Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Sunday, 20 September 2015

#27: S-cape In Salford

At the beginning of 1993, while in my first year at University College Salford, I bought a synth module to  add to my limited music-making set-up. I can't recall the exact model number but it was a Cheetah rack mounted module with a few little buttons and a LED number display and was meant to be an editable digital synth. With button combinations to access menus that weren't visible made it very non-user friendly and it was a matter of hours before I realised it was an unwise purchase. I returned it and instead purchased a friendlier sound module called Dr Synth made by Roland. This had a multitude of sampled sounds ranging from synth waves, percussion, traditional orchestra and acoustic instruments and others in between. It was also multi-timbral so I could layer a few lines of music at once and it soon became the backbone to my digital orchestra. While there were some editing features in the sounds including filtering and envelope controls, these weren't possible to use when in multi-timbral mode. So for what I wanted to do, I was a little limited if I wanted to run several musical parts at once. 
With some experimentation over the next few months, I manipulated the sound palette by assigning several sounds to the same midi channels and using pitch shift, panning and other features to build more interesting sound combinations and effects.
I found the best way to explore the new sound palette was to sequence up a few little test tracks. So I hooked it up to my sequencer, which also controlled my Yamaha and Korg keyboards, and spent some evenings in my little bedsit programming some electronic instrumentals. The first one, later called Trancewaves, was a sort of ambient trance track and other tracks followed of a similar nature. Either ambient, techno, electro or sometime combinations of all three. All the tracks could be played by the machines with some manual live editing and sound manipulation, and on Sunday 23rd May 1993, I spent the whole night programming extra bits, and recording a cassette album's worth of material. I gave the cassette album a title of 'Welcome To My World' for no particular reason, and decided to give the 'project' a name, as it was different to the Production material I had previously done. So 'S-cape' was born and this became the moniker used really for instrumental electronica music I created with this particular set up. It wasn't tied to a particular electronic genre, nor any sort of song structure, and with it being more experimental, it felt a kind of escape from the way I had previously been working. I later recorded a further cassette called 'N-Trance; where I included more live sound manipulation and playing along with the sequencer lines. As part of Salford University's afternoon gigs organised by Andrew Greenwood, I seized the opportunity to perform as S-cape, having previously performed solo Production gigs. This particular gig was held at a nearby pub called The Squealing Pig where I set up the gear and performed a few tracks including ones I hadn't previously recorded. Included in this set was Patrol where I exploited the experiments I had done with multi-layering sounds on the same midi channel. For this one, I layered up several drum set patches onto the same channel, with individual pitch settings and effects, and would mute and unmute several parts which allowed me to improvise and mix them live. Almost as if I had created my own live drum set, 

I recorded this live set to cassette, and along with some new tracks, compiled the third S-cape cassette album 'Live Mind'. When I say album, I really just mean a cassette with a homemade sleeve that I'd copy for friends who requested it. A second gig at The Squealing Pig followed, along with sets at the Subclub, the Pavilion (a gig which has its own blog post here), a support slot at the Black Horse pub for a great band called The Pudding Spoons and then I was invited to join BoomBooom, who were a collective, who put on club nights and happenings at various venues. Initially I performed at their more ambient BoomBooombient nights at Night and Day Cafe in Manchester, and then later performed sets at BoomBooom nights at locations such as Jabez Clegg, Castlefield, a club in Hulme, a club in York and Manchester's Music Box and Roadhouse. 

Video footage that captures one of the BoomBooom nights at the Night and Day Cafe can be seen here where i have edited down a ten minute snapshot from the original video tape. Filmed by Vicky in 1995.

I'm indebted to BoomBooom and to Andrew Greenwood for giving me the opportunity to perform the tracks live. Making the music was my sole focus in those years, so to play them out of rather large speakers and seeing people dancing around to them was the ultimate high for me, and as I can't ever see it being repeated, remains a most cherished memory. Now in hindsight I wish I had done much much more and pushed myself further to play as many places as possible.  

Halloween BoomBooo!mbience 
BoomBooom had put out some compilation cassette albums and included an S-cape track on one of them before putting out a CD compilation of BoomBooom artists. This was my first encounter with homemade CD production so it was quite a new thing to hear and see a track on a compact disc. BoomBooom also began broadcasting an internet radio show called BlazzNet, as well as broadcasting some of the live gigs, which at that time around 1995 was quite innovative and exciting. 
As I had only been writing new tracks to perform at venues, I decided it was time to record all the latest material, particularly as BoomBooom were to include tracks on compilations and internet broadcasts and had asked me for something to play. I had written quite a number of tracks that needed titles, and I remember sitting in a pub with a notebook trying to come up with a lìst of titles to then distribute and assign to the various works. 

Something I still do to this đay.

A few S-cape gigs including two in one day.
Also a poster for a second Subclub gig. I can't actually remember
performing as S-cape twice there.
By early 1999 I had my own computer which included a CD burner so I was now able to burn my own CD's and print out labels and sleeves - a step up from the cassette album.
I had borrowed a DAT machine, set it up in my flat with all my gear and recorded all the S-cape tracks I had created in recent years, including re-recorded versions of some of the earlier "cassette" sessions. As N-Trance had now been used as the name for a chart topping dance act, I renamed that particular track Intrance, for what it was worth, and I also toyed with the name S-cape a bit too. For certain gigs I dubbed it S-kape, and also while messing around with various fonts, quite liked the look of using a Greek font. So that became a kind of logo that no-one could pronounce or possibly even notice. Not the best promotional move.

A gig at The Black Horse pub in Salford with set list poster.
Also a poster for the first Squealing Pig gig.
In 1999 I put together five CDs of S-cape material, of which I did a few copies on request from friends. At the end of 1999, I performed a final set as S-cape at a club night at Band On The Wall in Manchester, where having now acquired a sampler and new synth module I performed a more improvised set using lots of samples which I looped round across multiple lines and used the mixing desk to arrange the tracks. I had never done that before, and was never to do it again, as within the next month I left Manchester and moved to London. That seemed to close off any avenue I had in performing as S-cape again, as it would mean starting over again and I was now in the middle of recording Production material. 

So I view the leaving of Manchester as closing the door on the S-cape moniker, project, act, entity, name etc. Plus, the name has been used for other things. I like the idea of that name attached to a bunch of tracks I created in those years as being part and parcel of a great experience of having time and opportunity to focus on music creativity; meeting some great people, and keeping some great memories of Manchester. The association with the name S-cape is more than just a name under which I twiddled some dials, pushed some buttons, swept some filters, and sequenced some synths. For me it is a chapter heading of sorts for an audio diary of my time in the North West.
Having said that, I have continued to write electronic instrumental tracks, which to me sound like the natural progression from S-cape, particularly the Dancesounds Volume 2: Classwork album, released in 2002. 
More recently, the Duster Jack material I've been working on is the more electro side of what I was doing in Manchester, and as abstract a concept a project name might seem to some, it feels like a sort of offspring of 

Some live recordings.
NB the left cassette features tracks I hadn't yet got titles for.
Now S-cape exists only as a pile of cassettes and CDs in a box, through which I had a rummage recently. I decided to upload a selection of them to a Bandcamp page as a kind of archive area. Being cassette recordings, it meant the quality wasn't to a high standard, but I quite like the old worldly charm of hearing tape hiss and hum in places. If only for me, it conjures up memories of hitting the record button on a portastudio, in the bedsit of a terraced house in Salford in the early nineties. 

Hearing the live recordings brings back vivid memories of me uncoiling cables and setting up keyboard stands while around me others assembled decor, food stalls, video screens and record decks for BoomBooom extravaganza evenings. It's certainly more vivid than any photograph.

So now the bulk of those recordings are in cyberspace on the S-cape archive Bandcamp page.
S-cape Archive Volume 1 to 5 is the repackaged five CD set of the 1999 live-to-DAT sessions I recorded in my Salford flat over a few evenings. They include some re-recordings of earlier tracks from the cassette albums.
The cassette albums,  Welcome To My World, N-Trance and Live Mind are also there along with a couple of extra live recordings. Live In Salford is the second Squealing Pig gig, and Live in Manchester is the 1996 gig I did at Jabez Clegg as part of a BoomBooom night. 

Depending on feedback and response, I may add to that archive in time. For now, I hope you find them of interest, particularly those friends and supporters at the time who may also share memories of some of those live gigs and cassette sharing.