by Marty Willson-Piper
REVIEWS and COMMENTS
"In Reflection" (Chase).
Dodgy "meaningful" title aside, Marty's LP is probably the most interesting of these solo works. Like Steve's, it's a home recording and while the result is not exactly a "wall of sound" it certainly is a very interesting and involving affair. True, Marty does resort to a musical cliche or two (in songs like "Soft Murder" and "Winter Splinter Bay" for example) but "In Reflection" does demonstrate that Marty Willson-Piper is not just a silly name — in fact he's easily as good a songwriter as Steve K.
Another great thing about this LP is the little booklet Marty has enclosed within explaining the inspiration and technical manoeuvrings behind each track — said booklet also contains many pictures of Marty and a lady friend being very introspective. As Marty himself comments: "This record contains lots of quirks and personality traits of its own." He's right; it's also extremely listenable!
A No Frills Approach
by Stephen Andrews
One of the more positive aspects of the new technology is that electronic instruments and recording gear is now within the reach of most people.
Technology is one of the few commodities in our economy that has actually become better and cheaper over time. Today for a few hundred dollars anyone can set up a home recording studio and record music of a high technical standard.
It may not be the quality of a professional studio, but the end result can compare favourably with many pre-recorded cassettes and album pressings released commercially.
Church guitarist Marty Willson-Piper used a home recording 4-track setup. In Reflection, his debut solo album, is a wonderful collection of handspun songs recorded on a TEAC A3440. Included with the record is a booklet explaining the motives, stories and techniques behind the music. In this booklet, Willson-Piper sums up the philosophy behind releasing this record when he says:
"I hope this album will convince people that great music is not big-money or big-promotion or big-studios, but a special feeling that, I believe, this record has captured."
That 'special feeling' is on this disc. It is a very human record that pulls you in gently rather than reaching out to grab you. After I listened a few times, the predominant adjective in my thoughts about this album was 'warm.'
This is not to say the sound quality is woolly! This is a high class, low-tech recording. In fact, Willson-Piper often gets his most effective sounds in a very primitive way.
During the recording of "Art On The Run" he tried to find an interesting snare drum sound to accompany his rather tinny drum machine. He used biscuit tin lids, pans, and wastepaper baskets before he 'hit' upon the "perfect thing... the Sydney Morning Herald." Should you buy a record of a man hitting the Sydney Morning Herald? Yes, because it sounds great! Four-track fiddlers will also chuckle at the gymnastics involved in the recording of "How Come They Don't Touch The Ground."
Many of these songs remind me of early Pink Floyd in the late 1960s. They contain many nonsensical and surreal images and the music has psychedelic overtones in it. On "Velvet Fuselage" he sings, "Looking on a thousand garments worn by priests on summer days/Shallow pools of milky summer ripple past in different ways." Underneath, a space-echoed 12-string Rickenbacker plays a cyclic chord progression within a looping beat and simple harmony vocals.
This is a very personal statement, and although not a confessional type record, I often felt I was hearing somebody's diary. But while that sort of thing can be very excluding and difficult to get into, In Reflection is a very welcoming album. The last page of the booklet says, "I hope you can concentrate on the things that give this record its personality and not let the flaws detract from what I've wanted to communicate."
This says a lot about the record and is also what makes it different to almost everything else around at this time. Most Top 40 records don't have 'flaws' and because of this, I think they lack 'personality'.
Maybe with four-track machines appearing like rabbits these sort of records will start to put some life and soul back into modern music. This is an example of what hopefully will become a musical trend in this, so far, largely sterile decade. In Reflection is an enchanting, human record.
Note: The author repeatedly referred to the album as "On Reflection" and "Art On The Run" as "Art Is On The Run" by mistake. I have corrected those references.
Anyone expecting Willson-Piper's first solo album to be like his recent performances is in for a disappointment. While the beauty of his shows was in their simplicity - the troubadour approach - the record is effective for other reasons. It is essentially a man playing ith his toys, and comes complete with a sixteen page user-friendly guide to home recording. The booklet describes his exceitement at getting his mitts on a drum machine or the first time, and the creative use of a little appreciated musical instrument in the Sydney Morning Herald. As to the music - it s definitely enhanced by the roughness of a four-track recording in way that all the stuid gimmickry in the world cold not achieve. The ballads ooze emotion with a rawness that makes the man sound like a mere mortal, for God's sake. The flaws actually add to the record instead of detracting from it, but yes, it does get a trifle self-indulgent towards the end. Such is life.
-- Charlotte Franklin
This album proved at least two things: that the technology available to the musician today is such that a good album can be produced without leaving your bedroom, as against spending $30,000 in some high-tech 48-track recording palace; and that the Age of Aquarius is not dead.
In Reflection is as much a history of Willson-Piper's coming to terms with that home recording technology as it is a gentle journey through his personal vision of the world and his music. The album is actually a series of demos recorded on his TEAC four-track machine between August 1983 and April 1985 -- in effect a kind of musical travelogue as the Church toured from country to country and state to state. For the music technicians, Willson-Piper has included a booklet describing the genesis of each track and the 'tricks' utilised to obtain the sounds to be heard -- such as the 'snare sound' on Art On The Run and Night Is Over, which turns out to be drumsticks striking copies of the Sydney Morning Herald.
The technical progression is quite audible too, from the simple drum machine of I Know I Won't to the leap forward represented by MWP's acquisition of a drumulator on Winter Splinter Bay. The arrangements become more adventurous, the experimentation in his mix of sounds more apparent. So Willson-Piper attains an extraordinary variety of moods, atmospheres and textures belying the limitations of working with a mere four tracks.
The songs themselves show just how opportune was the choice of Willson-Piper for a band like the Church. His solo material is an extension rather than complete break away from the activities of the band. The melodies and lyrics reflect his penchant for the minimalist, 'avant-garde' music of the '70s: German outfits like Can, Amon Düül and Neu!, and former Be-Bop Deluxer Bill Nelson. But he's even closer to the stream-of-consciousness poetry of early Dylan and the cosy home-spun philosophies of Donovan and the late '60s folkies. His images flicker and shimmer with a gentility that obviously reflects Willson-Piper's own inner peace, though the very occasional odd angry note does surface -- as on Volumes, a track that reappears here in demo form after the studio versions that graced the Persia EP and later the Remote Luxury album.
All in all, this is a very personal, very introspective set, recorded, as Willson-Piper notes himself, "at home in comfort, purely for the love of doing it," So saying, it's up to the listener then to decide whether he/she wants to join him on this quirky, idiosyncratic journey. It's an album that would have been hugely influential in the dope culture days of the late '60s and '70s (despite an enormous debt to the Beatle's albums Rubber Soul and Revolver), but in the current climate of the Me Generation, its quiet honesty will only touch the converted ... or the nostalgic. But then, that's a lot of people for someone as self-effacing as Marty Willson-Piper.