dum dum score

After the Fashionable Impure, CHRIS SIMPSON teamed up with MIE FIELDING to create ju-ju pell-mell, later known as dumdum SCORE.
ju-ju pell-mell on-stage 1986

ju-ju pell-mell were active for 2-3 years. In that time they did a handful of amazing live shows. The musicians performed in a confining and visually confounding square structure. It was made of steel and softened with angled mesh drapes. The structure created a great sense of anticipation before the band even appeared. Mie's bass guitar was already poised on-stage, not on the floor waiting to be picked up: it was on a stand at chest height ready for him to lean over and play. The duo added live guitar, bass and voice to dense backing tapes. Despite the music being, at times, practically thunderous, the musicians barely seemed to be there. There was no clear sight of a person; just a series of ever-changing fragments of ghostly forms. The figures were illuminated with strong shafts of light and photographic slide images broken-up by the semi-porous mesh. A truly astonishing experience. There were shows at Sunderland Q Club, Newcastle Riverside, Walkers Night Club and the Cluny Warehouse. (I operated the slide carousels at the shows. That was great fun!)

 

I attended a few of the recording sessions too. They were long, but at times mesmerising. Chris and Mie would work late into the night at Seen & Heard or Spectro Arts Centre. I remember many yards of audio tape carefully looped around upright mic stands to feed into the playing head of the 8 track equipment. This was close to sampling - pre-digital obviously. Nights in Chris Simpson's flat too, with Mie crouched under the piano tapping the strings with a pencil trying to find the wrong note. I have extremely fond memories of something - willful, you bet - but also wonderful.

In 1987, they released the album Audio Sheep on the NMW label. By then, the band had changed their name to dumdum SCORE.

 

SIMON McKAY

In 2020, Mie Fielding tells the dumdum SCORE story.

Q) How would you describe the music of dumdum SCORE (DDS)?

I think it's on the margins, waiting for an audience in some distant world. We were once described by the music press as 'rock renegades, casualties of society', which was pretty accurate. From our point of view DDS remains an artistic project that lacks the commercial clout to make the maths of any mainstream promotion worthwhile.

Q) So the music breaks convention?

Yes, but that's not to say the music lacks an artistic foundation or any 'new' musical theory. It's just that most artists would choose to actively ignore that foundation and 'new' theory due to the pressures of commercialisation. Therefore, it lives in a dark corner waiting to be found by someone at some point.

Q) Sounds like you have a marketing problem.

Yes, it would be nice to think our music would receive greater recognition. But without major promotion the reality remains obscurity. The fundamental problem has always been that the music does not fit into any recognised genre.  And yes, I know every band says that but unquestionably it's work that defies many entrenched old musical theories and as such tends to go over most people's heads. But for the careful knowledgeable listener, it's all there; just in bastardised way. If you take the tension and resolution for example, that is one of the foundations of all music or musical conversation. We managed to create them by employing either tones or rhythms that are out of sync and kilter, off-axis etc, but resolve or collide at various points - sometimes at several points within a composition, but perhaps not the expected and obvious points. This is something which fascinated the composer Charles Ives after he had encountered two different musical styles playing at the same time in Central Park New York.

Q) And you had your own Charles Ives moment?

Yes, Chris Simpson and I still recount the time we overheard a Newcastle band rehearsing at Spectro (can't remember their name) but what we both remembered was that they were all busy playing their own thing / tuning up etc. making a huge racket and for one brief moment their individual playing all merged into something amazing. But it was fleeting and the band members never even noticed it. After a quick '1234 ' they launched into some punky-type fast predictable thing. We loved that idea of chaos of the structureless melting into the sublime (if only for a fleeting moment). It's just that they didn't even register it.

Paul Milner (later Spearmint), Chris Simpson & Mie Fielding Arrive at New Media Workshop 1985

Q) Did you have any mentors and influences?

We were lucky to have received constant encouragement in the early days from Peter Burne-Jones at Spectro Arts, Newcastle upon Tyne. He was a qualified teacher and composer. He knew the works of Stockhausen and John Cage and had worked at EMS Studios in Stockholm and at the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht. He really knew his stuff and had been an audio pioneer of new speaker design etc. He could spot when we'd used Neumann microphones in recordings at other studios. He was very knowledgeable. In the area of musical development, Spectro was involved on the very frontiers and the Studio was available to anyone wanting to become involved with New Music.

Q) At that time, you changed your name from ju-ju pell-mell to dumdum SCORE and Spectro became New Media Workshop (NMW).

Yes, NMW released the vinyl version of Audio Sheep and distributed it through Red Rhino (linked to Rough Trade). To be fair, the distributor made a pretty good job of it in reality and although we never got paid (Red Rhino went bust), we got airplay in America and it was picked up by people in Europe as well as Bill Furlong who featured the first version of 'Heads of tulips' in the same edition of Audio Arts as Andy Warhol, so it kicked on from there.

That's Now archived in the Tate and it's very humbling that he chose our work as Audio Arts became a proverbial who's who of contemporary music and art. Philip Glass, Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono etc you name them. They were all featured at some time or another.

Q) Were the first recordings made in Spectro / NMW?

No, we did them in Chris' flat in Bensham on a cassette recorder - that was all we had. Then we would transfer them to Revox in the studio and make stuff into tape loops. There were minimal studio effects available so a lot of the pieces were actively processed through the Klark Teknics graphic equalisers 'on the fly' - you can hear this in Exbakavox the piece done for the Swedish compilation. It's a kind of filter sweeping that you hear every DJ in the world do these days - and now sounds very predictable because of that. So lots of the early stuff used rhythm (usually 4/4) but we soon got bored with it and found the most interesting stuff happened when the tapes moved out of sync as they had done in earlier times for the likes of Steve Reich. We then started to focus on the relationships between various parts and the truncated rhythms, becoming fascinated by the way they fell in and out of sync.

The 'Audio Sheep' album was also recorded in Chris's flat using gear from NMW with a Roland chorus echo borrowed from electronic musician Ian Boddy.

ju-ju pell-mell Posters 1984-85

Q) You mention Steve Reich. Was he an influence?

No, he wasn't an influence at all actually simply because at that time, in our ignorance, we had never heard of him. It's only a lot later that I've listened to and enjoyed his work. But it differs from DDS in that Reich's work normally involves a slow unfolding pattern that we would never use as we were much more influenced by the three minute punk ethos of Wire, especially their 154 album. So our patterns and events move much more quickly. Having said all that, there are similarities in Reich's use of canon something we looked to achieve by delays and multiple tape loops but we would hardly ever use them with strict timing , preferring to use canon as an abstract wash in what Reich would himself describe as 'phasing' or canon by irrational numbers. I suppose the nearest Reich composition that crosses our path would be 'The Desert Music' as a lot of our earlier tape stuff like 'The Velvet trap' has a similar meter and 4/4, and vocals are also part of that particular Reich piece.

Interestingly, in Steve Reich's 'Essays in Music' on Schoenberg he suggests that any music theory that eliminates musical pulse (which is what we generally do) is doomed to a marginal role as you'll never hear your postman whistling Schoenberg. That's perfectly true of course, and as long as those with a commercial interest continue to dictate musical taste then that will remain the case. You can't dance to DDS but the one aspect that comes with the elimination of pulse is freedom. And IF you can free your mind as Gide asks of the heavy chains of logic, then you can explore another musical universe that is varied, ugly and as beautiful as our own. But after centuries of the western world being force-fed a particular diet, the music of DDS is very much a different food. You almost need new utensils to eat it. And ultimately this is where we and Steve Reich part company as our music is far more descriptive and intuitive, but as a consequence far less accessible to those that are not prepared to listen.

Q) You decided to re-make Audio Sheep?

Yes, we'd talked about it for years but never got round to it. We'd found various very positive references to it on the web and given that the vinyl album was such shit quality we decided to have a go at it again. Fortunately, we still had all of the original tapes so Audio Sheep 'redux' was done in 2014.

dumdum SCORE Posters 1987
Q) Is the DDS sound elitist?
Well it's never be described as such, but I can imagine some would think so or at least pretentious. But isn't that the case with any art that someone doesn't get? We never ever set out to produce elitist impenetrable music. It's simply stuff that interests us and it just turns out the way it does. I suppose we've tried to evoke emotion through trying to discover new working methods which produced new musical soundscapes and subsequently music that 'moved' us.
 
Q) Which pieces would you say most demonstrate that?
 
Well they all do, but at their least subtle I would suggest 'Luck love' and 'The Walk' which, for want of a better word, are both ballads... but ballads set in dream-like soundscapes with abstract representations of movement. The drum rhythms on 'Luck love' are from an unknown and yet to be discovered continent. To have given them a strict familiar pulse would have contaminated that continent with one that's already known. The percussion remains virginal and fresh. Likewise, the vocals on 'The Walk' are similarly framed by the abstract sounds of imaginary church bells heard on that walk and form a descriptive audible scene that could not be set by using something like a guitar for instance. It's more reminiscent of Morton Feldman's piece for four pianos. This is a technique we've used over and over, but again Feldman's music is something I discovered much later in life. Ultimately, this technique keeps everything sounding different every time it's played and allows the listener to focus on any particular jarring pattern or fusion.
The original idea to sell every LP in a sleeve lifted from the promotional stands of high street record stores (examples above) didn't advance because shopkeepers would be too scared to handle it. Instead, the LP was released in a plain white sleeve with the acetate stickers and instructions for appropriating another artist's artwork.

Q) Are you planning to play live?

We'd love to play live again if we can find a suitable venue / festival. The last London thing we did was at Diorama and that was years ago. The pieces are all connected with visuals and the equipment we use is also part of the performance. Very much like watching a DJ, only there's a lot of tape loop stuff going on and a mass of technology. But it's very much art music so the processes and corresponding visuals are part of the same thing. Unfortunately, you don't get the full picture if you just listen to our stuff on CD. It's much more of a live thing. I think 'Going under again' and a couple of others on Audio Sheep come across almost like rock tracks, particularly on the 'redux' CD, but live, when the sound is coming from all directions, they're a completely different experience.

Q) What was the Diorama experience like?

Looking back, it was laughable but at the time extremely disappointing. We had no management or promoters and did everything ourselves which was just mad! We sent Janice Long - a Radio 1 presenter at the time, and with hindsight why we even considered her is beyond comprehension - a revolving electronic poster for the ICA gig. We were into presenting things differently. I remember getting a call from Radio 1, which I missed so I had to ring them back. I was really excited thinking that they might want a feature or something. Turns out, all we got was a good telling-off as the electronic poster had caused a bomb scare! There were no 2D posters anywhere (because in our naivety we hadn't paid to have them put up and thought the venues would do it). The result was hardly anyone turned up apart from Edward Tenpole Tudor who was really impressed, but he appeared too pissed to focus on what we were doing by the end of the evening.

Q) I remember the rave gig at Cluny Newcastle being a success.

Yes, that was amazing. It was absolutely packed. Pre-mobile phone and internet so God knows how people found out about it. My most vivid memory was two French girls telling me afterwards that they'd really enjoyed 'the lasers' which was odd because we never used lasers! They were referring to the scratched slide projections which produced very vivid electric blue lines. But future techno star Steevio was there with his band 'Acid'. Looking back, it was all way ahead of its time.

Q) And future releases?

There's the difficult second album that we've got lying around in various stages. We've talked endlessly about releasing it and ultimately this is what we do best - talk about everything for years. But what format to release it on? My gut instinct is it will be on blu ray 5.1 surround sound so that the visual side of things gets some representation as well as the spatial quality of the music.

More about dumdum SCORE on Band Camp click here

You can buy their album Audio Sheep click here

Below, listen to an edition of Post Punk Britain radio show that features them

Eccentric Sleeve Notes, Home Page Logo, Simon McKay, Said Liquidator, Newcastle Upon Tyne, punk, post-punk
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