Cables are the bane of our lives. They tangle and spread.
When a cable is not working it scuppers the most thought out schematic. Hardware has to be unplugged and tested. What isn’t working? More often than not, a problem comes down to a broken cable, broken inside where you can’t see the fault.
So simple equipment, yet many things can go wrong with cables, these joiners, these connectors, these ties. They can be plugged into the wrong place. Maybe one isn’t seated correctly. Take it out, put it back in. Jiggle it. Make sure it’s fixed. Always check that with an instrument like an electric guitar or bass. Or perhaps there’s hum. An unbalanced cable running parallel to another unbalanced cable. So cross the cables. Break the relationship. Which cables are unbalanced and which balanced? Balanced cables have three wires, a positive and a negative signal and a ground. Unbalanced have only one signal and a ground. Instrument cables are usually the unbalanced ones. A DI box converts an unbalanced signal to a balanced one. Goodbye hum.
Cables are snakes, twisting and turning. A nest of snakes. The jack-to-jack badass cables, cosying up and tangling in mostly black but in all primary colours. Retro cloth-coloured cables. Short ones, long ones. A loom.
The many types of cables, the names I don’t even know.
Analog versus digital cables. Transmitting information either as a stream of electricity or as binary code.
Three types of audio analogue signal. Mic level and instrument level. These need to be boosted to reach line level which is the standard signal strength for pro-audio equipment.
And so it goes on, the technical information for cables. I’m sneaking it in here, educating you, educating myself.
Learn to wind cables, they say. Roll the mic cable. Over under. Put opposite half twists on the circles of cables. Restrain them with the little Velcro strap.
Black and simple. Easy to lose. The late great Simon King, had his own special cables. Personalised with a bit of yellow gaffa tape – or whatever they wish – make them an extension of themselves – that’s MY CABLE!
Matt Armstrong (Montague Armstrong, The Kenny Process Team) loves his George L. It’s stiff, skinny and lasts forever. He says if you’re having problems with leads and tearing your hair out, George L cables are the answer. But people never listen, his friends don’t listen. And the cables breaks.
Simple, elegant beautiful. In a way. Ugly beautiful. Inside the cables – more cables – streams of electricity. If you make your own – you understand the game. The binding that contains the currents.
I begin to think of the knots and the techniques for marine craft, the history of knotting. The famous buntline hitch, neat and reliable, secures buntline to the foot of sails on square-rigged ships. So secure that a second, slippable version was developed, on that was easily to release. The slipped buntline.
It’s a beautiful knot, simple and elegant. Great with modern synthetic fibres. One fastened, repeat jerkings tighten it rather than releasing it.
Ancient peoples had a sophisticated sense of knotting. Celtic and Anglo-Saxon work have this in common – the ropish decoration, the spirit of the snaking design. Knot patterns carved into stonework. Plaits of straw. Straw dollies, the oldest ones lost a long time ago. Brambles. Vines. The zoomorphic Anglo-Saxon designs curve around each other. Celtic knotting and twisting cord shapes go crazy, there’s an international boom on representation of knots the 3rd to 4th century. The interlacing appears in the late Roman floor mosaics and the style branches out into book illumination and Byzantine architecture.
The interlace, the plait, the spiral, the step, it circles and twists out into art from Byzantium, Coptic, Ethiopian books, buildings and faiths. From stone to page, electricity of life . . . the green fuse that drives the flower of which Dylan Thomas sings and shakes out of the air. An international heritage, Celtic but not just Celtic. A shared design heritage, adopted for its snaking power. Cables interlace out lives, pick up the patterns and weave them in the living fabric of sound, joining us together.
is in the line
the way it twists
the way we travel
from wherever we are
to wherever we will be
over each other
up and passing
Me and you, you and me, the theatre of fizzling, crackling, of life and vibrations. Spare a thought for the wonder of the cable. In green, blue, white, yellow red, pouring out sounds, carrying notes and dreams in music around our ears, out of our mouths, dreaming our inner lives into the outside world.
Spare a thought for the lines that knot us together and join us bind us in noise. But it’s also okay to curse at cables when they don’t work. We’ll never stop doing that. We need them too much.