In honour of NZ Music Month, Gary Steel climbs into the crumbling catacombs of his back catalogue, and disinters a different story Every Day In May (EDIM). Today’s piece appeared in Metro in May 2003.
Note: When Chris Knox announced that he had made an electronic album under the name ‘Friend’, I just had to talk to him about it. We hadn’t been on good terms over the previous two years, since I wrote a piece for the NZ Listener that wasn’t very kind to Flying Nun. Chris had been so outraged by the piece that he performed a song called ‘The Late Gary Steel’ at an evening with UK DJ John Peel. Happily, Chris is the sort of guy that expresses himself, but doesn’t – in my experience – bear grudges, so we negotiated an, um, friendly space to talk turkey about this bizarre wee project. Sadly, when Metro published the piece, some errant sub changed ‘Revolution #9’ to ‘Revolution’, which is, of course, a completely different song!
IT SHREDDED THE minds of a generation of Kiwis. The Beatles self-titled, sprawling 1968 masterpiece known as ‘The White Album’ contained one piece that changed the way the ‘young generation’ thought about music, forever. ‘Revolution #9’ wasn’t a song at all, but an epic collage of weird sounds and tape manipulations. Was it music? Who cared!
Flying Nun’s patron saint and Grey Lynn’s perpetual multi-media man Chris Knox has made an album, 35 years later, that acknowledges his debt to that track. Released under the alias Friend, Inaccuracies & Omissions doesn’t sound a jot like anything Knox has released in his already lengthy career of solo and Tall Dwarfs recordings. Describing the ‘musique concrete’ of Friend as “A music made from chunks of ‘non-musical’ sound, organised in such a way as to give the listener a certain auditory joy,” he admits that “It had never really occurred to me that I was allowed to be something other than a purveyor of slightly perverse pop. Sometimes we forget that there are no rules…”
Also a kind of homage to classical experimental rogues and pioneers like John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow (and not forgetting other formative Knox influences like the Goons, Spike Jones, early cartoon soundtracks and the first few Mothers Of Invention albums), Friend’s miraculous genesis owes more to the digital revolution than to the old-fashioned tape-splicing one would expect of the man whose 4-track reel-to-reel defined the early Flying Nun sound. It does, however, involve an analogue-to-digital interface that utilises tape recordings going back as far as the mid-‘70s.
With the seemingly endless possibilities opened up by digital sound manipulation, Knox devised a working methodology where the weapons of choice were “Discipline! Artificial restrictions! In thisfield of endeavour the terrain is infinite, the excursions into that terrain innumerable, and the end nowhere in sight. There is no point at which you can say, ‘this is finished’ because there’s always another manipulation you can perform that will open up a whole new raft of possibilities.”
And how would Knox suggest a slightly worried listener might approach this odd record?
“I would guess it’d be good for doing dishes to. I know it’s a great soundtrack to my morning exercise routine, and I imagine some might get a certain amount of pleasure by getting off their trolleys and putting it on headphones considerably louder than is healthy.” – GARY STEEL
* Friend – Inaccuracies & Omissions (Flying Nun) is out now.