11 Bells (2008)

Come with me to the pool of dreams, Where seagulls fly and pirates scream,
Where judges dance with the thief of time, Drinking coconut with a splash of lime.
Eleven bells sound, before it’s done, by five seven seven three eight one one.

11 bells cover

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11 Bells is the first album of the Purple musical project, written and recorded mostly in 2008, in Fenham, Newcastle. It takes the form of one hour-long track divided into twelve 5-minute sections, with bells announcing the new sections. It is entirely instrumental, and musically it is melodic and evocative, spanning many different styles. While it most comfortably fits with the label "progressive rock" it certainly owes more to Mike Oldfield than to (for example) Van Der Graaf Generator, and encompasses blues, calypso and many other feels. It is constantly changing, and in no way "ambient" - it is far too interesting for that.

The sections in 11 Bells are:

  1. The Pool Of Dreams
  2. Boris & Luigi's Tale
  3. The Judges' Quintrille
  4. Lost In A Moonlit Desert
  5. Warehouse 23 (In-The-Middle-A-Ture)
  6. Lazy Swamp-Dogs
  7. The Thief Of Time
  8. Migrating Coconuts
  9. The Angry Pirates' Dance
  10. 5773811 : The Identity Parade
  11. Glen & Heather's Wedding
  12. Finale ("...or was it?")

11 Bells explained in depth

11 Bells is one long track, exactly 60 minutes long, with 12 sections, each of which is exactly 5 minutes long. Because this was to be initially recorded as separate sections, I thought I would need an audible cue which I could use to line up the end of one section with the beginning of another, and so hit on the idea of incorporating a bell chime which would appear in both sections (but when combined and exactly lined up would sound like a single bell). Because there are 12 sections I would need 11 bells, hence the name. In the end, lining the sections up was considerably easier than I thought in the software, and they were not needed for technical reasons, but I liked the way they tolled the changes.

Musically throughout there is an emphasis on 4-note chords (rather than the traditional triads) and as a result a deliberate abiguity between a major key and its relative minor, in the way that C6 and Am7 ae in fact the same thing. Each of the 12 sections is in a different key pair, starting in C/Am and going up a 4th for each subsequent section, resolving back to C/Am at the end. I like to think a lot of the key changes are subtle and hard to notice - but it did mean I ended up playing in some freaky keys in the middle!

Conceptually for this album, the music came before the names of the sections, a lot of the musical ideas were floating around in my head prior to recording and it was good to get them out of there (room is limited). The ordering just seemed to come naturally. The overriding concept turned out to be a dream sequence - I know it's a bit cheesy but this is progressive rock after all! This was the best way I could explain to myself the mixture of images that are in the music.

Section 1: The Pool Of Dreams

Starting with a floaty bit with an Am7 chord reminiscent of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd, overlaid with guitar riffs, eventually this settles into more structured tune and playing as our hero falls asleep

Section 2: Boris & Luigi's Tale

Named because the tunes sound to me like birds flying. Boris and Luigi were a pair of seagulls we met on Alderney one day when I wasn't feeling up to doing much more than sitting on a bench and making up stories about seagulls. Boris was the mafia boss of the seagulls and Luigi was his sidekick. In the music we have two voices, one serene and dignified (fluetey) the other echoing the same tunes but manic, and not quite right in the head, a demented seagull with nervous tics.

Section 3: The Judges' Quintrille

Enter the funky bassline, and the voices of the judges, five in total (hence the Quintrille), each one severe, manic and quite funky. The last one, a harsh piano, persists as the backing fades into section 4.

Section 4: Lost In A Moonlit Desert

So called because this is basically a wandering, meandering section of just piano. Wandering. Lost.

Section 5: Warehouse 23 (In-The-Middle-A-Ture)

I couldn't decide between the two names so I used both. This is in 5/4, which was accidental, but fortuitious. This alternates between the main stomping sections, and more gentle, ethereal sections. There are 13 stomping sections and 12 gentle sections, each of which uses one of the voices from the 12 sections of the album, in order. In this way it's a bit like an overture, but in the middle. I also visualised it as opening boxes in Warehouse 23 (see the film "Indiana Jones & The Raiders Of The Lost Ark") to see what was inside them.

Section 6: Lazy Swamp-Dogs

Appropriately in 6/8. At some point I realised this was becoming a pattern and so encouraged it. Anyway this is reminiscent of Mississsippi delta blues with slide quitar, hence the name that brings up images of the Bayou.

Section 7: The Thief of Time

Yes, I know, its in 7/8. This section is actually setting up the musical joke towards the end. It starts with the clock chiming 7. After some messing about we settle into a chord sequence, which happens to be the chord sequence for Grandfather's Clock. However, there is something wrong with the clock, in that it skips a beat out of every 8. This is something I worked out with a friend at university, we tried it in many different time signatures, but somehow 7/8 was the most natural.

Section 8: Migrating Coconuts

And now we are in 8/8 time, or calypso time, using the pattern of beats 3,3,2. Like a true calypso there is lots of percussion going on (including voice percussion from the Korg Wavestation - which just happened to include a "Ding"). There are soft guitars and an island theme to this, which made me think of coconuts, which in turn made me think of the opening scene to the film "Monty Python And The Holy Grail", hence the migratory nature of the coconuts.

Section 9: The Angry Pirates' Dance

Well I just happened to have an idea in 9/8 time that I wanted to use, so of course it had to go here. It starts and ends with some ethereal padding, and then the guitar riff comes in. The pattern is repeated 9 times, becoming more chatotic before the drums and the rythmn guitars synch better and the whole thing makes more sense. I wondered what might dance in 9/8 and decided that maybe 5 pirates, one with a wooden leg, would do it justice.

Section 10: 5773811 : The Identity Parade

Here we finally explore a musical motif which has been hinted at in several sections before. This motif is "5773811", the numbers of the notes taken in the minor key. If you take the number 5773811 and type it into an old-style digital calculator, and then turn it upside-down it says "11BELLS". Anyway, the sequence is repeated 7 times, bringing in a new voice every time in a "Tubular Bells" kind of way (Mike Oldfield made it seem easy and natural, I now know it's a great balancing act). Of course, you have got to know me by now, and it will come as no surprise that the voices introduced are from previous sections, from section 5, then 7, another from 7, from 3, 8, 1 and 1. this brought the image of a list of suspects brought before the judges from section 4.

Section 11: Glen & Heather's Wedding

After some "noodling" on the bass, and a bit of "Loch Lomond" we settle into a celtic style complete with Bodhran and Tin Whistle, playing a waltz tune. Glen and Heather are of course not people, they are the geography and the flora of a highland scene. Here they are two voices, Heather is the whistles, and Glen the guitars. We now use this tune for dancing with our ceilidh band

Section 12: Finale ("...or was it?")

Of course we need a good strong finish. This funky chord sequence had been brewing in me for a while, with some cheeky synths having a good old time of it. We finish off by going back to the pool of dreams from section 1 - waking up. The subtitle "...or was it?" is a reference to cheesy stories where at the end you find out "It was all a dream...".