Episodes at 4 am

Episodes at 4 am - Bob Downes Open Music

1) Gong Electronic
2) Marimba Electronic
3) Flute Circles

4) Flute Streams
5) Marimba Bells
6) Zither Flute
7) Tunnels Electronic
8) Dulcimer Flute
9) String Percussion
10) Gong Finale

Extra Tracks
11) The Wind upon the Moor

12) Tribal Dance (1989)
13) Solo Duet Nr. 1 (1973)

14) Solo Duet Nr. 2 (1973)

15) Sacrifice (1974)
16) Unidentified Flying Frequencies (1972)
17) Your call requires a 10 cent deposit (1978)

Bob Downes:
Flutes, Jew's Harp, Saxophone,
Hammer Dulcimer, Marimba, Gongs, Percussion, Voice,
Electronics, Feedback, Public Telephone and Water Pump.

Wendy Benka:
Zither, Hammer Dulcimer,
Wind Gong, Tablas, Percussion, Cello,
Crystal Glass Vase and Snail Shells.

Around 1970 I bought a 2 track Revox A77 tape recorder and 2 Calrec microphones (as the latter were known at that time). I soon discovered there were many ways to use this tape recorder. For example: Sound on sound and the use of echo in various ways or recording at 15 ips and then play back at half speed. But most of the tracks on this CD were recorded at 7.5 ips, before I bought a second machine with 15 ips. Later I had the machine fitted with a variable speed. The tape recorder for me became a musical instrument.

“Flute Circles” was recorded at 3.75 ips, and I believe that you will agree with me that the quality is astounding, also, don’t forget the master tapes have been standing unplayed in my archives for the past 33 years!

The Japanese Gong which is heard at the beginning and the end of the “EPISODES AT 4 am” tracks, dates back to the first year of the Empo 2 period, “The year of the tiger” (1674).

For “Marimba Bells” the instruments to be played were spread wide apart from each other so that a natural stereo picture would take place enhanced with Wendy slowly moving to and fro between the microphones, rolling snail shells in her hands - a natural panning effect –. I lowered the playback speed about 15% on “Zither Flute” because I wanted a kind of drugged /slow motion feeling to be the outcome.

“Tunnels Electronic” always conjures up for me the feeling of being sucked into a black hole (especially at 2 mins 26 secs into the track) which I achieved by drawing air into my throat.

“Dulcimer Flute” was recorded in a room with just 2 microphones set before Wendy and myself and no reverb added, just the natural room sound.

“The wind upon the moor” was recorded on modern studio equipment. Some time after the recording I extended the poem and the updated version you will see below. (Incidentally the poem is dedicated to the great American actor Vincent Price)

“Solo Duet Nr.1” and “Solo Duet Nr.2” were deliberately recorded to achieve a stereo effect with no centre sound, as both compositions were commissioned by the choreographer Robert Cohan of the ‘London Contemporary Dance Theatre’ for a modern dance with 2 female dancers on stage both spotlighted and seperated by at least 10 meters apart. The dance for one dancer was choreographed by the sound coming from the left speaker and the other one from the right speaker. (You will notice quite a bit of variable speed was used on these 2 tracks.) The fast and abrupt swishing sounds were produced by blowing through the flute head only.

“Unidentified Flying Frequencies” was created while I was preparing to record something and inadvertently a fault occured in the equipment which somehow got on to the record heads and hence to the tape. I took the opportunity to manipulate the recorder and thus achieved the end result.

“Your call requires a 10 cent deposit” was made with a portable cassette recorder. People seem to be surprised about some of the sounds that I had recorded, saying that they had never heard them before when using call boxes in New York. At the time I was a trifle horrified at what was coming out of the telephone earpiece after all my heavy manipulating of the dial buttons. At one point I decided to make a hasty retreat, fearful that I was in the process of being traced by the telephone exchange. At this time in Europe there were no “musical dialing tones” in public phone boxes. My idea of bringing this piece about had a theatrical touch to it. I wished to portray someone that had absolutely no idea how to make a call. I think that does indeed come across.
(Bob Downes)

It's gentle, spooky, even a little surreal in parts, the music chimes
bongs and vibrates around the room.
And the CD comes with bonus recordings.
It's a curious soprific listen, and a interesting muscial way to end the day.
Jonny Trunk

Bob Downes originally released Episodes at 4 am on his own Openian label in 1974.
Though primarily known as a flautist and reed player, Episodes attests to Downes' prowess as a
multi-instrumentalist. Joined by Wendy Benka on zither, cello, and varied percussion, Downes plays flutes, marimba, gong, cymbals, bells, hammer dulcimer, and even a public phone on this record. While the sheer variety of instruments is itself impressive, the most striking feature of this record is the fact that nearly every sound it contains has been processed by some form of analog synthesis or tape manipulation. Bells, cymbals, and gongs are subjected to shimmering, panning delay effects, while elsewhere other acoustic sources are transformed into hypnotic, electronic throbs or overtone-rich metallic tones through intensive filtering and feedback effects.
With this emphasis on electronic processing, Downes is able to downplay some of his instrumental virtuosity in favor of some truly mysterious atmospheres. This CD collects the 1974 LP -- which, like the dance piece it was composed for, was inspired by Alberto Giacometti's sculpture "The Palace at 4 A.M." -- and adds almost forty minutes of bonus material that is at least as interesting as the original music. A sure-handed, if out there, mix of acoustic instruments and adventurous electronic experimentation, fans of improvised and electronic music should both find this record equally satisfying. An unearthed gem to be sure. [CC]