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Gnac \ Autobiography

Gnac (pronounced niak, as in the last syllable of cognac) is the magical-realist instrumental guise of Mark Tranmer, who is also one half of the Montgolfier Brothers. Gnac albums include Friend Sleeping (1999), Sevens (1999), Biscuit Barrel Fashion (2001), Soviet Bureau (2004) and Twelve Sidelong Glances (2006). Here is Mark's own GNAC autobiography.

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"I started having guitar lessons at primary school. There was a whole class of us to annoy all the local cats and dogs. Whilst at secondary school, I started recording songs at home on my dad's 2-track reel-to-reel machine using guitar, a Casio keyboard and a couple of claves. Living in rural East Yorkshire at the time, close to an airfield used for Royal Air Force training, it was perhaps fitting that me and my friend 'Bill' once recorded a song called 'the RAF make you deaf' (this remains unreleased). I later progressed to a 4-track recorder and continued to record new ideas, fill cassettes with them, and subsequently fill shoe boxes with the cassettes. The shoeboxes were then placed under the bed at regular intervals.

I got into Les Disques du Crepsucule in 1983 because at that time I was into both Josef K (and all the other Postcard bands) and a lot of Factory stuff. As well as working with Postcard, Josef K had released 'The Missionary' on Les Disques du Crépuscule, making me aware of that label. In Red Rhino records in York, I noticed that The Durutti Column - a band I was really into at that time - had a couple of songs I didn't know on the From Brussels With Love double album compilation that Crépuscule had put out. I subsequently bought it, and hence discovered the likes of Wim Mertens, Antena, Michael Nyman and Harold Budd. I began to investigate other releases on the label and found quite a lot of them in second-hand shops.

A few years later I went to see a band called St. Christopher at the (as was then) Spotted Cow pub in York and ended up joining that band sometime in 1989 to play guitar, keyboard and tambourine at their live shows. We did a fair bit of touring in England, Scotland, France and Switzerland with other Sarah bands including The Sea Urchins, Action Painting!, The Orchids, Heavenly, Another Sunny Day and the Field Mice. I left the band in 1990 to concentrate on filling more shoeboxes with cassettes, and managed to fill quite a lot.

The beginning of gnac was marked by the recording of a track called 'barman/horse' at home in late 1996. This piece uses a mixture of repetitive melodic guitars and samples from a Radio 4 documentary. 't.i.m.' is another example. The name 'gnac' is taken from the Italo Calvino short story called 'moon and gnac' which can be found in the volume entitled 'Marcovaldo'. Since the story refers to a cognac factory it is reasonable to pronounce it 'niyak' but some people say 'guh-nac' and the odd person says 'gee-nac'.

The first released gnac recordings appeared on the 'An Evening in the Company of the Vespertine' compilation in late 1997. Three gnac tracks were included: 'Can't Get Through to You', 'Une Chanson Du Crépuscule', featuring mini Yamaha keyboard sounds and extracts from a Jean-Luc Godard monologue, and 'Sofia', which features some guitar and samples of the sea. Kristen Lound of Amberley Records heard the Vespertine compilation and asked me to record a 7" vinyl single. I recorded him an ep of three songs and asked if the first 250 copies could be on mauve vinyl since the ep was called 'In Mauve', to which he agreed. In the meantime, I sent demos to other small record labels and both Earworm and Kooky quickly wrote back saying 'yes'. The Earworm single was 'The Moustache' / 'Armchair Thriller', with the first 250 on toffee vinyl and the remainder on regular black. Next came 'A Tangle With ' / 'The Broken Fall' on Kooky Records with the first 250 on racing green vinyl.

With all the early releases I wanted some kind of common theme running through the artwork Despite them all being on different labels, so I opted in each case for black and white sleeves with colour records inside (at least for the initial pressings). I continued this idea with the fourth single 'Hennebert Sleeve' on Liquefaction records, with the initial press on ice-blue vinyl. Hennebert Sleeve is dedicated to Benoît Hennebert for his fantastic Les Disques du Crépuscule sleeve designs. The b side of the Liquefaction single, 'The Man With the Laugh Like a Rusty Hinge', remains unreleased on cd format.

Around this time Vespertine was flourishing, with releases by Bear, the Bitter Springs, Lazerboy and others. Vespertine released the debut gnac album, 'Friend Sleeping' in June 1999. It went down well with the NME (7/10 from Kitty Empire), and subsequently music from that album was used on TV programmes such as Omnibus accompanying David Hockney's discussion of the use of lens projection techniques in painting. Another earlier song, 'Armchair Thriller' was used as the run-out credit and incidental music in another Omnibus about John Le Carre's work. A remix 12" single of 'Our Distance' (from the earlier 'In Mauve' ep) also appeared about this time.

In November 1999, Vinita of Rocket Girl released the cd compilation 'sevens', comprising all the tracks from the first three seven inch singles with seven additional tracks. Also in 1999, friends in Tours, France, who ran Acetone Records, were putting together a series of singles to mark the end of the millennium; one single a month, and all the 12 single sleeves put together formed a big picture. Other singles included one by Roger Quigley (with whom I work in the Montgolfier Brothers) as well as singles by Papa M and Cavil. My release for this series was 'Eighteenth Century Quiz Show' / 'The Trials of Dr Pangloss' on clear vinyl 7". 'Eighteenth Century Quiz Show' later appeared on the third gnac album 'Biscuit Barrel Fashion' (in identical form).

And then it went quiet for a while on the singles front, until April 2001 when a gnac track appeared on a split single alongside the extraordinarily named [Smooth] Operator for the Finnish label Octane Grammophon. I initially thought [Smooth] Operator was Sade's ex-backing band but later found out that the Sade connection was different; this band were also called Sade once - it's a word in Finnish for rain. But Sade (the Finnish band) had to change their name, and thought it would be a laugh to name themselves after one of the other, more famous, Sade's biggest hits!

In the spring of 2001, gnac released third album 'Biscuit Barrel Fashion' on Poptones. This collection of instrumentals was widely reviewed by the non-UK press, and perhaps most notably and most bizarrely was awarded album of the month in Russian Playboy magazine. Following this album release, gnac re-focused on his work with Roger Quigley in the Montgolfier Brothers, and they released their second album 'The World is Flat' on Poptones in August 2002, having previously re-released their debut album 'Seventeen Stars' (originally on Vespertine) as the very first release on Alan McGee's post Creation label.

In September 2002, I flew to Japan to work with Ian Masters on our "Wing Disk" collaborative project. Five tracks were recorded which later appeared on a 10" ep on French label Isonauta. I am continuing to work with Ian on new songs.

In March 2003 gnac travelled to Moscow to play live at the request of promoter Artemy Troitsky. It was a very strange (but enjoyable) gig in a very beautiful city, and a bonus to have a few vodkas with Lady Miss Kier of Dee-lite who was in town deejaying the same weekend.

In summer 2003 I began recording music sessions for the third Montgolfier Brothers album ('All My Bad Thoughts') in my back-bedroom in Yorkshire. For this album most of the music recording is first-take guitar and piano. During those sessions I recorded three sets of material. One set subsequently became the music for 'All my Bad Thoughts'. Another set was always supposed to be instrumental rather than 'for the addition of vocals' and this set became 'Scoop of Ice-Cream Moon' (the Mark Tranmer solo album on Kooky, 2004). The third set of songs ended up in a shoebox under the bed.

In summer 2004 I travelled to Tokyo for a few days and stayed in Shinjuku, where I wrote one of the tracks for the new gnac album 'Twelve Sidelong Glances' in a hotel room overlooking the park. Other songs for that album were mainly recorded at home. The final recording and mixing was done in late 2005, and mastering completed in early 2006. The artwork was finished in March 2006 and I'm delighted it has a genuine Hennebert sleeve."

Mark Tranmer