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Act of Free Choice

It has taken 15 years or more of music-making - a real journey - but he's finally done it. And it's as if a lifetime of journeying has gone into it. A lifetime of listening. A lifetime of thinking. A lifetime. Act Of Free Choice is David Bridie's first-ever solo album.

As the central figure of influential Melbourne-based bands Not Drowning, Waving and My Friend The Chocolate Cake - and as an in-demand producer and award-winning soundtrack composer - Bridie waited all the years for this. He's compiled sounds and musical ideas through all that time. He's dwelled on the infinite possibilities. And the remarkable Act Of Free Choice, as well as being a bold new beginning, is also a kind of conclusion, a kind of inspired, and unique, resolution.

"I think the record really works on an emotional level," he says. "There's a sense of place in it. It feels...right. It's like the penny dropped and I realised what I really wanted to do. I'd call them highly textured songs, soundscapes and great slow grooves. Have you heard the group French Paddleboat? No? Don't worry - no-one has. Kind of Kraftwerk meets Boards of Canada meets Belle & Sebastian. They call their music 'organica.' That's where I'm at."

With London's Ian Caple as co-producer (who has worked with artists on the experimental electronic record label Warp as well as with Tricky, The Sugarcubes and Tindersticks) Bridie has crafted an album of near indefinible beauty. Although built from 11 stand-alone songs - including the single "The Koran, The Ghan and a Yarn" - it feels like a continuum. There's a sense that it could continue on forever, like an undisturbed dream.

His trademark field recordings, traditional indigenous instruments, heartfelt lyrics and delicate piano-playing join an eerie electronic ambience on Act Of Free Choice. Old analogue synthesizers also dance around the mix; drum loops from all kinds of bizarre sources lend a dirty funk to some tracks. But the poetics remain. There's a mysterious hymnal quality to much of it. A haunting. A dreamscape.

Act Of Free Choice is a serious record, but it is also subdued and confident. The lyrics are simple and unadorned, the music deep and textured. The melodies are natural but the rythmns and sounds are heavy in space, atmosphere and complex emotion. "I was unafraid," says Bridie. "I wasn't scared of singing back, of keeping it simple. I wanted to pull the listener in, make them move toward the song. I didn't want to overdo it. I didn't want big killer choruses, I didn't want to hit the listener with this big song. I wanted them to move towards the music and still find it rewarding after lots of listens."

An array of guest musicians and vocalists join Bridie on Act Of Free Choice. It plunders his extensive library of found sounds and weird tones (including recordings of desert winds, morse code, spoken word, shortwave radio and school bells). You'll also find a fullscale orchestra, and a lush string quartet of old friends.

It was recorded over 12 months. The music came together in places as near and far away as Bridie's home-studio in Northcote, Melbourne, and Phillip Island, and Mt Macedon, and Brixton. Three tracks were co-written with longtime collaborator and guitarist John Phillips, who lives in France. As well as the conventional CD version there will also be a DVD version of the album available, with short films by 11 different filmmakers accompanying the songs.

"Space, lyrics, textures, atmospheres..." says Bridie. "Eleven interlinked short stories to music. The older you get the more confident you get and I realised this is the kind of record that I wanted to make."


THE SONGS

The Koran, The Ghan And A Yarn “The wooden box loop, piano and vocal tracks were all recorded during the writing stage at Michael Barker’s studio. We captured something special there that we had to keep. The lyric deals with Marree, a town in outback South Australia, a strange meeting place of cultures amongst a beautiful but desolate landscape populated by pioneering Afghan camel drivers, strange Europeans - often on the run from something - and the aborigines who had survived earlier atrocities."

Dive “John Phillips and I wrote this for Christine Anu’s Stylin’ Up album. It’s been reworked since then - the vocal on her recording is more featured, obviously, and there are some lyric changes. Here we tried to keep a sense of space - trying not to force it, allowing the vocal to breathe. I recorded big wall-of-sound strings and piano, but ended up taking more and more stuff out.”

Breath “It has a darkness to it, both lyrically and musically, but there’s also a strong textural element - the oboe, the weird operatic vocal, the crunchy drum loops, the low-end frequencies, the pulsing bass. Ian and I gave this song free rein in some regards. There are layers and layers of guitars that don’t sound like guitars, and a couple of musical pauses where the song almost stops. The long outro where the chords turn around just felt appropriate, the way the song dips and then rebuilds.”

Kerosene “The chorus in early demo of this song was quite epic , but Ian and I dropped it right back so that it just sits on the piano chords with the drum loops and guitar shimmers slowly layering. Michael Sheridan and Phil Wales play these bushfire guitar noises that threaten to break up, but they’re kept right back in the mix. The lyric deals with Spinifex fires in the outback, a natural process of regrowth, renewal. A friend and I lit a small clump of spinifex out west of Alice Springs just to test how quickly they burn - they did, and some. The next thing we knew the Rangers’ choppers flew in and arrested us…”

The Deserters “This was my first full orchestral score. When I first heard the 70-piece orchestra playing, it knocked me over - it was such an all-engrossing and beautiful sound.”

Float “I love the dirty bass and drum groove on this one. The atmospheric beginning was a piece that John and I recorded quite a while back; Ian’s mix is really strong. There’s a bunch of talkback radio bigots that run underneath and support the words.”

Sad “I sang this one intentionally very late at night; it’s raspy and high, and Ian compressed the hell out of it. Like all the songs it has a very simple melody. It’s vaguely about belief and blind trust. This also has an orchestral score over the top of an old rhythm box and a loop of Morse code recorded in PNG - this one is a favourite for me.”

Mister Nation “Michael Barker played a very laid-back drum track over these sparse piano chords of mine down at a recording session at Kitty Miller Bay, in a big house overlooking the bay in the middle of winter. It was going to be an instrumental for a while, a recording of curious conversations, an analogue keyboard pulse, upright bass and a typically searing John Phillips guitar noise that he’d sent by email from the south of France! But this vocal line kept going round inside my head, and I couldn’t help myself but put it in.”

Salt (I Don’t Want To Go No Further) “The original Salt is on the Cake's Good Luck album - however, only the chorus is the same here. The verse lyrics, while similar in intent, are very different, and musically this drives over electronica, loops of wind blowing through pipes and guitar noises. I like the drive on the Thievery Corporation CD and wanted this to do the same. The vocal is recorded through a hand-held CB radio microphone - one of many in the Ian Caple collection.”

Last Great Magician “This is about the passing on of an elder in the Trobriand Islands. The last man who held the knowledge. In some ways a lament, in another a celebration of this guy’s life. It’s a feast and a funeral. It was recorded on the old piano up at Macedon - which was quite out of tune - and sung with a hint of single malt, and then some.”

Found Wanting “I wrote this with Phil Kakulas one afternoon, which was a great experience. I’ve always loved the Blackeyed Susans. It was recorded in about three different sessions, and it takes about a minute into the song for it to work out where it’s going. I’d been listening a lot to a band called Boards Of Canada, and was inspired by the way they layer their songs. It’s got similar sorts of textures thrown at it - piano, an old Korg, cello harmonics, short wave radio, guitar plicks. Some things are better left alone… I quite like that aspect of it. It was always going to be the closing song.”