|The Instant Automatons Archive|
Whatever were we thinking?
by Protag (bass guitar)
I do remember that a few prevailing ideas flavoured our business model, if I may pollute my reminiscence with such jargon (there's more to come).
But I have to confess, rather like the moment when I cast aside the draft lyrics to "Too Big" (terms like "Multinational Corporation" and "Globalisation" having yet to make an impact on the language) I have trouble with the bottleneck between the conceptual soup in my brain and the china dinner plate this web page affords me.
To head off on a side track, momentarily, the Philips company of the Netherlands, having made a fortune with light bulbs and early radio receivers, gave us something vital in the compact cassette. Originated in 1963 as a monophonic replay only medium, by the early seventies lots of us had portable cassette players and could swap lo-fi copies of our favourite records and TV comedy programmes in the schoolyard. I should, at this juncture, take a swipe at the aforementioned corporation for their union-busting tactics (or something) but I never did my homework and I'm not going to start now. I only know they chose not to patent the compact cassette so it was taken up by other audio companies and became a ubiquitous, stereophonic, play & record medium. A good thing then. Soon we were applying knowledge gleaned from the physics lab and the lesser paragraphs of the weekly music papers and playing the sound out of one cassette player into another, and adding to it.
I have to mention all this because, at the time, it seemed to me that many of the restraints upon the progress of popular music were technological, and we were growing up in a sleepy rural backwater were the money was never more than sufficient and cultural input was always second hand.
So it seemed to me that the reason popular music had got stuck up its own arse was to do with the cost of the whole enterprise, which fed into an assumption that only that music which was capable of being sold on a massive scale could be made at all. Deep joy, then, at the realisation that what advances in printing technology were to fanzine writers, so cassette decks were to bedroom artistes such as we.
Keen students of the era will know, of course, of the pub rock boom which addressed the same concerns on at least certain levels. But, with my soldering iron and my copy of Practical Electronics, I somehow had the idea that we could make sounds that had never been heard before and headed off into uncharted territory.
Being the peculiar moment in musical history that it was, I never tried particularly hard to play along to my favourite records and to this day have a strange musical dyslexia - as often as not I'd pick up the bass intending to produce a series of notes I had in my head and produce something different by mistake. When I liked it, I kept it. Though usually my fidgety and forgetful nature would lead to ongoing mutations on the bass lines.
Drum machines had hardly been invented but I'd heard The Human League and Cabaret Voltaire on John Peel and knew that was the way to go, for us. None of that Marshall stack nonsense, much as I loved noisy bands. We had to be tippy tappy, headphones on, pile on the echo and away you go…
I only learned decades later that the pub rock pioneers also favoured a return to sensibly sized amplifiers and were, in their own way, somewhat tippy tappy, though with drum machines made of flesh.
So the drum machine kit came through the post and I soldered the bits together. Hurrah. Samba! Waltz! Bossa Nova! Nothing could stop us.
But stop us doing what? We'd figured, I think, that the reason the late 70's dinosaur bands made such lamentable albums was the economic quagmire they'd blundered into. Taking the inevitable conclusion from this we determined to make the music we wanted to with zero regard to acceptability and, therefore, with no concern for profitability. So it was made on the cheap, and, as far as possible, given away; to be disposed of or kept according to the whim of the recipient. We had our own concerns about what was a satisfactory level of composition, performance and recording, of course, but they were snotty nosed teenage concerns and not manifest on our earliest recordings, and only barely evident later. Tape hiss ahoy! Made with love for no real reason at all.
And like all first love, you never forget it.