The “Monkey Chant” in Pop

[NotePiece updated on February 15, 2019 – see special coda at the tail end]

Zero to 180 is intrigued to discover that today’s featured song is the sole composition attributed to Vic Coppersmith-Heaven [whose impressive audio engineering CV includes Cat Stevens, The Rolling StonesBilly Preston, and even Stanley Kubrick] on Discogs.  This entrancing and otherworldly (near) instrumental can only be found on the 1982 double LP anthology Music and Rhythm that features artists who performed in the first World of Music and Dance (WOMAD) festivals in the UK organized by Peter Gabriel, with help from heavy friends.  For the 1980s college crowd, Music and Rhythm served as a gateway album of sorts into “Worldbeat”  (i.e., music from outside Europe & the US).

The early-to-mid 1980s would find this idealistic, clueless college student in thrall to a cassette mix of The Jam‘s brilliant run of singles (compiled in chronological fashion by Tom Newbold), culminating in their double-A side masterwork “Going Underground” paired with “Dreams of Children.”  The single-sentence summary blurb below from  Wikipedia very much captures the extent of my knowledge at that time about the engineer/producer with the distinctive name:

Vic Coppersmith-Heaven (born Victor Smith in England) is an English sound engineer and record producer best known for his production work with The Jam.

Japan 45 – 1980                                          Italy 45 – 1980

Produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven

Those of us who were initially surprised to see the producer behind The Jam’s finest 45 included in the track listing of Music and Rhythm wondered, therefore, to what degree his preceding work might have informed his musical sensibilities.  As it turns out — not in the slightest:

“Pensgosekan”     Vic Coppersmith-Heaven     1982

Preston Hayman:  Percussion & Gamelan
Vic Smith:  Guitars & Gamelan
Tony Levin:  Bass
Paddy Bush:  Gengong
Johnny Warman:  Voice
Composed & produced by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven.
Recorded at Eel Pie Studios & The Manor – Spring 1982.
Engineered by Richard Manwaring & remixed at Crescent Studios.
Note:  “Pengosekan” fades into a short excerpt from The Ramayana Monkey Chant recorded by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven in Bali — February, 1982

Music and Rhythm‘s liner notes, for one thing, were a tip-off that something more “avant-pop” was afoot on this exclusive recording:

“Vic is best known as a record producer, and over the last five years he has been associated with some of Britain’s most contemporary and successful groups, notably The Jam.

Besides his production work, Vic spends much time pursuing his passion for Bali and its culture.  He visits the country frequently, and has made many field recordings of music traditions in that region.  In ‘Pengosekan’, especially recorded for this LP, he uses Balinese orchestral percussion — gamelan — instruments to embellish the rhythm track, and overlays this further with vocal improvisations derived from the Balinese Ketjak [or Kecak] or Monkey chant.

We would like to thank Vic for his enthusiasm and faith in this album project as a whole, and we are also indebted to the Indonesian Embassy, Mr. Suparmin and Mr. Abidin in particular, for their kind co-operation and loan of the gamelan instruments used on this track.

We would like to thank [Pete Townshend-owned] Eel Pie Studios for their kind co-operation in the recording of this track.  We would also like to thank the Virgin Manor Studio, and Richard Branson in particular, for their kind donation of free time in completing this track; and for their first-class attention and co-operation on this project.”

UbuWeb helpfully elaborates on the history behind this ancient tradition, with this explanatory text that accompanies their streaming audio of a 20-minute field recording from Bali:

“Performed by more than 200 men seated in tight concentric circles around a small central space reserved for the chief protagonists,” the ketjak (loosely called “Monkey Chant”) was first recorded in Bali by David Lewiston and released by Nonesuch Records in 1969.  As a spectacular and alternative performance mode, it has had a germinal influence on western performance and poetics since then.

David Lewiston’s original comments follow:

‘While the ketjak is a creation of this century, it is descended from something much more ancient — the trance dance, the dance of exorcism called sanghjang; its ancestry is clear. Ostensibly, the ketjak is a reenactment of the battle described in the Ramayana epic — in which the monkey hordes came to the aid of Prince Rama in his battle with the evil King Ravana — complete with a chorus imitating monkeys, as they chant the syllable tjak.

But as perceptive observers have noted, the ketjak is primarily a dance of exorcism.  Its connection with the sanghjang remains unbroken.  As pointed out by Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete in Dance and Drama in Bali, “Most of the movements are exorcistic in origin and contribute together to produce a tremendous unity of mood … to drive out evil as by an incantation.  The cries, the crowding, lifted hands, the devouring of single figures, the broken lines of melody bewildering to butas [demons], who can only move straight ahead, all enhance the exorcistic effect.”‘

Glenn Kotche at University of Maryland — sans crickets

Photo courtesy of Brandon Wu Photography

 

Imagine Zero to 180’s surprise 20+ years later during 2009’s Bang on a Can Festival at University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center when [Wilco drummer] Glenn Kotche performed his own interpretation of the Balinese “Monkey Chant,” a composition that not only was included on 2006 solo album, Mobile. but also served as the subject of a 15-minute film by Brendan Canty of DC’s legendary Fugazi [and currently The Messthetics, with bassist Joe Lally and guitarist Anthony Pirog {also of Janel and Anthony}]:

Glenn Kotche – “Monkey Chant”:  A Movie by Brendan Canty

In an exclusive exchange facilitated by the filmmaker himself (thank you, Brendan!), Glenn Kotche had this to say in response to Zero to 180’s basic query:

Q:  Had you been aware of “Pengosekan” by Vic Coppersmith-Heaven prior to composing “Monkey Chant”?

A:  I’m surprised, but I’ve never heard that song before – just heard it for the first time after getting this email The crickets don’t surprise me though.  I included those since all of the recordings that I based my version of the Monkey Chant (Ketjak) on, were recorded outdoors in Bali – so the insect sounds are prevalent and add a really nice atmosphere.  Most of those recordings were from the Nonesuch Explorer Series btw.  I assume Coppersmith-Heaven noticed that while experiencing it live or was inspired by similar recordings.

1975’s Music of BaliNonesuch Explorers Series

2006’s Mobile released on Nonesuch – is that ironic?

Coda:  Who Is Walter Spies and Why Are We Talking About Him?

Zero to 180’s eyebrows went up upon receiving this email from Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records — Silver Spring-based independent label [last celebrated here] that released Janel and Anthony’s Where Is Home in 2012:

I own that Music and Rhythm album and it was a great revelation to me when I first got it when it was released in 1981 or so?

Really like it and really like Vic’s track.

The monkey chant was invented as a tourist kinda thing from ancient, borrowed elements of traditional culture by a German!

Steve’s Wikipedia link immediately brought me to a “Russian-born German primitivist painter” named Walter Spies, who is a “person of interest” in Michael B. Bakan‘s article published in the June, 2009 edition of Ethnomusicology Forum entitled “The Abduction of the Signifying Monkey Chant:  Schizophrenic Transmogrifications of Balinese Kecak in Fellini’s Satyricon and the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple,” a scholarly piece that “begins with a historical overview that situates kecak’s own history as a Balinese cultural phenomenon within broader frameworks of hybridity, schizophonic and appropriative processes, and international filmmaking, devoting special attention to the contributions of Walter Spies.”

Walter Spies with Ketut the Cockatoo and Ida Bagus, the Monkey c. 1935

photo courtesy of Sotheby’s (© Tropical Museum)

Further sleuthing would reveal that — “according to the standard English leaflet text used by many groups all over Bali” (so says Kendra Stepputat in her research piece entitled, “The Genesis of a Dance-Genre:  Walter Spies and the Kecak“) —

“Contrary to popular belief the Kecak dance is not particularly old.  It was probably first performed in 1930, although the chorus had its origins in a very ancient ritual of the Sanghyang (trance) Dance, which is still performed sometimes in the village.”

Stepputat further elaborates, in “Performing Kecak:  A Balinese Dance Tradition Between Daily Routine and Creative Art,” published in 2012’s Yearbook for Traditional Music (Volume 44, pp. 49-70):

“Kecak is one of the most popular dramatic dance forms performed for tourists on Bali.  It has been developed cooperatively by Balinese artists and Western expatriates, most prominently I Wayan Limbak and Walter Spies, living on Bali in the 1930s, with the explicit purpose of meeting the tastes and expectations of a Western audience.  Driven by economic considerations, in the late 1960s kecak was standardized into the kecak ramayana known today.”

Feigenbaum gets the last word:

That Music and Rhythm record holds up really well, I think.  It never came out fully on CD.  I still have my truncated CD AND the original vinyl.

I liked it because it cast a very wide net from The Specials to Peter Hammill!

“1900 Yesterday”: Bye White Whale

Liz Damon and the Orient Express Band were once the house band at the Hilton Hawaiian Village whose debut album, At the Garden Bar, Hilton Hawaiian Village, was originally issued on local label, Makaha, in 1970.  Enter White Whale, the indie label that likely released surf music’s final first-wave recording (i.e., “Surfer Dan” by The Turtles).  As Billboard would write in its piece – “White Whale Gets Express Product” – for the December 12, 1970 edition:

“White Whale Records has acquired the worldwide rights to the product of Liz Damon’s Orient Express on the Makaha label.  Makaha Records is a Hawaii-based firm.  White Whale is rushing into release a single titled ‘1900 Yesterday’ and an album titled Liz Damon’s Orient Express.”

“1900 Yesterday”     Liz Damon’s Orient Express     1970

“1900 Yesterday” – which hit #33 on the US pop chart in 1971 – would also enjoy release in Spain, Australia & New Zealand.  Liz Damon, tragically, would sign with White Whale at the end of its commercial run and thus serve history for being the label’s last 45 & LP.

Interestingly enough, Betty Everett had already released “1900 Yesterday” the year before as the B-side to a single (“Maybe”) that bubbled under at #116 in September, 1969.

Aside from anchor act, The Turtles, White Whale’s early releases would include influential UK band, John’s Children (“Smashed, Blocked“), New Orleans Public Library (“Trippin’ Down the Street”), Nino Tempo & April Stevens (“All Strung Out“), and guitarist, Jan Davis (“Lost in Space“).

1973 LP = Title track by Bacharach-David

Liz Damon LP

Andy Tielman’s 10-String Guitar

Victor Uwaifo’s double-neck “magic guitar” with 18 strings immediately brings to mind Andy Tielman and his 10-string guitar.  I suspect that many if not most Americans are unfamiliar with The Tielman Brothers, a band of siblings from the Netherlands by way of Indonesia.  But check out this live performance of the band in flight, and you too might be floored by the realization that some of the most compelling rockabilly sounds came from a group of Indo-Dutch youngsters (many thanks to Tom Hutton for the Tielman tip):

Check out the drummer’s guitar work on “Rollin’ Rock” by The Tielman Brothers

Andy Tielman and his brothers Reggy, Ponthon, and Loulou would emigrate to the Netherlands in 1957 and get their first big gig at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair in the “Hawaiian Village” of the Dutch pavilion, where they stole the show (see live performance clip above) with their exuberant stage antics, according to Indo-Rock-Gallery.

Indo-Rock-Gallery’s story of the Indonesian expatriate music scene in the Netherlands also details how Andy Tielman and his brothers pushed the “new rock music” forward in a number of ways.  How fascinating, for example, to discover that —

  • Andy Tielman’s famous 10-string Fender Jazzmaster was a result of having switched from his original Gibson Les Paul (due to its weight) and finding the Fender sound too thin.  Tielman, therefore, doubled each string (except the highest and lowest ones) and tuned every string pair in octaves to enlarge the sound.  At the time, Tielman tried to conceal his instrument’s headstock with a towel, but other bands would copy his invention.  Even still, I can find no photos of Andy’s 10-string invention on the web.

Cees Bakker’s attempt to replicate Andy Tielman’s 10-String Fender Jazzmaster

Fender headstock

  • Cees Bakker reports that “another Tielman first” was their innovative use of dual Fender VI six-string basses, one with lighter gauge strings (Reggy) and the other (Robby) with heavier ones — furthermore, “thanks to their amp settings Reggy sounded like an octave below guitar and Robby like a real bass guitar, which is unique for a Fender VI.”
  • Bakker also points out how the output from bassist, Robby Latuperisa, was “plugged through Andy’s guitar signal” on the way to “all other Fender Bassman and Showman” amplifiers, in addition to the PA sound system.

Tielman Brothers 45-aTielman Brothers 45-bTielman Brothers 45-cTielman Brothers 45-dTielman Brothers 45-eTielman Brothers 45-fTielman Brothers 45-gTielman Brothers 45-h

Rock-It-Chain has band member lineups over the years, as well as a detailed discography.

Hear the twin 6-string basses and see Andy’s 10-string (briefly) in this live clip

Tokyo Happy Coats: Japanese Pop on King Records

There is, interestingly enough, a Japanese label that shares the name King RecordsJapan’s King Records even predates Cincinnati’s King Records by twelve years or so.

But back in 1970, it was Cincinnati’s King Records who released two LPs and exactly three 45s by an “all-girl” Japanese pop group, The Tokyo Happy Coats, who are five sisters, we are told — Eiko, Keiko, Shoko, Tomiko & Ruriko Hakomori.   This would make at least three prominent family acts vying for dominance on the pop chart at the dawn of the 70s:   The Jackson 5, The Osmonds & The Hakomori Sisters of Tokyo Happy Coats.

Ed Sullivan Show – February 27, 1966   (source: William Bickel)

Tokyo Happy Coats b&w

I confess I am still bewildered by the fact that I only just now found out about these “guys.”  Did any of the local stores in my Cincinnati hometown stock The Tokyo Happy Coats in the early 1970s, I wonder — back when Ultraman, the Japanese space superhero television series, was broadcast regularly on Cincinnati’s local independent station, WXIX (channel 19 in Roman numerals)?   Check out the gals’ take on Sonny & Cher’s “Beat Goes On” from their 1970 live club performance LP, The Tokyo Happy Coats Live:

“The Beat Goes On”     The Tokyo Happy Coats     1970

Music writer, Ken Shimamoto (The Stash Dauber) writes a fascinating first-person essay that leads into a review of and “appreciation” for The Tokyo Happy Coats from which we learn that “they were a lounge act that toured the states pretty extensively from the mid-’60s on, playing Las Vegas and The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as dives in Pittsburgh and Detroit.  Between ’em, those Happy Coats played a whopping 26 instruments.”  Shimamoto perfectly captures the oddball element in this real-life transcontinental story when he observes, “incredibly, they used to record for King Records, the same label as James Brown.”  Even more revealing are the heartfelt and enthusiastic comments attached to this blog piece that attest to the group’s magnetism, as well as magnanimity.

Tokyo Happy Coats LP Starday-King (the King label having been consolidated with Starday upon the death of founder, Syd Nathan in 1968) actually leased these recordings from another label — the discography does not indicate where.  What’s odd, however, especially in light of their popularity, is the complete absence of Tokyo Happy Coats recordings in either 45Cat or Discogs apart from these five Starday-King releases.

“An Astro Sonic Production” – distributed by Starday-King

Tokyo Happy Coats 45

Tokyo Happy Coats Starday-King Discography

King 45 #6296 “Forevermore” b/w “Harlem Nocturne” 1970

King 45 #6337 “Tea A-Wanna Whistle” b/w “Here Is Happiness” 1970

King 45 #6419 “Forevermore” b/w “Here is Happiness” 1970

King LP #1096 The Tokyo Happy Coats Live 1970

King LP #1125 Forevermore 1970