Looking back on the Australian electronic group's seminal sampledelic opus.
Twenty years ago, sonic architects Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann released their debut album Since I Left You under the moniker The Avalanches.
With intentions to release the album solely in their homeland of Australia, firmly believing it would be the record’s main audience, the attention the album attracted was unforeseen to say the least.
An intricate tapestry of samples, containing an estimated 3,500 sounds, Since I Left You was a labour of love which saw Chater and Seltmann spending years collecting samples from a plethora of obscure records.
Working separately in almost identical studios, the pair combed through recordings for days on end, gathering a catalogue of intriguing and potentially cohesive sounds before reconvening to swap their finds.
After compiling a massive database containing thousands of samples, the pair spent a further eighteen months stitching the sounds together to create the meticulous melodies that would form their seminal debut, with additional members James Dela Cruz, Tony Di Blasi, Gordon McQuilten and Dexter Fabays also contributing turntable scratches, keyboards and percussion along the way.
Under the working title of ‘Pablo’s Cruise’, Since I Left You was originally devised as a concept album depicting the story of an international search for love, referencing the global span of the samples. The duo ended up abandoning the plan as they felt it was too literal.
After the Australian release of Since I Left You attracted unanticipated attention, plans to distribute the record abroad took form. However, this brought complications due to the scale of samples on the record and the potential copyright issues involved.
Having made the album largely for themselves, The Avalanches had felt no need to keep a record of the sample’s sources.As a result, they were required to revisit every sound featured on Since I Left You, many of which they had stored on unlabelled floppy disks, to compile a list of where each sample had been obtained before it could be released internationally.
Due to their limited budget, The Avalanches mainly sourced their samples from esoteric records, hoping not to cause a stir. Although, upon jokingly sampling Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ with no intention of seeking consent, Chater and Seltmann found it to be an essential element of their track ‘Stay Another Season’ and made it their mission to obtain permission to use the sample.
The release of Since I Left You in the UK and North America was delayed until 2001, eventually appearing in slightly different forms to the original due to the omission of samples they could not obtain permission for.
Surprisingly, there were few obstacles in getting clearance for the record, with the usage of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical theatre sample serving as the biggest hiccup.
Other variances between the original and international releases include the removal of a spoken word sample from the film Midnight Run in ‘Little Journey’, the shortening of the song title ‘Tonight May Have to Last Me All My Life’ to ‘Tonight’ and the shortening of a sample from Wayne and Shuster’s I Was A TV Addict which features on ‘Radio’.
Though the album’s inclusion of atypical samples are abundant, the most blatant use of unconventional sounds appears in ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ which features a whinnying horse, excerpts from the John Waters film Polyester and a total of 37 spoken word recordings – including prominent vocal samples from Frontier Psychiatrist, a 1960 sketch by comedy duo Wayne and Shuster from which the track takes its name.
“‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ was a good example of something we didn’t plan and just happened from us just fucking around,” said Chater in an interview with Pitchfork. Chater also explained the parrot sounds were sourced from a record titled Reading For The Blind in which a Christian woman mimics a bird as she discusses finding religion through animals.
Considering the obscure nature of the densely packed samples which form Since I Left You, it’s not unreasonable that Chater and Seltmann approached the release with the firm belief that nobody would listen to it. Though, it’s this very detour from the archetypal electronic formula which caused the album to accomplish the mythical standing it has.
Not only do The Avalanches fuse spoken word, unconventional sounds and an abundance of infinitesimal samples together to build seamless, groove-infused soundscapes, the individual tracks flow together unabridged to offer a cathartic level of cohesiveness.
It would be another 16 years before the debut album’s follow up, Wildflower, was released, though the distinct reputation it afforded its creators never waned – no easy feat for a musical act with only one record to their name. In fact, such a phenomenon is scarcely seen in an age of short attention spans and unlimited content.
Two decades on from its release, the magic of Since I Left You remains unwavering, serving as a testament to the record’s timeless genius and The Avalanches’ unparalleled creative flair.
The Avalanches are releasing their third record, We Will Always Love You, on Friday December 11.
This feature was originally published on Beat Magazine under the title ‘How The Avalanches turned 3,500 samples into the globally acclaimed Since I Left You‘.