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Partisans: Blowing a Storm in Cyberspace

By Published: December 8, 2009
One specific aspect of composition is the creation of titles for the pieces. Some writers of instrumental tunes go to great lengths to ensure that a title evokes the atmosphere of the tune itself, others are less concerned. The loveliest tune on By Proxy is titled "Munch"—but why should its writer, Phil Robson, name such a beautiful ballad after the sound made by people chewing food? It turns out that he didn't, and he is happy to correct my misapprehension: "It's actually Moonk, as in Edvard Munch the painter of "The Scream" among other things. But there is a dry humor in having an ambiguous title like that. It is actually a tribute to him—it's a dark piece and I was thinking of the painting when I wrote the tune."

From left: Thaddeus Kelly, Phil Robson, Gene Calderazzo, Julian Siegel

Siegel is also happy to use ambiguous, opaque, titles for some of his contributions. What, for example, are "MBadgers"? "Anyone out there who's into Monty Python's Flying Circus should get that reference—so perhaps I'll leave it there" says Siegel, somewhat enigmatically, before returning to the question of titles. "I collect titles. You write a tune and sometimes you need a name. I'd been planning on using "MBadgers" for some time. There's no rhyme or reason to any of it." Siegel dissolves into laughter as Robson takes up the issue. "Some of our titles are from little phrases the band use when we're touring around: "Advance" is one. I find it very difficult to find a title that somehow represents a tune—the music is too abstract to try to pin it down. Titles become little more than nominal labels, but if you can find something that's a bit of fun then I think that's cool."

One track on By Proxy that didn't require the band members to think of a title is their cover of Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
's "Prelude to a Kiss." This is a genuinely innovative take on the original tune, combining documentary audio and electronic effects layered on top of the band's own performance to create an almost entirely new piece of music. On the sleeve notes the arrangement is credited to Siegel and Kelly, with the remix credited to Kelly alone. Siegel explains the genesis of this track: "I did an arrangement of the tune, with a drum and bass pattern, but I didn't think it was as happening as other things on the record." "I think that's partly because it was written in a completely different era" Robson interjects, "It really was an old song. Although it was a great arrangement it just felt like it was from a different era."

Siegel agrees that age is a fundamental issue with the tune: "Phil's right, but I'd always wanted to add something to the quartet version, an acoustic version. We were due to master the album in a week's time so I told Thad to just go for it, just do it—and he did." Kelly's version appeared in time and closes the album. Robson echoes Siegel's praise for Kelly's work on the tune: "Thad completely transformed it—it's almost an arrangement of an arrangement. There's only a tiny bit of the original tune left." "I think it's really moving" says Siegel, "I think he's really got the original essence of the song." So effective has Kelly's work been that for some people "Prelude to a Kiss" is the best tune on the album.

PartisansWith By Proxy receiving critical acclaim Partisans are, unsurprisingly, planning more work as a band. "We're working on getting more gigs on the European circuit" explains Siegel "and, hopefully, in the USA." Recordings have been infrequent, just four albums in the band's 13-year history, and the band are not yet ready to start planning their next collection. As Robson points out, "We've been doing a lot of playing over the last few months to promote By we'll probably take a break and go off to do something else for a while. Yes, I'm sure there will be another album in the future but we haven't planned anything as yet...A lot of people have told us that we're not particularly prolific in terms of recording, but I'm quite a fan of that. We are so bombarded with music, especially now that you can do it yourself on the Net, that I'm a fan of waiting until you've got something different. I think that if we went into the studio now we'd produce something quite similar [to By Proxy]. I'd rather wait until I feel we can produce a slightly new vibe or new direction."

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