“Swimming” b/w “Little Sounds (Excerpts)”
Virgin Records VS 1136 (Canada)
Released probably in January 1982
Produced by Martha and the Muffins and Daniel Lanois

The DinDisc imprimatur is gone: Virgin’s boutique indie label had folded by this time, and all its artists under contract were transferred to the parent company. Meanwhile, Canada’s Polygram division was working This Is The Ice Age better than any other of Virgin’s international distributors, giving Martha and the Muffins crucial momentum in their home country. There was still unfinished business to be conducted, both commercially and within the band. 

“Swimming” is a group composition. Drummer Tim Gane remembers it developing out of an extended jam emerging from the album’s title track; guitarist Mark Gane added the lyrics about the surreptitious romance between Martha Johnson and him that developed only months after his former girlfriend Martha Ladly’s departure. The single version is a radio edit of the album track (and unreleased on any other format). It deletes the jarring collage of Friday-night Yonge Street noise that opens This Is The Ice Age and trims about 20 seconds from the rest of the original recording, mostly on the back end. Now the song opens cleanly with its signature looping marimba-keyboard figure and dives right into an immersive art-funk; Mark Gane’s lead vocal (only his second), Jocelyne Lanois’s nimble, non-melodic bass work; the song’s modal composition; and its use of Steve Reich-inspired repetition introduce a very different Martha and the Muffins to listeners who hadn’t been keeping track since “Echo Beach.” There’s still plenty of room in the back end for the vocal round between Gane, Johnson, and Lanois (“We’re afraid to call it love/Let’s call it swimming”), and for Gane’s guitar solo. Even edited, “Swimming” is the most potent art music that Martha and the Muffins ever released as a single.

“Little Sounds (Excerpts)” is an obscure yet momentous Martha and the Muffins’ b-side. The composition is credited to A. Haas/L. Biscotto, and its title is quite literal. What sounds like a two-minute sequence of different noises made by scraping, creaking, and fluttering various unidentified objects is a recording of Andy Haas exploring non-musical sounds his saxophone could make. In our brief email correspondence, Haas told me “Little Sounds” was originally intended for the album. Mark and Martha, he says, agreed to its inclusion as a way for Haas to earn songwriting royalties (recall how little the non-writing musicians received from the label advances) but then pulled it when they thought it might scare away U.S. distributors from picking up This Is The Ice Age. (The LP never got a U.S. distributor anyway.) Haas left the Muffins at that point. “I don’t feel that business and success are the priorities in making music or in dealing with people,” he told the Globe and Mail on January 14, 1982. “From my viewpoint I was not willing to compromise this belief any further.” Unlike “Twenty-Two in Cincinnati,” the other original b-sides from the Ice Age singles, “Little Sounds (Excerpts)” did not make the album’s 2005 expanded CD reissue and remains unreleased.


The 7″ catalogue:
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Suburban Dream” (MM 001)
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Cheesies and Gum” (DIN 4)
Martha and the Muffins – “Echo Beach” b/w “Teddy The Dink” (DIN 9)
Martha and the Muffins – “Saigon” b/w “Copacabana” (DIN 17)
Martha and the Muffins – “Paint By Number Heart” b/w “Copacabana” (VS 1115)
Martha and the Muffins – “About Insomnia” b/w “1 4 6” (DIN 19)
Martha and the Muffins – “Suburban Dream” b/w “Girl Fat” (DIN 21)
Martha and the Muffins – “Was Ezo” b/w “Trance And Dance” (DIN 27)
Martha and the Muffins – “Women Around The World at Work” b/w “Twenty-Two in Cincinnati” (DIN 34)
Martha and the Muffins – “One Day in Paris” b/w “Women Around the World at Work”; (104.209)
Martha and the Muffins – “Swimming” b/w “Little Sounds (Excerpts)” (VS 1136)
Martha and the Muffins – “Danseparc (Everyday It’s Tomorrow)” b/w “Whatever Happened to Radio Valve Road” (WAKE 1)
Martha and the Muffins – “World Without Borders” b/w “Boys in the Bushes” (WAKE 2)
Martha and the Muffins – “Several Styles of Blonde Girls Dancing” b/w “I’m No Good at Conversation” (WAKE 4)
M+M – “Black Stations/White Stations” b/w “Xoa Oho” (WAKE 7)
M+M – “Cooling the Medium” b/w “Big Trees” (WAKE 8)
M+M – “Song In My Head” b/w “Riverine” (WAKE 14)
M+M – “Someone Else’s Shoes” b/w “Million Dollars” (WAKE 16)
M+M – “Only You”; b/w “Watching the Boys Fall Down” (WAKE 18)