Saturday, July 25, 2009

Clarence G - 'Hyperspace Sound Lab'

The first production by James Marcel Stinson to be released was the 12" EP 'Hyperspace Sound Lab' which came out under the name Clarence G in 1991 on Florescent Forest Records. In the 18 intervening years this has certainly become the big one as far as collectors are concerned, said to fetch up to $1000 on Ebay. How easy this figure is to attain and how often it has happened is up for debate though. If you look at the Popsike website, depending how accurate it is, according to them this price only happened once online in 2006 but just a year later it made the more paltry $617. Personally if I ever came across it I would never pay anything like this, but if I didn't have the MP3's then maybe I would be more willing but they are enough for me. It might turn out to be a good investment in the long term and that might be part of the reasoning for someone willing to pay the big bucks but it's all about the music and that we thankfully have. It's a shame that the price of the record is probably the first thing people talk about and I know I am doing the same but it's worth tackling that issue up front before getting to the far more interesting music it contains. I wonder how often a record said to be worth a 1000 bucks gets played anyway?
You might also be surprised that even the artist name Clarence G is not actually found on the record expect in a title! On side 1 the artist name reads downwards in a gothic type font and there is no G. Now, I am working from the scan found on Discogs and true there is a dark spot where the G might well be more noticeable on an actual copy of the record but it looks like the shadow of a rock to me and the G just isn't there. Can any of you tell us for sure? I would still rather refer to the project as Clarence G myself as this is what it has become known as but just so you know. While I'm on the whole G thing it must be said that G has to be one of the most common Hip Hop name appendages, from Warren G to Ali-G. Interestingly G in a name is said to represent philosophy so maybe that's where it all came from. It’s maybe not the most amazing name to pick in the world either, with the G or otherwise, but there you go although it might be a reference to the writer Clarence G Hamilton. I say might, as I’m not convinced of this myself. But it is possible that Stinson had come across and read his stuff. He is now pretty obscure and would have been in 1991 as well. If he did know his books he must have found them second hand I would say. His subject was music but this is quite academic stuff, he’s certainly no Alvin Toffler. He wrote books in the early 1900’s with titles like ‘The Outlines of Music History‘, ‘Piano Teaching - Its Principles and Problems‘, ‘Epochs in Musical Progress’. It would be surprising if Stinson was too interested in this stuff but you never know. I have created a link at base of article to one of his books on Amazon where you can read a few pages. If we want to be so literal there might also be another candidate for the name reference, the American film director, Clarence G Badger (1880 - 1964). Again, totally obscure today, he made the movie 'It' in 1927 starring Clara Bow, but I don’t think there is a connection.
The next thing people might presume about the record is that it is a hip hop record. Well, two of the tracks are certainly hip hop but the other two certainly aren't. Stinson did state he was still a fan of hip hop when speaking in 2001 and probably must have always been. We also need to consider that James would have been just 21 or 22 when he did this record and it's pretty phenomenal considering his age in every way. The first track on ‘Side 1 of originality’ as it boldly states on the label is ‘Clarence G’s Club’. This is the first of the hip hop tracks. The rapper may well be Stinson as surely he would have credited the person responsible if it wasn’t himself. If it wasn't him they would surely have been pissed off if they weren't acknowledged. But it might not be him either, maybe right from the start they both wanted anonymity. If he was the rapper this was certainly another skill he had and no mistake. It's not bad for an early try anyway, a bit breathless and quickly delivered maybe but it works well enough. Production-wise the track is fairly basic, raw, but it does have a nice bass-line, synth sound and beat, which is only let down by a certain cheapness or the run of the mill standard of the sounds used. The track is not totally forgettable or anything it is just lessened by whatever equipment was used to make it. It has dated absolutely though due to the subject matter and generic style of it as has the other hip hop track. But as Stinson himself said to Tim Pratt in 2002, “There's never one record that's better than another because that was a moment of time.” Well this is definitely a moment in time. The rap itself is the classic clichéd boastful fantasy rapping about playing to an adoring audience, proving himself and even winning over the beautiful lady. It's quite shocking listening to this to think that within a year he would be on a whole other trip with L.A.M. then quickly followed by a far deeper one with Drexciya. I have never found the quote that Stinson is alleged to have said about not wanting this to be reissued. If true I would understand but as we will see two of these tracks are amazing and would be well worth reissuing. The only time he ever mentioned this release was when he again spoke to Tim Pratt and at that time he seemed to be quite fond of it, “In 1991 I tried to release a record that had nothing to do with Drexciya. It's kind of funny, though.” I have always seen this as a one-off project which he was always going to quickly move on from and 1992’s L.A.M. (Life After Mutation) as more of a false start. Although at the time this record must have seemed like the most important thing in the world to Stinson, his first record at such a young age after-all. Regardless he would soon move on. There are a lot of lyrics to transcribe here and even I have my limits! Luckily for me though I think in this case transcribing them word for word is not really necessary and you can always just listen to them anyway. I also had more and more trouble deciphering the lines as it went on as well so including all I did get would make less sense than if I had got it all. But if anyone has already done it or feels like doing it please send me what you find and I could update the post and print them in full. Here's what I have for now.
I stepped in the club without a smile on my face
I take the mic with style and grace
It is me Clarence G make no mistake
Now the crowd stood up and started to scream
And my face got picked up on the video screen
Lights got dim, people started to clap and move to the lyrical rap
I jumped off the stage and onto the floor because what the crowd wanted was giving a show
I put the mic down, no time to waste, then I stood back up and started scopeing the place.
The lights went off and the music stopped and it was just enough time for me to have my spot
On with the lights and the music too , I was back on stage in my royal blue...
The second track on this side is totally different. Whatever equipment he is using for ‘Turbine’ would surely be the same but how he is using it is very different. The sounds used are all quite heavy, almost industrial sounding, there is a lot of room in the production too, maybe too much, sounding a bit bare and unfinished at times but for all that it sure kicks some ass. I wish all the tracks had been like this, if so this record would almost certainly be remembered today for more than how much it is worth. It’s also here made very obvious how on an instrumental like this you are free to create your own images and associations once the subject of the rapping is removed. I am even more convinced from this that there was two people involved here, even if Stinson did all the production he must have had someone else pulling him in another direction altogether, it's just too schizophrenic for one young man I feel. Maybe they both just put their money and tracks together to get this record out? This track also resembles the Drexciya track, ‘The Countdown Has Begun’ from the 1994 ‘Aquatic Invasion’ EP. In fact the main beats are to my ears identical to what would be on the 1994 version. The beats are so amazingly raw and perfect that it might have been difficult for him to redo them exactly as before and if that was the sound he was after he could have still had the original tapes lying round somewhere. I have a link to both tracks on YouTube at base of article for you to do your own quick comparison.
‘Cause I said it Right’ opens 'Side 2 of Originality' but this one lacks the imagination and production of the other hip hop track for sure. It is weak on every front. There is this funny sample of someone shouting “Yeah” but the backing is pretty standard with just a few odd sounds peppered in to make it more varied. It ends pretty abruptly as well. It strikes me again that maybe the truth about Clarence G is that Stinson just did the production, maybe he was the partner mentioned in this track, Willie D, and the rapper is Clarence G who wrote his own lyrics and is just simply someone else? This would make more sense but there is no way to prove that with the information we currently have. Again I took a stab at deciphering what was being said and this is the first section but again it's better to listen to it yourself.
Back in the days when I had an afro
My Mom said go get a job you know
but I chill not ill just contemplate
That is why I’m not able to demonstrate
About the stuff that makes you want to get hype to the mic
Cause I said it right
Peace in the hood in a moment of violence
Clay steps up in the calm of the silence
My posse ????????????
So let the people out to know what’s up
Spit to the back cool jump to the front
You can’t touch these G’s you runt
Cash the check and pay for the style
Two to the three to the four keep it buck wild
Takes a guy like Clay to keep you feel good
In the hood I was misunderstood
I walk alone with no time to spare
Flying high like Jordan on air
Prepare to fall in the way of a fist
The final track, ‘Data Transfer’, is also superb no question, this is another glimpse of Stinson’s future right here. I wonder if the legendary Detroit DJ The Electrifing Mojo would have picked up on a track like this at the time? I’m sure it would have been sent to him by an eager Stinson who has stated he was a dedicated listener to his show at this time when speaking to John Osselaer, “I was hooked and for the next eight years I would be programmed by some of the best electronic music on the planet by the Electrifying Mojo.” The track starts off with a long cymbal line and then jumps about with tons of interesting and unique sounds coming at you. It drives along insistently throughout with the beat more light this time with the focus on the lines of synth and effects. Maybe it’s also a bit bare at times as well and a bit short perhaps; all signs that it could have been improved upon but it does have something about it all the same. Hard to pigeonhole it to a style as well, just sort of early electro or something. This track and 'Turbine' just kind of bravely are their own thing. Just to mention these choice of names as well, they do fit really well, in a modern technological futuristic way.
There is a great picture on the label of some young guy with a great hair style and shades sitting on rocks, maybe it’s Stinson or the other guy if there is another guy, but whoever he is, he is posing beside Stinson's beloved water, either a lake or ocean. The picture on side 2 is actually different in that it is at a slightly titled angle to reveal a horizon of land. It appears to be a self-released record and therefore only a label in name only. This is similar to what Gerald Donald would do the same year with his Glass Domain project on his own Pornographic Sound Disc label. I wonder which one came out first and had they met yet? It would also be good to know how many were pressed. Donald is said to have pressed 300 of his so maybe Stinson did a similar number at the time. The name of the label is also interesting considering the mutation through radiation theme of L.A.M. In this context Fluorescent Forest might be a reference to radiation in trees or something. If true this might show where his head was going or it might mean nothing at all and just be a clever phrase he came up with. While the actual title of the EP, ‘Hyperspace Sound Lab’, with its futurist scientific overtones rings more like a Drexciyan title. There is a ‘special thanks to God’ credit on the label as well which is also something Drexciya would often do.
Thanks to the internet these tracks are relatively safe for future generations to hear. Although surprisingly the two hip hop tracks have been bootlegged by the label Safety Copy in 2006. 'Clarence G's Club' was also included on a limited CDR of a DJ mix by Brendan M Gillen on the Interdimensional Transmissions label in 2002, so what do I know! Hard to know the real appetite for these tracks beyond curiosity but as I said they can at least be heard again. Clone in the past have been good at reissuing Drexciya related stuff from this era like Glass Domain and L.A.M. so maybe they could possibly put it out someday. But I also reckon they would have done it by now if they were so maybe the story about Stinson not wanting it coming out again is true. I hope with this article I’ve pointed out how some of the presumptions commonly made about it, the name, the personnel, the value, reissue, are still open to debate. I must say it wasn’t that weird to do an article about a record I don’t even own a copy of. But I couldn’t tell you for example if there are any messages in the run out groove, anyone know? Also, as far as I know the record came in a plain no picture sleeve. All in all, in my opinion, if you picked this up at the time it would have been a really varied and interesting release from somebody in the process of learning their production craft but more importantly, finding the right sound for them. This search would continue for awhile yet through L.A.M. and the James Stinson productions we would finally get to know well would be very different to these ones. My next article will be on L.A.M.
'Clarence G's Club'


Anonymous weetabix of w said...

c'mon bro, those rap tracks are great the other two arent so good.

11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all the tracks are good, considering the time, but the standout track for me is cause i said it right.The beat sounds very aquatic.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Federico Leocata said...

My dj set ded to my mother, died the 3 aug at the age of 56

12:50 PM  
Anonymous TPA said...

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6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article you got here. I'd like to read a bit more concerning this topic. The only thing I would like to see here is a few photos of some devices.
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Cell jammer

2:42 PM  
Anonymous viagra online said...

it catch my attention this production. i think it could be nice. i just need to head the music and give a point

5:06 PM  

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