Additional notes from Richard Carter
Notes On The Instruments
Electric guitars - Mike was still using the guitars he used for Ommadawn quite a lot, but at some point also bought a Gibson L6S. Mike's main reason for choosing the guitar was its neck, because of both the feel and the fact that the intonation was accurate right the way up to the 24th fret. Mike can be heard making use of all 24 frets in various parts of Incantations, perhaps most notably on the solo in the middle of Part 3.
At the time, Mike was using a complex chain of equipment in order to get his guitar sound. From the guitar, he plugged into a treble booster. Brian May, of Queen fame, explained once that because these devices remove a lot of low end from the sound, it helps the sound to distort more smoothly. They also add extra gain (i.e. they amplify the signal). Mike plugged the output from the treble booster into a small battery powered amplifier made by Vox, which Mike had set up to distort the sound a bit. From there, it went into the microphone amplifier section of a Teac tape recorder, which he overloaded to get some more distortion, and then into a graphic equaliser with the mid-range frequencies boosted. The guitar signal then went back into another channel of the Teac tape machine, which Mike said helped to bring the guitar down to the right level. The output of that was then plugged into the mixing console. From there, it went through a noise gate (a device that reduces the level of a signal, or cuts the signal completely, when the level of the input signal falls below a set threshold) and another graphic equaliser. It was this second graphic equaliser that Mike used if he wanted to change the sound at all. In addition, Mike had a limiter inserted, to stop any unwanted signal peaks.
Mike also had a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier in the studio, to which he sometimes fed the guitar signal from the mixing desk - he'd then record the signal with a microphone. Mike felt (and quite rightly if you ask me...) that doing this added warmth to the sound, helping it to sound more 'real' and less electronic.
The synthesiser used for the 'flute' sound is probably a Roland SH2000. This is an analogue monosynth, with presets for different sounds. In the footage of Mike recording the Blue Peter theme tune (Blue Peter being a British Childrens' TV programme), Mike reveals that he is using the Clarinet preset on the synth, which he records at half speed which, according to Mike, sounds like a recorder when played back at normal speed (which makes the synth part double speed). Other synthesisers featured may have included Mike's Solina string ensemble and his ARP 2600.
Notes On The Musicians
Sebastian Bell - Also played on David Bedford's "Nurses Song with Elephants"
Maddy Prior - Singer with British folk-rock group Steeleye Span.
Pierre Moerlen - Drummer with (and at the time, leader of) the prog-rock group Gong. Mike would have met Gong while he was at The Manor recording Tubular Bells at the same time as they were recording their 'Flying Teapot' album (another of Virgin records' early releases). Mike made a guest appearance on Gong's LP 'Downwind'.
Jabula - These are the same African drummers who were on Ommadawn.
The Queen's college girls choir - Mike's friend David Bedford taught at the college at the time, where he led the choir. David also used the choir on his own recordings, including on one where he got them to inhale helium (the lighter-than-air gas used sometimes used to inflate balloons, which also has the effect of making the vocal cords contract) so they could hit ridiculously high notes.
Incantations featured lyrics from various sources. You can read about the sources they came from, their meanings, and the lyrics themselves by clicking here.
Mike recorded Incantations in his new home, Througham, where he moved to just after the completion of Ommadawn. Mike said in an interview at the time he moved in, that there was space to record a small orchestra in there. It is clear, looking back, that he was then already shaping up the ideas for Incantations, an album which of course included a small orchestra. They were featured prominently as well - small ensembles had been used on both Hergest Ridge (strings and choir) and Ommadawn (brass band) but they had never seemed as important a feature as they are in Incantations, with them only providing chordal 'pad' parts in those earlier albums (although to be fair, these features were always more than just 'background').
Half way through the recording of the album, Mike went through a fairly new and very controversial form of therapy called Exegesis. Information on this varies, but it seems it was something like this...
The course lasted for about three days, and was held in a hotel in London. The main message that the therapy put across to its subjects was that they could blame nothing that happened in their lives on somebody else - they were responsible for everything. The way the message across, however, was rather severe. The subjects were kept in one room for many hours every day. They were not allowed to leave apart from at the end of the session, not even to go to the toilet. People were often lined up in rows, while the course leaders shouted at them (often telling them they were worthless, using many expletives and other such things), or stared hard at them directly in their faces. People who met Mike after he had undertaken the therapy often found that he'd stare at them in exactly the same way, with his face only a few inches from theirs. The part which perhaps left the biggest impression on Mike was where he went through a rebirth experience. The course goers were encouraged to visualise their worst fears and problems, then confront them. Through this, it emerged that Mike's problems all stemmed from him having a distressing birth. He then went through this rebirth experience to counteract this. People who went through this course of therapy were sometimes known to display odd, extreme behaviour. Whether this was true of Mike or not doesn't seem certain to me...I'm sure Mike would tell you it's not true at all. Certainly he seemed to become much more assertive, with some people claiming he was almost too assertive...
The single 'Guilty' which was released shortly after Incantations, and uses themes from the album, seems to reflect the philosophy of responsibility that Exegesis professed - the idea that Mike was guilty of causing his problems, rather than anyone else.
Mike finished the rest of Incantations after having undertaken Exegesis. People have sometimes pointed out differences in style between the parts he recorded before and the parts he recorded afterwards. Certainly Mike said after recording Incantations that he was only really happy with the new sections.
As part of his new found assertiveness, Mike did something that some people would never have expected happening - he took Incantations on tour. Recordings from that tour would later surface as 'Exposed'...
Incantations was released as a double LP and at just over 72 minutes is the longest album Mike has ever released.
The image of Mike on the cover appears to have odd lines around the
edges, as if the image has been cut out and stuck onto the background.
Trevor Key certainly wasn't averse to altering photos in this way, so it
seemed quite likely to me that the cover was indeed a montage. One
theory amongst fans was that Mike was very busy before the album's
release and wasn't able to travel to Menorca, where the beach photograph
was taken. However, there are pictures different to the cover (one
inside the 1979 tour brochure and another was issued as a poster,
included with early pressings of the Incantations LP) which seem to
clearly show Mike standing on the beach, making the situation
surrounding the cover more uncertain, as it seems that Mike was present
on the beach when the pictures were taken.
The 'cut-out' lines around Mike's outline could have resulted from other
forms of photo manipulation/retouching, or it could be that Trevor Key
decided to cut and paste the image of Mike for artistic reasons.
© Richard Carter 2001