“When I listen to this music I want to grow a short beard, learn violin, never talk again, learn how to sword fight but vow not to actually sword fight, only have 2 things in my closet; a monks robe and a suit, move to Nova Scotia, Stare out a window on rainy day, ignore my lover, seek love where I know I will never get it, miss my dad, act like everyone is dead, read sad books, gain lots of muscle but never be seen doing physical activity, have a son then learn he won’t live to be 5, be left by my wife, fight to keep her get beaten up by her lover, punch a wall, change my name to Mikol and cry in secret.“
Comment left by Goat Men below ‘Max Richter Infra 2010 Full Album’ on YouTube (1)
Ok, let’s start with the title. The name ‘Dream Songs’ is stolen from a book of poems by the American poet John Berryman. Berryman’s ’77 Dream Songs’, published in 1964, along with ‘His Toy, His Dream, His Rest’, published in 1968, were published together in 1969 as ‘The Dream Songs’. Like Berryman’s ‘The Dream Songs’, ‘Dream Songs’ the album could be easily misinterpreted as autobiography, but as Berryman says of his protagonist Henry: “Henry does resemble me, and I resemble Henry; but on the other hand I am not Henry. You know, I pay income tax; Henry pays no income tax. And bats come over and they stall in my hair—and fuck them, I’m not Henry; Henry doesn’t have any bats.” (2)
Although I look like The Erratic, The Erratic doesn’t have any bats (and, presently, I don’t pay income tax). In 1972, at the age of 57, Berryman, who struggled with alcoholism for much of his adult life, committed suicide by jumping into the Mississippi River from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The structure of ‘Dream Songs’ combines aspects from a number of albums by David Bowie. Like ‘Low’, and repeated on ‘Heroes’ (both released in 1977), the first half of the album comprises ‘songs’ while the second half contains more challenging and semi-ambient instrumentals. The album is bookended by two versions of the same song, as with ‘It’s No Game (Parts 1 & 2)’ on 1980’s ‘Scary Monsters and Supercreeps’. Neil Young also notably did this, with the acoustic ‘My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)’ and the electric ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ on 1979’s ‘Rust Never Sleeps’.
The song ‘Down, Down, Down (Part 2)’ was written whilst on a walk across Kinder Scout, descending Jacob’s Ladder near Edale in the Peak District, Derbyshire. All the harmonies came fully formed as I walked down the steep stone steps that lie near the start of The Pennine Way. ‘Down, Down, Down (Part 1)’ is, more or less, ‘Part 2’ reversed. I was pleased to discover when listening back to ‘Down, Down, Down (Part 1)’ that the reversed guitars resemble the sounds of the guitars on early Eno albums, in particular ‘Another Green World’ from 1975.
‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ references Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Footnote To Howl’ (1955) (3), which declares everything to be holy. In particular his declaration that every aspect of the human body is holy (“The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy!”). This section of Ginsberg’s poem is an erotic cry of joy and celebration of the physicality of human love. The song ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ is a celebration of a lover, and a lament for lost love. It makes the suggestion that maybe the unnamed relationship could have lasted “If I could only believe you…when you said that you loved me.” This sentiment echoes a song written two years earlier, called ‘I Wish That I Could Believe’ (although this song has a more general existential theme), from the EP ‘Eleven Kinds of Loneliness’ (the title of which is again borrowed, this time from a book of short stories by Richard Yates, published in 1962 (4)). The EP, along with all other releases by The Erratic, is available at: http://www.theerratic.bandcamp.com
Much of ‘Dream Songs’ was written and recorded during a recovery from depression, and, rather than a record of depression (that is the ‘And’ EP), should be seen as a document of the difficult ascent out of mental illness. Depression is a daily struggle. Every morning is a battle to see the day through to the end. ‘Gone (Never to Return)’ is about that struggle. Upon first awakening in the morning the depressed see an endless blank stretch of time, an interminable emptiness with nothing to fill it. But soon enough the day has ended and nothing has been done, other than that another day has been survived. The song quotes the first line, spoken by Estragon in ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett, with it’s multiplicity of meaning: “nothing to be done.” (5) This is the second time I have quoted this line, the first being in the song ‘Let Me Dream’, from the ‘I am a Traveller in Both Time and Space’ EP (itself a reference to William S. Burroughs’ opinion that his use of collage, photography and the infamous cut-ups were all methods of time travel).
In contrast ‘I Would Never Leave This World’ is a declaration of the desire for life. It states categorically ‘I want to live, I will not leave this world by my own hand.’ It still contains regret, and recognition of mistakes made and admits culpability in the same failed relationship as in ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ (6): “It was never meant to last. Can I be forgiven? … I gave it all my love, I gave it all to you. … I gave you all my love, and I took it from you.” There is some ambiguity however in the repeated and, to a large degree nonsensical, line: “I would never leave this world with more than I could give it.” It is impossible to give more than you can give. The song references Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’, from their 1970 album ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, with it’s use of multiple hand claps put through an echo delay. It also uses the same tuning as on the last song Nick Drake ever recorded (in February 1974), ‘Black-Eyed Dog’ – GGDGBD.
‘Ascent (Into Insignificance)’ provides a pivot for the album. It is the first of the instrumentals and introduces new textures with the addition of recorder and saxophone. The guitar plays a number of barred chords in DADGAD tuning (much of the album was recorded in this tuning), randomly layered on multiple tracks. The recorder builds up another chord with long single notes, again randomly layered. This provides a backdrop over which Julian Cohen improvises two takes of saxophone, giving the whole a feel not too dissimilar from Charles Mingus. The only direction I gave was to tell Julian at which point to begin playing. The title is taken from Professor Brian Cox, who in a recent TV series said that the development of human kinds’ notion of it’s place in the cosmos, from believing ourselves to be at the centre of the universe to the realisation that we are the highly unlikely result of an almost endless sequence of chance happenings that occupies a tiny insignificant point in an infinite universe, could be described as an “ascent into insignificance”. (7)
As mentioned on the sleeve notes, ‘Dead Star Light‘ was recorded live in a single take and no overdubs. It was made using an electro-acoustic guitar and a Line 6 amp with a rudimentary built-in loop facility. Production and mixing involved cutting out several complete bars from the final section to shorten it by around two or three minutes. The very end involved turning up the reverb in the mix whilst fading out the track. The title is stolen from an exhibition by Kerry Tribe seen at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol in 2010, in which one exhibit was made of a single tape loop that snaked around one whole floor of the gallery. (8)
‘On the Margins of Forgetfulness (The Sleep of Wakefulness)‘ (whose title I cannot remember the origins of, other than it appearing as two separate notes discovered in a notebook whilst searching for possible titles) began as a forgotten guitar part found on an old four-track borrowed from a friend years ago. The guitar part was recorded in 2012 in my room in a shared house in Bath. I added glockenspiel, auto-harp, shaker and tambourine before setting about hiding the source sounds with layers of treatments and delay.
‘Sinking Into Nothing, Being Without Trace, No Flowers Please’ was originally three separate tracks, none of which were quite working for various reasons. I had been thinking about attempting to merge tracks together to make longer, more varied electronic pieces for some time, maintaining the minimalist theme whilst increasing the interest for the listener, and this track has become my first effort at this. The result is an improvement on the three original starting points.
The titles may appear to all be negative but this is unintentional. I read a lot, and as I read I find pleasing words or interesting sounding phrases, and I note them down. Then when it comes to finding titles I will go back through these notebooks and pick words or phrases which I think reflect the mood of the piece, or when combined with the piece add to it’s meaning or increase it’s ambiguity. The words and phrases have been so far removed from their sources, by time and an imperfect memory, that their original context has been stripped from them and they are cleansed and ready for new meanings and associations to be attached. Sometimes, as in ‘Sinking Into Nothing, Being Without Trace, No Flowers Please’, which may well sound somewhat funereal, I am attracted to the words through a kind of black humour. I am well aware of the negative connotations, but I find it funny.
You may have noticed that the majority of the references I cite as musical influences stem from the 1970’s: David Bowie; Brian Eno; Neil Young; Simon and Garfunkel; Nick Drake, etc., and I do believe that as far as recorded music goes this was something of a Golden Age, but ‘Dream Songs’ doesn’t sound like it’s from the 70’s, it is an album that could only have been made in the early 21st Century, with the strange Blade Runner style mash up of acoustic, analogue and digital technology that is now so available and affordable that anyone can make music and release it, ‘Making Do and Getting By’ (9) as human beings are wont to do. It is now easier than ever to record and release music, it is however harder than ever to get anyone to listen to it.
The Erratic is my musical means of creative release (I have others. I write and make art, to equal indifference). I have no expectations. I have given more music away than I am ever likely to sell. But that’s ok. I make it for myself. It gives me pleasure. If other people listen, that’s a bonus. If you listen and say you like it, I probably won’t believe you. I don’t play live. I don’t wish to engage with an audience. There is no reason for you to care. If you have listened, and if you have read this, then thank you. That is all. Why should there be more?
CJ Robinson – January 2016
1 Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIxDn-Gcu5k (Accessed: 18th December 2015) – Although I don’t feel this quote describes my own music I would hope it could evoke a similarly poetic response in some listeners.
2 “An Interview with John Berryman” conducted by John Plotz of the Harvard Advocate on Oct. 27, 1968. In Thomas, H. Ed., Berryman’s Understanding: Reflections on the Poetry of John Berryman, (Boston: Northeastern UP, 1988)
3 Ginsberg, A., Howl and Other Poems (San Francisco: City Lights, 1956)
4 Yates, R., Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (London: Vintage Classics, 2008)
5 Beckett, S., Waiting for Godot, (London: Faber and Faber, 1988)
6 This relationship is also documented on the 2014 album ‘A Soft Light’, and the ‘And’ EP of 2015, in particular the song ‘I Know We Can Beat Them’ (Available at: www.theerratic.bandcamp.com )
7 Cox, B., Human Universe, (BBC, 2014)
8 Tribe, K., Dead Star Light, (Bristol: Arnolfini; London: Camden Arts Centre; Oxford: Modern Art Oxford, 2010)
9 Wentworth, R., Making Do and Getting By (Photographs, 1973-ongoing)