Of all the various projects I’ve done, this one has certainly brought about the most significant consequences, both good and bad. The positive things it set in motion went far beyond anything I could have foreseen. On the other hand, I can’t think of anything else that has been such a reliable source of aggravation and disappointment – enough so that I’ve been compelled to bury it the archives and ignore it for most of the 22 years it’s existed. Only 10 copies of it were released. I can’t image what would have happened if I’d put out 20 copies.
In the mid-90s, the Scharpen brothers and I began making regular overseas trips, usually to attend Current 93 concerts. On our second trip we were fortunate to get to know David Tibet; after that we sometimes stayed at his house for a portion of our travels, and this provided a good opportunity to get inside information about any projects that were forthcoming. It must have been during our first stay with him in 1996 when Tibet told us that he and Steven Stapleton were in the midst of curating a reissue of the (at the time) lost psychedelic classic ‘Golem’ by the German trio Sand; they had been finding it very difficult to track down any members of the band to get approval on the reissue, and when the situation appeared to be hopeless they briefly considered making their own re-creation of the album as an alternate strategy. Ultimately, they did manage to release the original album later that year through the World Serpent syndicate, but this idea of reinterpreting an entire “lost” album stayed with me.
I’ve been a fervent Nurse With Wound enthusiast since my friend Richard Faulhaber made me aware of its existence in 1989. Back in those pre-internet days, the two really difficult NWW albums to track down were ‘Drunk With the Old Man of the Mountains’ and the fourth album ‘Insect and Individual Silenced’ – the former because it was a hand-made edition of 100 copies, and the latter because it received poor distribution and fell through the cracks. Also, as I learned later on, Steve loathed his fourth album and was happy to let it vanish into obscurity. I eventually found a copy (of both) at one of the amazing record swap events that KFJC organized every year at Foothill College in California, but for years the only copy I had of ‘Insect’ was a poor-sounding bootleg CDR given to me by a friend, and the equally poor-sounding RRRecords duplicate of the UD cassette (which, as you may be aware, contains a substantially altered version of the recording). There seemed very little hope of tracking down an original vinyl copy. Since ‘Insect’ was my favourite ”lost” record at that time, at some point during 1998 I made the decision to pursue the notion that Mr. Tibet had unwittingly planted in my mind, and attempted to create my own version of it.
The fact that I actually followed through with it was a significant thing. I’d had plenty of what I considered to be ‘inspired’ ideas before that, but laziness or lack of confidence or any number of other winning traits always prevented me from realising them: so when this one occurred to me, I knew I had to act on it immediately or I’d end up putting it off endlessly and it would never get done. The undertaking was clearly beyond my primitive resources and barely-existing technical skills, yet, in rare form, I somehow found enough determination to take a flying leap at it anyways.
On a Friday morning I set up whatever equipment I could cobble together, with Richard F’s Tascam cassette 4-track at the core – this being the same appliance I used to create all of the irr. records from ‘An Uncertain Animal’ (made in 1997) to ‘Ozeanische Gefühle’ (made in 2001). Patched in were a random collection of tape players, a portable CD player and Richard’s DAT machine (on a side note, the cassette walkman that later went funny and accidentally created ‘Chance Meeting of a Defective Tape Machine and a Migraine’ was one of the devices in the mix). These other audio sources were primarily needed to try to replicate the sprawling audio collage structure of I&IS’s side-long opening track ‘Alvin’s Funeral’; the truth is, I’d be hard-pressed to think of another track that is less suited for cover version treatment than that one, but I wanted to give it my best shot. From that Friday morning until Sunday night I worked without stopping and without sleeping. Most of the session was a hallucinatory blur. The mixdown of ‘Alvin’ was the greatest challenge: by that point my sleep-deprived brain was barely up to the task of following the involved, messily-scrawled notes I’d made to keep track of all the cues needed to assemble the numerous collage elements. Each attempt was a unique performance all its own, and if it wasn’t done correctly straight through the entire 30-minute duration to the end, I would have to start over from the beginning.
I was thrilled with the results at the time. Not because they sounded particularly good, but simply because I had managed to finish it. But after the recording was done I wasn’t really sure what to do with it: I didn’t feel easy about releasing it to the public, and I didn’t have much of an audience back then anyhow. ‘An Uncertain Animal’ hadn’t attracted much attention, ‘Foreign Matter’ was still loitering in an extended pre-release limbo (which would never come to pass), and the frame box edition of ‘Their Little Bones’ had not been assembled yet (yes: by odd coincidence, my version of ‘Insect’ turned out to be my fourth record as well). In the end, I decided only to make a small CDR edition for the few people in some way associated with its creation: the Scharpen brothers, Richard Faulhaber, David Tibet, and a handful of others. The edition was originally going to be 7 (as is stated in its original liner notes), but this later grew to 10.
It was during a trip to New York in March 1999 to see Current 93 perform at Tonic that I delivered copies to David Tibet and Christoph Heemann (who was sharing the bill for those events, and with whom I had also become acquainted in the preceding years). I considered asking Tibet if he’d pass along a copy to Steve Stapleton, but was unsure whether this was too much of an imposition – and even more unsure whether Steve would have much enthusiasm for hearing my cover version of his least-favourite Nurse album. I’d briefly met Steve once backstage at Current’s Union Chapel show two years earlier, but he was mostly a recluse at this time, happy to immerse himself in minding his house & farm in the Irish wilderness and keeping well-removed from public accessibility. Fortunately, David resolved the issue himself by immediately declaring that I would have to send a copy to Steve and giving me his mailing address on the spot. He had known me for a few years by that time, so he said he felt reasonably sure that I wasn’t a deranged stalker and that Steve wouldn’t mind.
This would prove to be the first link in a chain of highly significant events for me. I did send a copy to Mr. S and received a package in reply soon afterwards, including a note with his phone number. As it turned out, he liked my ‘Insect’ interpretation and was intrigued as to why anyone would have any interest in re-creating that particular album. He even told me that he liked my version better – but, of course, while I was very happy to receive this compliment, I knew it should be taken with a big pile of salt since he was always clear how much he disliked the original record. I still don’t understand why Steve was so well-disposed towards such an awkward, charmless fan-boy, but this exchange launched the beginning of our enduring friendship, which soon lead to regular visits to Cooloorta, various collaborations, and eventually my inclusion as a member of the Nurse With Wound line-up when Steve decided to undertake live activity once again in 2005.
There have been several attempts to give this recording a proper release, and all of them have been doomed to failure. The most significant one was arranged by Steve himself in 2001, when he offered to have World Serpent issue it under his United Dairies imprint. It was yet again at a Current 93 performance – this time at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London – that I delivered the audio master and revised artwork to Serpent honcho Alan Trench with the hopes of seeing a finished CD sometime later in the year. I had no clue (and I don’t think any of its artists did) that World Serpent was already in the process of disintegrating. As had happened with my ‘Foreign Matter’ album and the Plate Lunch label, well over a year went by with nothing happening before I was told that the organisation had ceased to exist. I would have loved to have had that record (or any irr. record, for that matter) released under the official United Dairies banner, but it was not to be.
Another opportunity came up in 2007, when Raash Records in California instigated the first reissue of the actual ‘Insect & Individual Silenced’. I ended up being heavily involved in that reissue, scanning and restoring Steve’s original black & white artwork to create the graphic layouts, and also (with Steve’s prompting) creating a full-colour, digitally-collaged version for the new cover. Raash expressed an interest in releasing ‘Inception’ right after ‘Insect’, so I dug out the graphic files and created a similar full-colour version of my own cover. Inevitably, Raash imploded before the release could take place and the record went back into stasis.
In a way, I’m glad that none of these release plans came to pass. I’m a little dubious about those 10 copies that did find their way into the world. While the whole idea of the re-creation was exciting, and some of the ideas in the re-creation are reasonably good, the sound quality was abysmal. While going through the revised audio master I’d made for the World Serpent edition in order to prepare for the potential Raash release, I was dismayed at how truly awful the whole thing sounded. I was actually relieved when the Raash version failed to launch, because I had no idea how I would tackle a proper remastering job, and the existing versions were simply not acceptable. I felt perfectly happy to place it back on the shelf again and ignore it, and in the decade-plus that has passed since then I’ve always felt perfectly happy to postpone any further work on the material to some indefinite point in the future.
It’s only within the past few years that I’ve developed enough technical skill to tackle a full re-assembly and remastering of this record. A lot of the raw material was extracted from poor-quality cassette or broadcast sources to begin with, and these did not benefit from being transferred (sometimes multiple times) to other cassettes during the process of layering everything together for the final mix. Although I’ve preserved all of my old cassette masters, I really didn’t know how, or even if, I would be able to untangle & identify the profusion of little bits and pieces that went into making my version of ‘Alvin’. As it’s turned out, all of those pieces were there to be found: it’s just taken an enormous amount of work to organize them together, and an even more enormous amount of work to get them into a listenable state.
This has definitely been the most challenging & time-consuming restoration job I’ve done to date. Without question, there’s an element of “polishing a turd” here, but, after two decades of malingering, I feel compelled to make the best version of the material that I can. Yet even this latest attempt was quickly met with the same ill-fortune that plagued all the earlier ones: two days into starting work on it, my computer unexpectedly failed. The planned release date of May 1st had to be changed to a pre-order arrangement so I could buy myself an extra week and push the actual release to May 7th. With the ever-telescoping size of the workload continuing to reveal itself, this additional week has proved to be barely enough time: as with those original sessions, I’ve once again found myself working on it all day without a break and (this time) only minimal sleep. As I’m typing this, it is May 6th and I still need to finish these notes and the final mix & mastering of ‘Abstract Foothold…’. With luck, the curse of ‘Inception’ will prove to be an illusion and everything will take place as scheduled. By tomorrow, a somewhat listenable version of the record will finally be out in the world, 22 years after it was recorded.
So why bother now? Partly because 2 years ago a surprise pulmonary embolism nearly killed me, and I was given several days in the hospital to think about all the projects I would never finish if I didn’t survive. Also, a random bit of serendipity: just as I was considering it again, out of the blue I received a message from Richard Rupenus asking me about the record, even though I had never mentioned its existence to him before. That helped me realise, as I did back when I initially came up with the project, that I’d just have to sit down and get to work on it immediately or it would never get done.
Incidentally, there are references to about a dozen other Nurse With Wound records scattered throughout ‘Alvin’, as well as a tiny excerpt from the original album. Spot them all and win! --msw
This is a full-length re-creation of Nurse With Wound's 1981 album 'Insect & Individual Silenced', recorded in 1998 and released in a tiny, handmade edition of 10 copies in 1999. The audio & graphics were both revised in 2001 for a potential release through World Serpent/United Dairies, and the graphics were revised a third time in 2007 for a potential release on RAASH Records. None of these later planned releases actually came to pass.
The new versions of the tracks featured here have been reconstructed from the raw sources, each element individually scrubbed and re-assembled from the basement on up to the roof tiles.
This edition, as was all the others both released and unreleased, is dedicated with great affection to Steven Stapleton.
Audio construction and visuals by M. S. Waldron, with some raw material provided by Stilluppsteypa appearing in 'Alvin's Resurrection', and a brief excerpt of the original 'Insect' hidden somewhere in the mix. The original 1998 recording and the 2001 revision were done at Felton Empire Studio, Felton, California. This ultimate, exhaustive revision accomplished at last at Rock Creek Tributary, Hillsboro, Oregon between late April/early May 2020.