In 2022, longtime Dead Can Dance percussionist Peter Ulrich released Drumming With DEAD CAN DANCE and Parallel Adventures, a memoir collecting his adventures with one of 4AD’s best and most beloved bands as well as his own solo adventures. For those who haven’t read it, the tome is full of first hand recounts of the band’s early years and even carries beyond his time with the group. It’s a heartfelt, honest, and often funny recollection of events and a must-read for any fan of the band.
Before the publication of the memoir, Russian label Infinite Dawn had pressed a vinyl reissue of Peter’s first solo outing, 1999’s excellent Pathways and Dawns, which was originally released on Projekt Records and among additional tracks, contains both sides of the Taqaharu’s Leaving 12” from 1990. Peter has issued several releases since, including a follow-up solo record in 2005 and a trio of releases under The Peter Ulrich Collaboration. I had the pleasure of meeting with Peter and friends/cohorts Bret Helm (Audra, Unto Ashes, Black Tape for a Blue Girl) and Greg Fasolino (The Harrow, Bell Hollow, The Naked and the Dead) for a discussion of Dead Can Dance’s music, in which we ranked the band’s records and interviewed Peter about his career in addition to his memoir. As a follow up – Peter has lovingly constructed and addendum to his memoir that covers the events since the book’s release (including Dead Can Dance’s unfortunate 2023 breakup), and we’re honored to publish it here.
Without any further ado…
Drumming with DEAD CAN DANCE and Parallel Adventures
the published memoir by Peter Ulrich
Such is the process of bringing a book into being, two years drifted past between my completion of my memoir and its publication in November 2022. A significant chunk of this period saw the world on pause while health organisations struggled valiantly to contain and control Covid 19, then tentatively emerging from its bunker. As we now head into 2024, another year and a bit has escaped since publication, and this overall extended period has thrown up some further ‘parallel adventures’ and reflections from which I offer this addendum:
April 2022. Following enforced cancellations of tour on tour, Dead Can Dance finally hit the road on a re-scheduled European Tour. Shortly beforehand, I heard from Brendan that preparations had been thrown out of kilter when Lisa went down with Covid while touring with Hans Zimmer’s orchestra, and a bad reaction caused her to miss virtually all the DCD rehearsal period – both a nasty scare for Lisa and a significant issue for Brendan who was introducing new arrangements of several DCD classics.
Percussionist David Kuckhermann was not available this time – principally because of commitments to his young family (ah, that rings a bell) – so Brendan was also re-arranging and redistributing percussion parts. For the support act, long-established DCD touring band members Astrid Williamson and Jules Maxwell would step into the breach, taking turns to open the shows with selections from their respective solo catalogues. In the months preceding the tour, I’d tried to help Jules arrange a couple of low-key warm-up gigs in England, but my efforts had fallen on stony ground, largely again because of the reluctance of venues to commit while the Covid threat still lurked menacingly in the wings.
The tour was scheduled to open in Glasgow on April 7th. As this would be DCD’s first ever show in Scotland, a couple of days later was our daughter Ellie’s birthday, and we (Ulrich family) had long wanted to visit the lands north of the border, Nicki booked the trip. In the foyer of the Royal Concert Hall before the show I was re-acquainted with Looby – the first time we’d seen each other since he’d toured with us back in 1987. Despite the passage in time, we recognised each other instantly, though he immediately demanded to know what had happened to the slug that used to live under my nose – an appendage which I hadn’t sported for nearly as long as I’d not seen Looby, and which we agreed had never been a good look (despite Confucius maintaining that ‘A man without a moustache is a man without a soul’). Also in the foyer was old DCD stalwart Tony Hill, making me envious as he was planning to get along to several shows on the tour while this would be my one and only.
I’d assumed Astrid would provide the opening set in her native land – albeit she’s a Shetlander – but it was Jules who took the stage, and surprised me with a set of folk songs rather than the more ambient, filmic repertoire I’d expected. Then, as the houselights dimmed, I waiting curiously to see how DCD would be greeted in Glasgow – notoriously difficult to win over! The initial reception was very warm, then took a while to properly lift-off, but ultimately the audience brought the house down for the encores as Brendan apologised that ‘it’s only taken us 40 years to get here!’ For a tour opening night, the performance was remarkably relaxed, with both Brendan’s and Lisa’s voices already hitting the highs, Astrid and Jules front of stage either side, Dan providing the percussive bedrock, Robbie flitting seamlessly from instrument to instrument as ever, and Richard supplementing his bass playing with some accomplished forays into the percussion department. The set covered pretty much the entire 40 year span of DCD’s canon and included seven or eight of the pieces we’d played live back in my drumming days. Amongst the new arrangements, I particularly liked how Brendan had breathed new life into “In Power We Entrust…” and “Severance”.
After the show we managed a quick chat with Brendan, Jules and Robbie before the DCD tour bus rolled out of town, leaving us with a couple more days in Glasgow, then a few days up around Loch Lomond. While our Tartan adventure was great, I was curious to know how DCD had fared the following night in Manchester Cathedral. Cathedrals can offer magnificent settings, but the acoustics can be very difficult to manage. I badgered Tony Hill for a report from the front line in the knowledge that, as a Manc, he’d be there on home soil. He’d been surprised – and in turn surprised me – to find that the audience was all standing, and reported that there’d been some mildly aggravated jostling around the Cathedral’s great pillars for a better view of the stage. But Tony had found the sound to be ‘special’ and considers that night’s rendition of “The Host of Seraphim” to be the best live version he’s ever encountered.
Back home, and rummaging around Norwich vintage emporium ‘Loose’s’, I came across an old bass (kick) drum case concealed under a rack of hanging rugs. I pulled it out to find the name ‘The Monochrome Set’ stencilled across the lid, a band I never saw, and whose path DCD didn’t cross during our early touring, but who are on my radar from having featured on the seminal and wonderful 1979 Cherry Red compilation
album “Pillows and Prayers”. Both case and drum inside were in ‘heavily used’ condition, but after a light bit of bargaining, I secured it for 40 quid. Although the heads were knackered and a few of the tensioning bolts had seen better days, the shell was sound and it is, I believe, an old Tama Swingstar model, which will bring a tear to the eye of a fair few drummers from back in the day. With the noble efforts of Tristan who runs Drum Attic somewhere in deepest Somerset and keeps an heroic stock of salvaged parts from days of yore, and the purchase of a new pair of Evans EMAD heads, the Tama’s restoration is nearing completion, ready to feature in an upcoming recording. It seems to add something that there’s a bit of history behind it.
It’s been widely reported that Covid lockdowns caused much hardship to musicians prevented from earning their crust through live performance and having to rely on income from sales and airplay. This, in turn, brought back into sharp focus the issue of the pitiful level of payments squeezed out to songwriters by the various download and streaming services. Glancing through my own statement for the April 2022 royalty distribution from the PRS (the UK’s Performing Right Society) gave me a reminder close to home. To pick just one example, my song “The Scryer and the Shewstone” had registered a total of 215 streams/downloads across monitored European territories in the previous accounted quarter. As sole songwriter, I retain a relatively high 75% of the income on that song (the other 25% going to the publisher) – yet in total for that, I received the princely sum of 15.62 pence!
At much the same moment, I happened to read a newspaper article which referenced a tweet by former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey from March 2021 that a UK musician would need to register 7,343,157 streams per month just to pocket the legal ‘minimum wage’. The same article observed that, while eight out of 10 music creators earn less than £200 per year from streaming, the average base salary for Spotify employees in the UK is (or was then) £60,563 per annum, while in late 2023 it was widely reported that Spotify Chief Financial Officer Paul Vogel resigned his post after cashing in $9.3M worth of shares in the company. In Europe, new copyright regulations should now be starting to bring musicians an increased share of the proceeds of digital streaming, but thanks to the UK’s near-suicidal ‘Brexit’ vote and a government with its thoughts elsewhere, British musicians are back to square one. ‘Mad’ and ‘world’ spring to mind.
May 2022 brought down the curtain on the English Premier League football (soccer) season which saw Norwich City claim the dubious honour of becoming the most relegated club – having now managed the feat six times in the League’s 30 year history. I attended all but three matches, only missing two of those because I contracted Covid on the away trip to Newcastle and had to self-isolate for 10 days. I was lucky, thanks to the vaccinations, to get away with a few days with a bad cough. In a generally dismal season, the outstanding highlight was a 3-0 away win at Elton John’s Watford back in January, but ultimately both teams went down. Sir Elton apparently didn’t bear a grudge as Norwich’s Carrow Road stadium hosted a concert on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in June.
When embarking on my memoir, I had no idea of the grief that lay in store when it would come to tracking down the images I wanted, and gathering the necessary signed permissions. It was epic – writing the book had been the easy bit! At final reckoning, we ended up with 32 illustrations and – I think – a decent balance between images already well-known to DCD fans, and others newly revealed. Several I found and would like to have used eluded me, but one in particular still bugs me. I didn’t even know of its existence until after I’d finished writing the text and Brendan emailed me a photo he’d found online with the subject line: “Hardly recognised you!” It had been taken at an in-store “meet’n’greet” in Paris in 1989 to which I’d accompanied Lisa because Brendan didn’t want to do it. The picture is amusingly odd in that, despite being over 30 and already a father when it was taken, I appear to be about 12 years old. I’m looking over Lisa’s shoulder as she signs an autograph, and there’s a promotional backdrop of “Serpent’s Egg” album covers behind us. The photo is (or was) uploaded on the Pinterest page of a user called only ‘Yaroslava’, but all attempts to contact her failed or were ignored, and in any case, it looks to be a picture she probably downloaded from a third party source, though we could find no trace of an original. It would have been very different from all the other images in the book, and it neatly illustrates a specific event described in the text… but it wasn’t to be.
DCD announced another European tour for the autumn/fall of 2022, and confirmed the re-scheduled US/Canada/Mexico dates for spring 2023. While the Americas tour broadly set about reinstating the shows cancelled and re-cancelled through the pandemic, calling the autumn tour ‘European’ was a little misleading. Although it would kick off down well-trodden paths through France, Germany and DCD-fanatical Poland, there would be debuts in the capitals of Lithuania, Estonia and Finland, and first times back in Oslo and Stockholm since our Scandinavian mini-tour in 1984.
In June 2022, former Cocteau and 4AD label-mate Liz Fraser emerged from self- imposed exile with the fruits of a collaboration with partner Damon Reece (drummer in stints with Echo and the Bunnymen, Spiritualized and Massive Attack) – both project and EP called “Sun’s Signature”. At pretty much the exact same moment Kate Bush – apparently without lifting a finger – reached number one in the UK charts (and, indeed, around the world) with her 1985 single “Running Up That Hill” – a mere 37 years after release. This record-busting feat – the longest ever period between release and hitting numero uno – was the result of the song being prominently featured in Netflix TV series “Stranger Things” which poured it down the collective throat of a global audience. Even at the pitiful royalty rates I bemoaned a few paragraphs earlier, with Spotify logging well over 300 million streams and with the song reportedly appearing in around two million TikTok creations by the end of June, a startled Kate found her bank balance expanding by substantially more than minimum wage. The phenomenon also makes her the oldest female singer to attain the chart summit at 63. Keen-eyed fact-absorbers will have noted that I’m the same age as Kate so, probably illogically, I’m rather chuffed. I’d also like to point out that my 1990 single “Taqaharu’s Leaving” would love to be rediscovered should anyone…
In support of the charity our daughter Ellie then worked for, Nicki and I went to a fund-raiser for Prostate Cancer UK at London’s Royal Albert Hall on June 22nd hosted by Jools Holland and his big band which provided our first live sightings of an array of big name guest performers, including Sir Rod Stewart, Sir Van Morrison and ‘Sir-in-waiting’ (perhaps – though he might not accept if offered) Paul Weller. Highlight of the night, though, was an appearance by Celeste, disappointingly limited to a single song. I’m not sure if she was ‘new’ to a lot of the audience, but there was a discernible ‘electric’ surge through the gathered mass during her performance and, while I’d been mightily impressed when I’d previously seen/heard her on Jools’s TV shows, it was genuinely thrilling to hear her sing live. The same week ended with the post-Covid return of the UK’s Glastonbury Festival. DCD have never played it, and I’ve not been as a punter – a quarter of a million people in a field doesn’t fire my desire – but it’s always compulsive TV viewing. Top spot went to another senior knight of the realm – Sir Macca still rocking as he turned 80 and became the oldest ever headliner (hats off to that) – but a smart bit of scheduling saw the previous night fronted by the Festival’s
youngest ever headliner – Billie Eilish (at 20) – whose set I really enjoyed.
The World Wide Web continues to veer between indispensable information source and purveyor of utter tosh. I was alerted to a site called ‘allfamousbirthday’ which purports to dish the dossier on celebrity folk, and wherein I’m apparently worthy of a listing on account of being a ‘famous percussionist’. Initially the personal details were correct, having been lifted directly from my verified Wikipedia entry, until the website’s algorithm determined that my August birthdate renders me a ‘Capricorn’ (if you don’t know, look it up). This early clue to questionable content was then royally trumped by the revelation that my parents were Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia and Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and my spouse is, or was, Catherine the Great. Presumably then spotting that Catherine the Great died in 1796, the no-flies-on-me algorithm advised ‘as of May 2022 Peter Ulrich is not dating anyone’. The site further confessed not to know my shoe size (though tantalisingly my body measurements ‘will update soon’), but revealed my net worth to be ‘approximately $1.5 Million’. Bouyed by this wonderful news, I ordered a luxury yacht…. but then failed the credit check. Pah!
August 2022 bestowed grandparenthood on Nicki and me, courtesy of daughter Louise and partner Chris introducing baby Anna to the world. Utterly joyful – enough said. Later the same month came a new album from Lisa’s ongoing collaboration with composer Marcello De Francisci, this called “Exaudía” and said to be inspired by the expulsion of Sephardic tribes from Spain in the late 15th to early 16th centuries, and their subsequent dispersal around the perimeter of the Mediterranean. The album’s seven pieces give great breadth to both Lisa’s vocal styles and Marcello’s compositions, ranging from gentle, tender passages to moments of swirling drama, and have a thematic base in that heady cooking pot where the musics of Andalusia and northern Africa meet, which I love. As a small aside, there’s an interesting interview with Lisa and Marcello on YouTube with our friend and great music supporter Claudio Bustamante on his Fairfax City Music channel – worth checking out! For the final months leading up to publication of my book, I was deeply back into my old press & promo role, compiling e-lists of music and literary reviewers, sifting through old contacts, drafting my news releases, designing a postcard, identifying retailers who might support it, checking out upcoming literary festivals, and so on. In late October my parcel of author pre-publication copies landed on the doorstep and there I was holding a copy of my first book in my hands – much akin to the thrill of receiving my first vinyl record decades earlier. Publishers Red Hen Press had done a fabulous job – the cover which I’d only previously seen in e-form looked great, and there’s a lovely kind of sheen matt finish on it which doesn’t fingermark. This moment suddenly made the exhaustive process a reality, and shortly after, on November 15, 2022 – publication day arrived.
There was no launch party, no fanfare and no blaze of publicity, but a websearch of the title quickly revealed that Red Hen’s distributors had also done an amazing job – my title was listed by booksellers across the planet. I’ve no idea if it sells in Norway, Switzerland, Chile, Columbia, Taiwan or Korea (to pluck a few retailer locations I’ve seen at random), but it’s out there! Reviews have rolled in steadily ever since and have really exceeded my expectations. I won’t regurgitate them en masse here – suffice to say that, happily, as well as bestowing high praise, they broadly bought into what I was trying to achieve, a few examples of which include:
so different from the typical sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll memoir…really smart recount of a life in music
Eric Alper, That Eric Alper Show, SirusXM
detailed descriptions of the band’s [DCD] unusual songwriting and recording processes left me pretty enthralled
Greg Fasolino, Goth and Post-Punk historian
deftly weaving in tales of life… a vast musical landscape
Jane Cornwell, Songlines Magazine
Happier still, the response from DCD fans across online forums and social media has been overwhelmingly positive, for which I’m hugely grateful. It’s very exciting to create that connection with people who have supported our music over the years and to provide a means for us all to relive the experience. I was also somewhat unexpectedly thrown back into contact with various characters from the plot. Brendan put me in touch with Ivo Watts-Russell for, I think, the first time in around 30 years, triggering a very touching email exchange. Ivo really enjoyed the book and particularly felt I’d captured the serendipity of those early 4AD years when everyone was winging it, acting on gut instinct and clinging onto the stone that had been set rolling down the Alma Road hill in London SW18. Steve Webbon of Beggars Banquet independently gave me much the same response, while Ivo tipped off former Cocteaus and 4AD manager Colin Wallace who then similarly embraced the retro ride and memories. Former v23-er Tim O’Donnell sent a hearty thumbs-up from Pennsylvania, while original DCD bassist Paul Erikson sent his seal of approval from DCD birthplaceMelbourne. Piano Magic’s Glen Johnson was in touch, having received the book as a birthday gift from his brother to bring his own memories flooding back, and we met up at London’s Barbican Centre for him to interview me for his ‘Arcane Delights’ website. Projekt’s Sam Rosenthal loved a story I recount in chapter seven about a dinner one evening in Venice, and then give Lisa’s quite different recollection of the same event, thus confirming his belief that all memory is faulty and there is no reality… a somewhat questionable endorsement for a memoir!
While all this activity was a pure delight, my big opportunity to ‘shift some units’ was going to be the merchandising for DCD’s upcoming tours of Europe and North America. I was in planning for this, as well as hoping to fly over to the States with Nicki to catch a few shows, when news of the cancellation came through. In my fan capacity, I immediately regretted not having attended more shows in the 2022 tour, but this was also a big blow to sales. The American tour was due to play to 60,000+ people, and losing the opportunity to put my memoir right there in front of all those fine folk… well, no need for explanation. Along with the DCD fraternity, I awaited news.
Continuing to check my memoir’s availability across the globe, I found it offered on the website of American supermarket giant WalMart then, scrolling down the page, nearly toppled off my drumstool on encountering a suggestion panel headed ‘Similar items you might like – based on what customers bought’ proffering “Spare” by Prince Harry. Really…??? I clicked through to “Spare” to see if the Duke of Sussex’s readership might be returning the interest, but disappointingly my tome was nowhere to be seen.
March 2023 saw the release of a debut album by an artist unfamiliar to me – Lucinda Chua. What caught my eye was a review in the UK Observer newspaper which began: ‘Signed to 4AD (home to the Cocteau Twins and Jenny Hval)…’ and how curious it seemed that 4AD might be summed up thus. Thinking about it further, I guess writer Tara Joshi had simply chosen to bookend the label’s output with one of its earliest acts and one of its most recent. In April, Cincinnati kids The National – who had inadvertently become a 4AD act following a reshuffle within the Beggars Banquet stable back in 2009 – released new album “First Two Pages of Frankenstein” featuring a guest appearance by global superstar Taylor Swift, which somehow seemed an extraordinary stretch from those early ’80s days! Then in May, 4AD alumni Nick Cave unexpectedly (I suggest) popped up as an invitee to the Coronation of King Charles III of the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth Realms. Old Nick was spotted entering Westminster Abbey in deep conversation with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, prompting one journalistic wag to speculate they may have been discussing Cave’s lyrical disbelief ‘in an interventionist god’. Cave was later reported to have been ‘extremely bored’ during the ceremony, begging the question what exactly was he expecting?
Old 4AD connections seemed to be flavour of the moment. In April a contestant on the BBC’s renowned quiz show “Mastermind” nominated ‘The 4AD Record Label’ as his specialist subject for two minutes’ worth of hard grilling by presenter Clive Myrie. Much to the glee of a swathe of the old guard, Colin Wallace emerged as the answer to one of the questions, setting off a chain of messages including Tanya Donnelly and Emma Anderson posting on their respective Instagrams. In May Glen Johnson invited me to contribute some percussion and sundry bits to tracks for his project Allegory of Vanity, in which old Wolfgang Presser Mick Allen was also due to participate, though ultimately that fell through. And in June, a friend of mine – writer and filmmaker Juliet Jacques – secured a slot for her to interview me about my memoir at the prestigious Stoke Newington Literary Festival in north London, where I discovered on the programme for a couple of days later was Miki Berenyi discussing her memoir “Fingers Crossed”.
June saw Lisa awarded an Order of Australia Medal for ‘service to the performing arts through music’ in the King’s Birthday 2023 Honours List – richly deserved say I, and she seemed mightily chuffed. June also brought the announcement that filming had finally started on “Gladiator 2” – the movie having reportedly been in planning for some 20 years! Way back in this process, word circulated that Nick Cave had been contracted to write the script and had submitted a time-warped tale under the working title “Christ Killer” in which central character Maximus – revived and cursed to live forever – battles his way through the Crusades, World War II, the Vietnam War, and ultimately winds up in The Pentagon. Somewhat disappointingly, Cave’s concept didn’t fly, and it’s reported that the eventual storyline, written by David Scarpa, gives the central role to a now grown up Lucius, being played by Irish actor Paul Mescal. Whether or not Lisa will be involved in creating the soundtrack again I cannot say – principally because, at time of writing this, I genuinely have no idea. Then a while later, in a nod to a hitherto little aired string of 4AD’s bow, I spied a ‘Q&A’ in the UK’s Guardian newspaper with Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell in which, when asked his choice of best song to have sex to, he replied ‘anything by Cocteau Twins – every song sounds like an orgasm’.
On the flip side, a headline caught my eye in a Songlines circular in July: ‘MARRS supporting Iranian musicians at WOMAD’. It turned out to have nothing to do with pumping any volume up, and – more as a sad sign of the times – this current acronym is for ‘Musicians Artists at Risk Resettlement Scheme’, an organisation established in Northern Ireland in response to persecutions under regimes which censor or even outlaw music. It seems we are going backwards, rather than making progress. Suddenly the online DCD community was buzzing frantically with the news that Lisa had given a couple of interviews stating that DCD was no more, dashing hopes that previously cancelled tour dates were being rescheduled behind the scenes. I’d been out of touch with both her and Brendan for a while, so thought to let the dust settle a little. Then Lisa contacted me asking how the book was doing and if there was anything she could do to help – she gave it a fresh shout-out across her social media which generated a lively response. And then, following a YouTube blog session I recorded with fellow Projekt alumni Bret Helm and post-punk aficionados Frank Deserto and Greg Fasolino comprising a two hour long appraisal of the DCD back catalogue, Brendan emailed to say he’d seen it and really enjoyed it, then shared it on the DCD Facebook page. That both these wonderful friends are still looking out for me after all these years is something very special.
Among various themes in my memoir, classification and ‘pigeon-holing’ of music pops up a few times, and 2023 has emerged as a year to bring that strangely elusive category of ‘Goth’ back into focus, at least here in the UK. In July the publishers of ‘Uncut’ magazine issued their ‘Ultimate Genre Guide’ to Goth, with a front cover listing the eight bands/artists it apparently sees as its most prominent flag-bearers:
Siouxsie and the Banshees
The Sisters of Mercy
The inclusion of Joy Division in this Top 8 surprised me as I’ve never thought of them as ‘Goth’ and can’t recall having seen them previously categorised thus. The Cramps were ‘psychobilly’ until becoming aware they were gathering some goth following and swiftly coining the additional category of ‘gothabilly’ to welcome them in. Emerging from a clutch of ‘Goth’ books – rather oddly issued in the height of the UK’s summer months – publication of original Cure drummer/keyboardist Lol Tolhurst’s retrospective entitled ‘Goth: A History’ might seem to confirm their credentials, until he revealed in an interview with the Observer newspaper in September: ‘there are loads of fans who are going to say ‘What? No, the Cure were never goth!’ In fact, the original title for the book wasn’t Goth. I wanted to call it The Lesser Saints, but the publishers said: ‘What’s that about?’ I tried ‘Post-Punk’ on my editor, but he said that was too broad.’
I’ve previously said in the early days of Dead Can Dance we were surprised – albeit very grateful – to be so taken to heart by the Goth community, and my memoir explains Brendan’s thinking behind the DCD name which had no intended Goth connotations at its inception. But, having been firmly planted in the heart of Goth territory by so many commentators, I combed through the 124 pages of Uncut’s Ultimate Guide and initially thought we’d been overlooked. A second trawl through revealed I’d missed the inclusion of “Severance” in a Guide to the Top 50 Goth Club Anthems tucked away on page 112, describing Brendan’s opus as “The ‘Jerusalem’ of the late-1980s goth scene”. If I’m honest, I would have been miffed if DCD had been entirely omitted!
To many it appears the currently emerging primary issue facing musicians (and artists/creators/performers more widely) is Artificial Intelligence – ‘AI’. It polarises opinion between the highly alarmed and the dismissive, and personally I’m inclined towards the latter. Polly Jean Harvey makes an interesting point in a recent interview in The Guardian newspaper: ‘I can’t imagine that the imperfection of the human touch will be outridden by the perfection of a computer. I think there’s something beautiful about imperfections and failings of us as human beings.’ I guess AI proponents would counter that imperfections can simply be programmed in to mimic human frailties where desirable – perhaps so, but I’m still not convinced. To me, AI in the music world is just another songwriter and performer. There are millions already out there, and that doesn’t prevent any of us continuing on our creative paths. For decades songwriters have tried to bottle the formula of what makes a ‘hit’, but while some clearly churn out more chartbusters than the average, nobody has ever come close to a definitive blueprint. And they won’t, and I’m highly doubtful AI will either. As regards another application of AI, while avatars may be harnessed to great effect to bring back to life and re-imagine performances of artists and bands no longer with us, would that ever entirely replace the live shows of human beings? And OK, I appreciate that ‘deep fake’ videos in which artists can be replicated and misrepresented are bad news, but those artists (and their management people) are going to get wind of such incidents almost immediately, and can issue disclaimers to their legions of followers and complain to the hosting media – seriously annoying, sometimes upsetting, and a sad reflection on elements of our society, but still not an overly-daunting threat to the artistic community… is it?
The last album of The Peter Ulrich Collaboration’s trilogy – 2019’s “Final Reflections” – opens with the song “Artificial Man”, whose lyrics were written by chief among my cohorts Trebor Lloyd, and in which the protagonist is ’empty of all feeling’ and ultimately confined to an ’empty hell’ – ironic, perhaps, that Trebor found a source of creative inspiration in the robotic world. The clue is in the tag – the ‘Intelligence’ is, by definition, ‘Artificial’. Sorry to bang on, but can a computer be given the ability to create a catalogue of music as widely varied as that of Dead Can Dance – from (and I pluck randomly) “The Trial” to “The Host of Seraphim”, to “The Ubiquitous Mr Lovegrove” to “Kiko” to “Dance of the Bacchantes” – but incorporating the intangible essence of what makes all those pieces intrinsically DCD? And even if it can, what really would be the purpose? And can AI clone and re-project Lisa’s spine-tingling live renditions? I’m doubtful, but in any case, isn’t that just like offering people the chance to go and see a virtual tribute act? Maybe I’m missing some greater point, but I’ll stick with the real world and its imperfections… thanks!
Updates from Lisa’s world find her remaining in insatiable demand for movie soundtracks. Another intriguing collaboration with Marcello De Francisci has spawned the music for a Nepalese film “Gunyo Cholo”, while a return to her earliest big screen collaboration saw her contribute to Michael Mann’s latest blockbuster “Ferrari”. I still love that Lisa’s voice can sit with equal comfort in such extraordinarily different worlds!
Returning to another theme of my memoir, it seems that sales of physical music formats are going from strength to strength, with 2023 seeing a rise in vinyl sales for the 16th consecutive year while CD and cassette sales continued to hold up. Seemingly an increasing number of people weaned on the disposable, background noise of streaming are newly discovering the joys of getting immersed in an ‘album’ and properly ‘listening’ to music. And for those readers who recall my particular frustrations with UK music retail chain HMV, it was bought out of administration by ‘Canadian tycoon’ Doug Putman in 2019 and is being revitalised with a greatly increased emphasis on vinyl sales. Symbolic of this rebirth was the recent re-opening of the original HMV store on London’s Oxford Street, originally opened in 1921 and whose closure four years ago had previously seemed terminal. The album format has long-since infiltrated my DNA, and its resurgence inflates my optimistic sails.
Talking of albums… just as I was about to sign this additional chunk of memoir off, Brendan has leapt back into the spotlight with a retro classic. His beautiful first solo album “Eye of the Hunter” has been re-mastered and re-released in a package together with his live solo performance at London’s ICA in 1993. I wax lyrical about this performance in Chapter Eight of my memoir, but hadn’t previously realised it had been recorded, then the tape stashed away in the proverbial attic. It’s wonderful to be transported back these 30 years later and re-live the experience. And I believe I’m right in saying that it’s reunited Brendan with 4AD for the first time this century. Anyway, it’s been on repeat play in our house since I got my hands on a copy, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. That feels like a perfect point on which to end.
©️ Peter Ulrich 2024
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Read the full story:
Drumming with Dead Can Dance and Parallel Adventures
by Peter Ulrich
with foreword by: Lisa Gerrard
published by Red Hen Press
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