The Gamelatron

gamelatron.jpg

The Gamelatron at Galapagos Art Space March 2009. Photo by Gisella Sorrentino.

A laptop-controlled gamelan orchestra by Zemi17 aka A. Taylor Kuffner. See it in operation here. (Is it Gamelatron or GamelaTron? Their spellings differ…)

The GamelaTron is the fruit of a collaboration between The League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) and the composer Zemi17: A. Taylor Kuffner.

Modeled after traditional Balinese and Javanese gamelan orchestras, the GamelaTron is an amalgamation of traditional instruments with a suite of percussive sound makers. MIDI sequences control 117 robotic striking mechanisms that produce intricately woven and rhythmic sound. Performances follow an arc similar to classic Indonesian gatherings, where stories from great epics, such as the Ramayana, are told and settings given in words that are continued in music.

Sounds overly-mechanical to my ears but then that’s probably inevitable given the way the instruments are being controlled. The classic Nonesuch Explorer recordings of Javanese and Balinese gamelan orchestras follow less rigid rhythmic patterns. And being recorded outdoors the Indonesian music is augmented by background atmospheres from birds and insects.

For more variations on the gamelan theme, there’s 23 Skidoo’s Urban Gamelan album (recently reissued) and the many chiming electronic exercises by Paul Schütze.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Paul Schütze online
Metronomes
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures
The Reactable
The Ondes Martenot

Aleister Crowley on vinyl

ac1.jpgThe appearance of occultist Aleister Crowley on the sleeve of Sgt Pepper is well-documented—here he is looking rather grainy on my CD insert—although I always forget which of the Beatles it was who put him in the list of “people that we like”. I’d guess John Lennon who would have appreciated Crowley’s obscene poetry, copious drug intake and ability to consistently épater la bourgeoisie.

Less well-known is what I presume must be the first outing for Crowley’s voice on this rare undated single from the mid-Seventies. Along with the cassette tapes I discussed earlier, this was another item turned up during a recent clearout of household junk. I’ve yet to see a detailed description of the origin of these Crowley recordings. I have the first CD pressing and haven’t looked at later editions so can’t say whether those contain more information about what are supposed to be wax cylinder recordings copied to acetates. The first complete collection of these was a vinyl release produced by David Tibet in a limited edition in 1986. I was among those that ordered a copy.

ac4.jpg

The Marabo single features two of the same recordings, of course, albeit in slightly poorer quality. (And I love the way it has a removable centre, as though it might well end up in a jukebox.) One feature of the continual reissuing of the recordings is that sound quality has improved over the years. The versions of The Pentagram and La Gitana on YouTube sound better than the ones on my CD. The occult resonance of Crowley’s voice (which always reminds me of Winston Churchill) have inevitably made it a popular sampling source. In the pre-sampling era 23 Skidoo and Psychic TV (both with David Tibet) used loops of the Enochian Calls. Bill Laswell later took to using samples on his ambient releases and the most recent CD version includes an entire disc of ambience with Crowley’s voice subjected to digital processing.

ac2.jpg

The sleeve art was by Steffi Grant, occultist wife of occultist Kenneth Grant, and it’s possible the pair sing backing vocals on the less-than-compelling B-side, a soft rock number entitled Scarlet Woman by Chakra. The song is credited to “Ponton/Ayers/Grant/Magee” so even if one or other of the Grants didn’t sing they helped with the lyrics. It should be noted that Mrs Grant’s artwork is often better than these illustrations and does much to enliven her husband’s volumes of occult philosophy. Some of their work was also featured in the seven-volume encyclopedia, Man, Myth and Magic, which featured Kenneth among the staff of consultants.

ac3.jpg

Before anyone asks: no, the single isn’t for sale. I’ve sold a lot of old vinyl over the past few years but I’m keeping this particular item. I know a couple of unreleased recordings by Chakra exist; if anyone has further information about the group, please leave a comment.

Update: Jok posted a link which resolves the mystery. It was indeed Kenneth Grant on backing vocals.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Old music and old technology
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995
Austin Osman Spare

Another playlist for Halloween

bauhaus.jpg

A follow-up to last year’s list. Seeing as Joy Division are very much in the news at the moment with the release of Control and the re-issue of the albums, I thought a post-punk theme would be appropriate. The period which immediately followed punk in the late Seventies saw a lot of doom being imported into what was then still a proper alternative to the mainstream of popular music. This trend quickly ossified into the distinct and far less adventurous genres of goth and post Throbbing Gristle/Cabaret Voltaire industrial but between 1978 and 1982 everything was in a state of fascinating flux.

Hamburger Lady (1978) by Throbbing Gristle.
TG’s heart-warming ode to a burns victim.

6am (1979) by Thomas Leer & Robert Rental.
Leer and Rental’s The Bridge album was originally one of the few none-Throbbing Gristle releases on TG’s Industrial label, one half songs, the other moody electronic instrumentals. 6am perfectly conjures a picture of empty streets at dawn and sounds like a precursor of Ennio Morricone’s score for The Thing.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead (1979) by Bauhaus.
The first Bauhaus single and the only song of theirs I liked. Put to great use at the beginning of the otherwise pretty risible The Hunger.

Day Of The Lords (1979) by Joy Division.
If anything shows that Ian Curtis was a Romantic in the 19th century sense, it’s this grandiose wallow in the atrocities of history. “Where will it end?”

James Whale (1980) by Tuxedomoon.
Church bells toll and a lonely violin shrieks for the director of the Universal Frankenstein films.

Halloween (1981) by Siouxsie & the Banshees.
With a title like that, how could it not be included here?

Goo Goo Muck (1981) by The Cramps.
Always superior collagists of rockabilly weirdness and early garage riffs, The Cramps started out in the horror camp (“camp” being a big part of their act) with the Gravest Hits EP. Goo Goo Muck was a cover of a great single by (I kid not) Ronnie Cook & the Gaylads. “When the sun goes down and the moon comes up / I turn into a teenage goo goo muck.”

Raising The Count (1981) by Cabaret Voltaire.
An obscure moment of resurrection originally on the Rough Trade C81 cassette compilation from the NME.

Gregouka (1982) by 23 Skidoo.
Gregorian monks meet Moroccan pipes and drums with the result sounding like a voodoo ceremony taking place in cathedral catacombs.

The Litanies Of Satan (1982) by Diamanda Galás.
The formidable Ms Galás was part of last year’s list and her first album is just as hair-raising as her later works. The second part is the marvellously titled Wild Women With Steak-knives (The Homicidal Love Song For Solo Scream).

Happy Halloween!

Previously on { feuilleton }
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode
The Séance at Hobs Lane
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box

The Final Academy

final_academy.jpg

The event booklet, designed by Neville Brody.

William Burroughs’ reading in the city of Manchester took place on the 4th of October, 1982, at Factory Records’ Haçienda club, as part of the Manchester “edition” of The Final Academy, a Burroughs-themed art event put together by Psychic TV (Genesis P Orridge & Peter Christopherson) and others. A recent posting on the Grey Lodge is a torrent of The Final Academy Documents, the shoddily-produced DVD made from the low-grade video recordings that captured the event (originally an Ikon Video production from Factory). The DVD is so badly presented by Cherry Red that no one should feel guilty about downloading this.

I’ve always been grateful that a record was made of this event, however poor, since I was in the audience that evening, very conscious of the fact that this was my one and only opportunity to see Burroughs in the flesh. His appearance was the magical part of a scaled-down version of the larger two-day Final Academy that had taken place earlier that week in London. The rest of the event was either strange or underwhelming, not helped by the chilly and elitist atmosphere of Manchester’s newest and most famous club. In the days before “Madchester” and the rave scene (the period that gets excised from the city’s cultural history), the Haçienda was a cold, grey concrete barn with terrible acoustics and a members-only policy that required the flourishing of a Peter Saville-designed card at the door. The place was usually half-empty and the clientèle tended to be students living nearby.

Continue reading “The Final Academy”

Neville Brody and Fetish Records

skidoo.jpg

Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo, FM 2008, 1982.

Since I made a post earlier about bad album design, it’s only right to redress the balance somewhat. Neville Brody has long been a favourite designer and something of an influence since it was looking at his work during the 1980s that made me think seriously about design when I’d previously had little interest in the field.

mallinder.jpg

Pow-wow by Stephen Mallinder, FM 2010, 1982.

The record sleeves Brody produced for Fetish Records from 1980–82 are great examples of post punk style that showcase his particularly individual approach to design. This involved much use of hand-crafted elements, whether painted, printed, cast or carved. (In the days before computer design everything had to be pasted together from paper cut-outs, film overlays or PMT [photo-mechanical transfer] prints, with type provided by a professional typesetter.) Some of the Fetish sleeves used three-dimensional work that was then photographed, such as the wooden carvings or plaster hands on the 23 Skidoo sleeves. This approach might have provided a new direction for other sleeve designers but was quickly passed over as the decade progressed in favour of a weak pastiching of Modernist styles and the cultivation of a slick corporatism, much of it watered-down from Brody’s highly influential innovations for The Face magazine.

eight_eyed.jpg

8 Eyed Spy by 8 Eyed Spy, FR 2003, 1981.

Brody has said of the Fetish period:

The musicians on Fetish were also totally open to the idea of me working under my own steam; there has been such a shift in this respect—most groups now take a much bigger hand in design which does not necessarily make for a better cover.

The Graphic Language of Neville Brody, 1988.

The situation is just as bad, if not worse, today. The open-ended nature of digital art has created a situation whereby a given design can be subject to endless revision merely because the client knows that the technology allows changes to be made.

Brody continues to work as a designer even though he’s less visible now, heading his own Research Studios.

diddy.jpg

Diddy Wah Diddy by 8 Eyed Spy, FE 19, 1980.

wipe_out.jpg

Wipe Out by Z’ev, FE 13, 1982.

mallinder2.jpg

Pow-wow by Stephen Mallinder, FM 2010, 1982.

mallinder.jpg

Temperature Drop by Stephen Mallinder, FE 12, 1981.

five_albums.jpg

Five Albums by Throbbing Gristle, FUX 001, 1981.

tetras.jpg

Things That Go Boom In The Night by Bush Tetras, FET 007, 1981.

thirst.jpg

Thirst by Clock DVA, FR2002, 1981.

gospel.jpg

The Gospel Comes To New Guinea by 23 Skidoo, FE 11, 1981.
(This is actually the cover of a CD compilation which somehow gained
three circles that weren’t on the original sleeve.)

bongos.jpg

Zebra Club by The Bongos, FE 17, 1982.

mambo_sun.jpg

Mambo Sun by The Bongos, FE 18, 1982.

testament.jpg

The Last Testament, Various Artists, FR 2011, 1983.

Update: added a couple more sleeves (Bush Tetras and Clock DVA). Since there’s little information about the record company available, I’ve also added Jon Savage’s sleeve note from The Last Testament (1983), the final Fetish release and a compilation which acted as a celebration and epitaph for the label.

I’D IMAGINE IT TO BE SYMPTOMATIC that the word Fetish should have changed in the middle to late 70s, from being a slogan on an obscure Mail Art T Shirt to becoming the tradename of an internationally renowned record label—Maida Vale’s own ‘Home of the Hits’—but that’s showbiz.

AS WAS PRACTISED FOR A BRIEF TIME: Fetish now appears a product of a particular period when the separate streams of pop and avant-garde—the difference being in self-estimation as much as anything else—were thought expedient, cool and all those things, to crossover. In practice, this tended to mean press coverage disproportionate to sales, plenty of amusing attitudes struck, and streams of ill-advised people like myself being persuaded to view such artistes as are on offer here in dark and dingy basements. These last would always give the lie to pop’s brave new world pretensions.

IN THIS PULSATING SCENE, Fetish represented an opportune, if haphazard, meeting of New York, Sheffield, and Hackney. All of these spots have been glamourised to a greater or lesser degree, so you would have thought that this brand name was onto a winner. It is, however, an undoubted sign of human perversity that Fetish’s greatest success was to occur at the point when mogul Rod Pearce was shutting up shop: in early 1982, 23 Skidoo’s ‘Seven Songs’, produced by noted noisemakers Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson, became NUMBER 1 in the indie charts. Phew! Luckily, insufficient interest combined with too much time spent promoting the Bongos meant that this incredible success was nipped in the bud: disheartened at rock ‘n’ roll’s indifference, Pearcey announced that Fetish was to cease operating. People in polytechnics wept.

MAY I NOW IMAGINE YOU holding what I hope will be a beautifully designed sleeve (although you never can tell) and wondering why you should part with the money? (And, as they used to say, if you’re not going to, please don’t leave fingermarks all over Neville Brody’s labour of love). Apart from all the usual ‘unreleased’ and ‘live tracks’ sales points, you will own 12 tracks from a brief, hothouse period, a temporary delay in the long slide from the Sex Pistols to ABC. You will find preoccupations of the times faithfully represented: the full flowering of ‘industrial’, mature works from your favourite New York noisemakers, and the first UK meshing of punk and funk

1980! 1981! THOSE WERE THE DAYS! Those heady days of idealism are over. The fragile dividing line between art and commerce which Fetish represented has now shattered: Rod Pearce and Perry Haines are now prostituting themselves with King, Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson with Psychic TV, Adi Newton with DVA, and Neville Brody with the Face. I too, am deeply implicated, having sold my soul similarly to PTV and the Face. How worlds change! Isn’t life tough?

JON SAVAGE

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive