So ! To return to the book. In 1978 William Burroughs & Brion Gysin published The Third Mind. It is a collection of essays & poems showcasing their ideas of cut up and collage poetry. Cut-ups involve taking texts, cutting the pages, and then rearranging and combining the pieces to form new narratives.
The idea of using cut & paste and collage in musical composition isn’t new either. In fact I believe that Pavement used cut ups to generate lyrics and musical sections as did Cabaret Voltaire and post punk experimental bands like Throbbing Gristle but the concept is also something that’s interested me for years too.
Combined with a love of found sound and field recording many of these elements have found their way into my own tunes over the years. If I’m recording a guitar why not have the TV on in the background and the kids shouting downstairs, a dog barking outside or the sound of a passing car. All of these things make a recording infinitely more interesting in my mind. Very often I grab lyrics at random from the first book or magazine I find. I’m cutting up in real time.
As an example of how I approach composing music with all of these various elements in mind here is the process I have used to begin writing the first song for the next Chow Mwng album.
I started with three separate abstract guitar riffs played to a click track to which I added bass and a 2nd guitar. After creating a rhythm loop to make a frame for the piece to work around I copied and moved about these three sections to create an arrangement for the song. Finally I put in some random bits including a recording of my daughter Myfi playing piano with her teacher. It sounds like a piece that could have been recorded all the way through in that structure (like some bastard son of Beefhearts Trout Mask Replica) when in fact it was shuffled around and constructed in my iPad.
Simon Jeffes from the Penguin Café Orchestra once explained the need for experimentation and innovation in music and it has always rung true with how I feel about it as well. He stated that the qualities of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in music are a very precious thing. If you suppress that to have a nice orderly commercially acceptable approach to music making then you kill off what’s most important.
I’ve often spoken about my music being a kind of sonic autobiography. I listen to my own music when I want to remember a certain period or event in my life and I know exactly which album represents each part of that life journey. It gives me a context for my life and comforts me in the fact that I can return to the past through sound.
Constructing songs in this way is also an attempt to establish a new form of readability to the experience of hearing compositions that are still essentially pop or folk music.
These compositions don’t need to play out over an extended period or spend a lot of time resolving themes. I want the composition to work in the context of a pop song but at the same time introduce elements to the listening experience that are drawn from experimental music and art.
I think that using a cut-up/found sound technique as a basis for writing music helps the listener create new connections to musical themes and the world around them and naturally as a consequence the range of vision and interpretation of our understanding of sound also expands.