The Fourth Man

These 15 tracks were originally released as two limited run CD pressings between 1994 and 1996, totaling about 1500 copies. The songs were a consolidation of cassettes put out independently between 1992 and 1994. The majority of tracks were initially recorded as demos to be “shopped” to record labels, the intention being that someone would see the nascent talent in the murk and start throwing money at us so we could buy better equipment, get studio access, quit our day jobs, and develop tragic drug habits. Major label interest never really developed, so we just started putting/handing them out ourselves.

Eventually we got the interest of Factoria Records, a very new and very independent label, run by Andrew Amy. Through Andrew, we started getting wider exposure, live shows, and eventually pressed the CD, which at the time seemed like a big deal.

Once the CD came out, internal conflict and other issues flared up, resulting in a very slow and possibly regrettable collapse of the project.

The first time I heard the master pressing of the CD in the summer of 1994, it was with a combined sense of accomplishment and disappointment. Besides some glaring oversights in the mastering process (the 3 tracks from the “Sick” EP were noticeably quieter than the rest of the album – something I chose to correct this time around), our jump from analog cassette to a digital medium seemed simultaneously belated and premature. Many of these songs had been recorded two years previously, and some were finished years before that, so in that particular case the CD was a long time in coming. On the other hand, it had been put out too soon in my opinion, since it had been my intention to eventually have the opportunity to record and mix them in a real studio before having them “released”.

I'd always felt like the CD should have come with a disclaimer, a series of excuses, or some sort of apology for its’ shortcomings. So here it is, 20 years later, as I blink back tears of shame and say... sorry.

T4M 1994 - CD Front Cover Front Cover T4M 1994 - CD Tray Card Back Cover

In our defense, we lacked a proper understanding in the art of getting a good mix. Also, the mixing channels on the four track cassette units we worked with were poorly suited for what we were doing. One consistent issue we came up against during the process of recording and mixing the songs was a bottleneck in terms of our ability to properly separate the various instruments on to individual tracks and “mix” them in the traditional sense. Multiple instruments came straight out of the stereo outputs of the samplers and synths onto the tape, with very little control of the EQ, effects processing, and stereo placement. Having that additional control would have helped in dealing with some of the sonic issues that ended up on the CD. We never did make it into a studio with more than 4 tracks, a larger mixing board, or with any sort of recording budget. We literally recorded in basements, bedrooms, and a walk-in closet. Oddly enough, after hearing these versions so many times, I’ve gotten used to the low fi sound of them – sort of.

It was pretty stunning that, after the CD came out, we started seeing positive reviews in ‘zines and started doing interviews for something that was essentially a demo. Granted, there were some criticisms - observations made that some of the tracks sounded like they’d been recorded in a basement. We really should have had an advisory sticker on the front warning people of precisely that.

Label interest and further releases might have developed on an alternate timeline, but within 6 months of putting the CD out, issues that had been bubbling under between Gabriel and myself continued to ramp up. I started working with Numb at this point, and that became more of a priority. T4M continued to do periodic live shows, as well as nearly an album’s worth of new material, which never saw the light of day. By about 1998, Gabriel and I had completely lost touch with each other, and after 6 years of doing cranky and morose electronic music, I was pretty burnt out on the diminishing returns, so I put T4M up on blocks in the front yard, so to speak.

1988 - Citizen

With no real musical experience, but a lot of enthusiasm to be on the "creative" side of the "music" "industry", I had started to assemble a collection of entry-level MIDI equipment starting in 1987.

The whole idea of MIDI sequencing was pretty alien to me, and prior to the internet, skulking around music stores and awkwardly pestering sales people was my primary means of learning about the gear. Eventually, after getting patchy information, which I promptly misunderstood, I bought the cheapest MIDI synth and sequencing gear I could find to learn the rudiments of the process.

By the summer of 1988, I discovered how little I knew, and could barely put an idea together. I had also realized that certain key elements were missing from the equation, like drums and vocals. Still, within a few days of getting a four track cassette recorder and a new synth module, I recorded a short idea that later became the bass line for a very early version of “Citizen” while figuring out how to use the new equipment.

By the fall of 1988, I purchased 2 more Yamaha products – an RX 17 drum machine (with bonus “latin” percussion), and a “sampling” digital delay pedal. Shortly after that, a reworked version of the original Citizen idea was put together, specifically in the wee hours of the morning on Christmas day. Lyrics were written shortly after, in 1989, but were never recorded with this version.

I met Martin Deyotte around this time, and we started hanging out in a basement studio where I had my gear set up, more “basement” than “studio”. During this period I continued to figure how to use the gear, and attempted to make some sort of music that actually pleased me. Success was extremely limited...

Martin proposed a band name based on hearing a random sound byte from televangelist Jimmy Swaggart shouting about “the Fourth Man”, and it stuck.

There was much meandering for the next few months, still trying to squeeze decent sounds out of the gear. There was also a great source of confusion as to exactly what it was I was trying to do. I had a bit of a New Wave/alternative 80s music hangover, and was still listening to bands like Bauhaus and Ultravox. On the other hand, I was also a fan of the crankier, noisier music one became acquainted with hanging out on the periphery of the punk rock/alternative scene - bands like Big Black, as well as old classics like the Stooges. To confuse matters more, Martin and I were big fans of most of the 1970s David Bowie catalogue, and a steady diet of whatever was being played at the “alternative” nightclubs in the downtown area. 

As an aside – around 1988 I went to see a show at the Vancouver night club Luv-a-fair: a new band called Numb were the headliners, with a band called the Resilient Stomachs as support. I was really impressed with how little gear the Resilient Stomachs had. Also, they had some of the same equipment as I did. Numb had tons of really impressive gear that I couldn’t even fathom. I found out years later that the two members of the Resilient Stomachs were Chris Peterson and Rhys Fulber, later in Front Line Assembly. I ended up joining Numb about 6 years later, and we toured with FLA.

Back in 1988, I was becoming strongly drawn to the industrial music that was coming out at the time, and Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, and Laibach were all becoming increasingly appealing as I moved away from the Goth and New Romantic styles.

Another strong stylistic touchstone was the umbrella term “cyberpunk”. Movies like “Videodrome”, “Bladerunner”, “Alien”, and “The Terminator”, with a gritty dystopian perspective on science fiction were still relatively new and exciting avenues to explore. I had also always been pretty hung up on the odd-ball band Sigue Sigue Sputnik, who had not only pulled together a good cartoonish cyberpunk look, but also had used repetitive sequenced bass lines with plenty of stolen samples and tape loops from movies in the genre.

The term “cyberspace” was still being bandied about as a new concept, and to the public at large, the reality of a ubiquitous internet was still in the realm of science fiction. Both suckers for science fiction and being fatalistic, Martin and I were lapping it up like kittens at a dish of milk.

1989 - Dare, Progress

In the summer of 1989, I bought a Yamaha TX16W sampler, one of most important pieces of gear used for the material on the 1994 CD.
One of the first samples I grabbed was from a construction site across the street, which became the intro to ► Progress (1). During this period, I did a few versions of the idea, which had always been known as ► Progress, well before it became a finished song.

In addition to getting the hang of the new equipment and working out a lot of material during the last half of 1989 that never really panned out, the song “Dare” was completed, including one of my first attempts at recording my own vocals. The only major difference between the CD version and the original is that I lacked confidence and experience in terms of singing. The result was that I ended up sounding like I was 14 years old, and not 22. Most of the early vocals I did sounded like I was a prepubescent, grudgingly singing while being poked with a fork.

“Dare” came together very quickly, considering that it was done on the QX21 sequencer (2 MIDI tracks, dinky screen). You really had to be sure about what you were committing to, because there was no ”undo”, and taking out notes could be extremely time consuming. The other issue was that halfway through the song, “Dare” had eaten up too much memory to finish the song. As a solution, I had just bought this horrendous second sequencer called the Korg SQD-1, intending to synch both of them up together and extend my note memory. There was a problem, however, and I ended up having to port the first half of the song to the new sequencer, and then essentially write a second half without really listening to the first half. This sort of explains why halfway through the song, the verse/break/verse formula ends, and it sort of becomes an extended break for the second half. Essentially, the structure was dictated by limitations of the equipment, which was a typical Fourth Man trapping.


3.5'' Floppy Disk paindisk

At some point during 1990, my 4-track packed it in and became a “playback only” device, and recording material with vocals became problematic. In and amongst a series of unreleased and unfinished material, a redone version of “Citizen” was put together, using samples instead of the drum machine and synth sounds. The band track is identical to the version on the 1994 CD, but the original vocals from 1990 version, much like “Dare”, were still pretty slight and gutless, compared to the later version.

A curious phenomenon (more realistically, a curse) that followed me until I started working with digital equipment was that EVERY form of magnetic storage I used (cassette tape and floppy disks) hated me. I could gently put a freshly recorded tape or floppy disk away in a sealed and protected box, but the minute I touched or looked at it, data would be lost, or a massive tape drop-out would develop. Different machines and different environments did little to resolve this issue, though perhaps periodically using floppies as projectiles and drink coasters was less than wise.

Around this time, industrial music seemed to have become a compelling hybrid of influences, blending pop, dance, metal, hip hop, and experimental noise in ways that were abrasive, yet not without hooks. I had just seen a Ministry show in Texas, and the evolution from dance band to electronic/thrash/metal was very appealing. There also seemed to be a glut of albums by Ministry/Revolting Cocks, Laibach, Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb, and Front 242 that grabbed my interest around this time.

One of the major disconnects during this time was that, for some reason, I was hesitant to go too far in emulating the industrial bands I was listening to, partially because I still had one mental foot in the then relatively un-hip Bowie/New Romantic camp, but also because I felt that between local “industrial” bands Numb, Skinny Puppy, and Front Line Assembly, anything I did would simply be a “lite” version. It almost seemed too easy and pointless to do, because it had already been done so well.  

1991 - State

David (L) and Gabriel (R) "Let's see your pupils, son." Martin Shelley, aka Jerry Deyotte Martin Deyotte, 5th beatle, pimp, and glee club for the 4th man, New Year’s Eve, 1991

I met Gabriel through Martin in 1990. There were a series of converging events, and by mid 1991, we had pooled our music equipment in Gabriel’s apartment and started to work on music for “The Fourth Man” in semi-earnest.
Leading up to this, Gabriel and Martin had become acquainted with Kevin Ogilvie/Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy, who had temporarily lent Gabriel a collection of gear, including a four track cassette recorder which actually recorded. Around the same time, I had upgraded my MIDI sequencing capabilities from the humble QX 21, with its two tracks and 6000 note memory, to an Atari 1040 ST computer running a program called Creator, which NEVER ran out of notes. 

The result was that all 3 of us were not only enthusiastic, but also had access to enough equipment to put together some ideas, and possibly a demo tape.

There were a few sticking points. Both Martin and Gabriel were pretty much sold on the idea of doing dark and aggressive electronic music, and I seemed to have a concern about sounding too clichéd. The argument resolved itself when I realized that for the first time I had a potential musical collaborator who was ready, willing, and able to really work on something. Also, it was starting to feel like I was avoiding the inevitable, and that this seemed to be the most logical and feasible path to take. I wasn’t about to sit down any time soon and learn to sing like an angel, or play more than a few chords on the guitar, so what the hell. At one point when I was humming and hawing and trying to justify my lack of musical output, Kevin Ogilvie said quite matter-of-factly “Time’s a-wastin’.” I was a little star-struck at the time, and grudgingly took it as a subconscious mandate – at least for a few years.

A second issue was that I hated the sound of my own voice. Any pretence of being a singer had fallen away long ago, and the only reason I ended up doing it was because I felt slightly more confident than my band mates.

The self-loathing of my own voice comes across in all the songs on the CD. I did anything I could do to obscure the vocals in the songs and make them sound as unlike myself as possible, either by soaking them in effects or simply by burying them in the mix.

The first track we worked on together was “State”. The song is extremely simple and clunky, partially an intentional choice, but also because Gabriel and I were sort of figuring out how a collaborative process worked. Plus, we were still using the QX-21 at this time.

Worth noting, this was the only track that we used a real guitar on. I can’t recall how it happened, but for some reason I started banging the head of my microphone onto the neck of the guitar at the beginning of every second bar. It created a sort of gong/drone sound that fit in quite well. It also contributed to creating a horrible soup of a mix.

I distinctly recall the lyrics being triggered from walking to my soon-to-be-ex-job on Robson Street, a shopping area predominately for tourists in downtown Vancouver. As was typical at the time, I was experiencing a semi-inexplicable helpless sense of rage, in this case when I saw a billboard for “the United Colors of Benetton”. The picture was of skinny and pouty models of different nationalities, posing together in harmony. This seemed sort of disingenuous in contrast to the skinnier and more justifiably pouty overseas sweatshop workers making the clothes. I took the have/have not theme and continued to go with it. It wasn’t so much railing about the injustice of a clothes company as it was a reaction to feeling like a tiny helpless piece of meat stuck in a huge convoluted machine.

The ► first version was minus the bass line, and had a different set of vocals.

Gabriel and Martin made some vocal revisions, or more to the point, they really disliked some of my lines. I withered quickly and gave in, but not without some sort of tragicomic resentment. Once someone gave me a cigarette and a beer all was well.

The vocals were the first and last for quite some time that had any shouting on them, as Gabriel received some noise complaints, which in retrospect is ridiculous. Still, I was advised to sing more quietly, whisper, or get the vocals done in as few takes as possible. I recall being pretty pissed off that I was being discouraged from doing angry industrial vocals when I’d sort of been talked into doing them in the first place. I’m sure another factor that turned my volume knob down was that I felt like a fucking idiot sitting in the walk-in closet in Gabriel’s apartment, trying to sound mean. Still the precedent was set, so “Anvil”, Zone”, “Guilt”, “Citizen”, “Progress”, and “Plague” (except one word in the chorus) were all whispered or sung somewhat quietly (and really self-consciously) so as not to offend the sensitive ears of the neighbors. Vocals generally got done as quickly as possible, just to get them out of the way. Had a real producer been around, or perhaps had we been in a different environment, the vocals might have turned out far better – or worse. Who knows?

1992 - more one word titles, first and second cassette.

After “State”, “Anvil” was the next significant track that we started working on. It was started on the QX-21 in 1991, but was completed on the Creator program. With the additional editing options, the MIDI sequencing started getting a bit more intricate. The lyrics were tag-teamed between the three of us, and I’m not precisely sure what the cohesive point to them was, more than a poke at the overblown angst and drama people get into in order to feel more interesting than they are.

“Anvil” suffered the same sonic fate as most of our recordings in the early 90s. Besides our tendency to rush the vocals and lyrics, I didn’t understand that when using a narrow bandwidth “telephone” EQ and applying heavy effects processing like distortion to vocals, it’s good to layer the processed signal with the dry signal so the vocals still have some clarity. Quite honestly, the overall approach was to write the music, write the lyrics, record the vocals, and then worry about the mix later. The mix was a bunch of round holes, and our instruments and vocals were often square pegs, but we went ahead and whacked them in, regardless.

With the inclusion of the Creator program, I was eventually goaded into resurrecting “Citizen” and “Dare”. I recorded new, less human sounding vocals for them.

At about this point, Gabriel and I put together a few of the songs and sent them out to some major and independent labels. The intention on the early tracks was not so much to come up with a flawless recording or mix, but just to get it down on tape for demo purposes. The idea was that if we had enough finished ideas, we could send them out, eventually generate some interest and “get signed” to a record label. Totally naïve, but that was the plan. That being said, Gabriel and I were hesitant to view T4M as a “band”. We didn’t feel like “musicians”, and if anything, it felt more like we were simply engaged in a process, which we thoroughly enjoyed. If it panned out and turned into a source of income, great.

T4M c1992 T4M 1992 - Gabriel Abney, Martin Deyotte, David Collings: 350 Pounds of Mixed Messages

I was shuttling my sampler and computer back and forth from Gabriel’s place to mine, working at home on ideas while Martin and Gabriel worked on their own ideas using either the QX-21 or the built in sequencer on Martin’s Roland D-10.

As far as our basic dynamic for songwriting, the closest we ever got to “jamming” was for one person to be in the “hot seat” in front of the workstation set up with our gear, working on a idea, while the other person sat off to the side, listening. Eventually, inspiration or boredom would kick in, and the roles would reverse.

Like “Anvil’, “Zone” was another track that was started on the QX-21, evident in an early version where I physically turn up the QX-21’s tempo knob at the beginning of the song while recording a copy.

Worthy of note is that “Zone” contains what could best be described as a “vacuum cleaner solo” in the middle of the song. I was trying to record vocals in the walk in closet, and Martin was vacuuming in the main area of Gabriel’s apartment, which was a bit of a distraction to my process. There was a section of the song that seemed to lag for me, so I put the microphone outside of the closet and hit record. The vacuum cleaner was more intelligible than the vocals.

Somewhere in the stew of a mix was my first attempt at doing a “backwards reverb” on the vocals, where the reverb proceeds the initial sound. In the days of analog tape, it involved flipping the tape over, recording the vocals through reverb onto another track, then flipping the tape back over. I was really impressed with myself, until I realized that the results were barely audible.

The lyrics were a collaborative effort, and the results are 50% stream of consciousness garbage and 50% interesting.

All told, “Zone” is another favorite track in terms of its’ oddness. Added bonus – some of the drums were taken from a New Kids on the Block album.

I’d always liked the “Progress” idea from back in 1989, so I started pulling the old files together and expanding the idea. The lyrics came together very quickly, owing partially to the stream of consciousness approach, but also from an urgency to get the lyrics out of the way and done with. There seems to a convoluted dystopian theme of persecution and paranoia, but any further examination just lifts the lid on my low self-esteem and anxiety at the time.

Progress” was/is a bit regrettable, as I liked the song itself, but I mixed and EQed it so badly that it sounds harsh and murky. It has an overall feel to it that I still like to this day.

“Plague” was the first track that was a true collaboration between Gabriel and myself, and it’s probably one of the strongest tracks on the CD. It fell together very quickly, and we’d gotten pretty comfortable with the equipment by this point. Gabriel put in some sampled percussion sounds from a Sequential Circuits Pro One synth he temporarily had access to, as well as some synth parts from the D-10, which provided a slightly different quality than the Yamaha fm synths. We also were able to make the track a bit denser and varied, as we temporarily had access to an Akai S900 sampler. An early dub version shows almost no revisions, excluding the typical self-loathing lyrics and a few bits of tape dialogue being absent.

Curiously enough, though we had access to the S900 and the Pro One for nearly a year, I barely used them. One possibility is that it was because they were Ogre’s, and I just didn’t want to mess with someone else’s gear without their knowledge. That sounds somewhat honorable and gentlemanly, but it was more likely I was paranoid and felt somehow unworthy – an underlying theme in terms of T4M’s creative output.

The basic bones of “Guilt” came from my hearing “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson, misinterpreting the rhythm idea, and trying to emulate it. Working from memory, the basic concept that completely eluded me at the time was that the song was dropping in triplet notes on some of the drums, creating a shuffle/swing feel. “Swing” was something T4M didn’t do until much later, when we discovered what the “swing” feature on Creator was for (no kidding).

Once I started playing bits of romantic dialogue on top of the rhythm track, overblown and pretentious melodic elements seemed to make sense. It was also a chance to uncork some of my latent impulses to sound like early 80s Ultravox. Keeping with the tone of tragic-comic soap-operatic despair, I chose to call the idea “Passion”, since it reminded me of a goofy black and white perfume commercial about doomed romance. Gabriel and Martin hated the name.

An early version was put out on the first cassette, and we cleverly agreed to call it “Untitled”. I still think “Passion” would have been great. Eventually, by the time we released it on our second “full length” cassette, it had been entitled “Guilt”.

As time went by, we started to receive responses from some of the labels we’d sent the demo tapes to. What responses we did get were polite, but leaning towards the negative. Since we’d been generating additional new material during this time period, we decided to put the songs we had finished together as an EP cassette, and see if local independent stores would sell them. Gabriel did up the artwork and j-cards, and I went down to a cassette supply place for a whack of cheap blank cassettes. Besides having a few cassettes for sale at some independent record stores, we had some by the cash register a clothing store downtown that tended to shill to the alternative kids. Within a few months, we started to make money in the double digits – tens of dollars.

J-Card from first Cassett J-Card from first Cassett

Discussions and disagreements had always been a factor in the songwriting process, but with “Instinct” and “CIRS” we really hit a rut in terms of spinning our wheels. Both tracks took up a lot of time, as they went through many revisions, and we had frequent arguments regarding basic choices. There was friction on all fronts, and in terms of a creative relationship, we were starting to have some lover’s spats.

Gabriel was becoming quite astute and confident in terms of using the equipment, and he spent a lot of time getting deep into accessing and manipulating the parameters of the D-10, the Pro One, and his recently purchased Yamaha DX-21.

Around the time of “Instinct”, Gabriel started to incorporate elements of techno music, more from the ambient and acid side of things, attempting to emulate analog synth filter sweeps and putting in break beats.

Theoretically, these genres made sense to me, since I was making electronic music with found/sampled sounds and synths, but from an aesthetic perspective, I found myself unable and unwilling to share his enthusiasm. To me, it seemed like you needed to be on drugs to get into most electronica, whereas with industrial music, it already sounded like you were on drugs. Another thing was that I had a huge blind spot for anything that “grooved” or “swung” too heavily. Much of my sequencing attitude came from the mechanical, blocky Kraftwerk-inspired sequencing style of the late 1970s and  early 1980s.

“Instinct” was much less like the earlier rigid industrial tracks we had done, and for better or worse, more of a traditional “rock” track that had something of a groove to it. The music track itself was pretty good, pulling together a lot of elements, sticking with the busy “kitchen sink” approach that we had gotten into the habit of doing, but with a different feel to it. The big problem was with the vocals.

I’d written some lyrics, and was pretty comfortable with where I was going with them. They were a move away from the muttering/whispering/screaming through inhuman effects processing, and closer to my earlier approach of actually trying to sing a little. Martin and Gabriel strongly disliked the results, and in my absence, Gabriel sang his own version of the vocals, much more heavily processed, with some revisions to the lyrics. If memory serves, I called it the “backstabber mix”, as I was apparently starting to develop a protective sense of ownership when it came to songwriting by this point, perhaps even a bit of an ego. Eventually we met halfway, and I did the vocals in what I guessed was an approximation of what Gabriel and Martin had in mind. That being said, I was legitimately pissed off when I did them, and given the childish and petulant lyrical content, singing them while having a tantrum made sense, at least in theory.

Once again, based on our minimal resources and lack of experience from a production stand point, and also perhaps from being too close to the material, the final recorded track sounds pretty mushy and harsh – particularly the much disputed vocals.

“C.I.R.S.” was also a source of conflict. Gabriel worked out the bulk of the music, and granted, there were a lot of interesting ideas in there, but it was sitting badly for me.

Gabriel and Martin had come up with some lyrical ideas, and I was strongly resistant to them. As much as pretentious and oblique lyrics were a T4M trapping, I felt that many of the lyrics to “C.I.R.S.” were a bit too flowery and awkward to sing in this case. Considering some of the lines I’d written and sung to that point, it was perhaps hypocritical to point a finger, but when it came down to it, the vocals just didn’t seem to fit the song. I tried some ideas to punch things up, but nothing really took root. I was also having a problem getting on board with what I thought was a clichéd “cyberpunk” message. The song title was an acronym for “Cybernetic implant rejection syndrome”, which was taken from a role-playing game. The song felt like a misstep, or at least requiring further tweaking before committing to a final mix.

After a round of disagreements, I eventually put on mental blinders and did a set of vocals for the song based on direction from Martin and Gabriel. You can almost hear my shoulders slumping while I’m doing the chorus. ►Cirs v1

J-Card for the much maligned (by us, anyway) CIRS cassette. CIRS J-Card

Andrew Amy got in touch with us after having bought a copy of the first cassette, and we put together a second cassette with the newer material for Andrew to market through his grass-roots company, Factoria Records. Besides becoming friends with Andrew, The Fourth Man essentially became a band on the Factoria label, though our legal business relationship was quite informal.

To round out the Factoria cassette, unfortunately entitled “C.I.R.S.”, I found an instrumental track called “Dirge” that I had been working on. It seemed to have a suitable enough amount of crunch and clang to fit in as a T4M song.

Our involvement with Andrew started in late 1992, and around this time, a few things took place that slowed our momentum in terms of new material. We no longer had access to a functioning multi-track recorder, we started focusing on the previously inconceivable notion of doing live shows, and other aspects like work and school started to overshadow things.

1993 / 1994 - D.D.A.S, Apocolypse, Sick

The Fourth Man on “tour” 1994: a mere 24 hours from hearing the CD for the first time. From left to right: Jeff Ranger (bass), Andrew Amy (Keyboards), pig’s skull (soon to be crushed), David Collings (vocals, town idiot), Gabriel Abney (drums, door stop, eye candy). The Fourth Man on “tour” 1994: a mere 24 hours from hearing the CD for the first time. From left to right: Jeff Ranger (bass), Andrew Amy (Keyboards), pig’s skull (soon to be crushed), David Collings (vocals, town idiot), Gabriel Abney (drums, door stop, eye candy).

At some point, someone gave me a cassette recording of an evangelist doing a tent sermon, which said “featuring The Fourth Man”, and I sampled a few lines from it. Around that time, I’d finally figured out the purpose of the “swing” feature on Creator, and realized that one of the basic elements in the vast majority of hip hop at the time involved putting some triplet notes into the drum patterns, which got it to “swing”, instead of doing blocky straight notes. I had no real intention of doing a hip hop track, but putting the evangelist on top of the rhythm track with some crunchy noises and incidental gun fire came together so quickly, that it was done before I’d realized it. The overall results were pleasing, the process was painless, and it sounded like we’d forced an insane guy from the southern states to do a commercial for us. The working song file was “ddas”, which stood for “down, def, and stupid”. I consider it to be the slickest sounding track on the CD. It figures the easiest track to make would be the best sounding one.

I got the basic idea for “Apocalypse” after I’d just bought my second sampler, an Akai S900, and was getting the hang of using it. In and amongst the spooky Hallowe’en clichés, the idea, initially called “►Git3”, had some aspects that seemed promising in some ways, but it was set aside until around the time of our first live show in the fall of 1993.

When we came back to the idea of putting together new material, I restructured the song, and wrote some lyrics in the form of a megalomaniacal rant. We didn’t have the resources to properly record vocals, but around the time of our second live show, I lost patience and attempted to duct tape something together in order to record them.

At this point, Gabriel was living in a house up the street from me, and we had sporadic access to the basement for recording and rehearsal purposes. The “studio” was nearly perfect in terms of being squalid. Besides the typical low ceilings and poor lighting, my workstation was next to an unlit room with a dirt floor, which the housemates’ cats converted into a litter box. There was also a cramped and crooked pool table for entertainment purposes. We were reaping the rewards of the wild success of the “C.I.R.S.” cassette.

I tracked the vocals, and effects in one take onto the semi-functioning Yamaha MT-2X four track. I’d discovered that the MT-2X still had the capability to record, but not to erase, which meant that it had essentially become a “write once” device. Because we had extremely limited cash and a limited number of decent cassettes kicking around, I only had one or two bashes at it. More as an overly self-indulgent experiment, I automated the delay returns on the vocals to trigger at specific points in the song via MIDI. I was pretty pleased with myself, given the primitive environment and no-budget resources. The results were perhaps less-than-pleasing. Once again, mixing through budget speakers and cheap headphones, the song was, at best, “finished”.

Gabriel, frequently a glutton for psychological self-abuse, chose to attempt a reworking of “C.I.R.S.” during this time period. I believe he was resurrecting it under the creative file name “C.I.R.S.2”. The bones of the track made more sense to me this time around, and after screaming at rehearsals and live gigs, I felt better about being a bit more aggressive with the vocals, as well as being less precious with the lyrics – lyrics which still made almost no fucking sense to me. Thanks to the S900, I once again had access to more options in terms of what I had come to call “incidentals”, the non-musical noises that I liked to add to a song when I started getting bored with myself.

Through contacts from doing live shows and through Andrew, we were able to record the vocals at a home studio used by label-mates Children of Atom. The recording situation was better than usual, but our sense of what was a good or bad mix was still far from optimal. We were also still dealing with the common pre DAW era bottleneck of having far more “virtual” samples and synth tracks than tape tracks and proper mixing board channels to fine-tune the mix. That being said, there are one or two moments in “CIRS2” that I am still pleased with.

“Sick” was an oddly transitional track, as it was written concurrently with material that would eventually get bumped to the next T4M release, which never did get finished or released. Also, this song shared a thematic link to most of the 4th man tracks that came after it, in that it really didn’t take itself seriously. Lyrically, the track was a passive aggressive rant about people in general, particularly those close to me. It was partially the result of a diet of instant noodles, bitterness, coffee, beer, LSD, and cigarettes. It was also a reaction to the cartoonish quality of the “industrial” genre.

Industrial music seemed to have broken through to the mainstream in earnest and had become a series of clichés. Frat boys and metal-heads that used to beat me up were now jumping around to Nine in Nails, Ministry, and Front 242 at Lollapalooza, and the novel combination of cyberpunk, metal, new wave, and experimental noise seemed to be getting simultaneously dumbed-down and taken maybe a bit too seriously. With the exclusion of perhaps Revolting Cocks and KMFDM, the lack of sense of humor was bit cloying. That and the fact that Gabriel and I were skinny little pasty-skinned mouse clickers, often too wimpy to lift our next cigarette, let alone intimidate someone, all these big angry drums and distorted vocals made me feel like a bit of a phony. As we started getting taken more seriously, I found myself behaving quite the opposite. “►Sick” was a good thematic juxtaposition of cheerful and psychotic, and for all its’ flaws, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the CD.

One aspect of “Sick” was that it had been performed live prior to being recorded, but after the first couple of verses, I would just stumble around and sing the words to “The Love Boat” over the second half. In the process of recording the vocal tracks for a couple of verses, the four-track, in its’ final days as a functioning piece of equipment, reverted to being “play back only” again, which sort of clinched the idea of additional lyrics or vocals for time being. Half out of necessity and half out of novelty, I sampled my vocals from the chorus and re-sequenced them to trigger in the last part of the song, which in my mind was pretty ambitious stuff - a cheap precursor to the “cut and paste” method being used on this new hard drive recording and editing program I’d been hearing about called “Pro Tools”.

By the spring of 1994, the 3 new tracks were put out as an EP entitled “Sick”. Also, since T4M was the first band on Factoria with enough material, we became the first CD “experiment” for Factoria.

At some point during the mastering process, which involved transferring the cassette versions onto Pro Tools, fixing the levels a bit, and then transferring them onto DAT, the levels actually got screwed up even worse. Also, somewhere along the way, the original tape of “Dirge” had gotten so badly damaged that the first 20 seconds were unsalvageable, and our only option at the time was to splice the middle part onto the beginning. There were also some major tape drop-outs here and there which we attempted to compensate for. Given the comparative slowness of computer equipment at the time, simple processes were quite time consuming, and more often than not, we opted to simply transfer a song from analogue to digital with a minimum of “fixing”.

The last track on the CD was an accident that we decided to keep. The DAT we had used for the master had originally contained a recording of our second live show, which had been a complete mess, so no love lost in erasing it. When giving the DAT a proof listen, we unexpectedly heard the sound of lounge music and me throwing some sort of tantrum from the end of our live set from 1992, after the end of D.D.A.S. Since we still had space on the CD, we left it on.

Back in 1992 at a club called “The Twilight Zone”, Gabriel had either accidentally or intentionally* triggered the preset “lounge” song on a drum controller, and I was in the process of having a post show meltdown on stage. It seemed a fitting end to the CD.

* I'm gonna go ahead and 'fess up here... it was intentional. ~ Gabriel

A Quick Note from Gabriel

Mr. Collings has been thorough, hasn't he?

I have little to add, save for an observation or two through the 20/20 lens of hindsight. As unflattering as these recollections can be at times, I must grudgingly admit their probable accuracy.

Two things happen as I get older: The first being that I am repeatedly convinced that my taste and sensibilities have vastly improved with maturity; and the second is that I am, after a few years more, shown once again the error of my convictions.

Actually, a third thing happens too – I cease to be quite so embarrassed at having past choices laid bare for all to see. Sure, it might still make me wince to be accused of having much to do with the original Cirs lyrics. Or name, for that matter.... really? It's called 'CIRS'??   But, after all, this was pre-internet. One could, at the time, unabashedly prefix words with 'cyber-' and few would bat an eyelid.

Regarding the music itself, I think that, as a snapshot of independent experimental electronica from that time period, the material stands up and is interesting enough to warrant a listen. If our ambition outstripped our resources a little, then I think maybe that's part of “charm” of it.

It does seem to me slightly odd in retrospect that, seeing as how our music gear was so limited, we did not attempt to tailor our songs a bit more to the technical capabilities of the equipment. Both then and now, some of my favourite music has been very stripped down and minimal. Instead we opted to completely max out the memory and voice capabilities of every instrument we had, never letting more than eight measures of music to go by without some crazy fill or breakdown, and then tried to squish all of that noise into four little channels on a cassette tape recorder. Like if we didn't use every sound at our disposal, then maybe somehow those sounds would spoil like milk, and we'd miss our chance to use them.

But, as I say, I think that it stands up well for what it is. One can hope that our current work will too. 

I certainly feel that it will.

See above comments on taste versus the passage of time...



Mr. Abney