Archive for Chris Cutler

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.

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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).