new zealand electronic poetry centre

Alastair Galbraith

 Capital of the minimal  


Alastair Galbraith began his career as leader of The Rip, who recorded two EPs for Flying Nun. He then joined with Peter Jefferies, David Mitchell and Robbie Muir to form the extraordinary Plagal Grind, whose self-titled EP is regarded as ‘a masterpiece’ (whatever that term means given the consistent quality of Galbraith’s output). More recently he has alternated between solo projects for the Emperor Jones label in the USA, performances with Bruce Russell and Peter Stapleton as A Handful of Dust, and collaborations with Matt De Gennaro (with whom he uses piano wires to produce a celestial cacophony). His whispered lyrics are often framed by angular modal violin, bagpipes, organ and treated guitar, with slow chord changes that create what American writer Bill Meyer describes as 'otherworldly lyrical miniatures'. In May 2004 Galbraith talked briefly about his development:

My parents tell me that as a baby I would struggle to lean out of their arms in the car (before the days of infant car-seats), and try to rest my head on the gearstick knob! listening to the vibrations of the engine, perhaps it was womblike in its envelope. I recall as a three year-old pressing my ear to the carpeted floor of the car and HEARING THE ROAD. It was sound as an imagined ‘picture’. There were hills and valleys of engine noise; an endless plain - the song of the diff. Drones still appeal to me, and music can "take" me in a closed-eye visual way. Angst and admiration got me started and, over the years, my songwriting approach has gone from emulation to aleatoric, with automatic trance beginnings. On tape the writing is the recording. Sometimes the pictures develop with images/lyrics, sometimes just abstract fields. I’m most proud of lucid branches, high & fired, bellbird & from the empire.

Lucid Branches [mp3 / 2.5 MB]


Alastair Galbraith at the Middle East,
Cambridge, MA (c) Mike Baehr 2004



  • A Timeless Peace EP (NZ Flying Nun) 1983
  • Stormed Port EP (NZ Flying Nun) 1987


  • Plagal Grind EP (NZ Xpressway) 1990


  • Gaudylight EP7 (Siltbreeze) 1991
  • Morse (Siltbreeze) 1992
  • Seely Gim (Feel Good All Over) 1993
  • Cluster EP7 (Ger. Raffmond) 1994
  • Intro Version EP7 (Roof Bolt) 1994
  • Talisman (NZ no label) 1995
  • Morse and Gaudylight (Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate) 1996
  • Mirrorwork EP (Emperor Jones) 1998
  • Cry (Emperor Jones) 2000
  • Long Wires in Dark Museums, Vol. 1 EP
    [with Matt De Gennaro] (Emperor Jones) 2002

A HANDFUL OF DUST (with Bruce Russell and Peter Stapleton)

  • Concord LP (Twisted Village) 1993
  • The Philosophick Mercury CD (Corpus Hermeticum) 1994
  • The Eightness of Adam Qadmon TC (Corpus Hermeticum) 1994
  • Musica Humana CD (Corpus Hermeticum) 1994
  • From a Soundtrack to the Anabase of St.John Perse TC (Corpus Hermeticum) 1995
  • [reissued on LP by Bluesilver, 2000]
  • Now Gods, Stand Up For Bastards CD (Corpus Hermeticum) 1996
  • Topology of a Phantom City TC (Corpus Hermeticum) 1997
  • Spiritual Libertines CD (Crank Automotive) 1997
  • Jerusalem, Street of Graves CD (Corpus Hermeticum) 1998
  • For Patti Smith CD (FreewaySound) 2002


Screaming E

[When I was five, my maternal grandmother took me to the Dunedin Botanical Gardens on a day when she knew there was going to be a massed bagpipe band playing. She got me to stand right at the front of the path before they played. They came marching past and stopped almost directly in front of us, maybe thirty or forty bagpipers and the drums and everything, and as they warmed up and blew all the air into those horrible big leather bags, she said to me 'this will boil your blood', which was just a terrifying thing for her to say to me at that age, because I really believed that sound that happened just a few seconds later was going to actually, physically cause my blood to boil in my veins. She obviously meant that if you had Scottish blood in you, this will cause you to feel strong emotion, but that wasn't obvious to a five year old!]

I'll scream an E
Until I raise the hackles on you
Give you that skin wall drum feeling
Staggers reeling
Hammering yammering cry
Half the time the train of thought derails
Wait until your unseemly anger pales
It will pale
And leave you stranded

Grandma said to me
This will boil your blood
And then the pipes began to stray
They were skirling skirling skirling.

[Morse & Gaudylight, Emperor Jones, 1996]


and i saw there was a good clear world
with a tiny black spot in it
that if you leaned right in to look
became a sad dark world
with a tiny bright spot in it
i turned to tell all this to her
but she knew, tears ran down our face we laughed

[from the sleeve of Cry, Emperor Jones, 2000]

Walking X

scorpio is rising
I could kiss you gone for a walk
sky-combing, collecting
or letting it scatter like seeds
the trophy on my head, I’ll bring back for you
empty with love

tonight I pray by walking

that I live the big life

self as vertex, walking X

all the greygreen greyblue eclipse this wintry evening is
lidding my little eye
scalping my thinking-room head

again eternal mood swings by
whitecaps thundering 180 degrees
in a line so long it’s bent

when I need to leave the room

expand my head to distant lights

millipeding like sparks in rows in soot in chimneys

that are whole towns removed –

it’s to suspend judgement in praise of mapping

that journey – our journey

the dimming out of the day has sunk to a line of lights
as soft as powder in one corner
and in the other, clear blue, colder like space
tomorrow’s vacuum telescopic freezing
stars in wide-eyed glory
address internal bonds
answer old calls

[Skin, OUSA, 1994]

Alastair Galbraith at the Middle East,
Cambridge, MA (c) Mike Baehr 2004


© Alastair Galbraith 2004








Last updated 13 August, 2004