This article was originally published in September 2011
Global Communication, the duo of Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton, is back.
Since meeting in Somerset in the ’91, Middleton and Pritchard have collaborated on numerous projects in addition to Global Communication: among them the Detroit-influenced techno partnership Reload & E:621, Secret Ingredients, a tribute to the house and garage sounds of Chicago and New York, and the breakbeat-oriented Jedi Knights (whose album New School Science has been cited as an influence by Daft Punk, The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers). This is before we take into account their myriad solo guises, including Cosmos, Link and Chameleon; Pritchard in particular has been busy of late, releasing records on Hyperdub and Warp as Harmonic 313 and Africa Hitech (with Steve Spacek).
However, for all Middleton and Pritchard’s myriad achievements alone and together, their best-known and best-loved creation remains Global Communication. Two albums from the cornerstone of the GC legacy: the ambient masterpiece 76:14, an attemption to render “pure emotion in sound”, and Blood Music: Pentamerous Metamorphosis, a dazzling, otherworldly reinterpretation of an album by shoegazers Chapterhouse that outshone its source material.
Middleton was classically trained and grew up in Cornwall, where he learned the production ropes from Richard D. James, going on to co-produce a track (as Schizophrenia) on the Aphex Twin EP Analogue Bubblebath. When he moved up to Taunton in Somerset to study, he encountered local DJ Pritchard, commencing a creative association that has lasted 20 years and resulted in some of the finest post-techno electronic music ever made.
After a lengthy hiatus, this year has seen the pair re-activate Global Communication, DJing together and performing a series of special live sets based around 76:14. They’re planning a series of vinyl releases for late 2011, including remixes of 76:14 tracks and an eagerly anticipated vinyl edition of Pentamerous Metamorphosis. This Saturday, 10 September, We Fear Silence at Cable in London plays host to Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard present Global Communication – for this one night only, the pair will play not only as GC but as Reload, Jedi Knights, Link, E621, Secret Ingredients and Chameleon, all within a continuous 6-hour live/DJ set that promises “old favourites deconstructed, reconstructed and redefined for today’s dancefloor”. You don’t want this miss this one, to be quite honest, so for more information and tickets click here.
If you’re unfamiliar with the sound of Pritchard and Middleton, or if your ears needs refreshing, we urge you to download Global Communication’s FACT mix, which draws exclusively from their own catalogue of classics and puts the sound GC and 76:14 in the wider context of their work together.
FACT’s Donna Rix caught up with Middleton via email, and Pritchard via phone, to talk about the origins of Global Communication, and the pleasures and pitfalls of reprising such a seminal project.
Tell us about how you first met and started working together. What were your shared interests, what was your situation at the time?
Tom Middleton: “I started DJing and collecting vinyl in Cornwall, spinning alongside the likes of Richard (Aphex) and the Rephlex family. Richard showed me how he produced his music, and helped me produce my first track as Schizophrenia. I moved to Taunton to study Graphic Design, and wanted to check out the local music scene. Mark was DJing at a local club around the time of his Shaft project.
“His selecting was impeccable, all the same music I was into: Chicago acid house, New York garage, Detroit techno, Warp, R&S, Eevolute, Djaxx, GPR, a bit of rave and jungle techno thrown in. I introduced myself at the end of the night, and the conversation continued back at my place. I played him tapes of Richard’s unreleased tracks and he was well into the sound. The friendship just grew from there really.
“I went to visit Mark at his home studio and he played me the first Reload tracks. The Evolution label was born out of the desire to want to produce and release our own music inspired by our shared love of Derrick May, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, Todd Terry…among many others. Initially I added musical ideas, textures, samples and new directions to Mark’s Reload project, assuming the guise of E621 – the flavor enhancer. On my Birthday in ’92 we started producing the first Global Communication track ‘Incidental Harmony’; the intention was to explore pure emotions in sound.”
“The intention was to explore pure emotions in sound.” – Tom Middleton
Mark Pritchard: “Yeah, it must’ve been around 1990… I lived in Yeovil in Somerset, and was DJing in the surrounding area; me and some mates from school started putting parties on in Taunton. Tom moved up from Cornwall to study at Taunton College, which had a really good reputation for Graphic Design at that time, and I guess he thought maybe there’d be a bit more going on up there. He got to Taunton and there was nothing going on [laughs]. He saw there was this night going on and he turned up, was obviousluy happy to hear some music he could relate to, Detroit techno, Chicago house, New York house, mixed in with the seeds of UK rave music, so we’d be playing rave, Meat Beat Manifesto and stuff like that, and the seeds of what became drum ‘n bass and jungle, some hip-hop. Which is what Tom was into anyway.
“He came and introduced himself to me me, told me he did some stuff with this guy called The Aphex Twin, who no one had heard about at that point, and talked about talked about the scene down in Cornwall. We hit it off, and started hanging out, he played me loads of Aphex’s stuff off cassette and I was like fucking hell – what’s this?! Fucking nuts! Tom born on the same day as Aphex and they were part of that scene with the Rephlex crew, people like Grant Richard, Manuel who now does artwork for Hyperdub, this little crew who played in Truro and around there.
“We started writing some music together – at that time I wanted to set up my own label, to put out techno-type stuff really, and we set up the Evolution label around ’91. That’s when we started writing those early releases; I ‘d already done the first Reload and then when Tom joined in it became Reload & E:61, and then Global Communication.”
“Tom played me loads of Aphex’s stuff off cassette and I was like fucking hell– what’s this?!” – Mark Pritchard
You recently put together a Back In The Box mix that leans heavily on Detroit-influenced techno from the early-mid 90s. Was it a conscious decision to focus on the kind of music you were listening to when Global Communication first formed?
MP: “We thought about doing one that represented some contemporary house, more of the stuff that’s coming from the UK at the moment. In the end we decided to focus on that initial love in our hearts: Detroit techno had a massive influence, and as we started going through tracks, it seemed to make sense to concentrate on that music and that period for the mix. We were really inspired by the Detroit music but also Europe’s answer to that, people like Balil, The Black Dog and so on, and the ‘electronica’ (much as we hate that word) scene that came out of it. Most of these people will have been into Detroit techno, Chicago house and hip-hop and that’s what inspired us too.
“So it made sense to pick tracks from that time – most of them from UK and also Holland, which was big into techno in the early days, with labels like Djax-Up-Beats, etc. We wanted to have a few tracks that were a bit less known – lot of people won’t have heard any of the stuff – but also some classics for the people who know. Me and Tom actually came up with the tracklist mainly on YouTube, firing clips back and forth. Remember this one? Haven’t heard this one! The tracks we ended up choosing are really important to us, and really important to the scene.”
Why did Global Communication end, and why did you decide to revisit it when you did?
TM: “With so many other monikers already in existence, a significant number of albums, singles and remixes under our belts and so many new directions to explore, it just felt like the GC sound had run its course. We where A&Ring for Universal Language, nurturing new talent, had a hit with the Jedi Knights’ New School Science LP and our solo careers (and relationships) where taking off in different directions.
“We’ve been talking about the idea of reviving GC for a few years, and it just felt like the right time. It’ll be the 20th anniversary in 2012 and we wanted to get things moving this year in preparation for this. Nick from NRK was very keen for a GC Back In The Box too, so it’s worked out really well. Great opportunity to put GC in perspective, share our inspirations with our existing fans and for a new generation to enjoy. And for the same reasons, performing some of the highlights from the GC repertoire live was a top priority.”
TM: “Andy Sherriff from Chapterhouse was living near Exeter and had picked up the Keongaku EP from a visit to Mighty Force Records where I was working at the time. He came in one day and introduced himself, saying he loved our music and wondered if Mark and I would be interested in remixing the Chapterhouse Blood Music album. It was an incredible opportunity, for which we are both so grateful as it got us noticed in the mainstream music press. Ironically, Blood Music didn’t do so well and sadly Dedicated dropped the band, but signed us off the back of the incredible reaction to our Pentamerous Metamorphosis treatment.
“From the master tapes, we handpicked the elements we felt suited our style so we could highlight the a poignant lyric or guitar theme and embellish the overall emotional content whilst exploring new directions for the rhythms. The five movements evolved from these studio remix explorations and the production process itself felt very natural and instinctive. The force was definitely flowing throughout that project.”
MP: “Chapterhouse were part of that shoegaze movement; Andy Sheriff from the band, he was into a lot of electronica, and they wanted someone to take the whole album and remix it with no set brief – you know, do whatever you want, take the reverb sound of a guitar and construct a tune out of it. It was a really interesting idea, it took a while to do it all, the label was a bit confused but went along with it, and it was given away free with the album, an extra CD-shinkwrapped at the front, and it just got an amazing response. Unfortunately for Chapterhouse, their album didn’t get the same response, bit sad really. They got unsigned and we got signed. I felt a bit bad about it. It was a good move for us to sign to a label because it wasn’t part of the electronic scene at all, it was like a BMG subsidiary basically, and the guy who ran it was just putting out stuff that he wanted to, and with the budget to push it. There was trust there.”
“I’ve never quite been able to cope with the reality of being one person, I want to be 20 people at the same time.” – Mark Pritchard
Can you tell us about the origins of 76:14? What were you setting out to make? Was it a clearly defined project?
MP: “We were just into all different styles; we were into indie music like My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins and Sonic Youth, but we were also into film soundtracks, classical music, everything really…so these things started to come together, we just experimented. I was aware of a lot of the obvious ambient reference points, you know, I was into Eno, but also David Sylvian, Tomita, records of found in second-hand stores. I was eighteen or nineteen years old and soaking up music from all different areas, and that came out in Global Communications. Carl Craig – aspects of his music were hugely important to GC and 76:14.
“I think some people find it weird to comprehend that you can be into lots of different things at the same time – if you make a dubstep record they assume you’re into only dubstep now, or whatever, and that’s not really the case. I can see why people might think that though. I’m still listening to a lot of ambient music. and I still make a lot of ambient music. For me, I’ve never quite been able to cope with the reality of being one perosn, I want to be 20 people at the same time.
“When you work on multiple projects I suppose there’s more urgency to get the stuff out; I’ve been working on a new Reload album for a while, that’s why I re-signed to Warp actually, eight or nine years ago, and then the next thing you know your focussing on a different project, so your attention gets taken away.”
TM: “After being signed by Dedicated the debut album evolved from this key concept of emotions in sound. We already had ‘Obselon Minos’ recorded and solid starting points for the other tracks. As the writing and production process continued, it occurred to us that it might be interesting to remove the working titles in favor of the track lengths in numerals.
“This removed any preconceptions and suggestions as to what the tracks were really about. Personalising the listening experience for the listener to derive their own plot and narrative. Evocative and
inspiring soundtracks without movies, for the listener to direct in their own minds. It was never about making an album of music to dance to, but an inclusive listening experience for sharing with friends, family and lovers, bypassing gender, age, race, language, religion and sexuality, hence the name: Global Communication.
“It was about making an inclusive listening experience for sharing with friends, family and lovers, bypassing gender, age, race, language, religion and sexuality, hence the name: Global Communication.” – Tom Middleton
What was it like to revisit the 76:14 masters and then perform the material live?
TM: “A real joy to hear the tracks again, as some of them we haven’t heard in a very long time and the overwhelming surprise that John Dent’s Loud Remasters just sound absolutely stunning. Clear, deep, warm and wide with so much detail.
“The masters where stereo files recorded to DATs, which presented an instant problem as currently neither of us uses or has access to a DAT player! So we had to use the current cutting edge digital tools in our arsenal to deconstruct the tracks as best we could. Employing a combination of high resolution EQing and spectral filtering alongside granular software like Melodyne which allows you to see the harmonic and rhythmic content on a screen and manipulate it’s pitch and time. Then reassembling the tracks underneath the originals, replacing key melodic and harmonic elements, adding new textures, augmenting rhythmic parts and allowing the new versions to evolve naturally from the molecules of sound and emotional DNA of the originals.”
Can you tell us about the GC vinyl releases you have coming up?
TM: “From a collector’s perspective, what’s currently out there now is fetching high prices and making it harder to own so we wanted to make the album [76:14] available again to coincide with the touring and in time for the 20 year anniversary. We’ve commissioned a handful of remixes and will be including some unreleased material and possibly some of the live versions. And I’m personally relieved to be re-releasing the music on vinyl as I lost all my originals in a flood!”
“The tools are now mostly virtual so it’s more mousing than knob-tweaking but essentially it’s the same process.” – Tom Middleton
There’s a tendency to think of Global Communication in terms of ambient, because of the success of 76:14, though there’s obviously much more to Pritchard & Middleton collaborations than that. Do you see GC as strictly an ambient project – how set apart is it, how blurred are the boundaries between GC and your work as Reload, Jedi Knights and other projects?
TM: “We fell into the Ambient genre, but thankfully its all just called Electronic now which in a way is a blessing as the term Ambient lost a lot of its cool Eno edge when it was absorbed into New Age! GC was an evolution from the Reload project, minus the heavier Industrial and techno-influenced rhythms but maintaining that soundtrack quality.
“The boundaries of the projects started getting blurred all the way through our career even though we tried to keep the styles separate. ‘The Way’ was closer to Jedi Knights and Secret Ingredients than to the earlier experimental textural beatless tracks.”
How has collaborating again worked in the practical sense? Have you had much chance to be together in the same room? Or has most of it been over the internet?
TM: “Beyond the epic Skype chats we have had some quality time in the same room! It’s pleasantly familiar after many years grafting in separate studios to be back in the same space creating again. The tools are now mostly virtual so it’s more mousing than knob-tweaking but essentially it’s the same process.”
TM: “Surprisingly easy to get back into the flow and not at all awkward. Time and experience have made decision-making fast and intuitive. We know the music inside out, so it’s mostly about creative direction and production problem solving. Obviously there are differences in our tastes and production methods and there are the odd debates but we’re both easygoing to start with so the inevitable compromises aren’t too difficult to swallow.”
Still, the situation must’ve been very different to the early 90s, squeezing stuff into busy schedules rather than sitting down together and taking as long as you need to do everything…
TM: “Oh, for the luxury of time! It’s unbelievable how little of it there seems to be at the moment, juggling so many projects, and more than a little frustrating knowing that with a clear diary, less personal commitments and some investment from a label we could produce some amazing new music together.”
MP: “Tom and I are very different people, and that’s always what made the project work. We went out separate ways in the late 90s, and it made sense for that to happen, but we’ve always kept in touch, and we DJ’ved to gether on and off, and you always wonder realistically how it’s going to work, because we like similar things and like different things. Even when I was doing stuff in different genres – the stressful part of it is the scheduling, you know I had literally no time between finishing the Africa Hitech tour and doing the Global Communication show, I didn’t sleep for three days, we just had to do it, it was one of those situations that make you pull yourself together and just do it.
“I was really happy with the first two [GC] gigs, the visuals were really important, the guy did a great job, responses were really good. It’s strange performing music that you made 15 years ago, but then it was mad, you’ve got people there, and you want to make it as good as you can; there were moments when you’re having mad feelings, you know, wow, we’re actually doing this, I’m playing mellotron choir pads over original songs from 20 years ago, we’re actually playing this live! And it’s weird, because 76:14 isn’t something that I listen to often either. All of a sudden…you’re almost back to that time.”