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!

Streisand’s “Experimental” LP

Just for fun, find a casual fan of Barbra Streisand‘s music, and study her/his reaction closely when you play a fairly obscure track – “Come Back To Me” – for his/her virgin ears:

“Come Back to Me”     Barbra Streisand     1973

Believe me, Zero to 180 is just as stunned as you are to find Streisand’s name attached to a history piece on “experimental pop” — and yet here we are, thanks to 1973’s Barbra Streisand … And Other Musical Instruments being included (#34) in Mojo’s list of The 50 Most Out There Albums of All Time in their March 2005 issue, alongside such (truly) outre artists as Ennio Morricone, John Coltrane, Holy Modal Rounders, Hawkwind, Funkadelic, Captain Beefheart, and (of course) Sun Ra.

Mojo - 50 Most Out There Albums

Mojo’s Jonny Trunk explains the album’s concept, as a whole —

“The soundtrack to Barbra’s fifth TV special, the plan was to explore – literally (and laterally) – the world of sound and music, as opposed to the world of just Babs again.  This Barbra is on a sonic world trip, and the luggage is piled very high, indeed — percussion from all global villages including darabukas, gagakus, o-daikos and baglamas, as well as Moogs, mellotrons, Studers, Arps, a Putney (!) and a Tempophon.  And don’t forget the bagpipes.  They’re from Ireland.”

“Come Back to Me,” one of the more experimental tracks on the album, finds Streisand, as Trunk playfully puts it, “talking to herself through delay pedals.”

Avant-Streisand:  Experimental Pop – emphasis on Pop

Barbra-Streisand-LP-b

Would you be surprised to learn that Billboard would deem …And Other Musical Instruments to be one of their “Top Album Picks” for the week of November 10, 1973?

“Since this is the soundtrack from her TV special, there are plenty of effects one can only enjoy with all the senses.  But since you can’t see the things going on as Barbra walks through all the visual settings which are at the core of the program, your imagination has to take command.  Nonetheless, her fine tones and majestic power are sheer entertainment.  There are lots of off-beat ideas, like an Indian raga effect on ‘I Got Rhythm’ and sound effects on ‘The World Is a Concerto.’  ‘Glad To Be Unhappy’ is Barbra at her ballad best.  Ken and Mitzi Welch’s arrangements for TV provide an interesting experience on record.”

The commercial response to Barbra Streisand’s most daring work – before and forevermore – can be shown in the album’s Billboard rankings:

  • entered the Pop chart at #146 for the week of November 24, 1973;
  • advanced to #115 the following week, December 1, 1973;
  • climbed to #75 the next week, December 8, 1973;
  • peaked at #64 the week of December 22, 1973;
  • before beginning a downward descent — #132 the week of February 9, 1974;
  • down to #149 the following week, February 16, 1974;
  • hanging on at #191 the week of March 9, 1974 before dropping from the charts.

Ten years later, Billboard‘s Paul Grein would report in his “Chart Beat” column that the TV special, unfortunately, had been “poorly received.”  38 years later, a test pressing of Streisand’s … And Other Musical Instruments LP would fetch $30 at auction in 2011.

Hendrix, Beatles, the Stones … and Streisand:
K-Tel Luminaries

Barbra Streisand – whose considerable commercial heft makes her, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, the world’s best selling female recording artist – would famously relax her “No K-Tel” policy in order to allow “Evergreen” (Theme from A Star Is Born) to appear on 1981 K-Tel release The Elite (US, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and the Netherlands), as well as 1981’s The Platinum Album (UK, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Greece, New Zealand & Australia).

K-Tel's The EliteK-Tel's The Platinum Album

Streisand would also give consent for the inclusion of chart-topping hit “People” (from Funny Girl) on K-Tel Brazil’s Sucessos Nunca Esquecidos, as well as special 2-LP set, Stars for Jerusalem, in partnership with Columbia Special Products, under the auspices of The Jerusalem Foundation.

K-Tel's Sucessos Nunca EsquecidosK-Tel's Stars for Jerusalem

Canadian version of Stars for Jerusalem reveals – Bob Dylan on K-Tel cover!

K-Tel's Stars for Jerusalem- rear cover

The Dead: In the Twilight Zone

For those keeping count, today’s piece is (gulp) the 666th posted since Zero to 180 began December 12, 2012.  What better way to face down this (meaningless) milestone by paying tribute to a classic television series – and also a musical ensemble – that bravely broke the bounds of conformist thought, intrepid travelers who dared to confront “the fifth dimension.”  No, the band in question is not The 5th Dimension (although, good guess) but in actual fact The Grateful Dead, who (not everyone seems to be aware) recorded the theme music to the revitalized TV series in 1985:

Opening & Closing Theme – “Twilight Zone”     The Grateful Dead     1985

As Blair Jackson would note in Garcia:  An American Life — “The band and [Merl] Saunders worked out a new main theme, which was a short dissonant burst of ‘space‘ ending in a variation of the original Twilight Zone theme by Marius Constant.”

Merl Saunders (courtesy DISCOGS)Merl Saunders

Dennis McNally would document some of the historical particulars of the Twilight Zone experience in 2002’s A Long Strange Trip:

“Few shows could possibly have been more appealing to the Dead and Garcia, who remarked, ‘Man, I live in the Twilight Zone.’  They leaped at the chance to record their own version of the signature three-note motif that identified the show.  They didn’t stop there.  [Producer Rick] DeGuere and his music director, Merl Saunders, came to a board meeting to discuss the band’s doing all of the music for the show, the ‘stings’ and ‘bumpers’ that set the atmospheric soundscape.  Garcia left the meeting early, announcing that he voted yes.  Lesh was ‘adamantly opposed,’ recalled DeGuere, and the decision was made to proceed without him.

They set to work, and while their music was appropriate and effective, the deal’s business aspects were badly handled, dooming the project to continuous friction among all parties involved.  [Grateful Dead legal counsel] Hal Kant had delegated the negotiation of the arrangement with CBS to an associate, who didn’t know the Dead very well and produced a fairly standard contract.  The head of the music department at CBS [Robert Drasnin, presumably] didn’t like the deal, since he now had no control, which put Merl in the middle of both an unhappy CBS and the Dead.  Very quickly, Mickey Hart took the lead for the Dead in the studio, and proved to have a gift for sound design.  Just as they began, he went into the hospital for back surgery, and ordered that all the necessary equipment be set up in his room.  At first [road manager] Ram Rod vetoed this seeming insanity, but Mickey pleaded, ‘When I wake up, I want to go to work.’  The Demerol he’d gotten for his surgery proved to be aesthetically stimulating, and he produced music for the first four episodes from bed.”

The loss of Phil Lesh, the band member most closely linked to the musical avant-garde, is a notable one.

Composer, Robert Drasnin, as Variety noted in its obituary posted on May 15, 2105, would have a central role to play:

“While head of CBS’ music department in the 1980s, he worked with the Grateful Dead on music for the revived Twilight Zone series, along with scoring several episodes himself.”

Robert Hunter would later recall in his online journal entry for February 4, 2005:

“I’m still grateful that a steady salary for the two seasons The Zone ran
helped make the house payments and put food on the table for our family
of five back when the GD was staggering financially and I was set
running around the country doing low paying solo gigs to support us.
‘Touch of Grey’ was soon to solve that problem.”

Is it merely a coincidence that, just last month, a 1985 Twilight Zone contract between CBS Entertainment and The Grateful Dead — signed by all members of the band — would sell on Ebay for $29,470.70?Grateful Dead Twilight Zone contractIt is curious the extent to which The Twilight Zone ‘reboot’ is under-remembered, given the caliber of talent that went into not only the music but the writing and acting, as well — as pointed out in arts blog Delusions of Grandeur:

“Writers such as Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Jeremy Bertrand Finch, and Paul Chitlik wrote screenplays for the show.  It was directed by many different talents including Wes Craven and William Friedkin.  Many different mainstream stars made their appearance in the series including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Season Hubley, Morgan Freeman, Martin Landau, Jonathan Frakes, and Fred Savage.  The theme music was composed by Jerry Garcia and performed by The Grateful Dead.”

How funny to see the inclusion of a Grateful Dead track – “The New Twilight Zone” – on TV theme compilation Television’s Greatest Hits, Volume 6 from 1996.

Hooterollin Around music blog (an “appendix to Lost Live Dead“) writes a fascinating piece that draws many musical connections between Jerry Garcia and stalwart session guitarist, Howard Roberts, a musician who is best remembered for having played the original haunting Twilight Zone guitar riff.

Zero to 180 cannot close this piece without reminding everyone of that uncanny musical ‘Twilight Zone’ moment:  last July’s discovery of Germany’s The Dead-Heads, who released their debut single in 1966 — just one year after the The Grateful Dead’s official formation!

Grateful Dead (not) Twilight Zone pinballZero to 180’s Gallery of Grateful Dead 45 Picture Sleeves

Given the band’s famous disregard towards commerce, I thought it would be great ironic fun to pull together all of The Grateful Dead’s 7-inch picture sleeves from around the world.  Interesting to see domestic marketing efforts lag behind Warner Brothers’ international arm overseas, as the Dead would not see comparable investments on single releases, curiously enough, until the band’s tenure with Clive Davis’s Arista label, especially after the unexpected success with “Touch of Grey”:

Germany

Grateful Dead 45-Germany-aGrateful Dead 45-Germany-bGrateful Dead 45-Germany-cGrateful Dead 45-Germany-d

Japan

Grateful Dead 45-Japan-aGrateful Dead 45-Japan-bGrateful Dead 45-Japan-cGrateful Dead 45-Japan-dGrateful Dead 45-Japan-eGrateful Dead 45-Japan-fGrateful Dead 45-Japan-gGrateful Dead 45-Japan-h

United States

Grateful Dead 45-US-aGrateful Dead 45-US-bGrateful Dead 45-US-ccGrateful Dead 45-US-dGrateful Dead 45-US-e-promoGrateful Dead 45-US-fGrateful Dead 45-US-gGrateful Dead 45-US-heart

UK (1977)

Grateful Dead 45-UK-a (1977)Grateful Dead 45-UK-aa (1977)

France

Grateful Dead 45-France-aGrateful Dead 45-France-b

Netherlands

Grateful Dead 45-Netherlands-aaGrateful Dead 45-Netherlands-bbGrateful Dead 45-Netherlands-cc

Rear sleeve of German 45 “One More Saturday Night”:  Mini fold-up coffin!Grateful Dead 45-Germany-cc45 above references “neu” Jerry garcia solo 45 “Sugaree” / “Deal” (below)

Jerry Garcia 45-aJerry Garcia 45-bJerry Garcia 45-cJerry Garcia 45-cc

honorable mention:  Colombian EP from 1967

Grateful Dead EP-South Africa-aGrateful Dead EP-South Africa-b

This audio playback format was once considered state of the artGrateful Dead extended play cartridge

While the rare “Good Lovin'” US picture sleeve illustrated above can fetch $75 at auction, you might be surprised by the number of picture sleeves that go for three (and even four) figures.

Twilight Zone reference in this brilliant TV Guide/MTV spoof by Blair Jackson

GDTV - Grateful Dead TV

Larry Fast: Digital, Experimental

Tip of the hat to my old tennis partner and high school music rival. Ed Goldstein [he was in The Head Band with future “Smooth” songwriter, Itaal Shur, and one-time-bassist-for-Sleepy-Labeef-turned-sociology-professor, Adam Moskowitz, while I was in The Max, formerly Max & the Bluegills], who recently paid tribute to Peter Gabriel and late-70s Genesis as pivotal influences on his approach to percussion, with “Games Without Frontiers” leading the way as his favorite Gabriel track.

As music entered the ’80s, I remember how things got increasingly and disconcertedly digital — MIDI, disk drives, drum machines and the like — putting some of us analog-minded folks off, at least initially.  Not Ed, though, who helped serve as a bridge to fearful, reactionary types like me, whose old school heart will always yearn for analog-only devices, such as a Hammond organ with a rotating Leslie speaker, or a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer (my college roommate had one), or an Echoplex tape delay effects unit (sax man & friend, Bruce Batté, once had one), without which dub reggae would almost certainly have never been born.

                  Hammond B-3                                   red Walnut Leslie Speaker Cabinet

Hammond B-3Leslie speaker

Moog Taurus II Bass Pedal Synth                 Echoplex – Complete with Case

Moog Taurus Bass PedalsEchoplex - vintage

“Games Without Frontiers,” unsurprisingly, would be cited in a fun historical romp – “Ghosts in the Machine:  The Most Important Drum Machines in Music History” – which begins in 1959 with Wurlitzer’s built-in percussion sidekick, the Side Man.  Peter Gabriel, as it turns out, utilized a Linn Drum predecessor I was not aware of until now – PAiA – that enjoys the distinction of being the “first programmable drum machine in history,” having been introduced to the marketplace in 1975.

Frustratingly, that information is not spelled out in the otherwise detailed credits captured on Discogs for the UK edition of Peter Gabriel’s third album from 1978.   Did Gabriel himself do the drum programming vs. Jerry Marotta & Phil Collins, the drummers listed on the track?  We do know, however, that Gabriel and Larry Fast both did some programming with respect to synthesizers, such as “Games Without Frontiers,” on which both musicians programmed synth bass lines (one of which I initially assumed to be Tony Levin playing a Chapman Stick).

Larry Fast LPSoon after playing bagpipes on the album’s concluding track “Biko,” Larry Fast — under the name Synergy — would issue his fourth long-playing release Games, an “all electronic production” that, like his three previous efforts, would be produced, engineered and programmed by Fast himself.   Released in 1979, Games is an instrumental song cycle that some might deem “experimental, ambient” (Discogs) and challenging at times but is hard to categorize given the dynamics and dramatic shifts in mood and intensity, as demonstrated on six-minute composition “Delta Four:

“Delta Four”     Synergy     1979

From the liner notes courtesy of Discogs:

Digital synthesis realized using the digital synthesizer at Bell Laboratories – Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Mixed at House of Music June and July 1979 by Larry Fast except Delta One which was mixed by Charlie Conrad & Larry Fast.  Mastered by Robert Ludwig, Masterdisk, NYC.

Digital synthesizer computer programming by Greg Sims.  Equipment used on this production manufactured by — Moog Music Inc.; Oberheim Electronics; Sequential Circuits; Paia Electronics; 360 Systems; Musitronics; MXR; DBX; MCI; Eventide Clockworks; Sony; Teac-Tascam; EMT; The Synergy System; Apple Computer Corp.; Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer; Deltalab Research.

Soundcheck:  “Delta 3” [parts A-F] developed from themes written during soundchecks on the August to December 1978 Peter Gabriel Tour.  “Delta Two” themes are remnants of 1974’s electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra writing sessions.  “Delta Four” is a surviving digital synthesizer sequencer program experiment combined with some advanced tape loops.  “Delta One” is an experiment fusing the pop and electronic vocabularies of turn of the decade composition.

Electronic music pioneer & Occasional Bagpipist – Larry Fast

Larry FastIn a 2004 interview, Larry Fast would have a lot to say about the experience of the album:

“Games was the first encounter on a Synergy album with digital synthesis and to some degree, digital recording.  It was done under laboratory conditions at Bell Labs, which was then the crown jewel of the AT&T Research Lab.  It’s still there [or is it?], but it’s now part of the crown jewels of Lucent.  AT&T was the telephone company—Ma Bell—back then and had lots of wonderful “blue sky” research going on in computers, audio and various other technologies.  They would fund these things thinking—and rightfully so—that at some point, something would surface out of these free thinking projects that might be beneficial to the phone company.  They don’t do that so much anymore.  At that time, there wasn’t any real competition in the phone business.  Now, it’s very cutthroat.  However, at that time, one of their great, shining lights was Max Matthews, one of the pioneers of computer music and electronic music, at the academic and theoretical level. One of his departments was speech and synthesis.  They were exploring several areas of synthesizers, speech and vocals, which could be made into singing.  He had worked on one project as early as 1976 that incorporated aspects of that.

By 1978, they had some of the very earliest digital synthesizers, running essentially as software, with some concurrent specialized hardware they had built on minicomputers.  They were just mind-boggling to me after struggling to extract sounds from the Moog, Oberheim and related instruments I had been working with in the analog world.  This was positively world changing.  Again, like any technology at the beginning, it was a little tedious and difficult to control. I was just getting my feet wet, but there were a few passages recorded at Bell Labs that found their way onto the Games record.  The passages were enhanced with some of the analog synthesizers to flesh out the arrangements.  It was a very eye opening experience.  It set part of the tone for the album.  The other aspect of Games it that I was on the road a lot with the Peter Gabriel band and recording with them as well.  It meant that some of the writing was done on the road, captured on small cassette recorders and lots of scribbled-down notes.  It was the first album where I hadn’t set aside a block of time in my composer’s studio to write.  It was a different approach.”

Is it ironic that this digital work was issued on 8 TRACK?

Larry Fast 8 trackEd Goldstein’s current percussion philosophies are being carried out through Big Car Jack.

Big Car Jack-xThis piece, by the way, is not Zero to 180’s first reference to bagpipes in popular music — sorry Ed, I’m not referring to AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” but rather “Reggae Bagpipes“!

Abstract Interjection!  This is the 4th Zero to 180 piece tagged as “Experimental Pop

“Chef d’Oeuvre”: Negative Radio Plays?

I am reading the memoir of music industry legend, Bob Thiele — producer at Coral Records who “discovered” Buddy Holly and would later work with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, Joe Turner, Otis Spann, Gil Scott-Heron, and BernardPrettyPurdie & the Playboys, among many other artists.

Funny Thiele didn’t mention having produced Jon Appleton‘s (highly) experimental album.  The fact that “Chef D’Oeuvre” was released as a 45 delights me to no end:

“Chef d’Oeuvre”     Jon Appleton     1969

Be sure to listen for the stereophonic loop of a Chef Boyardee jingle – a recurring motif.

45Cat’s Harvestman Man humorously observes:  “If it’s possible for a record to actually get a negative number of plays on the radio, this would be a likely candidate … it is that weird.”

Appleton 45

Thanks to Vintage Vinyl Revival for the liner notes to Appleton Syntonic Menagerie from which I take this excerpt:

“Labels, categories, boundary lines – the neat classifications separating musical experiences – are dissolving rapidly.  Young musicians and listeners, brought up in a “global village” because of the pervasiveness of television, recordings, and transistor radios, refuse to be compressed by past conventions.  The popular music of the present is, for example, a continually changing fusion of rock, country and wester, blues, Indian influenes, echoes of Appalachian ballads, jazz, rhythm and blues, and many other elements.

“Simultaneously, young composers – who, in another time, would have been called “classical” composers – are also probing, discovering, and transcending territorial markings of the past. Jon Howard Appleton, for example.  Since 1967, he has been Director of the Electronic Music Studio at Dartmouth, where he is also Assistant Professor of Music.  [This] The first album of his work – on Flying Dutchman – reveals the open-ended scope and resourcefulness of the new music as well as Appleton’s inventive singularity.”

Appleton would release one more LP for Flying Dutchman – a collaboration with Don Cherry, father of Neneh.

“Countryside”: Jim Henson’s Word Jazz

Would love to know how Jim Henson, so early in his career, was able to get Frank Sinatra to conduct the orchestra backing him on his first single, a playful word jazz piece entitled, “The Countryside:

Jim Henson’s first (and only) 45 – released January, 1960

“Tick-Tock-Sick”, the B-Side, would seem to presage Henson’s Academy Award-nominated experimental short film 5 years later, Time Piece, a surreal and bizarre  stream-of-consciousness meditation on what just might be the fourth dimension:

I was rather taken by Henson’s Time Piece when I first viewed it several years ago at the Smithsonian and was surprised to find how “bold” and “fresh” (including those parts that might not be wholly suitable for young children) this film still is.  At one time I was able to find the entire work online, but it would appear that only a small excerpt is what folks can view freely on YouTube.  Says the Museum of the Moving Image:

“In 1965, Jim Henson made Time Piece, an experimental nine-minute short film that tells what he called ‘the story of Everyman, frustrated by the typical tasks of a typical day.’  The film opens with a man—played by Henson—in a hospital bed.  A doctor takes his pulse.  The pulse turns into a drumbeat, which becomes the percussive soundtrack for the film, in a syncopated score created by Don Sebesky.  Through a series of jump cuts, we follow the man as he walks through city streets, then suburban streets, and then the jungle.  Playfully surreal sequences are bridged by short passages of stop-motion animation.  As Henson described his filmmaking goals:  ‘In Time Piece I was playing with a kind of flow of consciousness form of editing, where the image took you to another image, and there was no logic to it but your mind put it together.’  While the film retains his trademark sense of humor, it is also a bold example of nonlinear editing.

Time Piece played for a year at the Paris Theatre in Manhattan, along with the French art-house hit A Man and a Woman.  Henson’s film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film.  It remains fresh today as both a time capsule of 1960s experimental filmmaking, and as a brilliantly conceived and edited example of Henson’s creativity.”

Zero to 180:  Approaching the Two-Year Mark

Nearly one year ago Zero to 180 celebrated its one-year anniversary with a special “Howard Dean” remix of a Muppet-related release, “Mad” by Little Jerry & the Monotones.  Click here to link to this exclusive muppet remix that is accompanied by a brief essay – “Zero to 180:  Not Yet Potty Trained” – that humorously recounts the tragic math surrounding the blog’s original date of launch:  12/12/12.

“Ah A”: Spookily Foreshadows a-Ha

Video for Barnes & Barnes‘s strangely unsettling though oddly entrancing, “Ah A:

That’s actor, Bill Paxton, by the way, making a head-squeezing cameo at video’s end.

In a curious bit of timing, this album track from 1984 Rhino LP, Amazing Adult Fantasy, presaged the following year’s massive MTV hit by Norwegian popsters, a-Ha, “Take on Me” — a song that most unexpectedly found itself adopted as an unofficial anthem of sorts for baseball’s Washington Nationals.

“Cindy Electronium”: Shockingly Futuristic

Hard to believe this piece of music was made in 1959 – sounds quite contemporary to me:

YouTube comments are almost universal in declaring Raymond Scott to be ahead of his time, with many remarking upon this recording’s resemblance to “chiptune” or “8 bit” (i.e., video game) music of the 1970s & 80s.  Thanks to MSN Entertainment for the back story:

“Of all of Scott’s accomplishments of 1949, however, none was more important than the Electronium, one of the first synthesizers ever created.  An “instantaneous composing machine,” the Electronium generated original music via random sequences of tones, rhythms, and timbres.  Scott himself denied it was a prototype synthesizer — it had no keyboard — but as one of the first machines to create music by means of artificial intelligence, its importance in pointing the way toward the electronic compositions of the future is undeniable.  His other inventions included the “Karloff,” an early sampler capable of re-creating sounds ranging from sizzling steaks to jungle drums; the Clavinox, a keyboard Theremin complete with an electronic sub-assembly designed by a then 23-year-old Robert Moog; and the Videola, which fused together a keyboard and a TV screen to aid in composing music for films and other moving images.”

ElectroniumWhat’s interesting is that if you pull up Raymond Scott’s works from Discogs’ database, you will see very few commercial recordings released in his lifetime – “Cindy Electronium” not being one of them.

Those interested in Raymond Scott’s work might well want to seek out 2-CD compilation, Manhattan Research (named for Scott’s own audio laboratory) — says Wikipedia:

“The material, while never intended for commercial release, provides insight into Scott’s work.  Included among the tracks on the album are commercials for companies such as Ford Motor and IBM, a humorous “Audio Logo” collage entitled, “Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night!,” and various collaborations with Jim Henson.   The album features a number of Scott’s inventions including the Clavivox keyboard, Circle Machine, Bass Line Generator, Rhythm Modulator, Karloff, Bandito the Bongo Artist, and the auto-composing Electronium.”