Tuesday, 14 July 2020

At a Distance: on 'Private Ambulance'

On songs on my new cassette/download album All Living Can Anyone Be Here.

'Private Ambulance' started as a rhythm, a shuffle beat, inspired perhaps by Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock n Roll Parts 1 & 2’, beat out on the furniture, edited into short loops in Ableton Live, replayed in random groups. 

This is the first version:
Another influence was ‘Excerpts From Blue Tongue Corroboree’, sung by Yinmalagara and Nalbared with Djawida on didjeridu, recorded in Oenpelli, Western Arnhem Land (Australia) in 1962, from the album Songs from the Northern Territory: Aboriginal Music from Western Arnhem Land (Corroboree Songs with Didjeridu; Some Speech).

Their song starts out quite polyrhythmical but becomes more like a ’shuffle’ beat from around 1:56. I was interested in how the players use material and objects close to hand to make the instruments, that the sound is materially deeply integrated with the place, both in terms of being from and of that place. The low synth drone of my recording echoes the drone of the didjeridu, a low grounded tone that seems to be speaking as much to the ground as emerging from it, with the circular breathing loop creating the continuity of the drone. Of course I’m not recording in an outback clearing, I’m in a room, the furniture I’m banging is in the room. I imagine a live performance situation where the audience is encouraged to participate by ‘playing’ along, adding the sound of beating their chairs and tables to the mix in the room; the sound in the room, and of the room. 

My rhythm track sat unused until I started to work on ‘Private Ambulance’ and was looking around for a rhythmic base for it. I slowed it down and changed the time signature, which produced a more loping and occasionally stuttered rhythm.

The lyrics that I had been working on for the song were a kind of companion to ‘Even On A Wednesday’, dramatising the experience of the coronavirus situation but on the other side of the front door, the ‘boundary situation’. What happens when one goes into the outside world? This was at the height of lockdown when provisional, often tentative, information about the behaviour of the virus and its transmission was being circulated, its influence on the behaviour of humans in relation to one another became the subject of 'guidance'. It was a 'live' situation, government advice was ambivalent and ambiguous, the epidemiology was developing. The song was a way of internalising and speculating about how one should behave in relation to the proximity of other people, how one was to conduct oneself in public, who and where the airborne virus might be coming from, how one might encounter it out there in the world, how far the virus might travel through the air on a cough, in a sneeze. How close is too close? If I can smell you are you too close? The experience of space became infused with strange new intensities, from caution to paranoia to fear. Would other people be aware of their own proximity to each other,  to you and me? How was their proprioception? What have I touched? Who else has touched it? Or coughed near it? The abjection of the infected imbued the perception of nations, infected communities, and individuals alike. Pulling all these impressions into a lyric was a fairly easy task, it almost wrote itself. 

The intensity of the situation was heightened by unseasonably warm and sunny weather, accompanied by a lack of air pollution due to the absence of road and air traffic: the virus had influenced the weather it seemed. On one of those clear and sunny afternoons, I sat in the park opposite my house editing the lyric, when a large black van with the words 'PRIVATE AMBULANCE' drove past, there, with it’s medical connotation as well as the notion of  ‘ambulation’, to walk and move being both a private and spatialised social activity, was the song's title.

I accompanied the recalibrated furniture loops with loops of the sound of my breathing, the impact on respiration being one of the effects on the body of the virus, which brought a visceral intensity to the sound. I added a couple of tracks of sustained and glitched guitar, as well as a homemade Shepard Tone, further ramping up the claustrophobia, before recording the vocal track.