‘Hand Cranked’ was recorded between 2003-2005 with a very basic set up and some fairly primitive gear, one piece in particular - a simple sampler that I had received as a birthday present in 1998. This sampler, and the crude way in which it operates, became a key component in establishing a sound of my own. In the late 90s, an art college tutor gave me a mix tape, on that tape was Steve Reich’s ‘Electric Counterpoint’. This Reich piece made me think differently about how I could make music with a guitar, and it led to me experimenting with sampling short loops of melodic phrases with a guitar, layering them, displacing them against each other, reversing them, re-pitching them.
Although this was crude and simple, and the sampler was triggered by hand with no quantisation, it was an inspiring period for me as it was the only tool I had at the time to do this kind of arranging, I didn’t have a computer until 2002. The combination of the sampler’s lo-fi grainy and fluffy digital sound, the lack of quantisation and the very limited sampling time and very limited polyphony, led to a series of tracks with a unique sound of their own. I became aware early on when making these simple loop-based tunes of how they sounded like some 70s and 80s British Children’s TV themes that I remembered from childhood: Trumpton, Bagpuss et al.
Another quality that I became aware of, although initially unplanned was how these layered melodic tunes, with their imperfect timing, reminded me of hand cranked music boxes and other mechanical music machines. Over the years my studio inventory expanded, slowly at first, but this little sampler remained one of the core pieces, and in fact it was used on tracks like ‘Curls’ and ‘It’s Your Bones’ from the 2019 album ‘Ribbons’. After ‘Fi’, I was writing a lot of instrumental music that was based around the guitar, sometimes working with my friend Richard Roberts, ‘Marram’ was one of the tracks we had made together.
The quirky quality of mechanical music boxes became a theme for my second album, there was a deliberate attempt to evoke the rickety nature of such machines without being too literal with it. Analogue tape also played a big role, various cassette machines were used for processing digital audio. During those years I had built up a small collection of tape machines, some of them bought for a few pounds from antiques markets, charity shops, car boot sales, jumble sales etc. each machine seemed to have its own character, some were more warbly than others, some had a grittier sound, some distorted in a beautiful way, some sounded particularly nice when the recording was played out of the built-in speaker.
I learned from an early age, but even more so during those times of discovery as an artist, that ‘tape’ doesn’t have a sound - it has many sounds, many nuances, and the machines that record and play back tape have individual characters too. The overall sound of ‘Hand Cranked’ was very much about exploiting the ‘voices’ or characters of these machines, rather than simply using them as a means to an end. When faced with a lack of equipment or budget, it seemed important to me to find affordable tools that made an important contribution to the art, it was about extracting something from very little.
I have chosen a collection of tracks from my archives to accompany the reissue of ‘Hand Cranked’ as digital bonus material. Included in this collection is an early version of ‘Cantaloup Carousel’ from my debut album ‘Fi’ This bonus version is the first version, recorded in my tiny room in Wood Green Halls of Residence in North London, during my first year of university in 1999. ‘Madame Grotesque’ was recorded in 2005, this was co-written and recorded with Richard Roberts. The other tracks are from more recent years, but using much of the same processes and core equipment of the ‘Hand Cranked’ era.