de tian
Discus 93CD
Available formats: CD/DL


“A rather original mixture of electronics, rock, wave-pop, ethno and experimental is on offer here, which sounds very modernly, or rather timeless, despite the late 70s early 80s references. The result is very progressive, original and varied. The album is therefore highly recommended for open-minded tribes with dance legs.” – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE ZEITEN

The origins of de tian go back to 1978 when, as a result of a combination of disillusion with the new wave music scene and the emergence of synthi pop, Paul Shaft left Sheffield new wave pioneers, 2.3 to form a band of people interested in breaking rules. Members came and went, but the core of de tian consisted of Shaft and ex-2.3 roadie and percussionist Paul Hague. de tian live employed a huge range of different “instruments’ ranging from the conventional (guitars, horns, percussion), to more unusual ethic and self-constructed ways of making sound, together with self-recorded voice backing tapes. The result was music that defied categorisation but owed more to Stockhausen and Partch than any kind of conventional “pop”. Live shows also included films, slides and even a magician. A 4 track EP “Two Spires Split” was released on Oblique Sounds and a track appeared on the compilation, Bouquet of Steel.

With Paul Hague leaving to join Imaginary Friends, Shaft met Martin Archer, then playing with the emerging Sheffield Free Music Group and de tian Mk 2 was born. With other Free Music Group members occasionally dropping in, de tian eventually morphed into jazz-punk pell mellers Bass Tone Trap, and the rest is history.

“….who else in Britain never mind in Sheffield, is prepared to go on stage with nigh on a hundred instruments, very few of which are electric, and try to break through the insulation surrounding most rock gig goers minds…..”. Pink Flag fanzine 1979.

And so to transcriptome. A transcriptome is a catalogue of genes expressed at a particularly time in an individual cell. These catalogues are compared to provide scientists with a hitherto unprecedented level of information on cell processes and interactions and the molecular basis of tissue function, architecture and disease <>. Each composition here is an interpretation of a different real transcriptome dataset (each from around 5000 cells) which you see represented in different visual forms in the sleeve.

transcriptome is produced by a line-up that never existed, uses none of the original instruments, but yet is instantly recognisable as de tian, albeit a 2020 version.

Paul Shaft – guitar, bass, synths, ethnic percussion, voice
Paul Hague – percussion, electronics
Martin Archer – saxophones, melodica, recorders, wood flute, electronics


The de tian story is an interesting one; back in late 70’s Sheffield, Paul Shaft left new wavers 2.3, who released a record on Fast, to pursue something less structured and more adventurous. Along the way, he came into contact with Martin Archer and between them they pushed the band in a decidedly free direction, playing gigs and pushing boundaries until finally morphing into Bass Tone Trap. The latter released an LP in 1984, and de Tian must have sat in the back of Paul’s mind over the intervening years until recently when he decided to reinstate the name and pursue those original ideas along with original percussionist Paul Hague. Joining them as a bridge between the different lineups is Martin, who takes care of all reed instruments. The wealth of instruments employed is impressive for a trio and the nine tracks here each represent a different transcriptome dataset, which unsurprisingly gives each piece a decidedly different feel. Whether the pieces have been stewing for the last thirty-odd years, I don’t know; but whatever the circumstances, they seem to stand outside of the current times, as if the curious mix of Eastern percussive ideas, driving semi-industrial rhythms and scattered jazzy embellishments were waiting specifically to step into a world of their own. It is this odd clash of styles that opens the album with an Eastern loop operating around the soaring sax and a rhythmic synth kind of giving a grounding to things. The hypnotic core groove is scattered with subtle sparks that don’t really prepare you for things turning wild and jazzy.There is a lightness to the opening track (“Transcriptome 1”) that gives way to a certain industrial oppression as the second track arrives. The sax oozes sinister and there is a grinding kind of soundtrack vibe to it which doesn’t let up as the mournful foreboding of track three replaces it. Things have settled into an awkward sense of foreboding and the out of phase industrial jackboot rhythm of track four doesn’t help. The random elements that sit at odds with this already odd rhythmic coupling become unsettling. It feels as though the players have their own agendas and are subtly trying a little subterfuge. The whisper of conversations in metal bunkers of track five, or the gasping, random flute that lurks in the shadows of an insistent robotic beat on track six, are features of a dystopian vision, an underground world that seems to blur before your eyes. It doesn’t sit still though, it doesn’t allow you to settle or to assume that you know what is coming next, and the simple six-note sax shuffle that illuminates track seven is unexpected. The ethnicity returns to the rhythm and you feel you are entering another atmosphere. The sax is almost out of place and at times is haunted by a restless recorder, keening listlessly. Apparently, each transcriptome dataset of which these nine pieces are aural representations are made up of some 5,000 cells, and if anything, this album manages to imbue a sense of utter disparity between each track — yet due to their nature and birth, they clearly come from the same minds. Transcriptome is a unique and provocative suite of songs — and as a one-off forty years in the making, it couldn’t be much better. – Mr Olivetti, FREQ

Elsewhere in these pages, you might find the assertion that Martin Archer is a very good thing, or words to that effect. He’s involved here, as a member of an improvising ensemble that has existed in various forms since the late 70s, when the Sheffield scene was an exhilarating mixture of post-punk, new wave, avant-garde and undefined musical practices. 1978 was the year Pulp started out in Sheffield, but also the year when Paul Shaft, apparently disillusioned with the rock scene, started experimenting with former roadie Paul Hague. de tian gigs were events, with visuals, sometimes a conjuror and an aesthetic that seemed to come from the darker habits of Stockhausen’s children. The new de tian includes Archer on his usual range of horns and electronics and is inspired (and indeed scored) by a series of transcriptomes, a term that refers to the integral of RNA transcripts within a particular population of cells at a given moment. It’s a usefully elegant metaphor for a certain kind of improvisation and however the musicians individually reacted to the illustrations that serve as track titles, one can see as well as hear directions through the music. All this will seem like stuff and nonsense to anyone who wants familiar tunes and no messing about with high-flown scientific ideas. But of course the ideas in question are as basic as sand and aggregate and all music has some kind of cellular reality. The best response to a doubter is simply to put the music on. It doesn’t swing. It doesn’t have regular beats that you can count on your fingers. But it has LIFE, and in these days, that seems a lot more important. The band may have a trendily lower-case name, but the vitality is written in block caps. – Brian Morton, JAZZ JOURNAL

Yet another contender for album of the year so far! Think The Pop Group meets Kraftwerk and Martin Archer down a dark alley in Soho! – William McGiven, SOUL AND JAZZ RADIO

de tian is the longstanding partnership between Sheffield guitarist and electronic musician Paul Shaft and free music and Discus Music co-founder Martin Archer. The original version of de tian sprang up in the post-punk / pre-synth-pop hinterlands but when Shaft and Archer hooked up, their music evolved toward a more sonically diverse point. New album Transcriptome features nine tracks that find the duo working grooves out of industrial-style rhythms overlaid with Archer’s distinctive textural reeds and sax, with the addition of percussion from early de tian member Paul Hague. Key track ‘Transcriptome 4’ thuds with a wild, frantic pulse, wailing synth stabs and African percussion giving the track an air of only just being on the edge of self-control. Archer sweeps in with some especially evocative processed sax toward the end which cements the track’s beautiful chaos. – SHOTS

Ein neues Projekt von Martin Archer! Das war mein erster Gedanke, als ich die Ankündigung für transcriptome von der mit völlig unbekannten Formation de tian (man schreibt sich in Kleinbuchstaben) sah. Das stimmt aber in zweifacher Hinsicht nicht. Die Anfänge von de tian reichen zurück bis ins Jahr 1978. Damals verließ der aus Sheffield stammende Paul Shaft die New-Wave-Band 2.3, um ein neues Projekt ins Leben zu rufen. “Breaking rules” sollte das Ziel der neuen Band sein. Einen Mitstreiter fand er in Paul Hague, ebenfalls zuvor bei 2.3. Live trat man mit einem umfangreichen Instrumentarium auf, das neben konventionellen Instrumenten auch allerlei selbst fabrizierte Klangerzeuger umfasste. 1980 erschien eine erste EP, dann verließ Hague die Band. An seine Stelle trat Martin Archer, die Band bewegte sich fortan mehr in Richtung Free Jazz und freie Improvisation. Schließlich wurde aus de tian eine Jazzpunk-Formation namens Bass Tone Trap. Auch wenn de tian also nicht mehr existieren, erschien im Mai 2020 unter diesem Namen ein Album mit neuen Aufnahmen in der Besetzung Paul Shaft, Paul Hague und Martin Archer. Die Band gibt es also offensichtlich nicht mehr, hat aber trotzdem ein Album gemacht, das – abgesehen von einem Beitrag zu einem Sampler – die erste Veröffentlichung von de tian seit der erwähnten EP, sprich: seit vierzig Jahren ist. Auf der Bandcamp-Sete heißt es dazu: “transcriptome is produced by a line-up that never existed, uses none of the original instruments, but yet is instantly recognisable as de tian, albeit a 2020 version.“Nun aber zur Musik! oder nein, erstmal zum Titel. Als Transkriptome bezeichnen man die Gesamtheit aller zu einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt in einer Zelle von RNA in DNA umgeschriebenen Gene. Vielleicht wird sich ein biologisch versierterer Kollege noch etwas näher dazu äußern. Jede der auf diesem Album enthaltenen Kompositionen ist jedenfalls die Interpretation eines solchen Transkriptoms. Die drängende Frage, wie sich eine Gensequenz musikalisch umsetzen lässt, ist also endlich beantwortet. Sehr perkussiv scheint es in den menschlichen Zellen zuzugehen, ist die Musik doch voller rhythmischer Muster. Die sind oft gar nicht so komplex, sind vielfach eher geradeaus gehalten. Mal motorisch treibend, in Nr. 4 gar schon clubtauglich, mal scheppernd wie eine langsam in die Gänge kommende Maschine, dann wieder hektisch wuselnd, und ein andermal kommt die Rhythmik in Form eines dichten Geflechts von allerlei exotischen Schlaginstrumenten, erinnert dann an eine Art schamanistisches Ritual. Häufig sind die Rhythmen elektronischer Natur, und auch darüber liegen vielfach elektronische Geräusche. Dazu bläst Martin Archer kräftig ins Holz, meist ins Saxophon, dem er gerne wilde Kapriolen entlockt, gelegentlich auch in eine Art Ethno-Flöte. In Nr. 2 kommt eine Melodika zum Einsatz, die einen leicht surreal anmutenden Hauch von Westernstimmung und dieses Stück bringt. Zusammen mit verfremdeter Gitarre entsteht aus alldem eine nicht ganz leicht zu klassifizierende Mixtur, die man am ehesten als pulsierendes, gelegentlich jazziges RIO-Electronica Gebräu bezeichnen könnte. Faszinierend! – Jochen Rindfrey, Babyblaue Seiten

Transcriptome? Yep, an analysis of such one can be seen on the cover. At least the expression patterns of seven genes are shown there; as a violin plot. One can see well the dispersion of the measured values, but also the accumulations that shape the belly of the violins. If you open the cover, you can see single cell analyses that sort the respective cells according to the degree of expression of the respective genes, and then trace development lines in the tree diagram. Each piece here represents an interpretation of such a record. I’ve always wanted to hear transcription patterns sound like. And? What do they sound like? Well, quite electronic, mixed with woodwind inserts and mostly programmed percussion. The roots of the project, go back to the late 1970s. And certain new wave patterns can also be identified, reminiscences of Cabaret Voltaire and Tuxedomoon, for example, at times when the use of synthetic percussion and machine-undercooled patterns was innovative and new. Still, “Transcriptome” doesn’t sound old-fashioned or retro in the slightest. Very rhythmic the music is mostly unusual, drifting there, sometimes almost inviting to dance. Martin Archer makes various wind instruments sound, sometimes overlaid in several lanes, comforting and reverberating. Paul Shaft is assigned guitar and bass, next to the synthesizer. But guitar or bass tracks are rarely directly identified as such. Rather, the music presents itself as a dense sound, which glides along to a more brisk pulsating, sometimes more freely sounding, enriched with all sorts of squeaking, rattling, creaking and feverish sounds, various percussion, and just the blower. There is no singing. The quite frequent sax results in jazzy undertones, whereby its sound products often also provide an orchestral sound that reminds of electronic chamber prog. Others sound more like punk jazz. Sometimes the music jumps a little a la trip-hop, but a slanted and edgy trip-hop. Finally, a certain tribal ethno atmosphere occasionally arises (e.g. listen to the beginning of the seventh piece). A rather original mixture of electronics, rock, wave-pop, ethno and experimental is on offer here, which is working very modernly, or rather timelessly, despite the late 70s early 80s reminiscences. The tonal result is also very progressive, original and varied. The album is therefore highly recommended for open-minded tribes with dance legs. – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE ZEITEN

Lasciamo stare il titolo “trascrittoma”: il termine che indica il catalogo di geni espressi in una singola cellula. Quello che conta è il sound dell’album. Inquieto e inquietante, sinistro, a volte torbido ed eppure pulsante, ambient e sciamanico. A tratti insistente elettro-acustic sound. A tratti techno (una techno rivisitata, re-enacted, ritmicamente smontata e rimontata). A tratti invece un’estensione delle atmosfere di Tomorrow Never Knows dei Beatles di ‘Revolver’. Solo che qui il canto non c’è (solo voci che si mescolando nel clima sonoro generale). È la pulsazione ossessiva e tribale dei tamburi a ricordare quel brano, mentre il sax insiste su un riff ripetuto, su cui si libra in volo l’improvvisazione di un altro sax. Ho ascoltato davvero molte volte questo album di Martin Archer (vari sax, melodica, flauto, registratori, elettronica), Paul Shaft (chitarra, basso, sintetizzatori, percussioni etniche, voce: non canto, ma voce) e Paul Hague (percussioni ed elettronica) e credo sia la cosa migliore che Archer ci abbia offerto in quest’annus horribilis. È un album capace di segnare musicalmente il mood, o la gamma di moods che ci opprime in questa fase. – A G Bertinetto, KATHODIK

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