Steve Reich made music for 18 musicians. Glasgow-based chamber-electro ensemble Remember Remember make music for babies — albeit unwittingly. Their eponymous 2008 debut album bore alphabetic building blocks on the cover. Its 2011 Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award-nominated follow-up was entitled The Quickening, which describes the feeling of foetal movements in utero.
The band's forthcoming album, Forgetting the Present, contains a track called Purple Phase, which some of us know all too well defines the time when a newborn cries relentlessly.
All of this comes as something of a surprise to composer Graeme Ronald. "Maybe there's something deeply subconscious at work there," he says, with a slightly nervous laugh. "But in honesty, Purple Phase is just a terrible pun on a Jimi Hendrix song." The Quickening, of course, is also a nod to post-beheading energy-rushes in the immortal Highlander franchise. "I think that's really cool though, when you give something a title — essentially as a terrible joke, or a reference to a movie — and you later discover that it has another meaning; that there's a dualism," he says. "It's serious, but there's also a lightness. I find that really interesting."
That sense of dualism prevails in Remember Remember's music, which is a good-humoured yet serious concern. Since 2006, Ronald's prodigious brainchild has evolved from solo toy-box operation, through seven-piece with string quartet to the sextet that performs on the new record, and who play an East End Social show at Dennistoun Parish Church tonight: multi-instrumentalist Ronald, Tommy Stuart (synthesizers), Joanne Murtagh (glockenspiel & percussion), Joseph Quimby (guitars), James Swinburne (saxophone and keyboards) and Andy Brown (drums and percussion).
Fusing minimalism, post-rock, space-disco and tropical mantras — and veering from nightmarish to beautiful — Forgetting the Present is intimate, epic and entrancing. "Trance is a key word because, as a mental state, it's at the heart of all of my favourite music — whether that's Kraftwerk or Steve Reich," Ronald offers. The album advances the instrumentalists' unique musical language, which is pastoral yet cosmic, vintage yet futuristic — and somehow intangibly Scottish.
"We always use a lot of drones, and that's very closely associated with Scottish music," Ronald says. "But of course that's also very much ingrained in traditional Indian music too. I think the Scottish-ness is just there — traditional music is embedded in us — and it's in the melodies that I write. But then, any music that's embedded in your brain, or that you listened to when you were younger, comes out when you write your own music," he adds. "Sometimes I'll write a melody, then I'll realise that the flute part is actually a Guns N' Roses guitar solo." Well, we've all been there.
Forgetting the Present was recorded in Glasgow's Castle of Doom studios, run by Ronald's Rock Action label bosses, Mogwai. What impact did the recording environment, and formidable in-house producer Tony Doogan, have on the new record?
"Working with Tony was a totally different experience," Ronald offers. "We did it in two weeks, one in December last year and then we went back in January to finish it. But in the interim, Tony encouraged us to take the sessions home, and to add little bits from there. So I think the album's got a nice collision of really high-end studio sounds, and lo-fi bedroom stuff."
Ronald believes Castle of Doom's sonic cache also made its mark on the album. "Tony has this great old organ, I think it's from the seventies, and I ended up playing that for half the songs on the album," he says. "I think it's on a bunch of Mogwai songs as well. I like that idea, that there's a musical connection, or conversation."
Forgetting the Present is so-called in homage to Erik Satie, as Ronald explains. "I'd been getting into Satie, and I was reading a list of his performance instructions. He was pretty eccentric, so he wouldn't just write 'andante' it would be, 'to to be played as lightly as an egg', or 'grandly, forgetting the present'", he says. "That one jumped out at me, as it's sort of an impossibility, because you're always in the present." We'd do well to disremember that.
The East End Social presents Remember Remember at Dennistoun Parish Church, tonight, 8pm; Forgetting the Present is out on Rock Action on June 30