Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Re-Appraisal of 'Lost in Space'

Originally published in Honi Soit, 11 April 1984. To be consumed with a large amount of fibre.
(c) Timothy James Horton 1984

The TV programme, ‘Lost in Space’, has been an integral part of western culture for many years. Ever since its dramatic debut on our television screens, we have been caught in its grip and held by the spell of its deeper social implications and its universal appeal to all mankind. Unfortunately, the fact that it has been repeated several times already since its original lengthy season has led it to become held in disrepute by major critics and the public at large. In this essay, I intend to take a fresh look at this unique American series, particularly in reference to themes and character development, and hope to bring new awareness by the public to its true value.

‘Lost in Space’, in its original conception, was simply meant to be a vehicle for the major U.S. television networks to cash in on the massive public interest caused by the space programme. But before the producers actually put the concept into full fruition, they realised that their ideas held far greater prospects in the presentation of metaphysical and philosophical metaphor. In trepidation and anticipation at the aims to which their television drama could be directed, they rapidly put these ideas to a team of dedicated and intelligent script writers They too saw potential in a series which could show the gradual development of a nuclear family in a hostile and bewildering environment, revealing their tensions, and their reactions to the unknown. The series, originally to be called ‘The Robinsons Go To Alpha Centauri’, was re-named, with enormous literary insight, ‘Lost in Space’.

The title itself is a brilliant summary of the creation of those visionary producers. It captures the hopeless despair and fear of those intrepid space travellers, the family Robinson, around whom the series is based. ‘Space’ in the title represents the inner void and hopelessness of the family, trapped in the confines of their traditional American values, facing an environment where there are no constraints or boundaries. By upbringing and culture, they feel bound to the society in which they have grown up, but become swallowed by a larger society of the universe, representing all that is radical and new on the earth. The inner human is faced with an inherent dichotomy - to remain voluntarily restrained by a dominant culture, and to liberate oneself into the freedom of worlds and societies unmeasured and unknown. The Robinsons are indeed lost, and react variously to each situation, to each alien.

Naturally, the characters are vital to the whole scenario, and flesh out the themes and concerns of the writers, as I have already suggested. And it is not only the Robinson family which dominates the proceedings. Surprisingly the central character of the whole series is that irascible but lovable villain, Zachary Smith. Smith is a brilliant dramatic creation, and is the focus of the issues presented in ‘Lost in Space’, being a figure not only of power but also of weakness. He is a complex character, and deserves the full attention of our critical analysis.

From his first appearance, we know that the producers have in store for us a man grappling with the central concerns of all humanity and with his own identity. Smith appears in the first episode as a communist spy, an infiltrator into the traditional values of middle-class America. He is presented as a threat to the homely warmth of the Robinsons (which ‘warmth’ is first displayed by that perfect dramatic encapsulation in Will running to his parents, exclaiming that he had passed the medical test). Smith sneaks on board the Jupiter II, an unknown quantity whose addition to the crew (and consequently to the ship’s gross weight) results in a disastious redirection of the ship, and sends it off course, which is the direct cause of the crew becoming lost in space. Smith’s unforeseen addition is, of course, intended by the writers to be of much more significance than merely that of a physical redirection - he represents a total spiritual and mental redirection of the crew, and thus is the vital factor in leading them to the total revaluation of their lives, which is one of the aims of ‘Lost in Space’. Here is one of the fundamental conflicts in ‘Lost in Space’ - the person who must change the course of the Robinsons’ lives to a fuller understanding of the universe is himself the enemy of all that the Robinsons believe in. The concept of the wholeness of the family, one of the main tenets held by the Robinsons, is shattered by Smith’s intrusion into their lives. His relationship to Will and to Dr John Robinson, Will’s father, are vital in the consideration of this conflict. To Will, Smith is an almost alternative father figure, a man who shapes his (Will’s) life through his (Smith’s) influence, but does not control it by exertion of authority. He leads him into dangers and transgressions, but each time, though Will is tainted by the remorse of his act, he remains faithful - and not only this, but aware and willing to grow through his experience. In the understanding of metaphysical aims, Smith is a challenge to Will, because he is both evil and weak at the same time. Will wants to stay firm to the eternal American truths in opposition to Smith’s digressive and wily desires, hut he also feels drawn to the alternatives Smith offers through his weak self. Will sees in Smith’s weakness more than just a fragile human. being — he sees a man needing love and compassion; but his adherence to American values continually restrains him from fully reaching out to Smith. Thus Smith introduces a tension in Will’s heart and mind, on the one hand (through Smith’s wickedness) compelling him to stay true to his family’s principles, but on the other (through Smith’s weakness) forcing him to reach out beyond his conventional American beliefs and touch and help this pitiful man. The control that Smith wields over Will is subtle and very father-like, and is a brilliant tribute to the writers’ skills. It is father-like, because Will feels compelled to help Smith and to obey him through his compassion, rather than because he is physically stronger. On the other hand, Smith to John Robinson is a menace and a threat to his familial authority. He is willing to allow Smith his foibles, but he only barely tolerates the man’s persistent wickedness. He disdains the influence that Smith has with Will, but endures in his fatherly role, exerting his authority over all the crew, but without force. Whereas Will represents the inner desire of all men to reach out and change, Robinson is the hard conservative streak in all of us, changing slowly, not wanting to be hurt, sticking hard to family beliefs. Smith challenges both, and their reactions to him are carefully controlled and perfectly executed.

Witness the episode, “The Games of Gamma 6’, where Smith blurts out to Dr Robinson that Will holds his father in shame because he will not compete as a wrestler in the intergalactic games. This cuts deep into Robinson’s psyche (particularly because he was a college athletics champion, a notably American ideal), and casts the immediate question in the viewer’s mind: will Robinson discard his traditional family values, challenge his beliefs and establish his masculinity? Will he throw off the intellectualism and look at his family, not in a conventional American view (once married, a man no longer indulges in hedonistic, erotic pleasures of physical exercise), but in a primitivist, animalistic, physical way? It is even more damning, because Robinson is being reluctant to compete in an event which attracts the attention of thousands of other cultures, cultures alien and foreign to his own. Is he refusing to compete, not only because wrestling runs counter to his beliefs, but also because it means facing the entire cultural cross-currents of the universe? Smith challenges Robinson, with his conventional paternal role, to compete in games which by their nature and their cultural setting oppose this role. The sad thing is that Robinson refuses to compete. Yet in the end he has to rescue Smith from death, and challenges the director of the Games to a game of laser Russian roulette. We discover that Robinson would have been killed had the director not refused to proceed with the game. Thus, the traditional paternal role of Robinson is given a reprieve, a reprieve only through the benevolence of an alien, from a culture billions of light years removed from his own.

Smith, though, as a character, is not merely a living metaphor for the writers’ themes — he is also a complex psychological figure, and as such is even more the focus of the whole series. As I have said earlier, Smith is both powerful and weak - he exerts an authority over Will through the very fact of his weakness. He is a pathetic universal figure, a victim of his circumstances. Originally a spy, he is now condemned to drift through space, in the midst of an extremely conservative family who cannot understand his inner soul. His voyage on the Jupiter II* becomes an inner journey, a journey trying to find his true self. Misunderstood by all, he must resort to lies and deception to create meaning in his life. His constant attempts to make contact with alien life-forms are continually thwarted by the Robinsons. “‘Dad says we shouldn’t go near aliens’” is a constant response to Smith’s efforts. Life is a struggle, and he is relegated to menial tasks. His impatient, inquiring mind leads him to often do manual tasks in half-measure. He is a tragi-comic figure, a vehicle for sarcasm (“I’ve never been fond of sports before — they’re so — so healthy”) which often shows the empty gulf within his soul. The adults shun him, so he must resort to companionship with the two children, Will and Penny. The trauma of his alienation, within ostensibly a loving household, is externalised in the form of his back-pains. These pains are an extended metaphor, a running reminder of Smith’s lack of desire to be swallowed up by the family’s values. Smith only feels himself when his soul is extended to other, varied cultures: he is an alien in the family which should, because of the home planet which is their common bond, really accept him.

The children seem to share an insight into his soul. They alone seem to realise what his soul yearns for. I have already shown how Will reaches out to Smith, and Penny is very similar. Yet Penny is unique in her own quiet way. She outwardly appears to conform to the traditional female role in American society — submissive, gentle, understanding. But beneath her placid exterior, Penny is a seething mass of paranoia, of deep-seated anger and frustration. She is tired of the restrictions of her parents and her culture, and wants to break free whenever she can. When Verda the female android arrives at the Jupiter II camp (which android is, interestingly, brought to the camp by Dr Smith), Penny finds in her the companion she has never been able to have. Verda is liberated and free, a loving, learning creation who is adept at all sorts of abilities. Penny’s fears can be overcome through Verda, and she can face the world and all its problems. The same occurs with Bloop, the mutant monkey - Penny can lavish all her attention on an animal which will absorb it willingly. Her anger can be released and thus appropriately dealt with. Penny’s repressed sexual frustrations can be faced, too, with Verda - she can find her sexual identity and interact with Verda in a fulfilling way. This discovery of sexual identity is particularly explored in her relationship with Dr Smith. Smith, sexually ambiguous himself, with his mincing hips and conventionalised feminine helplessness , draws Penny to him. She sees in him the mixture of two sexual types, and through her relationship with him she can associate which of those types is most relevant for her, in an environment where there is very stifled sexuality. In Verda, Penny sees liberated femininity — in Smith, she sees repressed femininity and repressed masculinity: a kind of androgynous figure. Her struggle to find herself is very much internalised in the show, and for that very reason is perhaps the subtlest revelation of character trait in the series.
The remaining three characters which I have not discussed are very much sexual stereotypes, in opposition to the frustrated, convoluted characters of Smith and Penny. Mrs Maureen Robinson is perhaps the shallowest of the characters in the series in this respect because she
so stereotyped. But don’t be fooled. The writers here have drawn a very exact picture — so exact that it is inevitably a parody, a parody of all female stereotypes. June Lockhart plays the role admirably, right down to her perfect, not-a-hair-out-of-place hairdo. She never gets emotional, never gets ruffled, she never ‘blows her top’ - she is so perfect, in fact, that we cannot help laughing at her emptiness.

This is parody in the best tradition of the ’Brady Bunch’ and ‘Famous Five’. Her advice is always sensible, her judgment always just, her dinners always delicious. Maureen has her little garden, carries her washing in a plastic washing basket (even when a million light years from home!), operates her own computerised oven, and presumably even cleans the toilet bowl. What a perfect little lady she is! She never fears for herself, always for her family. Can her guard never drop? This is a brilliant parody of American values. She is the programmers’ running joke. As such, Maureen is the perfect comic foil to the series’ metaphysical concepts pursued in the rest of the characters. When John discusses the possibility of him competing in the intergalactic games, Maureen is sweetly taking the washing off the line and handing it to Judy, her daughter.

Judy herself is a sexual stereotype, but beneath her svelte exterior is a seething, passionate heart, filled with lust and desire for Don, whom I will discuss shortly. Her smouldering sexual desire lies covered by her smooth, conventionalised exterior. She is moulded in her external relations by her culture, but her heart passionately yearns for Don. Her hand is often in his, a tacit symbol of the sexual union for which she longs. There is no privacy for her, she lives in an environment where each person shares in the other’s experiences. Her cool appearance belies the fire that burns within her. Because, of all the characters, Judy has the least noticeable contact with Dr Smith, her desires are never externalised, her vision is never extended. The powerhouse that drives her is perennially kept in check by her stereotyped image. Love can never truly blossom between her and Don, and she can only relate properly to her mother, paradoxically an image of chastity.

The only human character I have neglected to discuss is Don, the co-pilot and technical wiz-kid. His role is vital to the whole structure of the show and can never be forgotten in terms of its spiritual contributions. Don, primarily, is the contrast to Dr Smith. He is cool, sophisticated, but also arrogant, self-conceited and self-confident. He is the aggressive male (whereas John Robinson, for instance, is the paternal, peaceful male), unable to tolerate weakness or frivolity. His aim is to get the Jupiter II to Alpha Centauri, and ostensibly it seems he has no time for inner searching. But his character is the most poignant, because, while all the time he feigns antagonism to Smith, he is always the first to help him when in trouble. Don has an undying affection for Smith, because Smith represents all the emotional and spiritual concerns that Don has never been able to master. He longs to be as sensitive as Smith, but his bluff exterior precludes any softening. He is a strangely tragic figure, for a man torn by inner affection for another is, by American terms, the epitome of failure. He represses an inner homosexual drive, a drive which is squashed by masculine insensitivity. Don is crushed time and again each time he is forced to deride Smith, and is never seen smiling because of his unseen sadness. How we can sympathise with a man whose very self is torn, who by cultural restraints must hide his true feelings, who hurts himself when he hurts the man he loves. His only consolation is in the fact that he has the skill to pilot and control the Jupiter II, a position of authority which acts as a comforter to him.
Naturally, I have left my favourite character to last. This character has the largest range of emotions and the greatest intellect of all the personalities. Of course I refer to the Robot. Here is a gem of characterisation, a crown jewel of acting. He completes the scene in this brilliant, on-going drama, I say ‘he’ because this robot has immense humanity. There is an overwhelming feeling of life and passion in this being, giving him a unique personality. The whole concept of the Robot is summarised in his appearance: he approaches human form, with his divided “leg” suspension, flexible arms, and large chest, but he remains inexorably artificial, lacking a true head, composed of plastic and metal, and rolling, instead of walking, He can be brave, compassionate, angry, afraid, sad, rueful, lonely, jealous, depressed, happy, and scornful, The Robot is always made to feel inferior by other galactic robots and androids, but he never loses his dignity and innate humanity. He resembles “Monkey”, that Japanese television creation, in that the more he exists with humans, the more he takes on their attributes. The Robot is an inspired creation, and, in a brilliant artistic masterstroke, begins to become part of the Robinson family, almost espousing their traditional values. But the real brilliance is, that, despite the temptation, he never loses his artificial, separated viewpoint. He is always a little saner than the rest, an element of absolute intelligence. Thus, he has a somewhat god-like character, but we are always reminded of his humanity. He, perhaps is. the only “ordinary” person in the programme, a levelling presence, a person who covers the range of human emotions. He feels naturally jealous: when another robot appears on the scene, he assumes naturally his responsibility when it is part of his work (for example, warning Smith when he senses a dangerous alien nearby), he feels run-down when his power-pack is not charged. The Robot is, in other words, a study, by the writers, in the variety of human nature, and its development in a totally non-human being. He is almost a second Adam, starting from innocence, when he is just a purely mechanical device (“a malfunctioning mass of micro-circuits”)”, to going through the trauma of discovering emotions and relationships with humans. He is like a baby growing up in a hostile world, but in a world where there is still love and feeling, despite the frustrations and repressions. The Robot represents the dawning of a new age, the rise of a new Man, and we follow his experiences through the universe. The writers see his life as almost a religious pilgrimage through the historic experiences of man. His voice is a light, a light that flashes out to indicate life and aliveness. He is not meant to be the ideal man, but he is man as we would see him fresh from the Garden of Eden. Yet the Robot has not fallen from grace - he is trying to discover it: this is the essence of his development in the series.

The relationship between the Robot and Smith is important, too. The two match each other, because they are both growing, so to speak. The Robot is growing in his understanding and development of human qualities, and Smith is growing in his understanding of other cultures, responding to them in his ever-searching desire. The two encourage each other’s growth and strengthen each other Smith constantly abuses the Robot, so as to present to him the full range of human response, which would be limited if he merely associated with the perfect ‘bliss” of the American Robinsons. Thus both characters complement each other.

I have studied mainly content of ‘Lost in Space’ in this re-appraisal - that is, studying themes and characters. But form is also interesting in this dynamic series. Two points are particularly worth mentioning briefly: the use of gestures (form in actions) and the episodic nature of the series (form in structure). Smith is especially powerful in his facial gestures: he can convey love, pity, piteousness, helplessness, cunning, anger, and many other qualities, merely by raising or arranging his eyebrows. He is a master at superciliology. At the very moment of climax, Smith will introduce a brilliant stroke of bathos by wrinkling his eyebrows and scoring stupidity and pity. Don is also brilliant at this art, and it is often his facial expressions which reveal his true underlying sadness. At the moment when he chastens Smith, he will raise his brows gently, pathetically, reaching out to Smith in actions, but remaining gruff in voice. It is the ultimate irony that Smith, who is otherwise responsive to many different aliens and cultures, cannot interpret the feelings in these brow movements of Don.

The episodic nature of the series is also a sharply effective method of conveying the messages in the series. Each episode will concentrate on a theme or a set of themes, but at the end, a short segment of the next episode is shown, to indicate that the whole process is an ongoing activity. The voyage of inner discovery never ends. It continues beyond the end of each crisis and transforms our lives at each turn. This is what ‘Lost in Space’ is all about — the gradual unfolding of our inner selves, as we respond to new experiences, new events beyond our everyday existence. ‘Lost in Space’ is not merely a space venture - it is a journey into the soul of man, and only those who look within can truly interpret its great ideas.
* The name of the Jupiter II is itself significant, The Roman god Jupiter was originally the supreme authority figure. Here, the name represents the solid authority and dominance of American culture, but the’II’ indicates the exploration of new, alternative authorities.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mark Opitz – a study in cataclysm

Mark Opitz is an Australian producer who was involved with many of the most successful and famous bands of the late 70s and 80s – Cold Chisel, Jimmy Barnes, INXS, Divinyls, The Reels, The Angels, Little River Band, Models, Eurogliders, Hoodoo Gurus, Noiseworks, Mental As Anything, Richard Clapton, and so on. Perhaps as a result of the musical context of the time, oriented towards live performance in numerous venues across Australia, Opitz’s style was oriented towards producing a relatively live sound. At an international level, this was relatively unusual at the time, given that new wave production was moving towards much more abstract, unreal sounds and spaces (compare, for instance, the changes wrought with Midnight Oil when Nick Launay took on the band’s production, after very live-oriented recordings by Glyn Johns and Leszek Karski). However, Opitz rarely rested on a sound that was purely performative, and at his best, he achieved a quality with his sound production which was unmatched by any other producer then or now. In particular, he had the capacity to produce a cataclysm in the studio which at times seems to threaten the fabric of the speakers. In this essay, I will study three of these key productions: “Boys In Town”, by Divinyls (1981), “Good Times”, by INXS and Jimmy Barnes (1986), and “Communication”, by INXS (1992).

“Boys In Town” is a song that declares itself from the moment it opens. Two guitars open the piece, rhythm and bass, declaratively, simultaneously and indissolubly pumping a rock rhythm, with a third, lead guitar, stabbing into place over the top of the drums at 0:02, both of which punch out the same beat. The song is instantly engaging, and rhythmically exhausting. This is a song built around power, hard emotion, and thumping rhythm, a rhythm which never lets up through the song’s entirety. Similarly, the soundspace is declared upfront as well – all elements in the mix have a note of reverb that codes a larger space than the one in which we are listening, but not enormous – perhaps the size of a pub. The reverb also has a hard, slightly metallic edge to it, so that it has a slight smack marking the size of, and containing, the space. In this intro, the higher toms are sharp and smack at the speakers (it seems the hi-hats may also be hit simultaneously with the toms, so that the combined sound seems to kiss the air), slightly forward of the rest of the instruments, and the lower toms are brought right into the bass speakers, so that their physical presence is felt. This is a song designed not to let us out of its sights or of its confines. At this point it has virtually no dissipation in its sound, other than a slight hiss on the toms/hi-hat combo, which seems more to flick the rhythm into the upper corners of the space, rather than to diminish it.

However, even in this short description, it can be seen that Opitz is twisting the space slightly, minutely winding it up. The drumkit, being brought forward, loses its conventional position in the space, so that the guitars are almost pushed out of the way by the drumkit. The kit is also spread across the space, in a position of domination, so that the thick rhythm/bass guitar combo is pushed out along it, a construction which Opitz explores in more detail on “Communication”. There is also a kind of heady acoustic manipulation in this intro: the rhythm/bass combo has a physicality that seems to press or ache in the head, while the higher toms uncharacteristically have a brightness that seems to snap at the ear, at a point that the lead guitar would normally do; as a result, the lead guitar here, though sharp, has a slightly receded quality in comparison with the toms. The lower toms take up a position that the bass and the kickdrum normally would, having a rolling, fluid, but nonetheless dense quality that seems to increase the swelling in the head brought on by the rhythm and bass guitars. Opitz is giving a press to the sound that seems to affect us in the frequency midrange and horizontally centre in the space: the impact is direct and central, in our faces, and also immediately physical. Nonetheless, the physical impact is not predominantly visceral, as we might expect in music that is funk-oriented, so that the physical response generated in the listener is more closely linked to the emotions expressed in the song, rather than to the song’s rhythm. There is a contrast here with “Communication”, in that our physical reaction to the song is actually a response to the declarativeness of the song itself, and to the various musical elements in it: there is a kind of direction, or challenge, in the impact of the drums, for instance, to us as listeners to respond physically; whereas in “Communication”, we are being engaged less directively, subsumed into the song and its rhythms, through both the size of the space, and the way the space is constructed. “Boys In Town” drives at us at a pitch which is never slackened during the song, with the various elements in the space twisted at us so that we are constantly wound up and wound into it, impelling us so that we feel there is no escape from where the song will ultimately take us.

This sort of impulsion is found in other Australian recordings of the time, but on “Boys In Town” the impulsion is figured slightly differently. Comparing this song with another roughly contemporaneous track which Opitz worked on, “Take A Long Line” by The Angels, we can hear that both of them have a midrange central focus, directed straight at the speaker. However, “Boys In Town” has a note of desperation to the impulsion figured by this focus which “Take A Long Line” lacks. There are a number of elements which convey this desperation (not the least the vocals and the lyrics), but it is Opitz’s subtle use of reverb on “Boys In Town” (and on other tracks on the mini-album from which it comes, Monkey Grip) which seems to expand the impulsion into a broader emotional expression. The reverb does this in a number of ways. Firstly, the confined and defined size of the space marked by the reverb codes a kind of frustrated restraint on the song’s impulsion. The slight metallic edge to the reverb further conveys a coolness that heightens this sense of restraint. However, this reverb, in coding a size to the space, also paradoxically conveys a touch of roominess, of capacity for escape, as well as heightening the sense of drama to the emotions, as if they are writ large for a wider audience, and need that audience to allow their full expression. However, again, this sense of drama folds the emotions back in on themselves, because by being dramatised in this way it also suggests a lack of authenticity. This lack is not predominant, however; it adds a note to the emotions, however, that heightens the frustration of the song, so that it is impelled towards something, but something which it may never reach; or that it is reaching outside something which it may not be able to escape.

Opitz maintains this space throughout the song, so that the song’s frenetic energy never lets up, with changes only being modulations which work to sustain the energy of the song by twisting it into us at certain points. For instance, through the verses, the lead guitar intermittently grinds a note at the end of every second line, which Opitz brings slightly forward as a note of punctuation in the mix, as if the song is ground with slightly more pressure into us. In the instrumental break, the lead guitar seems to move centre in the space, slightly back, and into a slightly deeper fuller space, as if the guitar is moving towards some sort of escape (which is, however, reined in with the chorus of male voices singing “too much too young”, and the repeat of the foregrounding of the drums through this passage). This movement of the guitar reflects an apparent movement of Amphlett’s vocals in the bridge (“ooh, I’m tired/ooh I’m wired”) where they seem to condense in the centre of the space and have a slightly larger resonance.

There is also an interesting relationship set up between Amphlett’s vocals and the rest of the band. When Amphlett first appears, her vocals have a dampened quality to them, slightly receded, and slightly curbed, so that they seem to be set in a slightly deep place in the mix. This “depth” is largely perceptual, but it is an odd position, especially for a female voice, compared with the brightness and sharpness of the instruments around her, all played by men. It lends a note of oppression to her position in the mix, and a correspondingly unsettling sense of comparative freedom to the instruments, all the more unsettling because, as we have seen above, the instruments themselves are cast in a space which is frustratingly confining. This obviously reflects the position of the song’s narrator in respect to the “boys in town” (“I am just a red brassiere to all the boys in town/put this bus in top gear/get me out of here”), but it also gives Amphlett’s voice a slightly disconcerting sense of almost masculine stability in the space, and an edge of gloominess that belies the energy of the song. As the song progresses, and Amphlett’s voice remains fairly stable in the mix (its “condensation” in the bridge is not a very large move, and fundamentally retains the centrality of her voice in the space), there is a sense that the frenetic energy of the instruments is whirling around her, while she is resolutely holding firm (though the occasional sharpness to her voice indicates some difficulty in holding this position). In fact, there is an aspect to the musical and sonic arrangement of the piece that evokes a sense of the male instruments making moves on her which she resists. Musically, the various instruments seem to weave in and out of each other, stepping forward and dropping back in the arrangement (as with the instrumental break, where the lead guitar moves out of the rest of the band into a featured position, but mediated by the occasional rhythmic bursts of the toms and the cymbals shining through this). This is reflected production-wise as instruments occasionally move forward slightly out of the mix, or glint off its surface (for instance, with the way the guitar is brought forward at the end of every second line of the verses), as if they are looming up on the singer. The resolution of the singer is also coded inversely in the segment of the song immediately following the instrumental break (from 2:15 to 2:47), where the band members sing “too much too young”. Though this could be seen as representing a gang of men condemning the female singer, these male vocals are actually pushed back slightly in the mix, blended together, and have limited acoustic depth, so that they have a slightly fey or impotent quality to them. It is as if their accusatory power is diffused against the singer’s own determination to “get me out of here”.

Nonetheless, the singer never does escape: she remains pretty much in the same space and position in which she started the song, and the entire song sits firmly within a consistent, relatively unchanging space: instruments rarely change position within the space, and virtually every instrument is mixed so that they perceptually are spread across the breadth of the space left to right. This is not an accurate depiction of the mix: for instance, rhythm guitar seems to be multitracked and placed left and right, bass is positioned central, along with the drumkit (though there appears to be a slight movement across the space right to left in the lower toms in the intro and under the “too much too young”), and so on. But the denseness of the mix makes the differentiation less apparent than might otherwise be the case (such lessening of the differentiation is also an element to the more complex space created in “Communication”), so that movement in the space, or highlighting of elements in the space, becomes a fleck in the overall denseness of the space, resulting in a sense of lack of air in the mix, further conveying the sense of an inability to escape. This sense of failure to escape is also conveyed in the constraint of the song’s frenetic musical energy to a kind of restlessness in the mix as a result of this limitation of movement: for instance, the rolling of the deeper toms (mentioned above) which has some movement across the space, but which is barely apparent to the listener, and which is overwhelmed by the heightening of the forward presence of the toms. As a result, the toms seem to swell forward, rather than move right to left, or even indeed move dynamically forward, so that they remain within a fairly contained location, despite their musical dynamism. Another example is the lead guitar, which becomes multitracked and takes on a more central position in the instrumental break, the performative image being of the guitarist stepping forward centre stage; but the mix limits the sense of any change in position of the guitarist, partly because the multitracking gives a size to the guitar which actually masks any movement, and partly because it also seems to de-individualise it (rather than emphasise its individuality, as might be expected), giving it a projected emotional energy from within the space and from within the band as a collective: the guitar here seems to be dramatising the desperation and intensity of the song’s overall emotional intensity, rather than describing an individual response within this. The reverb on the guitar adds to this sense of projected emotional heat from within the space, further masking a sense of movement. As is implicit here, this restlessness of the mix is also a response to the musical arrangement and structure of the piece, which takes on the form of a repeated series of risings that never seem to go anywhere. The song starts with an intro that starts high on emotional energy and seems to be pounded higher with the drums, but then it seems to drop back slightly with Amphlett’s vocals in the verse. Then, the following verse/chorus group marks a rise in desperation, with the obvious chorus lines “I must have been desperate/I must have been pretty low”, and the lead guitar slicing its way behind this; but this then falls back to the following verse/chorus group, which repeats the rise. At the end of the second chorus, Amphlett changes the final “low” to “slow”, which seems to twist the song slightly further in meaning, but this is followed by another fall-back, as the rhythm guitars drop away, replaced in position in the mix by the hi-hats (which are less salient in the space than the rhythm guitars), and the lead guitar stretches into long, almost yelped notes. Of course, despite the change, the lead guitar in its drawling is winding the song up anew; but then this drops back again to the bridge, where the rhythm guitars return and the song winds up anew, with Amphlett ratcheting up her vocal to another note of semi-hysteria on the final “wired”. These series of windings up repeat through the song, with finally the sense of an inability to escape being sealed at the end of the song with the closing half note of hysteria in the final “here”s, and the reverbed rounding of the space around the guitars as they abruptly cease.

As with “Boys In Town”, “Good Times” declares itself from its opening notes. The song is massive, clear, a clarion call to party – “everybody shake/and everybody groove”. The song’s space is enormous, but its size is slightly hemmed in – in terms of the performative projection, this is possibly a bowl-type stadium, but most likely a large concert arena. Instruments are placed in conventional positions: lead guitars left and right; drum machine, assorted percussion, kick drum and vocals centre; piano slightly left, toms and cymbals spreading left and right across the space. The reverb bounces around the space, swelling around every instrument, bouncing from one speaker to another on the vocals (Hutchence’s seems to bounce left then right, and Barnes’s in the opposite direction, though the specifics of this apparent movement are not entirely clear). The space is almost entirely filled. We are very clearly no longer in a pub environment. The emotions and message of this song are like billboards across the space: this is not just any old good time, this is a good time of mammoth proportions, the good time of all good times. Accordingly, there is no escape from this space: it is totally dominating. It contrasts with “Boys In Town”, where despite the projected size of the space and the emotions, there is always a sense (however futile) of reaching for escape in the space. With “Good Times”, the space is entirely about, and in, the here and now: our listening space is totally reconstructed from the opening guitar, and remains this way until the fade-out. The overall spatial arrangement and framework is therefore made to be thoroughly stable and conventional, directed at us from the stage, clearly located and with a clear purpose. This in turn contrasts with “Communication”, whose elements seem projected into the space from elsewhere: with “Good Times”, the space is identifiable, and the performative arrangement is readily perceived.

One of the main purposes of this is to build up the architecture of the space around the listener, so that we are positioned within a “good time” environment of large proportions. The space as a result starts to fold around us, by contrast with “Boys In Town”, where the space always remains slightly detached from the listener, in a slightly different space, and projected from that space to us: we are more or less hearing of the singer’s desperation from that space, rather than experiencing the message of the song within its own space (as we do in “Good Times”). Opitz effects this folding through a number of mechanisms. Already mentioned is the bounce given to the vocals, and coupled with the quality of the reverb on them, there is a sense that the vocals are drifting off into the upper reaches of the arena, as if reaching out to all members of the audience. Furthermore, despite the size of the space, and the intensity of the song, the sound of the lead guitars in the intro has a warmth and an almost “acoustic” naturalness to it (in that the sound has a real, fitting guitarness to it, that seems right for guitars to sound; though the right guitar has a Dire Straits almost-too-guitar quality to it), bringing the space “home” so to speak. There is an interesting contrast figured here with the other sounds which enter the space from 0:21, and with the domination of the space overall: as noted, the space is constructed as an entirely and absolutely performatively rock space. The sound of these guitars “rounds” the personality of the space, so that at the same time that it has a power rock sound (conveyed in the electronic drums, the toms and the vocals, and in the condensation of the space in the chorus), it also has a “down-home” or rootsy quality, a sense of “getting down”, all the while that the space seems to move towards overcoming us.

In addition, the guitars are so positioned as to be represented as relatively equal partners in the space (reflecting their musical roles) – each is positioned symmetrically in the space, are equally loud, and are both given a sonic warmth, as they converse musically with each other. This positioning, coupled with their reverb, gives an overall arc to their sound which provides the main figuring for the size of the space. Connected with this, the sound of the guitars has an “inward curve” to it, which is largely a result of the bounce-back of the reverb of this warmth. There is a kind of gentle enfolding in this bounce-back, not so that the whole space crowds round or contains the listener, but so that it has a pleasant comfort and size to it. This contrasts with the directed, contained sound of the guitars in “Boys In Town”, and compares with the guitars in “Communication”, where Opitz takes the “Good Times” guitars one step further by de-individualising them, spreading them through the space, and thereby completely enveloping the listener.

However, in “Good Times”, the space never does completely enfold the listener. In order to provide a sense of the listener being inside the space, Opitz posits an enormous arena, but the arena framework comes with its own limitation, the prime one being, as already noted, the fact that the band are positioned in front of the listener, and pushed, as it were, out to the listener. In order to ameliorate this, as noted, the reverb for instance has a quality of reaching out to, or even folding back over the listener, but the space is never fully enclosing – it is a quality of enfolding-but-not-enfolded. Nonetheless, it is these two elements (the projection of the band, and the enfolding of the space) which effect the unique cataclysmic energy of this song. In terms of the enfolding, this remains as a persistent gesture of invitation to the listener into the space, so that there is a sense of obligation on the listener to be involved in the space. This acts as a subtle foundation for the nature in which the cataclysmic energy works, because we are co-opted into the space; as listeners, we are caught up in something almost before we know what we are involved in, and this is compounded by the back-of-mind sense that we have approached the venue hearing the music thumping from outside, and have run inside to catch the act in full swing. This is conveyed by the relative spareness of the intro compared with the population of the space from 0:21, combined with the “getting-ready” quality of the lead guitars, vocals and drums.

The projection of the band in the space, therefore, raises the energy of the song, and as a result of our co-option, raises our stake in the space and in that energy. In a way, the drifting of the vocals into the corners of the space is also enacting a raising of our emotions into a higher register; but because we can never be totally immersed in the space being projected, there is no end-point to which our emotions are being directed. It is an interesting intertwining series of movements – the space is large and warm, and therefore enfolds around us, bringing us into it; however, because of its size, we can never totally be enfolded in it; but on the other hand, the continual gesture of invitation, and of projection of the band in the space, raises our emotions higher, continually encouraging us further into the energy of the song.

There is a similarity with “Communication” here, in that there is a movement towards immersion in the space, but as noted, for the purposes of the energy of the song, the immersion is never fully realised in “Good Times”. In “Communication” as well, as we shall see, the movement is into some sort of release, which is enacted over the life of the song, and it is this release which drives the energy of the song. In “Good Times”, however, there is no sense of release achieved within the song: the release seems to be somewhere always just beyond us, a sense which bears some similarity with “Boys In Town”. With “Good Times”, however, the release is not a form of escape to somewhere outside the song: here the release is towards a kind of implosion, so that the song is co-opting the listener into a state where the good times are so good, that the only place they can take the listener to are towards consequent self-destruction. This sense of implosion is coded in some key elements throughout the song, the first time being the electronic drums in the intro, which roll into the speakers at 0:12, and then recur at other points through the song. They have a quasi-distorting effect, though it is not distortion in a normal sense – they seem to roll over the other sounds, making it feel like the speakers wobble, as if they might collapse from the weight of the sound, or as if they are filling our ears like water. The effect is similar to the toms in “Boys In Town”, and there is some similarity here in that the sound conveys a kind of looming threat, somewhat like a thunderclap. But here, the threat is not derived from desperation, nor is it a threat that looms from within the narrative of the song itself: here the threat is of being overcome by the space and the song as a whole, of being taken up and taken control of. The roll also sits in a musical way as if it is thumping over the top of the other warmer elements in the mix, proscribing a more subtle emotional engagement: this seems all the more so, because the roll follows the entry of Jimmy Barnes into the space, whose coarser harsher vocals seem to be a smack in the face of Hutchence’s more sinewy initial vocal. As a result, following the roll, Hutchence’s vocal becomes less controlled and more rough, as if rising to the challenge of Barnes’ vocal.

The return of the electronic drum from 0:20 to 0:23 only seems to confirm this, as the bouncing reverb (left to right) seems to slightly fracture the rhythm, and as a consequence refract the space, acting like a tremor through the fabric of the space. There is a sense here that the space may not be able to contain or sustain the good times being enjoyed. This tremor is underscored and picked up for the length of the song by the somewhat visceral kick drum, from 0:25, which seems to have a fluttering rumble to it. This sense of the space being unable to sustain itself is also conveyed by the guitars from about 0:21. Though these instruments are given a warmth in the mix, at this point the warmth, combined with the size and bulk given to the guitars as they blend together with the increasing “rockiness” of the song, takes on a gentle fuzz that feels slightly distorted, as if the edges of the space are fraying, extenuated by the fact that this quality is sustained throughout the length of the track. This fuzz is slightly compounded by the quality of Barnes’s voice, whose roughness, amplified through its size and bounce in the space, seems to make the voice itself to crumble from within (an effect heightened by Hutchence’s striving to match it at 0:14 and thereafter). Finally, the sound of the solitary tom (perhaps a sample, or an electronic sequence), placed centre and spreading somewhat laterally, which starts at 0:24, and repeating virtually unchanged on a steady single beat for the duration of the song, provides an oddly static unyielding figure in the song. Despite this immotile character, it seems to figure in a number of different ways in the space. First, and most obviously, it seems to knock the space into ground, and knock the rhythm into us: the space cannot move from the point which the tom secures, so that its elevated, resonant pitch continually reiterates the height and size of the space, and the stability of its shape. We are also never made to lose a sense of the song’s rhythm with this tom continually knocking it into us, never allowing it to veer away (note that this tom seems to be a larger variation on the sequence which commences the track dead centre in the space). Secondly, and as a result of this, the tom has a somewhat overbearing character: it doesn’t seem to let the space or us out of its grip, so there is a sense that we are bound up into the pace of the song, like it or not. Thirdly, the solidity of the tom seems to knock the other sounds in the space slightly away from it. This, of course, is only perceptual, and the other sounds (such as the voices and guitars), as previously noted, have a power and spread that fill the space. However, this solidity sets up a moderate tension in the space, as if the other more fluid sounds are being made to give way to the tom. Furthermore, as the warmer guitars are a means of engaging us in the track, there is a sense that our engagement, and perhaps we ourselves, are being constrained by the tom, controlled as it were by the pressing rhythm of the track. In doing this, there is the consequent feeling that the very element that is grounding the song is also grinding it on, beyond any means to control it or mediate it. In effect, the point the song is grinding us towards is a cataclysm of self-destruction, through a surfeit of “good times”: we have no ability to turn away from this path, largely because we have been co-opted into it through the heightened and ever-inviting emotional pitch of the song.

By the time of “Communication” (off the album Welcome To Wherever You Are), fully digital production had become the norm in western popular music recording. Digital music (largely in the form of dance music) had become fully integrated into the popular music industry. As a result, a new way of producing to and listening to popular music was arising (though not yet dominant). A simple example may be found on another song from Welcome To Wherever You Are, “Beautiful Girl”. The song is well-produced, but there is nothing about the production which makes it stick out particularly far from other songs of the time. However, there is a slightly squished quality to this track, a thinness, close on the speaker, most obvious in the opening piano and the vocal. This in itself would not necessarily make the track noteworthy, except for the fact that this closeness does not quite seem to reach the speaker: it seems there is a slight gap between us and the track, even though it is made to sound so close. The gap has a quality of deferral or referral, as if we are being told of its closeness, rather than experiencing the closeness first hand. It seems to sit in a plane slightly tangential to us.

A similar quality may be heard in the contemporaneous but stylistically different “Let’s Get Together” by Krush (off the Mo’ Money soundtrack). The song is large, exultant and dominating in the space; but there is a quality to all the elements in this song that they are deferred from us in some way, not of our space, even when the bass seems to thump into the speaker. The track seems to be spinning in space away from us, existing unto itself, rather than to the listener. The lead vocals of the verse, for instance, seem to sit close to the speaker, as close as the track gets to us, but behind a thin veil; and the vocals of the chorus, and the chanted vocals, seem to spin out from this, or around it, rather than towards the listener. (It is this quality of deferral in digital production which so much R’n’B since has worked overtime to overcome, hence a very heavy concentration on extremely powerful bass.)

“Communication” therefore sits in a space where deferral has become currency for production. Such deferral would obviously not seem to sit well with a producer like Opitz, considering the lengths we have seen him take in “Good Times” to engage the listener in the space. However, oddly enough, digital production allows Opitz (and his mixer on Welcome To Wherever You Are, Bob Clearmountain[1]) to explore the way in which his sound moves out from the listener, his works’ capacity for sonic enlargement. He can exploit the “spinning away” quality of digital sound to spin the work around the listener, to create a sonic maelstrom.

Again, as with “Boys In Town” and “Good Times”, Opitz opens the track in a way which instantly sets the sonic scene. The track segues from the previous one, “Heaven Sent”, which had been full, thick and dominating in the space. The only substantial thing about “Heaven Sent” that set it back from the listener was the vocals, and in a way, despite their appearance, they do not have the effect of really being set back, as they are foregrounded for us in their radioesque manipulation, a mannerism common for the time and therefore front of mind, “now”, in an aesthetic sense. This track is closed off, so to speak, by the descending radio signal (perhaps purporting to be moving off the dial from where Hutchence’s vocals are posited), which kind of releases the space, flaps it in our hearing. The signal is produced and positioned so that it seems to lift off from the preceding chunk of sound; but it also lifts out of, or moves out of it as well, as if it was always a part of it (it has a similar quality to the fedback guitar that closes the song centre in the space). It is not alone: there is a reverb on the rhythm guitar that seems to flap back and forth from right to left speaker as well, so there are at least three “flapping” movements here: right to left (guitar), back to forward (from a rearward projected large space to the forward landing radio signal), and performed to electronic (radio signal). This latter is a small but complex aspect of the movement: the signal cues that the sound is simultaneously moving out of a projected space into a more-or-less real-time one (that of a radio with us supposedly in the here and now), and out of a large space into an intimate one (the intimate space of the speakers here with us in the room). The “flapping” occurs because the changes are fluid, but rapid and position-shifting, with a sense of the space between or across which the change has occurred: there is something both missing and quickly filled about this movement. In the radio signal itself, there is a kind of space which creates the sonic “flap” from the thick guitar to the signal: it has a cool metallic quality with a kind of carefully controlled and closed-in reverb within it.

However, I don’t wish to overstate the sense of “flap” in the radio signal itself, for as noted, it also has some continuity with the fedback guitar preceding it, and it therefore also has the quality of absorbing and concentrating the foregoing space and directing it elsewhere. But this direction also sits apart from the flapping of the guitar right and left, so there remains that synchronic “flap” with the guitar itself. The effect is to vibrate the space in a way, across a number of different dimensions: spatially, sonically (in terms of the pure sounds themselves), referentially (different projected spaces), and physically (in terms of how the sounds hit the ears). The space therefore doesn’t move or transform, as might otherwise occur in a transition to a new track. Instead, it seems to vibrate outwards onto the speaker, which is further manifest in the radio tuning passage that flicks back and forth across the speakers (and which, in itself, also flicks, with the Doppler effect and the tuning in and out of the radio stations). The flicking effect is heightened by the way the radio tuning is foregrounded in the space. Ordinarily, we would hear radio tuning as thin and hissy: it is normally associated with small, mono projection, and has this quality because of the means of its production (via non-hi-fi radio). However, Opitz brings the tuning forward in the space, forward onto the speakers, and consequently gives it a size that it cannot quite fulfil in and of itself. This results in a great deal of space within the projected space of the tuning; the quality of reverb that such tuning and its associated white noise has becomes somewhat perceptually magnified; and it seems to arc across the space. This arcing is writ large as the dominant radio presence from 0:05 becomes the white noise itself, and a radio voice (as if over a walkie talkie, not a broadcast radio) appears in the right speaker at 0:07. Again, there is a kind of “flap” here – the voice has a kind of whole presence in the right speaker, lifted up off the white noise, and couched in its own walkie talkie context. It is as if the white noise is a sonic backdrop, rather than a bed in which the voice sits. There also seems to be a bounce off this voice into the left speaker – it is not that the voice itself does, but a similar sonic space and sound appears in the left at 0:09, an electronic radio signal as if in response to the vocal, which actually sits over the top of what seems to be a faint broadcast radio voice (at 0:06 it says “hello”).

As can be seen by the timing, this sequence of events happens rapidly, so that there is no point at which these elements stick in our hearing, which is another aspect of the “flap” of the sounds – in a temporal sense, they seem to flap in and out of our hearing, and we never quite catch what the sounds are. An example of this is that it seems that the radio tuning goes on for the duration of this short sequence, but in fact there are two different sounds here: the tuning ends at 0:05, taken over by blank white noise (which we seem to “hear” as more tuning, aided by the fact that the voice right at 0:07 seems to have been tuned into). The whole sequence is “non-sticky” – white noise which would seem to invade our heads, or at least our space, sits broad and cool, like a metaphoric reverb over the space, rather than a distinct sonic presence. The radio voice comes onto the speaker right, but it does not push onto it or onto us. The rapidity of the passage leaves all elements glancing off us. Opitz is constructing a space that is both clear and open, non-stick, but also that is palpable and pleasurable in the way it touches on our ears.

This is a highly complex soundspace in another way too: as can be seen via the medium of the white noise, it arcs over and around us, but does not quite encompass us. Opitz is setting up a framework whereby we can fall into the soundspace, without being “stuck” in it. It is open in front of us, and open ahead of us (there is a sense that there is a depth of spatial field here, even though there is not much specific placement of elements back in the space to indicate this). It is open ahead of us however in another sense: Opitz is deferring the space away from us in a purportedly real-time, here and now sense (the speakers, in the room, with us), to a space that is broadcast, artificial and referred; at the same time that he is referring to a radio soundspace (a space removed from us in the here and now), he is also moving us into this soundspace, and bringing it around us (in its reproduction here). And there is one more way in which this space is opened “ahead of us”: there is a quality to the radio broadcast sounds here that make them sound spacey, slightly distant, off in the ether, located somewhere we might travel to, even if they cannot be travelled to in this listening.

Finally, the openness of this passage is conveyed in the relation between the radio voice and the white noise. This is the function of the “non-stickiness” and the “flap” of the space and its sounds: by not sitting right in the white noise, by not sticking to it, there seems to be some cool space between the radio voice and the white noise. This is partly also a function of the quality of the radio voice in itself. Ordinarily, we might expect such a voice to sound boxy or tinny, or as if it is coming down a tunnel; here, set against the white noise, its tunnel quality seems to be most salient. It is not that it overtly sounds like it is coming down a tunnel; but there is a quality which, set against the white noise, gives it a cool resonance. This is a particularly hard quality to describe, as it is largely perceptual: analysing the radio voice on its own, there is no distinct sense of it being in a tunnel. However, the way the voice is acoustically curbed, and slightly metallic, then set against (and apart from) the white noise, gives it an imaginatively hollow, long distance effect.

To summarise, in this passage, there are three main characteristics that are shaping the way we hear the sounds: a “flap”, a “non-stickiness”, and an openness, which generate the energy for the soundspace. There is a consistent sense of openness in which the sounds are moving and positioned, so that some of the sounds (e.g. the radio voice, the tuning) seem to flap in and out of the space, on and off the speaker, and on and off our ears. This “flap” is not necessarily acoustic, nor is it necessarily diachronic: in part, it is relational (and thereby perceptual), in terms of the way one sound seems to bounce off and out of another (e.g. the radio voice from the white noise). The openness at this point is also not necessarily a projected space either, as we might find in “Good Times”: again, it is relational and perceptual, and largely abstract, in terms of how sounds are positioned with respect to each other, and our “here-and-now”. This is an important point to grasp here, because it is a fundamental aspect of how the digital recording works in this song. Opitz is not trying to figure a performative or projected space: this is not a vast concert hall, or an open field, nor is it an expanded headspace (though the space is to a large extent an in-the-mind space), such as might be found in dub. This is a kind of expanded reality space, a space constructed both out of the physical and electronic material of the sounds, as well as projected and referred worlds (of the radio broadcast and tuning). In a sense, there are two material realities here, the physical and electronic; and even though both are acoustic, one is not materially graspable by us, the electronicness of the sounds, even though they exist as electronic realities. We can see and feel the speakers (just as, if these were musical instruments, we could see and feel the instruments); but we cannot see or feel the electronics flowing (whereas, if these were musical instruments, we could see or feel the strings or skins vibrating). In a sense, we are caught in a quasi-tangential relationship to this electronic reality, which spins off on its own axis, in its own plane: it comes close to us, it in fact touches us at the point of the speaker and the transmitted sound; but its physical stuff (the electronic particles), and its imaginative framework (the world of radio transmission), do not sit with us, and exist in another sphere slightly separate to our here-and-now. The radio elements have a compressed function here: the radio is both relatively “here” (as compared to the size of “Heaven Sent”, which positions it in a setting removed from that of our listening), and not here (by being deferred, in terms of its “beamed in” quality; its not being a real radio; and its instrumental physicality not being palpable). Setting this song after a more normalised stadium rocker also provides a contrast which heightens the sense of the song spinning away from us into another plane.

Out of this setting, the drums and guitar appear at 0:12. Again, there is a sense of flap in their appearance, as they seem to spring the sound forward from a largely electronic and environmental (environmental in that the sounds, other than the voices, seem to shape and constitute the space, rather than be located in it). However, these instruments don’t leap into or onto the speaker: there is not a sense that they have an immediate physical presence on the ear, though they do have an acoustic force.[2] Instead, they are located within the space, and, as with the elements in the intro, have a non-stickiness to them, so that there is a sense of space around these instruments. There is also an aspect to the sound of the drum and guitar that they are bouncing within their own small space, almost within an acoustic bubble. Furthermore, increasing the sense of these sounds existing unto themselves, the drum and guitar are produced so that they are somewhat hard to distinguish, so that they are more or less a single block of sound. It is not that they sit in a contained location in the space: the cymbals and tamborine glisten out to the left and right edges of the space, and the kick drum punches somewhat indistinctly into the bottom of the space. But the net effect is of a vast chunk of sound contained solidly centre and expanding from this place. The containment of the sound is further manifest in the fact that its quality is unique: there is a chunky puffy quality to the drum/guitar, a kind of dissipated pop, which is considerably unreal in itself, making the instruments seem to exist on a plane slightly moved away from us. It is not that the instruments sound like they are remote or in another space, because they have a full-on presence in the space, and do kick into the bottom of the speakers. However, there is a kind of “quack” to the sound that also spreads or tilts the sound backward, up and out into a slightly different area, a non-located space[3], perhaps even slightly outside our heads. There is a quality to this which makes it sound like it has been beamed into our hearing.

Over the top of this, at 0:16, the keyboard enters the space with an ambient elevated quality left and right spread to the centre, and rises musically in the space while remaining fixed in position, seeming to be a high point inside our heads. At 0:27, the bass (or rhythm guitar?) enters the space thick and centre, almost filling it, pulsing physically, and also inside our heads rising towards the top of our cranium, so that there is some contiguity between the bass and the piano. The chug of the guitar also has a somewhat mechanical feel, which is assisted by the tinkle of the tamborine on the edge of the left and right speakers (note that this “edge” quality is not quite in terms of a spatial position, as the tamborine is positioned only somewhat towards the left and right; it is more that the tamborine seems to be sitting just over the top of the other sounds in the left and right). Opitz is filling the space, and indeed filling it up, and yet he also manages to retain a sense of spaciousness where the main sounds have a wholeness that makes them slightly detached from each other, like they are appearing from different locations. These locations are not necessarily spatial: it is somewhat as if each is appearing from a different time zone (perhaps even a different radio frequency), rather than from a different spot in the soundspace.

The spaciousness has an odd, an overwhelming, and transforming quality to it: it has a metallic sheen and reflectiveness to it, so that it seems we are in a vast bell; but there is also a sense that the bell is our own heads, and our craniums are made to reverberate with the sounds (note the ambient quality of the piano here seems to help trigger this in-the-head quality, and the different radio frequency quality compounds this by purporting a space that is not entirely material, but referred). Such a vast open space might otherwise be projected performatively as, perhaps, a rock concert, perhaps in a stadium: here, however, the space has a transformative effect on our perception, and the acoustic space in which we are hearing the sounds, so that it very much exists in our here-and-now, but as a new, re-shaped here-and-now space. As noted above, there is also a mechanistic quality to this sound, so that at the same time it feels like we are in or part of some vast machine, though because of the “broadcast” or unique referred flavour to the sounds, there is a sense that the machine is not quite with us in the here-and-now.

As a result of these qualities, the space in which we are listening to the track seems almost to transfigure. At the same time, it is operating on a spatial-physical level (a space filling out from us and in front of us); a physical acoustic level (the kick drum and bass thump vibrations into us); and an in-the-head level (ambient piano and various referred qualities). Opitz has, as it were, teased us towards this transfiguration in the brief intro, through the “flap” of sounds, bringing onto the space both a palpable quality, and an unnerving disorienting quality, so that it is already moving towards reshaping our hearing. By the appearance of the vocals at 0:35, the space has taken on dimensions that are both here-and-now – the intense physicality of the piece, and its reflective quality – and deferred and deferring – the beamed-in quality of the sounds. The space which is created becomes internally referential or inherent, so that it no longer primarily refers outward to any other space or reference point. This is strongly brought home by Hutchence’s vocals, which are located nowhere, even while they are close on the speaker, with a detailed sibilant quality, and also have a soft ethereal reverb. They are both almost in-the-head, and almost off into space, while at the same time, distinctly present on our ears, almost physically palpable. It has also been coded, just prior to Hutchence’s appearance, by the burbling radio chatter (vocal and non-vocal), which tinkles around somewhat at the edge of the right and left of the space, drifting the space off, with a forgotten quality to the edge of it, as if these are people or voices forgotten, in the past, or in another lifetime, or in another space. In another recording, musical instruments might take the position of this chatter, and so locating or marking the size of the space. Here, by being sounds referred from another medium, and from other sound contexts, they seem to zone out the space, while at the same time giving it a gentle physicality, bringing a light on-the-ear touch.

The transfiguration of the space, however, is not complete here: prior to 0:48, the location of the space is still just somewhat in front of us, a vast hollowed reflective space, into which we are poking our heads so to speak. With the chorus, however, Opitz and Clearmountain in an instant expand it, so that it seems to fill out around us, fully wrapping round us. The change is instant, but not sudden: it is a change like a realisation, not like a shock. But the change is also intensely physical: the space seems to fill our ears to the brim, and seems to press around us in our physical environment. The change is effected by two main moves: the introduction of the bell-like lead guitar (which further on in the chorus takes on a more guitarish sound), somewhere in front of us, and the movement of the vocals both closer and further back from the speakers. The position of the guitar is indistinct: it seems to be central, but it is most likely that it is slightly left and right, and spread inwards, so that it has a continuant swelling quality. The guitar in effect seems to be “filling” the bell of the space, becoming the clanging note of the bell. Likewise, the details of the voice’s position are indistinct as well: at first (up to 1:03), the various vocal tracks seem to become slightly separate, so that there is a close track/tracks brought forward and close, and another track(s) spread further back at a mid-range, vertically central, but again seeming to be spread inwards from left and right. This track is also treated so that it has a Hammond organ quality to it, a burbling volatile quality. This combination of vocal tracks gives the vocal a peripheral quality – on the edge of the ear – but also a referred quality (the treating again also makes the vocal sound like it is beamed in from afar), and an in-the-head quality. The presence of the space is thereby not directed outwards or forwards, as might be heard in a concert replication: it is made to close around us, but not in a constricting way (though it is made to feel somewhat confining, in a painfully pleasurable way). To understand the effect of this, it’s important to understand that Opitz and Clearmountain are not focusing on individual instruments: they are not trying to punch the space at us by pushing discrete sounds into the speakers, even though the effect is achieved through the subtle use of individual recording tracks. The effect is inclusive and enclosing: the entire space fills around us, as if we are somehow physically immersed into the space.

They bring this home by flapping the space again with the change in Hutchence’s vocals and the lead guitar at 1:03: this provides a slight relief from the press, a slight holding back of the space, so that we get a sense of the size and shape of the “bell”, without losing its physical presence around us. This is partly because Hutchence’s vocals move back from the speakers and take on a form similar to that in the verse, gaining a deeper backward (but slightly dissipated) size, and thereby taking on a gently swelling quality, though in doing so, they do not fill the “bell” in the same way that the guitar has done up to this point. The guitar also gains a bit more specificity in the space: it becomes more guitary and thereby more identifiable, and it also seems to be slightly louder in the mix, or more forward, so that it has a thicker size and presence in the space. It also moves slightly perceptually downward in the space through taking on a deeper resonance, which is more grindingly mechanical and bodily affecting. This also results in a sense of relief or reprieve, but the reprieve is only short-lived in this passage, for the change in guitar sound has an intensity of its own. This again is part of the “flap” of the space: there is a sense of momentary change and release, but the release is into a new movement, rather than into stasis or rest.

The net effect of this is to create a space that is overwhelming, but not oppressive, weighing into us from all angles, but not constricting us. As with “Boys In Town” and “Good Times”, there is a sense that this space is taking us over, and taking us somewhere beyond our own control. More so than either of these two songs, “Communication” re-shapes our own listening space, so that the whole space reaches forward from the speakers and envelopes us. However, paradoxically, and unlike the other two songs, there is a liberation in this space, a freeing up, because it is both non-specific (in that it is an unreal space unable to be located in any projected imaginary location), and also highly specific (in that it exists only within the speakers and in the space in which we are listening). It is a new space, that exists only for us in our listening to the track in the here and now. It is also liberating in an internal sense (largely through its “non-stick” quality): the space created is surrounding but large, with elements placed so that there is a sense of removal from each other, thereby making us aware of the room within it, as if inviting us to be placed where we like inside it. As a result, in “Communication”, the sense of being taken somewhere does not have the shadow of self-destruction lying over it. Instead, there is a paradoxical sense that we are easing into something, even while the emotional tenor and the size of the space are escalating.

This sense of liberation is further built into the fabric of the space in a number of different ways. Musically, there is, of course, the tinkling piano that returns intermittently through the piece (for instance, from 1:18), like a satellite twinkling to us from afar, as if calling us away from the earth. The grand overarching guitar also has a musical inclusiveness and absorption that is rapturous rather than destructive. And coupled with this, the drumkit is played restrained and relatively light for such a large piece, with the rhythm seeming to stretch itself out over the shape of the guitar when it takes on its yawning mechanical sound (for example, from 1:03).

In terms of the space itself, this is further set free by the fact that, until 3:09, it does not settle into a solid fixity. It keeps alternating between the intense chorus, and the slightly less intense breaks and verses (another sort of “flap” in the space, constant movement, but constant release as well). This gives it a rolling forward pulse, as well as a sense of continual release and then winding up, with the winding up being into a space which is relatively open compared with other stadium rockers such as “Heaven Sent”. The “beamed in” radio voices that intermittently appear in the breaks and behind the verses also liberate the space because they seem to pull it up from settling in a projected imaginary position: they’re like tent pegs, anchoring the sound in the corners of the space, and on the edges of the ears, but also allowing the whole space to be suspended above and around us, pulling it up into an aural cloud, rather than grounding it as a metaphoric performative concert space. They also have a liquid quality, both acoustically, and diachronically, as they seem to flow regardless of the rest of the song, so that they resist an attempt to settle the song (this is further effected by the fact that it is hard to make out what the words are saying): the radio voices are, in a sense, allowing us to float along on the song, rather than stick inside it. Furthermore, the voices, coming from “outside” our space, or even outside the song itself as a performed musical entity, continue that “transmitted” feel of the song, as if it is existing non-corporeally and beyond us, part of another dimension, sonic, metaphorical, or otherwise. Finally, and at the same time, the radio voices also have an in-the-head quality, almost as if they are whispering inside our ears, so that they invert themselves and the song in a way: they seem both external (beamed in) and internal (inside our heads). This naturally further sets the song free from a conventional performative fixity in our listening.

Another major element that figures this liberating effect of the space are Hutchence’s vocals. Remarkably, for a band whose image revolves around the persona of Hutchence, his vocals here are made to pull away from the declarative certainty they would normally otherwise have. This is part of a general move on this album towards extensive treating of the vocals, but this is taken to an extreme here where the personality of Hutchence seems to be subsumed into some other form of expression. We have already seen the moves that are made spatially and qualitatively to the voice in order to assist in the transfiguration of the space, and it is these moves that also defuse the voice from taking up a conventional rock vocal construct through representing an individualised perspective. Here the vocals seem de-personalised, de-individualised, treated so that have that “beamed-in” quality, but also so that they seem to run like a thread through the space, a kind of aural lode. This is particularly evident in the title line segment of the chorus, where the Hammond-organ vocal track seems to be less sung than fluted into the space. Moreover, the way the more clear vocal track sits on top of this gives a textured effect to the vocal, so that it seems to touch onto the ear and hold off from it, and consequently, to feel like it is sung towards us, but not quite with us, in a way sung through a dream. It is an odd effect, which seems to coalesce in the line “blood money blood money” (whose words are basically indecipherable anyway), where the Hammond-organ vocal track seems to just ever so lightly touch on the ear, while the more normal track seems to bulge out from it, more like a sponge expanding than something more solid. The de-personalisation of the vocal becomes more explicit in the following lines of the chorus, where it seems to get spun out into the air, almost submerging into the mechanical guitar, or perhaps more properly, almost rising into it. The two do not become one however: the vocal seems to spread into a cloud somewhat close on the speaker, but rising up from it as well, swelling and pulsing on the ear, but fading off into space at the same time. This is again a very compressed production move: the vocal here seems to be slightly weak, while at the same it has a dissipated reverb that spreads its size, while also having an element where it is brought forward in a soft suspended plane just in front of the speakers that draws out its sibilant and hollow breathy qualities. The reverb in fact seems to trail the forward voice, so that it feels like a half-forgotten memory.

The net effect, of course, is to disconnect the vocal; as listeners, we become almost disengaged from it, or disengaged from it as a conventional voice, and become subsumed into its effect on our ear, rather than engaged with the lines it is singing. It’s important to note here that the vocal is never treated so much that it becomes artificial, or robotic, or even unreal. The treatment is such that it is still very much a voice, but a voice that loses contact with the body: it seems to have no location, no natural space in which it sits or in which it would seem to belong, no conventional expressive purpose. It operates more like breath, exhaled into the sonic mist that constitutes the space, singing itself into the air.

Similarly, the lead guitar in passages such as 1:03 to 1:18 liberates the space by seeming to be played into the air, rather than punched forward declaratively, as is, for instance, the lead guitar in “Boys In Town”. Again the move here is complex, because, as noted above, the guitar in a passage like this is more “guitary” than in other places (sch as the bell-like guitar sound of 0:48 to 1:03), enacted as part of the “flap” of the soundspace. However, this movement is only relative: the lead guitar in 1:03 to 1:18 is nowhere near as distinct or specific as in an overtly performative song like “Boys In Town”. This is obviously largely to do with the size with which it is endowed: it sounds like it has been multitracked to within an inch of its life. However, this size is carefully constructed: it is not thunderous or oppressive, so that the guitar is not an expression of cock-rock power. Instead, the guitar is part of the construction of the space itself, so that the space gains its size partly through the size of the guitar here. In a way, the guitar at this point is an almost-felt pulse that swells the space outward; in the light of this, it is interesting to note that the bass guitar becomes almost imperceptible here, as the lead guitar is partly filling that role. It is important, however, that the lead guitar is taking on this pulse effect, as it is taking the space upward, as well as (and not just) towards the body, as the bass might do. There is a kind of semi in-the-head expansiveness to the guitar here, a period of opening up of the mind, though it remains too visceral for it to have an overtly headspace effect. However, this in-the-head aspect is also important here, because like the radio voices, there is a quality here through the guitar that the space is both filling us inside, while enveloping us. Nonetheless, a touch of physicality of the guitar sits like a crust on it at certain points during this passage, where there is a familiar guitary grind to its sound when it plays the lower notes (1:05/6, 1:09/10, 1:13, 1:16/17). This seems to work like a thread woven through the fabric of the space to the speakers, bringing the sound closer to our bodies then allowing it to pulse back as the guitar moves back to the higher notes. Interestingly enough, this does not seem to make the track move into a more identifiable projected space: it seems to further contribute to the liberation of the space, by giving it a free energy disconnected from performativeness, having everything to do with its effect in the here and now of our listening.

Finally, the other major element that liberates the space is the drumkit in the chorus and bridge. As with the vocals and guitar, Opitz has restrained the drums here, so that they do not thump the rhythm into us. Instead, he produces the drumkit so that two elements are predominant – the tom “centre”, and the cymbals spread left and right. This in itself is not a remarkable arrangement, but this differentiation firstly unhooks the cymbals from the rest of the drumkit, so that they seem less connected to the drum pattern. Instead, again, they are both a space-filling element, spread left and right in a kind of cloud, but they are also a space-marking element, so that they seem to paint in the edges of the space. However, because of their spread nature, they are incapable here of actually marking or defining the edges – they seem to rather point to the edge of the space, so that there is also a sense that the space drifts off beyond the edge of the cymbals. By contrast, the toms are placed centre, and are made to sound somewhat “pat”, so that in a way they suck or hook in sound. It’s another aspect of “flap” to the sound, so that the drums continuously effect this sense of absorption and release through being possibly the only contained element in the mix from which other elements seem to bounce or reflect (for example, the cymbals and guitars). However, there is also an odd repelling aspect to these drums, particularly in the bridge, partly effected through their slightly wooden “panel” sound, as if they are beating on a large flat piece of wood, rather than just a drum skin. In a way, the drums both suck in sound, but also (through this panel effect) push it out. This is also effected through the fact that, though the drums are centre, they are only centre vertically – horizontally, they are spread right across the space from left to right, though perceptually, on a casual listen, it seems they are spotted centre. However, the drums do not thereby carve up the space into two vertical elements – we don’t get a sense that sounds are sitting above and below the line of the toms. Instead, as with other elements, the drums have a slightly held-back quality, so that their effect is more in terms of their relationship to the other sounds, rather than in terms of the projected shape of the space. The drums seem to hook the sounds into us, so that the space does not become completely ambient – if the radio voices are like tent pegs, then the toms are like the centre pole, from which the tent of the space can hang. In the bridge, they also seem to operate like the ropes, spreading or pushing the sound out to its maximum reach, with the yawning guitar seeming to stretch out across the toms.

With this space stretched around us, there is an enormous amount of space in which we are placed. This could be alienating, but as with “Boys In Town” and “Good Times”, Opitz uses key elements, such as the toms and the vocals, to connect with us, and to lift us up in the space. We are as it were swept up in the space, but unlike those other two songs, there is not a sense of maelstrom, of barely controlled dissolution. The sense of liberation in this space is one of rapture and release, not of lack of control. This can be seen explicitly, for instance, in the chorus, where Hutchence sings “gonna blow this place apart”, but his vocals are calm, and almost gentle, and Opitz both recedes them through their dissipated size and reverb, and makes them somewhat intimately tactile by just touching on the speaker. Opitz carefully manages the rapture of the song, so that as it seems to escalate in intensity, there is an increasing sense of concession, of being subsumed into something larger, of a pleasurable sort of heightening of experience, both physical and imaginative. This is, for much of the song, realised through the “flap” of the soundspace, so that there is a repeated release in and through the soundspace, but never release from the soundspace, or into dissolution. Each segment of the song – verse to chorus, chorus to bridge, bridge to instrumental, and back again – triggers a new moment of unhooking, but also of re-hooking into both a new sense of the space, but also back into the space itself. It is as if we keep realising something new about the space, or returning to something we once knew but had forgotten. There is also a key moment in the song, subtle, but slightly shifting its dynamics, so that its sense of relief moves slightly differently from foregoing changes. At 2:56, rather than falling back to the radio burble after the bridge and under the verse, the track seems to roll down slightly, with the guitar taking on a slightly sharper turn laden with feedback, whining in the space, and the introduction of acoustic guitar. Structurally, both of these instruments replace the radio burble, so that the acoustic guitar takes over the rolling midspace position of the chatter, and the lead guitar takes on the more ethereal position of the radio noise. However, they also enact three important changes: obviously, they introduce a musicality to these positions in the mix, but they also seem to both defuse these positions (by being musical they lose the charged and marked sonic presence of the radio burble) and reinvigorate them (by overtly introducing a rhythmic and musical element). Moreover, they also have a quality of intensifying the mix, because the space now becomes more thoroughly musical, and filled musically, so that at the same time the space seems to roll downhill, but also to pick up pace. This is emphasised musically by the fact that the verse extends beyond its normal three lines, seeming to descend in melody as it does so, with the final upswing on “gonna give us the truth[4]”. The musical and structural elements just bring on a slightly more performative touch (the lead guitar is more identifiable and rockist, and the acoustic guitar is clearly identifiable, though not strong in the mix), so that the song sweeps us up more easily. Opitz is bringing us up into the song as it moves forward and swells, and in so doing sweeps us up in rapture, rather than in near self-destruction as was the case with “Boys In Town” and “Good Times”. By 3:09, the song is fully realised, with all musical elements in the mix – vocals, drumkit, acoustic guitar, lead guitar, bass, piano – and it maintains this note till the rest of the song, more than one third of its length. The effect is of the song fully opened in the space, so that the foregoing 3:09 feels like a continual series of re-workings to get to this point, rather than this feeling like a winding down, or a “climax”, or a dissolution.
[1] Parenthesising Clearmountain here does not accurately portray the role he plays in producing the sound of “Communication”. However, my interest here is less in the identity of those responsible for the sound, as in the sound itself, and how cataclysm can be coded through sound. Nonetheless, I would like to acknowledge here that Clearmountain is one of the great mixers, and has the ability to create space in a mix rivalled only by Lillywhite and Launay.
[2] Note that the immediacy is also slightly lessened by a small sonic manoeuvre at 0:09, already alluded to: there is the faintest sound of guitar feedback momentarily rising in intensity centre, followed by the radio signal left. Though not immediately apparent as we listen to the track the first few times, this acts as a kind of step into the body of the song; the following radio voices and noises act as further steps up to the introduction of the drums and guitar.
[3] If nothing else, I want to say that Opitz and Clearmountain create, at this juncture, one of the most incredible rhythm sounds in all recorded popular music. This drum/guitar combo (however it has been created or treated) is one of the chunkiest and most engaging rhythm sounds imaginable, and yet it has a subtlety and restraint which allows it to participate in the soundspace like another voice, rather than overwhelm it.
[4] Noted in the lyric sheet as “Show us the truth”.

"Boys In Town", "Good Times", "Communication", "Take A Long Line" all available at iTunes store

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Studies in the Physicality of Recorded Sound

1 – Rick Wakeman’s “Statue of Justice”

Rick Wakeman’s “Statue of Justice” operates as a series of continually modulating physical presences and changes, like sonic pressure waves, in the listening space. It is constructed so that our listening pleasure derives from the various physical qualities and contrasts of the sounds in the space. It feels good because of the way it twists the sounds within the space.

The track starts with a clean, glistening piano sound, a fully pleasurable catchy sound. The piano at first sounds fully normalised in the space – placed left and fairly close to front as the solo instrument, given the spotlight so to speak. It has a sharp glistening resonance that conveys some size to the space, but not so as to distance it from our experience – it makes the space feel like a mid-size concert hall, where we might expect to attend the performance of such playing. We are placed in a specifically performative relationship to it – high notes are quite left in the speaker, lower notes right but not all the way, so that in the imaginary space, the pianist is on the left hand side of the stage facing us, and we are watching him with the piano in between. The sound of the piano, its space, and our relationship to it, are also all privileged: the first two have a clean, liquid beauty to them, so that they are made to sound of a higher quality than sounds of our normal experience, and as a result we feel that we are in the presence of something special. This is congruent with the presentation of the space as being akin to a classical recital.

However, the piano seems to “trip” in the space. It is not that the piano moves, for its position within the space does not change, nor does the quality of its sound. The “trip” is a function of a couple of manoeuvres: firstly, when the first lower notes are knocked into the space, the piano seems to momentarily pull back or lose “balance” in the space, to soften for a moment. By losing balance, I mean that one half of the piano (the higher notes) is given a kind of credence and privilege in the space, whereas the other half seems to be pulled back from this, not being accorded the same privilege. This is also of course partly a function of the notes played and the way they are played, but it instantly and finely complicates the space, reducing its consistency. Secondly, the piano gradually becomes louder in the space, but in a couple of steps, rather than incrementally, so that with each swing of higher notes, the piano becomes louder. Meanwhile, the lower notes seem to remain softer both musically and sonically, so that there is a swing in the sound, rhythmically within the run of higher notes, between the louder higher notes and softer lower notes, and between the separate runs of higher notes.

The effect is not to disfigure the space or to intellectually dismantle the performative construct; it is to highlight its texture and complexity, to ready us for the “pressure waves”, so to speak, of the changes which can be effected in it. Another element contributing to this effect is the sound of the piano itself – though beautiful in its sheen, there is a faint brittleness to it, a quality of tremor in it, and a hardness to its attack (which may also be the way it is played or has been prepared, or the kind of piano that it is – as the piano progresses, the sound of the notes loses this hardness), that highlights its physicality and plasticity. We are given the lightest touch of the producer’s hand here. It is a wonderful gesture of simultaneous joy in the beauty of the sound, and in the variety and manipulability of that sound, and in the ability of the producer to effect that variation.

Instruments continue to swing into the space, enhancing the playfulness of the sound, as organ wells up behind the piano and the cymbals get brightly tapped in the right speaker, and with the lower notes of the piano finally being given a full workout in the space at 0:13. There is a controlled chaos to the sound, as if all elements of the ensemble and of the space are being mustered from disparate locations. But there is also a sense that the disparate elements are being run up against each other: the spread sibilant sound of the cymbals seems to brush against the piano, the organ seems to squeak out between the two different hands of the piano at 0:08, and even the lower notes of the piano seem to roll up and over the higher notes. This plastic feel to the manifestation of the sound in the space is enhanced by the fact that the arrival of the lower notes seem to ground the space, but in a somewhat disconcerting way: they seem to cement the space as a neutral classical one, somewhat removed from us, refined and aloof, whereas otherwise the space has seemed bright, sparkling and alive. There is a key contrast here that supports this effect of neutrality to the sound: the other instruments and the higher piano notes so far have had an almost scratchy feel on the ear, they seem to almost scrape on our hearing, giving a physical edge to their sound, whereas the lower piano notes move away from this, into a more traditional imaginary space, and off our ear. This gives the effect of rocking the space backwards, not just (metaphorically) spatially, but in an imaginatively projected sense, in that the space as an imaginative construct is moving away from us, thereby increasing the depth and size of the space in metaphorically physical terms, as well as in a referential sense – that is, the sound exists in more than just a metaphorically physical dimension, but in a dimension whose continuum goes from the physical here and now to a receded imaginary presence to which it refers.

This abstract characteristic of the space is not a main feature of this song, and it is not a feature I want to focus on here; but it is important to note that it is one more element in the plasticity of the song’s sound, as it is used gesturally in the song as a way of presenting the malleability of the sound, its way of bending in and out of our hearing, at one moment forward and present on us, and at another curving away and relieving the ear. This is how it works here, as the producer lifts the sound off the ear, thereby leaving the sense of the impact of the other and preceding sounds, and preparing it for the next onslaught of sounds. It is not that the lower notes afford a let-up to the on-the-ear presence of the other sounds, for they continue. However, the lower notes seem to draw the other sounds somewhat back with them, so that their tinkle seems to slide over the space, rather than snap out of it onto our ear. This is particularly evident with the mellotron, which arrives about 0:17: though it adds to the higher-toned sounds of the space, it is entirely spread, lacking any quality of plosion, and so does not leap out of the sound, and helps to cushion the impact of the other higher toned sounds. The sound does not deaden, but instead changes its effect: the space now has a smoother quality, and the higher pitched more physical sounds seem to tinkle out from this.

However, there is also a period of disfigurement here, starting about 0:26, as other sounds seem to drop away leaving the mellotron more clear, though it does not take up a particularly strong presence in the mix. There is a resultant dislocation, as it is not entirely clear where we have moved to spatially. The mellotron has a characteristically warm, obviously mellow sound, spread in the space, a more inherently emotional imaginary sound, which doesn’t quite sit with the firmly located piano. With the arrival of the mellotron, sounds seem to start pulling away from each other, leaving an emptiness in the middle of the space. This position is more or less taken up by the piano, but its recession into a more neutral location, and the way the lower notes roll it down and away from the listener, mean that it does not fill this part of the space. We are left with a consequent expectation that this part of the space should be filled, but this does not happen immediately. The organ and the cymbals continue to tinkle left and right (respectively), and then the harpsichord synth enters back, central and high, marking a kind of rearward boundary to the space, but leaving nothing in front of it. There is a kind of physicality-by-absence to the space as a result, because it engenders almost a bodily yearning for something to respond to.

However, the harpsichord synth does fold the space forward in one way: like the cymbals and the organ, it has a high physical scratchiness to it, which kind of teases the space onto our ears. It also has a physicality and a sharpness which sits over the top of the piano, and contrasts with it, and has a “travel” to it, in that it rolls above the space, over a broad range from right to left: it is not that the synth just has a breadth, but that it moves between the speakers. This breadth is picked up in the ensuing organ which replaces the synth, and there is a compressed production move, as the organ seems to travel like the synth across the speakers, but then solidifies, moves into the left speaker and sits there, with another high-pitched glockenspiel-like synth (and perhaps another piano) taking up position in the right speaker. All the while, the piano continues to play central, but seems to fade back in the space, if not in a spatial sense, in a musical sense and in loudness. The effect is to give the space a kind of pulsating presence, but without any defined rhythmic core to it: it is given a mass without a solid centre, fallen away from us as listeners, but with sounds continuing to frame the space within the construct of the production, within the speakers so to speak.

Then about 1:26 there is a subtle change in the piano: it returns to the high sharp notes of the introduction, but these are slightly pushed back and up in the space. The sharpness effects a further folding forward of the space towards the listener, but in not too immediate a fashion, for the piano retains the quality of sitting within a classical performance setting. However, it is a means of bridging the gap that has previously existed, between the recessed classical setting, and the tinkling of the other instruments, and of returning an element into the centre of the space. Note, however, that this return occurs with a consequent removal of other instruments in the mix: the space becomes for all intents and purposes entirely performative, the sharpness of the piano is modulated within an overall performative context, and it is as if, despite all the foregoing, we are just listening to a piano recital. The effect again is to create a physicality by absence, and also to foreground the sense of the space as being malleable and modular. This is then emphasised first by the sudden return of the harpsichord synth and the sustained cymbal wash in the right speaker, kind of lifting the corners of the space forward; and then by the renewed recession of the space with the reverb on the piano and the return of the mellotron and organ, which push the space completely back, behind and around the piano. The harpsichord synth is also made to tremble in the space at about 2:04, lifting the corners of the space back and up, and somewhat into our heads, assisted by the fact that its placement in the space and the mix gives it somewhat of a felt rather than a distinctly heard presence (though this is perceptual rather than acoustic). In wrapping round the piano, however, the sharpness of the organ also continues the physicality of the harpsichord synth and the cymbal wash, by bringing the edges of the space forward and just lightly onto the ear. The effect is that the space is sitting in the head, with the rearward position of the mellotron and the harpsichord synth and the position and space of the piano, but coming forward onto our ears with the right and left position of the organ and the tinkle of the harpsichord. That is, within itself (for the movement is only metaphoric), the space is moving from an internal, imaginary position (“recital hall” of the piano) into a pseudo body space or an alternative/altered state (the mellotron) and then forward slightly into a body space (on the ear, with the right and left organ).

There is then a resolution of all these spaces, initiated by a quick sharp run up the piano at 2:10, and then a bathetic gesture with the downward note of the farting synth at 2:13. The piano pulls the performance space back central and on the ear; the farting synth gives lower depth to the sound (without necessarily grounding it), reinforces the electronic nature of the space, and helps fill it out (the synth actually sits slightly above the listener, and back, despite the downward notes, which do not move in the space: the synth sits in position as it makes this sound). The farting synth has an odd effect, because it also seems to drop the space, as if a catch has been dropped, the piano representing the uplifted hands; but the relationship is a dynamic swinging one, like the opening of the song: the piano rises in fits up the scale, the synth drops the scale, and the piano picks it up again. In effect, the space gets shaped and filled with air: it moves forward towards us, giving it an imaginary cohering presence, it increases in vertical size, and the instruments start to take shape within it, given qualities that seem to interact with each other rather than against or tangential to each other. The interaction is effected by this sense of air around the instruments: it seems that the instruments are now playing within the same air, as the breeziness of the farting synth seems to be in the same space as the reverb on the piano.

Of course, all these 2+ minutes wrap up into a resolution of the space into a unified, present, forward entity, performative in a rock concert sense, at 2:15, with the simultaneous drum beat and the sustained pulse of the wasp synth. This is purely a rock moment, an assertion of the sounds in the space, pushing them into our bodies, the synth filling our heads up to the top of the inside of the cranium, and the drums grounding us through our feet. The entire space is virtually filled: there is a non-defined bassish kind of sound (this could be synth or bass guitar – certainly Chris Squire is credited with bass, but the sound is not distinct enough to determine its precise origin) at mid level central in the space, and there are various mid to high range synths (including the wasp synth) pushing the space sideways. As the wasp synth rises higher (and higher inside our heads, pushing its physicality onto us), the organ sustains its notes rear and high, leading to a kind of reflection in the rear of our skulls; and then the cymbals push this height to left and right corner. The sound here is pushing the extremities, and there is a note of daring here, of attempting to see both how far the sound can go in the space, and how physical and pleasantly excruciating the effect of the sound on us can be. The movement into this new space, however, is not just one of logical sequence: there is a sense here that the new space is folding the earlier one into itself, climbing on the back of it, and striking somewhere anew with a spring of realisation or epiphany. There is a twin kind of relief and renewal in this movement, a kind of sonic reprieve.

It is important to note that, firstly, the movement is double, both taking on an abstract dimension within the putative space (vis a vis the projected performative space), and a physical dimension in our bodies. Secondly, the movement is effected within a projected rock performative context: by impressing the performativeness of the projection onto the listener, its twin abstract and physical effects are also impressed on us. There is a point of junction in these projections: the wasp synth takes on a classic rock cliché by acting like a trumpet calling across the space, announcing its and the band’s arrival, filled with pathos. So this synth is increasing in height in a projected sense (within the projected performative space), in an emotional sense, and in a physical sense (within our bodies). Finally, sealing this, the drums take up their normal position in the space: cymbals right and left (not just right as before), bass drum centre, and perhaps (prior to 2:38 where they take up a key role in the piece) lightly tapped toms.

Nonetheless, and persisting through the piece, there remains just the slightest touch of a hollowness at the centre of this space. There never seems to be an instrument or sound that fully occupies the centre: as noted, the wasp synth, which would seem to occupy a quasi-vocal role, is distributed, right, left and high, and the central bass is non-defined, as if it is a murmur. In fact, there is a series of quick sonic movements for the wasp synth which further add to the hollowness: its initial arrival on the drum beat at 2:15 is forward, full, and spread across the speaker (it actually seems it is multitracked, so that its body is generated by having a high rear synth and a more forward right synth) as it declares itself and the new section, with an abstract size that seems to disembody it. As it increases up the scale, it is situated clearly right, so that it empties out a little and becomes localised. And then at 2:32 it gets multitracked again, this time taking up a position in the left speaker in addition to the current position in the right, so that it seems to nimbly skirt itself and yet still dominate the space.

This hollowness gives the track a coolness, but the result is not to alienate the music from the listener. Instead, the hollowness acts like a central ball of energy for the track, as it forms a kind of spring around which, or from which, the various physical effects of the song can move. Once the track moves into its full rock mode, there is never a point where the space around this ball is very great – the various sounds are generally only a breath away from this hollowness – but in so doing, it results in a sense that there is a kind of magnetic force both binding and just keeping apart the various elements of the track.

This is further exposed by the wasp synth at this section of the track, through the various qualities of its sound, and the way this modulates from 2:15 to 2:37, rather than just in its positioning in the space. Its first arrival gives it a body within the space which seems to soak the entire space up into it, a sonic version of transubstantiation. It does not do this in actuality of course: the space is “larger” than the synth. However, because the synth and the space can never be removed from each other – as long as the synth is there, it is of the space, and the space is partly of the synth – it has a fundamental effect on shaping that space. The space and all the other sounds are made to feel like they empty into the synth, and in so doing, it feels like we empty into it as well – it seems to have an emotionally and artistically transmuting capacity. But it is key to note that sense of “emptying into”, because the synth, as stated, is not the entire space: it seems to have an expansive role at 2:15, opening the space, filling it, but not filling it up. Into this space then other sounds rush in – the drums, the bass, the organ, the cymbals – but not only these, but the wasp synth itself, as it takes up a position in the right speaker. The synth is in a sense opening itself up to expose yet another manifestation of itself; or it is creating a space for itself to take on a new form. The synth in the right has a clear location in the space – it locates itself within a hall-sized space - but also has a physical presence, that familiar scratchiness on the ear, though by being given an imaginary location, this scratchiness now seems to be contained within another framework. Yet this imaginary location is also slightly dissatisfying, both because there is a faint sense of incongruity in giving an electronic sound such an identifiable location, in that electronic sounds are artificial and don’t seem naturally to have a “real world” identity; and also because there is a sense of other earlier Wakeman works in this location, and therefore a kind of referentiality[1] that seems slightly out of place and unnecessary or redundant in a work that seems to work so unreferentially (despite its title and presence on a concept album). Furthermore, the position of the synth is contained in the soundspace – it is right in the speaker, so that it loses physical body, compounding the sense of recession from the listener’s physical experience into an imaginary one. Interestingly enough, the referentiality of the synth paradoxically adds a slight and new dimensionality to its sound, by slightly sliding it off onto a plane that comprises a series of heard (imaginary) environments, rather than acoustic ones. This both deepens the dimensionality of the synth, but also lessens it, as it consequently slightly removes it from us as listeners in the here and now.

As a result of all this, the synth doesn’t seem to have one fixed quality: its movement into the right speaker, and into a projected space, seems to fold it back from us in a way, so that though it is still sharp on the ear, its sharpness is contained. This re-positioning of the synth results in the synth dancing around itself so to speak; but not only that, it dances around us, and around both our physical and imaginary relationship with it.

Of course, this is not the final move here. Following its movement into the right speaker, it then multitracks into the left speaker at 2:32, so that there are two distinct simultaneous wasp synths. The synth therefore doubles in size, but not only that, it moves forward again in our hearing, out of the performative setting imagined for it in the right speaker. We lose a predominant sense of the concert hall, though there is still a note of it: instead, the synth takes on a body of its own within the soundspace, with a distinct glistening but massive clarity and lyrical quality, so that its physicality is folded or pressed forward to us again. It once again expands inside our heads and expands our emotional response as it reaches joyously higher. In this expansion, it once again, as at 2:15, seems to soak up the space and soak up its manifestation in the right speaker: it’s only on close re-listening that we realise that in fact it still exists as a distinct entity in the right, and is now also a distinct entity in the left. There is a sense that it is absorbing itself and the other sounds into a new height of joy. However, as before, there is a hollowness here: the wasp synth is panned left and right, and there is something just missing in the centre – despite its qualities, it does not take up a clear central vocalic position in the mix. So, from 2:15 to 2:37, the wasp synth manoeuvres itself in a number of ways around this hollow core. First, it never takes up a single consistent position in the space. Second, it never takes up a single consistent quality of sound in the space. Third, it never takes up a distinct central position in the space. Fourth, it never takes up a single consistent imaginary location (and in fact, at one point has a touch of deferring to a pre-established imaginary location, rather than even one inherent to this recording). Added to this, there is the sense of a varying physicality, of it folding back and forth in our bodies, and reaching in various degrees of proximity to our ears. And finally, there is a sense of the quality of its sound folding up preceding or surrounding sounds at 2:15 and 2:32.

The energy generated by this hollowness is also demonstrated in the first major change within the full rock mode, when the organ re-enters the space (2:37). It seems that, as it arrives, the organ is moving out from within the overall mass of the track, but there is also a sense that it is skirting something, that it is not quite hitting the mark. Part of this lies in the fact that the organ does not quite dominate the central position – it is a bit back, a bit right and left, with something in front of it just missing. Part of this lies in the fact that it is quoting a classical composition, so is not quite of the track in a rock sense. Part of this also lies in the fact that, like the arrival of the full rock mode itself, it feels like the organ is replacing something, or acting as a reprieve for something, but there is nothing that it is clearly replacing: it is coming into the space anew and in itself. Part of this lies in the fact that there is a note in the quality of the sound of the organ of being quoted as a “classical” instrument, as if it does not quite exist in the here and now of the recording. And finally, part of this lies in the fact that the very sound of the organ seems to act to transmute the space, or the sounds in the space: it is a thick, chunky sound, which is not consistent with the other sounds, with a slight drag to it, so it has an element of absorbing the other sounds into it; yet it cannot fully absorb them, because they are largely so bright and present in the space.

The other element at this point which exposes the hollowness is the sound of the drums. The drums from this point have a totally idiosyncratic, unique, individual sound. My main interest here is in a particular sound which is generated on the toms, but it is not always there: it occurs first in the song here at 2:38. This particular sound is at the same time beautiful, irritating, excruciatingly pleasurable and complex. On the one hand, the sound is dense, tight, and flat on the speaker. There is no mistaking the drums’ presence – they fall into the space with clarity and precision. But there is also a paradoxical hollowness to the drums, a space within them, and a soft spread as well. With the hollowness, there is a subtle clarity and note of something that seems like reverb, so that they have a declarative size, a kind of rock performative punch, as well as a lyrical almost liquid beauty, like a drop of mercury. The spread, overlaid on the dense core, at times also gives a temporal containment of the sound, a feel where, a fraction of a second after the drum has been hit, we realise that it is now past (for instance, the beats at 3:26 to 3:28, and through the passage commencing 4:09). This containment, allied with the closeness of the sound on the mike and its precision, gives the sound the edge of being just a bit too “pat”, making an assumption for itself that is a little too easy and self-contained, and not wishing to engage with the rest of the space. And within all this, there is a quality of the pure sound of the drums as well, a character which feels somewhat woody and grainy, but also flat and hard. As a result, these drums seem to be orbiting themselves, hitting at something but also rounding themselves out so that the mark is both hit and also not quite hit. They have an authority or fixity, but also a volatility, a kind of fissile nuclear certainty.

Consequently, the drums, within the dynamics of the space, act in a similar way with respect to the space and the other instruments, as they do within themselves. So, unusually for drums, while grounding the space, they also give it a volatility and springiness, lifting it up at the same time that they solidify it. They knock at our ears while hitting a rhythm in our innards. Like the overall sound schema, there is not a point where the drums can be heard to comprehensively sit immobile in the space: they are constantly negotiating it and moving to points within it. This reflects the playing of Alan White, who is restless across the drumkit, moving between the various toms, cymbals, high hats and the bass drum, often brushing the cymbals up into the upper corners of the space. He also has a fluid, funky style, both precise and discursive, able to work across and with the rhythm at the same time. The drumkit’s sound therefore is inseparable from the playing: it constructs a net of sonic movements within the space, operating like a web or a skeleton extended along which the soundspace operates, moving at the joints with the soundspace, and effecting a consequent response in the soundspace.

There is a beautiful moment where this is demonstrated, from 4:09, where Wakeman bursts into a virtuosic flourish as he plays along the keyboard. Yet White’s drums are decidedly tight and dense, and the temporal containment of their sound seems to pull back at each beat away from Wakeman’s histrionics, as if we haven’t quite heard something, or haven’t quite heard it right; yet at the same time, the drums are giving the synth a rhythmic kick along, a bathetic kick in the pants. It results in a stretchiness to the sound (not just in the rhythm), where the two main elements, synth and drums, are both drawing away from each other, and driving each other forward, like muscles and ligaments tightening to move joints. This is made musically explicit at 4:19 where both White and Wakeman chase each other, interweaving through each other, with Wakeman’s pulsing synth taking over White’s role and drawing back from the drums, with White ranging over the drum kit, but with Wakeman, in so doing, never opting out of a rapid forward-moving display of his flexibility on the keyboard.

In fact, the whole piece from 2:37 on is constructed as a kind of sonic dance between the two instruments, manoeuvring around each other over and over, but never quite touching, occasionally locking in step, but then free-wheeling again. This is another way in which the absence at the centre of the piece constantly drives the piece forward, and is one of the reasons that the drumkit is given such a complex and textural sound. The “pat” sound of the drums described above is a way of constantly trying to rob the dominance and pervasiveness of the synths: it acts like a series of rocks in the stream, constantly interrupting the flow, but also sending out new ripples of its own. In this way, it is constantly negotiating the physicality of the sound of the synths, pulling it back from filling the head, sucking it into the innards. A great example of this is the passage from 2:47. Here the wasp synth is doing what it does best, filling the head with its clear, beautiful sound, constantly warping the space, having lost almost all sense of itself as a performed instrument. Even the tinkle of the space around it acts as a kind of psychedelic sheen over its sound, rather than as a locating device: it lifts the synth up to an abstract, almost celestial space, or acts to dislocate the space. This is something that Wakeman is a complete master of: using a defined, clear synth, or even a piano, to twist the space, bending it out of its frame without bending the frame itself (compare, for instance, what is possibly the same synth in the middle of “Jane Seymour” off The Six Wives of Henry VIII), in contrast to the ambient practices of contemporaneous artists like Tangerine Dream and Rick Wright (who used thick, space-filling/space re-shaping synths for the same purpose). The pulse of the wasp synth into the head here is assisted by the mid-range throb of what seems to be the bass, centre in the space, and ranging from a vertically central to a somewhat lower position, as a kind of sonic reverb to the synth.

Yet the drumkit here, especially the “pat” toms, are slicing into this space, pulling it into the gut at the same time that it is stretching ever higher with the synth, punching the sound into the head. Due to the overwhelming nature of the synth, there is a quality of the drums of being hidden behind a thin veil, through which the drums punch. This is played musically structurally by movement between the bass drum and the tom: the tom hits the notes under the synth, bringing the drum forward, but at points drops out, replaced by the bass drum. This effects a quick, sudden, but kind of after-the-fact withdrawal from the head, dropping the beat onto the bass drum. The bass guitar plays a key role here too, acting viscerally as a kind of thickening element, pulling the synth backward. Of course, in doing this, these two elements, despite their more earthy feel, are also warping the space, both because it is impossible in a logical “real” world sense for these disparate elements to represent a real space (thereby making the space more unreal), and because in a physical acoustic sense they are stretching its dimensions. What complicates this even further is that the spread cymbals, panned left and right, push the space out either side. However, rather than making the space more massive and heavy in that way, either adding to the weight of the synth, or given a crispness that might add to the pull of the toms, the cymbals are given a sibilance, and are not fully exploded in the space, so that they seem to brush at the edge of the space.

The intense physicality of this section is then relieved at 2:58 with a more normalised discursive section to 3:18: instruments take up positions in the space that are more consistent with a performative space: drums and bass stable and central, cymbals spread right and left, organ slightly left of centre and taking up a quasi lead vocal position, bass a relatively undefined thread low and back. It is as if the pressure wave has inverted again, but it would not be correct to assume that the track thereby loses its physicality. The effect is of relief but not of dissipation: the bass, for instance, has a kind of just-in-the-cranium feel to it, as if its fingers are just holding on to us; and the organ maintains the sharp on the ear feel, though it is somewhat recessed. There is a sponginess to the space relative to the surrounding passages: there is a sense that the space has become a bit more dense, less hard on us physically, but still with a physical weight to it that seems to lean rather than push hard on us. Furthermore, as the sponginess metaphor suggests, the song’s hollowness is maintained: in the drumkit, for instance, there is a sense that it is touching the sides of the space but not coalescing inside it - the cymbals are once again moving out to the edge of the space from a somewhat inner position right and left, and the toms have an odd referred quality, not quite “here”, as if they are behind something in the space.

At 3:18, the space changes again, fracturing kaleidoscopically as the sounds scatter through the space, with various percussion instruments and elements of the drumkit sounding off at different points in the space, and the bass guitar pulsing apparently randomly both musically and spatially (it’s never quite clear whether the bass is central or right at this point). The drumkit also has a sense of restless motion here, repeatedly coming from a right receded position to fully front on the deeper toms and bass in the left, with its sound consequently varying in great detail: for instance, there is a tight quick roll on the toms at 3:22 which gives a quick touch of graininess in the midst of this clatter. In a way, by being temporally in the middle of the song, this also becomes the manifestation of the song’s hollow core, in that any pretence to move to a certainty of space or sound is here broken up: the effect is of the instruments sliding through the space and over each other, never coalescing at any single point. It’s like just as the microscope’s focus has enough resolution to get to the core of matter, it only exposes a whirling mass of neutrons and electrons. What could be seen as a resolution at 3:28 (a return to the musical passage of 2:37) is in fact no resolution: it comes across as a kind of forgetting or ignoring of the preceding 10 seconds, as if it hadn’t happened, as there is no single distinct structural element cohering the two passages. In so doing, the “resolution” merely confirms the lack of solidity at the centre of the track.

For the remainder of the track, it ranges restlessly back and forth between these different sorts of passages. It can’t be said, however, that the song is ever searching for something in doing this: there is never a sense that the track feels a sense of its own lack, that its hollowness is a void that needs permanent filling, some identifiable stable centre. Though it’s true that the track is always looking to find new ways to fill that hollowness, it is that sense of always looking, and enjoying that process, that characterises the track. In fact, as a kind of reinforcement of this, the fade-out of the track at 5:48 returns to the kaleidoscopic passage of 3:18, this time featuring the bass more prominently, as a kind of self-contained substitute for the wasp synth of the earlier passage, as if it is erasing the wasp synth. The bass also has a transformative quality that has similarities to the synth in the passage of 2:47: it fills the head with an interior quality, as if it is expanding in the cranium. But the bass here is also somewhat disfiguring, rather than having the rapturous quality of the synth, largely due to its lack of spread or sustain: it drops into the space, expands, and then contracts, on each note, rather than moving to fill the space. In fact, there is a note of subtracting something from the space in these notes: each note seems to suck something away, though this is only temporary with each note, as the arrival of each note also drops something back in the space. Metaphorically it has the quality of shoes stepping in mud, so that in lifting the shoe from the mud, there is a sucking of air away, but in that same moment, the mud returns to fill the space. There is a paradox here, because the bass takes up a clearly central, vocalic position, the only time this occurs for any instrument in the track; yet the bass also has a quality of not quite sitting with the other sounds in the space: once again, there is a sense of some kind of gap here, this time between the bass and the other instruments and the rest of the space. A hollowness follows the bass here, and sits between it and the other instruments, which have a quality of slipping around behind it. In a way, the bass is summing up the way the track works overall, because it is drawing its sound forward onto us, foregrounding its own and the space’s physicality, while also leaving something behind, not quite drawing the rest of the space and the other sounds with it. Furthermore, while in itself it bends the space, it also bends the space around it, leaving a sense of the malleability of the space, so that it pulses on and off our ears in this closing passage of the song, with the other instruments behind it refracting the space and tinkling at our ears. In this closing, we are left with a sense of the track losing referentiality, logic or destination; and yet there is also a sense that it is still moving on. We are left in a space of negotiated physicality, with the sound pressing onto us at various points in the space and retreating again, pressing into our heads and also into our guts, and always with a sense that there is still something remaining which is yet to arrive.

[1] By this I mean that the sound of the wasp synth recalls Wakeman’s earlier, more commercial work, on Journey To The Centre of the Earth, and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, especially as this type of synth was at the time well associated with Wakeman. These works are clearly conceptual and referential; the way they function musically is to convey a story, and the synth is subject to that purpose, rather than being exploited primarily to convey its own presence and qualities. The production of both those albums is also clearly figured around an imaginary performative space (explicit in Journey To The Centre of the Earth as it is a live recording). So there is a referentiality bubbling under this synth here, in referring to the earlier albums, in indirectly referring to a referential form of musical performance, and in referring to an already-established performative space.

"Statue of Justice", "Jane Seymoure" available at iTunes store
The Six Wives of Henry VIII; Journey To The Centre of the Earth; The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table; Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record available at

"Statue of Justice" may be heard here:
I provide this link purely for the purposes of reference. If the copyright holder wishes, I am happy to remove the link.