Autumn, Ephedrine and Rolling Tape

Recording is complete for Almas Buenas. I know I am a lucky man to have had the idea grow over 5 months and for it to flower like this.

The idea for the record was simple: take songs from my back catalogue that lend themselves to different styles of Latin Arrangements, sing them in Spanish and record acoustic musicians live.

I wanted the recording for Almas Buenas to be completely live with a whole group playing in unison as it is a romantic and dangerous thing to do and if done right then this magic translates into what is recorded. Unless you have top quality musicians this approach can end in chaos and the truth is that most records are made using a sucession of overdubs because it is simply easier to do and runs less risk.

The studio, Moebio, is a mythical place not listed on many maps or findable on the internet due to the slightly eccentric nature of the owner but is a hidden home for acoustic recordings for those in the know. It is one of the finest studio rooms in Argentina specially designed by Carlos Piriz – an acoustic engineer recognized throughout Latin America as one of the best.

Some of the greatest artists of recent times have recorded in this room, including Mercedes Sosa, the guitarist and composer Juan Falu, the guitarist Luis Salinas, the violinist, composer and conductor Antonio Agri, Soda Stereo, Fito Paez, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Charly García, La Camerata Bariloche. The historic album “200 Years of Argentina Music” by the Salta Symphony Orchestra, was also undertaken in Moebio.

The change to Autumn in Buenos Aires caught me by surprise and three days before the recording and I foolishly left a window open at night in my bedroom which saw me waking up with a cold and lots of nose gunk. Thankfully Jorge had a special remedy including Ephedrine which instantly cleared my head but it was strong stuff.

Oscar Magariños, came recommeded as a recording sound engineer for the project, by Jorge, and it was Oscar that suggested Moebio Studios to record. Oscar had prepped the room before with layouts and microphones so when we arrived things were smooth and enginnering effort invisible to the performers which is the way it should be.

The musicians arrived and gelled very quickly. The double bass player had been changed at the last minute and was replaced by the legendary Juan Pablo Navarro who, until the sessions, hadn´t worked with any of the other musicians on the songs. Juan´s calibre was such that this didn´t matter and he anchored the rhythm and the music perfectly. Carlos Corrales on bandoneon proved to be a focal point for the group due to his outstanding musicality and charisma.

Jorge Soldera conducted the arrangements in the centre of the room and for separation I sang from the control booth.

We only had the bandoneon and piano player for one day but we managed to get all six songs they featured on recorded.

As some songs had many mid frequencies to deal with from bandoneon, guitar, piano, voice and percussion it was useful that the piano in the studio had been chosen especially to have a dark tonal quality allowing it so sit alongside some of the brighter instruments. It was a ´tango piano´. Matias Chapiro, a young pianist and composer, played extremely sensitively and framed the songs with an inspired touch.

The day was finished off with an eyeball to eyeball tango performance by Carlos and myself. Jorge and I had reworked the song Blowin´ Up Tryin´ 2B Somebody (Exploto Mientras Trato Ser Alguien) into a completely new tango variant and Carlos had written a new arrangement for it. It was a great honour for me to have Carlos undertake this arrangement as he is one of the most famous bandoneon players working in the world today with performances and credits across the world. The first time I heard the new arrangement was at the session and after a trial run we managed to get synchronicity with an explosive take. One of the tricks of tango is that it is not in strict time and the performers are expected to push and pull the timing to suit the mood. One final thing about Carlos – he used to box in the same club I have been going to in Almagro. Perfecto.

Sergio Carrera the graphic artist also came down to the session to do photo studies of the musicians for his album artwork composition.

Focus was on the guitar led tracks and with only two remaining we manged to get through them fine along with one or two percussion overdubs. The track Don´t Get All Stuck (No Te Dejes Atrapar) was electrifying. There are tonnes of words for this track and during preproduction we had to move the tempo down from 115bpm to 112bpm so I could blurt them all out successfully. However during the recording the flamenco style had the musicians excited and we did a version even higher than 115bpm. Victor Piseta, on spanish guitar, dazzled with his virtuoso playing inspired by Paco de Lucia and Astor Piazzolla. Victor´s current direction is primarily folklorico with Duo Matices although he has also toured with the trio, Guitarras de Fuego, and recorded as a solo guitar artist. There are big things to come for Victor.

Vocals. Ephedrine. Honey. Lemon. Spanish language Gods were looking down on me on this day.

Trumpet track for Let the Credits Roll (Que Pasen los Créditos). This track needed a muted trumpet to give it a New Orleans funeral procession inkeeping with the sentiment of the song. I wrote this song a few years ago after my band The Good Hurt broke up.

Patricia Zania, a BsAs fashionista, took photos and video footage leading up to and during the recording. I hope to get some of it edited and translated back in London.

Thursday night was strange. My whole calendar had been focussed around this record and it was only after finishing at the studio that I realised I would be leaving in a week. The mixing will be done over the next few days and before I know it I´ll be back in London.

At least my girl and the sun will be there 🙂


Round 2 – Buenas Almas

Round 2 of pre-production for the record Almas Buenas (Good Souls) begins this week. All songs have been demo´d with new arrangements and given to the musicians. Jorge Soldera is the producer and co-arranger for this record and I couldn´t have been luckier in choosing him to mentor me through the project and music scene here. Jorge has extensive experience in most forms of Latin music and has worked with some of the big names in Argentina. Importantly, he has a big heart and great ear not to mention his list of contacts which he used to put together a great bunch of musicians which we will begin rehearsing with today. The record will be recorded live which makes the project more difficult but I hope it will give it the edge of drama I am looking for. We record on the 17th-20th of this month. Jorge is also coaching me on my singing in Spanish and his patience is the kind that people attribute to Saints. His lovely wife and family also look after me and feed me as I am never out of their place.

The artwork for Almas Buenas will be done by the rising comics star Sergio Martín Carrera who is most known for his graphic novel The Eternal City which is set in Buenos Aires. It is available on iTunes/Android and will soon be put out in a compendium print in Spanish. It is a story of a reluctant agent of Death who escorts expired Porteños (Buenos Aires folks) to the afterlife. For me Eternal City is a love story to Buenos Aires by Sergio and throws light on not only the characters of the grand city but provides the city with a face too showing the different districts, landmarks and buildings. I went out for drinks with him and his friends the other night and it was great fun and before I knew it I found myself p*ssed at 6am staggering into a cab in San Telmo. They were a smart bunch and gave me great insights and anecdotes about life in the city. The lead character in The Eternal City was based on one of Sergio´s friends who was also out drinking with us and it was odd to have a sense of accelearted familiarity with him as he talked, stood or sat in positions echoing the scenes in the novel – almost like meeting Peter Parker or Wolverine.

My boxing continues and after some rounds of anti-inflammatories my back has settled down meaning I can get through the sessions without agony in the last hour. I will miss the club when I go. Sparring exercises with people who don´t speak English always have the extra element of danger and I can see the look in their eyes saying ´Does he know what we are meant to do and is there is going to be an accident?´.

My house-disco song (When You Go You Take The) Garden With You will be complete by the end of this week and I am really happy with it. All final mixes for Garden With You have been done. There are two main mixes and two remixes. Track listing is :

  1. Main Mix by UK´s Glen Nicholls who has worked with Prodigy, Bee Gees, Depeche Mode and a host of others.
  2. Alternate Mix by Arimaka aka Manuel Jiminez from Los Angeles who has worked with the likes of Madonna.
  3. Dub Mix by Emiliano Gomez from Argentina at the DubSalon – a rising star of dub.
  4. Sleeping on the Couch Mix by Boofa. A dark electro mix by this NZ multi-media artist who is the other half of the 12000 Miles album.

The artwork is also underway which promises to be something special and hopefully a little risqué .
One singer that Jorge has inroduced me to is the legendary Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa. Unfortunately she died last year but left a massive legacy behind. Some say that if the soil of Latin America could sing that it would have her voice and I tend to believe it. Her last album was a series of duets with some of the most famous musicians in Latin America and the record was called Cantora (a double album also featuring a documentary). The position she holds in Argentina is a little like the position that Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan holds in Pakistan which is of a statesman that helped give the country a musical, philosophical and cultural cornerstone. She was much feared by the repressive government in Argentina and many times had to flee for her life. I reccomend you check her out.

The condor has landed…

After a two month tour of Latin America I have now settled in an apartment in Buenos Aires in the Almagro area. I will be here for 5-6 weeks rehearsing and building up to a Spanish language recording of some of my songs from the past 8 albums as well as some new ones.

There is a lot to do not least of which is finding the musicians that can play on the recording and help me bend some of the arrangements to have a more latin feel and punctuation. I am looking for three key players to work with me : a piano player, a flamenco guitarist and a bandoneón player. The bandoneón is the accordian variant favoured by tango players.

My girlfriend leaves tomorrow and the project rehearsal will begin in earnest. In order to keep my ying and yang balanced I’ve already joined the oldest boxing club in Buenos Aires and have been going for the past 4 days or so. The place is wonderful and full of atmosphere, history and sweat and I am the only gringo there which suits me fine. I chose to live in Almagro because of the Almagro boxing club , which my lyric translator and B.A guru advised me of, and as it is only 3 minutes away it allows me to start the morning with gusto. Almagro isn’t one of the tourist barrios (barrio is the term used for a district) but it is perfectly located to get anywhere in the city. Tango’s home is said to be in Almagro and the Carlos Gardel (poster boy for tango) museum is in the Abasto section of Almagro.

Lots of work needed from me….singing in Spanish, morphing songs into Flamenco rhythms will be a head bender, getting the tango-like punctuations and pushing beats on thirds of beats is all new to me. Wish me ‘suerte’.

I’ll try and keep this diary regular.

Other music news : multiple mixes of my house track ‘Garden With You’ should be ready in a few weeks!

As the White Crane Flies

12000 miles’ debut album As the White Crane Flies is out now. You can buy it from the Flying Mountain shop for now – it will be on iTunes and other places soon.

12000 miles is the silicone egg brainchild of Boofa and myself. After meeting online in 2005 we decided to work on a project together and 12000 miles was born.

12000 miles is the distance between drongomala (Manchester, UK) and Boofa (Wellington, Aotearoa).

AS THE WHITE CRANE FLIES is three years of bouncing files through cyberspace, winters and summers.

12000 Miles have played ‘in analogue’ once in Manchester in 2007. Also guesting is the stellar flutist Iain Dixon of Manchester.

The Story…
Drongomala and Boofa met by chance on myspace in 2005 – they stumbled on each other’s music and dug what they heard. Drongomala was already 4 albums and six bands into his experimental musical path and Boofa was just finding his footing making simple yet provocative down beat electro. There was a natural alchemical connection that both D and B felt, they decided to work on a track together which soon turned into an idea for an album.

Keeping the demo files ‘low weight’ in the beginning allowed the pair to bounce whole suites of changes back and forth across the net. As the tracks developed then so did the size of the audio and midi files and eventually the pair moved from using Reason and a common-soundbank to Ableton Live and audio.

“We really challenged each other sonically and ended up with something that we could never have made alone. The overall sound is something that we came to by experimenting and doing things that we weren’t doing on our solo stuff. By exchanging files over the net, each session was open to the other completely ripping the material apart, so in a Buddhist styley we couldn’t become to attached to any material or ideas, just two takes each of sonic experimentation” Boofa.

The file exchange cycle became longer and the pair survived a band splitting up, 2 breakins, released three other records between them, started a t-shirt company and a degree in music, moved house 4 times and much else but they still managed to ‘tag’ one another over the two years with the developing demos. Boofa flew to his home town of London to see friends and family and made the trip up to Manchester where Drongomala and Boofa spent 6 short days working their 20 or so demos into a manageable live set for the 5th day in Manchester at the alternative Glastonbury event put on in Manchester’s Green room.

The set was raw and well received and the real life collaboration cemented the original connection that the pair made. After Boofa left the UK back to Wellington NZ the guys got to honing the material for an album, but what started off as an idea of 6 months max for a finished album turned into two years.

Drongomala got the auteur wind player Iain Dixon to come in and play flute over the material to cement the feeling of air and wings in the album. This was the second record that Drongomala has done with him and he says of Iain:

“I can’t rate him highly enough – he’s a master wind player. He is Macbeth and Puck in the same breath and regularly only needs to gentlest of nods to click into constant motion. I say ‘Cranes attacking Pygmies on the beach’ and that’s what comes out of the horn/flute/clarinet. A proper conjurer like a musician should be. Iain also turned down a Van Morrison tour just before he recorded with us which is a fun detail” Drongomala.

D & B then reworked the original material remotely – the music melted together and produced an expansive sonic landscape. The crane mojo was at work.

The album is quite different to anything that’s out there at the moment. It’s dynamics are almost operatic with some tracks sounding like a dropped pylon cable in a timpani section while others are gentle and conciliatory. As an album it is more than the sum of it’s parts – the spell doesn’t seem to break.

Don’t take our word for it – listen now !

As The White Crane Flies by 12000 Miles

Online Music Collaborations (Part 2)

I’m coming to the end of a musical collaboration with my initially online and now real-life friend Boofa (from Wellington, New Zealand).

We began our collaboration ‘12000 Miles as the White Crane Flys’ in 2005 and met via MySpace and it’s only now that this record is finally at the stage where the last mix is being done – three years later!

In between I’ve finished three other records and it’s now time to write the Part 2 of the blog on online music collaborations (see part 1 here)

Boofa and I have learned alot during the collaboration and I thought I’d share a little bit of it with you.

It seems that the collaboration we did had a few distinct phases to it :

1. Flurry of ideas : this was the beginning phase where we threw lots of files back and forth. This is easily the most ‘fun’ section and it’s exciting to get regular musical deliveries in your inbox. We were careful not to use any proprietary software so that what we heard was the same. We used the out of the box Ableton Live software with no 3rd party plugins…just what came with the software.

2. Flesh on lots of bones : We had around 15 tracks in a very basic state and this phase was to put some more work into them. The way we approached it was to take half the tracks each and spend more time trying to develop the ideas.

3. Switch: We swapped the tracks with each other and did a little more each.

4. Agree on the tracks to jettison: we both produced a top 10 list. We only had one or two disagreements but were easily solved.

5. Hook up : Boofa came over to the UK and he stayed at my place. He arrived with a big beard and a massive neon suitcase. It was great to meet up. My band was playing and we used it as an excuse to test some of the 12000 material on a live audience. We hooked up some midi controllers and practiced performing the tracks as they were. We only had a day to prep and then perform in the night.

6. Taking the candidates to the next level : over the lifetime of the recording we discussed the concept we were looking to hang the album on – it was something to help us understand what we were doing. We came up with the idea of Cranes and both liked the metaphor of our files thrown back and forth being like some sort of migratory birds flocking between Manchester and Wellington. I had been working with Iain Dixon the legendary flute player from Manchester and it struck me that nothing would communicate birds wings on the air better than a flute. I popped round to Ians with a laptop and recorded him playing to what we had. His single takes for each track added a super useful navigational tool to lead us to the final arrangement. I did a bunch of editing and once I was demented with the sound of flute I threw the tracks over to Boofa. At this stage file sizes were beginning to swell so DVD’s were used to send data.

7. Some crackhead broke into my place and nicked my laptops. This was a setback and Boofa worked on the tracks adding calm and coherence. I moved house/town a few times in between before settling and getting more recording gear.

8. The final furlong : Mix time. By far this was the most difficult phase of the project and I think this is where Boofa and me had the most disagreements. In retrospect this is understandable as mixing is often a matter of taste and the final ‘render’ of the tracks is something that we both had a vision on. This is the one part of the process that I think would have been better sitting next to one another – we got there but not without some blood on the tracks.

But all the time and pain dissipated – we both feel it sounds great. It was worth the 100 transfers, the fights and the frustration. It’ll be available in April 😉

In Summary..

  • Don’t be too precious – whole tracks, complete mixes, great performances are all subject to your partners opinion. Keep your eye on the prize and let some bits you care about hit the cutting floor.
  • Credit the collaboration equally – writing and arranging and mixing. Even if one of you did more than the other for a track or the whole thing breaking it down into who did bit ‘x’ will only lead to bad blood.
  • Have patience. Life gets in the way when you are working on a big project that is online. If you are trying to make something that is timeless then it doesn’t ultimately matter how long it takes….if you are trying to make something that is ‘now’ then perhaps online isn’t the best approach for a big project
  • Don’t use the tracks you are working on for some other reason without consulting your collaborator

Tools Used
Here is a list of tools we used for our online music collaboration. I’ve listed them in the order that we used them….

  • Ableton DAW software – this was he workhorse of our tracks. Can’t recommend highly enough. I notice that now we are finished Ableton have announced new collaboration features. Three years too late for the benefit of this project though.
  • – this is a great free service that allows you to exchange large files
  • -when it’s all getting to be a bit too impersonal it’s nice to do a video call and shoot the breeze. Keep it human.
  • Google Documents – we used this for track notes and developing the text for the album cover. Google docs is a great service – don’t be fooled by the tag ‘Beta’ as it’s been in use for years
  • – This is a great tool and worth even a basic subscription. This online service allows you to upload tracks and exchange mixes with one another. The best feature is that you can see the waveform of the track and click anywhere to make a timed comment. This allows for simple exact commenting such as “that cymbal sounds wack”

All Together Now

A blogworthy week of music events in the lead up to the Flying Mountain Extravaganza gig on Friday 22nd June at the Green Room Manchester…………with The Good Hurt as the house band.

Monday 18th June
Get a text from rapper Brother Ghazi that’s he’s pulling out of the show on Friday because he’s seeing family in Liverpool. I texted him back the one word “sucky” – he’d known about this gig for over a month and a half – it’s even on his myspace gig list. Text is a copout for a cancellation. Mail some more back and forth with Pauline from the Manchester Sing Out choir. One of the members expressed an interest in doing something with me having checked out my other music and I’ve tentatively suggested that they come down on Friday. The recently performed with Gorillaz when they were in Manchester. Great stuff.

Tuesday 19th June
Get a call from rapper The What Supreme saying he was pulling out of the gig on Friday. At least it was a call rather than a text however cancellations 3 days before a show really leave me icky – posters, mailouts and promo were now all wrong and the time spent by the band rehearsing a few extra pieces of music for rappers could have been spent elsewhere. This leaves no rappers for the rap portion of the Friday night’s show – so that’s now skratched. I make some phone calls to some of the other musicians playing on the night just to make sure they were good. The idea of the show is that The Good Hurt will invite a load of guests up to play with us. I keep calling it the alternative Glastonbury.

My e-friend Boofa (aka Beaufugg aka Generik) is coming up from London tonight. Boofa lives in NZ and we worked on a project called ‘12000 miles as the Crane Flies’ which was an electronic music project that we had collaborated on over the internet (see my previous post on collaborative working). Boofa was coming over to the UK and he factored some time into coming and hooking up in Manchester so that we could finish the project in a face to face capacity – Wellington, NZ is 12,000 miles from North Manchester, UK which is how we arrived on the name of the project.

I check out Cranes on the internet for inspiration and the more I read the more I liked the idea of Crane lore being a visual cue for our sonics…..some crane lore and facts below that I dig from the research :

  • Migrating cranes fly in an echelon, a V-formation, so that birds following the leader save energy by not having to push aside the air as they fly
  • Apollo is said to have disguised himself as a crane when on visits to the mortal world.
  • Homer told of the nation of Pygmies who each Spring would wage war on the cranes on the banks of Oceanus.
  • Mercury is said to have been inspired to create the shapes of the Roman alphabet after watching Cranes and their body shapes.
  • When a flock of Cranes are sleeping they nominate one Crane to stand watch with a stone in it’s talon/claw so that if it falls asleep the stone will fall and make a sound so the flock will know they are no longer protected

Boofa and me will be playing an electro set of the 12000 project on the night – it’s a handy bit of pressure to get us cracking this week.

I meet him and his lime green suitcase full of gear at the Tram station in Eccles in the early evening. We quickly get down to work after a delightful home-made curry. As I had been liberated of my laptops by oiks from Salford we weren’t sure which versions of the files I had for the project but luckily after a quick check on Boofa’s machine things were in order and I seemed to have the latest.

I’ve been lucky that the people I’ve met from the net for music have been normal/human/semi-sane and Boofa was no exception which was a good thing. I was glad he was here.

Wednesday 20th June 2007
Boofa and me get down to some jamming during the day and Phil Reed the flute player turns up to do a session for the 12000 Project in the afternoon. For V-Formation Phil does a cool trick of playing 2 flutes at once which looks like a V shape – we dig it. The soundcard is acting like a muppet and keeps putting digital fizz and crackle on the audio so we only manage to get some chunks that aren’t wrecked. Phil puts on the jam session in Chorlton known as Extraordinary Rendition. Before we know it we have to go to the soundcheck for the Circus Rock show tonight at the Mint Lounge in Oldham Street. My girlfriend hears us on the Revolution Radio 96.2 station on the way in – hooray. Between you me and t’internet it took a lot of doing to get them to play us. During the soundcheck Pauline from the Sing Out Choir calls – they are in rehearsals and want to know some details – I try and tell her over the sound of drumkits and musicians lugging gear.

Thursday 21st June
Recording and prepping for the gig tomorrow with Boofa. All day from midday to 2am. Synchronised button pressing, knob twiddling and new styles of dancing are the order of the day.

The tracks that we have are : Tsuru, Before The Stone Drops, The Wisdom of Two, Mercury Alphabet, Cranes vs. Pygmies and V-Formation.

Friday 22nd June
Glastonbury is a festival of music and double mud this year it seems – at least our alternative Glasto is sans glow sticks and rain. Tonights gig is for Universal Promotions. I always tend to do a little something special for shows via Universal Promotions because I like the guy that runs it. He called me up a month ago to do something under the banner of Flying Mountain Records to draw together some of the more disparate music I’m involved in.


Pauline told me that maybe 6 or 7 people might turn up from the choir – at around 9:30pm twenty of them turn up. The staff from the Green Room are lovely and we manage to get a little practise room recently vacated by the Flamenco dance classes and get down to working on three of the tracks for 20 minutes.It sounds wonderful with just the voices and guitar in the sweetly reverberant room. Everyone in the room gets proper tingles and I’m stoked to hear one of my tracks get the gospel treatment. The Manchester Sing Out Choir have a really good group unity feel about them and it’s infectuous. As some of the choir are younger we manage to wangle getting the three songs that they are doing shoe-horned earlier into the night. We play Good Souls, Amazing Grace (my arrangement from 100 Fields) and U Got the Love by Candi Staton. The choir do their best to fit onto the stage and it goes down a treat with the audience but the fact is that the sound was better in the rehearsal room. Ce la Vie. The band we jumped in front of to squeeze in our gospel thang are pretty peeved and a few of them stromp about onstage with their little grey clouds and teeth set to ‘crunch’. I say goodbye to the choir and buy a few of them a drink….I’m feeling pretty invincible and then around 30 mins later we play a blistering 4 song set with the Good Hurt – featuring Annette Gregory and Phil on Meet U in the Middle and then the core three of us (drongomala, sinik and tree) tear through Blowin Up Tryin 2B Somebody, Leave Ur Mind Where U Want to Pick It Up and Kick This Habit Of U – we pack our normal 40 minutes of energy into 10 minutes and the crowd really dig it. Sarah Evans follows us and does a oratory piece called ‘Bisexual Speed Dating’ which gives us a chance to set up the 12000 Project and to enjoy her freaking the room out with a blend of character performance, saucy wordage and defiant smoking. Even though the laptop was having a mini flakeout 20 minutes ago the electronic Drum ‘n’ Bass tinged 12000 Project set goes down perfectly and Boofa and me are stoked that we’ve pulled it off.

We hang out for the rest of the night – Tree jams along with the act on after the 12000 Project and Sinik b-boys to the turntablists. The Universal crowd are good and we have alot of repeat attendees from the last gig we played at here in the Green Room.

Finish up at around 4am.

Boofa and me take a break and we go into town to hang out for a bit – to preempt the ‘cabin fever’ that is creeping in. We get some food in the café underneath the Buddhist centre in the Northern Quarter and some coffee from Nero where Boofa asks the waitress to “bake me a cake” in Polish. We have a super productive day and the tracks that didn’t make the selection for live performance are worked up a little.

Final day of tweaking for the 12000 Project – this is much less fun than the writing part but smoothing out the rough edges and the structrure of the music we’ve been working on lets us finally sit back and enjoy some mixes. We watch a bit of the Who at Glasto as they sing and almost hurry over the line “Hope I die before I get old”.

that was the week that was

One, two, three, four
Can I have a little more?
five, six, seven eight nine ten I love you.A, B, C, D
Can I bring my friend to tea?
E, F, G H I J I love you.

Sail the ship, Chop the tree
Skip the rope, Look at me

All together now….

Black, white, green, red
Can I take my friend to bed?
Pink, brown, yellow orange and blue I love you

All together now….

Sail the ship, Jump the tree
Skip the rope, Look at me

All together now….(the beatles)

Planet of the Apes 4Brains

Recently I undertook a one-off concert with my band The Good Hurt where we themed the visual side of the show on the movie The Planet of the Apes. By that I mean we dressed up in white boiler suits and had a French VJ (Emmanuelle) broadcast and remix the original movie onto our clothes and faces while we performed. We had a few guests that day (Brother Ghazi, The What Supreme, Annette) and luckily they all came along and wore white too. I also played acoustic guitar rather than electric to give it that final postnuclear back to the basics feel;)

The concert was held in a little cafe place called the Koffee Pot in Manchester (just off Oldham Road) with a bring your own booze policy. The event was part of the Futuresonic 2007 festival and as the festival has a big emphasis on context, technology and video it became the excuse I needed to finally ‘get down’ with my obsession with Planet of the Apes’ or more specifically – the thread between ape and man. I only need the slightest of pushes in this direction to get momentum and have often thought about the social truisms that might have sprung up round a shared fire by ‘primitives’ that went later with recorded records to become species behaviours and societies. Those bonobos bang the bongos too you know…..

In the film three astronauts survive a crash landing on an earth-like planet. Their last chance of contacting home disappearing under the waves. The first and last scenes bookend the film brilliantly and both, in essence, have a very similar theme of the frailty of man and his technology. The opening showing a wonderful piece of technology, a spaceship, sinking into an ocean while the last scene shows something of a similar nature – one of the most iconic statues made by man (Venus de Milo aside) shown half buried in the sand and revealing to the astronauts that they are in fact on planet earth albeit 2000 years into the future. It’s a hell of an ending. The movie was adapted by Michael wilson and Rod Seling from the novel La Planete des singes. Rod Serling is better known for his work on the TV shorts The Twilight Zone and it was his genius in adding the last scene which did not exist in the book – eventually envied by the original novelist for the weight it adds to the story. Those two scenes are very powerful and encapsulate the film in a simple arc. The rise and fall of man and the cyclic nature of technology and more primatively….dominance.


I love this clip of the gorillas hunting down the primitive mute humans and the accidentally stranded astronauts horribly caught up with the hunt. The use of the camera by the gorillas in the scene after the hunt is priceless too as they stand with their feet on the human spoils and laugh. It’s proper chilling. The Gorillas clad in leather military outfits on horseback hunt down humans using tools such as nets and guns to a soundtrack of alarmed brass instruments and strings. 2000 years in the future and apes have domesticated the horse and replicated one of man greatest achievements, along with guns and cameras.

The ‘mastering’ of the horse was so fundamental in getting the really ‘big wheels’ of our recent globalism started. Historians and archaelogists have suggested the domestication of horses by humans first took place in the Ukraine at approximately 4000BC. The use of horses by this early Indo-European culture shows in the rapid spread of the Kurgan culture and the ease with which it dominated over Pre Indo European cultures. Communications, speed and force were all on the side of cultures who had dominated the horse. Persian Emperors commanded their empire more coherently than their earlier counterparts of Assyrian and earlier still Mesopotamian cultures. Responding to an uprising or a rebellion was much easier with the use of horses to firstly hear about the uprising and secondly to send troops on horseback to quell it.

The humans on this future version of earth are dumb creatures and easily dominated by the apes – used for sport and labour. They are taken back to ape city and they are subjected to experiments. Charlton Heston, who plays the lead man, is subjected to court rulings by the variety of lead monkeys and women. The logic against man and his barbarity, or apparent barbarity as the humans see it, is argued over by the chimps, organutans and gorillas in a complex social discourse not too unsimilar to our own.

In a Science article, Carel van Schaik reports observing geographic variations in orang-utan behaviour that could be considered culture. In her study, van Schaik outlined the characteristics of culture into four sub-sections:

  • 1. labels, “where food preferences or predator recognition are socially induced,”
  • 2. signals, socially transmitted vocalizations or displays,
  • 3. skills, innovations like tool use that are learned by the group, and
  • 4. symbols, “probably derived from signal variants that became membership badges of the social unit or population.”

Not all anthropologists agree with this but I do as a punter. Whales haven’t been rearranging sea algae in to multiple alphabets and concocting large dialogues between them selves about the existential sense of whale and monkeys are still primitive and habitat focussed in their signage to one another. Today, for the most part, only humans have all four elements of ‘culture’, but chimpanzees and, now, orangutans have been observed to exhibit the first three.

“The presence in orangutans of humanlike skill (material) culture pushes back its origin in the hominoid lineage to about 14 million years ago, when the orangutan and African ape clades last shared a common ancestor, rather than to the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans,” says van Schaik.

In the flip world of planet of the Apes there is a fully developed set of symbols that operate among the chimps, orang-utans and gorillas. Symbols on archtiecture, on clothing and externalisation of self is everywhere. Not only do apes rule and act in a rich manner they have a class system encompassing the main families of ape.

The gorilla police, military, and labourers;
The orang-utan administrators, theologians, and politicians;
The chimpanzee scientists, intellectuals and workers.

Each of the ape groups has a wonderful style of clothing that identifies them and their social place/rank. I’ve even checked out the possibility of getting clothing as used in the movie but it’s limited to ex Hollywood stock at very high prices on E-bay and crap generic monkey masks masquerading as legitimate film related merchandise. It’s a blend of leather and cloth and the colours are so deliciously 1960’s that any one of the outfits are on my top 10 bits of clothing to get. Chimps are green, Orang-utans are orange and the Gorillas are purple.

Humans, who cannot talk, are considered to be “less than ape” and as such are treated like cattle for sport and experimentation. The arrival of the astronauts who can talk throws ape society into disarray and the majority of the apes, especially the gorilla’s, want to eradicate the humans…some chimps however take pity on the humans and seek to know more about the phenomenon and to know more fully where and ‘when’ they came from.

Many animals have been observed using tools: Dolphins use sponges when fishing, crows use sticks to forage for insects in dead wood, capuchin monkeys use stones to break open nuts.Researchers can learn about chimpanzee “culture” by tracking nut-cracking behavior. Cracking nuts is no easy feat, and it can take a chimpanzee up to seven years to learn how to do it correctly. The technology is passed from generation to generation and diffuses across populations. Knowledge is a virus, language is a virus as real as any forest fire or ocean swelling.

Zaius, the Orang-utan and eminent scientist soon discovers Taylor’s ability to talk and puts him on trial when he tries to escape. After the trial, he is taken to see Dr. Zaius, who threatens to emasculate and lobotomize him if he doesn’t tell the “truth” about where he came from. But Cornelius and Zira (the leading chimp synpathisers) execute a plan to free Taylor.

They flee to the Forbidden Zone – not a million miles away from the idea of a Twilight Zone – a place where anything could happen and you must expect the unexpected. As a destination – you know that the Forbidden Zone is going to be the shiz – the name makes it such desirable as location. The forbidden zones of our own society can often educate and not always for the good. Apes of today have a sense of the forbidden in social protocol with regards food, shelter, and reproduction rights but they are more really rules – no great lore and story associated with it. In the movie Cornelius, the chimpanzee, aracheologist and historian had a year ago visited the Forbidden Zone and found human artifacts there and they return to find out the series of events that led to man losing earth through nuclear war. The story of mans fall and apes rise is played out to them in the forbidden zone and the final sign shown that he has travelled to the future and witness to a horrible fate. That statue of liberty covered up to her chest in sand.

The concepts in the film aren’t exactly that oblique and the apes become surrogates for examining human behaviour – not only the treatment of animals by humans but the dynamic between humans themselves. The backdrop for the movie being made in the 1968 was the cold war as examined by the long haired hippies.

The dramatic climax near the end of the movie when Cornelius reads directly from the Sacred Scrolls at the now-captured Dr. Zaius’ request : Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.


The advent of tool making has always been a double edged sword as far as ‘progress’ goes. It is thought that shards or flakes from the use of stones to crack open nuts were the first flints or knives and knives can be used for cutting food or taking out your neighbour. Nuclear power has this duality too – cheap and simple power production intertwined with the horrible bomb.

The movie was recently ‘re imagined’ by Tim Burton however it just doesn’t’ seem to hold the same gravitas with me. The original with it’s stark sets and simplistic approach is much more Shakespearian (helped by Roddy McDowall – arguably the lead chimp). The production in it’s limited budget and techniques is almosyt theatre-like and emphasises the drama and the philosophical questions at stake much better than the overblown remake.

The original reminds me of a great book I read by James Morrow called ‘This Is the Way The World Ends‘ where the dead hold a trial in the Antarctic of the six remaining living and those directly and indirectly responsible for the nuclear war that ravaged the earth.

You have been warmed….