This album was made in secret, without permission. I began working on it in December 2017, shortly after Rob from Modern Studies shared the mastered tracks from their second LP Welcome Strangers. I quickly fell in love with their record and listened to it repeatedly, often becoming lost in its rich layers of sound. I’m not entirely sure why but I felt a strong compulsion to respond to their music with my own interpretation.
Perhaps the seed was sown earlier that year? I had been collaborating with Rob on a soundtrack for an exhibition at the V&A called Fashioned from Nature. We had been commissioned to help tell the story of the fashion industry’s troubled relationship with nature through a series of sound installations. Many of the pieces used natural field recordings without obvious melodic or harmonic structure. However, two of the installations required a more musical underpinning. Rob sent me a string recording from the recent Modern Studies album sessions with strict instructions to make it unrecognisable – a task I undertook with great enthusiasm. I manipulated the string recording, teasing it apart, stretching it and then spinning it back together to create something that shared the same origins but sounded distinct. Thinking back on this now it seems likely that the activity was what got me hooked on reworking the music of Modern Studies.
Once I had a digital copy of Welcome Strangers sitting tantalisingly on my computer I couldn’t help but start to play around with it. Before long these experiments turned into a bizarre secret project. I concocted a plan – I was going to create a suite of new songs using only the mastered audio files as source material. I was then going to share this as a gift for Rob, Emily, Pete and Joe. I have a pretty busy life with two kids and a full-time teaching job so my sonic exploits were mostly compressed into whatever hours remained. Ever since I was a child I have had periods of insomnia and most of this record was worked on in the early hours of the morning. I have to confess to quite liking insomnia at times. It has allowed me time to think in the quiet of the night away from the many noises and distractions of the day. I often enjoyed reviewing the tracks in the peaceful moments before sunrise.
The eight pieces of music that make up this record were all created entirely from the ten songs on Welcome Strangers. Over the period of about a year I passed those original songs through numerous processes. They were filtered, pulled apart, stretched, ground down and finally put back together again in new forms. When I finally finished I was really happy with the music I’d made, but I became worried that Modern Studies wouldn’t like them. Worse than that I thought they might be very offended at the strange things I’d done to their beautiful music. I drafted a message to send to Rob along with the tracks, but it remained unsent for weeks. My partner gently encouraged me to gain a little more perspective before sending it on. I finally plucked up the courage at the tail-end of 2018 and sent the music to Rob. To my relief and delight the band loved my reinterpretations and shared them with Fire Records who felt the same way. I am indebted to these wonderful people for allowing me to share my secret project with a wider audience.
Tommy Perman | surfacepressure.net