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Songs for Heroes

Songs for Heroes

From Scratch



Phil Dadson  
Neville Hall  
James McCarthy 
Walter Muller 

The instruments:
zitherum, PVC pipes & drum station, soprano saxophone, vocals, handclapping, piano-horn, piano horn, tone trees, bass drum

Looking and sounding better than ever, Songs for Heroes has been remastered, repackaged and reissued to celebrate Rattle's first 20-years as NZ’s pre-eminent art-music label. One of the most successful of all FROM SCRATCH recordings, the instruments have great presence and weight, and the passion and commitment in the music is palpable.

"Remember to remember to remember to remember Heroes who tamed tigers"

In an evolution spanning nearly three decades, FROM SCRATCH have developed an original performance style which combines ritual, theatre, sculpture, and the handmade melodic percussion instruments of founder Philip Dadson. Energetic rhythms and large acoustic instruments evoke the group's Pacific locale in a richly textured soundscape. Heroes are travellers who journey into uncharted regions of human experience to tame the "tigers" which dwell there. Songs for Heroes is a tribute to these people, echoing their search with a journey through rhythm and melody, a quest to satisfy not just the ear, but also the heart and the soul. 


"Music from wise heads... making percussion do more than you ever thought it could... life-affirming in a very accomplished way."
- Russell Brown, RIP IT UP

"...a holistic musical experience...
- Susan Frykberg, MUSIC IN NZ

"The awareness and use of space in this music suggest a physical sense of the Pacific unlike anything else I’ve heard."
- Nick Bollinger, THE LISTENER

"Remarkably clear vocal harmonies... A sublime ending, one that demands a few moments of awed silence."
- Peter Wells, MUSIC IN NZ

"There's an old saying that 'once on the tiger's back, there is no getting off'. Good Listening."
- Phil Dadson

RAT-D002 (1991)

Songs for Heroes  (a continuous piece of music in eight sections) 

   1   Zitherum drones  (2:47)
   2   Pipes & drum stations, & soprano saxophone  (11:16)
   3   Vocals & hand clapping  (5:58)
   4   Tone-trees, tuned drums & hand clapping  (0:56)
   5   Vocals, piano-horns, percussion & saxophone  (6:25)
   6   Pipes & bass drums & hand clapping  (8:08)
   7   Soprano saxophone, Pipes & hand-clapping  (3:29)
   8   Zitherum drone, voice harmonics, & hand-clapping  (5:47)


Music and Lyrics: Phil Dadson
Production: Phil Dadson, Steve Garden
Recording: Steve Garden, Tim Gummer

Design and Finished Art: Bret de Thier
Photography: Haru Sameshima, John Lyall

Recorded at Auckland University School of Music Auditorium & Progressive Music Studio


Phil Dadson on Songs for Heroes 

The album was recorded in an acoustic performance venue. Visual and audio cues are an integral part of the performance style, and every effort was made to preserve the spirit of a live performance. The piece - a kind of journey - is modular in form and is organized in eight contrasting sections that feature different combinations of rhythm and instrumentation.

A characteristic FROM SCRATCH performance is visual as well as aural. The sculptural look of the instruments, the simple lighting, and the movement of the performers are as much a feature as the rhythmic ideas, and compliment the sound. The players are equal in status. The emphasis is on 'group'. A similar range of performance roles are shared and there are no principal soloists as such. The visual placement of instruments is important. They suggest simple shapes reflected in the form of the music. Many of the instruments are large and physical and in the playing, rhythmic patterns take on visual shapes. What you hear you also see, and vice versa.

Compositions are highly structured and invariably seamless in that they move through contrasting modules of rhythmic/melodic material without a break. As the group's aesthetic has evolved from less to more structured, its tonal vocabulary has gone from random pitches to finely tuned.  the instrument making has graduated from assemblies of found objects to carefully designed pieces. Central in this development have been 'percussion stations' - rack supported combinations of tuned PVC pipes, drums, chimes and bamboos.

For Songs for Heroes a new variation of 'station' and several completely new instruments have been devised. The bowed 'zitherum' that begin Songs are long stringed acoustic instruments, each with steel strings and polystyrene resonators. Long hand held rosined lines are pulled under and across the strings to produce a tone rich in harmonics. The single zitherum drone which ends the piece is augmented by vocal harmonics, a technique that isolates and reinforces upper partials relative to the fundamental tone. 

The two PVC pipe and bass drum stations each involve marching bass drums on stands with 14 x 40mm PVC pipes mounted in two tiers on top, and provided a pitch range one to two octaves higher than the larger and longer pipes. Each bass-drum instrument nestles neatly under one bank of large 80mm pipes. Combined together with tuned drums, they make up two stations of dynamic pitch and tonal variation. Near the beginning and end of the piece (sections 2 & 7) the percussion stations are joined by soprano saxophone, as an interlocking rhythmic component equal to the percussion, and during section 2 the first A cappella tribute is sung to heroes past and present.

Hocketing is used in various ways as a rhythmic device throughout the piece, but is particularly featured in sections 3 and 5 where each performer 'hocket's individually as well as within the group. Each note in a rhythmic phrase as alternated between two sound sources eg: voice/clap/voice/clap etc, (and it's opposite, clap/voice) or voice/piano-horn etc and other variations. Rhythmic interest in the combined hocketed parts is furthered by simple unit additions and/or subtractions within the individual parts, creating a layered canon effect of rhythm, pitch and timbre. 

The tone-trees used at various times, are simple symmetrical branch-like supports for suspended percussion such as aluminium gongs, hub-caps, cymbals etc. A specific playing technique has been devised where a flexible rubber-ended cord is attached to the index fingers of both hands, permitting hands to be clapped and percussion to be struck by a 'flick' hand action. This combined with side-to-side footstepping gives a dance like character to the players actions. The underlying pulse heard throughout most of the piece is made by the unison side to side foot stepping of the performers - a simple rhythmic movement to mark a visual and aural pulse.

Phil Dadson, 1991


p & c Rattle Records 1991



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