Last week I highlighted a song from my leave of absence in London in the first half of 1986, a six-month recording binge upon first living with a four-track studio. This week's selection is also from those Cranbury Road Studio recordings, but is much more experimental in nature.

The song started innocently enough, with four rocking, interlocking guitar riffs. As I wrote in my studio log "That was pretty neat by itself, but I needed a challenge so I wrote a twisted lyric about mice running around the house backwards, and worked out how to say the whole thing backwards, recorded it backwards, and it comes out forwards and weird!"

This was inspired by a bit George Carlin used to do about a guy named "Otto" who walked backwards in the park saying his name. I spent several hours writing out a script for myself with nonsense words that would lead to a string of phonemes that were the phonemes of the poem in reverse. In other words, the first line from the lyrics, "creepy crawly little things", became the last line in the script, "zignith lultill eelwark eepeerk". You can hear some of what it sounded like in 'otto forwards snippet'.

scan of backwards lyrics

When I started working for SpeechWorks (which became ScanSoft, which became Nuance) 15 years later, I thought a lot about all the time I'd spent trying to transcribe the backwards script. My first job at SpeechWorks was porting the Eloquence text-to-speech engine to the Symbian OS, and I learned a lot about phonetics on the job, including the various alphabets used by linguists to describe phonemes. I wished I'd had this knowledge back in 1986 when I was trying to write out the backwards lyrics.

There were four CDs made from those Cranbury Road Studio tapes, and this is on the one that focuses on the most experimental recordings: 'psychedelic freakbox'. The other three are 'the pops' (with the most accessible pop songs), 'noodle stranger', and 'naive visions').

Thanks for listening!


the otto mice empire

creepy crawly little things
running around my house
and they're scampering the wrong way
not like your ordinary mouse
I think they've been up late at night
watching the TV
and radiation has made their brains
into a small mashed pea
and it's known there was a man
who walked backwards in a park
and said his name, OTTO!, OTTO!
and really left his mark
maybe there was a special on
the TV late at night
and the mice were so impressed with Otto
that they thought his way was right
or else the radiation
just fried their little heads
and so they run around the house
in the walls and under beds
crush them!
oh stamp them out!
crush them!

©1986 Andy Wyatt