Over the past month or so, I’ve driven more than I have in the past few years. I’ve had the company of my wife, our music and the drone of the car engine for more hours than I can count, and at some point – I’ve had a lot of time to think – it got me wondering about the use of vehicle and machine noises in music.
/Tuesday Ten/388/The Machineries of Joy
I could think of a handful, but I was struggling to get much further – so as usual I opened it up to my friends and readers on Facebook as an open thread, and got a deluge of suggestions. 233 of them, in fact. Interestingly, a vastly higher proportion than usual had been used before (32), while there were 160 unique songs, the whole lot suggested by 103 different people. Thanks, as always, to everyone who got involved, and the Spotify playlist this week includes a few additional songs that didn’t quite make the final cut.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
There wasn’t really any doubt that this band would feature, was there? The band who’ve probably used machines and their own instrumental creations more than any other, and have long taken their own approach to music. Ende Neu, then, was a notable turning point for Neubauten. Long-time percussionist – and frankly loose cannon ideologically and creatively – of the group F.M. Einheit left as the album was nearing completion, and his leaving saw EN shift towards a comparatively more meditative sound (although they’ve never entirely left the pummeling force of their sound behind). Sonically Ende Neu shows both sides – two of the highlights on the album are glorious, paired back ballads (the extraordinary Stella Maris, and long-time live staple The Garden), while two more are the forceful opener Was Ist Ist, and NNNAAAMMM.
Just a look at the liner notes for the latter gives an idea of F.M. Einheit’s thinking on the song (whose full title is “New No New Age Advanced Ambient Motor Music Machine”) is performed entirely in 9/4 time (!): “recorded machines include Renault and Alfa Romeo engines, Bosch electric drill, White machine, Waltzing machine, Magirus Deutz earth mover…“. This is a symphony of machines, human voices, a nod to the quasi-futurism of German “rock” music of the seventies and to the future, too.
/Mittwoch aus Licht
Stockhausen remains one of the most important, influential, and controversial composers of the twentieth century, one of a number to have a gigantic influence on popular music, as well as helping to pave the way for electronic music in general – while annoying a lot of people along the way. Perhaps one of the most curious pieces he ever created – and there’s some competition, frankly – is this piece, played by a string quartet, each of whom is playing in one of four helicopters, and the sounds of the helicopters are part of the piece. The strings take their sounds to their extremes of scale anyway, but when added to the sound of the flying machines, there is something deeply unsettling about it – particularly as it lasts thirty-two minutes. I wholeheartedly recommend The Rest Is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century by Alex Ross, by the way, for a deeper look into Stockhausen, his contemporaries and where on earth these ideas came from.
/Close (to the Edit)
/Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise?
Art of Noise were not like other eighties groups. Early experts in the art of sampling and art-terrorism, they certainly ruffled a few feathers with their unusual compositions and approach, but in time it’s become clear that rather than disrupting the common order, they paved the way for a whole host of groups to take curious, unexpected routes musically and make them work. This astonishing track – a top ten hit in late 1984 – samples Yes, some spoken word, and a VW Golf (and, if I’m not mistaken, a chainsaw at least once), and the car sample is a critical part of the rhythm at points. When you think about how difficult sampling was at the time of creating this song, you can begin to realise just how impressive a piece of work this track is.
Less than two years on from Close (To the Edit), Depeche Mode took the idea of sampling a car engine a way forward. The chugging, alien-sounding rhythm that opens Stripped – and indeed underpins the entire song, even if it gets buried in the mix at points – is a modified sample of a Porsche engine idling, and makes what could otherwise have been a humdrum ballad sound a whole lot more interesting. That said, Black Celebration was the point where Depeche Mode really began to accelerate into the future and paved the way for the mega tours that would follow in the coming years, and this album has certainly been more fairly appraised since than the lukewarm reception it got at the time. But, this song showed creativity with rhythm and sound that none of their peers was exploring at the time, that’s for sure.
/Let Us Play!
Another of the masters of sampling – and early electronic dance music pioneers, too – were Coldcut, who seemed to have an almost supernatural understanding of how to integrate and fashion into new forms enormous numbers of samples and pieces of other sounds. There were denser, creative compositions, sure – and some game-changing remixes – but this is a clever piece of work using less, where the sample of a working chainsaw becomes the core of the song.
/Leader of the Pack
/Leader of the Pack
This legendary teenage tragedy – a remarkably popular style of pop song in the fifties and sixties, where tragedy always haunted any forbidden romance (what a way to moralise!) – was sung by four New York teenagers (they were between sixteen and eighteen when this was released), and the exquisite drama of the vocals and big band music is only aided by the sound effects, by legend from a motorcycle driven into the studio, the reality apparently a little more mundane – it was from an effects record. Anyway, girl meets boy, gets questioned by her girlfriends about him (“Is she really going out with him?“) and excitedly admits it, her parents tell her he’s a wrong’un from a motorcycle gang, she reluctantly splits up with him, he dies in a motorcycle accident. All of this in just over two minutes, and subsequently, just the first line was directly nodded to by The Damned and Joe Jackson, never mind the rest of the song.
/Stainless Steel Providers
/Beers, Steers and Queers
Talking of nods to the past, RevCo nod to The Beach Boys in the opening line of one of their greatest songs. Here, though, there’s no teenage joy to having a car in the California sun, it’s more of the grinding darkness of a motorcycle gang in, presumably, Chicago. The rhythm is relentless, Paul Barker’s bassline endlessly looped, and Chris Connolly barks his vocals over the top, with the assistance of the occasional revving of a motorcycle to ram the point home. RevCo was never a subtle band, but there was usually some humour included. Not here – this track is as black as pitch.
/Human Race Ignition
Now here’s a name I’d totally forgotten about until three people suggested it. One of the lesser-known industrial groups from Slovenia, legend has it that they were signed by Peaceville on the strength of one track – this one. It’s not hard to see why – an impressive, elegant track that careers forward without ever losing control, mixing breakbeats, bombastic female vocals and the roar of Formula One cars racing around a track. One of those songs that makes no sense whatsoever until you hear it when it all makes sense and you can sit back and bask in the brilliance of it.
/Mind The Gap
The striking debut from Metroland – which, admittedly, owed a lot to certain German and British predecessors, and I’ve not included Kraftwerk this week as I’ve used most of the relevant songs before! – is still a lovely album that is almost entirely themed around the idea of travelling around by way of Inner City Transport. Mostly in London, mind, where samples of Victoria Line announcements and Jubilee Line trains are really familiar to this one-time daily commuter, but not all of it, as Moscow Main proves. Here, a bright, neon-lit electronic core is assisted by samples of Moscow Metro trains and appropriate announcements in Russia. I’ve not been to Russia (yet), but a little slice of the Moscow Metro exists in London, at Gants Hill station, which was designed in homage to the extraordinary style of that network.
Talking of rail travel, I’ve used the obvious suspects before (Trans Europe Express, Thalys), and so I was instead reminded of the gig that I recently attended (and a review of which I finally posted yesterday – other things have got in the way), and one of the highlights of that set. The fast-paced lead track to Red Box’s ill-fated second album (that the label effectively washed their hands of, before release) opens with the relentless chug of a train, and the song pace is built around the speed that the train gains (which is a really clever trick). This catchy song also samples the sound of an American railroad crossing bell, too, if I’m not mistaken while nodding at left-wing theory (“Go Internationale”), before screeching to a sudden halt as the titular train does.