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Martin Archer: Making A Difference, Doing Things Differently

Duncan Heining By

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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.

"I've run my own label for a long time on the basis that no-one else was interested in releasing the stuff," he says without any apparent regret. "There are a lot of releases on the label because I'm lucky enough to be able to afford the luxury of running at a loss. I stopped playing sax because there were not enough live gigs on offer. I spent a lot of time in the studio because the music I started to make with collaging and technology was un-performable live. But then you get to a point of being experienced enough to start getting to the heart of things, of having one idea present after another and now I work hard trying to balance the various elements. And, of course, when you're involved in a lot of scenarios, then each one only has to move quite slowly. Add it all together and you're busy."

There's so much, we just haven't had time or space to discuss. But one thing is very clear indeed—Martin Archer is definitely taking care of business.

"Right now, I'm actively making the first Juxtavoices CD, the fourth Julie Tippetts CD, the seventh Combat Astronomy CD, the second Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere CD, the third Inclusion Principle CD, the second Engine Room Favourites CD, a new chamber work for voices and ensemble, some further Juxtavoices recordings, a new solo CD, plus I'm producing a singer-songwriter CD for Frostlake. Then, I'm doing ten gigs per year with Juxtavoices, four gigs per year locally with various one-off ensembles, whatever one-off gigs come along and hopefully a small tour with Engine Room Favourites. And it's a case of knowing all these great people, who deserve to be heard. Their projects deserve to be progressed—it simply has to get done! Somehow...I mean, I don't waste a lot of time watching TV or in the pub or shit like that. Then, of course, there's mailing the CDs out, updating the website, keeping SoundCloud up to date. I could really do with an extra life. But I don't think any of that is particularly unorthodox. What's different, or at least what people say about me who help me create this stuff, is that they don't know how I manage to sustain so much activity all the time. But as I say, it's got to be done, there isn't a choice."

Selected Discography:

Martin Archer, Blue Meat, Black Diesel & Engine Room Favourites (Discus, 2013)

Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere (Discus, 2013)

Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer, Serpentine (Discus, 2012)

Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer, Tales of FiNiN (Discus, 2011)

Combat Astronomy, Flak Planet (Discus, 2011)

Inclusion Principle, The Leaf Factory Fallback (Discus, 2010)

Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer, Ghosts of Gold (Discus, 2009)

Martin Archer, Heritage and Ringtones (Discus, 2004)

Martin Archer, English Commonflowers (Discus, 2003)

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Martin Archer
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