Sunday, April 02, 2006
Music for scarecrows
"impossible songs" busy in a Swiss field.
Switzerland: Ali and I are travelling in our normal web booked, cheap flight hire car style up from Geneva on the warmest March day I've experienced in a long time. Our car is a large black Chevrolet whale, the result of a free upgrade thanks to an Alamo booking mix up. After a few minutes lost in Geneva and a close call with a local taxi we locate the required motorway and set out in a north easterly direction. This is fun already. The countryside is green and pretty, the snowy Alps to the south and lots of artistic and provocative graffiti and solar panels by the edge of the road. Even on a Sunday the roads around here are congested and by the time we eventually get to Zurich it is getting dark and we are getting tired. The radio on the car won’t work either; this is due to a missing code that despite searching in every one of the whale’s nooks and crannies cannot be found, we can entertain ourselves however. From Zurich it’s a muddle of roads to the town of Constance and the ferry, from where the next stage of the journey begins. We get there about eight, cross the border and mount the on ramp as the whale lumbers into the (very) empty car ferry deck. We are moving before we realise, quietly carried across the water in the still of the night and the warm darkness, the lights of Germany, Austria and Switzerland shining out across the lake – another pretty picture and well worth the fare of eleven Euros.
Germany: Forty five minutes later we are at home with our friends Martin and Heike sitting at their dining room table, drinking beer and eating cheese, wurst, mustard and salami and laughing about my interpretation of distances on maps. Travelling is great but finally getting there is much better. The next day the rain begins, as does the recording process. The basement of Martin and Heike’s large house contains a recording studio and a collection of band equipment and musical instruments, mainly bass guitars. Recording for us means laying down basic tracks of guitar and vocals, adding a drum pattern and then redoing each track until the original reference points are no longer required. Then the secondary vocal, guitar, synth, bass and keyboard tracks are added into the mix. Ali and Martin make extensive use of a flip chart throughout the week, I avoid all contact with it trusting in their notes, effects numbers, timings and numerous comments on each track. Ali photographs the chart on a regular basis “just in case” (?). Songs are also deconstructed, lyrics rethought, breaks revisited and ideas reborn at the same time. A fair amount of food and alcohol helps the time go by all too quickly but after a review of the day’s progress we sleep soundly while the rain batters the window. Each working day lasts about fourteen hours and by the end of the week we think we have ten songs ready for remix, and the final addition of some worked out drum formats. Siggy Richter has already added three keyboard parts by late Wednesday night and we hope that “Foxy”, another member of Martin’s band “Mobil”, will add some kind of harmonica track to our song “rainbow” on Friday night, but we will be gone by then.
Switzerland: Thursday morning we load the whale (4 bags, sweets, beer and 1 guitar) and start the journey to Interlaken, the rain restarts at the same time. As a diversion on the way we take photographs of borders and Ali devises an interesting time-lapse technique for photography when inside road tunnels. We encounter many tunnels (some as long as 5k on the way). The photographs are random and quite spectacular mixes of lights, running colours and the blurs of speeding traffic entering and leaving tunnel mouths. What can we do with them? The journey through the Alps takes place in a mixture of driving rain, bright sun and snow. We break for coffee in a high Alpine pass and looking out of the window, through the trees see a train pass the café, travelling up a slope into the snowy wastes at an angle of about 55 degrees. This is not something you’d see in the UK.
At about three thirty and still in pouring rain we arrive at Interlaken. We find the hotel easily but spend about half an hour trying to locate a parking space. Eventually I give up and park right outside the door in a space that says “Hotel Bus”. Wandering aimlessly around the town in the rainy-grey afternoon we buy more chocolate and marvel at the numerous mountain and skiing excursions on offer, the “top of Europe” looks fantastic but we have no time to explore. In the evening we both enjoy a celebratory “recording over” meal in a local restaurant, five courses of real Swiss food with wine and beer. I’m happy.
Next morning’s breakfast is a fine blend of European and (because of the numerous Japanese guests in the hotel) Eastern cuisine. The usual fruits, rolls and cold meats are there but so is Mizu soup, rice and multi coloured eggs. Ali braves the soup while I stay true to tradition with coffee, eggs and bacon. The journey back to Geneva for the afternoon flight to Edinburgh is sunny, pleasant and uneventful and we catch a few more tunnels on camera as we speed along. We spend a few Swiss Francs in the airport mall and then retire to a cramped departure lounge for a half hour wait. Already I’m thinking about catching up with the family news, the new Harry Potter DVD, tomorrow’s breakfast and visiting the pig and baby highland cow at our local farm shop when we restock on firewood. Then Monday will come as it always does.