Caught by the River

Music Of The Wee Small Hours

20th August 2019

Tommy Perman lifts the lid on his secret ‘nocturnal reworking’ of Modern Studies’ ‘Welcome Strangers’ LP

Emergent Slow Arcs – my new album with Modern Studies – was made in the wee small hours. I have two young kids plus a full-time teaching gig at the art college in Dundee so there’s not much time to make music. I know I’m very lucky – I love my family and my job – but I often crave more time for my own projects.

I’ve been an insomniac on and off since I was a young child and I can go for long stretches when I only get a few hours’ sleep a night. A lot of people stuffer from insomnia these days (it seems to be very much a modern condition) but I’m probably one of the fortunate ones. I’m seldom kept awake by worries – usually I can’t sleep because my head’s swimming with creative ideas. 

Towards the end of 2017, Rob from Modern Studies sent me the audio masters of their Welcome Strangers album. Lying awake one night while my wife and kids slept I slipped my earphones in and was engulfed by the intricate beauty of that record. I listened to it over and over and found it completely beguiling. The decision to remix the album was made at night, as was the decision to set myself very particular rules: I could only use the mastered tracks and was not allowed to record any other sounds. So I wouldn’t disturb my sleeping family I opted to use only my laptop and a pair of headphones. Maybe my judgement was impaired due to sleep deprivation but once I had started the project it was very difficult for me to stop.

I worked on the music for around a year in secret. Not another soul heard the works-in-progress. I was my only critic. Each track went through numerous iterations. Sometimes I would jettison a piece of music I’d been working on for days as it didn’t feel right. I frequently listened back to mix downs of the tracks in the hours just before dawn. There is a stillness, an eerie, magical quality to that time of night and I noticed that my hearing was hypersensitive to the slightest details in the music. Anything I spotted during these listening sessions would be tweaked the next night and so the process continued until I was finally content that it was completed. I think the secrecy of the project freed me up to create music in ways I’d never tried before and the ridiculous limits I’d set forced me to devise new production techniques. 

Once my album was finished it took a lot of willpower to pluck up the courage to send it to the band. For a long time it’d been my own private project and a very intimate one. I’d crafted a suite of music in response to a beautiful record made by my friends but I had no way of knowing how they would react. Eventually I clicked send on an email to Rob and shared my nocturnal reworking of their LP. To my relief he replied quickly saying he loved it. Then came similar messages from the rest of the band, it was shared with the Fire Records folks and it’s gathered pace from there. I can’t avoid the pun, I’m over the moon.

As soon as the record was scheduled for release I set about making music videos for each track (in case it isn’t already obvious, I really love making things). I’ve decided to share with you the video I made for ‘Moonshot’ as it represents one of the infrequent perks of insomnia – occasionally you witness something very special in the middle of the night that you know hardly anyone else is awake to experience. In late April this year I awoke to see the most beautiful full moon shining through the trees – a perfect match for the music.

See additional video previews, order the album and more here.