Nick Robinson – Lost Garden
Released by Discus Music and available through Bandcamp
I’ve been quietly releasing solo material with no dramatic signs of commercial success, but it’s never been about the money, despite the fact that money would allow me to make more music! However, it’s mostly been DIY, so when Discus Music offered me the chance to release an album, I gratefully accepted.
I was given clear guidance from label boss (and fellow Das Rad inmate) Martin Archer. “Only guitar!”, he said, so everything you hear is either acoustic or electric guitar. Apart from the bells of Cologne, used as a live sample. You may not spot it…
My approach is to both record new audio and also make use of sections from live recordings. I find it almost impossible to create the freedom of live expression when sat at home. Equally, my live pieces are necessarily continuous evolution, so bringing them into a new context allows me to create a more coherent structure.
I’ve been ploughing this musical furrow for nearly 30 years, trying to escape the influences of my youth and to find my own “voice”. With this album, I feel I have finally achieved this and reached a point where although you may detect influences, there is nobody out there who sounds quite like this!
My music is often melancholic and can be dark, but this is tempered with controlled aggression and challenging sounds. My lifetime ambition is to bring a listener to tears (in a good way!) to create an emotional connection. You probably can’t dance to it, but swaying might be possible.
Thanks to big brother Simon for the artwork. The first 50 copies will include one of a set of original 1938 Wills Cigarettes “Gardening Tips” cards, used as inspiration for the cover! These will be placed in an original origami envelope folded by me (I’m a professional Origami Artist in my day job!)
Tracks: Hushful Point / Cautious Tragic / Toccata Apologetica / Zitterig / Three Vices / Trip-O-Phonix / Unmixed Pretentions / Lebensfaltung / Silver Streams Of Sorrow / Acrostic / Bunting Nook
What they say:
Thanks to the joys of the internet, I’ve been able to approach some of the musicians who have influenced me in some way or another.
Steve Hackett (Genesis)
interesting with some excellent playing and innovative atmosphere. I wish you luck with the project.
Adrian Belew (King Crimson)
I liked it very much. All the best in this crazy world we now have…
Bill Nelson (Be-Bop Deluxe / Solo)
I enjoyed listening very much. You have a powerful and creative approach to the guitar. You have your own original voice. Thanks for sharing it with me. I wish you all the very best in your continuing exploration of our mutual instrument!
Sonja Kristina (Curved Air)
A haunting immersive experience. All shades of guitar sonics – meandering stretched sustained single notes, handfuls of startling metallic discordance fading away to the last vibration of a tone Ghostly fleeting poignant melodies… always surprising – relaxing, transportive, never boring….
Stephen Fellows (Comsat Angels)
The album is really good. Extraordinary sounds. There’s parts that are literally indescribable – which is a good thing. Pushing the boundary.
Dave Sturt (Gong / Bill Nelson)
Inspired; uncompromising; challenging; beautifully intense … There are shades of Nelson, Torn, Belew, Frisell even Oldfield- but it’s still 100% Robinson. His experimental use of effects and sonic explorations are intriguing and lead to some unexpected and beautiful soundscapes. I can see this album being a source of inspiration for quite a while.
Paul McMahon (Haze)
By turns Ambient, Aggressive, Ethereal, Discordant, Thoughtful and Melodic, it’s stunning that all of this music was made on the guitar. A fabulous piece of work!
Michael Peters (looping guitarist)
I like it, great guitar textures, a healthy dose of chaos and of course, lyrical passages…
Zal Cleminson (SAHB)
Beautifully atmospheric and creative guitar work.
Bernhard Wagner (Sonar / David Torn)
Tasteful superimposition of down-to-earth electric guitar sounds and noises with otherworldly swirls and shrieks evoking birdlike creatures from aeons gone or lightyears ahead. All this embedded into reverberating spaces of varying sizes, often within the same track. Like a good book, only multiple listens will even start to reveal what has been put into this deep album.
Ben Christophers (English singer-songwriter)
This is stunning, I love the twisted nature of the album and yet everything seems so considered, the format has been distorted and the guitar takes more the form of a spectre to translate an otherworldly sound. The use of pedals / effects is really tasteful, never choosing to get away with anything, it has rough edges and leaves a lot of room which gives the music so much life.
Bill Walker (US slide/looper)
I’ve been listening for a few weeks now, and I am struck by the sonic and emotional range this music conveys. So many wonderful guitar based sounds and creative use of loops and noise elements can be found in this 11 song collection. These are beautifully improvised guitar inventions that balance lyrical passages with ambient elements and adventurous sound design.
If you want to review this, please get in touch and I can share the complete audio files. Photos are available and I’m happy to do interviews etc.
Silver Streams Of Sorrow
Album Mashup (all tracks)
Folding the origami envelope
Review by Dereck Higgins
Guitarist Nick Robinson’s musical life began as a member of the Polydor-signed rock group Typhoon Saturday (née Red Zoo) and continued with post-punk bands Comsat Angels, Dig Vis Drill and also with jazz composer Neil Ardley. However, abandoning hopes of becoming a rock star, he turned instead to a career in origami. That proved very successful, and he’s written over 100 books on the subject.
But Robinson has certainly not given up on music, as this solo album attests. He’s also a member of prog-ish improvisers Das Rad with Martin Archer and Steve Dinsdale and has played on over 50 albums to date. The vestiges of rock music have remained close to him as his electric (and acoustic) guitar outings on Lost Garden reveal. The opener Hushful Point oscillates between Frippertronics-like calm and frenetic overdriven fuzzy interspersions. There’s even a playful allusion to this Frippian soundscaping with the track titled Trip-O-Phonix.
Toccata Apologetica starts with a lyrical fingerpicked tune, overlaid with Dave Gilmour-ish legato lines but then ends with a more urgent cascade of ascending notes. Robinson’s album is characterised by overdubs of guitars, variously treated with an assortment of electronic effects, often accompanied by loops. There’s also a tendency to shift back and forth from quiet passages to louder, more intrusive ones as with the simple echoey, chord strumming on Zitterig.
Lebensfaltung has a semblance of minimalism, evoking shades of Terry Riley and Philip Glass. On Silver Streams Of Sorrow Robinson’s guitar evinces carefully controlled ghostly feedback as an embellishment over a fingerpicked vamp. The final track, Bunting Nook, is an 18-minute tour de force in which Robinson energetically throws everything bar the kitchen sink into the mix. Whilst Robinson might describe his music as ambient, it’s actually a pleasure to hear highly disciplined yet enthralling guitar pieces so painstakingly realised.
Roger Farbey, JAZZ JOURNAL
Discus regular Nick Robinson has been experimenting with guitar looping for over twenty years and his experimental trio Das Rad finds opportunities to interweave them with Martin Archer and Steve Dinsdale. Here though on a rare solo outing, it is all about the guitar in all its incredibly varied manifestations. Taking the album name from a previous ambient duo, Lost Garden really does feel just like that. The sensation of being adrift in a rambling country garden that has not been visited for years is the key here, with every corner from sunlit glade to thorn-ridden wasteland catered for in the vast repertoire of sounds.
The spare clash of disparate notes echo and fuzz, the roar of overdrive, a proggy swell with tones and textures that are harsh and grating. If this were a garden, here is the overgrown wasteland right at the back, full of nettles and blackthorn, tugging at sleeves and tearing at skin, but with a hidden beauty in which lurk young birds, a haven for insects. Distortion is manipulated and mangled, but can make way for an almost Spanish feel. Clear blue skies are evoked and it is Nick’s care with the the placement that allows the listener to be guided.
This is not a virtuoso guitar album and it is all the better for it. It is a complex and considered series of patterns, as if he is painting with the guitar, constantly stepping back to ensure that the effect is right. The sweetness of some notes, the juxtaposition of backwards-looped elements, it all leads ever onward. There is Americana-style fingerpicking, a sense of pursuit along country lanes under gathering clouds; and at other points we are struck by the melancholic, cyclical insistence. The simplicity and willingness to allow notes to hang, suffused with space, is admirable.
Siren sounds, distant, abstract and ominous resound, but ally with a drifting gentle breeze, the lightest waft with birds chattering in the trees. Drones perfectly envelop the soundstage, lending shade; while brief explosions of static scare the birds from the trees. Look a little further beyond this arboreal cluster of tranquillity and peace reigns again, with just the odd hint of discord. Staccato notes blow in the wind like so many leaves and there is a pastoral calm to a lot of the album that could only have been produced in the UK. At times, the pieces drift like wraiths, laden with texture, moving gently, notes barely present amidst echoing silence.
It kind of makes me think that it is the sort of sound that Maurice Deebank may have arrived at if he had this inclination, because there is something of that Felt texture and a resolute love of the guitar. But if anything, Nick manages to go way beyond those ideas and expand, stretching the confines and ending up with something that is uniquely his.
This is definitely one of the most satisfying solo guitar explorations I have heard and is a must for anybody inclined that way.
Mr Olivetti FREQ
Robinson is, of course, guitarist with Das Rad and their blend of avant-rock permeates the mood on this set. In isolation, Robinson layers his guitar sounds in ways that feel carefully and artfully organised and also freely spontaneous and unstructured. There is a richness in the crafting of the layers of sounds which is satisfying and also bursts of noise which startle and shock (and you get the impression that the startle and shock is not only felt by the listener but also Robinson – in a sort of ‘where did that come from?’ response to the some of the developments in the playing). I laughed out loud at his dedication, on the sleeve, to ‘the woman who approached me during a solo gig and politely asked me to turn down because she was trying to have a conversation’. While he modestly suggests in the liner notes that ‘everything you hear came from a guitar, suitably mangled’, this misses the care with which the tunes have been created and mixed.
The mood of much of the set is one of calm deliberation (with the title ‘Acrostic’ being quite an apt metaphor, perhaps, for his method) but he is not averse to rocking out (particularly on the opening track). The gentle, melancholy of ‘Toccata Apologetica’, as its name implies, nicely capture’s his technique across several musical genres and using different guitar styles. Either side of this piece are ‘Cautious Tragic’ and ‘Three Vices’ in which the sounds generated by the guitar serve as input to slowly morphing pulses of sound that are sporadically interrupted by strummed chords or plucked arpeggios. My immediate impression of Robinson’s approach to playing, improvising and constructing his music was to see a synergy with Mark Hollis and Talk Talk, particularly albums like Spirit of Eden. This sentiment felt particularly apt when listening to ‘Silver Streams of Sorrow’ (although I also got a lot a Hawkwind references here… and not just form the word ‘silver’).
Of course, the ‘garden’ theme might be throwing me but what I thought was going on was the same approach to stripping music back until all that remains is its essence. While Hollis worked with a wide range of instruments, Robinson is working with guitar and effects. Indeed, the effects themselves often feel quite low key, with some reverb and echo on most of the pieces and relatively spare use of the loop pedal or reverse audio of segments, allowing the guitar techniques to be clearly foregrounded. In all, a richly enjoyable album that has repaid plenty of repeated listenings.
Chris Baber (Jazz Views)
One man, a guitar, some looping devices, and various sundry effects. Oh, if life were indeed that simple. But erstwhile guitarist Robinson prefers to shake things up considerably, and such a seemingly basic instrumental set-up belies a fiendishly clever mind at work. Solo guitar recordings surely aren’t endangered species, but it’s always depended on who is in fact wielding the implement, and held in Robinson’s calloused appendages, one can rest assured they’re in good hands indeed.
Influences are legion across the breadth of this recording, but suffice to say the guitarist suspends the listener’s disbelief across a literally breathless variety of moods and (mal)content. It’s hardly surprising that labelhead Martin Archer has decided to offer this dazzling work under his Discus Improg sub-imprint, Robinson obliterating all genres to the four corners like ashes in the brittle air, texturalizing and retexturalizing until anything remotely categorizable is rendered moot.
We get glimpses: the opening eight minutes of “Hushful Point” alternately sting like some of Andy Summers’s more coruscating leylines, the coarse granular aesthetics of Elliott Sharp, the strangely spacey broadstrokes of David Torn, and, in the piece’s closing minute, Buckethead’s farflung out-reach. That multi-headed approach goes right out the window on the following “Cautious Tragic”, where Robinson waxes some nostalgic patterning of piquant beauty, backwards-masked and wondrously poised, his fingers interlocking in a minor/major-key dichotomy that positively electrifies the surrounding air like a gathering thunderstorm.
Then a track such as “Trip-O-Phonix” reminds us how integral he is to proto-avant-prog trio Das Rad; across electronically-smeared arpeggios, pixie-like abnormalities, and a gaggle of weird motifs that dart across the loudspeaker fabric, it’s obvious that to this man, the guitar is merely the channel through which his muse dances and gyrates, spinning out a widening sonic choreography of ever-surprising proportions. Epic, to be sure.
Darren Bergstein, DMG
How life plays out. Nick Robinson’s ambitions with Typhoon Saturday, They Must Be Russians and Dig Vis Drill ran into the sand in the mid-80s, but are nostalgically remembered as “Dreams to Fill the Vacuum – The Sound of Sheffield 1977-1988”. But he became famous as a paper butterfly – he is president of the British Origami Society. But he remained faithful to the guitar, with new ears, which he credits to David Torn, as Nick Robinson Loops, on “No Worn Bearings” (2010) with Bernhard Wagner of Sonar. Discus offers a golden autumn, with Martin Archer in the Outward Sound Ensemble, in The Archers of Sorrow and with Steve Dinsdale as Das Rad.
Lost Garden (DISCUS 126CD), named after his temporary ambient duo with Andy Peake (from The Comsat Angels), now essentially shows his state of affairs, which he hints at as melancholic and floral and faunish with ‘Cautious Tragic’, ‘Toccata Apologetica’ and ‘Silver Streams of Sorrow’. The wind blowing over the strings blows from Electric Eden (as Rob Young christened Britain’s visionary music in its green power since the 60s). However, where the German tongue stroke in ‘Zitterig’ and ‘Lebensfaltung’ comes from, I found no clue. ‘Trip_o_Phonix’ is a pretty good metaphor for the furious or ethereally fragile spectra in pink and crimson through which his wheel of fortune spins. ‘The Gates of Paradise’ are never opened in the way of Robert Fripp, nor do his wheels rotate frippertronically-crafty or sonically.
Robinson’s claim is between firebird, formulaic mantra and floating drift, whose mood touches on Gavin Bryars’ ‘The Old Tower of Löbenicht’, his own, in daydreaming intuition, but also with all sorts of studioal chemistry that blurs the time arrow of guitar wizardry. He lets butterflies of crystal and rubber falter, morphing booming waves whirr and organs to wistfully pecked silver sparks. The guitar flow becomes a delta, sounds twitch and howl, strings chirp, seconds jellyfish back and forth. ‘Bunting Nook’ finally pulls out all the stops of the Robinsonade again with 18.5 minutes, from the orchestral intro to fragile circling, sparkling waves, silvery clapping, timid pause to a milling rush that overflows like alien blood and rough waves.
Rigobert Dittmann (Bad Alchemy)
Nick Robinson comes from Sheffield and began his musical career in the early 1980s as a guitarist in pop and new wave bands such as Typhoon Saturday, Dig Vis Drill, They Must Be Russians and Red Zoo, which also released recordings left behind (singles and cassette tapes, mostly). He then turned his attention to creating processed and looped progressive electric guitar sounds. A first solo album was released in 2003 (“One”). For some time he has been in close contact with Martin Archer, particularly as the guitarist for the trio Das Rad, with whom he has released three albums to date. In January 2022 his second solo album “Lost Garden” was released.
Robinson uses guitars, especially e-guitars, and effects equipment, as he does in Das Rad, layered on top of each other and tightly interwoven. A network of tape loops (or digital equivalents) mostly undulates on “Lost Garden”, over which further guitar lines have been layered, occasionally complemented by all sorts of other electronic sounds. The result is sometimes reminiscent of Frippertronic, sometimes of more edgy guitar electronics à la Pinhas, but also offers airier ambient textures and more complex interlocking guitar improvisations. In “Toccata Apologetica” Bach is also almost acoustically honored.
Sometimes cutting and bulky, sometimes experimental and free-form, sometimes fragile and floating, sometimes voluminous and echoing, sometimes tricky and pounding, sometimes distorted and howling, sometimes almost folky and shrill, sometimes gloomy and booming, sometimes playful and rocky, Robinson paints in guitar sounds, extensively edited, electronically alienated and powerfully produced. Despite the small cast, “Lost Garden” is a very varied affair. This also applies to the long final piece, which once again – a miniature album, so to speak – offers a cross-section of the sound worlds described at the beginning of the paragraph.
“Lost Garden” is a very colourful, profound and often powerful guitar electronic album, which oscillates beautifully between dissonant and melodic, and provides intense entertainment through the range of sounds offered, without the slightest danger of boredom arising. At least friends of electronic, this sometimes raw, sometimes beautiful guitar sound tinkering should have a lot of fun with this.
<em>Achim Breiling (Babyblau Seiten)</em>
In 1990 Nick Robinson played guitar for a late version of The Comsat Angels. What’s that got to do with this album? Not a lot but, gee, anyone who played in that band should have it noted. More recently he ‘did’ guitar on a Carla Diratz & The Archers of Sorrow milestone, The Scale – another one of those Discus specials.
The Robinson Fender has produced an environmental-friendly dangerous paint stripped, caustic yet good for your health. On this solo outing, the guitar is in its own Lost Garden, Robinson using horticulture over a varied topography of guitarscape. I’m not going through the titles as individual tracks… in a Lost Garden you hear it, experience it, lose yourself in it; wandering punch-drunk so flower borders take on a walk deviating through psychedelia to touch-up drones, electric finger picking to ambient feedback. Mr Nick calls it ‘mangled’, if so it’s like ringing-out dirty water from old rag and finding the result is a clear fresh stream of minerals.
If this review reads as if I’ve been on stimulants I promise you, they’re not my cup of tea, this is purely the heavy intoxication seeping off a solo guitar project played at only a moderately loud volume. The clarity of this music is not in its decibels but in the juxtaposition of profound technique, pick-up control plus a sonic sense of looped electronics. It’s much more sophisticated than Teen Spirit yet at the same time retains all the edge of brutal concrete constructivism.
The fact is the guitar is a difficult instrument these days. Every other school kid for the last sixty years has fancied their chances on the instrument. Guitar players are on the rack. Whatever they come up with, someone else has done it before. Nick Robinson is aware of the problem, he gets around it by simply (sic) being original, following his own mindset and putting the past into his private mangle and the present straight through his fingers. Join him.
Now here we have a really fascinating and interesting album that has a certain ambient proggy sound, all created on guitar by NICK ROBINSON, who is a British guitarist known for his work with the band DAS RAD. The new solo album Lost Garden goes much further than for example STEVE HACKETT or MIKE OLDFIELD and opens up a lot of creativity, sometimes spooky and/or calm, melodic and quite proggy (Toccata Apologetica and the superb MIKE OLDFIELDish Three Vices), while at other times quite aggressive and complex (Cautious Tragic). Lost Garden sounds like a piece of art you will learn to understand by listening multiple times. Nick is a genius on the guitar for sure and it’s a joy to check out if you’re a guitarfreak! (Points: 8.4 out of 10)
Gabor Kleinbloesem at Strutter’zine