In April Russell Haswell will release a new album – the brilliantly titled IN IT: Immersive Live Salvage.
It’s the third in Haswell’s sporadic series of live albums, following Live Salvage 1997-2000 and Second Live Salvage, and it consists of recordings taken from the 30 solo free improvisation performances that he gave while supporting Autechre on their Overstepper world tour last year.
“Having witness over 10 years of ‘artists’ using the space-bar as a ‘play’ button and pretending to do something,” writes Haswell in IN IT‘s sleevenotes, “I decided to leave the laptop behind and give myself a challenge. I wanted to present something with impact: both physical and challenging for the audience. To use only electronics and pedals, but not ‘groveling around on the floor’ using them.”
Crucially, the Coventry-hailing artist decided to record his sets in surround sound, something with which he has been preoccupied for several years. For this he used an inexpensive 4-channel recorder, which could capture sonic information from four distinct locations in each venue – usually in front of his equipment, just behind and between the front-of-house PA, and in front of the onstage monitors. The finished album is available as a 5.1 DVD and UHJ LP set. The 5.1 DVD offers the “conventional” surround sound experience familiar to home cinema owners, while the rather more obscure ambisonic UHJ vinyl format, which hasn’t been used a great deal since the 1970s, provides full-on immersion. For more information and pre-orders, visit Editions Mego here.
FACT caught up with Haswell on the phone recently to find out a little more about the thinking behind IN IT, and how he made the idea a reality.
So where did the idea for IN IT spring from?
“I’d done two Live Salvage records previously – the first one (Live Salvage) was made up of recordings that in most cases other people had made – you know, that a friend of mine had recorded on a recorder they’d brought with them, or on maybe using a more professional mixing desk. Second Live Salvage included some recordings I’d made myself.
“This time, when I was invited to do the tour with Autechre, I was thinking: shit, if I’m going to play live then I really ought to record it properly this time. More or less all my recent interests have been based in a surround sound scenario, and because I was now doing these live, improvised solo performances, I realised that I wanted to document them in surround. I knew that in the end If I managed to record enough of them I would have enough for an album.”
“That’s why I like to perform live myself – because indifference is impossible. It polarises, it’s a total ‘Fuck off!’ or ‘Yes!’ situation. I’d rather be in the ‘Fuck off!’ boat than the indifferent boat.”
How exactly did you go about recording?
“I thought about doing the gigs in surround but it wasn’t going to be appropriate given the PAs available, so instead I chose to take a consumer recorder in my bag – just plug this thing in and press record, and hopefully get a recording that was alright. I took a recorder that had four channels, and I was controlling my own onstage monitoring. The listening experience is very much surround: I mean, there’s not much flying your around your head or anything like that, but you have this sense of being in the middle of it. I placed the recorder just in front of my gear so, you hear the monitors that are behind me and the front-of-house PA and the audience that are right next to the recorder and the acoustic of the space. Every space is different.
“It’s still a bit raw, but this fits in with my love of live recordings – I’ve always had a thing for live albums, I’ve always enjoyed the different instrumentation not to mention the social thing of being there at something that’s actually happening. That’s why I like to perform live myself. Because of the instantaneous reaction you get, and because indifference is impossible – it polarises, it’s a total ‘Fuck off!’ or ‘Yes!’ situation. I’d rather be in the ‘Fuck off!’ boat than the indifferent boat.
“I’m always thinking about new ways to document live performances. This 4-channel recorder was quite erratic – on several occasions it didn’t record for whatever reason or I forgot to put it there or the cable fell out when I was trying to transfer the files, or whatever. 22 gigs out or 30 I got to record.”
“I was more interested in doing something with real immediacy, actually generating something. Something that was more kinetic.”
Why did you decide to use the UHJ vinyl and 5.1 DVD format for this release?
“I realised I could do some reverse engineering. I wanted to do a vinyl record and a DVD and because I’d been working with various ambisonic formats and issues, and it occurred to me I could do a record in UHJ format so that if someone had the right recorder they could decode it back into surround sound. I was taking 5.1 surround and putting it back into an ambisonic format and that enabled me to do it in UHJ for the vinyl. And for the DVD – Dolby Digital and DTS. I even went to the effort to have the Dolby and DTS logos and all that on the sleeve, I love that stuff.”
How challenging was it to master and cut for UHJ vinyl?
“It was a bit of a nightmare…as always I was working with Rashad [Becker, at Berlin’s Dubplates + Mastering] and we were able to have a dialogue with a guy called Richard Elan who cut UHJ records in the 70s. We spoke over email and he briefed us on the dos and don’ts. No one’s really done UHJ since Nimbus Records did it with classical music. Very few people have the technology to play this record as it’s meant to be heard. At the moment it’s all consumer-led devices, those kind of AV receivers and surround systems. So at the moment to have these UHJ decoders in hardware, well, it’s real audiophile stuff. I’ve been to conventions and really there’s only a small proportion of people who have this kind of surround sound.
“Very few people have the technology to play this record as it’s meant to be heard.”
Did the context of your performances – on tour supporting Autechre – impact on the performances themselves?
“Generally speaking, when you’re doing something of an experimental nature like myself, the reality is that you’re not often going on tour for 30 days with another group, you’re not really in that context; you’re far more likely going to play foreign festivals or scratching a gig down the road. I never seem to play in the UK, it’s always abroad– some places are just more advanced.
“Touring with Autechre is obviously different. You’re actually getting on the bus and it’s day after day, not one day off – I’ve done it before with them in America, when I was doing my ‘hard disc jockeying’ thing. This time around I didn’t want to fill my 90 minute slots that way. I was more interested in doing something with real immediacy, actually generating something. Something that was more kinetic. The addition of light sensors to my set-up meant that the lighting guy fucking around with the strobes would actually affect the sound, and I actually wore head torches of differing brightness so I could again change the sound and modulate my material. So even when I wasn’t actually doing so much, I always felt like things were going on, and it gave me a chance to sip on my champagne or beer…which it was of course depends on the country and the hospitality…I prefer champagne, by the way.
“Autechre’s requirements for the tour were pretty specific and I knew that the PAs were going to be consistent – Mayers, Alcons, etc. So it was a good opportunity to attempt this kind of thing.
“I must add that there’s also going to be an additional CD on the IDEAL label; it ‘s a supplment to the Mego DVD and LP, and it captures the Scandinivian gigs that we did on the tour. As I’ve lived there in the past, I thought it would be good to collect the four gigs I did there in their entirety and that’s in the UHJ format in CD – i.e. more realistically decodable than the LP.”