Gunn Amps and Smashed Guitars.
Surface of the Earth was recorded live to cassette, using two microphones in a wooden community hall in Wellington, New Zealand. The LP was gathered from two or three recording sessions in 1994/95. Back then we used to book out the hall for a couple of days, set up our gear and then record everything. It was a very atmospheric room for recording. Tony and Donald would put their guitars through their two old Gunn valve amplifiers and get to work. Tony often used this broken down cheap guitar with only two strings and he would twist and manipulate it for ages, not even touching the strings. This used to give us a lot of the low, ‘growliness’ that you can hear on our recordings. Sometimes Donald and I would stop but Tony would carry on and it was always such an impressive sound - I’ve never really heard anything else like it. I don’t even think he used any effects but it sounded like an army of noise. Donald often used to fade in and out with minor chords and subtle feedback, which was very important to the recordings. Tony and I always thought he had such a lovely range of sounds.
I had a synth and would usually tape down one of the keys and arrange the tunings of my guitar to suit the drones. Mostly I would try and coax some feedback out my guitar and then try and control it, like on “4.02”. Sometimes the instruments would feel like they were taking over and unusual things would happen - when a recording was going well you just wanted to keep it going forever. One false move though and it was all over and time for a break. We also had a few effects - reverb, walkie talkies, dictaphones and other bits of equipment. Not sure if Tony and I had our e-bows on this album but they certainly featured later. The room itself was some kind of instrument, plus there was all the noise from the street. On one of the tracks I think there is the sound of a taxi driver coming through the speaker. Later on we listened to the cassettes to see if we had something interesting on our hands. The next thing was to transfer the best parts to DAT.
First up we made a lathe cut Peter King 7” (4.02/4.55) which sold about 100-150 without any trouble so a double lp was the next idea. We made 20 of these, which became a bit of a collector’s item, so we also made about 30 cassettes and mostly we gave them away. I did the covers, using some images from a Soviet sound recording book I had found, metallic paper and the photocopier at my work. This was on our own label, World Resources. Later we hooked up with Bruce Russell and he asked us if we’d like to do a cd with H-Corp. Since things could sometimes take a long time with us (and I’d moved away from Wellington), we thought the best option was to give him this one to reissue so at least a few more people could hear it. Bruce must have made 700 or so in 1997 and they sold pretty well - he was the reason it got heard, especially in the USA.
From memory we had to cut a couple of minutes out of the orignial lp (first track, “Arc”) to get it to fit on cd. There’s an overdubbed synth on one of the tracks and “Voyager” was spliced together in numerous places otherwise all live. Instruments were three guitars, 1960s Gunn valve amps, plus synth drone. We also used e-bows, dictaphones (“Library”), walkie talkie (“4.02”) and Casio SK-1 sampler on one track. “Castle” was a bonus track added to the H-Corp cd.
Anyway, people seemed to like it and we got some good reviews. Later we made a 7” and lp, “Interference." Plus there was another 7” and a few other releases on compilations. After that we recorded Surface of the Earth 3, which was abandoned after it was mastered and Surface of the Earth 4 which suffered a similar fate. We were always conscious of releasing too much stuff. Some noise groups were putting out records all the time, but we were never into that. Paul Toohey, Surface of the Earth.
© Surface of the Earth and Utech Records. All rights reserved.
released March 26, 2011
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