Shen - a transient history (or a history of transience)
Shen means 'spirit', or, more specifically, 'the spirit behind the eyes'.
Shen came together in London in 1992, initially as an experimental studio-based project. Aaron Greenwood was on programming, John Lambert created the sonic space and studio magic, while Richard Ashrowan recorded and sampled all the location material. We wanted to see what kind of thing we could make from recorded samples and programmed sound - avoiding anything that resembled a real instrument. Much of the source material was gathered during location recording trips on the Essex coast - on the River Colne, Fingringhoe - its marshes and church, Ipswich docks, Mersea Island and its boatyard, the sea at Walton-on-the-Naze. Taking the samples as a starting point, the sonic space, and the songs, were built up during all-night sessions in John's studio, Joe's Garage in Clapham. The result of all that was an ambient/chillout concept album of sorts 'The Spirit of the Sea'. 'Stornoway' from that was also released on a Technology Records EP.
Kit used in making 'The Spirit of the Sea':
We are eternally grateful to the following contributors; Geoff Cotton for his voiceover, Nicola Hitchcock for her beautiful ethereal vowel singing, Iain Freeborn for his astrological ramblings, Angus Macleod for his stories (Stornoway, Penzance), Bridie Ashrowan and Holly Penfield for indulging their voices in ancient poetry for us. Thanks also to Canon R Handscombe and Chris Turner of Fingringhoe Church for allowing us to record their Evensong. Engineering assistance was provided by Savvas Iossifidis, Giles Robinson and Tim Wills. Digital editing and assembly by Mathew Denny.
After the claustrophobia of the studio we decided we needed to get out more. Ian Ritchie, who at that time wasn't only playing jazz but also making techno under a variety of guises then joined us and we started to play live. This time, some real instruments came out of the closet in addition to the live sequencing and sample playing, while Bridie Ashrowan danced Odissi with us at our live shows. One of our first gigs was at Camley Street Natural Park in Kings Cross, where we joyfully played to the trees, the sky and some flowers. We somehow got a weekly residency at the Black Lion in Kilburn, where we inflicted our sonic experiments on an increasingly bemused and befuddled crowd of beer drinkers. Shen went on to play at Bagleys Warehouse (as part of Fraser Clark's wonderfully bizarre Parallel Youniversity), The Cross and The Big Chill (at the Union Chapel, Islington).
The live recordings featured some of the following:
Aaron Greenwood is now hidden away safely in China, living, appropriately enough, in Shenzhen. John Lambert still makes music, lives on Dartmoor and has spent several years trying to find a better way of playing electronic music, Richard Ashrowan lives in very remote spot in the Scottish Borders, makes moving image art and still dreams of electric sheep. Ian Ritchie mainly plays jazz, when he's not reprising Deaf School, Miro Miro or touring with Roger Waters.