Foetus: Limb

Release Information

CD+DVD May 2009 Ectopic Entertainment EctEnts030 Made in the US

Track Listing

Purchase CD | Purchase MP3

01) Sick Minutes (Ectopic Version) [8:39]
02) Ezekiel’s Wheels [1:38]
03) Te Deum [4:50]
04) The Anxious Figure [4:03]
05) Primordial Industry [6:12]
06) Industrial Go-Slow [3:37]
07) That We Forbid [2:49]
08) Sjogren’s Syndrome [7:17]
09) Echolation [1:22]
10) TO 45 Tag [1:37]
11) Piano Piece [4:03]
12) The Caterpillar Kid [5:52]
13) You Have To Obey [20:00] (bonus track; mp3 file)

1) NYC Foetus documentary film
2) Steroid Maximus – Live In France excerpt
3) Foetus – Live In Hannover excerpt
4) Manorexia – Live At The Stone NYC excerpt
5) J.G. Thirlwell – Lemur Commission Performance excerpt

Also includes a 48-page perfect-bound booklet of Thirlwell’s artwork.

Linear Notes

LIMB is an archival release of some material recorded from 1980-1983, from the early days of Foetus and pre-Foetus. Some of the pieces here have been previously released on the compilation albums. Parts have been released on various single b-sides. Some were excavated from old cassettes and some of it was reconstructed or re-edited from compositions on cassette. One piece is constructed from an organ part written in 1982, which I took the liberty of finishing in 2008. These pieces were made before the introduction of MIDI and sampling technology.

Sick Minutes was originally recorded in 1982 at Lavender Sound, an eight track studio in South London where I recorded my first two albums, DEAF and ACHE, with Harlan Cockburn engineering. It’s working title was “Six Minutes”, as I conceived it as two three minute sections, but I was very ill the day that I was recording it and it got re-christened “Sick Minutes”. The percussion is toy wooden marimbas, aerosol cans played with small mallets, prepared piano. You can also detect a tin whistle. I later took it to Wave studios in Hoxton Square where I revamped it and added the vocal loops which pushed it well beyond six minutes.

The revamping session happened when I was recording the Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel album HOLE. I had created a lot of vocal tape loops by multi tracking my voice on 24 track. We then mixed these on to 1/4″ tape in major and minor chords. We stretched the tape loop then I would “play” the tape machine as an instrument, pitching it with varispeed , and re-record that back onto the 24 track. I would mark the varispeed knob with a grease pencil to indicate the key notes that worked with the key of the song. Then those tape loop performances were submixed and bounced into an arrangement. This is the same method I used for creating the voices on “I’ll Meet You In Poland Baby”, like a mellotron without the mellotron.

The phrase “unmutual” that is sung at the end comes from an episode of the TV show The Prisoner, where Number Six is branded unmutual for being uncooperative. I seem to remember a part where the villagers converge on him chanting this. This piece also features acoustic guitars at the end, in one of the only times I have ever used them. It was released as the b-side of a limited edition twelve inch under the name Foetus Uber Frisco.

Ezekiel’s Wheels is a segment of an improvisation in about 1980 which was later looped in a delay. I discovered this on a cassette of “bedroom jams”.

The piece Te Deum is inspired by Bunuel’s classic Exterminating Angel, which was my favorite film at the time. It was recorded for a cassette compilation called Bethel, which was compiled and released by John Balance of Coil. The whole rhythm track is made with prepared piano and toy piano. Te Deum was a hymn played in the film, (although this is not a cover version of that hymn), but I also like the wordplay on “te deum -> tedium”. The piano was prepared with alligator clips attached to the strings and thumbtacks in the hammers, objects placed between some strings with others damped with gaffer tape. The organs detune from each other by changing the varispeed while recording. On this track, like “Sick Minutes”, a lot of the parts cycle in different time signatures so they never intersect at same point. There are a lot of concrète sound effects spun in. Before sampling technology was introduced I used to spin in sounds from prepared cassettes, and use tape loops, or “play ” sounds onto tape using pause buttons on cassette machines. Some of my tracks like “What Have You Been Doing” and “I’ll Meet You In Poland Baby” were constructed almost totally with effects, loops and sounds and very few live instruments. When sampling became available, I embraced it as it was a new way to do what I had been doing – organize sound.

I tracked down the screenplay of Exterminating Angel which was the source of the dialog quotes – “vulgarity, violence and dirt”, ” in a few hours he’ll be completely bald”. The “baa” sounds represent the sheep which the inhabitants see while entrapped in the room. This track and its companion, “Piano Piece”, were noisy because they were mixed to cassette. At the time I figured it was for a cassette release, so why bother mix to tape? But Fred Kevorkian has done an amazing mastering and restoration job on this album.

The other artists on the Bethel compilation were Coil, Pure, David Jay, Nurse With Wound, Meat Puppets, Virgin Prunes, Romans, Boyd Rice, Doo-Dooettes and 23 Skidoo.

I discovered The Anxious Figure on a cassette. It was something I did manipulating classical records and using the pause button on a cassette player. I would force the records to skip and spin the turntable by hand. This version is edited down from nineteen minutes. It was originally intended as source material for something and never used. Background or fairground, I don’t remember. What struck me listening to this was that there is a direct line through my work where I sometimes like to use dizzying repetition to the point of sensory deprivation. Sometimes this the beat turns around. Some examples are Wiseblood’s “Death Rape 2000″, the endless end of countless live versions of “English Faggot” right thru to the Manorexia chamber arrangement of “Zithromax Jitters” which ends with a phrase repeated hypnotically, building in intensity for five minutes.

The original full title of Primordial Industry was “(Decadence Is Rife In This) Primordial Industry”. I don’t remember why. The title of its partner piece Industrial go-slow is a reference to it being a “dub” version of “Primordial Industry” and not a reference to Industrial music, a phrase that has become much misused and I never identified with! I think I liked using the term go-slow (as workers on strike) when the piece is actually sped up. I turned the tape backwards and mixed it with tape delays, then reversed the tape again so the delays happened before the original signal. The studio had been using some new kind of noise reduction and when the mix ran backwards and then forwards thru the noise reduction it made the percussion sounds very sharp and explosive. I am banging on a metal tray, film canisters, keys and other things. This is an early example my use of vocal drone loops which I developed later. I play prepared guitar on this, hammering the frets on the neck.

It was recorded for a compilation entitled An Afflicted Mans Musica Box ,which was released by Steven Stapleton on his label United Dairies. The album also featured tracks by Jacques Berrocal, Anima, AMM, Nurse With Wound and Operating Theater. I made this under the name Foetus In Your Bed.

The technique behind That We Forbid may be familiar if you have heard Steve Reich’s groundbreaking 1964 tape phase composition “It’s Gonna Rain”. I used “It’s Gonna Rain” as the intro tape to my live shows for a long time. When I hear it now it sometimes triggers an olfactory memory of smoke machine chemicals. The technique involves two tape loops of the same material playing in synch, tho one is slightly shorter or faster than the other, so they slowly go out of phase with each other and then return into synch.

There was a series of albums called Co-Star released in the late 50′s. Various famous actors recite one half of a dialog and there is a script enclosed with the record. You can practice your acting by running lines with your favorite star. I discovered a cache of these albums as cutouts when working for Virgin Records. There were albums by George Raft, Tallulah Bankhead, June Havoc, Cesar Romero and others. They went on to become a great source of sound snippets and phrases, ending up on tracks such as “What Have You Been Doing?”, “Get Out Of My House” and “Clothes Hoist”. That We Forbid was built from a phrase from the album by Vincent Price. I found this on a cassette, although the quality of the recording was terrible and crude so I decided to recreate it in a fit of historical revisionism. I had to track down album again on e-bay as the sands of time had long since swallowed my original copy.

When I was living in London I started getting deeply into 20th century classical music. I was reading the writings of John Cage, and saw him perform with Merce Cunningham on the very day I received my finished copies of the first Foetus 7″ from the pressing plant. Seeing Steve Reich’s Drumming which was a transcendent experience. I felt like I was going to ascend thru the ceiling.

The first Foetus single lists a bunch of projected forthcoming releases, one of which was a triple album called Foetus On The Beach. This was a reference to Phillip Glass’ Einstein On The Beach, which I was obsessed with at the time. I devised my own numeric systems of composition which I methodically inscribed in notebooks, along with the order in which everything had to be recorded in order to maximize the use of eight tracks . Since I played all the instruments myself, I would build up overdubs, then bounce them to a single track then start over again. I had to know what order I’d record them in to make sure I had enough tracks left. All these elements informed the work.

I created the main melody for Sjogren’s Syndrome in 1982 and stored on a Casio VL1 VL Tone. This is the same instrument famously used by Kraftwerk on “Pocket Calculator”. It has a function to record a sequence of notes and play it back manually by pushing the “one key play” button. And of course it has a calculator built into it as well. I used this “manual sequencing” trick on several songs. I decided to work from that melody line and finish the piece in 2008. I still have my VL1 but I didn’t use it on this recording. The melody seems to owe something to Terry Riley.

Echolation came from the same cassette as the material for “The Anxious Figure”, and is also a manipulated turntable.

I was going to put the entire TO45 piece on this album, the B-side of “Custom Built For Capitalism”. I hadn’t heard it for 25 years and when I heard it and didn’t like it. However, this last short tag which ends the track is so nice I decided to include it here.

Piano Piece is a phase piece without the drift. It is derived from the piano tracks under “Te Deum” before they were submixed, muted and altered. When I recorded on 8 track I bounced tracks together as I went along, so often early overdubs disappeared. I happened to run off this mix of “Piano Piece” before I submixed the pianos of “Te Deum”. The music that “Piano Piece” embodies is all but inaudible in “Te Deum”.

The first piano figure is joined by another two beats after it using a tape delay. It appeared on the Bethel compilation as well. I hadn’t intended it to, but it was on the cassette that I gave John Balance and he snagged it and stuck it on there. I guess I’m glad that he did.

All source material for The Caterpillar Kid was derived from improvising tapes I made on Wasp synthesizer and Korg MS20 with a delay pedal in my bedroom in some squat in London. These were edited and sampled and formed into this new composition, so in effect its JGT 2008 remixing JGT 1980. Some of the material also comes from the tape hiss of the cassette recording the room.

I have put a bonus track on this album as an mp3. It is a twenty minute phase piece called You Have To Obey, recreated at the same time as “That We Forbid”. It uses three loops of the phrase, intoned by Vincent Price, and briefly comes into phase three times throughout the piece between setting off into intense phasing rhythms and patterns . Please listen deeply and let your attention shift from one part of the percussive field to another.

1, 3 , 5, 6, 10, 11 recorded at Lavender Sound.

Engineered by Harlan Cockburn.

01 overdubs and mix at Wave studios, London. Engineered by Warne Livesey and Charles Gray.

08 recorded and mixed by JG Thirlwell at Self Immolation studios, Brooklyn. Violin played by Elena Park.

All other tracks recorded by JGT at various locations.

Mastered by Fred Kevorkian

MerciL Clement Tuffreau, Steven Stapleton, John Balance, Peter Christopherson, Stevo, Matt Johnson, Joseph Budenhozer, Daniel Langdon Jones, Maya Hardinge, Fred Kevorkian, Heung-Heung Chin, Harlan Cockburn, Brian Emrich, A-Z media.

All pieces composed, produced and performed by JG THIRLWELL

Sleeve package and book designed by JG THIRLWELL

All tracks published by Ectopic Music except 01,10 published by Complete Music and 05, 06 published by Freibank

© Ectopic Ents 2008

All rights reserved. Unlawful duplication is a violation of applicable laws.



In the game of who is Melbourne’s finest art-hardened, ex-pat musician – of who best represents our internationalist lust for experimental pop-art success – favourites Nick Cave, the Liars and HTRK all spectacularly lose to J.G. Thirwell, aka Foetus. Since immigrating to London in 1978, Thirwell has worked unceasingly and never far from the centre of exciting music – from late ’70s London’s Swell Maps and synth groups, Lydia Lunch and Swans’ ’80s New York rock underground, Industrial production during the ’90s and more recently soundtrack projects for the Cartoon Network and solo as Steroid Maximus.

Limb collects some of Thirwell’s earliest work, recorded in London squats between 1980-82. The twelve tracks included are profound conflations of modern composition’s loftier ideas and today’s acceptance of DIY recording technique, from which Thirwell emerges as a genius of garage art music thirty years ahead of his time. Tracks ‘The Anxious Figure’ and ‘That We Forbid’ cut snippets of old records in real-time to disorientating effect. ‘Primordial Industry’ and ‘Industrial Go-Slow’ are beautiful, fast-hammering piano patterns and ‘Piano Piece’ is a blissful, taped keyboard Head mix. Lest we never forget J.G. Thirwell.

By Mark Gomes, (July)

These two releases span almost thirty years of sonic evolution by one of the most fascinating, idiosyncratic and productive members of the international music underground. JG Thirlwell, no matter what name he’s recording under,has been a central figure in numerous weird music dioramas over the years, from the UK’s post-industrial underground to cartoon soundtrack work.

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he attended art school locally, but was underwhelmed by neighbourhood happenings, and emigrated to London in 1978. “I was disgusted by the state of music in Melbourne”, Thirlwell once said, “all I was really doing was playing around with an old bass guitar and jerking off to pictures of Lydia Lunch”. Immersing himself in the experimental end of London’s DIY explosion he shared living space with Swell Maps and spent evenings bathing in the noise of early Scritti Politti and Cabaret Voltaire. After playing a WASP battery powered synthesizer with Prag Vec for around ten months, he decided to go it alone.

The music on Limb stems from this decision. It collects obscure or previously unreleased instrumental material, recorded in squats or cheap studios from 1980-1982, recorded under various pseudonyms based on the word Foetus. “My friend Ron and I just started riffing on band titles,” Thirlwell recalls. “It was a bit of dadaist gaming, with the word Foetus being the thread.”

The tracks on LIMB contain a variety of elements, most notably Thirlwell’s garage tributes to some masters of contemporary music. Foetus Uber Frisco’s “Sick Minutes” contains home made marimba elements reminiscent both of Harry Partch and Steve Reich. Foetus In Your Bed’s “Primordial Industry”, released on United Dairies’ Afflicted Man’s Musica Box compilation, is built on prepared guitar time-shifts in the tradition of Philip Glass. The previously unreleased “Sjogrens Syndrome” has casio figures right out of 1970s Terry Riley and “That We Forbid” is a berserk variation on Steve Reich’s text-based phase pieces.

But the material here is not all pastiche. “The Anxious Figure” and “Echolation” are great manual interactions of old records, something Christian Marclay of The Bachelors, Even and Robert Carey of Orchid Spangiafora were also exploring. You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath’s “Te Deum” and “Piano Piece”, released on John Balance’s Bethel compilation, are wonderful, crude manipulations of keyboard recordings. Foetus Over Frisco’s “TO45″, included here in an edited version, sounds like a frolic for panpipe being overrun by Wagnerian wolves. “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and “The Caterpillar Kid”, both discovered on an old cassette of bedroom jams, are incredible examples of the era’s darkest post-industrial noise.

Thirlwell had connected with the Industrial scene while working in the singles basement of Virgin Records, Oxford street, befriending Steven Stapleton, who helped get the Foetus brand into many interesting nooks. London was also a mecca for displaced Melbournians, from The Birthday Party to Whirlywirld, and Thirlwell was the man to see when you hit town.

After a deal with Some Bizzare and collaborations with Einsturzende Neubauten, Swans and Soft Cell,Thirlwell left for NYC, and this fertile London period ended. Clement Tuffreau’s NYC Foetus documentary covers this later era, and is included on the DVD here along with various chunks of live footage.

Limb is presented with a lovely booklet of Thirlwell’s bold graphics in trademark red white and black, and the visual connection brings us to The Venture Bros. A fan of the ‘incredibly strange’ records championed by the likes of Boyd Rice, and the space age bachelor pad music lauded by artist Byron Werner – and with access to meaningful production budgets – Foetus recordings began to incorporate various lounge, noir and cartoonish qualities. These became explicit with Foetus’s Hole LP (1984), and Thirlwell recorded Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” under the name Garage Monsters in 1990. After he moved into more heavily soundtrack-influenced projects like Manorexia and Steroid Maximus , it was only a ,matter of time before an animator approached him for real, and a few years ago Christopher McCulloch asked him to score The Venture Bros – a cracked, post-modern version of Johnny Quest on the Cartoon Network channel.

The music he created for the show is a mind-blowing mix of moves and moods inspired by a variety of sources, vomited in to existence with plunderphonic grace. Morricone, Mancini, Schifrin, even Mark Mothersbaugh’s work for Wes Anderson, are all jacked as tone source. But, as with his early experiments, the way Thirlwell reassembles these elements is unique. Pieces like “13 BigMon / Boys as Transformers” and “Node Wresting” are so fully whacked they conjure visions of the Spartans from 300 morphing into a dance routine, a black and white detective rollerblading through NYC streets chasing bad guys on Vespas. Very few things can make me scrawl listening notes like that. I blame JG Thirlwell. You should too. Let’s all do it together.

Byron Coley

The Wire

Subtitled Minimal Compositions, Instrumentals, and Experiments 1980-1983, J.G. Thirlwell’s CD-DVD retrospective casts an entirely new and surprising light on his already diverse and infamous Foetus moniker. Some of these songs are close to being 30 years old, however they share more in common with Thirlwell’s Manorexia and Steroid Maximus projects than with anything found on albums like Hole or Nail. Steeped in the theory and aesthetics of modern composition, Limb is a revelatory collection that adds even more depth to Thirlwell’s already rich musical history.

That Thirlwell decided to return to his past at this point in his career makes perfect sense. Each of the 13 pieces on Limb prefigure the ideas he has more recently explored as Manorexia and Steroid Maximus; they represent the beginning of his career as both a rock musician and a composer. His passion for soundtracks, modern classical music, and theory is fully formed and present on songs like “Te Deum” and “Primordial Industry,” both of which were previously available only on compilations. As such, they were partially divorced from the Foetus oeuvre and remained hidden to all but the most ravenous and attentive collectors. Still other songs were never released or only saw the light of day as b-sides on obscure 7″ records. Limb reabsorbs these lost tracks into the Foetus story and ties together Thirlwell’s many disparate interests while maintaining an album- like illusion.

While the term experimental applies very well to what Thirlwell was doing in the early ’80s, every song on Limb is immediate and attractive and removed from the aesthetics sometimes associated with experimental music. Thirlwell’s imagination and early output is far removed from the sometimes dry world of academic composition and theory-for-theory’s-sake performance. The sounds he manipulates and utilizes are ultimately invested in the pleasure of listening and not in the theory itself. The liner notes, which were written by Thirlwell, mention his interest in the mathematical and experimental aspects of 20th century musical theory, but a direct line can be drawn from songs like “Te Deum” and “Sjogren’s Syndrome” to the twisted pop of “I’ll Meet You in Poland Baby” or the forceful percussion of “The Only Good Christian Is a Dead Christian.” The techniques used to create the morose atmosphere of “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and the dizziness of “That We Forbid” ultimately helped to form every Foetus record both technologically and aesthetically. Throughout many of the songs Thirlwell’s love for hypnotic loops takes center stage, but they are complimented by big musical accompaniments and all manner of percussive mayhem. He fuses popular music and culture with the influence of Terry Riley and Phillip Glass and in the process forms something that is both confronational and alluring. The dark, creeping bass lines and tense, nerve-wracking melodies that populate many of his “jazz” and soundtrack-based works are also present on this record. Most striking, however, is the almost total lack of lyrics on every song. One of the most attractive elements of Thirlwell’s music was, for me, his lyrical ability. His scathing deliveries, biting lyrics, and often hilarious play on words highlighted many of his best songs, but Limb doesn’t feature even one of his characteristic growls. The focus is completely on his musical sensibilities and the sensations he’s capable of creating with little more than samples, everyday objects, and the occaisional synthesizer.

Limb also features a DVD, which is composed of a documentary directed by Clement Tuffreau and a series of brief live performances by each of Thirlwell’s major incarnations. The documentary provides excellent insight into Thirlwell’s world, his background, and features a host of familiar faces, including Michael Gira and Lydia Lunch. Tuffreau gets Thirlwell and company to talk about everything from his move to New York and his early musical endeavors to the various films he’s starred in and scored, as well as the circumstances surrounding the development of Steroid Maximus, Wiseblood, and Manorexia. Foetus may have been developed with a certain mythology in mind, but this documentary essentially collapses the space between Thirlwell and his fans. Despite all the drama of drugs and sex that might’ve been inserted into the film, Tuffreau keeps his focus almost completely on Thirlwell’s music and art. Thankfully, all of the individuals interviewed stay on topic, too, with Lydia, Matt Johnson, and Alexander Hacke providing some of the best commentary. For any Foetus fan this is an absolutely essential release. For the casual listener or the interested bystander, Limb is actually a great place to start listening to J.G. Thirlwell. The pop sensibilities that he is perhaps most known for are absent from the CD but his multi-faceted output is still well represented by this collection.

Lucas Schleicher,