Cyclic Selects: Tim Koch

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Tim Koch started out with reel-to-reel recorders and early computers, so it’s no surprise he was an early convert to the user groups and list-servs of the musical web. Hazy indie rock bands captured his imagination early on, but he soon developed into a formidable producer of instrumental, sequencer based electronic music. Five albums and countless singles and compilation contributions later, he’ produced a back-catalogue that moves through crunchy Detroit inspired bleeps and melancholy synth pads for labels including defocus, Merck, U-Cover, Seeland, n5MD and Intr_version, as well as his own Surgery label, and his latest project, 10:32, for Ghostly International, could be his best yet.

PIL – Metal Box (1979)

PiL began as a shambolic and skeletal framework of a band that was always destined to self-implode. Regardless of Lydon’s previous associations, the gesture he made by wanting to reinvent and not regurgitate what had come before was an admirable one. Beer driven jams, and a dual dose of cheeky laddishness and unpretentious experimentation resulted in a landmark ‘album’ in Metal Box (or Second Edition), nestled between two equally ambitious yet not quite so effective audio documents. A friend since childhood passed on a well worn copy of ‘Flowers of Romance’ on vinyl causing me to seek out all that came before. Being exposed to such a shambolic, fragmented and unconventional framework of an album at such an early stage of listening to music had quite a profound effect on my outlook on music. I immediately wanted to learn drums, guitar and bass just to mimic the machine-like repetition and treble-laden guitar parts of Keith Levene. ‘Poptones’ (of which I mimicked partly on ‘Jitter Heart’s on the Vanitas EP in terms of basic structure, also of which Alan McGee named his post-Creation label in honour of), and ‘Swan Lake (aka Death Disco)’ were two songs that mesmerised me with both machine-like glorious repetition, and pure emotion respectively.

I solidly listened to this album on high-end headphones at least once a week for a year period, and found for all its flaws, it has a plethora of hidden detail that I encourage everyone to discover (seek out the recent Men With Beards re-issue on 3×12″ with the authentic record-tin packaging).

Experiments with an old ex-Telecom Tascam four-track reel to reel became my fascination post-discovery of Metal Box, recording (already horribly bit-reduced) drum parts from an old Amiga500 and then physically damaging the tape surface, and re-recording the damaged-tape beats back into another mix with guitar and bass parts. Metal Box as an album is wonderfully erratic and haphazard, yet personally as a source of inspiration it probably helped to shape more than anything, my interest in experimentation and a tendency to avoid conventional music making methods.

Track down the Death Disco ‘megamix’ single for an extra few minutes of the Swan Lake / Death Disco ‘live’ take – still the most haunting moment of the post-punk era output (which also has an alternate version of ‘Fodderstompf’ on the flip).

WEATHER REPORT – Black Market (1976) / Heavy Weather (1977)

Both Black Market and Heavy Weather represented a more funky evolution of prior versions of Weather Report, and at a young age my brother and I were prone to listening to both albums with a sense of amazement and curiosity. We used to laugh at the bizarre wavering melody of Black Market, yet Zawinul’s odd chord voicings (and penchant for odd analogue synths) and ability to arrange things so tightly would later in life spark my interest in composition and what it would take to actually make music such as this. I learnt alto-sax for around five years throughout high school, but have subsequently lost all music theory and the ability to read music in any way.

Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Teen Town’ is basically the template for Tom Jenkinson’s entire musical output, and is a stunning example of a song that is essentially a bass-solo, and has none of the hallmark wankery associated with ninety percent of any formulaic improvised jazz, instead focusing on melodic runs that still retain groove and feeling. Pastorius’ playing was an astonishing revelation to me in that I had never really heard any instrument quite played like that (fretless electric bass), to the point of high-level expression and nuance. It was as if his melodic expression was almost conversational, with slapback counter melodies branching from an original idea.

‘Birdland’ is a landmark song for me in that it was probably my first introduction to relatively complex arrangements of melodic music. Zawinul’s melodic tendencies always offered something different, and Birldand is the culmination of Pastorius’ bass harmonics (and ability to run basslines that are always counter to the main melody), Zawinul’s precise playing, and again just an arrangement that is so tight.

BRIAN ENO – Ambient 1:Music for Airports (1978) / Ambient 2:Plateaux of Mirror (1980)

A father of a friend at primary school passed on an extra special chrome long-playing tape with both Ambient 1&2 dubbed from vinyl, and at the time the other-worldliness of both was deeply affecting, and the most vivid memory I have of childhood is long car trips listening to Eno and Steve Reich (Music for 18 Musicians, Electric Counterpoint), building bizarre daydream fantasy constructs of colour, movement and depth of field. My Father’s cigarette smoke wafting into the back seat, the faint nausea of winding South Australian coastal roads, the distinct calm that used to exist with the lack of electronic phones and devices, are all deeply ingrained in my childhood memories and firmly bound to the stark ambience of Music for Airports. The underlying tape hiss that creeps to the surface plays its part amongst the textural tapestry of phasing, pitch altered piano segments, resonating vibraphones and other incidental instruments (1-Part1). Eno’s method of creation also fascinated me, making use of tape loops to create phase-compositions that created interplay and counter-dynamics; this was sampling and automation before the concepts even existed.

The generous tendencies of Roger Noakes and his willingness to dub his vinyl collection on tape for friends got me on a path in later life to discover and then explore Eno’s back catalogue as well as those of Robert Wyatt (played on Ambient1) and Harold Budd (Ambient2). The stark emotion and honesty of Harold Budd’s playing is perhaps more the culprit for the emergence of the term ambient as a genre.

Bark Psychosis – Hex (1994) / Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1992) / Mark Hollis – S/T (1998)

Talk Talk’s progression and transformation from New Romantic beginnings to long-jam post-rock stalwarts is a fascinating example of band outgrowing itself, and having the focus and precision to reinvent themselves sufficiently to almost single-handedly birth a new genre is an impressive feat to say the least. Similarly Bark Psychosis took the baton, strangely enough with Lee Harris from Talk Talk joining the band (which was subsequently snatched by the likes of Radiohead, amongst so many other more recent bands). The one characteristic of any band (and logically it is usually only one album that refines and distills this quality) that is immortalised in releasing a stunning album, is that they employ multiple levels of dynamics, and create whole slabs of space between instruments and arrangements. A song such as ‘Street Scene’ from Hex has tension, deep melodic basslines, hushed vocals that sway in and out of focus, horn parts, muted snare drums, a Hawaiian-themed slide guitar run, and a serene outro that is a song in itself. Hex is infamously the album that Simon Reynolds used to coin the term ‘Post-Rock’.

Laughing Stock and its logical progression in the form of lead singer Mark Hollis’ self titled solo album, both exude a production aesthetic of over-analysis, of far too many hours spent tweaking mixes that most would leave untweaked, but Talk Talk (in their post synthpop reincarnation) and Mark Hollis are two entities that strive to better the concept of what an album should be as an audio document. The precision and fastidiousness of production are so apparent, that repeated listens only reinforce the strength and depth of feeling within the songs, rather than the unfurling of the magic within an album that often occurs form over-exposure. The abandonment of sequencing and over-programmed phrasing with my own music at the moment is a direct consequence of my love of these albums.

Red House Painters – ‘Rollercoaster’ / ‘Bridge’ (1993)

‘Katy Song’ was my introduction to Red House Painters, and whilst a self-indulgent and stripped bare account of Mark Kozelek’s eternal heartache, it managed to be a soundtrack to my own angst whilst starting University and really not having much of a clue as to why I was there. Shimmering fuzz-driven acoustic guitar, slow building ten-minute songs (‘Funhouse’ alternating between dissonant phrasing and delicate, pretty finger picking), Kozelek’s soaring reverb-laced voice, all seemed to be the musical accompaniment to every memory I have of the early to mid nineties. The majestic arrangements and grandeur all seemed to gradually diminish with each following RHP album, as Kozelek focused on a more live feel and developed a penchant for grating rock-out interludes amongst more heartfelt moments. Both albums are self titled but have been fan-branded by their cover art (both Rollercoaster and Bridge), and the sepia-toned imagery of these earlier albums are as ingrained on my memory as the jealousy-drenched verses of Kozelek’s slowcore doomed-love anthems.

Herbie Hancock – Headhunters (1973)

Herbie Hancock’s twelfth studio album, and the first thing I ever heard in my life that had groove. This record sat in my parents’ vinyl cupboard for a long time merely as an object that scared the living shit out of me as a very young kid. Herbie, complete with an alien-like UV-meter headgear on the sleeve cover-art, and menacing personnel in the background was sufficient to prevent me from hearing it until into my teens. The plodding slow-groove of ‘Chameleon’ and ‘Watermelon Man’ just blew me away. The clavinet as a replacement to rhythm guitar, the weird vocalising with a beer bottle on ‘Watermelon Man’, and Herbie’s use of unconventional synth gear all blew my mind.

Sun Electric – 30.7.94 Live (1995)

Picked this up from a Central Station for five bucks probably fifteen years ago, and have managed to play the vinyl to the point of complete top-end decimation. This live set to me is a stellar example of a structured performance that still has mistakes and flat-spots, yet manages to remain graceful and dynamic. Something about the evolving and pulsing sequences encapsulates all that I remember about nineties ambient-techno and electronic music, yet the album has near to no beats. This is such a sensual album (particularly ‘An Atom of All Suns’), and it represents to me an audio abbreviation of very good sex, possibly why this album never quite moved into the periphery for me and always creeped onto every new music device, music library on a new computer, CD in a car, the top of every stack of random vinyl having moved to a new house et cetera.

More on Tim Koch at www.jojati.com/tkoch

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