Eno enters

The mostly-instrumental recordings which made up the second half of Low were begun in the second week at Château d’Hérouville.

The ambient music on side two started the same day of the week two. A heavy residential click track machine was put to good use. All the tempi were on the slow side. There were no standard bars of music or even time signatures like 4/4 or 3/4. I was the designated ‘counter of clicks’ as we needed a numerical reference for each click, recording the numbers on a separate track. ‘Art Decade’ was the first track composed and recorded. In this case we used David’s Roland rhythm beat box with a Latin American dance pattern button pushed in (Habañera?). I played some ‘Harmonized’ electric guitar in the introduction. All the other sounds came from David’s Chamberlin (a more advanced Mellotron) and Brian’s EMS Synthi.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book

During Brian Eno’s brief time at the château, David Bowie was forced to attend a four-day court hearing in Paris as part of his lawsuit against former manager Michael Lippman. Eno carried on recording, on the understanding that if Bowie didn’t like the results he would use it and pay for the studio time. One of the pieces that Eno created became the basis for ‘Warszawa’. It was inspired by a three-note motif that Eno heard Visconti’s four-year-old son Morgan play on the studio piano.

‘Warszawa’ took the most time. A little Visconti was involved too, my son Morgan. At nearly four years old he was sitting at the grand piano playing the low notes A-B-C over and over. When Brian heard this, he brushed Morgan to the side of the piano bench and finished those notes with the main melodic theme of the composition. Low was certainly living up to its concept of an experimental album. Morgan lost interest and went off to play with his new friend Duncan [Jones].

At the end of week two David had to attend some business meetings in Paris. Brian and I continued to work on ‘Warszawa’. At one point he asked, ‘Show me how to change tracks on the machine. I have to do some very tedious layering of notes and textures and it usually bores people to tears. I’d rather do this on my own. This was obviously a way he was used to working. There was no official protocol. Neither was it a free for all. At the end of week two Brian had recorded all of his contributions and left us.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book

The pace of recording slowed somewhat during the third and fourth weeks.

Melodies, lyrics and vocals were needed. ‘Speed Of Life’ and ‘A New Career In A New Town’ were originally intended to have a vocal on them, but David decided to keep them as instrumental bookends to side one. Low became more radical as David sang just five songs. This later infuriated RCA record executives who tried to block the album’s release and one suggested he should go back to Philadelphia and make Young Americans II.

Since producing The Man Who Sold The World I have witnessed this scenario many times. It’s David sitting on the studio couch listening to a track with no melody or lyrics, staring at a blank pad. He seemed to need this pressure to get his thoughts clear before writing and singing, often simultaneously. We recorded one vocal a day in this fashion. We didn’t work every day as David still had to go to business meetings in Paris. Some of those meetings didn’t go well for him and I feel that a lot of the lyrics were written out of this frustration.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book

Bowie’s mood at Château d’Hérouville was often pessimistic. A visit to the studio by his wife Angie and her new boyfriend Roy Martin led to a raging argument, which inspired the songs ‘Breaking Glass’ and ‘Be My Wife’.

You’re up and down all the time, vacillating constantly. It’s a very tough period to get through. So my concern with Low was not about the music. The music was literally expressing my physical and emotional state… and that was my worry. So the music was almost therapeutic. It was like, Oh yeah, we’ve made an album and it sounds like this. But it was a by-product of my life. It just sort of came out. I never spoke to the record company about it. I never talked to anybody about it. I just made this album… in a rehab state. A dreadful state really.
David Bowie
Q magazine, June 1989

In addition to his legal issues, he had cashflow problems, which meant the first cheque to the studio bounced. And although he had put the worst of his cocaine excesses behind him, the traumas of previous year had left him emotionally raw, and he was drinking excessively.

It was a dangerous period for me. I was at the end of my tether physically and emotionally and had serious doubts about my sanity. But this was in France. Overall, I get a sense of real optimism through the veils of despair from Low. I can hear myself really struggling to get well.

Berlin was the first time in years that I had felt a joy of life and a great feeling of release and healing. It’s a city eight times bigger than Paris, remember, and so easy to ‘get lost’ in and to ‘find’ oneself too.

David Bowie
Uncut, January 2001

Bowie was also spooked by the château, which was rumoured to be haunted by former residents Frederic Chopin and George Sand.

There was certainly some strange energy in that Château. On the first day David took one look at the master bedroom and said, ‘I’m not sleeping in there!’ He took the room next door. The master bedroom had a very dark corner, right next to the window, ironically, that seem to just suck light into it. It was colder in that corner too. I took the bedroom because I wanted to test my meditation abilities.

I never admitted this before. I had read that Buddhists in Tibet meditated all night in a graveyard to test their level of fear/no fear. Milarepa, the Tibetan saint, sat on his dead mother’s body all night and meditated. It felt like it was haunted as all fuck, but what could Frederic [Chopin] and George [Sand] really do to me, scare me in French? I loved the look of the room so I decided to spend one night there. If something happened I planned to shout so loud I’d wake up the village.

Eno claims he was awakened early every morning with someone shaking his shoulder. When he opened his eyes no one was there.

Tony Visconti
Uncut, 1999

Bowie and Visconti were also unhappy with the studio’s engineer Laurent Thibault, who they believed was leaking information about the sessions to the media. At the end of September 1976 they left Château d’Hérouville and moved back to West Berlin, where the album was completed at Hansa Studios.

In the final week of recording at the Château we reached the end of the vocal and instrumental overdubs. David asked for a rough mix of the album. By now we knew that Low was going to cause a minor uproar. We were both very excited about how different it was from anything else we’d done together. David sat on the control couch as I pushed up fader after fader, including the Harmonizer snare drum track, and mixed each song fairly quickly. We had committed [so] many special effects to tape already I didn’t think it was necessary to add more for the rough mixes. We needed to hear precisely what we had done, and we made plans to move operations to Hansa Studios in Berlin for mixing. Mixing roughs, no matter how quickly, takes many hours. All the while I was mixing, David was was slowly sipping French wine, occasionally interjecting with a request. When I had finished we sat together and played the entire album whilst making a cassette copy for David. We were both quite pleased with our work and I had a few glasses of wine as well. When it was over I took the cassette out of the recorder and handed it to David. He gleefully waved it over his head and exclaimed, ‘We have an album!’
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town book