Perpetual Sound; The Locked Groove.
Perpetual Sound: The Recorded Locked Groove.
Browsing in one of my favourite second hand record shops, Rebound in York, I came across a release by the mysterious anarcho-post-rock soundscape merchants Godspeed You Black Emperor, a band whose records don’t seem to turn up much in not only second hand record shops, but any record shop, come to that. I’d been given their 1999 12” EP Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada and had been initially intrigued by what I’d heard, finding myself gradually pulled in and then hooked by their huge cinematic sound. A while later, I turned up a copy of their fourth album 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! complete with all inserts, again in the little treasure house that is Rebound. So, I was excited upon the discovery of this, their fifth release, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and made the purchase forthwith.
Godspeed make good use of drones as part of their sound aesthetic and as the record player tone arm got closer to the centre of side one of the album, I began to think that even they were being a tad experimental with a drone that lasted for minute after minute….but hang on, the tone arm has reached the end of side one….and is still playing, the aural equivalent of perpetual motion, as long as there isn’t a power cut, that is.
What’s going on?
Just a little trick utilising the locked groove, don’t you know? The recorded sound continues into the run-out groove and then into the continuous or locked groove which prevents the tone arm crashing into the centre label, thus creating a loop. The only way to turn off the sound is to lift the tone arm from the record….before madness is induced!!!....unless you have an automatically returning arm, of course, and then all the fun is just plain spoilt.
This got me thinking about other records in my collection which used the same idea, a few immediately coming to mind. But it’s strange how time can play tricks on the mind, isn’t it? The first album which I had remembered as definitely having a looped locked groove, in fact didn’t. Pulling out Choose Your Masques by Hawkwind from 1982 (have I ever mentioned before, they’re my favourite band?), I dropped the tone arm onto the last track of side one, a piece of weird electronica entitled “Utopia” which ends with the spoken phrase, “If you want to get into it, you’ve got to get out of it” (….man). I must admit, when I listen to Choose Your Masques now, it’s the re-released CD with extra (worthwhile) bonus tracks and of course the whole concept of the recorded locked groove doesn’t work with this format. (Yet another reason to choose vinyl; to hear the artist’s concepts as originally intended.) I hadn’t listened to the vinyl copy for ages and was convinced this phrase was repeated over and over until one lifted the tone arm. Wrong!! Yes, it repeats for a good minute or so but does in fact stop, the arm travelling into the locked groove and to silence.
Unperturbed, I dug a little deeper into the collection, the results of which follow in a bit with a selection of bona fide examples.
But first, there’s the nagging question of who dreamt up and used the idea of putting recorded sound into the usually unused locked groove in the first place? After a few minutes research ont’web, it seems the general consensus is that it was the Beatles on the track “A Day In The Life” which ends side two of their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album from 1967. As I don’t own the album, I can’t play it to see what happens but it’s apparently continuous backwards laughter and jabbering….as you’ll already know of course if you are a fan of the “Fab Four”. Since then, all manner of artists have made use of this idea. I’m sure you can think of some examples from your own collection which I’d love to hear about….I could make an addendum at the end of this article, even.
Taking the concept further still, it’s even been used to conceal hidden extra tracks; advance the needle past the locked groove and there’s more grooves with another song. Albums consisting solely of locked groove tracks have also been released for the dance market where DJs would creatively use these loops “on the fly” in their club sets.
In the meantime, here are some examples of proper recorded locked grooves found amongst my own record collection….in chronological order for the complete list experience.
Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast by Pink Floyd, 1970.
One of those Floyd tracks which is either them being right-on arty-cutting-edge-experimental or just a plain bit of arsing about because they still had half of one side of an album to fill up with something; take your pick.
What does it do? The last track on side two which, after our Alan (Alan Styles, band roadie) has been recorded making a cup of tea, eating cereal, frying bacon and eggs and washing up, ends with a perpetually dripping tap….which brings the track full circle as this is how it starts, actually.
You Know You’re Only Dreaming by Hawkwind, 1971.
Yes, I knew there was a HW example somewhere and it’s found on the bands second long player, X In Search of Space, the last track of side one.
What does it do? A continuous rushing of white noise. If one didn’t know better, you’d swear the record player’s needle had skipped out of the locked groove and was merrily engraving the centre label.
Wet Cheese Delirium by Gong, 1971.
A prime example from the bonkers avant-garde French hippy collective, found on the classic Camembert Electrique LP, the last track of side one.
What does it do? (Probably stoned) French hippy incanting “Tu veux un Camembert? Un Camembert, un camembert...Tu veux un Camembert? Un Camembert...Tu veux un Camembert? Un Camembert...” which becomes smothered by a noise like the Tardis needing it’s plugs and points serviced. Barking!
By-Tor and the Snow Dog by Rush, 1975.
Prog and sorcery epic from the Canadian trios second album, Fly By Night. The first Rush album to feature Neil Peart (best drummer in the world, in my opinion) who also became the band’s chief lyricist. This is the album that Rush became Rush and stopped trying to be Led Zeppelin. By-Tor and the Snow Dog finally gathers together all the elements that made Rush brilliant; great riffs, odd time signatures, epic length (being 3 seconds shy of 9 minutes), various movements to make up the whole song and a ridiculous but excellent tale about a battle between a knight of Hades, By-Tor and his nemesis and saviour of the overworld, the Snow Dog. What’s not to like?
What does it do? A suitably convoluted Rush ending gives way to the sound of tinkling chimes which jingle and jangle….well, forever. Quite soothing, actually, after all that sword play.
Crystal Presence by Tim Blake, 1977.
The first solo album from ex-Gong synth player Tim Blake allowed him to develop his Crystal Machine concept of melding spacey electronica with an awesome light and laser show. Crystal Presence is track two and the closer on side B of the Crystal Machine album.
What does it do? Burbling electronic sounds over a drone, like some weird space machine from a 1950s B movie. On the record label the track is timed at 1 minute 28 seconds….very funny.
No,No,No by Def Leppard, 1981.
Closing track on side two of the Sheffield NWOBHM pioneers second album High ‘n’ Dry.
What does it do? After much frenetic riffing, our Joe (Elliott, lead singer) ends the song by screaming….well, “No, no, no” which just keeps on, on, on until one can be bothered to get up and remove the tone arm……….which is pretty quickly, actually.
String Loop Manufactured During Downpour............... by Godspeed You Black Emperor, 1997. (Added March 2020)
Ominous yet captivating, F# A# Infinity the debut album from Canadian "post rock" band GYBE, blends atmospheric soundscapes, spoken word, sampled sound and tape loops together with instruments as diverse as violin, glockenspiel and slide guitar to produce a truly original sound. Last track on side two does exactly what is says on the tin.
What does it do? Washes of string drone eventually settles to a single drone with a infinitely repeating rhythmic pulse. A sign of things to come........(see below).
The White Sea by The Sword, 2008.
Gods of the Earth, the second offering from stoner metal doom meisters The Sword from Austin, Texas, could only finish one way.
What does it do? After 45 minutes or so of much riffage and heaviness, fourth and final track on side two, The White Sea, resolves as guitars are propped up against amps and left to continually feedback as the band wander off for some….er….refreshment.
Lambs’ Breath by Godspeed You Black Emperor, 2015.
The expansive, cinematic sound of a desolate, frazzled, near future apocalyptic world. Clocking in at around 9 minutes long, this is the second and last track on side one of the Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress LP. Track one is over ten minutes long, by the way………..these lot don’t do things by halves, you know!
What does it do? Disquieting, experimental soundscape crescendo built up of layers of feeding back, looped, echo soaked instruments which eventually settles down to intertwining dissonant tones, ultimately resolving into a single unending drone (it’s the note F….I checked). Heavy guacamole, in other words.
The Elemental by Gong 2019 (Added August 2019).
Two Lps after the death of Daevid Allen, seen by many as Mr Gong, The Universe Also Collapses is a superbly focused and yet pretty "out there" slice of modern psychedelic prog jazz rock which, in my view, proves that Allen's vision and wishes for the band to be more expansive than the personality of a single person was totally correct and currently in very capable hands. Forty eight years after Camembert Electrique, the last track on side two re-visits the locked groove idea.
What does it do? After lyrics which in a nut shell expound the ethos of "live in the moment", the last line of the song "Remember, there is only now" is repeated a few times, the word "Remember" then imploring the listener to take on board all the philosophical life concepts previously extolled over and over and over.......well, you get the idea.
Main article written December 2018.