, said that it was no longer financially viable. Upcoming shows have been moved to other venues.

The first wave of acts for 2019's No Bounds Festival have been announced. Aurora Halal will join rRoxymore at the festival between 11-13 October, with Mark Fell and Lee Gamble also on the line-up. Weekend tickets are currently £38.50.

Cult rock pub and live venue The Dove and Rainbow has been threatened with redevelopment. The current owners have announced they will leave the pub after being told by landlord Punch Taverns that they want the pub to serve a "broader market".

Next article in issue 134

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