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This tape is an example of systems music, a genre that is growing in popularity.
As the reviews of Andrew Poppy's performance at the recent ZTT evenings in London, systems music is for 'not listening to;' it consists of a number of repeated musical phrases playing in and out of time with each other. These phrases can theoretically be played on any instrument, though they are almost always associated with synthesisers, which are best suited to repeating lines mechanically. The increase in availability of computer-controlled musical instruments, and home multi-track recording has made the basic tools of systems music available to all. Recording different phrases, and using them to create interesting patterns and musical structures has become far simpler. That said, there are few groups /individuals currently producing satisfying systems music - the Dead Goldfish Ensemble are one. You don't listen to systems music - you have it burbling quietly in the background. Its mathematical regularity is soothing and relaxing, and not unpleasing to the ear. Even the disharmonies that inevitably occur do not jar the ear. A recommended purchase.
Jon Lewin, Cambridge Weekly News
The masked goldfish swims away from the shoal of Peeved releases and gives us his second solo aquashow of synthesiser tunes. In fact his various fillets seem to be cropping up on numerous indie compilation cassettes at the moment, so your chances of hearing excerpts of his music are very strong. This is certainly a stronger collection than his first Peeved release "Structures & Strictures". The songs are shorter in length than previous outings & generally benefit from a less structured format. I believe that the Dead Goldfish was assisted by Jon Lewin from the sadly defunct Perfect Vision (stars of both John Peel's show & all too few releases). Expect more soon!
Stick It In Your Ear 122
An odd name for an odd band, I didn't know that any dead creature was capable of playing music, let alone goldfish. The ensemble (sounds like 2 or 3 people at the most) play music akin to Michael Nyman, though totally synthesized - so they also resemble Rimarimba. Most of the tracks are really good minimalist romantic music, ideally suited as soundtracks, or for just relaxing with. On the whole I prefer the A side which features 5 varied inventive tracks; whereas the B side has 3 longer tracks, the latter two - ERIC and COOL WALLS are a bit to minimalist for my taste, being very repetitive - probably more like Philip Glass.
So minimalist/systems music fans take heed that though this is ridiculously underpriced, the recording quality and presentation is really good.
Alan Freeman, Audion #4
Latest release is The Dead Goldfish Ensemble doing "Music For Bowls", another wade into the world of systems music. Systems music is music made (generally) with machines, and is often open to accusations of sterility. I don't hold with this attitude - although there is no conspicuous human presence in the Dead Goldfish Ensemble's instrumental work, there's a lot more wit and imagination in one of their pieces than in most of the heavy rock bands we've heard in the Rock Comp, so far. Having said that, I don't think this is as good as the DGE's last collection (Structures and Strictures) and the two best tracks are those already featured on the Rough Diamonds compilation.
Jon Lewin, Cambridge Weekly News
Poor Cambridge - a city of thousands, with barely a decent venue to its name, a dwindling list of decent groups to see, and a crew of musicians who seem able to bear criticism only if it comes from other musicians (the Koehorst school of sensitivity) or only if it doesn't (the Rae school of Lewin-baiting). The last issue of this august organ bore the imprint of some kind of despair, with only the desperate small-pond egoism of Double Yellow Line to provide laughs...
'What can a poor boy do, 'cept to sing in a rock'n'roll band?' The answers may not be legion, but they are there: music does not have to be shackled by either a moribund music scene, or by the expectations of parochial players and audiences. A boy or girl can, in these technologically wondrous times, make music that demands that s/he sing, nor play live, nor - God save the mark - worry about tock and bloody roll.
One person getting on with the job of providing an alternative to the kinds of music of which he is critical is Steve Hartwell - not an idle carper or self-interested performer, but rather someone who has done a great deal, single-handedly, to promote Cambridge music in all its forms, (variously glorious and appalling depending on how you like your blues wailing guitar solos and/or metronomic drum-machines), publicising it not only within the city but also, through his own Peeved record and tape label, literally across the globe on the worldwide network of indie-tape enthusiasts who record and distribute all manner of musics, from electronic and experimental to lush and poppy.
The selfsame equipment-crowded room that has been the womb of all those Cambridge compilation tapes (five of them, to date) has also seen the production of Steve's own music, one which takes full advantage of his knowledge of electronic wizardry and gobbles his hard-earned wages; more to the point, it is a music which turns its circumstances to account, not needing to be consumed in any other venue than your living-room, not standing or falling by the dictates of the usual live-gig considerations. It is a music on tape, to stay on tape. Steve has made quiet entries onto the local tape market he has helped to found (I can recall nobody doing anything like it before he arrived), using the name 'The High Tech Pagodas', and another strangely plural alias, 'The Dead Goldfish Ensemble' (an ironic reference to the way Peeved acquired the angry name after being forced to change from their original 'Goldfish' tag by an outfit who wrongly thought they'd got there first but had enough money to make shark-ish legal threats).
Steve's latest batch of work is entitled 'Music For Bowls' - perhaps a veiled stab at this little town, perhaps a hint of homage to Brian Eno's series of Ambient releases, each of which was to be designed for a specific location, though he got no further than 'Music For Airports'. It represents something of a development on Steve's first release, 'Structures and Strictures', though it remains within the confines suggested by that collection containing a number of instrumental pieces written and performed on computer-controlled synths. (I can almost hear an audible click as brains all over town switch off at the mention of such an idea, but for those of you who actually dare to live in the 20th century, I'll carry on...) Steve's interest in systems music, in which the main pleasure is derived from surprisingly various permutations and shifting relations between a small range of musical figures, has led him to experiment with note-patterns that overlay each other, constantly introducing subtle changes in sound, harmony and, therefore, mood into each piece. This is the startling thing - music made so deliberately mechanically ought surely to sound merely cold and unimaginative? So runs the argument of those opposed to this form, yet what it reveals is the fact that 'humanity' or 'expression', call it what you will, cannot be excluded so easily - factors such as the choice of pitch, tempo, and sound depend upon the producer of the music, and even if s/he should arrive at these decisions by a random or mathematical process, the listener may decode the result in just the same way as when s/he listens to conventionally played stuff. A piece with long deep notes can sound sedate or sad, whether played by a church organ or a Dead Goldfish.
There is a long tradition of such music - Eno, Gavin Bryars and Philip Glass spring immediately to mind, and before them were luminaries such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley and the oddly-named Moondog - so Steve's music can claim a lineage just as any pop form can: it's not a wayward game for one player.
Let me backtrack; I mentioned confines a while ago - the first thing you notice about Steve's music is a sense of strict purity. This was especially true of his first tape, where he resisted any temptation to break the mathematical sequence or to sentimentalise his systems of composition with undisciplined variation; what changes there are come from the ordered progression of staggered patterns. His latest pieces stick to this clean logic, but there seems to be an added panache, as if he is now more convinced of his method and can tug against the severity of it with what may be perceived as a wider range of atmospheres (hints of Devo in 'Intro', dramatic pseudo-chords in 'Dazzling One', haunting tones in 'A Little Bit Of Nonsense'). The quirky humour for which the artist is personally notorious also emerges, not only in some of his titling but also in terms of the music itself (thus 'Eric' contains rapid cut-ups of sound among which the car seems to detect a certain echo of Woody Woodpecker!).
I think he can afford to take this process even further in the future using is newly acquired sampling synth to include quotes of defiantly evocative sounds such as the human voice, while keeping that firm underpinning of machine-made structure. A different kind of music, too, from the usual run of things in Cambridge; but before you decide that computers and electronics can't be interesting, give a listen. In its quiet way, the Goldfish project is offering an example to people who want to make music but don't crave a stage; and even the wildest and most emotional forms of pop rely on a basic structure (both in the construction of songs and choruses and in the tightness of playing). Steve Hartwell just turns that inside out.
Steve Xerri, Scene And Heard Issue 8
The Dead Goldfish Ensemble - Hailing from England, this “group” (it is usually a one man operation) produces beautiful, intriguing sounds with electronics.
Certainly this collection of recordings is the Dead Goldfish Ensemble's most immediate and accessible work to date. There are distinct similarities with the minimal synthesiser material of Terry Riley circa Rainbow In Curved Air time. Early reactions suggest that it's not such a long way from John Cage to the Goldfish glass-bowl world. Next to Cage, this is chart-pop.
Stick It In Your Ear #141
Not much has changed in a year, this sounds much like the Ensemble's previous: bright intricately composed systems music seemingly performed on computer (much like Rimarimba's last effort). In fact I've gleaned the information that the Dead Goldfish are no more an Ensemble than Rimarimba. If you like "primitive" contemporary music like that of Pascal Comelade and systems music, this could well appeal.
Alan Freeman, Audion #10
The Dead Goldfish Ensemble will not be everybody's cup of tea. The music is best described on Peeved's Catalogue list: 'more systems, ambient, minimal music. Once described as the Penguin Cafe Orchestra play Kraftwerk.' There are two distinct sides to this tape, the first is what might be termed "conventional" (compared to the Ensemble's past offerings); side two represents a departure - a concept piece entitled "Phase", which was recorded at a proper recording studio in Devon, and is enhanced by drum patterns. The Dead Goldfish Ensemble's music always reminds me of Andrei Trakovsky's films, which have a reoccuring theme of running water - the Ensemble's plink-plink synth noises like a dripping tap.
Cambridge Weekly News
Let your mind be transported by the surrealist nightmare, as created on tape by The Dead Goldfish Ensemble. Here's how: close your eyes very tightly, apply your index fingers to your temples, and pull a pained expression on your face (like the ones Dr McCoy used to be so good at in Star Trek). You will find that bouncing eggs (yes, bouncing eggs!) will come bounding towards you in a menacing manner, excerpts from the film Koyaanisqatsi will appear before you, and after a little longer, a big sleep will overwhelm your overworked senses. The sounds of 'Reality' are a rather unique cross between Ceefax and the music on Countdown, where the contestants are busy scribbling away on their anagrams. It has that sort of nervous energy in it, an a white sterility that reminds you of microchips, supermarkets, and bright lights flickering on and off. And somehow the word Zanussi gets mixed up in it somewhere, ooops... time for my tablet........
Chris Williams, Scene And Heard No 15
The DGE's music has evolved over the years thanks to the continued growth & development of Steve Hartwell's writing and programming skills. These four extended pieces of synthesiser based music explode over a rhythmical base that sounds almost Balanese/Javanese in style. A fabulous & luxurious sound that is both absorbing and rewarding. Its undaunted spirit of adventure is highly recommended.
Stick It In Your Ear #166
This Ensemble hails from the south coast of our own fair country. Eye to Eye marks them out as producers of purveyors of warm, modest instrumental music, apparently synthetic in origin. The music displayed here is melodic and rhythmic, with a never-ending repetitive basis that keeps everything flowing smoothly along. The sounds are far from being cliched electronic creations, reminding me more of whimsical, alternate-world versions of real instruments in their range of tonality. The constantly repeating melodic phrases and rhythms is noticeably minimalist in style, the resemblance made even stronger thanks to the use of tuned percussive sounds (xylophone, marimbas etc). It's pleasant stuff, although the synthetic nature of the instrumentation makes it sometimes sound a bit too plastic. It easily had enough intricacy and variety to maintain my interest. The third track, IE, is enjoyably lively, while the final piece consists mostly of birdsong and soft instrumental drones.
Sonic explorations from a mysterious group (or person - even this is not clear) in England. The tracks have names like "IC" and "IF". Mostly they are synthesizer developments, playing back and forth with simple noises and rhythms until a point of near exhaustion sets in - but generally they know when to stop. On the B side some bird and animal noises are added, but I'm not sure they were an aid to the simple purity of the music.
Factsheet Five #33
This tape consists of four compositions by England's Dead Goldfish Ensemble, which would appear to consist of one Stephen Hartwell. 'IC' and 'IE' are pleasant minimalism on a small scale, Glass-like compositions, but with greater life and buoyancy. Hartwell takes the electronics through a range of timbres that make these two pieces pleasing to the ear. 'ID' is similar, but uses strictly xylophone / marimba and string sounds. 'IF' goes for subtle ambience. Chirping and twittering birds abound. It's a bright day, but not sunny, and a feeling of discord seeps in from underneath. Highway noises, thunder, and church bells intrude now and then, dissipating the tranquillity further, but the birds are persistent, and seem to ignore these goings on. All four pieces go on a bit too long, without enough of a sense of development for their length. Other than that Eye To Eye is very well done, without the feeling of amateurism one experiences with many cassettes.
Pleasant electronic excursions from this British group. Pretty and repetitive, or pretty repetitive, take your pick.
A really intriguing kind of hypnosis can set in if you listen to this often enough. The uncredited ensemble play various synths and sequencers, and the feel of the piece is not unlike a more subtle 'Music With Changing Parts'. Meaning, you see, that Dead Goldfish don't clank like early Glass, tending more towards whirring and clicking. Only the last of the four lengthy bits is somewhat puzzling, as it resembles the last 30 seconds (birds, waterfall, drone chords) of Yes' 'Close To The Edge', with church bells added and the whole thing taffy-pulled to 15 minutes or so. Still, it's nothing if not a nice gentle comedown to a well- crafted musical machinist's fantasy.
This first cassette which I heard was a big interest and surprise. Of curse, these minimal exp. have some good success! Rhythm and timbre together. My favourites - IC - attractive track with development - good! IF - attractive forest as memory about one early Pink Floyd song.
Dainis Bushmanis, Latvia
Probably this countries most prolific 'systems' music maker if appearances upon European compilation tapes are anything to go by, the DGE are often overlooked when people wax lyrical about mind-expanding electronic music. DGE's work is nevertheless one of the genre's archetypes. At just about 40 minutes, this is concise & diverse enough to hold the attention.
Stick It In Your Ear #173
Three new works from Steve Hartwell, Cambridge's King of computer composed bedsit music, released on an Italian tape label. There's an international network of like-minded people producing home made music, so it's really no surprise to find out that The Dead Goldfish Ensemble's name is known throughout Europe, within this underground cottage industry; the Goldfish has even appeared on a Belgian-released compilation LP. But back to this release: 'Talk To Say' is a typical Goldfish tune - plinnk, plonnk, oriental sounding repetitive keyboard ramblings, muzac for Peking take-aways, perhaps. 'Darzet' shows a bit more variety by using other keyboard sounds, which gives sharper and extra effects, e.g. choral, brass. 'Sumday' opens with an industrial sounding synth riff, but then moves back into familiar territory before concluding with a repeat dose of the opening bars.
It is definitely music for doing something to - but exactly what, I'll leave that up to the individual listener.
Phil Johnson, Scene And Heard #25
By far the DGE are this reviewer's favourite systems music 'band'. One suspects that beneath the oddball straitjacket lurks a pop monster, biding its time and straining at the straps. In part, this prophecy has already come true, with the DGE's numerous experiments with other like-minded individuals cropping up all over the place, on European user-friendly tape compilations. This is a wonderful record.
Stick It In Your Ear #177
Owners of the silliest name of all time and with an equally unlikely sounding release as well, I'm not at all sure if this is going to be a waste of valuable sleeping time. I've never been fond of joke bands as I find the jokes don't bear retelling and usually weren't funny in the first place. So, gritting my teeth against what I thought was the inevitable nursery rhymes and farting noises, I dipped my toe into the Dead Goldfish bowl and found that actually it is very good! Basing the theme of the tape around the panda might sound a stupid idea, rather like writing music for stuffed teddy bears, but it has given the DGE an excuse to indulge in some authentic sounding Chinese pastiches, complete with Koto's and minor key plinky-plonky sounds. The sort of thing you'd find in cheap Chinese film soundtracks, all tacky and everything covered in either rice paper or blobby Chinese graffiti. The front cover shot of a cuddly panda wearing a Walkman says it all really. Yes, it's still a bit silly, but only by inference. Get serious guy, you know what you are doing with those instruments, no need to hide behind a load of dead goldfish anymore.
Naked, Music From The Empty Quarter #6
This is an eight track album where the influence of the Orient (ie. Chinese and Gamelan music) doesn't quite come off. I'm afraid that the music presented here lacks not only the complexity of the original, it also lacks the subtlety of that sound. The keyboards and synths used don't emulate the delicate qualities of the original instruments - in fact some of the sounds owe more to first generation computer music than to a Gamelan orchestra. The Dead Goldfish Ensemble are trying for a type of oriental percussive ambient music, but unfortunately it's not for me.
Gary Scott, Audion #21, May 1992
I enjoyed 'Music For Pandas' - peaceful and happy, always a welcome combination!
Mike Tetrault, Epitapes
I don't get much stuff from England. Maybe it's because THEY are more into trends than I am. However, I did receive a very nice tape of this ensemble. Their minimalistic music is very well structured, but also fragile. It could be music for a doll-movie or for a documentary on how to make bright and intelligent tunes.
You should taste this delicatesse.
Source uncertain as cut out and filed...
TDGE sind in der Tapeszene keine Unbekannten. Wie erwartet gibt es ausschkieblich elektronische Klange zu horen. Hervorzuheben ist, dass die Molodieelemente meistens gleichzeitig auch als Rhythmusuntermalung eingesetzt werden. Insbesondre die erste Seite dieses Tapes uberzeugt durch die geschickte Verwendung fremdartiger Sound.
Ruhige, wohltonende, sich uberlagemde sequenceridange, meditativ blo langellig, fast nervig. Platschert so vor sich den Muzak fur den Supermarkt des Jahres 2000 vorstollen. Fur heutige Verwendung schlage ich vor: fur gestrasste Manager zum Abschalten nach Feierabend, fur den nachrilichen Trucker zum Einnicken am Steuer, zur Untermalung fur Wasserspiele oder den Pausen-Rundflug im Fernsehen. Garantiert jedoch nicht fur den PENIS-Laser. Auch die witzigen Elemente in "Ooh!" retten nicht vor IRRE-Tapes.
Der Krumische Peuis
Das Dead Goldfish Ensemble, spezialisiert auf ethnographisch elektrifizierte Globalmusik, konzentriet sich auf 'Listen Ear!' (auch IRRE tapes....) auf perkussiv Gamelanklange aus westlicher Sicht, ahnlich wie bereits 23 Skidoo mit dieser Musik verfahren sind, nur mit mehr Sinn fur skulpturhafte Midimelodien und legerer Verspieltheit, die die fremdlandische Atmosphare schnell ins Ohr dringen lasst.
The Dead Goldfish Ensemble is perhaps the most famous incarnation of that prolific machine-man, Steve Hartwell, a veritable master of monickered anonymity. The Ensemble's style of pulsing, uplifting electronics isn't far removed from the rich minimalism of Glass and Reich, especially on the soulful 'Dazzle' or the side-long 'IC(1)' where the music is given the space to develop gradually in true minimalist fashion. Strings of arpeggiated notes flutter from the speaker, cluster together in waves and break away into sublime revolving sequences of melody. However, the music here is not quite as stilted and formulaic as recent outpourings from the maternal grandparents of minimalism. And not wishing to sound anti-intellectual, but Steve's compositions have no great ideological meaning behind them, no great rhetoric or moral messages. They simply exist. And for this, they sound so much better. All I can say then is - long may the fish remain deceased!
VL, Music From The Empty Quarter #9
The Dead Goldfish Ensemble is perhaps the most famous incarnation of that prolific machine-man, Steve Hartwell, a veritable master of monickered anonymity. The Ensemble’s style of pulsing, uplifting electronics isn’t far removed from the rich minimalism of Glass and Reich, especially on the soulful ‘Dazzle’ or the side-long ‘IC(1)’ where the music is given the space to develop gradually in true minimalist fashion. Strings of arpeggiated notes flutter from the speaker, cluster together in waves and break away into sublime revolving sequences of melody. However, the music here is not quite as stilted and formulaic as recent outpourings from the maternal grandparents of minimalism. After The Goldfish was released as a cassette by Tonspur Tapes (TT 53) in 1992.
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