38th Parallel

38th Parallel was a band active in Nottingham in the mid 1980s, heavily influenced by Can, Popol Vuh, Cararet Voltaire.

The band started as a two piece comprising Paul Watson and Dave Lock and later adding Alan Walker (Landschaft), recruited via the message board in legendary record store Selectadisc. Prior to 38th Parallel, Alan had been a member of The Perfect Party, a bouncy pop dance group, famed in Nottingham for their energetic live performances. 38th Parallel was the polar opposite; a doomy ensemble of tibetan bells and pulsing Roland sysnth lines. Alan's musical taste in his Perfect Party incarnation was broad, leaning towards Factory records, Cherry Red, Rough Trade and the proliferation of independents extant then. Paul added Popol Vuh, Can, Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV influences and, though he may not realise it now, was to determine Alan's creative direction for the rest of his life. Dave was a pure technician pushing the boundaries of the possible - extending to dismantling his kit to see how it worked... Alan's contribution to The Perfect Party had been simple guitar embelishments in the manner of Velvet Underground and choppy wah wah funk rhythm lines as well as one finger synth noodling on the highly temperamental Wasp synthesiser (whose oscillators de-stabilised under hot stage lights). From this background Alan added a genre-busting style and technique to the 38th Parallel sound. Alan was a weaver into the warp and weft created by Paul and Dave. Dave laid down complex rhythms and texture with his TB303 and Drumatix, overlaid with SH09 progressions, taking full advantage of the knob and slider user controls. Their step sequencing facility was the signature 38th Parallel sound. Paul added his free improvised Can and Popol Vuh influenced e-bow guitar, percussion texture, found-sounds and occasional vocals. Our collected influences were a pot-boil of Can, Cabaret Voltaire, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, 23 Skiddoo Throbbing Gristle and perhaps most of all Popol Vuh.

The logistics of transporting heavy and fragile electronic instruments meant there were very few live performances. Alan can remember only two over his involvement of a couple of years of activity; one succesful just before he joined: at The Malthouse, a Nottingham pub, in their upstairs function room [the performance was a recorded and provides a useful clue to the date - an audience member can be heard saying Klaus Wunderlich was playing that evening at the Concert Hall!]; one less so when Alan was in the band - the stage monitors were completely ineffective and the band had to play by touch. Both performances were well attended as were most gigs in Nottingham's then lively local band scene. But the band's main creative focus was extensive jam sessions recorded on cassette and later Paul's TEAC 4-track. 38th Parallel never really refined anything - it was just record and on to the next groove-out. As a consequence some of the pieces are rambling and unstructured, but each has it's own special character that defined the band's sound.

Alan has been considering for a number of years an excercise to curate the 38th Parallel archive of the 11 x C90s in his posession. To capture to 16bit wav files, cleanse of noise, edit and package a compilation. Large capacity storage, effective affordable home studio software and more importantly a lot of spare time [courtesy of the Covid 19 lockdown] has made this possible. Success or failure will be determined by the integrity of the source media, the result of the 38th Parallel method of using the overdub capability of our TEAC cassette machine. The material is confirmed as recoverable by experiment on a number of shorter works, leading to a major dismantle / re-assembly of a 20+ minute classic 38th Parallel work, trimmed down from an unwieldy 37 minute improvisation. Alan set himself rules: no new material allowed except for minor re-touches derived from the original recorded piece; edits allowed (culling material that spoils the pace and structure of the parent body of the piece), EQ adjustment and improvements to stereo image allowed, no additional reverb allowed.

Alan is recording progress here on landschaft.co.uk at each stage below:

1. Record 11 x C90 cassetes to wav [started 10 January 2021, completed 13 January 2021]

2. Clean up the quality using Spectral Layers 7 Pro de-hiss/de-noise toolkit [started 8 January 2021, completed 25 January 2021]

3. Section up the wavs to pieces [started 8 January 2021, completed 25 January 2021]

4. Document (with notes on duration, recording quality etc [completed 25 January 2021]

5. Decide on an hour of the best work [started 25 January 2021, completed 19 February 2021]

6. Mix the selection down to consistent volume and EQ. Biggest challenge [started 19 February 2021 - completed 10 March 2021].

7. Compile to CD and play/review EQ on a number of systems to ensure balances correct.[completed 22 March 2021]

8. Publish an anthology [completed 22 March 2021]

9. Pass copy of full archive to Paul to second set of ears critique. [completed 22 March 2021]

10. Maybe... separate out the instruments using spectral analysis, clean and rebuild, re-record

38th Parallel happened in the golden age of analog sysnthesis and the availability of affordable recording equipment. The band never used a professional recording studio. Their strength, in the end was their downfall. They were keen early adopters of music technology. Fine when it added to creativity, but when Dave bought a Yamaha digital drum machine [clinical, no knobs, no capability for on the fly tweaks], Alan bought a Yamaha DX9 [horrible thin sounds, nigh on impossible to programme] it sapped their immediacy and creative potential. The only positives of all of that new kit, Alan's Yamaha digital reverb and Paul's digital delay line that had a facility to record short loops of sampled sound. Alan made his foundation work 'Ghost Images of Forgotten Skyscrapers' using digital loops on Paul's digital delay unit - recently revitalised and re-released on Bandcamp. The digital instruments' band killer was their inflexibility in live improvisation, in contrast to the Roland rig's tweakability. Alan refects back now on what may have happened if the band had spent their resources buying up old analog synths. 38th Parallel was stranded high and dry feeling they had to use their expensive new toys that didn't really fit their strengths.

Fast forwards to 2020. Paul got in touch with Alan to say there was an online cassette archive, Tape-Mag with 38th Parallel featuring as 'surprise of the week', a message forwarded on from old Tiab Gulls/Metamorphasis/391 chum Nick Cope. This German archive had somehow acquired a 38th Parallel demo cassette, or at last a photograph of one. That achieved the 'surprise' obective - Alan and Paul were astonished! That was anonther push from behind adding to Alan and Paul's aspiration of getting their music future proofed against being locked out of aging technology. Safely in the digital realm on the cloud will safeguard this important period of the friends' lives. In the same way, Nick has recorded his substantial audio-visual archive at Nick Cope Film where 38th Parallel are represented in the 1980s section. Nick was an occasional fourth member of the ensemble contributing with super 8 projections, the start of his art practice that led him via visuals work with Cabaret Voltaire to a career in academia and international spokesperson for scratch video. Nick's other contribution was to shave Alan's head with hand clippers lawn mower style down the middle in the house he shared with other uni creatives in Sheffield. That racheted up the band's image a notch or two adding to their already formidable street cred.

What came after 38th Parallel? Dave may have retired from music. The last time the three 38th Parallel members were together was at a birthday party about five years ago (2015). Paul and Alan are in occasional touch - last time at a performance of Steve Reich's 'Music for 18 Musicians' about a year ago (2019) and a few weeks ago about the tape-mag.com revelation. After 38th Parallel, house music arrived and Alan joined with Sven a friend of Nick's from Sheffield Hallamshire to form Diskonexion [more on that another day...], and after that in the early 2000's Alan formed his Landschaft project, this repository for his lifetime artistic output.

What has this exploration taught me? The recent past of the marginally important is a blur. Gig posters where they have been kept are undated or at best are inscribed with day and month; recordings are undocumented with at best a song title. It was all about the doing and less about the keeping. I hope this brief archive lifts that past out of the mud of time and preserves the memories that made my generation.