Sometimes in the amazing ignorance I hear things and see things I never knew I heard and saw before

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Marshall Allen presents Sun Ra And His Arkestra - In The Orbit Of Ra (Strut) / Sun Ra Synth Compilation

Rise lightly from the earth
And try your wings
Try them now
While I make the darkness invisible
- Sun Ra, Invisibility

Sun Ra is the space invader, inner and outer space. He's been in my head for the last few days because this compilation set me on the Arkestra's strange celestial road once again...ah, the infinity of their universe...........a moonship journey amongst the stars...dancing with the cosmo aliens of the astro nation...the cosmo sun in outer space...................stars that shine darkly, the exotic forest, pyramids, a tapestry from an asteroid...Saturn, Jupiter, stop, Mars! dreams of sound infinity a space jazz reverie..........

In The Orbit Of Ra is a good starting place for beginners. It orbits Planet Ra but doesn't travel to the inner (hard)core of his intense synthesiser pieces or the fierce free-blowing of the Arkestra captured on 'live' recordings. They would prove too much, perhaps. Yet to include a taste such as edited tracks would have been good.

Some classic space chants are included such as Interplanetary Music and We Travel The Spaceways. Also Somebody Else's World, featuring Sun Ra's space siren, June Tyson. She appears again on Astro Black, backed by Ra's sinister synth and initially kept afloat by a killer Ronnie Boykins bass line (see also Angels And Demons At Play) before dissolving into just electronics and bowed bass. Whilst all the tracks benefit from being 'pristine masters' recording-wise, the new clarity here reveals it's true depths, lending it even greater power than it had previously.

On Rocket Number Nine Take Off For Planet Venus there's a taste of the energy the Arkestra can give off; that hurried opening chant, a precursor/countdown to the pause before ignition which propels the band at high velocity, veering close to going Out but always remaining withIn the gravitational pull of the rhythm. It ends with a fantastic piano solo by Ra, tumbling through booming space chords. "The second stop is Jupiter..."

"Space vocalist" Art Jenkins features on Solar Differentials. "The possible has been tried and failed; now I want to try the impossible," Ra told Jenkins, who found it by singing through a reversed ram's horn with a hand acting as an open and close mute over the larger end. "Now that's impossible!" said Ra, laughing. The result is as strange as anything recorded by the Arkestra, with Jenkins' wordless vocal improvisation set against a sparse background lead by Ra's piano.

On Dance Of The Cosmo Aliens Sun Ra's organ/Moog playing is unearthly yet melodic, easy yet disorientating and made stranger by the constant drum machine rhythm. We head East via Planet Earth, up The Nile, through the percussive/blowing fire of Reflects Motion and into the kingdom of Ancient Aiethiopia (images of kings and queens being carried through temples, such a stately sound, perhaps to accompany Sun Ra himself during a procession).

Spaceship Ra is ready and hopefully this selection will encourage some new passengers to climb on board.

In another dimension, here's a compilation of tracks featuring Ra running wild on the synth, Space Organ, Cosmic Keyboard and Interplanetary Piano (have I made those up?). This is not for the faint hearted so best wear your space helmet...

1. Calling Planet Earth
2. Journey Through The Outer Darkness
3. Would I For All That Were
4. When Spaceships Appear
5. Sun Of The Cosmos
6. unknown
7. Moog solo
8. Saturn Research
9. Outer Reach Intensity
10. On Spaceship Earth
11. Untitled
12.  Space Probe

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Game in Hell: The Great War in Russia at the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design

I did learn a few things at secondary school, but none of them were on the curriculum. 

Avoid that bully was one. I don't recall his name, but I'll never forget his face as he punched his victims. 

One girl had a list of boys to date. I learnt that when the name above mine was crossed off and I got my big chance, which I blew by failing to get us into an X-rated film, then perhaps being overly zealous in the attention I paid her whilst not watching Roger Moore in Gold at the Buckingham cinema. You'd have thought she wanted the attention. I thought that's why we were sat in a darkened room. Not that I 'went too far', I just went about it awkwardly because she was sat to my left. I think that's why she dumped me. 

I learnt not to get the wrong side of our History teacher because he had a prosthetic hand (made of very heavy material, possibly wood) which he'd strike you with if you misbehaved. It was always covered by a glove, making him even more sinister, like a Bond villain. I never felt that hand, thankfully, but neither did I pay attention to the History lessons, which is why I entered this exhibition knowing next to nothing about Russia's part in World War One. 

I'm still none the wiser and that's the fault of the Russian waiter at the private view who insisted on tempting me with drinks from his tray. Variations on the mixed vodka theme, of course. That much I know about Russians; they like vodka. As if remembering information at galleries isn't difficult enough, after a few sips of alcohol, it was hopeless. I could appreciate the art, though. It's a fine exhibition, featuring photos, posters, art works and best of all some little books. You can see some good photos over here at the GRAD (Gallery for Russian Arts and Design) site. Here are my mostly bad ones. Blame the vodka.

Finally, another blurred photo, perfectly capturing the state my head was in whilst trying to absorb some information...

Friday, 26 September 2014

Thursday, 25 September 2014

33 Perfect Jazz Tracks

Andrew Hill

Richard Brody compiled 66 'perfect jazz recordings' for The New Yorker this week, which made me wonder what I would choose. I started aiming for 66 but realised it would take too long and unlike Richard I won't be paid so I halved his number. I don't mind doing this for free, of course. It is, after all, an essential service. Hold on, no it's not. You don't care. Why did I do it? Just for the challenge.

Talking of challenges, keen-eyed observers amongst you will notice no repeated names. That was the other element of the challenge I set myself, to make things harder because, as you know, I could have listed 33 Ellington, Sun Ra or Charlie Parker tunes, but not Wes Montgomery.

As Richard notes: "my perfect recordings seem to possess an inner necessity, an idea that translates into an altogether different necessity: they’re necessary to me, personally". Naturally, for how can it be otherwise? Perhaps there are such things as objective, definitive lists, but I've yet to see one. Perfection is in the ear of the beholder.

Since Richard writes a brief biographical background to his discovery of Jazz I will too. It goes like this: my school days were rubbish but I had music and Herbie Hancock's fusion track, Hang Up Your Hang-Ups (1975) was the first tune I heard with Jazz chops. Probably. Many earlier Funk bands had Jazz in their blood but if I'd stumbled across instances as a kid I wouldn't have been appreciative. Coincidentally, and to add symmetry to this tale, Herbie Hancock ends my (roughly) chronological list. It more or less ends where I began. Except I didn't begin to listen to Jazz properly until the early-80s. I did listen to a lot of Jazz-Funk in the late-70s, but I'm not opening the can of worms marked 'Definition of Proper Jazz'. No, sir.

After Punk music began to lose it's buzz for me. Combined with having entered the world of Work, you can imagine the state I was in. I probably survived on a diet of all that I'd grown to love in the 70s, along with a few contemporary tasty morsels such as Defunkt and Rip Rig & Panic. I often think it was a guide to Jazz in the NME that must have triggered my interest, although I can't find a date for that feature. Home-grown star Courtney Pine was on their cover in 1986, but I was lost in Jazz Land by then.

Something clicked. It was the sound of a light going on; one that illuminated the vast mansion of Jazz (eh?). It's a strange building, as if imagined by William Hope Hodgson or Mark Z. Danielewski, by which I mean its walls melt, rooms shift, perspectives are altered and weird tunnels are found. If you hate Free Jazz, as many do, there is also much to terrify listeners lurking in this place.

As my own personal chronology would have it I was lucky enough to see a few of the remaining legends 'live' in the 80s. Art Blakey at Camden's Electric Ballroom being one highlight. Also the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, George Russell, Cedar Walton's trio featuring Billy Higgins and Slim Gaillard (a legend in our eyes, anyway).

The list is roughly chronological and stops in the early-70s. No vocal tracks, unless you count Archie Shepp's Blasé. They aren't what I consider to be the best of each artist, simply choices made after a little thought and rifling through my collection, of course. It may only be a list, yes another list, but just looking at it makes me feel good, never mind listening. It's a roll call of those who have served me so well over the last three decades. Thinking about time, perhaps it's 33 years since it all began for me...what a coincidence.

If you want to read more of what I think about Jazz (post-WW2) there's the book, Points Of Departure. Like this list, it's my experience of the music and in no way attempts to be an objective history. That would be too sensible and music, in various ways, should knock us all senseless. Right?

1. Bix Beiderbecke - Humpty Dumpty
2. Louis Armstrong - West End Blues
3. Duke Ellington - Cotton Tail
4. Sidney Bechet - Love for Sale
5. Charlie Parker - Ornithology
6. Dizzy Gillespie - Manteca
7. Thelonious Monk - Misterioso
8. Bud Powell - Bouncing With Bud
9. Bill Evans - Waltz for Debby
10. Dave Brubeck - Blue Rondo A La Turk

11. Charles Mingus - II B.S.
12. John Coltrane - Mr. Day
13. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - Noise In The Attic
14. Cecil Taylor - Luyah! The Glorious Step
15. Ornette Coleman - Blues Connotation
16. Horace Silver - The Natives Are Restless Tonight
17. Art Farmer & Benny Golson Jazztet - Killer Joe
18. The Train and the River - Jimmy Giuffre
19. Wes Montgomery - Full House
20. Wayne Shorter - Footprints

21. Oliver Nelson - Stolen Moments
22. Eric Dolphy - Hat and Beard
23. Andrew Hill - Black Fire
24. Alice Coltrane - Journey In Satchidananda
25. The Modern Jazz Quartet - Django
26. Roland Kirk - Rip, Rig & Panic
27. Miles Davis - E.S.P
28. Art Ensemble Of Chicago - Urban Magic
29. Chico Hamilton - Conquistadores
30. Archie Shepp - Blasé
31. Eddie Harris - Listen Here
32. Sun Ra - Where Pathways Meet
33. Herbie Hancock - Ostinato (Suite For Angela)

White Noise: Rutherford Chang's White Albums

And I thought buying two copies of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Urban Bushmen was crazy. Rutherford Chang is an artist (of course!) who collects first-pressings of The Beatles' The White Album. He currently owns 1,034 copies, but the most he's ever paid for one is $20, so that's all right then. 

"I was interested in the different ways that the covers aged. Being an all-white cover, the changes are apparent. The serial numbers made collecting them seem natural, and the more I got, the more interesting it became. As you see, many of them are written on, and each has a story. The accumulation of the stories is part of it. But it’s also about how the physical object - the record - just doesn't exist any more in an age when music is sold through downloaded files."

The albums recently formed an exhibition in Liverpool, where visitors could chose copies to play. Perhaps some of them had never seen an album before. For them it must have been a fascinating experience. Chang's idea highlights several aspects of pop culture, of course, such as obsessive record collecting, album design (Richard Hamilton designed The White Album) and the ageing process of a material object. We feared deterioration (oh no, it's scratched!) back then, whereas today wear and tear strengthens the album's nostalgic appeal. Not that we ever want our treasured albums scratched, unless your name's Christian Marclay.

Chang also recorded 100 copies layered over each other, forming four 20+ minute tracks. The result is trippy, as befits the time of the original recordings. As the sync slips out sounds merge, forming white noise that's all crackle and drone, like a sonic acid flashback (not that I'd know). I wonder what Paul McCartney thinks of it? You can hear it by visiting Music For Maniacs

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Control Computer Systems / Allan Kaprow and Communications Programming

Here's the result of some 'programming' I did last year. One example of several 'concrete' word creations...

Control Computer System Copyright RT 2013

LSD and LBJ invoke different meaning clusters, but both partake of a need for code; and code performs the same condensing function as symbol in poetry. TV "snow" and Muzak in  restaurants are accompaniments to conscious activity whose sudden withdrawal produces a feeling of void in the human situation. Contemporary art, which tends to "think" in multimedia, intermedia, overlays, fusions, and hybridizations, more closely parallels modern mental life than we have realized. It's judgements, therefore, may be accurate. Art may soon become a meaningless word. In its place, "communications programming" would be a more imaginative label, attesting to our new jargon, our technological and managerial fantasies, and our pervasive electronic contact with one another. 
           - Allan Kaprow, Manifesto, 1966

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

May '68 - A Better-Looking Revolution!

I asked the girl working in Koenig Books if she'd like to visit Paris in the past. It wasn't an offer. She said she was going soon. 1909? I suggested. She smiled. It's an Art book shop; I thought she'd be naming art-related decades. She just smiled. "In sixty-eight you could join Jean-Luc Godard at the barricades," I said. "And the revolutionaries dressed better in those days." At which point she stepped out from behind her desk, saying "I think I'm dressed for the occasion." Not bad - houndstooth pattern on her knee-length skirt, black polo-neck jumper. Students looked good back then, because everyone did in the 60s, better than today, at least. No white boys with dreadlocks...and no didgeridoos...or bongos...

Mind you, regarding Godard, someone sprayed a joke at his expense, though I'm not sure he was a die-hard Maoist...

Here he is getting arrested in May '68. One is saying (in French) "Piss off to Swinging London and film the Rolling Stones, or something - you're finished as a director!" So he did. Some might say he was (finished, that is).

Revolution was better then. Protesters weren't allowed to 'occupy' a space for months on end, not knowing exactly what their aims were. It didn't drag on, therefore the public didn't get bored with it. Everything was a target in May '68, from the cops to the government, bureaucracy, education and, of course, Art...

Some great posters were made...

And then there was the Situationist element and attitudes that went beyond merely supporting The Workers. The revolution of everyday life? No matter how many paving stones were dug up, sadly, the beach was only glimpsed, not permanently occupied...

Monday, 22 September 2014

Various - Archive 1 / Influkz - Ekoplekz (More Than Human)

Archive 1 is the first digital release for More Than Human, which is good news for young fogies who don't own a turntable (I'll never get rid of mine; without it I couldn't hear This Is Chaquito and the Quedo Brass! and my life would be meaningless). It's cheap too, just $5 (whatever that is in proper money). A short comp, but it's quality not quantity that counts (think on that next time you're scanning your MP3 library - I do frequently - delete! delete! My aim is to reduce it to The Essential 1,000,000, so wish me luck). Time Attendant, Kemper Norton, Dieter Moebius, the gang's all here. The Passenger's Negative Object is great too. Time Attendant's Cloud Dowsing demonstrates why you should have all his releases. Just get it.

Not more Ekoplekz...christ, the man's unstoppable. Thankfully he isn't being prolific for the sake of media saturation - he really does have great music oozing from every pore, he just can't stop twiddling those knobs (nudge-nudge). Ariwakz is one of the best tunes, with a nod to the reggae label, Arawak, in both title and dub-wise mood (even the tempo is relatively conventional for him, but here that's no bad thing). Zone Stikz also captures an old reggae mood with a wonderful recreation of the classic organ sound on Upsetter records, slowed right down, blissed out as electro (versions galore).

Know What I Mean?

What do you want?

It's been a funny 'ol day - 
and there was nothing funny about it.
I mostly sat with my eyes open and my mind shut. 
You know what I mean. 
Perhaps you don't. 
I can't know if you know what I mean 
and you can't know if I know what I mean. 
I don't know what I mean half the time. 
Perhaps you know what I mean some of the time. 
Divide time up according to how much of it is spent knowing what I mean.
What do you mean you 'can't be bothered'?

Here's a toilet sculpted as a fly.

That's all.

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