Archive for December, 2010

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.

 

 

HUGH HOPPER / THE GIFT OF PURPOSE

Posted in Bone, Cuneiform Records, Hugh Hopper, John Roulat, Nick Didkovsky, Soft Machine, The Gift of Purpose with tags on December 6, 2010 by candymachine

Hugh Hopper died on June 7, 2009 from leukemia. According to a google search, one of the symptoms of the disease can be a feeling of fatigue, which makes me wonder if the doctors got his diagnosis right, because if The Gift of Purpose’ is any indicator he was far from fatigued nearing the end of his life.

Hopper left behind quite a legacy.  He is undoubtedly best known for his bass work in the groundbreaking and hugely influential Soft Machine, but he had an illustrious career beyond Soft Machine as well. A listing of his solo work and collaborations with others over the last 30 years would fill this blog, but a good place to start investigating would be Hopper’s own website.

Which brings us to ‘The Gift of Purpose,’ recently released on Cuneiform Records. Though ‘The Gift of Purpose’ is billed under Hopper’s name, this is definitely a Bone CD. Bone was Nick Didkovsky (guitar), Hopper (bass) and John Roulat (drums) and this recording dates from a Feb. 16, 2008 performance at Orion Sound Studios in Baltimore, Maryland. The band is soaring and searing for the most part. Didkovsky, always bionic, and perhaps best known from his bionic band Dr. Nerve, is…well…bionic here as well. There’s lots of screaming lead guitar played over Hopper and Roulat’s improvised bedrock.

There’s also a 15 minute bonus track, written by the one and only, and always trippy, Daevid Allen, to his life-long friend. It features Allen on vocals, Yves Duboin on soprano sax, and Colin Marston on guitar, alongside Didkovsky and Roulat. A nice piece with more space which acts as a ‘cool’ cool-down after the smokin’ Bone performance.  In inimitable Allen style, the end of the piece has the words ‘Thank you’ morphing into ‘Thanks Hugh.’ 

Which brings us again to the gift of purpose.  All of the monies collected from sales of this CD are going to benefit the Hopper family, who are bearing a financial burden, as well as emotional stress, following Hugh’s passing. Steven Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records and Nick Didkovsky paid for the manufacturing costs of the CD from their own pockets. If you buy this CD direct from Cuneiform / Wayside Music, or from Downtown Music Gallery (in NYC), you can be assured that every cent goes to Hugh’s widow, Christine.  So, not only do you get a superb set of music from a bone-crunching progressive power trio, you can give something back in return to a musician who has contributed to the listening pleasures of anyone who has ever listened to progressive rock. Hyperbole? Just imagine what this part of the musical spectrum might sound like today if there had been no Hugh Hopper.

In the liner notes of the CD, we find this suggestion: ‘Listen to this record extremely loud and in one sitting. Open your windows so your neighbors can hear it too.’  Sounds like a good start.