Allan Holdsworth's 2001 album FLATTire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie [reissued this year by Moonjune], opens with a plaintive guitar solo—the only guitar part on the record—floating over a cacophonous mélange of chaotically triggered drum samples awash in reverb, which, intentionally or not, reflected the acute emotional turmoil the composer was undergoing at the time.
“I had just gone through a difficult divorce, and I was feeling very lost and introspective,” says Holdsworth. “I didn’t have a recording studio anymore, because I had sold my Trident mixing console and most of my other gear, and I was living in a place where it wasn’t possible to record guitar or live drums. So I decided to make a record using only the SynthAxe [synthesizer controller]. But making a ‘synthesizer record’ was a problem, because I had also sold my Oberheim analog synthesizers, and I only had some Yamaha digital modules. The Yamahas excelled at more percussive-sounding things, while the Oberheims produced fantastic string sounds. They really complemented each other, so not having both was very limiting.”
Those limitations notwithstanding, Holdsworth succeeded in creating what is arguably his most personal musical statement. And although the audio quality may not equal that of his other albums, considering what he was working with it is stunning, evidencing the hand of a skilled engineer.
“I’ve learned a few tricks over the years, so I’m pretty good at compensating for things,” he says. “But you can only do that up to a point before you can’t go any further. I did have FLATTire mastered at Bernie Grundman Mastering, however, and they always do a fantastic job—regardless of what you give them. In fact, the original masters were so good that I decided to go with them for the reissue.”
While his situation was hardly ideal either personally or professionally, it did provide Holdsworth with an opportunity to explore another of his interests.
“I had always wanted to compose music for movies, because when I see something, I hear something,” he says. “So, while recording FLATTire, I created these imaginary movies in my head and then wrote themes for them.”
In the same way that the more impressionistic, orchestral-sounding compositions on FLATTire differ significantly from those on Holdsworth’s other albums, his performances and approach to playing his instrument also differed.
“Most of the things I played weren’t particularly technical in the sense of requiring exceptional dexterity,” he explains. “They were all about the emotion and staying true to supporting visual images. That’s very different from making a normal record, where the focus is on pieces of music and soloing within them. Also, other than having Dave Carpenter play upright bass on two of the pieces, I played all of the parts myself, including the ‘drum’ parts, which were done with an Alesis HR-16 drum machine. From a compositional standpoint, I’m most happy with the final piece, ‘Don’t You Know,’ which has the fake clarinets in the middle. That’s definitely the highlight of the album for me. I managed to do something I am quite proud of.”