John Cage tribute – photos and video

I am most pleased to report that the event Ocean of Silence: A Tribute to John Cage was an unequivocal success. A good size crowd attended the event at the theatre in Museum London and even more viewed the event from around the globe via a live stream of the proceedings.

The live stream footage has now been archived and is available to view via the link below.

Just click.

Ocean Of Silence, Live at Museum London

Tune in Aug 24 7PM EST for a night of ambient textural soundscapes as London artists pay tribute to American avant-garde composer, John Cage. Featuring: Timothy Glasgow, Angie Quick, Alex Schmoll, Chris Meloche, Richard Moule.

Posted by Brick House Productions on Thursday, August 24, 2017

 

Audience member Howie Kittelson took some photos of the show and kindly granted his permission to post them here.

The full stage setup with Timothy Glasgow’s modular synthesizer in central focus.

Two views of Alex Schmoll’s gear which was used to perform a backdrop for text by Angie Quick.

My prepared guitar setup.

Richard Moule’s prepared violin setup.

Thanks again to Anita and Melanie at Museum London. A big thanks to Tim, Alex, Angie and Richard for participating. Many thanks to Alex’s audio support team and Chuck at Museum London for their excellent work.

 

A Tribute to John Cage concert

Sometime during the late summer of 2016, I was spending a lazy Sunday afternoon listening to music. On this specific occasion, one of the CDs that I was playing was called Fifty-Eight by the American composer John Cage. As I scanned the liner notes of the disc, it suddenly occurred to me that 2017 would mark the 25th anniversary of Cage’s death in August of 1992. This made me reflect upon how the words and music of John Cage made their way into my life.

Back in the early 1970s, I found myself gaining an interest in avant-garde music of the contemporary classical variety. I was still living in Windsor at the time and would spend a great deal of time at the downtown main branch of the public library. It was there that I delved into books about this genre of music and could also borrow LPs from the library collection.

After reading a number of books, the one name that seemed to crop up more than any other was that of John Cage. His way of composing involved processes which likely sounded pretty crazy to many listeners of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

Cage would experiment with putting bits and bobs between the strings of a piano in an effort to completely change the sound which it produced. This became known as “prepared piano.” He also composed percussion works for ensembles which included such items as automobile brake drums.

He used the I Ching as well as maps of constellations in order to explore new and different ways to create compositions. He also found much of interest in using chance operations and indeterminacy. These parameters could create a new sounding work each time that a composition was performed. Some works could also be performed by superimposing one composition on top of another for an even greater end result.

By 1980, I had purchased my first synthesizer and used it to create abstract sounds and compositions which no doubt owed some debt to John Cage among many other contemporary composers.

So, in 2016, I had the idea to create an event which would celebrate John Cage in a novel manner. Instead of simply arranging to have people perform his works, I wanted to present an example of how, some 25 years after his passing, his ideas and sounds continue to be an influence on composers and performers into the 21st century.

With this idea in mind, I approached Museum London to see if they would be interested in helping to present this performance to the public. I was very pleased to hear of their enthusiastic support for the idea. And now, almost 25 years to the day (he actually passed away August 12, 1992), we plan to celebrate the ongoing influence of Cage’s work.

The evening will feature three performances of new works. Timothy Glasgow will create sounds using a modular synthesizer setup. This assemblage of electronic modules is especially interesting in that the results of turning a small dial or flipping a switch can reveal unintentional and surprising sounds. This is an excellent example of Cage’s approach to randomness and indeterminacy.

Alex Schmoll and Angie Quick will present another take on Cage. For their contribution, Alex will create a backdrop of synthetic sounds while Angie reads extracts from Cage’s numerous writings. The snippets of the writings will be arranged in a random manner in order to create a unique presentation.

The evening will conclude with a performance by the Transmorphous Sound Ensemble which consists of myself along with Richard Moule. For our contribution entitled 1+1 4 JC, I will utilize a prepared table-top guitar setup while Richard will use a prepared violin. This will be accompanied by a new video work which I have created specifically for this event.

In keeping with the idea of a 25th anniversary, each performance is set to clock in at 25 minutes.

Event details:

Ocean of Silence: A Tribute to John Cage

Transmorphous Sound Ensemble

Alex Schmoll & Angie Quick

Timothy Glasgow

Thursday, August 24, 7:00 PM

$10 advance / $15 door

(advance tickets available @ museumlondon.ca)

Museum London, 421 Ridout St., London, Ontario, Canada (519-661-0333)

 

Cosey’s Tale

Cosey Fanni Tutti – art sex music (Faber)

Many people may know Cosey from her work with Throbbing Gristle or Chris & Cosey. But, the story that led up to that point (and beyond) is certainly a tale worth exploring.

In her new autobiography, Cosey details her formative years growing up in Hull on the east coast of England. Hers was a working class background which found her wanting to branch out and explore the arts and music. Her home life was eventually shattered when her strict father kicked her out. While she would still carry on a (fairly covert) relationship with her mother as well as her sister, she found herself dealing with the world on her own.

Eventually, she would connect with a man who was known as Genesis P-Orridge. The partnership became both personal and artistic as they created a body of performance works under the moniker of COUM.

COUM was a loose group of artists from various backgrounds who came and went leaving Cosey and Gen as the main constants of the organization. Through various performances or “actions,” COUM’s profile began to rise… not always from a “positive” response.

They pushed the boundaries of society’s accepted norms and managed to stir up a lot of outrage in the process.

Cosey also had her own ideas for actions and projects related to getting involved in the sex industry. This was done via nude modelling, stripping and films. I was her way of creating a portfolio which could then be used in her future actions and art.

Along the way, one of the others who would become involved was Chris Carter who was keen to add his knowledge of electronics to the group and bring their works into a more “musical” direction. Chris would also serve as the person with whom Cosey would eventually pair up with and leave the possessive/abusive clutches of Gen.

When Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson entered the picture, the bones of Throbbing Gristle would soon come to fruition. Cosey, Chris, Gen and Sleazy decided that the direction to go was a full-on sonic assault on the senses.

TG certainly did leave their mark along the way. They created the Industrial Records label as the outlet for their sound-works and performed many gigs which would leave ears ringing for days.

Their time together as a quartet may have been relatively short but, they became known as the pioneers of Industrial music.

Upon the breakup of TG, Chris and Cosey began their own musical work together. They recorded many LPs and performed worldwide. (A personal side-note: I brought Chris and Cosey to Canada in 1985 to perform a half dozen shows across the country.)

As Chris and Cosey made music, Gen formed Psychic TV and Sleazy the band Coil. But, the TG legend continued to build over the years and offers to re-form began to happen. The harrowing details of these gigs are related in brutal detail with Gen becoming an eternal antagonist in the situation.

In recent years, the reputation of Chris and Cosey’s duo work lead to a vinyl re-issue campaign which saw their work appreciated by a new generation of music fans. At the time, they had adopted the Carter Tutti name and would do performances billed as Carter Tutti Play Chris and Cosey.

In addition to the music and art, Cosey relates a number of scary health related incidents involving herself, Chris and their son Nick.

The stories in this book are related with a direct honesty which often can make the reader run through an amusement park ride of emotions. Not the least anger and frustration at some of the details of events.

It’s an inspiring read, to say the least.

Chris Meloche with Cosey Fanni Tutti, Sandringham House, England, 1986. Photo: Chris Carter.

Brix by Brix

Brix Smith Start – The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise (Faber & Faber)

Laura Salenger was born in Los Angeles, California in 1962. Her father was a psychiatrist who divorced her mother when she was only two years old. Her mother would go on to get employment as a researcher at CBS Television on the programme 60 Minutes.

While growing up, her mother often brought Laura to work where she would sit in a studio and watch while people like Sonny and Cher did the rehearsals for their TV show. Not a bad life for a young kid.

Eventually, music started to become an important part of her life. When she heard The Clash, she was so taken with the song Guns of Brixton that her nickname soon became Brixton (or Brix for short). She also got an earful of a strange sounding band called The Fall.

After her mother decided to move to Chicago, Brix was not amused. She hated the environment and wished to go back to LA. However, her new location would lead to a drastic life change.

After seeing The Fall perform at a Chicago club, she would end up bumping into their leader Mark E. Smith. This chance meeting would develop into mutual attraction and it wasn’t long before Brix decided to move to the UK to be with Mark.

To call the move “culture shock” would probably be a gross understatement. But, before long she adapted to the situation. She would soon join the band as well as marry Mark.

So far, so good. However, trouble began brewing in paradise. A grueling tour schedule, shortage of money and Mark’s increasing intake of speed and alcohol seemed to aggravate things. Also, his constant mistreatment and seemingly random ousting of band members added to the problems. The camel’s back finally broke and Brix was compelled to split up with Mark.

This led to her next romantic coupling with classical violinist Nigel Kennedy. Kennedy was a superstar in the classical world. His fame was soon to shoot even further as his recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons crossed boundaries and pushed his profile beyond the classical world.

As time passed, Brix felt smothered and her own identity suffered. She had attempted a musical venture of her own with Adult Net but, the sales of her records were not satisfactory enough to keep on going. So, she basically quit music altogether.

At this point, Brix was once again in a limbo state of life. That is, until she met fashion entrepreneur Philip Start. This would open up the most recent phase of her life and change things around for her.

Brix married Philip and in 2002 and they started a very successful fashion store called simply START. This seemed ideal for Brix with her penchant for fashion. It was around this time that she also got involved in presenting fashion on television.

Most recently, Brix found her way back into music. This developed into her current band called Brix Smith and the Extricated (featuring former members of The Fall).

That’s the story so far. There are sure to be more twists and turns in the future… which, for now, seems quite bright.

 

Shock and Awe by Simon Reynolds

Simon Reynolds – Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century (Dey St.)

When I picked up my first issues of the British weekly music magazine Melody Maker back in the early 1970s, the glam rock movement was in full swing. It seemed like every issue had a cover photo, feature story or interview relating to somebody involved with glam. There was Marc Bolan (T. Rex), David Bowie, The Sweet and many others catching the attention of the press and ears of the music fans.

On this side of the pond, there seemed to be substantially less interest in what was known as “glitter” over here.  However, in the Windsor/Detroit area, I did manage to hear quite a bit of music from the likes of Bolan, Bowie and eventually Roxy Music, Sparks etc…

Approaching 700 pages in length, Simon Reynolds’ book attempts to relate the context of the early group of artists who were at the forefront of glam and also to continue the story beyond its seemingly finite existence.

He begins in the logical place with Marc Bolan and fleshes out his early career and the lead-up to his place as a leader of the pack. The same holds true of Bowie’s story in the next chapter.

As one would expect, an analysis of the social aspects of this fad/trend are examined in depth. That includes a deep look into facets of androgyny and dandyism and their context in society over the years. These often stretch back to references from the 19th century and its attitude towards social issues. While initially interesting, these details often get caught up in a feedback loop of cleverness which can get exhausting.

The story continues in the US with the introduction of Alice Cooper to the mix. His contribution included his outrageous stage act which incorporated such aspects as a guillotine and electric chair. His work was more towards the shock rock than glam rock aspect of music.

Meanwhile, the UK added more stars to their glam roster with the entry of such artists as Slade, The Sweet and Gary Glitter. Joining them was an American in the form of ex-Detroit native Suzi Quatro. While these artists did have some following in on this side of the Atlantic, it still remained quite small. The Sweet failed to make any inroads up until the time of their hits Ballroom Blitz and Fox on the Run. Even the Detroit radio stations seemed to show little interest in the fact that Suzi Quatro was becoming a big star in England. Most people would have likely not heard her name until she started making appearances on the popular TV show Happy Days.

Eventually, the trio of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop started to make some waves. Along with them came Mott the Hoople. At this point in time, Bowie was attempting to get some exposure for these other artists on the back of his own fame as a producer (Reed, The Stooges)  or songwriter (All the Young Dudes).

Roxy Music seemed to appear out of nowhere with a strange vision of the past mixed with scenes from the future. Their sound was like no other at the time and it caught people’s ears with it’s skewed mash-up of styles that by all reason should not have gelled. But, strangely, it did.

At this point, Reynolds changes his focus to the US. While the story of the New York Dolls seems to fit in fine, his attempt to also include the work of Wayne (later Jayne) County just seems to derail the proceedings. To this reader, it just seemed very out of place.

As glam started on its inevitable down-slide, there were still some interesting acts joining the scene. Cockney Rebel, Sparks, Queen and even Be-Bop Deluxe got their fingers in the glam pie.

For my money, this would have been a logical point at which the story (and book) should end. However, Reynolds decided to explore the world of post-glam without really calling it that.

He continues to explore the work of Bowie right up to the (literal) end as well as including artists such as Heavy Metal Kids, The Tubes, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Ultravox. While stories on these people do have their own interest, it seems like the subject for another book.

The final chapter of the book is Aftershocks which focuses on “Glam Echoes.” This section carries on right up to the death of David Bowie in January 2016. It encompasses everybody from PiL to Prince to Grace Jones to The Smiths to Kate Bush to Lady Gaga. Unfortunately, it just feels like adding some extra padding to the story and once again feels like it belongs in another book.

Overall, I did enjoy the content of the book which actually dealt with glam rock. It was well researched and presented. However, I did feel that the diversions from the main theme did the topic a disservice. This is a book that wants to be two books combined into one. If it had been two separate books, I likely would have had enough interest to purchase the second one as a stand-alone volume. But, in the context of a single volume, it did make for a bit of a schizophrenic reading experience.

Jaki Liebezeit, Butch Trucks RIP

 

As we come to the end of the first month of the year, rock’s rhythm section has already taken two great hits.

Jaki Liebezeit 1938 – 2017

My first exposure to the music of Can was in 1970 when I heard their debut LP on an import records radio programme. The DJ felt strongly about the album and even featured the side-long track Yoo Doo Right. I was immediately a fan of the incredible sound that this band could make.

After a stint as a jazz drummer with the Manfred Schoof Quintet, Jaki Liebezeit went on to become one of the four core members of Can. The other members were Hoger Czukay (bass), Irmin Schmidt (keyboards) and Michael Karoli (guitar). Czukay and Schmidt had both studied with avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and Karoli was a rock guitarist. This made from an eclectic mix of musical influences.

When Liebezeit locked with Czukay’s bass groove, the duo would go on to create an unstoppable force. With this power behind them, Schmidt and Karoli could dive-bomb around the rhythm to create a unique sound.

Jaki would say that his style was an attempt to be “monotonous.” That was far from the case. It was a hypnotic rhythm which was both simple and elegant in its approach.

From the driving beat of Mother Sky (Soundtracks) to the subtleties of Bel Air (Future Days), he could paint a stunning background with which the other members could overlay a foreground of unique and brilliant sounds.

Jaki Liebeziet would go on to play with many other musicians like Brian Eno and also with his own Phantom Band.

He sadly passed away on January 22 due to complications of pneumonia.

Butch Trucks 1947 – 2017

Butch Trucks was one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. From the start, the band was feature two drummers.

Trucks was the steady backbeat of the rhythm section. He was paired with Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) who added an array of complimentary percussion that would flesh out the backdrop for the band.

Live recordings like the Allman’s classic Live at Fillmore and tracks from the subsequent Eat a Peach showcased the amazing synchronicity between the two players. It would be difficult to imagine the sound of the Allmans without the two of them locked together with a single driving purpose.

Butch Trucks died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on January 24.

Goodbye 2016 (we will not miss you)

I have been dreading having to write a wrap-up piece about the year 2016. The last post that I made was in November when Leonard Cohen died. Since then, it seems to have been difficult to write anything. It has never been my intention to have my blog look like an obituary column but, it quite often feels like that.

In recent years, I have been reminding people that the musicians whose music we have enjoyed since the ’60s and ’70s are now mainly in their 60s and 70s. That means that the inevitable signs of mortality will surely take hold. This has certainly been the case in 2016.

The year seemed to start off on a high note with a brilliant new release (Blackstar) by David Bowie. However, this event seemed to quickly get overshadowed when Bowie died a couple of days after its release.

The death of Bowie seemed to resonate hard and deep within both the music industry and among his long-time fans. As someone who had been a fan for 45 years, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This seemed to be a shared experience as many people that I talked to or exchanged messages with appeared to be doing their best to hold back a wellspring of tears. Many tried but did not succeed. The last time that I can honestly recall such a reaction was when John Lennon was brutally gunned down.

But, that was just the start of a year that appeared to be voracious in its appetite to take away so many musicians and music related personalities away from us. It didn’t matter which genre of music was your favourite, the losses touched all aspects of music from rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical and avant-garde.

Bowie, Cohen and Prince were among the biggest or most influential names for most of the year and then word of the death of George Michael slipped in on Christmas day.

I’ve owned records by many of the people who have passed this year. I’ve seen some of them in concert. I’ve even had the pleasure to meet a couple of them. The sad fact is that as time marches on, more of these people will make the headlines as they continue to leave us. So, let’s enjoy their music while they are still here and continue to honour their memory after they are gone.

Music can make us happy. Music can make us sad. Music can make us think. Music can make us feel how great it is to be alive. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, it just matters that it means something to you. Be grateful for that. It is rare.

Here is a very brief list of some of the musicians and music-related people we lost in 2016:

Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane)

Gato Barbieri

Paul Bley

Pierre Boulez

David Bowie

Leonard Cohen

Tony Conrad

Keith Emerson

Glenn Frey (Eagles)

Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople)

Merle Haggard

Sharon Jones

Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)

Greg Lake

Neville Marriner

George Martin

George Michael

Scotty Moore

Alphonse Mouzon

Pauline Oliveros

Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)

Prince

Leon Russell

Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention)

Rudy Van Gelder

Alan Vega (Suicide)

Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

For a much more detailed (and depressing) list of the people that we lost this year, please visit Musicians Who Died in 2016.

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016

Canadians have a reputation for being rather quiet, polite and certainly not braggarts. It seems to be an inbred part of our culture. We have produced some of the most talented people involved in the arts but, we seem very surprised that their work becomes known outside of our own country. Luckily, the rest of the world has embraced such Canadian artists as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.

It seemed quite fitting that within hours of his passing, the word that Leonard Cohen was gone appeared to make the news around the globe. His words and music appeared to resonate well beyond our Canadian borders.

Although he was a successful poet and novelist in his early years, Leonard wished to have a career with which he could actually afford to pay the bills. He was in his thirties by the time he began to set his words to music. Judy Collins and others began to cover his works and Cohen soon followed suit to begin his own recording career.

Both his dark voice and even darker lyrics seemed to make for an unlikely path to success. However, he became an unlikely “star” none the less. His worked garnered both love and respect from other artists and his audience.

As with any artists with such a lengthy career, his also included many ups and downs – musically, personally and financially. Through it all, he kept going and created a body of work which would keep his star shining right up until the end.

Those who thought that his music was a doom and gloom have missed the point on many occasions. There was often a great deal of humour hidden among the black thorns.

When I began playing his album Old Ideas upon its release back in 2012, I was soon laughing out loud. The song Going Home pretty well says it all.

Going Home (Leonard Cohen / Patrick Leonard)

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He just doesn’t have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I need him
To complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
Which is to say what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore

I’m going home
Without the sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

Recent Arrivals: Discus & Leo Records

Martin Archer – Storytellers (Discus): Over the years, Sheffield-based musician and composer Martin Archer has issued several albums of music with various groups of musicians but, it’s a rarity to see something come out under his own name. This recent project is certainly a fine time to toot his own horn (so to say) as it’s another one of his excellent offerings.

Over the course of two CDs spanning nearly 2 1/2 hours, six “books” are related in suite form. Each book revolves around movements around a common theme. They feature performance by the full band as well as sections designed to highlight specific soloists.

Each book weaves its own tale which winds its way from start to finish with sparkling dexterity among the musicians. What seems to make this music really gain an extra dimension of life is the fact that almost all of it was recorded live in the studio by the group. There is very little done in the way of subsequent overdubbing of parts. This process has resulted in a sound which harks back to some of the best recorded jazz works from the past. Top marks, indeed!

Sergey Kuryokhin – The Spirit Lives (Leo): As mentioned in the liner notes of this set, Leo Records was the first record company to issue the music of Russian composer/musician Sergey Kuryokhin which was smuggled out of the Soviet Union. It seems only fitting that they have decided to issue this recording of a live performance celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his passing.

Recorded in July 2015, this set contains both an audio CD and DVD. The works are performed by Alexei Aigui & Ensemble 4’33”. The sixteen works contained in this performance show the breadth and scope of Kuryokhin’s catalogue of work.

The arrangements by Aigui which incorporate jazz and classical players brings the music a powerful scope. The strings build and sweep to propel the music to wonderful sonic heights as the jazz ensemble bob and weave a tapestry of sound.

There are even moments when the music rocks out with near Status Quo guitar riffery in pieces like Tragedy, Rock Style.

This is an essential document which truly does justice to the legacy and memory of the late Sergey Kuryokhnin.

 

47th Anniversary for King Crimson debut LP

kingcrimson-inthecourtofthecrimsonking-island-germany-gatefold

47 years ago today, King Crimson unleashed its debut album in the UK.

I can still recall that the “underground” FM radio stations in the Windsor/Detroit area were quick to jump on it. There seemed to be a great sense of anticipation for when the next airing of 21st Century Schizoid Man would jump out of the stereo speakers. The aggressive metronomic guitar slashes of Robert Fripp’s guitar coupled with the overdriven distorted vocals of Greg Lake seemed to create a tension which made even the previously aired strains of the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray seem suddenly somehow tame.

When playing the LP, it seemed like a shock to hear the quiet beauty of the following track – I Talk to the Wind. But, such was the mystery and awe inspiring monster that was King Crimson.

Throughout the rest of the album’s lengthy excursions, this balance of light and dark, loud and quiet, beauty and ugliness was exploited to its fullest extent.

The second most broadcast song was the title track. The use of Ian McDonald’s mellotron seemed to take the sound into the stratosphere. By the end, the listener would inevitably be attempting to put their dropped jaw back into proper facial alignment as well as catch their breath. It was a sound that would literally leave the listener gasping for air.

The sounds of thousands of albums have come since this record was released in 1969. However, extremely few have managed to create such a stunning impact upon first listen and then continue to do so over the years.

Broadsides at Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Last year, I heard an interesting programme on BBC Radio 4. It was hosted by British folk singer Eliza Carthy who was on the hunt for a new piece of music to record. Her search lead her to Chetham’s Library in the heart of Manchester. In recent years, my interest in British folk music has increased and a visit to the library was added to my to-do list for my recent trip to the UK.

Established in 1653, Chetham’s is the oldest public reference library in the UK. Amidst its vast rows of shelves are the contents of two impressive collections of folk music broadsides from Manchester and surrounding environs. These are the Holt Collection and the Axon Collection which both feature an impressive array of paperwork spanning the nineteenth century.

The Holt Ballad Sheets are affixed to the pages of a huge book. The book contains over 400 broadsides and over 900 individual works.

The Axon Ballad Collection contains 132 sheets and a total of 280 ballads. These are all on separate sheets stored in file folders in another room of the library.

Scholars are welcome to visit the library to view these works but, an appointment needs to be booked a day in advance. During my stay with friends in Sheffield, I called to book a viewing on Wednesday, August 31.

On the day, my friend Simon and I headed over to Manchester to visit the library. We were greeted by Fergus Wilde who has been on staff at the library for the past twenty years. The first location that we visited was the room where the Holt Collection was housed (see photo above). As previously mentioned, these sheets were glued into a large leather-bound volume by their original owner. One can actually see that the sheets cover the original text in the book as it is faintly visible underneath each broadside.

Following this viewing, we headed to another more modern room where the Axon Collection was situated. In this case, each broadside had been affixed to separate white pages in an effort to keep them from suffering damage as they were handled.

The songs contained in these incredible collections reveal a unique insight into the world of nineteenth century life in Manchester and surrounding areas. They reveal tales of daily life, social concerns and humorous insights. It is a fascinating tour into the past as related through the words of the songwriters of the day.

It is a testament to the people who collected these works as well as Chetham’s Library that these documents from the past are made available for us to enjoy and study in the twenty-first century.

If you are interested in seeing some of these pieces of history, please check out the link to the scans of the Axon Ballads Collection listed below.

Here are some links of interest:

BBC Radio 4 – “The Manchester Ballads” 

The Axon Ballads Collection

Chetham’s Library website

 

Recent Arrivals – MoonJune

2016 marks the 15th anniversary of the MoonJune Records label. Over the course of its history, the label has released an impressive array of sounds spanning jazz rock, prog and world fusion recordings. Here are a few of the most recent…

“Zhongyu” Is Chinese for “Finally” is the self explanatory title of the CD by Zhongyu. The group explores many different areas which encompass relationships between different genres of music.

From the initial sounds of some electronic experimentation, the group slips into a prog rock mode with Crimson-esque guitar riffs and violin reminiscent of the Lark’s Tongue in Aspic era.

The use of the Chinese zither known as the guzheng brings an oriental feel to many of the works. It is used on its own as well as being blended with more modern electric sounds to interesting effect.

Overall, the mix of themes and instrumentation forms a nice balance for an album of interesting sounds.

So Far So Close by keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan seems like a real blast from the past. If somebody had told me that an unreleased 1970s album by Return to Forever had recently been unearthed, I’d have been hard-pressed to argue. So far from the ’70s, so close to the sound.

Since I have been listening to RTF a fair amount lately, this disc seems to fit right into that mode. Even Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Jerry Goodman has been brought into the mix to feature on the album’s first track.

Sometimes it is hard to ascertain whether an artist is making a nod to the past with their sound or simply stuck in the era. Either way, if this type of jazz fusion is your cup of tea, you’ll probably find it quite entertaining.

For many of us of a certain age, the release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon seemed like a watershed moment in musical time back in March of 1973. Since then, a couple of generations had been around to absorb its ever-present sonic vibrations. Over the years, there have been countless tributes and covers spanning all manner of disparate musical genres.

The Great Gig in the Sky is another such tribute by the trio of Boris Savoldelli, Raffaele Casarano and Marco Bardoscia. After the obligatory heartbeats and spooky voices, an acoustic bass brings the listener into Breathe.

Throughout the tracks, the sounds of jazz are mixed with electronic sounds which sometimes develop into pseudo electro dance beats.

The interpretations are interesting with accomplished musicianship.  The only drawback for me are the vocal contributions. While Boris Savoldelli has a distinctive vocal style, the often pained, dark approach seems to be more of a distraction within the context of the rest of the music.

MoonJune Records website

 

 

Keith Tippett on Discus

A while back, I posted about a recent Kickstarter campaign to fund a new Keith Tippett release on the Discus label. It was a quick success and now the CD is available for all to hear.

Keith Tippett has been active on the British jazz scene for over 45 years. His discography (under his own name as as a player with others) spans dozens and dozens of releases over those years.

My own introduction to his work came in the form of his sprawling double LP set called Septober Energy by the ensemble of fifty musicians that he assembled known as Centipede. This set released in 1971 (1974 on this side of the pond) was an amazing and sometimes confounding work of a massive scale. It certainly made my teenage ears perk up and listen.

Over the years, Tippett has continued to produce many works deemed important in the annals of British jazz. His latest work certainly does not veer from that standard.

The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon spans over the course of a series of nine (natch!) compositions… with an additional two works appended as codas.

Scored for his octet, the introductory work often feels like there are often twice as many players at work. The band could be as big as any Ellington or Basie ensemble at work. The piece swings but with a series of jagged edges stabbing within and around rapid-fire themes.

The second piece makes you feel like you have come out of the blistering sunlight and into the shade of a familiar tree. You can now wipe the sweat from your brow and feel some relief from the heat.

Three of the works – The Dance of the Walk with the Sun on his Back, The Dance of the Bike Ride from Shinanagh Bridge with the Wind at his Back and The Dance of the Wily Old Fox of the Ballyhoura Mountains – give off a cinematic air. These ears want to hear the sounds coming from a black and white detective film from the 1950s. They evoke a contemporary sound which harks to a monochrome age.

Following the Nine Dances are two codas. The first is a ballad sung by Julie Tippetts which seems to come out of nowhere to bring a tear to the eye like so many Irish folk songs are wont to do. It is followed by an arrangement of the traditional Irish song The Last Rose of Summer which neatly ties the whole package with a big shiny bow.

Tick the box for one more impressive addition to the discography of Keith Tippett.

Keith Tippet at Discus Music

Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth

Hot on the heels of Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded comes another book which focuses on a specific year. David Hepworth’s new book is entitled Never a Dull Moment – 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded. Whereas both of these books share a similar format in that the months are used as the twelve chapter of the books, that is where much of the similarity ends.

Both writers present stories about music of the year within a framework consisting of the cultural, social and political climate of the time. However, Savage’s book is around 25% music and 75% social conditions contrasted with Hepworth’s 90% music and 10% cultural framework. (For a more in depth look at Jon Savage’s book, please check out my article elsewhere on this blog.)

For his book, Hepworth generally begins each chapter with an overview of the times. This is followed by several stories about artists, songs, albums, producers etc… on whom he focuses his direct attention.

He begins his journey into the year by relating the fact that it began with the official dissolution of The Beatles. So, 1971 was the first “post-Beatles” year after the conclusion of the ’60s.

Since Carole King’s Tapestry was one of the biggest breakouts of the year, he explores her place in the blossoming world of the singer/songwriters of the year. These include people like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. He also talks about one of the most enduring figures of the time who made little inroads in the way of popularity at the time – Nick Drake.

By way of the Rolling Stones, he relates stories about the release of Sticky Fingers as well as the band’s excursion to France to record the following year’s sprawling double album release – Exile on Main Street.

The state of music coming from the African American community is explored with tales of Motown label boss Berry Gordy Jr. and his stable of artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He also writes about Isaac Hayes as well as American TV host/producer Don Cornelius who brought Soul Train into the living rooms of the youth.

Producers like Ken Scott and Glyn Johns hook up with David Bowie and The Who respectively and breed the top albums Hunky Dory and Who’s Next. These were both milestones in the careers of the artists in 1971.

We also learn how producer Tom Dowd convinced the Allman Brothers Band to ditch the distracting horn section which was being used during their series of dates at the Fillmore East. This helped the band turn the corner and produce their double live LP set At Fillmore East which is still regarded as a classic today.

There are tales of Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music, Harry Nilsson, Don McLean, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath, The Beach Boys, T. Rex, Big Star, Rod Stewart, Carpenters and even a name-check for German Krautrock pioneers Can.

Festivals were also the order of the day in 1971 as the long-lived Glastonbury Festival got its start. There are also other tales of (much) less successful events such as the Weeley Festival and the disastrous Celebration of Life Festival in Louisiana.

1971 was also the year that the first rock concert charity event was organized by George Harrison. The ups and downs of this new type of venture venture are examined.

Reading through this book reminds the reader about so many watershed moments that occurred in the music world at the beginning of the 1970s. To a generation accustomed to auditioning the latest sounds via the internet with the click of a mouse, these times music seem like some ancient distant land. Music fans used to find themselves reading about interesting music and, if they were lucky, being able to catch some of the sounds on an adventurous underground FM radio station. It was a time when people congregated at record stores and took in the artwork and liner notes of the LPs filling the bins.

I was there… and it was damn fun!

Classic Rock? In my day it was called New Releases! 

 

 

 

Silent Records Lives Again

Silent Records was the brainchild of label founder Kim Cascone. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Silent issued many recordings of interesting music spanning several genres including ambient, industrial and beat-oriented sounds.

In 1996, Kim invited me to issue something on his label after becoming familiar with my work on the FAX label from Germany. So, twenty years ago(!) my album Distant Rituals was released on Silent Records.

It was around this time that Kim left the label and sold it to an employee. Unfortunately, this change of hands did not work out well and the label folded in 1997. So, for nearly 20 years many great recordings have remained out of print.

Fast forward to 2016 and Kim has decided to re-boot Silent Records. In recent months, he has managed to track down most of the core artists who are still living and active. That includes me.

In the coming months, many of the long out of print recordings will start to make a reappearance via various media platforms. In addition to this, he has also managed to create a brand new compilation release entitled From Here to Tranquility 6. This latest installment in the series includes recent recordings by many of those core artists from years gone by. My work entitled Onlooker will be featured on the set. It will be available for download or as a limited edition CD release.

There will also be a second volume of this set which features artists which have some relationship with the label (but, not as a core artist). This release will be made available as a download-only item.

In addition to re-issuing Distant Rituals, Kim has inquired about the re-release of some of my other long out of print material. Stay tuned as there will be more information coming in the future.

At the present time, Silent Records now has its own devoted streaming channel via SomaFM. Please visit the site to hear some wonderful ambient sounds from the past. This is just the beginning to the channel. Musical content will soon be expanding.

It’s all very exciting news and I wish Kim Cascone the best for his venture in the future!

The Silent Channel on SomaFM

Exposure for Canadian contemporary music (or lack thereof)

During my 25 years on the radio, I always took great pleasure in featuring the music of countless Canadian composers and musicians. These included works from the world of contemporary classical, electroacoustic and out jazz music. While it was great to share this material with the audience of a community radio station, it was not quite the audience that this music could have been receiving from a national broadcaster.

Over the years, the CBC (Canada’s national broadcasting service) has gone through many changes and these have often resulted in these types of music getting even more marginalized.

Canadian composer Paul Steenhuisen recently put together a letter to send to the Canadian League of Composer which addressed the situation of contemporary music and its status on the CBC. Paul has graciously given me permission to re-post his letter here.

Please read this letter in order to gain a greater understanding of the challenges that people like me (an electroacoustic composer) face when trying to get our music exposed to more people.


From Paul Steenhuisen to the Canadian League of Composers:

Following up on my recent FB post, I’ve written a letter to the Canadian League of Composers. I include the letter here in order that others can read it, and perhaps add their comments. The letter was addressed to CLC President Brian Harman and the Head of the Advocacy Committee, Ian Crutchley. Others cited in my original FB post were Christien Ledroit, David Pay, and David Jaeger. Hopefully good things will happen.

“As a former longtime Canadian League of Composers Council Member, past ISCM Canadian Section President, composer, and contemporary music and public broadcasting advocate, I am requesting that the CLC, in its role as representative of Canadian composers, direct resources toward renewing its working relationship with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for the benefit of the status of the artist in Canada.

The past decade has seen the removal of the CBC’s composer commissioning program, the demise of the CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra, the cancellation of Two New Hours (the primary broadcast venue), the abandonment of recording of Canadian contemporary music, the end of the Young Composers Competition, and removal of other Classical Music radio programming. The accumulation of these actions amounts to the decimation of all resources previously, historically, and successfully devoted to Canadian contemporary music by the CBC, and the severance of the relationship between our flourishing field and the public broadcaster. While in some areas the CBC has diversified its programming, with the absence of Canadian composers and Classical music programming, it has moved toward significantly more commercial programming, at the expense of its responsibilities to the 1991 Broadcast Act. The Broadcast Act states that the CBC is mandated to provide programming that is “distinctively Canadian,” “actively contribute(s) to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,” to “make maximum use of Canadian creative and other resources in the creation and presentation of programming,” to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada,” and serve as “a public service essential to the maintenance and enhancement of national identity and cultural sovereignty.” Over the course of just over a decade, the CBC has perpetrated significant, quantifiable cultural and economic damage to the fields of Contemporary and Classical music in Canada.

In addition to developing and maintaining regular dialogue with the CBC to regenerate their investment in Canadian contemporary music through recordings, broadcasts, and commissions, etc., it would be prudent to determine the formal process for how new programs are proposed and developed, create a list of producers amenable to new programming initiatives, determine ways in which composers work could be included in current programming, and compile a set of resources that would assist CLC constituents in establishing meaningful communication with the CBC regarding our shared musical interests. More specifically, I am also requesting that the CLC, in combination with the organizers of the ISCM World New Music Days (Vancouver 2017), work towards securing national broadcast commitments by the CBC. The ISCM World New Music Days is an important international festival that will showcase top-level music, performers, and composers, and is an ideal opportunity for the CBC to be reminded of the quality, interest, and value of artists and individuals contributing to this wide-ranging field of creative music. While various other new media is available for making concerts available, nothing can currently match the awareness and exposure that can be obtained through the radio and television resources of Canada’s longstanding public broadcaster.

Please note that in discussion with the CBC, some individuals are inclined to distort and manipulate important terminology required for the presentation and understanding of accurate broadcast statistics. While demonizing art music as elitist, they have simultaneously sought to co-opt the term composer to apply to singer-songwriters and anyone who makes music. They have also attempted to transform the terms contemporary music and new music to mean anything recent, and inclusive of anything, such as commercial, pop, rock, hip-hop, electronica, and other forms of musical expression. By doing so, they will argue that they play more contemporary music by Canadian composers than they ever have, while knowing that this is untrue based on historically accepted definitions of the terms. Meanwhile, the CBC’s inclusion of composers associated with the Canadian Music Centre, including electroacoustic music, is near zero. The CBC is mandated to be an alternative to commercial interests, driven by cultural responsibilities rather than commercial ones.

With a new government that has stated its commitment to restoring the CBC, and new funds being promised to the public broadcaster, it is critical for the Canadian League of Composers to devote significant and ongoing resources to forging a meaningful role for Canadian art music at the CBC. There is a wealth of wonderful music being made and performed by artists of the highest level in Canada, and the field has expanded and changed – it is a cultural loss to Canadians that the CBC is currently not part of it. My hope is that with the advocacy of the CLC (perhaps in combination with the Canadian New Music Network), the current circumstance will change and our collective, active role in Canadian culture will once again be reflected by our public broadcaster.”

Tony Conrad 1940 – 2016

On March 22nd, The Guardian ran an article about musician and filmmaker Tony Conrad which encapsulated his long career and was a lead-up to the April 1st Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. Scarcely a week later, it was reported that Conrad would not be able to make the appearance due to health concerns. On April 9th he succumbed to prostate cancer.

Back in the early 1970s when I first started getting interested in avant-garde and minimalist music, the name Tony Conrad crept into the text of many books that I read. I knew that he was associated with La Monte Young and his Theatre of Eternal Music (AKA The Dream Syndicate) but, was not able to source any recordings. At that point in time, the only photo that I’d seen of him was simply a shadow of a figure playing a violin projected on a curtain.

I knew that he recorded and LP with the German group Faust but, even though I could find the Faust albums, that certain record always seemed to elude me. It wasn’t until the days of CD re-issues that I finally managed to obtain a copy.

I was also aware of Tony Conrad’s film/video work which I was finally able to view courtesy of youtube. His main area of focus for many years was film.

Fast forward to 2010 and I find myself (as half of the duo Transmorphous Sound Ensemble with Richard Moule) booked to play at the LOLA Festival on the same bill as Tony Conrad.

For his performance, Conrad used his Long String Instrument to create a wonderful cloud of sound. After his performance, Richard and I were lucky enough to get to hang out with Tony and chat. It was a quite surreal moment for me as we listened to this iconic musical figure who had once only existed to me as a photograph of a shadow.

To discover more about Tony Conrad’s work, I recommend doing a search on youtube. There are several clips there including some very interesting interviews.

There is also a book which Tony himself recommends entitled Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage by Branden W. Joseph.

Here are a few photos which I took of Tony performing at the 2010 LOLA Festival here in London, Ontario.

1966 by Jon Savage

For hit latest tome, British music writer Jon Savage has chosen to zoom in on the year 1966. The reason for this is revealed in the subtitle – The Year the Decade Exploded. That’s a pretty  bold statement. So, the question is – Does he have the evidence to back it up?

The book is presented in a series of twelve chapters which each represent a month as it progresses through the year. If you were expecting a book about music, you will get that plus a great deal more.

Savage deconstructs events leading up to the year 1966 in order to put things into proper perspective. He divides his views over events happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Since the relationships in both the UK and the US can have a different effect, this approach works well as a way to compare and contrast the social, political and cultural developments.

As with many British writers, he spends some time relating the changes in the UK since the end of the Second World War. This was a touchstone for many areas of social progress for the last half of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, its atmosphere was seeming more distant to the current day youth and they had their own issues and problems to deal with.

In the area of music, many of the usual suspects are sited including  The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Bob Dylan etc… He also includes Dusty Springfield, The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, Motown, Stax plus a host of references to quite obscure groups like The Ugly’s.

Each chapter reveals more events which would influence the direction of music and possibly vice versa. There are stories about the CND movement in the UK as well as race demonstrations and riots in the US. The war in Vietnam was also a large factor in the ideologies of many people. The feelings about these and many other subjects managed to inform the music of the youth culture of the day.

He also talks about the fight for women’s rights and the fight to have gay culture recognized at a time when it was classified as illegal.

Of course, there is also quite a bit of discussion about the widening pervasiveness of drugs within the youth culture. This spans the use of amphetamines to pot to LSD. In fact, at the beginning of 1966, LSD was not an illegal substance in either the UK or US. However, this did change before the end of the year.

The juxtaposition of social and political events analysed alongside the music that was happening in the radio charts and in the clubs shows in interesting cultural correlation. At times it may seem difficult to distinguish which is having an influence on which.

In the end, Savage’s case is well stated. Through a vivid word painting of the times, he succeeds in creating a portrait of a year which hold a special place within an era.

 

 

 

Keith Emerson 1944 – 2016

When the news hit that legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson had died, it was bad enough. However, when it was later reported that his death was an apparent suicide, it was all the more sad.

Back when the sounds of “underground FM radio” began on the airwaves out of Detroit in 1968, a whole new world of music was on offer to me. In the midst of all of the interesting new music there was a group from England called The Nice.

Keith Emerson was the keyboardist from this group along with Lee Jackson (bass, vocals), Brian Davison (drums) and initially Davy O’List (guitar). Emerson had already built up a reputation someone who was extremely accomplished at his craft but, also someone with a distinctive stage presence. As such, he was known to rock, kick, punch and inevitably stab his Hammond organ keyboard.

The sounds of The Nice were a staple of the FM airwaves and that continued when they broke up and he formed the trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

While their debut single – Lucky Man – was getting airplay on AM radio, other more adventurous tracks from their first LP were being aired on the FM dial. The band progressed with side-long concept works like Tarkus and also re-arranged classical composer Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

It was “progressive rock” at its zenith. It certainly wasn’t suited to everybody’s taste.

Keith Emerson was a masterful musician and one of the guiding lights transitioning from the ’60s to the ’70s. Many of his post-ELP projects involved music for films.

He will long be remembered by his fans as someone who helped fuse rock music with a classical attitude.

Keith Emerson with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. 

George Martin 1926 – 2016

Producer George Martin began his career at EMI Records in 1950 as the assistant to the boss of the Parlophone Records imprint. Initially, he recorded classical and soundtrack music. Towards the end of the 1950s, he worked on a number of novelty records which included people like Peter Sellers and Flanders & Swann. He would also work with the likes of British crooner Matt Munro.

Of course, Martin will always be remembered foremost as the producer of The Beatles. It was his work in the studio which helped the group to attain a crisp, clear vision of their sound… and to make it a hit.

As the ideas of the group began to blossom in the coming years, Martin was also able to help the group realize a much larger vision. This was a vision which regarded the studio itself as an instrument.

This was the concept that created the other-worldly sounds first heard on The Beatles’ 1966 LP Revolver is the shape of the song Tomorrow Never Knows. This hypnotic Indian influenced track featured backwards sounds along with tape loops of manipulated recordings. It marked a time when an abstract sound in the heads of the group could become a reality.

This work continued along to their 1967 classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band where Martin was able to guide them though the monumental orchestration of A Day in the Life.

As a producer, George Martin was a part of a musical revolution that began in the mid-’60s. After the break-up of The Beatles, Martin continued to work with some of the group members as well as other new groups on the music scene such as America.

George Martin will ultimately go down in history as one of the most successful producers of all time but, he should also be remembered as a sonic innovator, as well.