Kubient (Playing with the Lights Off)

There was an odd album that we (Ruud, Tom and I) put out as Kubusschnitt, called “Kubient”. It was a Kubusschnitt Ambient Experiment, which sounds better simply as Kubient. It’s an unusual album because it’s entirely beatless, – it’s a 55-minute (and that’s the edited version) tour of the various strange noises that we could make with Ruud’s vintage synths, Tom’s touring gear and my very portable guitar set-up. Here is a (Dutch) wiki page entry. It’s amazing to have it mentioned in the same sentence as “Zeit”, by Tangerine Dream, and I am honoured, although I am not so sure myself. Here is a Google translation of the fine words in the wiki entry:

“The album consists of only one track, which is 55 minutes long. There is no measure or rhythm to be found. Moreover, the sequencer , which often occurs within the electronic music of the Berlin School , is missing . The album consists of layers of music, which alternate, without any regularity. It is similar in terms of music to Zeit by Tangerine Dream . Music without measure and rhythm is also a feature of ambient , in that category the album can also be divided.”

I’m listening to it right now courtesy of Youtube. I invite you to do the same – click the link and enjoy the music whilst you read.

Kubient 01

If you are listening right now (and if not, why not…?), you will be hearing some very big swooshy chords (technical speak) and sounds. That’s three people, armed with beers, just playing some interesting chords with some great gear. Keep listening, I’ll come back to the album after some background.

Kubusschnitt were offered the chance to play at the Alfa Centauri Electronic Music Festival, which was a fantastic opportunity – all of the groups that we admired in the scene had played, so we jumped at the chance. We were regulars at the previous festivals, always enjoy the artists and the chance to socialise with like-minded people. Many groups and collaborations were forged both there and also at E-Live. Unfortunately, Alfa Centauri faded away, although E-Live continues to this day. These festivals are tough to fund and I applaud Eric Snelders for Alfa Centauri and Ron Boots for E-Live.

The festival was on the outskirts of Amsterdam, so we were all to meet at Ruud’s house in Utrecht, do some rehearsing and travel from there. So I had travelled to Tom’s house in Leuven via the Eurostar to Brussels, and Tom drove the two of us to Ruud’s from there. As I was travelling by train initially, I had to be able to carry my equipment, so I had to choose carefully. That equipment comprised my guitar, an original Patrick Eggle Berlin, in a soft case padded out with my underwear and some t-shirts; a small portable 4U rack (reverb, delay, compressor and modulation unit), also packed out with clothes and leads; and, finally, a small bag with a POD amp simulator and whatever clothes I couldn’t cram elsewhere. Back in those days, security was very different for International travel – I just can’t imagine how long it would take to make it to the train these days, if at all. Back then, it was a cursory glance, a few pushes of the buttons, some questions about what I was doing, and I was through.

Once we were all three together at Ruud’s house in Utrecht, the playing could begin. After much chatting and setting up of gear, we ran through some of the sequencer-based pieces over which we would improvise. It was all quite unstructured and hence great fun, nothing too serious, with some basic planning on sequences/keys/BPMs, etc. After that, it was OK to just have fun.

Then it was time for some food at an Utrecht version of the local takeaway and when we got back, we broke out the beer. After deciding that no more real rehearsal was needed, we turned off the lights and started to play some early 70’s Tangerine Dream inspired music using just the light from the various synths – and my EBow (which produced an eerie blue light on the guitar strings). As we were recording directly to DAT, off the mixer, we could chat a bit whilst making the weird noises. The edited end result is what can be heard as Kubient.

At about 06:30, you can hear me switch to guitar. I’m using exactly the equipment that I would be using at the forthcoming gig, just in a much more ambient setting. My sound is the wailing, created by a combination of a volume pedal (to remove the initial attack of the sound), an EBow and a metal bottleneck, all of which comes together to produce the eerie-sounding guitar – by about 12:00, I’m creating some odd lead lines.

All together great fun and a real document to that spirit. As I listen to it now, I’m amazed at how few mistakes we made, not least because we couldn’t see much.

Kubient 02

All of this was preparation for the gig at the festival, so we had to pack everything into a couple of cars, including getting Ruud’s modular down a really narrow staircase without damaging it. At the gig itself, we were joined by Marcel Engels (of Free System Projekt), so various bootlegs are called Kubusschnitt with Free System Projekt. It was great to have both Ruud and Marcel with their modular setups on stage and some of the sequencing is quite amazing.

As I was using a transmitter on my guitar, I decided to start playing from the back of the auditorium and to add to the drama (!!), I hid my guitar behind a curtain at the back and took a seat to watch the gig. It was only after five minutes, I took out the guitar and started to play. Unfortunately, my transmitter had decided to play along much earlier than that and you can clearly hear the radio static – interestingly, by the time this had gone through my effects, it sounded like filtered white noise effects, so no one really noticed. Once I started to play, I then realised that the stairs were completely filled with the people who didn’t want to move out of the way of some idiot kicking them in the back. I did make it to the stage eventually, I think after about 12 minutes, and that’s when the guitar is a bit more interesting. I did post a recording on Soundcloud that got bootlegged quite a bit. I’ll put it up again somewhere soon.

Then the gig was over, and it was great fun. We packed up and went our separate ways and somehow I managed to get an awful dose of ‘flu, which made the journey home really exciting and I even had to get a taxi from the station as my energy had evaporated. I did know that we had created some fantastic music in those rehearsals and I do have some DATs somewhere of the hours of fun.

As I said, the gig was good, but the outstanding output was definitely the Kubient recording. Once I got home, I knew that I had something special on that DAT, so a spot of editing and remastering (remember it was recorded live to stereo, so no remixing) produced the track. I did make an edited version (“Bonus Ambient Track”) that appeared on the limited edition version (50 copies) of the Kubusschnitt Krautrock Karnival CDR (“Exeter”). It’s available on Youtube, but it’s just the first 21 minutes of the longer version, maybe with less mastering.

Hopefully, you did listen to the recording whilst you were reading. Unless you are a very slow reader, it’s probably got a long way to go yet. So, I invite you to sit back, relax and finish the album. You never know, you might enjoy it and you can imagine the three guys in the dark, trying either not to hit an inappropriate note or create an out-of-place sound. It was like walking that tightrope, and not one of us fell off… too badly.

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