The Thinking Behind My Latest David Lynch Inspired Musical Project “The Escalators”

The Australian band, The Escalators is my latest musical project. We launch our debut album “Wrapped in Plastic” and head out on a national tour this week.

The album can be purchased here

The Escalators instrumental lineup is unique, including jazz musicians on drums, bass, piano, trombone, trumpet, and extensive samples, electronics, and turntablism. The Escalators involved extensive set, lighting, and video design more than just a musical project. The music and set design stemmed from my academic research, notably my Masters completed in 2008.  

The key area of research that shaped the band’s music was my study into “sample-based music and its relationship to human memory.” Sampling and sample-based music involve the strategy of triggering memory using existing musical recordings and has been the dominant technique of contemporary music since hip hop emerged as a force in the 1980s. Before the 80s, artists such as Miles Davis, Stouckhousen and Gavin Briars, amongst many others, had played with it. Briar’s most famously in his long from minimalistic neo-classical composition Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which looped one longish sample of an anonymous London tramp singing part of the old hymn. 

For fans of David Lynch, the second area of interest that shaped The Escalators music and live show is found in the album title, Wrapped In Plastic, referencing the famous three words used in Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks. The film and TV work of David Lynch, including techniques Lynch uses himself and the resultant atmosphere found in a Lynch movie, have shaped much of this work. Rather than lifting tunes or compositions recognizable from Lynch’s work, I have placed this work in the Lynch Creative Universe. When listening to the album or city in a concert hall watching the band perform, one might feel a familiar but potentially unnamable feeling. It’s the same feeling you feel when watching Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet.

The Samples and Turntablist.

The Escalators’ distinctive identity is a consequence of crossing once-sacred style boundaries. In using samples, a composer can create hybrids that were previously unthinkable. This can produce new, unique and personalized musical identities.

Why the Name The Escalator’s

There are two reasons for the name. Firstly, for me, the name elicits the feeling of a constant returning to the same place; likewise, in my opinion, sample-based music also seems to have this effect. It creates memory confusion and a sense of return. The second and less obvious reason was Escalators starts with the letter E. 

All my jazz/improvisation groups have had names starting with the letter E (En Rusk, Escargone, The Electricians, so now the Escalators). Going agaisnt what would be common when trying to build a musical career I prefer ambiguity and uncertainty over simplicity and predictability. By continually using the letter E their is uncertainty created for those who have followed my career, as well as a slight confusion when talking about one band compared to another. 

The state of minimal uncertainty or subtle confusion is something that has always interested me.

Why The Mix of Jazz and Turntables?

At the early stages of development, the shared improvising, compositional language that the players possess has allowed me to rapidly explore concepts. It has helped me decide what to keep and what to discard. It frees me up from constantly producing physical written work that might or might not be kept, thus saving me time in decision making and allowing for a more flexible, responsive approach to the final pieces. 

The distinguished clarinetist Anthony Pay states, “I am the sort of player who is more disposed to start off from the accuracy point of view rather than starting off from the musical point of view. You can with some modern music start off and say : ‘I’m not going to pay any attention to the notational aspects of it, but initially I am going to decide what the music is about, the gestures – and language – the sort of thing if you are improvising, you have to deal with.’ Now, I tend when I’m approaching a modern score, to start off by trying to get, as accurately as I can, what he’s actually put down on paper.” (Bailey 1992, 67-68) That premise is precisely what I want to avoid.

The ensemble consists of Pat Thiel playing trumpet, Mark Hannaford playing piano, Joe Talia playing drums, Mick Meagher playing electric bass, Lawrence Folvig on electric guitar, DJ Element playing turntables/sampler, and myself on trombone.