THE $100 GUITAR PROJECT

Posted in 100 Guitar Project, Biota, Chuck O'Meara, Dr. Nerve, Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser, Keith Rowe, Nels Cline, Nick Didkovsky, Thomas Dimuzio with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2011 by candymachine

It’s the time of year when most music magazines and websites have been revealing Top 10 lists for the year’s best recordings – a dubious undertaking to say the least, but one which I myself cannot resist indulging in.  But I’d like to propose another kind of Top 10 list, one that takes as its theme interesting and novel ideas which turn into fun and imaginative activities, then snow-ball into one of the coolest projects you’ve come across in a long time, and all of which takes place on the sidelines to the day-to-day business of recordings and gigs and writing new music. Now, I agree that’s quite a theme for a Top 10 list, but if such a list was put together, surely the $100 Guitar Project would be sitting somewhere at the top of that chart.

Nick Didkovsky, the mastermind of Dr. Nerve,  and Chuck O’Meara, who some might remember under another last name as the President of the Avant Garde and from his band Forever Einstein, bought a no-name electric guitar for $100 without even hearing it. It called their names, so to speak, and they followed their own charmed impulses and bought it. What happened next? They shared the joy with another guitar-playing friend, who shared it with another, who shared it with another…until the guitar took on a new life of its own, far removed from the life it had up to when Mr. Didkovsky and O’Meara found it sitting in the fateful instrument shop.  It eventually passed from the hands of one musician to another, until plans were laid for 40 of these musicians (!) to record their encounters with the travelling guitar for a proposed 2 cd set.

The list of musicians who have received, played and passed along the guitar is a rich one. It includes the likes of Elliot Sharp, Nels Cline, Jeff Tweedy, Amy Denio, Fred Frith, Biota, Henry Kaiser, Tom Dimuzio, Rhys Chatham, John Shiurba, Manuel Gottsching, and a host of other known and lesser known names.  The guitar has its own Facebook page and there is a great website which documents the history of the project, which you can go to directly below. The website even includes a map outlining the travels of the guitar across the USA. Best yet, the site features some video footage of some of the guitarists playing the $100 guitar, including Keith Rowe playing it in his customary table-top fashion, but start with the Didkovsky video. It’s a very cool piece unto itself!

Check it all out: www.100dollarguitar.com

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EARS WIDE OPEN #3

Posted in Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, Guy Segers, Keith Richards, Rova Saxophone Quartet, The Residents, Univers Zero, Victo Festival with tags , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by candymachine

 I used to subscribe to an on-line subscription site called ‘Rock’s Back Pages.’ It endeavors to make available (eventually) all articles published in rock music magazines since the dawn of time (or at least since the  70s). In addition to the articles, they also make available a hefty number of taped interviews with all manner of rock music notables. I listened to a lot of the interviews, which I found of some interest, and remember one in particular that was conducted with Sir Mick Jagger, (long before he became a Sir). This took place in the early or mid 70s, before Prog Music fell into disfavour with establishment critics, and the interviewer was probing Jagger on his knowledge of the day’s current crop of music heavyweights. The tone of the questioning suggested that perhaps the interviewer thought that the Stones had become yesterday’s news placed against the new Prog rock caped crusaders. In particular, the interviewer asked Jagger if he knew of the band Yes. This was followed by asking him if he knew who the keyboardist in Yes was. To which Jagger responded, rather incredulously, that of course he knew who the keyboardist of Yes was. Jagger displayed his indignation quite nicely by not actually naming the musician in question, which would have thereby condoned the line of questioning. (It was Rick Wakeman at the time, if anyone cares).

 I remember this exchange vividly because it’s an illuminating example of something that drives me crazy. Namely, there is a widespread assumption that because a musician or band releases records which occupy a particular place on the musical spectrum, they are probably not interested in, or may know nothing about, any music that goes on elsewhere in the musical spectrum. Jagger admitted that he was not very interested in Yes, and that his interests were elsewhere, but the suggestion that he would be unaware of them is, frankly, ridiculous. I don’t know if Keith Richards enjoys the guitar work of Fred Frith or Derek Bailey, but I’m quite certain that he’s at least familiar with their playing. I would wager that he at least finds it of interest. Richards is well known as a vast repository of knowledge of the Blues tradition, in all it’s variations, but I’m sure he has sought out anyone who approaches the guitar in a new way.

 Why should we think otherwise?  Large swaths of the general listening public may seek out cozy cubby holes to listen in, hardly straying from the familiar and known, but musicians are generally speaking cut from a different cloth. I recently came across a brief note in a popular music magazine, possibly Uncut or Mojo, reporting that Alicia Keys (of all people!) had come across some old Emerson, Lake & Palmer material (of all people!) and thought that Keith Emerson was positively wild and that she thought she might like to implement something of that into her own work. The fact that it showed up in the magazine in the way that it did suggests that the very notion that these two worlds would cross paths is newsworthy enough to report. The fact, however, that Alicia Keys would find something interesting enough in Emerson to draw from just shows that the borderlines dividing those worlds are less of a concern for musicians.

 I’ve been a frequent concert-goer at the Victo festival (Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville) since 1989. One of my fondest memories from Victo dates to the Univers Zero performance back in 1997. The group had left the stage after an encore and the chant went up for another. After a few moments, the band returned to the stage, and with them came the Rova Saxophone Quartet. “It’s a surprise, even for us,” said bass player Guy Segers. It was indelibly etched into my mind not because the music they ended up performing together was particularly brilliant, but rather because of the juxtaposition with abandon of these two seemingly disparate musical animals. Brilliant!

 Remember the classic era Residents performing with Conway Twitty on David Sanborn’s Night Music TV show? Those were the days, or could be one day.

MUSIC IS RAPID TRANSPORTATION

Posted in Charivari Press, cultural commentary, Music Is Rapid Transportation, Uncategorized with tags , , on January 10, 2011 by candymachine

Hot off the press! This book covers a lot of musical ground. If you’ve made a life of listening to music, worked your way through countless recordings, and consider yourself enriched for it, you’ll probably find this entertaining and resonant. I make a contribution to the book as well, so…some shameless self-promotion here.  More than anything else, perhaps this will work as a great source book for those wanting to venture further afield musically.

A truly alternative look at music lists, not one that merely includes the obvious but shows the connections of popular music to the avant garde, the obscure, the experimental, the quirky, and the adventurous. Herein you will find a list of 500 artists from the familiar to the unknown. A list and a guide to musical pleasure sometimes close at hand and sometimes far afield. The book includes biographical essays of the eight contributors describing their musical journeys of discovery and the joy they derived from that exploration. They discuss the merits and dilemmas of collecting, recording versus live performance, the change of media and the future of music. In addition 100 plus artists receive short but detailed personal evaluation.

The Who  — Bob Dylan — Ornette Coleman — Cassiber — Rolling Stones  — Miles Davis — Nico — Chuck Berry — Peter Bortzmann — Dave Brubeck — King Crimson — Randy Weston — Julius Hemphill — Pere Ubu — Craig Taborn — Aksak Maboul — Carla Bley — This Heat — Dave Burrelll — John Cage — Captain Beefheart — John Zorn — David Tudor — Hans Eisler — Art Bears — Derek Bailey — Paul DeMarinis — Robert Wyatt — Charlie Christian — Pascal Comelade — David S. Ware — Susie Ibarra  — George E. Lewis — Anthony Braxton — Phil Minton — Harry Partch — Mat Maneri — Cecil Taylor — Alice Coltrane — Cornelius Cardew — Ray Anderson — Richard Thompson — Artur Blythe — Swell Maps — Gavin Bryars — Jaki Byard — Jon Rose

Music Is Rapid Transportation …from the Beatles to Xenakis

978-1895166040 $21.95

by Lawrence Joseph, Dan Lander, Donal McGraith Bill Smith, Alan Stanbridge, Scott Thomson & Vern Weber.

Photos by Gordon Bowbrick, Herb Greenslade & Bill Smith.

Daniel Kernohan (Editor)

http://www.charivaripress.com/  info@charivaripress.com
 
 
 

 

RECOMMENDED RECORDS: THE RAY GUN COMMEMORATIVE CATALOG

Posted in Albert Marcoeur, Art Bears, Chris Cutler, Eskaton, Henry Cow, L. Voag, Ray Gun Commemorative, Recommended Records, Red Balune, ReR Megacorp, Rock in Opposition, The Work, The World As it is Today with tags , , , , , on January 5, 2011 by candymachine

In my previous post, I wrote about the Rock in Opposition collective as it emerged in the late 1970s.  I wished to emphasize that it was rather short-lived and by the end of 1979 the R.I.O collective had already dissolved as a formal body. Perhaps some members of the original Rock in Opposition circle would say that it never actually reached a formalized form. The term, however, has lived on and is liberally used in various circles as a descriptive for bands working in the more avant or radical ends of the progressive rock music spectrum.

 If the spirit and raison d’etre of the Rock in Opposition movement was properly bequeathed anywhere, though, it was to Recommended Records (UK). This was an ‘unbusiness’ founded by Chris Cutler (Henry Cow & Art Bears drummer, and participant in Rock in Opposition), dedicated to working outside the established parameters of the corporate music business, making independent releases available, and to cultivating a catalog of excellence selected on the basis of musical merit alone.

 I became aware of Recommended Records (ReR) in the last months of the 70s, probably at the same time I had become aware of Rock in Opposition. The first ReR catalog I received was the March 1981 Ray Gun Commemorative catalog.  (That’s the cover printed above). It was a goldmine of superb recordings, some by artists I had already come across and many others by bands I had never heard of. I started with a small order, followed by another, then another, then another. Each successive order was riding the wave of enthusiasm which rolled in with the previous order.  Soon, I had picked up every title in the catalog and kept up with most new releases in successive catalogs. Some of the releases from that particular catalog which became early instant favorites for me were the eps by The Work and Red Balune, Albert Marcoeur’s first two albums, L. Voag’s The Way Out, Eskaton’s Ardeur, and the subscription item for that issue, The Art Bears’ The World as it is Today.

 If it’s not clear from the catalog title or image above, Ray Gun is a reference to then US president Ronald Reagan. The UK’s Margaret Thatcher appears on the back cover sporting Nazi regalia. A timely political rant in the form of an editorial introduced the catalog and preceded the music selections. As you can see from the catalog excerpt below, the whole thing was done ‘homemade’ style, hand written and accompanied by hand drawn illustrations. I read the small catalog cover-to-cover a zillion times. At 30 years old this year, the Ray Gun Commemorative has also become one of my longest held possessions. I still keep all of the pre-internet catalogs as cherished keepsakes.

 Recommended Records, now known as ReR Megacorp,  is alive and well today, continuing along its own unique path, still offering a treasure trove of music that is cutting, innovative and independent.  Do yourself a favor and check them out.

BUT WHAT IS ROCK IN OPPOSITION?

Posted in Aksak Maboul, Art Bears, Art Zoyd, Chris Cutler, Guapo, Henry Cow, Picchio Dal Pozzo, Present, Rock in Opposition, Samlas Mannas Manna, Stormy Six, The Work, Thinking Plague, Univers Zero with tags , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by candymachine

Or rather, what was Rock in Opposition?

 Today, I want to draw in closer to ‘Rock in Opposition’ and outline what it is –or was.  So, this post is something of a rough n’ ready primer. Those that are already familiar with Rock in Opposition can sit this one out and look forward to the next post, which will look back and celebrate the 1981 Raygun Commemorative Recommended Records catalogue.

 So, to begin at the beginning, one might jump back to March 12, 1978. This was the date of the first Rock in Opposition festival, held in London, England at the New London Theatre, and as such was the first public unveiling of Rock in Opposition. The festival was the first sprouting of a new tree, but the tree already had roots; the life of the oppositional tree had taken root underground and out of sight before March 12 ever rolled around.

 As the 1970s unfolded, the English band Henry Cow increasingly organized its touring schedule around mainland Europe. Back home in the UK, audiences were largely uninterested in their existence, primarily because they were unaware of their existence. The radicalized experimentation of Henry Cow’s contemporary rock-art didn’t fit well into the commercial categories that the corporate record industry was trying to nurture and develop. Consequently, Henry Cow, and bands like them, were filed in a bottom drawer and rarely saw the light of day. Virgin Records was to eventually drop Henry Cow from their roster because the Cows were not generating enough income for Virgin to warrant any substantial promotion. These cows were not cash cows. As a further consequence, Henry Cow began to take their own affairs into their own hands and started to carve out small networks and personal contacts around Europe on their own. These networks and contacts were inevitably forged with other bands who were also ‘not fitting’ neatly into the categories being developed, marketed and promoted by corporate industry. The ensuing result was that a small grouping of bands and like-minded co-conspirators were able to circumvent the corporate industry altogether and record, perform and distribute their music as they intended it, free of the programming dictates and ‘artist and repertoire’ concerns of a large record company. Remember that this is transpiring before the DIY ethos of the punk and new wave movements had washed in.

 And so it was, on March 12, 1978, that the initiatives and cooperative efforts of these ‘outside’ bands coalesced into a full blown festival (called ‘Rock in Opposition’) and subsequently a functioning collective. The five bands that performed at this first festival were Henry Cow, Samlas Mammas Manna (from Sweden), Etron Fou Leloublan (from France), Stormy Six (from Italy), and UniversZero (from Belgium). It’s difficult to describe this ‘Rock in Opposition’ music, as it pertained to these five groups, precisely because the groups were not musically homogeneous.  One could argue that the similarities they did share were more political and social in character than musical, except to say that musically each group was steeped in its own national cultural character rather than draped in the Anglo-American garb prevalent in the corporate commercial music world. I suppose that this too, however, could be counted as a political trait rather than a musical one.

 Following the festival, the bands continued to assist each other by setting up tours and contacts for each other in their respective countries. Then, in December of 1978, members of the five bands gathered together at Sunrise Studios in Switzerland (where a good number of records by Rock in Opposition bands were recorded) to discuss possibilities for the future. It was here that a sense of a formalized collective took shape. It was decided that new groups could be admitted into the collective under the following conditions – and here I am being skeletal:  1) musical excellence, as determined by the collective, 2) working outside the established, corporate music industry, 3) bearing a social commitment to rock music.  Given these conditions, three new bands were admitted into the Rock in Opposition collective. They were Aksak Maboul, the Art Bears and Art Zoyd. By this time, Henry Cow had split up, so the collective stood at seven members.  A second festival was held in late April-early May,1979 in Milan, Italy, at which all seven bands performed.

 Following the festival in Milan, the various member groups continued to assist each other in securing gigs and stayed in touch. But, since all of the bands involved were busy and heavily involved in their respective musical projects, the formalized aspects of being a collective began to loosen. I believe the Milan festival was the last time all of the RIO groups would be in attendance. In the words of Chris Cutler (Henry Cow, Art Bears), by the end of 1979 Rock in Opposition as a formal collective had slowly slipped away.

 The formal life of the Rock in Opposition movement, then, was relatively short. The name, however, would take on a life of its own and be used in various ways, usually to designate a particular kind of music, almost as if Rock in Opposition had been a genre. Bands such as Guapo, Thinking Plague, Present, or Miriodor have all been referred to as Rock in Opposition. Actually, many “progressive rock” bands exhibiting avant garde or experimental tendencies get labeled “RIO.” So, in the end, Rock in Opposition, or “RIO”,  floats free, unhinged from the collective which originally ushered it into existence, and detached from any articulated program of social and political concerns, which is what sparked the original collective into being in the first place.

 Having said that, a recent annual Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux, France seems to have picked up the torch and some of the rhetoric of the early manifestoes. There are bands emerging who have been nurtured by the music of the early Rock in Opposition bands, and it doesn’t hurt the cause that there have been recent re-stagings of the Art Bears, a resurgence of UniversZero and CD archival releases by bands with extended family links like The Work, Picchio Dal Pozzo and Radar Favourites. From all of these, old threads may be picked up anew.

 For those wanting to investigate Rock in Opposition and its history in greater detail, a more substantial and authoritative account can be found at ccutler.com (click on ‘interviews’). Also, back in 1979, the long-gone Impetus magazine devoted an entire issue (#9) to Rock in Opposition and the five original groups which constituted the collective. Good luck finding that though.

PAOLO ANGELI / TIBI

Posted in Bjork, Evan Parker, Fred Frith, Hamid Drake, Ned Rothenberg, Paolo Angeli, Tibi with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by candymachine

Are you looking for that last minute Christmas gift for the guitar enthusiast, or someone interested in the possibilities of the guitar? Paolo Angeli’s ‘Tibi’ is sure to do the trick.

Angeli is an exponent of the Sardinian guitar, which might look like the offspring of a guitar and a cello. What he does with the Sardinian guitar, however, puts him in a category all his own. And what he does with the Sardinian guitar is documented on ‘Tibi,’ a CD/DVD aural, visual presentation of Angeli at work – or rather, at play. (Released on ReR Megacorp).

 As mentioned, the Sardinian guitar is larger than what we generally think of as a guitar, and is played in a more upright fashion, as you would approach a cello. To this guitar, Angeli attaches an array of miniature hammers, levers, springs, strings, coils, widgets, screws, whirlers, fans, cuffs, planks, clamps, cables, pedals…and more strings. There are multiple pick-ups, cross-layered strings, and foot triggered motors. In Angeli’s hands, the Sardinian guitar becomes something else, an invention of his own making, which he bows, strums, picks, plucks, taps and scrapes.

 Do not, however, let this description lull you into thinking that this is an ‘experimental’ recording, in the sense of “let’s just try this and see what happens.” Nor is it a catalog of random noises and sound bits created by random effects and chance procedures. Angeli knows exactly what he is doing and proceeds with purpose and sure hands (and feet).  Angeli’s invention and extension of the instrument meets and meshes with his imagination and innovation of technique to produce a music of translucent beauty. It’s all captured by Nanni Angeli, Simone Ciani and Lino Greco on the DVD portion of ‘Tibi.’ As the DVD opens, we’re introduced to some abstracted images, close-ups and angled shots of various parts of the instrument. We’re not certain of what it is we’re looking at. What we hear might be a small ensemble: strings, plucked bass, percussion, a guitar, electronics(?). As the video takes on more concrete form and the abstract and angular gives way to ‘regular’ concert video images, we see that the full soundscape we’ve been listening to is the creative activity of just one man. There are also segments of the workshop and instrument architects that put Angeli’s instrument together.

 I hope Tibi brings Angeli wider recognition.  And if you’re looking for a music where imagination and expression meets innovation and invention, Angeli is a great place to start.  I’m attaching a video of Angeli here, (taken from YouTube) since words don’t adequately convey what it is he does. This one is a liberal interpretation of Bjork’s Desired Constellation.

 Other related recordings by Paolo Angeli:

 Bucato

Tessuti (plays the music of Fred Frith and Bjork)

Free Zone Appleby 2007 (with Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg)

Uotha (with Hamid Drake)

Linee Di Fuga

Don Van Vliet / Captain Beefheart

Posted in Captain Beefheart, Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band, Doc at the Radar Station, Don Van Vliet, Lick My Decals Off Baby, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), Tom Waits, Trout Mask Replica, Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 by candymachine

photo: The Guardian

“Once you’ve heard Beefheart, it’s hard to wash him out of your clothes. It stains, like coffee or blood.”

                                    Tom Waits

Don Van Vliet, better known to the music world as Captain Beefheart, has passed away from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 69 years old.

 Words like: innovative, influential, original, eccentric, genius, maverick, are words that get thrown around in the press with abandon, like all buzz words do, to describe all manner of people who don’t really fit the bill. In the case of Don Van Vliet, however, they all stick. 

 Together with the Magic Band, Captain Beefheart released 12 albums, including what is generally considered his masterpiece, Trout Mask Replica (1969). which was a radical extension of various musical forms and a departure from all that was going on at the time. Lick my Decals (1970) continued to plow some of the furrows dug up on Trout Mask Replica.  My own personal favourite, however, was 1978’s Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller); one of my most favourite records of all-time. It’s over 30 years old and still doesn’t sound dated. It was in the late 70s that friends and I discovered Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and they really turned our ears around. This is what caught our ear when others were picking up on punk.

 I got my chance to see Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band in 1980/81. They were touring after the release of Doc at the Radar Station (1980). It was in Vancouver, BC at the Commodore Ballroom and we were able to find our way to the front of the stage. In fact, we were literally leaning up against Van Vliet’s monitors, and at one point the good Captain came over to us, leaned down, and very politely and good-naturedly, told us that he had just turned 40 (or was turning 40?), and that his hearing wasn’t as good as it once was, and the sound of the crowd from up on stage was rather tremendous, so could we please try not to lean on his monitors!

During the same concert, there was a drunkard in the back of the hall who kept yelling out inane phrases between songs, like “Rock n’ roll!!” or “Let’s go!” or “Hot Rats.”  Beefheart, unimpressed,  addressed him as ‘the Format Man.’ After the last song, the band left the stage as the crowd clapped and stomped for an encore. From where we were standing at the front of the stage, we could see Van Vliet sitting in the wings, sitting down, feverishly drawing on a sketch pad. (He kept this sketch pad in a brown paper bag which he kept with him on stage during the show). Later, when the band came back on for an encore, we asked if we could see his drawing, and he obliged. He said it was the Format Man.

 Having had his fill of the music business, Beefheart left music in 1982 and concentrated on a career as a visual artist. We’ll not see the likes of him again, but his legacy will remain.