After Wire went on hiatus in 1980, Bruce Gilbert, Colin
Newman and Graham Lewis embarked on a fertile five-year stretch of
extra-curricular projects. While Newman’s solo avant-pop albums continued
mostly in a song-based medium, Gilbert pursued his avant-garde interest in
sculpting with sound. He’d first explored that territory several years before
he plugged in an electric guitar with Wire, experimenting with reel-to-reel
tape recorders and oscillators to assemble minimalist, electronic soundscapes.
Gilbert revived these more abstract interests in the early ’80s, collaborating
with Lewis and other artists in various configurations such as Dome, Cupol and
Duet Emmo. At this time, he also met Michael Clark, then the enfant terrible of contemporary British
ballet, who asked him to compose three ten-minute tracks for a dance piece (Do You Me? I Did). Those tracks featured
on This Way, Gilbert’s 1984 solo
debut for Mute. This 25th anniversary reissue, remastered by Russell Haswell,
is actually the first time the album has been released as a stand-alone CD.
Astringent noise and unsettling ambience have always been
staples of Gilbert’s challenging oeuvre, but the three parts of “Work for Do You Me? I Did” find him in a
relatively expansive and accessible mood. Here he works with defamiliarized,
often disquieting sounds to craft an arresting, starkly beautiful atmosphere of
otherness. These striking pieces rank among Gilbert’s best recordings as he
balances seemingly incompatible melodic fragility and industrial noisiness – a
balance absent from later work like In
Esse, which occupied the random, cacophonous end of the electronic
spectrum, its Metal Machine Music aesthetic engaging listeners in an almost coercive, assaultive manner.
During the first two parts of “Work for Do You Me? I Did,” ethereal
melodies evoking strings or a Popol Vuh choir cohabit with apparently
antithetical elements – clunky metallic rhythms and sparse, unmusical audio
detritus (sounds that suggest the hissing of steam and a baby’s grating cry,
for instance). A more rigid structure emerges in the third section as a slow
beat hypnotically morphs – via an interlude of revenant organ – into a
concluding burst of proto-House music. Two shorter tracks, “Here
Visit” and “U, Mu, U,” are exercises in strict rhythmic
insistence; while the former maintains a fairly constant pitch of intensity,
the accelerating minimalist beat of the latter calls to mind machinery on the
blink, set to explode.
With the benefit of hindsight, This Way proves something of a revelation. Considered in the
broader historical trajectory of electronica, it emphasizes the significant
place that Gilbert’s work occupies in the tradition of experimental music after
punk. Much like the Dome collaborations with Lewis, This Way plays an important part in a lineage extending from
Kluster/Cluster to landmark records like Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92.
“Work for Do You Me? I Did (1
& 2),” “Work for Do You Me?
I Did (3)” WILSON NEATE