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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

27: Flat Tire - Music For A Non-Existent Movie (2001)

     Due to a "domestic upheaval", Allan found himself without recording facilities after the turn of the millennium. Partly due to logistical reasons, this situation resulted in an album concentrated around the SynthAxe. This allowed Allan to explore some new textural ideas in his compositions.
     "In the past I had thought about it (a SynthAxe album), but I was focusing on group projects, so, although I wanted to do it, I just never had the opportunity. When I found myself with the time to do it between projects, I went for it. It did change something in my writing. I could play sustained chords, and with the breath controller I could play long notes and make them loud or soft, make them go away then bring them back, just like you can on a real wind instrument. I could turn it into a non-percussive instrument (whereas the guitar is a percussive instrument). So overall, I would say it  gave me more flexibility." (59)
     The sub-title, "Music For A Non-Existent Movie", also signals that this album has a stronger textural element, with specific "scenic" images in mind.
     "I always liked the idea of trying to create music for movies and through my experiences of the last 18 months, "The Movie" - "Flat Tire" - was made, hence the subtitle "Music For A Non-Existent Movie"... I would love to make music to pictures, because that is essentially what I do anyway. If I have an idea for a song or a title of a song, I have some sort of  picture in my mind. So yeah, I would love to do film music. I would really like to do a sci-fi movie, I would be really good at that." (album liner notes, 59)
     Assembled in his home studio, the only guest performer on this release was Dave Carpenter (acoustic bassist from The Sixteen Men of Tain) who joined Allan on just two tracks (and possibly more uncredited). A few tracks (1, 2, 5, 6) have drums which Allan programmed on his Alesis HR-16. Sonically, Allan's palette of SynthAxe sounds had a stronger Yamaha flavor to them this time, since most of the Oberheim synthesizer modules used for Atavachron and Sand had been sold off.
     "The ones that were like the more orchestrated pieces, there was no click. There was only a click for the tunes that time on them. Like "Eeny Meeny" and "Bo Peep", where Dave Carpenter played bass on... I have an ancient old Atari 1040 Ste. It works good for many because I like the Steinberg software, it was good. I just used it because I started with the PRO 24 which worked just like a tape recorder. That's the way I like to use it. And Cubase was really easy to do that, even though it took me a while to switch from SP24 to Cubase... (For synth modules) usually I use old YAMAHA DX7s and two TX816s, five TX7s and a YAMAHA VL70. (58, 57)
     One way to appreciate this album is to see it as a 20th Century sequel to Sand. Allan had grown in his ideas about harmony and song structure since the 1987 album, and Flat Tire gave him a chance to revisit this somewhat "classical" arena. His chordal work here also explored some new brass and piano timbres (sometimes layered through overdubs), and his solos used patches with a sharper attack than in the past.

Flat Tire

Allan Holdsworth: SynthAxe, Guitar (1)
Dave Carpenter: Acoustic Bass (3, 8)

Produced by Allan Holdsworth
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown

The "solo SynthAxe" patches are guesses on my part, but they give an idea of what to think of...
1 The
1:52      This is the only track that has electric guitar on it. Allan delivers a strong solo over a kind of programmed drum solo. In some ways, this is a mirror-variation of the SynthAxe/electronic percussion duo in Atavachron's "All Our Yesterdays".

Solo: Guitar
Drums: Alesis: HR-16

0:00: Guitar solo over distant, rhythmic percussive noises (wet reverb with short decay times).
2 The
4:41      This piece has several distinct sections, each with a different "orchestral arrangement". Allan uses multiple layers of SynthAxe-driven percussion, strings, and brass to create a "mini-symphony".

SynthAxe solos:
     Alto sax
     Baritone sax
     Muted trumpet
Drums: Alesis: HR-16

0:00: Glassy intro chords.
0:13: Multi-tracked brass lines (roughly heterophonic), partly accompanied by percussive synth ornamentation, long tones.
0:46: Brass heterophony becomes rapid, short phrases, percussive synth ornaments briefly resume, harmony rises.
1:26: Reedy "alto sax" solo enters, joined by glassy ornaments/thick pads, slowly modulating, choir cadence.
2:50: Dissonant brass pedal, drum groove joined by glassy melody/synth pads.
3:21: "Baritone sax" solo (opening with a bouncy syncopated motif), joined by thick pads.
4:01: Brass harmonies with high  "muted trumpet" melody, falling/rising harmonies.
3 Eeny
4:48      Dave Carpenter plays acoustic bass on this perky track, notable for it's 2-accent rhythmic motif. The rhythmic motif is developed as a verse, balanced out by broader modulating bridge sections. Allan opens with a "clarinet lead", followed by a "trumpet solo" and a "violin solo".

SynthAxe solos:

0:00: "Clarinet" top line melody over modulating 2-accent chord modulations with walking bass, cadence.
0:17: Repeat with development of solo line.
0:38: Bridge (modulating).
1:01: "Trumpet" solo over main theme and modulating bridge variation.
2:45: "Violin" solo (over theme/bridge variations).
4:15: Coda with violin/brass outro solo.
4 Please
Hold On
4:01      This ballad initially opens with a strong "late night piano bar" feel, but when the solo enters it transforms into 2 choruses of a "Copland"-ish, "open spaces" harmony. 

SynthAxe solo: Bassoon

0:00: Jazzy ballad with digital piano chord-melody.
0:44: String harmonies enter, jazzy sequence coda ornament.
0:56: Muted "bassoon" solo as the mood becomes more rustic/pastoral (2-beat chordal motif).
1:33: Broader cadences.
2:24: 2nd chorus (2-beat chordal theme returns).
3:01: Broad cadences reprise, ending in guardedly-hopeful, held strings.
5 Snow
8:04      This song is another strongly "cinematic" piece, as it starts off with sound effects of an airplane taking off (I think?) and eventually leading to a tropical/jungle percussion landscape. Allan makes his way through this sound world with "electric violin", "tenor sax", and wind (calliope) solos.

SynthAxe solos:
     Electric violin
     Tenor sax
Drums: Alesis: HR-16

0:00: Revving sound effects/crackling textures.
0:40: Swirling synth textures in a rising-falling harmony.
1:18: "Electric violin" solo (softer attack) over swirling harmony theme.
1:53: Pizzicato string pluck, bending harmonies, reverb noises.
2:29: Pedal drone with accented string chords above, falling string melody.
3:18: "Out of tune" arpeggios lead to synth drum layers.
3:30: "Tenor sax" solo over percussion (congas, shakers, cymbals, etc).
5:53: "Calliope" solo over soft string/choir chords (descending).
7:21: Swirling synth textures, airplane engine sound effects return. 
6 Curves 5:35      This is a fun groove which reminds me of some of the cheerful, uptempo vibes on Hard Hat Area. It's a pity this was never performed live with a band...

SynthAxe solo: Baritone sax
Drums: Alesis: HR-16

0:00: Mid-tempo drum groove joined by hopeful synth chords and (synth?) bass.
0:43: Accented chords, modulating chords.
1:43: "Baritone sax" solo over rising harmony.
2:32: Solo cont'd over 2-beat accented chords, modulating.
3:27: Rising, glassy synth/electric piano arpeggios.
4:16: Falling choir/string harmony cadence.
4:38: Choir textures briefly alone, low, synthy baritone sax pedal accents. 
7 So Long 5:31      Allan takes a "violin solo" over resolute harmonies on a melancholy rainy day. 

SynthAxe solo: Violin

0:00: Rain sound effects, car sounds.
0:45: Glassy piano chords with soft string textures, gently modulating.
1:51: Noble cadence, chordal variations.
3:01: "Violin/Viola" solo over pedal synth/choir harmony, slowly modulating with string harmony.
5:02: Rain sounds resume.
8 Bo Peep 3:46      This bouncy tune was performed live in a few tour dates. The head is very light and catchy, but the blowing section has a totally different groove beneath it. An electric bass line supports the SynthAxe harmonies, and I suspect it may be an uncredited Dave Carpenter.

SynthAxe solo: Tenor sax

0:00: Accented chord-melody seesaw theme to accented vamp and recap, reprise (w/o recap).
0:48: "Tenor sax" solo over modulating string harmony.
1:27: Bass groove begins alternating between a walking and accented line.
2:55: Main seesaw theme reprise.
3:24: Coda.
9 Don't
You Know
     "From a compositional standpoint, I’m most happy with the final piece, ‘Don’t You Know,’ which has the fake clarinets in the middle. That’s definitely the highlight of the album for me. I managed to do something I am quite proud of.” (102)
     This final "film cue" eventually features a "clarinet solo", but for the most part it acts as thematic music for "a non-existent movie". It would be very interesting to hear this piece performed by a real orchestra.

SynthAxe solo: Clarinet

0:00: Slow string pad chords, developed with higher string textures, rising harmonies.
1:50: Bass synth accents enter, harmonies develop from string and synth pad lines.
2:37: Theme with added reeds in top line.
3:56: Reprise/development after a pause.
4:55: "Clarinet" solo over harmony theme.
7:11: Filtered choir/string harmonies.
7:41: String theme harmony, synth pad theme.
8:49: Bassoon ornaments (with delay), final sustained chord.

Next: On the Road Again
Previous Chapter: The Sixteen Men Of Tain (1994-99)

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The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography

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