Archive for the Fred Frith Category

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

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.

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

EARS WIDE OPEN 2

Posted in Bill Laswell, David Bowie, Evan Parker, Fred Frith, George Lewis, Keith Richards, Lester Bowie, Robert Wyatt, Rolling Stones on November 25, 2010 by candymachine

In my previous post,  I suggested that musicians tend to be wide open to the musical universe while listeners en masse are inclined toward a narrower focus. Today, I’d like to offer a follow-up illustration.

In the previous post, I used three references to three musicians to suggest this openness. Those musicians were Keith Richards, George Lewis and Robert Wyatt.  At first glance, these three musicians – titans in their respective fields – might seem like a wildly incongruous mix of musical characters. In a sense, they are. And yet, even though they are at home in  different genres, they turn out to be close neighbours.

I like the notion of ‘six degrees of separation;’ that any 2 individuals can be linked together via 6 other individual contacts. I think we can take this notion and map it onto the world of musicians and indeed link any 2 individuals through 6 (or 5 or 4 or 3) others.  Let’s take a closer look at our seemingly incongruous three musicians above. Keith Richards might seem light years away from Robert Wyatt to some, but Richards’ Rolling Stone bandmate Charlie Watts also runs the Charlie Watts Big Band, which lets Watts indulge his love of jazz.  Radical saxophonist Evan Parker has been a part of Watts’ band, and Parker has also appeared on record with Wyatt, most notably on Wyatt’s great ‘Shleep.’  That makes for a separation of merely 2 musicians between Richards and Wyatt. In fact, I’m sure there is an even more direct connection between the two musicians that I’m not aware of.

How about George Lewis?  Lewis has played with Evan Parker too, so he is situated on the same line we just traced. I know Lewis has also played with Fred Frith and Chris Cutler, who in turn have both enjoyed a long, friendly history with Wyatt.  As for connecting him up to Richards, off the top of my head I know that Lewis has worked with bass maverick Bill Laswell, who also produced one of Mick Jagger’s solo outings. Jagger has, of course, an acquaintance with Richards.

We could do this all night.  How about George Lewis and late 60s/ early 70s teen idol David Cassidy of Partridge Family fame? The AACM seems light years from old schlocky TV sitcoms.  However, David Cassidy once tried to shake off his candy floss idol image and stake a claim for himself as a reputable musician by hooking up with Mick Ronson to produce a solo album. Ronson, of course, had been a guitarist with David Bowie’s band, circa Ziggy Stardust, and Bowie had invited his namesake Lester Bowie (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago) to bring his trumpet along to Bowie’s ‘Black Tie, White Noise’ sessions. In 2006, Lewis released a recording, titled Sequel, which was dedicated to the late, great Lester. So, that’s just 3 musicians separating George Lewis and David Cassidy.

We could do this all night.

SUBLIME BEAUTY WITH A JAGGED EDGE

Posted in Art Bears, Carla Kihlstedt, Chris Cutler, Cosa Brava, Dagmar Krauss, Dave Kerrman, FIMAV, Fred Frith, Jewlia Eisenberg, Kristin Slipp, News From Babel, Rock in Opposition, Skelton Crew, the Norman Conquest, Winter Songs, Zeena Parkins with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by candymachine

Part Three of Three: The Art Bears Songbook in Victoriaville, May 2008 and in Carmaux, Sept. 2010.

When I heard that the Art Bears Songbook would close the 25th edition of the FIMAV festival in May 2008, I immediately phoned Victoriaville to secure a ticket and booked a flight for Quebec. After all, it had been more than 25 years since the Art Bears called it a day. The very idea was audacious. The bar had been set so high by the albums! How could the performance do anything but disappoint? Hopes ran as high as the expectations.

Much work had been done in rehearsal time leading up to the performance, which took place, I believe, in a closed-down wing of the Colibri Hotel. I suspect that the job of writing the material into concert-ready form fell largely on the shoulders of Fred Frith, although I equally suspect that the final form of things was crunched out by the group on the rehearsal room floor. I saw Frith and Cutler, and Dave Kerman too, sitting in the lobby of the Colibri Hotel, sheet music spilling over a table, ironing out last details. A friend and I took the opportunity to drop off a few bottles of wine to the table, for the band, as a (silly?) kind of thank you gift for everything that had come before.

But, as is well known now, the band delivered a performance for the ages at FIMAV, one that rose even higher than the high hopes and expectations of those in attendance. For me, it was not only the highlight of the festival, but my own favourite concert ever! I was so enthralled that afterwards I said I’d travel anywhere to see it all again. Hence, in September 2010, I found myself in Carmaux, France, at the Rock in Opposition festival, where the Art Bears Songbook would take the stage for a second time.

The performance in Quebec had the cachet of being the first, but the show in Carmaux would have something the FIMAV show didn’t – Dagmar Krause would join the band in France! In Victoriaville, Jewlia Eisenberg, Kristin Slipp and Carla Kihlstedt did a very fine job handling the vocals. They didn’t attempt to emulate the stylings and delivery of Krauss, but rather played to their own considerable strengths to set the songs. Eisenberg was ill and could not participate in Carmaux, which set the stage for Krauss to join the group. And she was in fine form. The singing that left you breathless when listening to the albums left you breathless live as well.

There were some technical difficulties to be overcome in the beginning stages of the show; the vocalists seemed to be having some trouble with getting the right balance in their monitors and may have had trouble hearing themselves, but this was not an issue out front in the audience. We were too busy being awe-struck at how the band pulled off performing parts of songs that were originally studio constructions. The instrumental sections of Rats and Monkeys, for example, were jaw-dropping. If you weren’t at either concert, go listen to this piece (from Winter Songs) and imagine that being rendered live. Or, what do you do with something like the backwards / manipulated vocals that begin First Things First? (from Winter Songs) You could bypass them altogether and do something different, or just play a tape alongside the band, as some groups would, or if you’re Dagmar Krauss and Kristin Slipp, you learn to sing the backwards / manipulated vocals in real time! And that drumming? If you thought that Chris Cutler’s drum kit sound could only exist in a studio, you were wrong. The sound, the tension, the breath and space, the rhythms, the colours – it was all there in real time, right before our ears. Zeena Parkins and Carla Kihlstedt are essential too. I can’t imagine the band without them. Both (as well as the Norman Conquest) are members of Frith’s Cosa Brava, and the time, energy, and fun, that they’ve poured into playing together is clearly audible. (Parkins, of course, also played with Frith in Skeleton Crew and with Cutler in News From Babel, as well as many other groupings, improvised or otherwise, over the years).

And what more can be said of Fred Frith? He continues to be where he has been for close to 40 years now – at the forefront of cutting new music. He bounced from electric guitars to bass to piano and also provided some vocals, and at the end of the night he probably breathed a great sigh of relief and, I hope, a great smile too. I certainly did. This was the best concert I’ve seen since the last time I saw the band in Victoriaville. It’s not so often you see a show end with the audience standing, clapping, hollering and then booing the stage crew when they start dismantling the stage. This crowd wanted more, and I hope they get it. The Art Bears Songbook is a wild, artistic success and I hope their day is not yet done. 

Photo courtesy of FIMAV.

These two very cool images from the Carmaux concert were taken from a blog called The Clock That Went Backwards

Part One of Three: The Art Bears n’ Me

Posted in Aksak Maboul, Art Bears, Art Zoyd, Etron Fou Leloublan, Fred Frith, Henry Cow, Rock in Opposition, Samlas Mannas Manna, Stormy Six, Univers Zero, Western Culture, Winter Songs with tags , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by candymachine

Discovering the Art Bears’ Winter Songs (1978) and Henry Cow’s Western Culture (1979) was a ground zero experience for me.

Back in the late 70s, I had on occasion come across Henry Cow in print and they always sounded interesting. They were on my list of groups to check out — if I could ever find one of their records. I had never even seen one before. I had also heard of the Art Bears. They were an offshoot of Henry Cow and one of their albums received a 5 star review in Downbeat magazine. They were also on my list of groups to check out — if I could ever find one of their records.

 I was living in Victoria, BC in the late 70s, but would occasionally take the ferry over to Vancouver for some record shopping. On my very first expedition to the legendary, but now extinct, Black Swan Records, I walked away with both the Art Bears’ Winter Songs and Henry Cow’s Western Culture.  Hearing these two records was nothing short of a revelation. So dramatic was my reaction to hearing these two records that I started carting off most of my record collection to the local used record store in Victoria. At a stroke, I turned the page on a lot of the music I had been listening to. The Art Bears and Henry Cow killed my record collection!

 Shortly after buying the albums, I learned of their involvement in Rock in Opposition, a collective instigated by Henry Cow and which also included bands Samlas Mammas Manna from Sweden, Univers Zero from Belgium, Etron Fou Leloublan from France and Stormy Six from Italy. It was later expanded to include the Art Bears, Art Zoyd and Aksak Maboul. The Rock in Opposition groups existed outside of the recording industry and its marketing and distribution networks. (No wonder I could never find any of their records). Their uncompromising approaches and refusal to fit themselves into market-friendly musical forms virtually guaranteed that the industry would not be interested in them. They therefore banded together and created their own network to help each other set up tours, release records and find new audiences. Through learning about Rock in Opposition, I developed a greater understanding of the political economy of the recording industry, and of the consequences for groups who were unable to, or chose not to, work within the parameters of the industry. Discovering the Art Bears and Henry Cow, then, led to a politicization of music for me. As a direct result, it wasn’t long before I left my job at a major record retailer just because I didn’t want to be a cog in the workings of the industry. I also shifted the bulk of my record shopping to independent record shops and labels.

 As well, my interest in philosophy and history developed as a result of being engaged in these social and cultural issues. This eventually led to attending college courses and going on to university. The music and working examples of these two bands, and then the other bands involved in Rock in Opposition, affected my ideas of the social world and my place in it.  Life itself became different after the Art Bears & Henry Cow. When I look back and contemplate this time of my life (from a comfy armchair, espresso in hand), I sometimes think of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. Where would I be today if I never heard Winter Songs or Western Culture? Who would I be?

The above is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Music Is Rapid Transportation …from the Beatles to Xenakis, available soon from Charivari Press

The Art Bears, back in the day, (photo source unknown, sorry).

 

 

WELCOME TO CANDY MACHINE!

Posted in Art Bears, Fred Frith with tags , , , , , on November 1, 2010 by candymachine

Welcome to Candy Machine.  I took the name from one of Fred Frith’s titles. You can find it on the CD (or DVD), Step Across the Border. Actually, you can hear the piece ‘Candy Machine’ on the cd, but you can also see the actual machine that the piece is named for on the DVD. If you don’t know who Fred Frith is, you will after visiting this blog a few times. He’ll show up frequently. Better yet, make an effort to check out his music. It might change the way you listen to the world.

 A candy machine is also one of those ‘machines’ you often see in the foyers of supermarkets or shopping malls (in North America anyway) which look like over-sized gumball machines, and which will dispense a treat – after you first shove some money into it. I liked the idea of the candy machine as a metaphor for gaining access to music. It’s oddly appropriate for today’s download music culture. I also love the piece by Frith.  I even used it as the intro music to a college radio show I once hosted many years ago. So, the title offered itself, and I took it.

 What will you find here? Mostly celebrations of music that I enjoy: musings, meanderings, meditations, reflections, explications.  So, this is my first post, but really it just serves as an introduction and handshake. The actual inauguration begins with the next post….the first of a three-part look at the Art Bears and the Art Bears Songbook!