Friday, 6 November 2009
Scientist Meets the Ghost Captain
'The first dub I heard was ‘King Tubby meets the Rockers Uptown’’ (Augustus Pablo) I couldn't make head nor tail of it. I didn’t know what was going on, it sounded like a series of mistakes.(Lol Bell-Brown, The Disciples)
'Im is a scientist, original scientist y'know.’ (Augustus Pablo on King Tubby to Lol Bell-Brown/Dub Catcher) Cutting and splicing technology, King Tubby set songs adrift via customized Sound systems, mixing desks and echo units. Electronic engineer/technological wizard, Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock inadvertently initiated today’s Drum & Bass Jungle 25 years prematurely, whilst developing dub as science and commodity. The deep reverberations from his cavernous dubs contaminated the rich bloodline of sorcerer's apprentices, such as Prince Jammy and Scientist (whose hallucinatory encounters With Space Invaders, vampires and pac-men bore out the mark of his master), training in his Studio, under his shadow.
‘Tubby's right, with all the Drum & Bass ting now, dem ting just start by accident, a man sing off-key, and when you reach a dat you drop out everything an‘ leave the drum, an lick in the bass, an cause a confusion, an' people like it - me say "Yes. Tubbs, madness, the people dem like it!"'
(Bunny Lee, producer/mentor, to Steve Barrow/Dub Catcher)
‘Joe played the mixing desk like an instrument.' (Johnny Leyton, singer, on Joe Meek, from 'The Legendary Joe Meek, Arena Television Special)
‘Telstar’ producer Joe Meek releases the infamous ‘I Hear a New World as an alien testament reflecting his belief in extraterrestrial lifeforms and the Occult. He incorporates proto-synths and self-made echo boxes within his astral passage to pop perversion. Surpassing the psychosis that plagued producer Phil Spector, and the schizophrenia later suffered by head Beach Boy Brian Wilson (who dubbed a 15-minute version of 'Good Vibrations’ on 'Smile’ in 1966), Meek’s manic depression and eventual tragic suicide highlights the perils faced by early sonic test pilots. Blurring the distinctions between genius and madness, Meek's producer-as-king self-status later led to abstract delusions, as he eventually claimed to receive instructions from the deceased Buddy Holly.
'I am the ghost captain.' (Lee Perry)
If Dub is a journey through time and space, then ‘Blackboard Jungle Dub' is a black hole where the rational and irrational implode. Guided by self-proclaimed ‘Duppy (Ghost) Conqueror’, Lee ‘Scratch' Perry, Tubby’s pragmatic advances translated the fantastic into the mechanically tangible, delivering Scratch's first stereo Dub transmission. Satisfying both right and left hemispheres of the brain, skank merchants and space cadets alike, it was a successful war on logic. Perry continued to reduce musicians to spectres within his dream machinery. Weaned on Superman comics, spaghetti westerns and TV cop shows, Perry would later reconfigure Morricone's past and Black Ark studio's present as a visionary future on the Sound-bite infested ‘Dub Revolution’ - Science fiction made fact, his cathode-ray conversion encouraged the mixillogical body-snatching that would later manifest itself on Adrian Sherwood’s hot-wired productions.
‘You’re listenin’ to a machine I imitate human being. I'm a machine being to satisfy your greatest dream.'
‘It is meant to suggest that man, in the face of encroaching technology, must confront technology and attempt to humanize it; using it to enrich his collective soul not only his purse. To explore inner as well as outer space. (George Russell. Musician/producer/composer in his sleevenotes accompanying ‘Electric Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature - 1968’)
‘Electric Sonata’ melted African, Indian, Rock and serial musics into its liquid grooves, as Russell cut up jazz into a pre-Laswellian dream state. He spoke of ‘vertical evolution' and ‘music as architecture’, locating an uncharted middle ground for jazz and electro-acoustic to thrive in with studio aids. Tao Macero's biomechanical work with Miles Davis on 'Bitches Brew’ similarly revolutionized jazz with its infinite, production-generated patterns. Both men surgically removed the power of the musician, as they emphasized the space between the notes. Reflecting reggae's changes, they both turned jazz upside down and inside out.
Sun Ra dubbed out 'Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy’. Its reverberating echoes atomized his tradjazz environment and guaranteed a place for machinery as a means to freedom or exile, in Luddite surroundings -
‘I am a spirit being. - (Sun Ra, to Graham Lock/The Wire)
‘With Stalling all are embraced, chewed up and spit out in a format closer to Burroughs’ cut-ups or Godard’s film editing of the 1960s than to anything happening in the 1940s.’ (John Zorn, on composer Carl Stalling’s genre-surfing for animated cartoons) Tod Dockstader inherited Stalling’s nomadic impulses and the invention of Varese, having 'cut picture and sound for animated cartoons’ in Hollywood. The self-taught engineer/sound effects specialist incorporated musique Concrete’s microscopic detail, whilst re-assembling recorded sounds; to splice, cut, manipulate and mix them into a disturbing whole.
Dockstader created the monstrous Quatermass’ (inspired by the futuristic TV series of the same name). He revealed his passion sources as being ‘the early satellites, starting with "Sputnik"'.
‘I had a library of 300,000 feet of tape (125 hours at 15ips). From this mass, I would select cells that seemed like they might work together into a piece, and then turn them into stereo (with more classical techniques of tape delay and tape echo between channels panning, reverberation and placement).‘ (Ted Dockstader, on the construction of 1964’s ‘Quatermass' -Starkland Records)
‘After I had travelled 16 miles and was still running further from the fearful noises, I didn’t know the time that I entered into a dreadful bush which is called the "Bush of Ghosts", because I was very young to understand the meaning of "bad" and "good".‘ (Amos Tutuola, extract from ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’, Faber and Faber)
Eno and Byrne's LP of the same name amplified Tutuola's haunting novel and fanned 'soul fire’ into a sampladelic prototype.
Adrian Sherwood’s 'International Web of Outsiders', featuring itinerant dreads, punk exiles and free jazz outcasts gathered under the On-U-Sound banner to record the ironically entitled 'My Life in a Hole in the Ground’ as African Headcharge. A mutant guide to sci-fi Babylon, its multidimensional info-overload and depth-charged heaviness fed off the BBC sound-effects library and floated upon Nyabinghi tribal drumming. Old met new in an anarchic declaration of psychodelic intent, it announced separation from reggae's puritanical roots that begat such a fetishistic beast.
‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ (Hassan i Sabbah, assassin)
‘We hear from all directions at once... If our eardrums were tuned any higher we would hear molecules colliding in the air or the roaring of our own blood.’ (Marshall McLuhan/Bruce R. Powers, from ‘The Global Village’, Oxford University Press)
Jah Shaka's enlightened offspring, Abashanti and Iration Steppas, lock woofers in a gladiatorial sound-system clash. Militantly proud and insanely loud, ‘Shanti plays a righteous dub plate, sounding like church bells ringing 20,000 leagues under the sea. (My Bloody Valentine meets Sly & Robbie in a psycho-acoustic twilight zone). Ritualistically, the audience reject applause and stand awestruck in reverential silence. Quadrophonic, wall-to-wall speakers render resistance impossible; forced into meditational worship with the pure sound relationship to the music. Iration counter with 'Killimanjaro', systematically reducing its geographical title to a hypnotically mind-bending Chant of ‘Kill a man, kill a man . . .' Fusing the physical with the metaphysical, the Scientific with the archaic, the earth-moving EQ and time-warping effects reduce hours to minutes and make seconds stretch eternal. A tribal trek lost in sound.
‘The word of course is one of the most powerful instruments of control as exercised by the newspapers... If you start cutting these up and rearranging them, you are breaking down the control system'. (William S. Burroughs, ‘The Job-John Calder Ltd')
Dub has evolved into a mutant virus. Its amoral corruption effects all musical forms it digests. Addicted to change, Dub has ignored the rule world by cutting out all territorial claims. As a technological agent of transformation, its core identity remains compellingly elusive, leaving only rarefied traces of its mysterious past. Just as reggae's pioneering spirits were infected by pops instantaneousness, so Dub's leading practitioners were aware of Phil Spector. Berry Gordy and Brian Wilson’s radical sound exploits. Dub's public broadcasts rocked Jamaica's sound system infrastructure throughout the 1970s. Not only outmaneuvering the scientists and eccentrics by appealing to both body and intellect, its overground exposure and structural liberation provided the perfect recycling product for mass consumption. With the timely advent of Drum & Bass (‘Version’), remix and Dub, its manufactured addictiveness was guaranteed. Dub appealed to human greed and spiritual need. A formless folk-music to be baptized in. when McLuhan announced that the Global Media Village as ‘a proper place for the birth of metamorphosis’, his sentiments had met their match in King Tubby's echo chamber. Turning technology in on itself Dubs feedback has continued to regenerate and redirect arid forms, Its revelatory peaks and paranoid visions have provided invaluable musical breakthroughs.
When Jimi Hendrix promoted ‘the slow notion speeded up sound that sometimes cut so deep’ within 'Letter to the Room Full of Mirrors’ on the sleevenotes to ‘Electric Ladyland’ , its disorientating sentiments tapped past, present and future. Drum & Bass had already taken root in Jamaica and now the Junglists’ polyrhythmic charge repeats the loop two decades later.
Lee Perry’s ‘The Tackro’ , a visionary resize of his filmic hit ‘Clint Eastwood’, previewed the shapeshifting sound of Dub to come. Not that reggae had immaculately conceived instrumentals, effects processing or structural edits. Perry had monitored Motown's moves and James Brown's instrumental B-side grooves. Tubby had followed the leading figures of jazz. Sporadic emissions had been covertly received from as far back as the proto-Dubs highlighting Chess or Sun gems in the 1950s. Musique Concrete's institutionalised disciples close-miked their environment to map out micro-space in effects-laden studios. Pierre Schaeffer rearranged reality as a 'concept of noises' in the middle of the twentieth century. Even Stravinsky protégé Varese wrote of music as being 'spatial', 'sound set free, yet organised'. His 'Americues' (1918) not only challenged the status quo, it dubbed in sirens and a lion's roar 50 years before the Caribbean grassroots revolution.
Dub's infinite horizons arose from the promise of deep space and an insatiable appetite for techno info. It lusted for space, both inner and outer. Its advancement echoed Jackson Pollock reducing fine art to spectral fragments, Dali replaying non-narrative dream sequences and Warhol remixing repetition. With supernatural allusions and aural illusions, Dub's prime movers reflected the edited reality of Modernist film. Both Bunny Lee and 'Scratch' were obsessive Western consumers (surrounded by guns and strife, it seems obvious now). So the slow-motion shoot outs punctuating Peckinpah's 'Wild Bunch', the temporal cut-ups of Kubrick's '2001' or even Jean-Luc-Godard splicing up the Rolling Stones in 'One Plus One', added to the exhilarating confusion.
Oxymoronically, a non-organic medium conveying organic messages, Dub's initial broadcasts filtered yearning, cultural struggle and a Rastafarian Zion. Yet it reduced humanity's status to ghosts within its machinery. A thirst for control or a humanising quest? Dub supplied the blueprint for the man-machine inter-face. Crowning producer as king, it pre-empted the dawn of music's silicon age. Offering bliss to hedonists and madness to Babylon seekers.
'The studio is like your own world, and you become the god.' (A Guy Called Gerald, to Simon Reynolds/Melody Maker). Whilst Dub's individualistic genre claims can be contested, reggae's historical innovations cannot. Sound system, rapping, the 12-inch single's advanced sound all emanated from Jamaica's survivalist doctrine of profit through invention. Straddling science and mysticism, Dub's self-mythologising strength was supported by a populist mandate and an open-ended lack of structure. The practitioner's bastardisation of recording technology was a genius/pragmatist split. The vocabulary of effects, delays, echoes, phasers, distortions and reverberations formed the clues. Reproduction by definition it was related to J.A. patois for ghosts. The key to Dub is the illusory nature. From out of the lab into the dancehall, Dub proved there was an audience eager for insecurity. By chopping the word, there was no absolute truth. Faith was placed in a process of abstraction, fusing the inner with the outer, it has sought to simulate the eternal whilst setting its controls to infinite. Witnessing Dennis 'Blackbeard' Bovell's mix of the Pop Group's 'Y', Hank S. Shocklee's Bomb Squad dissecting the flux on 'Fear of a Black Planet', or even Andy Weatherall carving up My Bloody Valentine's 'Glider', it becomes blatantly apparent how destablised Dub's audio-visual worldview has become. Seeking the secrets between the notes, with the mixing desk for transport, its mystique has proven magnetic. Whilst reggae's opportunism has left the memories to be fought over, the mutation continues. The Old Skool versus Digi Dub? Do people really think Tubby wouldn't have utilised the surrounding tools? He was already compute literate prior to his tragically premature death.
Even cyber-space cadet William Gibson enlisted Dub's sound for salvation in 'Neuromancer'. Increased membership of Dub's Altered States of Consciousness is unavoidable. Strictly forward, there's no way back as evidenced by 'Macro Dub Infection - Volume 1'.
'People get warped by Dub and reggae and they never recover.'(Ian Penman, journalist/The Wire)
[Taken from the sleevenotes of the thoroughly recommended Macro Dub Infection Volume 1, Virgin Records 1995. Catalogue Number AMBT 7]