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Episodes at 4am

by Bob Downes

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about

Around 1970 I bought a 2 track Revox A77 tape recorder and 2 Calrec microphones (as the latter were known at that time). I soon discovered there were many ways to use this tape recorder. For example: Sound on sound and the use of echo in various ways or recording at 15 ips and then play back at half speed. But most of the tracks on this CD were recorded at 7.5 ips, before I bought a second machine with 15 ips. Later I had the machine fitted with a variable speed. The tape recorder for me became a musical instrument.
“Flute Circles” was recorded at 3.75 ips, and I believe that you will agree with me that the quality is astounding, also, don’t forget the master tapes have been standing unplayed in my archives for the past 33 years!
The Japanese Gong which is heard at the beginning and the end of the “Episodes at 4 am” tracks, dates back to the first year of the Empo 2 period, “The year of the tiger” (1674).
For “Marimba Bells” the instruments to be played were spread wide apart from each other so that a natural stereo picture would take place enhanced with Wendy slowly moving to and fro between the microphones, rolling snail shells in her hands - a natural panning effect –. I lowered the playback speed about 15% on “Zither Flute” because I wanted a kind of drugged/slow motion feeling to be the outcome.
“Tunnels Electronic” always conjures up for me the feeling of being sucked into a black hole (especially at 2 mins 26 secs into the track) which I achieved by drawing air into my throat.
“Dulcimer Flute” was recorded in a room with just 2 microphones set before Wendy and myself and no reverb added, just the natural room sound.
“The wind upon the moor” was recorded on modern studio equipment. Some time after the recording I extended the poem and the updated version you will see below. (Incidentally the poem is dedicated to the great American actor Vincent Price)
“Solo Duet Nr.1” and “Solo Duet Nr.2” were deliberately recorded to achieve a stereo effect with no centre sound, as both compositions were commissioned by the choreographer Robert Cohan of the ‘London Contemporary Dance Theatre’ for a modern dance with 2 female dancers on stage both spotlighted and seperated by at least 10 meters apart. The dance for one dancer was choreographed by the sound coming from the left speaker and the other one from the right speaker. (You will notice quite a bit of variable speed was used on these 2 tracks.) The fast and abrupt swishing sounds were produced by blowing through the flute head only.
“Unidentified Flying Frequencies” was created while I was preparing to record something and inadvertently a fault occured in the equipment which somehow got on to the record heads and hence to the tape. I took the opportunity to manipulate the recorder and thus achieved the end result.
“Your call requires a 10 cent deposit” was made with a portable cassette recorder. People seem to be surprised about some of the sounds that I had recorded, saying that they had never heard them before when using call boxes in New York. At the time I was a trifle horrified at what was coming out of the telephone earpiece after all my heavy manipulating of the dial buttons. At one point I decided to make a hasty retreat, fearful that I was in the process of being traced by the telephone exchange. At this time in Europe there were no “musical dialing tones” in public phone boxes. My idea of bringing this piece about had a theatrical touch to it. I wished to portray someone that had absolutely no idea how to make a call. I think that does indeed come across. (Bob Downes)

The wind upon the moor

The wind upon the moor
where no other sound is heard
cool grey mist sweeps a searching face
soft green moss
a careful silent tread (not to wake the dead)
the coming darkness can be seen
a figure looms ahead
an increase of fear, as it comes near
a stifled cry, as it passes by
the wind upon the moor
the wind upon the moor
the wind upon the moor

Bob Downes
© 2007

Bob Downes is most often thought of as a jazz flautist, composer and group leader, but throughout his varied career that has included such diverse musical activity as working with the John Barry Seven and playing on Egg’s second LP, he also had his own fluid conceptual group “Open Music” with principle bass player Barry Guy and drummer Denis Smith. Other players that passed through Open Music include Chris Spedding, Kenny Wheeler, Ray Russell, Ian Carr, Henry Lowther, Harry Beckett, Harry Miller, Barre Phillips, John Stevens and many others. Besides the free jazz and jazz rock influences, Bob Downes has also been involved in much experimental music. After his early 70s releases on Philips, Vertigo and Music For Pleasure there appeared a series of 3 private pressed LPs on his own label Openian that explored this more experimental style. “Episodes at 4 am” is the second in this series and is by far the strangest of the three.
Released in 1974 and commissioned by the Welsh Dance Theatre, it consisted of 10 short duos performed by Wendy Benka on zither, dulcimer and small percussion, and Downes on flutes, various percussion and plenty of electronic manipulation. Nearly every sound on this LP was processed using a variety of shimmering delays, controlled feedback, reverb and speed change to create a haunting and delerious mix of musical styles and atmospheres.
Taken from the master tapes, this 33 minute LP has been expanded for the CD release with 35 minutes of previously unreleased experimental works, mostly from the same period, that cover even more ground than the LP, including one piece made entirely from the sounds of various phone booths on the streets of New York.

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released January 1, 2007

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