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Martin Archer: Making A Difference, Doing Things Differently

Duncan Heining By

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Together they formed Transient v Resident, an improvising synth and acoustic instruments duo. As Archer says, "For a time, I preferred to be in the studio making records. I did a 180-degree turn, stopped playing saxophone, stopped doing concerts because there weren't any around worth doing. From 1994-2004, all I wanted was to make records. The musicians I used never heard the tracks they ended up playing on. But things have moved now. Since then, I've begun to integrate everything I know and have increasingly introduced live elements into the music."

In fact, the emphasis now is increasingly on playing live. His Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere offers a huge, exhilarating, mind-blowing melange of sounds that recalls the best of prog rock, whilst taking it somewhere new, vital and visceral. I can't wait to hear them live—and, yes, they do have a light show. Engine Room Favourites are about to make what will be Archer's first tour in years, whilst nothing could be more live than his Juxtavoices project. Check them out on You Tube. One set includes a wild and weird outing with the Orchestra.

In fact, there is just too much music to cover in one article. But since first being introduced to Archer's world of sound with English Commonflowers more than a decade ago, his work continues to fascinate and travel to places new, as well as to some that are familiar but heard afresh filtered through Archer's musical imagination. His three albums with Julie Tippetts—FiNiN, Ghosts of Gold and, most recently, Serpentine—make this point perfectly. Tippetts' work with life-partner/pianist Keith Tippett is wonderful, but so, too, is her Sunset Glow. from 1975. Her records with Archer, most particularly Serpentine, are wonderful collaborative efforts that draw on that amazing voice, on Tippetts' refined skills as a lyricist and ability to create her own musical universe. So, how do two such distinctive, perhaps unique, musical talents work so effectively together?

"In the case of the records with Julie, we have a very regular working method," Archer explains. "I make all the instrumental tracks first and send them down to her basically already complete. She'll then write all her own words and melodies before coming up to Sheffield and then we'll typically spend three or four days just recording vocals and sculpting down the vocal arrangements. We both do that together, though Julie calls the shots. If there's a part of the music which isn't working, we'll maybe make some fine tunings or make a new overdub but generally we don't change the music much—in fact, Julie prefers things to stay as she first hears them, in case the thing she liked disappears!"

It might even be suggested that these albums do not just equal Tippetts' 1969, Sunset Glow and Shadow Puppeteer; they represent an apotheosis in an already distinguished career. Archer goes so far to suggest that the working methods they have devised, which involve use of computer technology, may be a factor in enabling Tippetts to reach new heights in her art.

"It's very much a joint production," he says, "even though we don't actually sit and write together as such. Julie has really got into the computer side of things and it's very liberating for her, after years of making records where she had to live with stuff that wasn't perfect 'cause they ran out of time. So, like me, she really does like to micro-manage every second of every sound on our records and, fortunately, we seem to have the same taste in sounds. We don't often come to blows."

Remember those records from the seventies, where Columbia or whoever would bring two or three musical giants together, only for it to end up a musical train wreck? As with all of Archer's work, his records with Tippetts are transcendent—somehow or other the sum of more than their parts. There's something spiritual, magical almost here—and in Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere and Blue Meat—that sees all these strange influences and musical loves come together—from Faust and Magma through Soft Machine and AACM to Pentangle and Sandy Denny—and even on to György Ligeti and John Cage. At one point, the result might be the dark, angry jazz-funk of Combat Astronomy's Flak Planet or the electronic wanderings of Inclusion Principle's Leaf Factory Fallback, with Hervé Perez. At others, Archer's affection for AACM will surface with, for example, his new band, Engine Room Favourites.

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