Emotions and Music

I decided to drop my study. It took me six months of dithering and one nervous breakdown to decide. Maybe I can pick it up again, unofficially in future, but for now I’d like to stop killing myself trying the equivalent of three full time jobs. Well meaning people have tried to talk me out of it. One mentioned how selfish I was to not publish. On the contrary – I’ll try to snip out some parts and run them here.

Keep in mind that these bits are both unfinished and carved out of a much longer document, but there should be some interest.

The dictionary definition of music includes its emotional expressiveness, immediately demanding a definition of emotions. These are difficult to define; sometimes measurable, sometimes culturally based, mostly accounted in individual reports. I need to form some operational definition of emotions before I can make any progress on their place in music.

Emotion is contingent on an event. If a lion were to chase me up and down the campus, I would show evidence of strong emotion in measurable physiological changes – rapid breathing, heart rate and so on. If many years later I was reminded of this episode I might again show measurable symptoms of fear, based on my recall. So an emotion can be seen as a process – a physiological response to a situation, or even recall of that situation.

But I may feel pride at having outrun the lion, or bereavement at having lost a leg. It is possible to report a feeling of pride and have no measurable symptoms of it, which may be described as holding an emotional state, not immediately responding to a current event.

Some viewpoints in the study of emotion can be quickly summarised.

The materialistic view is that emotions are part of a ‘folk psychology’ that will one day be better explained as specific operations of a neural network (for example Dennett). Until that day comes, I feel we best work with what is known. Another ‘hard science’ viewpoint, following on from William James, is that physiological changes are the emotion itself. Fear is the name we give to the changes of heart rate, breathing etc. which come about by the automatic response of what he calls ‘neural machinery’. An opposing view from Roseman and others is that an appraisal is always required. For if someone spills on drink on you by accident, you will be more forgiving than if it was intended, and the extent of that forgiveness will vary between personality types. It has been shown that emotions are felt and expressed in different ways by different people in different cultures; the various cultural mechanisms of grief for example have been studied extensively.

The appraisal and neural viewpoints are compatible. It is reasonable to say that emotions are held in physiological responses, which are modulated in intensity and duration by the attention given to them by the individual. The degree of attention can be individual, contextual and cultural. Using the terms we saw before, that means the process maintains the state, in which case music could act to direct our attention to physiological affects.

Emotions would seem to have an adaptive purpose. Fear motivates flight from danger, and sadness guides us to act to avoid more sadness. But bereavement, for example, may offer no realistic learning outcome – I cannot grow back the leg taken by a lion. I might instead feel empathy on seeing a one-legged person, which causes me to avoid lions. Empathy seems like a mechanism by which music could convey emotions, but for whom do we feel this empathy?

A literature review by Juslin and Vastjall (2008) found that over 1400 papers mentioned a connection between music and emotion, but only 1 outlined an empirical mechanism. In response they suggest six simultaneous pathways:

  • The acoustic signal is taken as an urgent event – such as discordant sounds being taken as threats.
  • Features of the music such as the pacing or the vocal quality of some instrumentation emulate human emotional communication.
  • The music triggers a conditioned emotional reflex, involving no recall.
  • The music is already associated with an episodic memory and recalls it.
  • The sounds evoke visual imagery, which then maps to narrative.
  • There is an exception to an expected pattern, which is socially determined.

I’ve re-organised the list to pair up three main paths that become evident in studies that follow – features of the acoustic signal itself, memory and recall, and comparison with narrative structure.

Matravers (2011) puts the question simply – a statement such as ‘the music is sad’ is unclear. Does it mean that the music sounds sad, or that it makes one feel sad? Where is the emotion stored? He outlines the three main positions. The first is that tone, rhythm, progression etc. provide ‘tokens’ that we accept as representing emotion. Fast paced music might for example represent urgency, and discord a threat to an expected pattern (as with atonal music in the horror film soundtrack).

A second view is that music contains no emotion itself, but by presenting a flow of agreement and conflict (changes of timbre, harmony and disharmony) arouses sequential mental states that constitute a ‘terrain’ of feeling. In that case the listener’s imagination is prompted to feelings akin to those from hearing a dramatic storyline, perhaps to the point of visualising such a story, or relating it to personal experience. Opera is overt in this storytelling function, but even an exercise by Bach has an implied progression of causal events that can be storified.

The more difficult view is that music prompts the listener’s empathy with a musical persona (also c.f. Robinson and Hatten 2012). A solo violin may not only have a vocal quality (a token), but by this recognition be perceived as carrying an emotion usually ascribed to another person. It is this persona that moves through a range of emotions in a musical piece and we feel empathy for it. The listener personifies the music. This is reasonable given that we are quicker to identify emotion by the qualities of the vocalisation than the words themselves (Pell et al. 2015).

Each of these views has problems better handled by the others. A cymbal crash is startling and urgent, but it will have different contexts in fearful and exultant musical passages – the tokens don’t exist in isolation. We don’t experience music as disassociated sound and an additional internally generated terrain of feelings. In film music for example, we fuse the music with events on screen, rather than construct non-diegetic emotional subtitles. But a persona, properly being an aspect of personality, demands a reason why music would be recognised by the brain as such.

As with theories of the emotions, there’s room for all of these views to collaborate – music involves empathy for a persona, characterised and embodied by sound events, animated through changes of emotion that are interpreted as causal chains similar to those that we find in narratives. But why should the brain recognise music in this complex way? What is the advantage?

Narrative as a mnemonic device

Narrative structure plays a part in episodic memory, being the long-term recall of life events (as opposed to short term memory – a phone number, and categorical memory – that ‘Madrid is the capital of Spain’). Memories from one’s childhood, or a dispute at yesterday’s meeting, are both examples of episodic memory, which involves a combination of “who, what, when, where” along with the emotional context. It is the emotion that marks the episode as worth remembering – bad emotions are guides to avoiding such events in future, while good emotions encourage behaviour that brings more of the same.

The narrative faculty of the brain is used to both discard information when storing memory, and flesh out the shorthand of retrieved information. Narrative acts as a kind of ‘lossy codec’ of life experience. When storing experience, any commonplace aspect lacking instructional value can be left out. In retrieval we manufacture details that bridge the stored impressions in our imperfect recall (Martindale 1981 p343). In experiments with electrical stimulation of the brain, subjects describe convincing sight and sound recall of past experience, but which include impossible elements such as seeing themselves in third person. This suggests that a narrative is assembled in the brain before the vision is reconstructed. Even when brain damage or dementia erases sections of memory, this narrative system still attempts to assemble memories as a false story in a symptom called confabulation.

Studies in dreaming indicate that we replay events of the day at high speed (in non-REM dreaming) and some more complex events at normal speed (in REM dreaming) with an associated high level of brain activity in the emotional centres – and reportedly mostly bad emotions. This recall has been shown in rats, which repeatedly reproduce the eye movements they had made in maze testing that day. It is still not clear whether dreaming is part of the condensation of memory, the erasure of unneeded experience, or even just an afterglow of the daytime workload. But it is clear from our own interrupted dreaming that the mind is forming causal chains for the improbable events thrown up in the dream function.

Why is narrative an effective means to condense experience? Aristotle summarised it in Poetics, describing a properly formed story as encompassing ‘an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude’. The events taking place in a story run from cause to effect,with no earlier cause or later effect required for the audience to make sense of the narrative purpose. A well-formed story provides the least complex casual chain of events, and is efficient storage.

The value attached to the event chain is described in the associated emotion. The emotions we feel from reading, hearing or watching stories, and our selective recall of them over long periods of time indicate that these are valued in the same manner as personal experience. That music evokes emotions, is strongly associated with past events, and that we prefer music from particular periods of our life are all evidence that hearing it involves episodic memory, in which case it is (perhaps as a false positive) condensed as a narrative structure.

The Persona as an animated caricature of emotion

In narrative film there are traditions for designing engagement with the audience (e.g. McKee 1997 p135, Field 2005 p20). We are shown a protagonist, in an unsatisfactory situation. They begin a process of self-development, which leads to antagonism and conflict, which needs to be overcome. At the end of this journey the protagonist is shown elevated in their position, and wiser to the workings of the world. They earn this wisdom even in tragedy, in which they lose the conflict. The simplest template of this narrative structure are fairy tales, where a lowly, virtuous character defeats an evil foe to be able to marry their prince, or princess and live ‘happily every after’ (Bettelheim 1976 p35)

From Joseph Campbell we have the suggestion of monomyths that have appeared in different cultures around the world, being universal mythic tales providing both explanations for the operation of the universe and moral guidance for living in society and nature. He found, for example, many variants on the death and resurrection story at the heart of Christianity. There is supportive evidence from other methodologies such as phylogenetic studies of folkloric elements (Graça da Silva & Tehrani 2016). The monomyth suggests that the human mind is attuned to a particular narrative form, involving an individual’s life journey and struggle.

Carl Jung named this shared preference as the collective unconscious, in which there are found symbolic actors or archetypes such as the wise woman and the trickster that enact specific roles in myths and tales (Fordham 1961 p47). He described this as a genetic memory, although subsequently we have preferred to see these universal symbols as cultural rather than biological (Richerson & Boyd 2010). It is through Jung we use the psychological term persona, originally being the caricatured masks worn by stage actors. In the context of this discussion, music can be compared to a series of masks that convey emotion – or perhaps a single animated mask.

The persona identifies a character class, with a function (much as ‘a judge’ can be anyone dressed in the correct robes and wig). The identity of the actor behind the persona is secondary to their function in the narrative structure. Another way of saying this is – given the chance, the audience will assign the person of the actor to their role (dare I call this ‘the James Bond effect’?)

But do we have to provide a ‘somebody’ behind the mask? Does this persona have to be based on a realistic image of a person? An interesting finding from animation is that an audience will more likely empathise with a simple caricature than a naturalistic human. A character such as Wall-E is simply a cube on which are stacked cylinders and triangles. This is more effective than the complex humans that populate ‘realistic’ animated films such as The Spirits Within. One reason appears to be the exaggerated facial expressions and movements that these shapes provide fill more of our visual field. Another is that ‘realistic’ animated characters leave less blank space for the audience to project themselves. This may also be why some human actors, particularly comedians, disguise themselves with simplified high contrast faces and costumes.


There seems to be no lower complexity limit for empathy, as characters such as those in the 1965 short film The Dot and the Line made clear. As long as we are able to identify a narrative, we will apply motives even to fundamental shapes. Personification was at one time described (Piaget) as a primitive or childish means of understanding the animation of objects. It has more recently come to be seen as part of reasoning by analogy, in the situation where one’s own consciousness is the best available model for a comparison (Inagaki & Hatano 1987). At least in terms of our consumption of art, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s probably an animated duck.

So in an abstract video there need be no identifiable person visible to convey emotion. Instead the features of the image – colour, form and the contrasts of harmony and discord – may provide a sequence of events sufficient to be recognised as a narrative, involving a persona, for which the audience feels empathy. For example, when music is sad, it provides cues in its pacing, timbre, texture and so on that have the tokens of sadness. Rather than specify all of these factors, we shorthand our experience in the analogy that the music is itself an entity, for which we feel sad.

If we accept that an artwork can hold a representative character, it may be possible to measure and then control it. We talk of ‘a sad melody’ or ‘a brooding image’ for example, based on the feelings that they evoke. These terms could be translated into parameters that allow the notation of feelings within the framework of an individual score for visual music. To be clear, the measurement is not a scientific result in the real world, but rather the use of a well defined rule within the internal logic of an artwork. In a later section of this chapter I’ll come back to the comparison between this internal logic and the metaphysical and spiritual spaces of previous visual music.

At what level should the control take place? Two of Juslin and Vastjall’s list of pathways describe designed actions in the music – urgent events and disruptions to an expected pattern. Should a notation specify the content of these events? For the aims of this project it is better to differentiate between the score and the performance, or to use film terms, between the directing and the acting. The arrangement and orchestration of the work is left up to the individual performance of the score; the event could be indicated in any of a rapid change of colour, or cutting between discordant images, or in the motion. It is the intent that a rapid change of mood takes place at this point that appears in the score. The correct level for the notation is in directing the emotion of the persona over time.

Psychology offers competing ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ theories for the description of personality. The ‘depth’ systems such as those put forward by Freud and Jung do not rest with the apparent emotion, but go on to hypothesise hidden origins for it. I only really need to notate that an image is intended to be ‘angry’ – the artist and audience will find their own narrative for it. That’s in keeping with a piece of music having meaning for the listener’s own life experience.

The so-called ‘shallow’ theories such as Behaviourism and Individual Psychology only deal with what is visible. The latter is particularly concerned with taking inventories, and categorising attributes, which is ideal for this task.

The next problem is that thousands of terms for emotions exist – a person can be ‘angry’, ‘irate’, ‘furious’ and so on. These can all potentially be controls on an interface, and need to be somehow reduced to the smallest viable set. It’s inevitable that we will cause some violence to the language and need to have a good reason to do so. Fortunately much work on terminology has already been done in Individual Psychology, and rather than having to invent some new and idiosyncratic field of knowledge, as did the visual musicians of the previous chapter, we can borrow from a well-documented practice, with all the justification that brings.

We go to the moon.

This is going to be a bit disjointed. Good. If it amuses you, pretend it’s the drugs talking, despite there being none.

I’m in Santa Cruz, in a small cottage style hotel within earshot of the Pacific. Unfortunately, mostly within eyeshot of the parking lot, but it’s about time my ears got going. I have been so deaf. Close the eyes. I hear sea, birds, and many frogs. Have you seen Hitchcock’s The Birds? That gives you the exact place*.


View from my window.

What am I doing here? Which is a different question to why am I here? I am here to carry the remains of Stacy Glasier in a little space capsule back up out of the gravity well**, to the real world where she started. That’s the way the narrative has to go, win or lose, the protagonist has to cycle back for the wisdom to take hold in the world. We were going to have a ceremony at this end involving many sea lions, but there was no need really. The fable is already told: they did not live happily ever after.

Which comes back to what am I doing here? Supposedly writing my idiot thesis so that other Titled Idiots can award me the honour of cloning more of them. I have spent years working at my Idiot status, but I guess The Birds*** have grown sick of this entire BS and decided to launch me on this space mission to learn something. They are screaming their heads off. It’s driving me nuts; I don’t understand what they want.


Much of what I am writing is about The Spiritual. That was the term used 100 years ago by Kandinsky and Schoenberg and all the crew for the rules of the metaphysical space that energized their art. In my Idiot thesis I’ve managed to carry that idea through a set of transformations, through ‘the apparatus world’ of the early video synthesizer artists, through ‘the platform’ of the early computer people and connect it to ‘cyberspace’ and ‘big data’ and now ‘virtual reality’ which has slunk back out of its hole. By the time I link it to ‘creative practice’ it’s a mummified corpse. That’s what I’m supposed to be writing right now, an incantation to imprison an idea.

Instead tonight I’m writing this.

The analytical mind has wrapped reality around its own shape. The allusive and intuitive mind is dismissed. This makes perfect sense. Fuck perfect sense. In the continental philosophy of the last century, the practitioners played like kittens with sense and nonsense. The academy, unable to exorcise them, murdered their play into a hard stupid rule set. How many times at university did I get told “Deleuze says that…” “Foucault says that…”. May as well be “Mao says that…”.

That’s what the Titled Idiots do to inspiration, they assassinate it. I don’t want to be like this. But I just can’t seem to break out of it. For about six months now I’ve gone insane trying to work out what I’m doing. What I am doing here?

Down at the water there is a shop that sells little glass globes with painted splats down the bottom. Most of them are rubbish. One was important and I needed it. My grandmother owned a glass globe, actually three in a stack, like a snowman. Inside there was coloured cloth coiled up in a bouquet. As I remember it, surely it was the most beautiful thing in the world. When was it made? Where did it come from? This little globe will never match it, but holding it I can see a connection – no, seriously – see a line stretching between them. And that’s an inkling of The Spiritual, far more useful than any of the bullshit that fits into a thesis. Somehow I put that under the heading of research.

Because things properly connect in ‘strange ways’. If I think of all the odd little ideas that inspire my work they do not come from “Deleuze says that” or from collaborating with a weapons specialist on a video mural. Reality of the sort that is natural and humane seems far more reliant on intuitive mind-soup than any Idiot Metric.

But it’s also soup. By which I mean:

I read a lot of Jung because I teach storytelling, that’s my job. Jung is all about the life story, the characters and chapters by which you measure your journey. Jung is full of the most amazing bullshit, really. They all were – Freud, Adler, Reich et al., partly because they were all nature and not enough culture. For Jung movies are drawn from the narrative faculty of the brain, instead of the obvious alternative of the brain drawing narrative from the movies. (People who watched Black and White TV mainly reported dreaming in Black and White. Clue train arriving at Jung Station.)


Like all of them Jung went through a ‘creative illness’. He kept a diary, the so-called red book. It was supposed to remain private, but because Jung thought he was Jesus Come Again of course it was eventually published. For Jung it was perfect. For everyone else it was a total crock. But at least I can look at that, and the creative illness of others and have a guide for something that is long overdue.

Here I am in Monterey. It has been a very long time since ‘gentle people with flowers in their hair’. No one is eight miles high. But if you wanted to apprentice yourself to a good dose of mind soup, then is this not the place? Of course a good whack of well made LSD might help, but it’s been a fair while since Sandoz made the real stuff. My old man used to use it in psychotherapy, wish he’d left some in a drawer, along with the glass spheres.

I go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Maybe the answer is here, but more likely I will make some space for the birds to nest and tell me what to do next.

* The Birds was inspired by an event on August 18, 1961 at Capitola. Another reason to visit.

** The gravity well is the effort it takes to get your spacecraft up to the orbit. From there, it’s comparatively smooth sailing. If you live in Australia, you’re well aware of the long long flight required to get anywhere else. Once you’re there – it’s no problem.

*** I have to again explain that ‘The Birds’ come to me every now and then and fill my head with ideas. They make no effort to clarify what the instructions are, they just pour some thoughts in there and shake-not-stir the cocktail. It’s always been this way and if I could catch them I would wring their little necks.

Sometimes I have a fever and get sick when the birds come. It got diagnosed once as encephalitis. Sensibly it’s a nickname for some back-end process going on that’s imperfectly connected to my so-called consciousness. It computes and delivers large-scale solutions to back of mind queries whenever it feels like it.

Vinyl is for couches.


Vinyl is a great format. Except more than a third of people buying it don’t own a record player. And it pollutes the planet. And it’s really really expensive to make and post across the planet. When I ask, most people say they still want vinyl, but my guess it that’s all hat and no cattle. It looks good, damn what it sounds like.

A small pressing plant is open in Australia, and I can get stuff made that way, but it’ll be the most expensive 40 minutes you ever had and I am not mad keen on it. I am instead back to USB drives, but prepared to sink some serious money into it. (Just as an aside – yes a CD is still cheaper but triples the airmail postage from about $4 to $12. Plus it’s getting hard to find a computer that will load a CD. Plus a USB holds about 10x the data.)

The Rhine USB cost about $12 Australian to make and send. So at any time I had about $1200 out in the world, at a time when the USD and AUS were close. Now that the AUS has collapsed again I figure I can probably spend a bit more and go for a more professional look.

The credit card style has good and bad. Good – it can be more decorated. Bad – it is a pain to insert one into the side of a laptop, but you’re going to do that once only.


I figure I can get 500 units up front with a universal design then overprint as needed. So every one of them will have the logo etc. but the album title goes in a white box. I could sell 1000 over time but that’ll eat more than $5000 before postage. Still cheaper than cassettes and don’t sound like arse.

But it’s the sleeves which are troublesome. For Rhine I have been using lanyard pouches at $2 each which are actually pretty good quality (good clear plastic) compared to most solutions. Today I found some clear plastic sleeves for business cards. They’re too fat, and they don’t look as nice as they should. Placing album covers inside them is not nice. Now these:


I can get from China from about $1 a unit. I’ve seen these, there’s no way to decorate them with the album cover. Some duplicators will throw in a case with a clear window but these are 2cm tall. That makes the mailed item a package and – bang – 3x the postage.

Jewel cases for data cards would be ideal. But credit card sized. Maybe they exist.


Maybe I can get slightly larger lanyard holders? If I get 500 then maybe a discount?

The idea is to provide a good feeling quality object that doesn’t cost the earth. Some people will pay a healthy amount for their collectibles but that’s not my game. I understand that people want something to hold in their hand, but unless you’re a DJ, the USB is the best deal for both of us.


Last year we played the USA and sold an album called Better Dead Than Head. I thought that a download package would work but people found it was too alien and we will very likely have a CD instead this year.

Still not allowed to record any new music, it will be a fabulous collection of other people’s hits called AVERSION.


I have two requests please, one simple, one intricate.

Tell me what tracks you might like to be on the disc. I have already chosen quite a few, and the majority of them are mid 60’s to early 70’s psychedelia because that’s the most fun to re-arrange. I’m reasonably open to any ideas but please not something completely ‘hilarious’. Something that can make a good track.

Make some sequenced ‘tape loops’. Back in 1982 we made a version of Tomorrow Never Knows. In the Beatles original there are many tape loops, but we made a rule that all our tape loops would be electronic sequences, and that’s what we did. I am hoping to include sequences recorded by people all over the place in a new version. Only a few seconds long. Think you can do it?

Much obliged!

“If it has a mellotron, then it can do no wrong”.

2015 A lot happened at Sevcom.

Sevcom is booming. Bloody hell it won’t sit down now will it? The funny thing is that almost everything here is an attempt to stop doing things. That ends up doing things. They say life begins at 40 but in this case life started some time after entering the aged care facility. The intensity of this regrowth is causing … growing pains. More on that later on.

A very good year for music.

NECRO: Vinyl reissues out now of both Petrol and Clifford Darling Please Don’t Live in the Past and both from the clean master recordings for the first time.


NEW: At the beginning of the year (if you can remember back that far) the new album Rhine, which sold enough USB sticks to get Sevcom up in Bandcamp’s bulk seller category. Of all the things this year, you would understand that Rhine is my favourite. It includes a map with 5 Beacons, which you can now see as videos over here.


Severed Heads played live in America and it was not a complete and utter debacle not at all. This included a new album of old tunes called Better Dead Than Head.


NEW: Two free compilations on Terse Tapes, which was once my cassette label that ran from 1979-1983, and now continues as an online provider of international noise and music. In Easter you got Oompa Loopma Riot, and unexpectedly Christmas just saw Terse Greetings. It’s good to be a community again.


Early in the year I wrote the back story for HH, which introduces a clearer game world for the sequel H3H.

A bad/hopeful year for life.

Barbara Island

On Barbara Island

A death ripples outwards. You have to guide that energy carefully as it can drown you. Instead the house here is evidence of riding a manic wave – there’s furniture and objects strewn about madly and odd things hanging on the walls as a new life forms. That same mania is causing all kinds of possible futures to erupt, and hopefully once things cool a bit there’ll be some public good out of all this.

Next year.

Next year is tricky, because that manic wave is crashing against some rocks. Do I want to go back to the starving artist lifestyle or do I want to continue to be fat and tenured?

NECRO: The Stretcher album is in manufacture, this time as a double vinyl in gatefold sleeve! Hoping also that a boxed set of Australian underground music will be completed soon.

NEW: In America I made a promise to collaborate on an album with another elder, who I had not seen for a while. I keep promises.

There will be some touring and the details are reasonably clear. But many things could go wrong and so nothing I say here is certain. There’s a very good chance of being at the next Unsound Festival in Krakow, including a new version of the Rhine Treasure Map as an installation. Once in Krakow, it would be good to do other parts of Europe. Suggestions from promoters are welcome.

There will be another run through North America, bigger and bolder. I hope this will also include the Rhine Treasure Map. There will be an album made to go with this called Aversion, and you can guess what that will be.

All of this liveness has inspired an attempt at a new presentation system that allows more variation between live shows, and the ability to make tracks longer/shorter and all of that. This is very tricky, because I don’t want it to look real time generated.

H3H is under way, but I don’t think it will make 2016. Maybe mania will make it so. It’s got to be a major advance on the older game and I might need to get investment. That’s a scary idea!

Best wishes to all at the close of a formidable year.

Renovations with an axe.


Some changes have been made in preparation for a rebuild of tomellard.com.

All talk of synthesisers has been moved out of the blog and to a new Man Cave sub site tomellard.com/cave as the WordPress menuing system was no longer able to contain all my gluttony. (I hear that some people are uncomfortable with the term Man Cave. They’re also probably uncomfortable with words like satire and laughter and they should go weep somewhere else thank you.)

The photographs on sevcom.com/scans have been renewed and now include 1979 – 2015, although there are still some bad gaps.

In the real world I’m busy chopping up my furniture with an axe and tearing my books into pieces. I’m shredding important documents with my new shredder. Pretty soon I hope to have cleaned out everything that’s crowding my mind. This is a good healthy thing, although it looks odd. I’ll be able to go places.

End of Tour – Part 7

And now, at last, to the only gig we’d actually expected to play. The Cold Waves festival runs over two nights in Chicago and we were part of the Saturday line up which was designed to be a bit more ‘family friendly’. The very family friendly Front Line Assembly was up top, with PWEI being the other ‘grown up’ band. Severed Heads was at the head of the kids table with Cocksure playing right alongside and then there were youngsters who will no doubt one day be the grown ups (unlike us).


Back home exactly the same thing but it’s called Foota.

But first to reach the Metro. That day the CUBS WERE PLAYING. The Cubs are a popular hitball team in Chicago. Hitball is a game which involves many people dressed in blue crowding all over the place blocking all traffic. It looked to me like they were winning but apparently they lost otherwise everything would be on fire.

Once we got there, seemed like just as many people milling about backstage. Bands bands bands. Greets from the Metro owner who had last greeted us 25 years ago holy shit. As much as I like to be all friendly to everyone, for me playing live is just too anxious making to handle that crowd, and I apologise to anyone that I gave a startled ‘are you a sadistic dentist?’ look. Most of the time I tried hiding in the SEVERED COCKS room.



Although we had played live together before, finally got into chat with Chris J Connelly, seen here channelling his ‘drunken shit in a business suit on a Saturday night’ stage look. In LA it had been gold chains. We had thought that LA costume was entirely serious, more fool me twice.

But there were old people I needed to see. The last time I met Bill Leeb was in Vancouver, way back. We were both in our mid 20’s. He has grown enormously tall since and I have shrunk. Both he and cEvin Key prove that the ratio of height to width is a prime factor in success in Industrial Stardom, something which I will never know.


The Industrial height rule. Fulber don’t care shit.

But they will never equal our ability to attract bears. It was like Jellystone Park, I tell you. Bears.

Festivals are nerve racking because you have to get on/get off mighty fast and if something is fucked up then you die (hello Antwerp!) They were setting up sound checks pretty efficiently, but I was getting freaked out about if it was going to work. It’s partly from not having played in big line ups that often over the last decade. The only fuss was (as always) about the main video which was being projected onto drum kits and I had to choose a smaller screen. I think it’s OK. Hell, most people watch videos on a mobile.

Once the table was set up and the signal was happening, it was all just fine.


I should say here that the festival is a supporter of the Hope For The Day charity, which helps people at risk of suicide. Part of the tour show was of course Dead Eyes Opened, with Stacy dancing on screen, and I had added a short video title acknowledging that she was not coming back. The tour came to an end in a poignant moment.

Backstage and the same number of people were milling about but it had settled into a different crowd, more about the society than the performers. I guess I’m more comfortable about getting things up and happening than partying them down again and after processing another extensive round of bears, decided I’d do one last BBC Nature Show through the streets of Chicago. Stewart was happy with a bottle of scotch and a place next to the mixing desk, so I grabbed my shit and swung outside.

The game of hitball was still winding down. A few boys were half heartedly punching each other in the streets while the girls tried to pull them apart. The bars were pumping ooga chaka. Drunks were vomiting into smart phones. It could be any western city, everything and nothing, The Saturday Night. That’s the thing about tours; all those hotels, planes, back stages, the disassociation is complete, you’re just passing through, enacting a ritual, everybody you meet n greet has a role and a script. Walking through the streets, Frisco to Chicago, it’s almost like you want something to break the glass and haul you out of there. But really not.

Instead I spent Sunday in the hotel room. There was a lot to not think about.

Tour Drily – Part Six

Hello Tampa, or as it turns out, Ybor City, which is where cigars were first carved out of phosphate or some such thing. Something something, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

We were met by a friendly man called Curse, who oscillates like a sine wave between Tampa and Austin, apparently a thing you do in the southern synthesiser music trade. He took us to rooms at a goddamn HILTON where I glimpsed THE LARGEST BED I HAVE EVER SEEN and only then told us we had to go straight to the fucking venue. How could I perform, thinking about that bed? Sleeping somewhere in that vast confection of padding?

Not so much a bed as a way of living.

Not so much a bed as a way of living. Yeah, I took photos of the hotel rooms. I like hotel rooms, OK? This one was a Hilton, and every light in the place was turned on as if to say, climate change is caused by Florida, buddy.

In Florida, we were too small, or perhaps it was too big, for us to play alone. We supported Pop Will Eat Itself, and there were advantages to this. Firstly, one may get off stage earlier and drink all PWEI’s rider. Secondly one may blame PWEI for anything bad that happens, while claiming virtue for everything good. And no encores, none at all. The main worry is when the main band has a drum kit and a hundred microphones to set up, your chance of a sound check becomes wistful, although we did get there in time.

Here was Michael Pilmer of T Shirt fame, and his henchmen, dressed in identical knife costumes, the camera tilted to show their evil. Did I mention we wore Holy Fuck Knives T shirts every night? We did. And we sold them too. Michael and Robert made these. We also got some special stickers to cover our apples.


A bit of a barn, quite large, too large for us alone. The first band on, (I am sorry I have been very remiss about the first bands in each case but I am in the zone at that point, anyway,) the first band on was the first actual rock band we’d encountered the whole time. I mean they did r-o-c-k, did the moves, stood on the wedges, spooned, mutually masturbated, I mean if there is a library of rock gestures, they held all the library cards. I don’t think Stewart had seen such a thing before, and was awed. Me, I’ve seen ZZ Top. Once you’ve seen the best…

We played. At least one guy was crying. At least he was the one I could hear sobbing over the PA. The audience in Ybor City was a bit ‘intimate’ for the size of the place (which we could immediately blame on PWEI, see how this game works?) but they had a fine old time.


Pilmer over on the right giving the finger. An enduring symbol of Southern Hospitality. Actually I think the gent over at the left with the beard should get in contact so I can send something worthy. Best audience member ever.

PWEI I think were too big for the stage. They do this pacing thing, back forward. They looked like when tigers get put into too small cages. For a moment you wonder if you shouldn’t be wedged behind a table. But that leads to keytars, and the thought stops there. Shudder.

At the end of it all, I grabbed my backpack and launched out into the turmoil of Friday Night in Ybor City. They were young, sexy, swarming and mostly Cuban. I marched through it all, some kind of alien grey, block after block, seeing it all unseen. Nearly every gig I managed to walk back to the hotel at some ungodly hour and somehow that was turning into the best thing about the whole tour. Like a BBC Nature programme.

At the hotel, that bed.

Tour Dory Part 5

Weird double coastline thing near New York. No idea.

Weird double coastline thing near New York. No idea. As you may have gathered I spent an awful amount of time looking out of airplane windows, moaning quietly.

Stewart’s back is held together with paper clips and knitting needles and these started to fall out around this time. If his top half fell off that might be disagreeable and remove some of the melody. For my part I was enjoying the extra octave that had appeared under my usual vocal range, but not the dull ache that was hanging around my voice box. Experience is that I have limited time before it collapses spectacularly, as it did when we were being recorded in Adelaide (damn it). And once long ago in Chicago. Bad.

Such that we sounded like a bickering old couple even more than usual, him telling me to keep quiet and me telling him to stay down. The good thing was his missus was already in NYC and had a physiotherapist booked if we could get into Brooklyn from JFK Airport in time. Cab unwilling but eventually got there, and rolling and pounding took place.

Brooklyn is not the Brooklyn I remember. It’s like somebody bought it all and made it into BrooklynLand – a sanitised version of what was there. I mean, I only ever seem to get a single day in NYC ever, I must win a prize for least amount of actual time spent over three visits. But in a way I am privileged to have seen it 30 years ago and kept that in my head all these years. It’s much better now, believe me.


We walked with the promoter to Rough Trade, a combo record shop and venue. He was pissed off that the venue had to be changed at the last moment but I really liked the feel of the place. Not a cupboard, a goodly warehouse space near Bushwick Inlet park with a view over the bay to the city skyline and there was the Chrysler Building that I’d 3D modelled in the All Saints Day video. Sound check and then take out meatballs, which I gather was highly appropriate for Brooklyn. Stewart went off somewhere, while I did The Meet And Greet.


Actually Stewart had noticed a problem with where the Severed Heads CDs had been placed…

… which he fixed up. Good job!

Now, that sounds pretty gruesome. People pay to meet you before the gig, and get some special seats and souvenirs. That means you can’t just hang with other people, which seems a bit la-dee-dah. I tried be the least wanker possible and make everybody feel welcome and I think I managed to do this as much as having eaten too many meatballs allowed. In a way it’s good to get that done and not have to worry about it. Of course various people wound up in the dressing room, but they had a good tale to trade for the beer. Kind of like when Batman is climbing up walls in the 60s TV show.


Early on. Unconvinced. Show us what you’re made of. Walk on Coals.

New York was the biggest show as an individual band. You’d hope so, seeing as it’s the biggest city. I’m too connected with the west coast to feel welcome there yet, it was a good show but they were chin scratching the way people do in places where they get everything – what is this band that hasn’t bothered with NYC in decades?
I told them that Texas yelled louder and that sorted them.

I guess the only other anecdote was some guy making hand shadows on the projection, which Stewart caught but couldn’t tell me because he was busy actually playing keyboards, you know, that thing DJs can’t do. Once he got me I sent a cheery fuck off to the person who was doing it, which seemed to please the rest of them no end.

Two encores as had become usual. We really have to figure out this encore thing.

I walked home. There were a few stars. I made the mistake of walking past the after show drinks and was immediately set upon for photographs, in which I probably looked like Bagpuss covered in Emilies.



Interlude: Remixes Wot I have done

Let’s have a short break from the Tour Dairy. I’ve had cause to collect some remixes wot I have done. There’s not many when you hide the ones I did for whore-money, a shameful period in the lean years that none shall know. All of these were done because somebody in the band took the time to ask nicely and there was a moment.

Because I don’t own these, you only get medium quality mp3 here.

Red Martian – Supercomputing. USA. 2005

Red Martian wanted to try some drum machine dub / cold wave. I was thinking Wire, Magazine, that period where guitars were just sources of texture. There’s a hell of a lot of fixed frequency flange here as I did air traffic control – confine everything to its own frequency range. It’s almost all comb filtered. About 90% in, I felt that I’d lost the band’s style somewhere in there, and started to drive it, drive everything to the point that distortion was resonating through the tuned filters. Like a computer on fire.

Atone – Demigod. Australia. 1997

The band gave me a bunch of loops and no instructions about how they wanted them to appear. I thought OK, we’ll sort them into neat little piles. Like shore front architecture. Then I built combinations of the parts intersecting in moire patterns across the hard left and right. I’m not sure they knew what to make of the result.

Plastikman – Mind Encode. Canada. 2010

Got a friendly request from the Plastikman, who had a boxed set of CDs coming out and wanted some older dudes to line up the end of the last disc. There was really bugger all to work with here. There’s a beat and some waft and I scratched my head about how you could give it any warmth. So I cut a loop of the main riff and started piling samples from a 1930’s elocution film. Thinking about My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, it really needed some funking up and charm. I added a lot of sloppy riffs to make it less damn clinical. So when the original melody comes in at the end it adds to a motley rabble of noises.

Seabound – Poisonous Friend. Germany. 2004

Again, a friendly request from the main dude. In comparison too much source here, in bad need of a haircut. But they didn’t want it too far off the radar and maybe have it as a alternate mix. It still had to have the electropop thang. I just tried to have as few sounds at once and move things out of each other’s way. On reflection I should have gone hard on it, deleted large slabs of cruft, made HOLES. HOLES are THE GO.

Tauchsieder – Clubbed. Scotland. 2007

Seems like you either get too many passes or a single loop which you somehow have to coax into being music. This one came to me as the main heartbeat and again, like Plastikdude I’m thinking, how do I make a 1000 flowers bloom? The answer is Dr. Zachary Smith biggie penis porn and plenty of it. I just love the original Lost in Space Horns peaking through the main sound. Drum programming because it’s called ‘Clubbed’, right then?

700 Hours – Boxcar. Australia. 1992

Oh I did this so long ago and knew fuck nothing. So I tried to make it sound like Severed Heads and that wasn’t right at all. So the snare is annoying and it’s too thick and blah blah. Sorry. Still I like the end bit after the drop.

Maestro – Darlin’ Celsa. France/Scotland. 2015

Got a nice note from Tiger Sushi. A chance to prune some charming pop music, let’s take it. The band had got it all down on 24 track, but they’d made it 24 sounds all the way through and the first thing was to cut it way back to as few things as I could get. Like you don’t need 3 lots of Juno60 all the time. You need maybe one, twice. Drums needed snap crackle and pop. And if you’re going to do that voice pulse thing let’s do it TOO FAR.

Red Martian – Glasses Cannot Go To The Puzzle (Tall Glass). USA. 2005

Well I’ve done more Red Martian tracks than I’ve had hot sauce, so here’s another one. I really think I got the damn Magazine sound I wanted. And it sounds nice and miserable. Still blasting the fuck out of resonators.

Snog – Hooray!. Australia. 1998

Of all things, a compilation on SONY. Hah! OK not too many sources, and all I really I want here is to accentuate the snogness of the thing – which is all theatrical and 50s sci fi. Up the end I let myself Head it up a bit, you can pretty much tell.