Blog of the AMM

Ged Colgan on the music of Erik Satie

The AMM asked Ged Colgan how he’d got into the music of Erik Satie, and he explained to us the difference between two kinds of House music …
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I first came across Erik Satie’s music when working at Harewood House (my ‘proper job’ before my stint as line-manager in the world’s largest micro-sect). One of the CD’s we had was his Gnossiennes, which are pretty dark at times. This always made me laugh because the rest of the music was the kind of really boring made-to-formula bombast classical music you’d expect to be played in the tea rooms (that, and shit like the fucking Army Widows’ Choir sings Gary Barlow, Susan Boyle and Westlife) of a huge estate built from the blood and sweat of slaves on cotton plantations.

Satie stuck out and grabbed me musically because of his syncopation and fluid approach to tempo, his love of moving out of the scale — and the dark minimalism of his work. I love the way he writes a lovely little couple of bars that sit nice and cosy as easy listening’ (these are the little bits that get looped in the M&S adverts) and basically ‘vandalises it’ — or in my mind makes it beautiful — by making it all discordant and using loads of ‘eastern’-sounding minor scales which leave one feeling slightly uneasy.

I loved it because it cut through the beautiful landscaped estate, the birds (loads of red kites), the terrace gardens, the spring-time sun and (for me at least) gave expression to the raw violence behind this faux “beauty”. The huge imposing mansion built by bourgeois fucks making their immense wealth in the slave trade, who then destroyed the natural landscape so they could shape it in their own image. They later married into the Royal Family and still own the house … and the modern day violence of the outsourced catering running the cafe, restaurant and C&B.

So one day I asked this guy I was working with, What’s this? “Erik Satie,” he said immediately, “a very interesting character…”(there is no such thing as “a simple waiter”), and so it began …

Finally, one more reason I love it, is the minimalism. As you’re well aware at the AMM, the magic of music is that it is ‘felt’. The sound waves provoke an immediate emotional response from the ‘listener’. When I start writing something, I like to begin with just 2-note chords to get the ‘feel’ (not that I’m very good), and then build it up from there to get some interesting sounds.

I went back to Satie in the last couple of weeks ’cos I was having a bit of a dark time and was feeling like some kind of melancholy. At the moment I have moved to another form of repetitive piano music-at the opposite end of the spectrum — House.

Need to get on with some more playing with Satie samples …

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