Mel (Dr Ian D Mellish)
Born in 1952 and brought-up in a London suburb, Ian D Mellish (Mel) initially trained as an artist. Although he had earlier studied the violin for eight years, his interest in music was only later rekindled, leading to a first class hons. BA in electronic music from North East London Polytechnic in 1983 and a Doctorate in composition from York University in 1989. His music has been performed throughout Europe, Canada and the USA, and his graphic scores have been exhibited in the UK and USA.
He has been a member of the new music ensemble Icebreaker, as production manager, since 1989 and his works can be heard as introductory music to most of Icebreaker's concerts. 1999 saw the
debut of his live group Merkin Zimmer, which made it's first appearance at Icebreaker's festival in association with the Wiener Musik Galerie at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), Vienna. During
2000 - 2002 was a member of the (occasional) group Wiener Klang Manufaktur, live tape mixing with the virtual-violin/violinist Ernst Zettl and percussionist Wolfgang Reisinger.
In 2007, after many years, he picked up his mandolin again (his first mandolin was a parting gift from his violin teacher) and in 2009 played with Alex Miksch und Band for the "Straße des Hundes" CD and also joined the band Folks4Blues.
Mel has lived in a village in Austria since 1997.
Overview of Mel's work:
The visual arts have played a large part in his compositions, many of which are inspired by and bear titles taken from the art world, such as the tape pieces Rauschenberg, Currents, Stoned Moon, Surface Quartet [all based on the work of Robert Rauschenberg], Riley, Clandestine Relative [Bridget Riley], Tinguely [Jean Tinguely], Flying Deep (Pollock mix) [Jackson Pollock], wHolE [Andy Warhol], and the environmental pieces Rothko and Olitsky [Mark Rothko and Jules Olitski]. In 1999, inspired by the book 'Works, Texts to 1974' by
artist Tom Phillips, and based on work for a film from 1990, he embarked on a three year project Details, a set of 67 short pieces
based on his own previous works (about 3 or 4 for each year, from 1979 to 1999).
He has also been interested in longer works, often with very slow- changing material, more as environmental music, wallpaper or background noise than concert pieces. This is an attempt to react to the fact that most artworks are generally static and occupy space whereas music occupies time. From the (relatively) short Life In The Shelter (47'16"), waterFall (1:08'00"), Drive My Car (1:08'58"), Drone (1:23'20"), Gradual Juno (Drift) (1:31'16") and MAK (4:11'36"), to the rather longer multi-tape/CD pieces. These are for simultaneous 'loops', tape or CD, that are considered to have come to an end when the loops finish together and the material starts to repeat. Satellite Wars (1:59'00", 2 loops: 5'57" & 5'40"), Juno Variations for any two-of-three loops, Enomia, Juno and Bamburger (8 weeks, 1,2 or 3 days, depending on which pair you pick, or 508 years. 7 weeks. 6
days, 23:11'36" if you try all three), Rothko (10 weeks, 4 days, 18:45'49", 2 loops: 40'19" & 44'31"), Juno Variation II (4.36 years,
2 loops: 39'45" & 40'04", designed to last the duration of the orbit of Juno) and Olitsky (1,648,171 years, 7 weeks, 6 days, 10:23'33", 4 loops: 44'43", 44'39", 44'46" & 44'54"). This last piece has a circular score, with the staves on the background and the note-heads on four moveable transparent sheets. It could be said to be through composed.
An installation piece for the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (1999) worked on the same multi-'tape' principle: originally for five rooms, each room had two looped CDs. The five room pieces last between 12 and 16 weeks but a duration for all ten simultaneous CDs has not been worked out. Material from these CDs was used to create the piece MAK, a stereo mix for CD.
In addition, Endless Interference is for overlapping tracks recorded on a 4-track cassette machine on a 6 minute 'endless' answer machine tape, this does not stop or fade-out (but does repeat after 6'08").
Although he is primarily interested in tape music there are a number of works for live instruments, including: Beach for tape and amplified: solo reed instrument (oboe, clarinet and sax to date), piano, percussion & 'junk' percussion with live electronics; Condensed Beach for tape and percussion; Dentistry 31.5 with James Poke, for tape & flute; Greek Princess for tape, violin, synth. & live electronics, or tape, 6 violins & live electronics; Cairn for solo bagpipes, wind band & tape; Son of Cairn for the amplified ensemble Icebreaker & tape; Warm Gods for the ensemble Subdivo (soprano sax., vibes, guitar & bass); Live Arc for the Merkin Zimmer ensemble (WX synth, tenor sax, electric 'cello, piano. vibes & guitar) & tape; (Parp) On the Rug for harp & piano; Rising "--", a piece for two or four harps, live electronics & live televisions; Q3 for Irish harp quartet (four harps), TV & electronics; and
Illumination for Viola and tape, with versions for Violin, 'Cello or Guitar, and tape.
A number of other pieces are based on existing classical music, including: The Art of Mote for chamber orchestra (a short study based on Mozart); Sleepless Buffalo for tape, based on a Schumann fragment found decorating a clock face, translated into a 20-note per octave micro-tuning; and also Percill Washes Whiter, Stretch Marks, Thirteen Gods, C6H12O6, Cold Gods, Keeping Secrets and Primarily Henry (a micro-tonal piece, 180 notes per octave), all for tape; Strungout Boeing for marimba, vibraphone & piano, and vile intentions written for the Delta Saxophone Quartet with a version for string quartet, all part of an ongoing series based on 'Fantazias and In Nomines, for strings' by Henry Purcell (Edition Eulenburg).
Multi-media works include Brush Work for the film 'Brush Work: Divertimento #3' by animator Clive Walley, which won the first prize for experimental film in the 1993 Cinanima Festival in Portugal, work for the video artist Mireille Chan (Orientation, Recognition 12 and Recognition 117 for a multi-video installation), The Fourth Man, a soundtrack for the film by Nick Hoare, a remix of Telling Fibs for the film 'Die Sprache des Wassers' and MG Seven, music for the film 'Chakrenreisen', both by digital artist Michael Guzei, and Amnesty for Tom for the film maker Tom Hadley.
The narrative cinema of the sound collage - A close-up of Mel, an electroacoustic composer
"Icebreaker 1999 Wiener Music Galarie Im MAK"
Published 1999 - © Wiener Music Galari
Thudding technoid rhythms ring out as if a sputtering machine were revving up in slow-mo, while an orchestra in the background seems to spin in pirouettes. As if zoomed in, the strings suddenly sound at close quarters, accompanied by lightly ticking, samba-like rattling. The symphonic passages are constantly repeated, soaring towards euphoric levels, threatening to turn into corny muzak before they give way to pathetic wind sections. Mighty orchestral waves and xylophone sounds, sketched cartoon-like, flow and mingle organically until the symphonic ecstasy ebbs in a dull echo chamber where a noise like an explosion can be heard from afar.
After four minutes and 54 seconds of hypnotic music, a small puzzle remains. Was this repetitive piece, developing imperceptibly yet inexorably, a short form of minimalist composing? Was this a symphony of cinemascope dimensions reduced to a sound gem for the living room bar? Or was it rather the presentation of a lovingly painted atmospheric impression? Questions like these will arise when you listen to a piece such as Party Rat from the studio of that meticulous sound craftsman Ian D. Mellish. What you heard was a sampling miniature, which was finished in 1994 and is included in a nine-part CD series known under the modest title Music by Mel. Compared to its aural beauty, the name of piece is almost ludicrous, yet it is only a reference to original material from which Ian D. Mellish drew tiny passages in order to remesh and interlayer them in painstaking work: Hot Rats by Frank Zappa and a compilation of catchy background music, which was once sold as a commercial mass product under the cover of In A Party Mood. Particles from the extreme ends of the musical range were woven into a small sound painting that has the feel of a short story. Compared to his other compositions, which take more than 60 minutes or even several days, this short piece by Ian D. Mellish is almost an exception to the rule. Nevertheless, this microscopic cut from the overflowing oeuvre of musician and composer Ian D. Mellish, who performs under the unassuming logo Mel, sheds some light on the method practised for decades by this master of puzzle-like sound collages: In laborious detail he isolates sections from existing sound recordings from their initial context only to restructure them completely. He uses the sampler not for any compelling aesthetic reasons but simply to facilitate a technological process which he began by using tape cuttings and simple tape recorders.
It is for this reason that his compositions released on CD contain the remarkable comment "All compositions for tape", which has a slightly anachronistic feel in the late nineties. Yet while cutting-edge electronic music and sounds from 'concrete' tones have long since been mapped on the hard disc and the power book has become a major production tool for contemporary music, Mel’s method to recombine sounds and pieces of music refers back to the early days of electroacoustic post-war avant-garde. Inspired by Pierre Henry’s musique concrète, Mel began to focus on experimenting with tape music in the early seventies, not only dissecting tape recordings of classical music like Henry Purcell’s and re-gluing the fragments in a new sequence, but deploying voices, everyday noises, sounds from nature and improvised synthesizer recordings as well. He has been steadfastly perfecting this method of reworking, transforming and remixing taped sounds, which has since become a classic of its kind, working at some of his pieces for years in his home studio — which makes him a singular character at the edge of the contemporary music business.
Mel’s system of references is not only based in the new concert-music. Other co-ordinates are found in the early phase of conceptional pop music, and in art history when the collage and use of objets trouvé became major methods of expression. Mel combines modules in their most general sense, coupling, intercutting and merging them to produce a specitic grammar. His motive in creating such artificial systems derives, beyond music- and art-theory considerations, from his personal preference for playing with the details. Taking a look at his small home studio we notice not just the typical equipment such as PC, sound mixer, sampler keyboard, and tape recorders, but also, among all the miscellaneous objects typically accumulating in a room where work is done, a few military vehicles made to scale and meticulously arranged on a shelf. This discovery reminds us of a bizarre hobby pursued by the electronics expert and tape composer who loves those old-fashioned construction kits for miniature models made of plastic, but who, rather than building them from the instructions, uses his own ideas in mixing them. This seemingly unimportant fiddling nevertheless reflects, at a highly personal level, a constant movement in his life, the repeated creation of new orders and artificial systems. A small bundle of own paintings, in which he mixes various objects like textile materials, points to this as do the CD covers done by himself. The themes on the backside of his new box, when fitted together, are found to be pieces of a puzzle which produce a large-scale fantastic, almost psychedelic painting.
But let’s move back from this revealing secondary theatre to the late sixties, when Mel started to formulate his visionary ideas for this subsequent musical work. Born in 1952 and growing up in a suburb of London, he learned the violin at a time when rock and pop bands were preparing the great revolt against the tarted-up rock’n’roll of the fifties and even more against the conventional career-bent mentality of the post-war establishment. While Mel went into the peculiarities of classical virtuosoship from Mozart to 19th century composers, guitars were readied abroad to fight the encrusted bourgeoisie. The sixties sound featured wah-wah pedals and distorsion devices in a big way. Bored by the purely academic discipline, Mel connected his violin with a pick-up and an amplifier and experimented with pedals and echoers. Waxing enthusiastic about West Coast bands such as Jefferson Starship, he started to search for music which was not just considered progressive or oppositional, but which was entirely outside conventional patterns of perception. He found his key experience in Freak Out from 1968, the first double LP by Frank Zappa, subversive leader of the American counterculture, who mixed sound structures by Igor Stravinsky, Edgar Varèse and John Cage with electronic screech noises and bizarre sounds to undercut the classical rock’n’roll pattern. Zappa had said that no chord was ugly enough to comment all the abominations perpetrated by the government in our names. Around this rebellious attitude of Zappa’s, that multi-talent with a sound musical history footing, innumerable fan groups rallied who, inspired by the footnote-like musical quotations in his records, started a discourse with the avant-garde of the 20th century. In this manner, Mel the hippie, searching for what were then extreme sounds and directed by a friend, encountered Pierre Henry and the musique concrète. His discovery of the sound experiments in the early days of electro-acoustic music opened up a new universe to him. He became interested in tape manipulations such as those at Pierre Schaeffer’s studio in Paris or at the Columbia Princeton Electronic Center of New York. The synthesis of compositions, played back in parallel on several tape recorders, the faster and slower pace of playback, the meticulous filtering of sounds, the addition of echoes and distorting effects, but most of all the combination of highly varied recording segments in a sophisticated editing technique to produce new and distinctly different compositions — all this became original stylistic instruments for Ian D. Mellish. Nevertheless he did not go in for a straight career as a musician but attended an art college and took a job as a graphic artist at a London commercial art studio. Considering this background it is hardly astonishing that he is constantly fascinated by the works of pop artist Marc Rothko, the box collages of Robert Rauschenberg and the bizarrely monstrous machines of Jean Tinguely. After all, Mel’s compositions constantly focus on achieving a systematic vocabulary from acoustic ready-mades. He has also done some instrumental pieces, among them Beach for tape, live electronics and amplified piano, oboe, clarinet, percussion and percussion instruments made of scrap material, or Cairn for tape, bagpipe and wind orchestra. Some of his works consist of rewritten passages from the classical repertoire, such as The Art of Mote, which refers to Mozart, or Strungout Boeing for marimba, vibraphone and piano, with references to Purcell. As a rule, every particle from the cosmos of noises, sounds and compositions can be processed in Mel’s alchemist sound lab to form the basis of transformations, intercuts and extensive acoustic bricollages: the din and patter in the labyrinth of London’s underground stations as much as airport noise, peeping bird sounds or the roar of a storm. It is only natural that his work incorporates sound bites from TV productions such as battle or accident noises and that he uses the omnipresent voices of radio announcers as his starting material.
One of Mel’s compositions uses as its leitmotiv a news report presented in a string of variations by different news presenters from different radio stations at different times of the day. Mel dissected and mixed the voices so that only their official sound remains while the original report flares up as microscopic and constantly repeated word elements. Such a string of concisely lined-up sounds may be embedded in the rush of water or electronic improvisations.
Having started on early analog equipment, Mel uses synthesiser sounds only as one of innumerable elements of a patchwork of sounds.
Mel’s compositions thus continue to be rooted in musique concrète, as well as geared to John Cage’s concept of liberating individual sounds to obtain material. He is also fascinated by the minimalist compositions of Philip Glass, the early work of Steve Reich and, particularly, the visionary ideas of La Monte Young who attempted to fathom the options to approach an absolute sound by extreme deceleration and extensions of his piano compositions.
Parallel to this, Mel never forgot the nodal points from pop tradition that were significant to him. The almost religious science fiction band Amon Dül from Germany, which performed alienated Gregorian chants against a background of disastrous futuristic synthesizer sounds, temporarily fascinated him since their feedback effects and sound wizardry depicted some of the genius of the true masters of the field — Pink Floyd.
In the early phase, critics frequently lauded Pink Floyd gigs as being far above classical electronic works. A record such I as the outstanding double LP Ummagumma released in 1969 became a source of inspiration for Mel because Pink Floyd rejected traditional musical structures and created broad psychedelic sound paintings by feeding voices and noises mixed with swelling and receding synthesizer passages. Like many other musicians of this period, Mel perceived the sound studio and its multiple facilities of mixing and remixing, modulating and transformation as a new holistic instrument in its own right.
Brian Eno, pioneer of ambient music and avant-garde pop sounds, advanced these notions, not just by revolutionary recordings such as Music For Airports (1978) and Fourth World I — Possible Music, jointly with Jon Hassel (1980), but also by his programmatic statements in the media.
Such theoretical reflections on the new perspectives in music achieved by the rapid development of recording technologies and miniaturisation of equipment to the size of a trunk and, nowadays, of a microchip, are of eminent importance for Mel’s compositional activities. Yet his work, which could at times be perceived as complex-structured ambient pieces, is fundamentally distinct from Eno’s concept in one major aspect: While Eno defined ambient as an intelligent acoustic decor designed to operate in the background, which sounds interesting if you listen to it but which can remain in the background just to create an atmosphere, Mel’s interest is in producing compositions that are so exciting that they automatically attract attention as listening pieces. In the tiniest detail, in each wrinkle and each layer of his sound pieces, Mel wants to spread a delicate, frequently fantastic world made up of acoustic miniatures whose basic character is gradually changing. Slowness and duration can play a similar role as in the almost meditative works of La Monte Young. The extent to which our perception of pacing and development in a composition can be subjective and controlled by conventions is excellently illustrated by some of his pieces which appear almost to have stalled in repetition. Yet switch your attention elsewhere for just a few moments and you will find how continuously these fine-boned sound patchworks are developing. Time thus is another essential factor. It may take years until Mel has chiselled his compositions to perfection in his home studio, even though he has since started to format his pieces at several editorial levels digitally on his computer. Some recordings are archived, only to be taken up again after many months. He will even use some of his completed pieces as a basis for new sound visions. How much Mel thinks beyond all categories prevailing in everyday life and in performance schedules is evidenced by extreme sound projects such as a multi-tape recorder piece entitled Olitsky, which would, at least in theory, take more than 339.214 years to play — the time required until several simultaneously operating tape players have completed all variations possible for the staggered playback of several recordings.
For the time being this remains a utopian and theoretical mind game, which Mel wants to illustrate with a composition played on several CD players within the scope of his sound installation at the Icebreaker festival organised by the Wiener Musik Galerie at the MAK. Such joint presentations with the Icebreaker ensemble have become a tradition that reaches back to the late eighties. Already in the early days of the ensemble, Mel’s initial closeness to some musicians developed into continuous co-operation with the group which always presents Mel’s sound pieces in the run-up to its live concerts. These tape concerts also emphasise the desired event character of Icebreaker’s performances. In addition, Mel has composed soundtracks for film productions such as Clive Walley’s experimental Brush Work, and produced tracks for video installations created by Mireille Chan. In this way, Mel’s broadly based and frequently awarded oeuvre is offered many opportunities to be performed. Initially designed out of an oppositional aesthetic attitude, his work is now marking a uniquely individual position that has almost lost its grounding in time but continues to be put into current contexts when it comes to the actual practice of performances.
Select the Links below to view details of Mel and his work