Just got this album from one of my favorite New Zealanders, “Transit” by mr sterile Assembly. “Transit” is an album peppered with horns, bass, drums, vocals, unorthodox time signatures and more song structure changes than a politician with commitment issues. I would imagine most amateur and some seasoned drummers would get a wrist cramp by just even listening to this album! How can I put a label on an album like this? I can describe the overall sound of the album of being reminiscent of late 60’s mid 70’s era Frank Zappa, a funkier variant of Devo and an artier ska-punk sound with one of my favorite cuts off the album “I Robert.” Readers, this is actually one of the rare reviews that are going to be less than 300 words because this album has left me speechless.
Even though I enjoyed all 11 songs, I would say the choice cuts off of here would be compositions such as “Jesus Heals the Blind”, “I Robert”, “Stella”, “Axe and the Olive Tree” and the title cut, “Transit.”
In closing, mr sterile Assembly’s album “Transit” is great for punks trying to get more into jazz or anybody in a Frank Zappa or Primus state of mind.
Here is the story of Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly. There are links to individual pages with interactive lyrics. The story of how the album came into being, plus reviews, images, and any additional detritus associated with this release. cheers
Transit, the fifth album by mr sterile Assembly was released March 25 2011. The album took just over one year to complete from its inception point in late December 2009. The Assembly had recently complete a small Aotearoa NZ tour with the Czech group Uz Jsme Doma, in which an offer to the Assembly was made to tour Europe sometime in mid-2010. Offers like this spawn plans, and one of these was a recording project.
Two surprises in one day: dollars and departure.
An application was made with CNZ for a recording grant, the idea to record the duo bass and drums unit, in preparation for the tour. However, and much to our surprise, the day the letter of astounding confirmation of $$ came on the same day Sarsha Doulas decided to quit. The tour almost happened but due to personal reasons had to be abandoned at the eleventh hour.
From band reproduction to project.
This caused some serious rethinking on how to approach the project. What developed over the coming months was a growing project of fantastic proportions. We wanted to maintain the energy and feel of the twin bassists so we approach a sterile member from previous times, Aaron Lloydd, to plunk the strings. We knew he had a solid and creative understanding to our approach. Next we contacted another sterilite, Jeff Henderson, to add saxophone on a number of tracks, and Nell Thomas to add special tonal colour on a couple of tracks. Nell plays a a Javanese instrument called a Gender, and we felt this was a perfect instrument to add depth to a particular song, Stella, based on an story of some dear friends in that country.
Mike Gibson was enlisted early on to the initial recording of primary bass, bass, drums track, and to mix and master the final collection of songs. Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu became deeply woven into the development of the album. He offer Matakahi Studio to us so we could add all lyrics, additional sounds, and the sax tracks. During a number of conversations, we also came to the conclusion that there were spaces available that called out for extra words. Dean listened intently over months to lets the ideas grow, and his response to the challenge of these four songs is spectacular.
Inca studios and the NZSIS
Working with Mike at Inca studios also took on a particularly delicious an ironic feel. When I first met Mike to discuss the project, he almost incidentally commented that the studio use to be the home of the NZSIS, the government security intelligence service. The main record room that we were situated in was the old safe, the home of all those secret files from years gone past of union activist, conscientious objectors from previous international armed conflicted, and any other ‘radical’ who opposed the government of the day. That we should find ourselves in this space, performing our songs about the governments attempts to survey citizens, of this countries role in international spy rings, and the police’s employment of a particular individual as a failed covert spy to protest activity couldn’t be more perfect. (note:the SIS still is a functioning arm of the NZ govt, it simply relocated to a different building)
As well as having Te Kupu’s text in the songs, mr sterile collaborated over several months with Wellington poet Maria McMillian on the song Drought. Maria was invited to this collaboration as not only do we consider her a poet of fine standing, but the commitment to her political activity of opposing the privatisation for water would inform the similar content of the song further. The word’s were ferried back and forth over months, being stretched and teased into existence, then edited down into the form on the album. This reworking process continued up until moments before the words were committed to the recording.
Once the mix, which took several weeks, the mastering, and completing of art design, all the finished work was sent to Dualplover in Australia for the final stage of making the actual product. We were in the very capable hands of Swerve, who helped soothe the anxiety around the possible design slips that could happen as we were including two booklets into the final complete package. Additional support and help with the OZ release is from Tenzenmen, a specialist in d.i.y releases from Australia, Asia, and now us.
The evolution of the art work
Running alongside the audio process, the task of conceptualising, compiling artwork, and designing the artwork and packaging was explored. In an organic fashion, similar to the way many things evolve in sterile, the final design took many months, multiple edits, and a massive effort to execute what ultimately because a stunning and beautiful package.
After some initial abandoned design ideas, the concept to approach individual artists to illustrate the songs was almost accidentally stumbled upon. We looked through our contacts, aware of the vast array of talented friends, and matched songs with artists whom we thought could respond sympathetically to the intent and meaning of the words. And we were astounded and humbly impressed at how much they stood up to the mark, the quality of the art work, and the enthusiasm we received from each artist was incredible.
Building an exhibition.
While the art was coming in, the idea sprung into life that this part of the album deserves more that to be rendered into cd booklet size and never seen in its true form. The idea for the exhibition was born. A close friend, James Kirk, was approached to frame the work over a number of months, not all of it easy, but the quality of displayed art work was astounding, James also facilitated the contact with a photography who would take the highest quality photos for our reproduction in the books.
We’d like to say thank you
The craftsmanship executed from musicians, the sound engineers, artist, and the framing easily lived up to, and surpassed our Everest like expectations. the creating of this album was one stunning experience after another, not always easy, but ultimately extraordinarily rewarding.
We are incredibly grateful to all the amazing people who have participated in this project.
We thank you all individually:
- Aaron Lloydd
- Andrew Ross
- Campbell Kneale
- Dean Hapeta aka Te Kupu
- Deborah Barton
- Garage Collective
- Kate Whitley
- Kerry-Ann Lee
- James Kirk
- James Robinson
- Jeff Henderson
- Maria McMillian
- Mike Gibson
- Nell Thomas
- Roger Morris
- Stefan Neville
- Tao Wells
The album was launched at the Wellington Gallery, The Russian Frost Farmers on March 25 2011
We toured the album extensive within Aotearoa, we also took Transit to Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and returned to Java Indonesia. While in the township of Blitar, south east Java, a music video was made for the song Stella. The story of a young women from Blitar having a baby, moving to Singapore to get work as a transient migrant worker, while leaving baby back at home. A reflection on the globalised process of cheap labour for wealthy countries, everybody through travels with a very real human story.
After the launch we presented to firstly the Hamilton, and then latterly the Dunedin Fringe Festivals. The art work was couriered and installed with help from local to write the text around the art works. We then arrived to deliver a seminar discussing the process of developing this project, the content of the songs, and to play a few tunes.
Our show won two awards in Dunedin, and one award at the Hamilton Fringe. Below is a clip made by a Hamiltonian (thanks) from the Saturday afternoon discussion.
ICOT13 – The International Conference on Thinking
In January 2013, the International Conference on Thinking was held in Wellington. We submitted an abstract, which was accepted, to present our thinking around the processes involved in this Transit project.It was a 75 minute break-out session that was well received.
A video for the song Transit, made by Wellington photographer and film maker John Lake. This clip includes a crowd fund choir from across the world. Click this link for more information