Let's Hide Under The House Until They've Gone

by Peter Wright

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about

NZ sound artist Peter Wright is back with his very first solo recordings since 2008′s ‘An Angel Fell Where The Kestrels Hover’.
For this new offering he took the label’s name to heart and reconnected with his old bass guitar, gathering dust in storage for 7 years or more, using it as a new source of inspiration, in the process creating enough material over a two week period to fill at least three LPs. Combined with a down-tuned guitar and an assortment of laptop based effects the addition of the bass gives this record an atmospheric range that is both heterogenous in it’s vibes and homogenous in it’s inspiration.
I am then extremely excited to release this new album that has been recorded specifically for Basses Frequences !

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This is my new LP. And I can't say I'm in a great hurry to listen to it again.

This fact is not so unusual in itself. I more or less say the same thing each time a new album comes out. By that stage I've already reached saturation point in the process of editing, mixing, sequencing, re-editing, discarding and starting again etc etc, that by the time the finished work touches down on my desk in it's shrink-wrapped gloriousness I'm just a distant spectator in it's future as a commodity. Oooh spot the grumpy old man about to go off on a rant. No, I'll save it for another day. Actually this is a little misleading anyway. I don't dislike my albums of course. The complete opposite applies in most cases, and I do occasionally revisit them a few years later to see how I've progressed creatively. A sort of anthropological navel gazing moment, usually when I'm at a low point productively. In addition, the whole convoluted process of making a new record is usually far too much fun to dismiss in such a self-depreciating fashion. But I do acknowledge emphatically that there's a time to move on, to preserve some creative sanity, and for me that's usually the point when my sonic extractions get handed over to a new audience encased in a piece of petroleum byproduct.

But the urge to progress onwards is not why I'm reluctant to revisit 'Let's Hide Under The House Until They've Gone'. It came together so quickly I've barely had a chance to tire of it. On this occasion my reticence is more to do with the memories the sounds will trigger next time I put it on the stereo. Not a new phenomenon of course, the power of music to flick the switch on a buried fragment of memory, an autobiographical moment. Sometimes this is a good thing. Certain albums and songs bring back many happy memories each time I play them, and as a result I play them a lot. But sometimes you find yourself walking down a dark and unnerving path filled with bleak unwanted imagery. An example: I still feel a sense of unease listening to Roy Montgomery's solo version of 'It's Cold Outside' because that was what my iPod had shuffled into place as I sat on a London underground train carriage at the moment terrorists detonated bombs further up the line on July 7 2005. I now associate the song with the horrific images I saw on TV when I finally made it home several hours later. I can still listen to it but it's been loaded with a heavy emotional charge by association. And unfortunately this new LP of mine has ended up in a similar box. Which is annoying, because I think it's quite a good record, one of my best even. And really if I'm totally honest, I'm grateful for it's existence, because when the test pressing arrived on my doorstep almost a month to the day that I type these words, I was so impatient to spin the vinyl I postponed my plans for the afternoon, juggled my priorities and sat down to listen to the record immediately. And incredibly I nearly got right through without interruption.

That day in question was just under a month ago as I type this, Tuesday February 22 2011. Around lunchtime. The priorities I tossed around included driving the 10km from Lyttelton into central Christchurch, running a couple of errands, arranging a run of posters and cover artwork to be printed at Roneo on High Street. Pretty standard run of the mill stuff. Possibly I would've picked up a coffee and some muffins from C1 next door and sauntered the two blocks or so to my wife's place of work on Hereford St to eat lunch with her by the river. As I've done many times before I would've parked at South City, a brutally ugly shopping centre with a conveniently lax 2 hour free parking window for it's shoppers, most of whom actually park there and shop elsewhere. Including me. Parking in central Christchurch is irritating and expensive to say the least. In fact driving through the town is a pain in the arse on a good day. I'll walk everywhere if I can get away with it. On this occasion however, the sudden arrival of my record meant I was still at home, sitting in my office, listening to the results of about two weeks of recording and a month or so of editing as it revolved on the turntable temporarily stationed on the floor. At 12:51pm, 5 minutes from the end, somewhere between the forest and the sky, the music stopped.

The sounds of korimako and crackling dead leaves, coupled with some subtle electronic undertones from my guitar, became instantly and violently redundant in one shuddering subterranean overdub. My ancient and feeble sound system was no match for it's relentless, roaring low frequencies. The turntable gave up and switched itself off, powerless - literally. The room I sat in was transformed in an instant from a recently tidied office into a jumbled chaotic totem to material obsessions, a ragged pile of treasures wrapped in plastic and cardboard, topped off by the very containers they had been housed in, shelves teetering like a disheveled monument to collectable follies. And as for me, instinctively I'd fled the room in the first seconds at a speed that nearly defied the shockwaves passing under the house. I suppose in all fairness I'd had nearly 6 months training under my belt since the September 4 2010 earthquake and was subconsciously prepared for any eventuality. Plus I was sitting facing the door making my exit truly straightforward. It was a good 6 hours before I noticed the dull twinge in my back that signaled a strain on muscles called into action without sufficient warmup.

Lurching like an old drunk, unable to stand upright in a manor to which I'm normally accustomed, I grabbed at the handle of the already jammed front door to stop falling backwards wrenching it open in the process. I quickly wished I hadn't. Wide-eyed, the first thing I saw was the surreal site of our letterbox rapidly vibrating on it's metal pole, a white blur. Beyond that the road was actually physically leaping up and down as the waves passed through, accentuated no doubt by the same movement of the floor under my feet. Incredible. It was like riding an out of control jackhammer. As I braced myself in the doorway, out of the corner of my eye I saw the neighbour's garage collapse as he ran backwards out of the way. The tiles on the roof of the house on the hill opposite scattered in all directions. And then it was over, all still save the roar as the growl of the splintering earth dissipated across the harbour. In the distance children screamed, presumably from Lyttelton Main School across the valley. Out on the harbour a tannoy echoed from the docks. The normally raucous birds were silent. 15 seconds had passed.

On returning to my office to dig my phone out from under a pile of cds I noticed without much surprise that the computer monitor had fallen from the desk onto the floor. What did surprise me was that it missed the turntable and my test pressing by millimeters, somehow finding a space on the floor just big enough to fit. A heavy shelf that used to store the ridiculous amounts of 7"s we'd acquired over the years lay across the chair I'd been sitting in, having fallen from it's lofty perch above my head. I was too shaken to deal with what I saw and after scaling a mound of dvds to find the phone, went back outside, the vision of the leaping road outside still fresh in my mind. The front door wouldn't shut, it's jamb askew by about 15 millimeters, evidence of the subsidence later found underneath the foundations. I stood on the deck and looked through the french doors to the kitchen, all the cupboards flung open, everything spilled onto the floor, smashed. Freshly homemade tomato sauces splattered in every direction, some random drops even splashing up to the ceiling. The 9 month old woodburner had been violently wrenched 45º off axis. It took three of us to lift that into the house last May. The sliding door had been lifted out of it's tracks and dropped back down with such force it shattered the window, glass shards hanging at odd angles. The deck under my feet seemed to have sunk a little, but maybe it was my shaking legs of jelly that exaggerated the feeling the whole thing could collapse under me at any moment.

Strangely I realized I'd grabbed my video camera from the desk when I picked up my phone. I don't remember doing this but it was there in my hand. I went back inside, shakily filming the mess, vague thoughts of documenting it for insurance purposes or some kind of random documentary. As I scanned the room an aftershock shook the house. One of several over the course of a few minutes filming, and the first of 100s to come over the next few days. The few seconds of film reveals my jittery unsteady gaze and the utterance of the name of the lord, well one of the more commonly occurring lords in our vernacular at least. But the most agonizing thing to behold is not the visuals on film but the sound of my breathing captured by the camera's built in microphone. Deep, sharp breaths. I'm in shock, automatically trying to control the panic as adrenaline shoots through my body like a burst water main. It's unnerving to witness a few weeks later. Of course I don't remember breathing like that at the time. After a third heartstopping aftershock rattled the loose doors I gave up filming and walked off down our street in a daze to check on friends and neighbours, leaving the house wide open. A woman down the road was screaming hysterically, her two children at school in Christchurch, out of reach and contact on the other side of the Port Hills that loomed over us, 40cm taller than they had been a few moments earlier. Other people were standing in the street talking feverishly. I remember being amazed at how many people were at home at 1pm on a Tuesday. Some were smiling, cracking a joke, but the laughter was nervously strained, forced.

All this time I was trying to punch out text messages on my phone with fingers that wouldn't function as fingers normally should. I'd got a brief 'ok' from my wife Andrea who had escaped from her damaged office in the heart of Christchurch, but naturally I really wanted to speak to her. It took an age to get through on the overloaded phone network. Finally, over half an hour after the quake I got to hear her voice, a totem of almost normality in the chaos, at least until she described her experiences in the chaotic central city. She'd got out of her building ok and was walking through several blocks to get to a workmate's car to try and get home. There was rubble everywhere, and dust clouded every corner. She'd just walked past a bus crushed by a fallen facade, people trapped inside, others scrambling to pull them free. Up until this point I hadn't really thought about how Christchurch itself might have feared in the quake, such was the tunnel vision-like focus on my own physical space in Lyttelton. But Andrea's brief description of the horrors she had seen hit me like a kick in the stomach. Lives were winking out right there and then, as we spoke. Not on TV in some distant land, but right here, right now. For the first time that day, but not the last tears welled up. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

The 6.3 magnitude earthquake that shook Christchurch to it's core on February 22, centred a mere geological stones throw from where I sat in my office in Lyttelton, has irrevocably dealt us a mental blow, both individually, and as a wider community. All the 'what ifs' started to infiltrate our thinking immediately. The near misses and close shaves many of us had. The slightly irrational guilt at escaping without injury when others weren't so lucky. I got away with a sore back and a cut on my thumb. The back still hurst, but the thumb has healed. Lucky me. I still find myself running through the what ifs. All along the trail through Christchurch that I might have taken that afternoon buildings have been erased from the map. Some of them iconic, some ugly, some old, some new. Some buildings killed people, some held together long enough to save lives. The physical scars in the city centre will take years to heal, in some cases they may never be truly patched up. Welcome to the reality of living on a reclaimed swamp.

Right now, as the initial shock and trauma is replaced with a weary resignation that our fragile existence on this planet is so uncertain, a feeling not too subtly reinforced by the current Japanese tragedy, there comes the realisation that most of us will carry this for the rest of our lives, one way or another. So many signposts, so many shared memories. And of course we've got the crackpots and their wayward pseudo science attempting to rationalize the whole thing in a common placating language. As I write it is nearly midnight on March 19. Tomorrow we are supposed to have a massive earthquake according to a local new age peddler. It's all about the proximity of the moon and gravitational pull apparently. A reasoning so simple it must be true. Hundreds are fleeing the city for the weekend.

So there you have it. All in all, a new record by an obscure sound artist from New Zealand seems pretty irrelevant now.

Except for one thing. Well, two things: 1: music is an important salve in times of stress. Totally up to you what type of music of course. I tend to dive headlong into bouts of listening to 60s & 70s era pop/rock when suffering a brain strain, but that's just me. It's the desire to trigger the happy memories that those tunes fire up in my head. It's a release valve. I might have to rethink the storage options in the near future but I'll always carry with me a ready supply of tuneful band aids.

And No. 2 is for the liner note obsessives. Specifically, the timings around the creation of this particular record need some mention for purposes of context.

'Let's Hide Under The House Until They've Gone' was recorded in double quick time during July and August 2010. After months of writer's block (or sound artist's block perhaps?) the chance rediscovery of my old Diplomat bass guitar spurred a furious few days of recording that yielded no less than 3 LPs worth of material. The final master for this LP was completed and posted to Basses Frequences in France a couple of weeks later. All very swift by my standards. I was pretty pleased with myself on the day of it's completion and celebrated with a few pints at El Santo Porteno here in Lyttelton (now El Santo Muerto sadly), accompanied by the dulcet and very live tones of Bruce Russell and Greg Malcolm in the corner of the bar. Lovely way to end a successful period of creativity. Home to bed at 1am. The date for historians and trainspotters was September 4 2010. Sound the ominous strings.

3 1/2 hours later we were awoken by what we thought at the time was the big seismic event we'll never forget, the 7.1 magnitude quake centred some 40km west of the city, destroying many buildings, damaging many more, and killing absolutely no one. Not one life lost. Amazing. It was quickly termed a miracle by those who struggle with words. Cue yet more crackpots, soothsayers and buckets of pitiful pedantic politicking. Cue complacency and smug assurance in the quality of our building codes. Cue months and months of red tape, hand wringing and deliberation, some of which would have tragic consequences nearly 6 months later.

Psychologically of course, the September 4 event became larger than the physical shake itself, and the aftershocks, both real and the one's repeating in our heads every time a truck drove past meant we in Canterbury had nothing much else to occupy our collective minds for the remainder of the year. The rest of NZ became bored with our problems within weeks but we couldn't shake it off, pun very definitely intended. A big aftershock under Lyttelton on September 8 and another one on December 26 under the city itself served as possible harbingers and exacerbated the sense of forboding. They were on different previously undisclosed faults. Geologists were tentatively puzzled. Would there be more to come?

Naturally the September 4 earthquake affected me, as it did everyone I know here. In fact it became somewhat of an obsession. Despite a nagging reluctance at attaching some garbled meaning to my recordings by way of contextual titles - recordings which, let's face it, occur as distinct and separate entities from any real event in my life - I decided towards the end of the month to give my completed record a vaguely earthquake connected theme. It seemed serendipitous at least, both the timing of it's completion a few hours before, and more importantly to my ears, the use of a bass guitar, complimented by a down-tuned 6 string. The slightly chilly, brooding bass heavy tones I'd created had a sense of synchronicity with the seismic events that crawled out from beneath the hills in the early pre-dawn hours of that Saturday morning, albeit on a vastly diminished scale.

The first semi-loaded stream of consciousness phrase I came up with ultimately became the name of the LP. I likened the rude awakening on September 4 to a battalion of godzilla-like monsters stomping down the hill, and wanting to run and hide. Childlike, helpless. I should state at this point hiding under our house is probably not a great idea, considering the current damage to our foundations. Hiding under the bed might be a more sensible notion, although as any child will tell you, that's where the monsters live, so we're fucked whichever way we look at it. (Actually, current talk states that hiding beside the bed is apparently a good move in an earthquake, for those taking notes.)

Ruamoko is the Maori god of earthquakes. You know you live in earthquake country when the oldest human inhabitants of Aotearoa have a mythical figure dedicated to geological activity. The earliest Europeans knew it too, labeling New Zealand the Shaky Isles. So far we're averaging an event of this scale every 80 or so years. Suits me fine. If true, I'll either be dust or cryogenically decommissioned by the time the next one strikes.

Evil Earth Hum says all it needs to without further explanation. And it's also another one of those double meanings I'm fond of, not that I should need to spell that out either, although I will to be pedantic. My bass hums reasonably chronically, it being of the cheap, poorly wired variety. The hum is coiled around the core of the main loop in this track.

Endless Slipping Away could be another way of describing hypnagogia. At least that's how I read it now. In the days following the September quake sleep became something of an occasional hobby as the fear of further geological upheavals rattled our nerves to breaking point. Constant adrenaline rushes at every thump, bump and distant 'bomb' meant we were forever queuing at sleep's border but never quite getting our passports stamped.

Between the Forest And The Sky is the one track on this new record that utilizes the environment of my home in Lyttelton over and above my own electronically generated contributions. It's the space where birds are dominant. It's where I'd like to be, floating above the earth that now seems so unstable and unfriendly. It's where I was when all hell broke loose on February 22. And it's where I've left this LP behind. The test pressing is still on the turntable now packed in storage, the surface of the disc covered in plaster fragments but otherwise mostly unscathed. As for me, I'm still trying to get my head around that unexpected 15 second lock groove near the end. I'm certain that wasn't on the master recording.

Peter Wright
Christchurch
March 19 2011

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released March 15, 2011

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