It's been a while since I updated you on Kalman Filter things, But the album took a strange turn. Just after I'd told you all about writing this album about three reservoirs up in Yorkshire, there was a knock at the door one afternoon. Outside the door were some very smartly dressed men in black coats and sunglasses (it was drizzling) plus a fleet of very sinister looking black SUVs outside our house.
"We need you to come with us" said the one who was apparently the leader. Immediately my rebellious nature took hold...
"Er, yeah, and can you tell me why I should accompany a load of government types in black cars... I am on record as an anarchist you know", I said, gleefully.
"There will be lunch" he replied in a deadpan monotone, adding "Veg Chilli".
Obviously I was drugged to make sure I could not see where I was being taken. I agreed to this on the basis that there would be a pudding. I have no idea how long we travelled for, but it was about half past five in the evening when I woke up and they'd picked me up at three fifteen. The dark outline of lonely hills was silhouetted in the falling dusk.
As secret bases go, it was pretty standard. Guards who looked like people who normally work for Balfour Beatty except with guns, big barbed wire fences, guard towers, huge radio dishes pointed skywards, a clutch of sinister looking huts, a doorway into the side of the mountain, a Costa and a military barracks.
The car in which I was travelling stopped on what reminded me of an old railway traverser. With a whine of hydraulics the car and platform started to descend into the ground. Down and down we went through layers of reinforced concrete each painted with "Level x" in that utilitarian font that is always omnipresent in such institutions. Amazes me that they never thought of using Comic Sans to make everything feel a bit less heavy. But No.
There was no smell of Chili, veg or otherwise when I got out of the car in a berth set off from a massive grey pipe lined corridor which stretched off into infinity. A woman with an id badge greeted me and said, "Mr Diskdrive, thankyou for agreeing to come. My name is Jasvinder and I'll be looking after your day to day needs here during your stay, and first up is to get you to your quarters." And with that, she motioned me to the inevitable golf cart that had been tarted up to look futuristic, and we set off down the corridor.
As we travelled down the corridor past many more examples of the utilitarian font, saying things like "Access Valve 14b - No Entry to unauthorised personnel", Jasvinder pointed out some of the do's and dont's of life in the base. These included not setting up child slavery rings, acts of terror, misuse of weapons or smoking. These were all don'ts of course. There appeared to be very little in the way of "do's".
"Could I ask you Jasvinder", I postulated hopelessly... "why am I here?"
Obviously I knew she wasn't going to give me an answer of any use at all. I had the feeling that i was decidedly "need to know" and definitely "unauthorised personnel" if indeed one person can be "personnel". So it came as some shock when she actually gave an answer which, at first, made some sort of sense.
"It's pretty secret stuff" she said, "but, this Kalman Filter album you are making....."
I was so delighted that someone had actually heard of something which I do that I immediately trusted her.
"Yes" I said with joy. " it's an electronica solo album using elements of Berlin School elect........." But she cut me off:
"We're going to need you to change it" she said.
The Veg chilli had been surprisingly good and that, plus my quarters being quite clean and well furnished with a Bang & Olufsen hi fi system from the 70s meant that I was feeling about as comfortable as one CAN feel on one's first night in a top secret underground government base, (a base where there are doors saying "Silo 5 - Do not enter without protective clothing") They'd also provided me with vinyl copies of all of Tangerine Dream's albums from 1968 to 1977, and I'd spent the previous evening on the pink years and looking to see if anyone had kindly also left giant Rizlas and other necessary acoutrements. Sadly not.
"This is your identity card" Jasvinder said - presenting me with the usual credit card sized monstrosity with barcode, readable magnetic strip and abominable photo which I didn't remember taking. "We got it off Facebook" she explained. "This card gets you everywhere you need to go". It had a purple colour coded Lanyard with "Top Secret Base - Really Low Level Person" printed on it
"Ah!, Thankyou" I replied suspiciously. "and where might everywhere be?"
"This gets you into your room, all public toilets, the Costa and the recording studio"
Although I was pleased to hear the 'recording studio' bit, i nevertheless asked, "what about that place there?" indicating a brightly lit window at the other side of the corridor.
"No sorry, they have printed materials not suitable for your eyes - you are not authorised for that"
"But it's a W H Smith's!"
"Precisely. They have the Daily Mail"
The recording studio was two levels further down and was off another corridor this time imaginatvely painted in something between buff and tope but as attractive as neither. It was directly next to what I later found out to be a long running experiment in psychological warfare, but I did recognise the "Radio One" logo on the door even on my first passing. The studio that I was taken to was squat, untidy and badly equipped.
"We needed you to be as familar as possible with the equipment and environment" trilled Jasvinder - it took us ages to find one of these. " With that she indicated an oddly familiar, yet unfamilar synthesiser.
"Oh wow, it is, it's an Arturia Matrixbrute like mine, but it's, er, different"
"Yes, it's the military edition" she said, "the normal ones are really hard to get so we had to just get one down from field ops"
"What's the difference then?" I asked excitedly dreaming of pastures new.
"It's painted in a really drab shade of green, it's a couple of kilos heavier and it has straps so it can be carried by front line personnel under fire" she said. "Other than that it's identical. Anyway, I trust you're gonna be OK working here, we have done our research, the studio works and there are no Apple products involved anywhere. There's no Apple software on the computer and we triple scanned for that Bonjour programme that gets left behind along with a U2 album and a latent i_Tunes installation if someone walks into the room with an i-Phone."
"Excellent" I replied. "You won't mind me carrying out my own checks?"
"Not at all, be our guest. All your music from the Kalman filter is already on the drive".
"But HOW???" I asked, slightly annoyed
"Well" she said " we couldn't help but notice that if you BUY or PRE ORDER the ALBUM from WWW.THETANGENT.ORG - if you pay a premium price you can get to hear the current state of the album!!!. So we did that. We went to WWW.THETANGENT.ORG and we preordered it and paid the extra to get hold of the files. In fact we paid a bit more and we should have our name on the sleeve."
"Oh, so that's who 'Head Of GCHQ' was, I did wonder"
"No, that's not us. We used an alias. Remember one from Martin Reijman? That was us. Anyway, there's gonna be plenty of time for you to work on the album here. But we've got to get to the meeting"
"Yes, the big meeting where everything gets explained and big military guys look at you in a dubious manner, lots of computer screens around the walls push out irrelevant data, everything you say is rubbished but you go on to pull off the task perfectly even though no-one believes you can, including me, but I just feel sorry for you."
"Oh" I said. "That meeting".
Some military guy was giving me a disapproving look from the other side of the table. There was a light hubbub of conversation which I was not a party to and I shuffled uncomfortably in my seat. There was no sign of coffee or biscuits and we were all waiting for the person who evidently had a posher chair than the rest of us at the end of the table to make their entrance. Screens around the room were showing an assortment of statistics about any number of things, one particular piece grabbed my attention, something about using modern culture to enlist more people into the armed forces and there was a brief snapshot of Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis, soon replaced by a schematic diagram of what looked like a nuclear missile silo but on closer inspection almost certainly tuned out to be a Dyson Vacuum Cleaner.
Then there was that rustle, the sound of chairs being pushed back and people standing to attention. The Big Cheese had apparently arrived, conversation stopped and I too followed suit and stood up. A tall and imposing figure took his seat at the end of the table and opened a file in front of him. As everyone else sat down, I just stood there agape with astonishment. Even when my neighbour Jasvinder pulled the back of my pullover and forced me to sit down, my agapeness persisted.
"Good Morning" said the man at the head of the table.
"Good Morning" we all replied. If there was puzzlement in my voice, perhaps it didn't show. The thing is, it was the last person I had expected to see at that end of the table.
It was Matt Stevens.
Matt Stevens skimmed a few photocopied agendas across the table.
"Sorry, some of you will have to share, reprographics are over budget at the moment" he said. I shared with Jasvinder and naturally was keen to know just what this meeting was about. the first thing I did though was see if coffee and biscuits was on the agenda and happily it was - albeit in about an hour. I hadn't had time to actually see what was on the agenda other than that (who ever does?) and Matt launched into what later turned out to be the first thing on the said agenda.
"So" he said, "Item One. What's your favourite Tangerine Dream Album?. Er - perhaps we could go around the table clockwise, so we'll start with you General"
An evidently powerful woman leaned forward unececessarily into a microphone she didn't need and simply said "Phaedra" in a Russian accent which was daft because "Phaedra" is not a Russian Word and she was from Accrington.
"Phaedra" said the man to her left, followed by a "Phaedra". I was about 11 places away. A couple of Rubycons, one Atem and and Alpha Centauri followed, then a thin and nervous looking young man in an ill fitting suit said "Tyger". There was a muted gasp - a whirr of machinery and the young man and his chair disappeared into the floor underneath him. I hope there were not mad piranhas down there.
After a brief pause the woman to the left of the empty space now left simply said "Phaedra". And so it came to my turn. Just after Jasvinder had said "Stratosfear" (to a chorus of nervous throat clearing) but had been spared a fishy death, I grimaced, held the arms of my chair and said "Zeit".
Utter silence reigned for a few seconds which took ten thousand years to pass. But then, to raised eyebrows and looks of curious respect, half smiles and nods of acquiesence I realised that once again, citing Zeit as the best Tangerine Dream album had out-cooled everyone in the room. Took me back to sixth form where that trick had worked a fair few times despite the fact that at that point in my life I found the album un listenable and had indeed scratched the copy I had bought, taken it back to the shop and exchanged it for a copy of Mike Oldfield's Incantations - a story which had I now related would have seen me on the menu for the fish beneath me for certain.
Perhaps emboldened by my coolness, a few military types after me also cited "Zeit" and one went as far as "Electronic Meditation" which I personally thought was pushing it a bit.
The next item on the agenda was the reprographics budget and this was based around a report that regrettably could not be provided to the team because of shortages in the reprographics budget. So Matt Stevens had to improvise, something I know he is very good at. Now, Matt and I have played a number of gigs together, but the whole point of those gigs is to not have any discussion about what we are going to play (instruments or repertoire). We know very little about each other and I certainly did not know that he was involved in a setup like this. he hadn't made any form of indication that he knew me, nodded a quick "hello" or anything, so I was left wondering if this was either a sign that our relationship aas musicians was to be kept secret from the other people around the table, or that Matt hadn't the faintest idea who I was anyway. That might seem bizarre, but then again, so are our gigs.
There was a picture of Grommit on the screen behind Stevens with a load of graphs drawing themselves too fast to read, a load of person shaped icons presumably representing people who would die in Yorkshire if tea supplies were cut off. At least that's how I saw it. The reprographics bit went on and on and the coffee arrived and we were forced to drink this as we "worked". It was a decent Arabica with slightly too much chocolate on the top - evidently "Drinking Chocolate" rather than the real deal, but it did the job.
The person to my left was fidgeting with his tablet computer thingy. He was non-uniformed and older than the rest of the team and looked vaguely familiar. I noticed that he was on the website at WWW.THETANGENT.ORG and he was engaged in purchasing a pre-order copy of an album by THE KALMAN FILTER. He obviously needed to hear some of the stuff in advance because the next item on the agenda was in fact "The Kalman Filter and PROJECT JORNIA" I had been presented with an approved generic Android tablet myself and I therefore googled "Project Jornia". All that came up was a bizarre collection of seemingly unconnected photos from a site called P-interest, something that seems to happen a lot these days. Project Jornia was obviously a secret. Because if something isn't on Google, it's a really big secret. I mean, you can even find The Tangent on Google. That's pretty damn secret already.
"So" said Matt Stevens. We come to Project Jornia and The Kalman Filter, I believe someone from Kalman Filter is here, yes?"
I nodded and raised my arm to the regulation height for unknown people in meetings and said "hi" in the similarly approved manner. There was a slight hubbub and I heard someone say "The one who likes Zeit"
"Right" continued Matt, well, we are now about to show you a piece of film which is unlike any piece of film ever shown before anywhere in the history of our planet" he said to a silent room. "It is unusual, more than unusual because, well - er, you won't actually see anything. But we will need to dim the lights". And duly the lights dimmed and a few screens of infomation about the threat posed by Vegans switched off. People reached to mute the light from their phones, tablets, laptops, Game Boys, Playstation mobiles, Game Gears, Fitbits, and one bloke with a Psion 3 (Electronic Meditation guy) closed the lid to stop the green LED from showing. "This film has come to us over many hundreds of light years" announced Matt "and as such is something hitherto never experienced by a human being. You will see nothing. But you will see everything. So, Bob, roll the film please"
In the darkness everyone sat silently around the table. As Matt had suggested, we saw nothing. We did HEAR something though. And what we "heard" was incredibly interesting. Textures rose and fell. Sometimes smooth, sometimes the very opposite. The textures melted together, blended and fell away from one another. Sometimes almost musical they twisted around each other in cadences of falling frequencies and rising modulations. And for minutes we sat in the darkness as this experience wove its way around our consciences. And like those "Magic Eye" 3d pictures that were popular in th 90s, you found yourself looking into the chaos (or in our case darkness) and occasionally catching sight of an image lurking just beyond the grasp of our minds.
For me, it was an experience that was different to the others in the room. That's not because I am a musican per se, not because I was any more spritual than the others in the room. But despite the alien nature of the "sounds" that we heard in that room, one thing was apparent to me from the off.
I was here because there were similarities between this sound and The Kalman Filter album. And now they had my interest.
The next item on the Agenda was the most dreaded word in the English Language. This word can strike horror into the hearts and minds of Doctors, Teachers, Lawyers, Police, Social Workers, Nursing Staff and Council Workers the world over.
When it appears on a meeting agenda, it immediately notifies you that the meeting is going to go on until the year 2064, you will never eat anything again other than those weird little biscuits that occasionally crop up with coffee if you are lucky. Your mind is going to be so overwhelmed with numbing boredom that suicide actually crosses your mind but the health & safety regulations forbid it on the premises.
The word is "PLENARY"
Just in case there is a different word for this in the USA (and there often is - 'trash', 'elevator', 'color', they call Paracetemols 'Acetaminophen' , Aubergines 'Eggplants' etc and they don't have the word 'fortnight' which really screws up holiday applications) this word means part of the meeting where the unhappy participants of the congregation are split up into smaller groups to discuss whatever has been said in the main body of the meeting, supposedly to get some more insight into whatever the meeting is about. The problem is is that by the time any such plenary takes place, nobody can remember anything about what was being said in the meeting proper, except for one bright spark who looks as though they might be a hairdresser and they immediately suggest that "perhaps we could make a MOOD BOARD".
On just this ONE occasion though, I was (although pretty damn confused) fairly interested in what the meeting was about and was pleased that the Military types were in one group and I was with Jasvinder, the person sat to my left who'd just pre-ordered my album from www.thetangent.org - in fact I'd been pleased to see he's used the direct link to the item at http://www.thetangent.org/…/buy/shop/123-dream-of-wilderness. There was a youngish man who looked worryingly like a hairdresser but turned out to be an astrophysicist, and there was the keyboards player from a once famous band who had left the music business and gone into the world of science. I was also very pleased that Matt Stevens would be joining our group.
"OK" said Matt. I realise, Andy, that you know the least about why we are here today and while the others are discussing their areas of interest and expertise I thought it would be good if we could give you some background, let you take it in, see if you can give us any feedback and then perhaps we could distill what we know together, perhaps by using a mood board"
I stared at Matt levelly over the top of my glasses. He laughed. "Just kidding. I knew that would piss you off. I've read the previous paragraph. Seriously though, there's a lot to get through. Brian, perhaps you could let Andy into the big secret....."
The ex-keyboards player cleared his throat, smiled and began...
"During the times of Norman Conquest in around 1080 ad, some gravitational waves were transmitted from a planet nearly a thousand light years away from us, that we call Jornia. It's only in recent years that we have had the capacity to receive such things and we were very surprised that among the first we received were ones that had what we might refer to as a modulated pulse"
I pretended to understand. Actually, I sort of DID understand.
"By this we mean that the waves had been altered, deliberately which of course means that we are...."
I couldn't contain myself. "We're actually talking about aliens here!!" I exclaimed... to a load of "SSSSHHHHH!!!" from all around the room. Matt rescued me:
"OK guys, give Andy a break here. I remember a few similar reactions from you lot!! Particularly that table there" and with that he wagged a finger at the table of Military types a few of whom flicked v's back at Matt and there was a bit of knowing chortling. "Do go on Brian"....
"We believe that unbeknown to us" continued Brian, "these signals have been arriving since the beginning of the 1970s - maybe even the late 60s, which is my belief I should add, but we have not been able to identify them until now. The thing is, they have left evidence of themselves here on the planet and presumably anywhere else they have been sent to"
"Evidence? I asked, "evidence where?" Brian looked at Matt and Matt nodded that it was ok to continue.
"In fact" he said, "you mentioned one of the earliest pieces of evidence that we have". He left a pause presumably to let me try and work it out for myself. It wasn't hard, somehow I just knew the answer. Jasvinder, Matt, Brian and I all said it together at the same time.
There was little doubt that this was turning into the best Plenary in the whole history of the universe of space and time and you could have brought any number of those little biscuits and I'd have eaten the lot.
"Zeit" repeated Brian. "when you used to listen to that at school, did anything unusual spring to mind?"
I had to bluff a bit because as previously stated, at school I'd traded it for a Mike Oldfield album. Fortunately "Zeit" had become part of my life in my days of college. And yes!! There was something I remembered... and yes... something very similar to what had happened when the showed us the "film" with no pictures a few minutes ago!!!
"A Column!!!" I came out with , ducking down after a few more "SHHHHHH" rained down on me. "Yes!"(I hushed my voice now) " I saw a column, not just one, a few". By now Matt and Brian were nodding to one another in that "we are so right about this!" type of way.
"Tell me Andy" said Matt leaning forwards... "what is the column made of?"
I'd never thought about that to be honest. But suffice to say, somehow again I knew the answer. Without hesitation I just said "Water".
Matt and Brian high fived each other and then repeated the procedure with Jasvinder.
"Right then" Brian said, "this is a box full of images we have cut up, and on this piece of wood we'd like you to arrange all the images you think were appropriate to the film you experienced. In other words, make what you saw actually be visible"
"You bastards!" I laughed. "This is a f***ing mood board! And where the HELL did you get all these totally unrelated pictures. There's millions of 'em???"
"P-interest" said Matt but he was already standing up to go and deal with another group. I stared at the pictures in front of me, presuming this to be impossible. But once again, things just seemed to come naturally, and little by little the picture on the mood board began to take shape.
Imagine a 40,000 piece jigsaw that you haven't even got a picture crib for. Impossible right?
Wrong. As I sat there with this box of totally unrelated images from P-Interest with a piece of wood on the desk I just seemed to fly through them, I'd just reach into the box, see the colour and style of the fragment and I just knew where to put it. Immediately. This was almost certainly aided by the fact that Matt and Brian had ordered the film to be played again (this time with the lights up) so I was once again hearing these sounds which bore this uncanny resemblance to my own solo album. Of course I wasn't ever going to need all 40,000 pieces. My fingers were flying through the assembly and the result was astonishing. The images were just seamlessly fitting together. Most of them were just greyish nothings, an assortment of gradients and things that looked like bits of rock, and a part of a tree. But I could see something coming and by the time Brian took a photo of it on his phone and uploaded it to a huge image processing system he called 'Foto-laden' - I could see some form of picture had developed as a whole.
"Now the good bit" said Matt... " we take the photo of your randomised image layout and add some interpretations of the randomness based on known probabilii. It's a kind of.... " and he passed over to Brian.
"It's a kind of graphic Kalman Filter. Which as you know works out what things MIGHT be there taking the rest of the data into consideration" The computer beeped and the image appeared, all new. I gasped. There were more rocks in the air than I was used to, but...
"It's Scar House Reservoir"!! I exclaimed joyfully - it's the place I am writing the album about!!!"
"Well you are right and you are wrong" said Brian. He lowered his voice. "It certainly IS the place you are writing the album about, that much is certain. But it is NOT Scar House Reservoir." He left an ominous pause which any good film director would use for some really great cutaway or perhaps another small scene with other characters from the story doing something humdrum like filling a fridge with the week's Ocado delivery. After that they would cut back to the main action where the camera angles had got a little bit tighter...
"It is called Karus, and it's an ocean more than 50 thousand times bigger than Scar House. And it's ten thousand light years away. And you have assembled a picture of it based on the information you have heard, or as we prefer to say, have 'seen'.
I was utterly stunned. I guess under any normal circumstances I'd go "You're having me on!" or "Never!" But - as the day was turning out... once again I knew that I was looking at a truth I had never been able to see. In fact - the answer to my next question I almost knew before I posed it. Which was of course:
"So - who took this photograph?". Like before there were some looks between Matt, Brian and Jasvinder. This time they had to bring in outside permission it seemed and Jasvinder spoke quitely to the General from Accrington. There were some discussions that I couldn't quite hear, but I saw a nod of the head and Jasvinder returned and said "It's OK" and then to Brian and Matt "Shall I?" to which they both said "sure - go ahead".
We are all pretty certain - and I stress PRETTY certain that the picture is, well,,...er... we think it's a selfie" she said. repeating "a selfie" just a few seconds later for effect.
I didn't need to say that there was no-one in the photo. My head was swimming with it all. But somehow keeping up with things I simply wasn't really equipped to understand but somehow did.
"The p-picture" I stammered..."was TAKEN BY the ocean - it took the picture it... itself!!"
"The picture was taken by the ocean" Brian repeated quietly with that calm smile of wonderment. "But have you looked at the bottom left hand side of the picture? Because the ocean is not alone in the picture?"
I looked again. Took me a little bit. But I saw it.
"Shit" I said in amazement
"Indeed" said Matt.
"And you have to admit" said Jasvinder, "that it's a pretty good album cover"