Blaine L. Reininger: An American Friend

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Blaine L. Reininger, Tuxedomoon co-founder, singer, violinist and composer, is profiled in this 50-minute documentary made by George Skevas for Paraskinio, a Greek television series. Tuxedomoon have long been popular in Europe, and seem to have struck a particular chord in Greece. These days Reininger is something of a star over there, a fact which surprises him still but which has no doubt helped with Tuxedomoon’s fortunes in recent years.

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Skevas’s film comprises a long biographical interview with Reininger, relating his progress from childhood in Colorado, and the formation of Tuxedomoon in San Francisco, to the group’s inadvertent exile in Europe. There a wealth of historical film footage throughout, some of which is familiar from the official Tuxedomoon DVDs but other clips are exclusive to this programme. Among the notable pieces for me were a glimpse of Winston Tong’s pre-Tuxedomoon puppet performances, a performance by the band on Andy Warhol’s Interview TV show, and shots of the recording of the Desire album in London. Few bands from the 1970s have been this diligent in documenting their activities on film and video. In addition to discovering why Reininger’s first solo album is called Broken Fingers, you also get to see some scenes from the Ghost Sonata film/performance, an ambitious project that I’d known about for years but didn’t get to see until it was released on the 30th anniversary box set in 2007.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tuxedomoon: some queer connections
Made To Measure
Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon
Tuxedomoon on La Edad de Oro, 1983
Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques
Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon

Made To Measure

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When you’ve sated yourself on a group’s back catalogue there’s always the solo albums. In the case of Tuxedomoon there are a number of these to choose from, thanks to several of the band members being both multi-instrumentalists and talented songwriters. Some of the more offbeat solo outings may be found among the albums released as part of the Made To Measure series, an offshoot of the excellent Belgian record label, Crammed Discs. Crammed have been Tuxedomoon’s label for some time, and seem increasingly unique in a world where independent labels tend to cater to narrow genres and small, select audiences. Crammed’s roster of artists is extremely eclectic, ranging from the expected Euro-pop and dance releases to a wide range of traditional and contemporary music from around the world.

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Made To Measure Vol. 1 (1984). Painting by Fernand Steven.

From 1984 to 1994 the Made To Measure series released over 30 albums that represent the more esoteric side of an already fairly esoteric label. All of the early releases were numbered, and Tuxedomoon happen to be on the first release, Made To Measure Vol. 1, together with Minimal Compact, Benjamin Lew, and Aksak Maboul. The series title refers to all of the music being “made to measure” some pre-existing work—film, theatre, dance performance, etc—although some of the later releases were simply an excuse to put out new music by an established Crammed artist. In addition to the first release, Tuxedomoon members Blaine L. Reininger, Peter Principle and Steven Brown were regular contributors to subsequent albums. Two of the Steven Brown albums, A Propos D’Un Paysage (MTM 15, 1985) and Douzième Journée: Le Verbe, La Parure, L’Amour (MTM 16, 1988) are marvellous instrumental collaborations with Benjamin Lew that are very different in tone to Tuxedomoon but well worth seeking out. Brown also recorded a soundtrack album, De Doute Et De Grace (MTM 22, 1990), with readings by actress Delphine Seyrig. The series has been discontinued in recent years but the MTM numbering was resurrected for the latest Tuxedomoon album, Pink Narcissus, which is MTM 39.

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Desert Equations: Azax Attra (1986). Photography by Georg Gerster.

I’ve still not heard all of the Made To Measure series, and I don’t like everything I have heard—I have to be in the mood for Hector Zazou’s quirkier moments. Aside from those mentioned above, the notable releases for me would include Desert Equations: Azax Attra (MTM 8, 1986) by Sussan Deyhim (here credited as Deihim) & Richard Horowitz, an album that led me to acquire almost everything Sussan Deyhim has recorded; If Windows They Have (MTM 13, 1986) by Daniel Schell & Karo; Nekonotopia Nekonomania (MTM 29, 1990) by Seigen Ono; Water (MTM 31, 1992) by David Cunningham; Sahara Blue (MTM 32, 1993) by Hector Zazou; Glyph (MTM 37, 1995) by Harold Budd & Hector Zazou. Sahara Blue exemplifies in miniature the eclecticism of Crammed Discs, being a tribute to Arthur Rimbaud featuring (among others) John Cale, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Gérard Depardieu, Khaled, David Sylvian, Bill Laswell, Lisa Gerrard, Sussan Deyhim and Tim Simenon.

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For those wishing to explore further without shelling out on mysterious, unknown quantities, I’d recommend The Made To Measure Résumé (1987), a compilation of tracks from the first 16 MTM releases, and an ideal introduction to the series.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon
Tuxedomoon on La Edad de Oro, 1983
Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques
Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon

Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon

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Subterranean Modern (1979). Sleeve art by Gary Panter.

As often happens, one post leads to another, and the next thing you know there’s a themed week happening, so here’s something more about Tuxedomoon. Subterranean Modern was a compilation album released by The Residents on their Ralph Records label in 1979. The idea was to showcase The Residents along with three other groups from contemporary San Francisco, all of whom were underground acts, hence the “subterranean” title. Three of those groups—Chrome, Tuxedomoon, The Residents themselves—have since developed cult followings; hard-rock outfit MX-80 Sound seem a little ordinary and out-of-place in this unique company but then that’s the nature of the compilation album. The Residents wanted each group to provide an interpretation of I Left My Heart In San Francisco but none of the others were very interested; Chrome’s offering, which lasts all of 27 seconds, is hilariously contemptuous of the idea, a squall of riff and vocals that fades in then quickly fades away. Cartoonist Gary Panter illustrated the cover which is also given the Rozz Tox seal of approval. For more about Rozz Tox, whose enigmatic presence can be found on other Ralph Records releases, see this.

I’d already heard Chrome and The Residents when I bought Subterranean Modern but this was first place I encountered Tuxedomoon’s music. Chrome, who appear on the back cover wearing their Clockwork Orange droog outfits, contribute two tracks that are as good as anything on their early records, Anti-Fade and the chugging Meet You In The Subway for which they made a video filmed on the city’s BART platforms. I listened to those tracks, and the Tuxedomoon ones, much more than the rest of the album. With the exception of the pieces by MX-80 Sound, everything on the album has since been reissued on other compilations (Tuxedomoon’s tracks are on the Pinheads On The Move collection).

The following is a two-page feature about the album and the four bands from the NME for 17th November, 1979. I don’t know whether this was Tuxedomoon’s first UK interview but it says it’s the first interview given by Chrome which gives it some vague contemporary relevance. Helios Creed recently re-formed Chrome, and played a show in London earlier this month. There’s also a new Chrome album, although for me Chrome proper requires Damon Edge, and he died in 1995. (Thanks to Gav for saving the pages!)

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I LEFT MY ART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Checking out the West Coast’s Avant Garde by Michael Goldberg

ralph.jpgSAN FRANCISCO—The true avant-garde is never accepted, barely tolerated. The public has no use for ideas which challenge society’s preconceptions.

Certainly the outright hatred which was heaped on The New York Dolls and, later, The Ramones and Sex Pistols—all groups who spat on the status quo of their times—attests to the difficulty of pushing a radical concept on the public. And those groups were merely returning to the basic, raw values which great rock and roll has always maintained.

So imagine the difficulty of developing and maintaining a style of music which has little, if any, solid tradition to fall back on. In San Francisco, a city where the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship and Steve Miller can sell out the largest of stadiums, an avant-garde underground has been hanging on, etching out the meagrest of niches so that it can continue a dogged pursuit of rock experimentation.

Carrying the torch for “outre” music is San Francisco’s Residents and their parent companies, Ralph Records and the nebulous Cryptic Corporation. For nine long years, the Residents have relentlessly persisted, bowing to no one as they explore a sonic universe of their own devising.

In the wake of The Residents’ relative success—though the group is still practically unknown in their hometown, they have been received by a rather large cult spread out across the U.S. and Europe—other equally unique and esoteric groups have been attracted to San Francisco.

Realising that there is strength in numbers, Ralph Records gathered together three of the most uncompromising bands in San Francisco (and possibly on the West Coast): Chrome (with roots in L.A.), MX-80 Sound (who migrated from Bloomington, Indiana, last year), and Tuxedomoon (whose core members came from Denver, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois), and convinced them to join The Residents (originally from Shreveport, Louisiana) in a joint project. The project is a compilation album, Subterranean Modern (Ralph).

Continue reading “Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon”

Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques

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Scream With A View 12″ EP (1979) by Tuxedomoon. Design credited to Belfer/Roques.

I’m pursuing a Tuxedomoon obsession at the moment so this gives me the opportunity to examine some of the group’s early record sleeves, all of which are designed by Patrick Roques. Tuxedomoon are an American group, and their early releases were on The Residents’ Ralph Records label which is where they first encountered Roques. When the group later decamped to Europe and began releasing material on a variety of European labels they still commissioned Roques for their cover designs.

Many of the independent labels of the late 70s and early 80s have been over-examined when it comes to graphic design but I’ve yet to see anything written about Ralph Records. On the Residents albums in particular the label established their own very distinctive brand of bold graphics and cartoony illustration (Gary Panter worked on some of the sleeves). Patrick Roques’ designs are less eccentric than those on The Residents’ covers, such an approach wouldn’t have suited Tuxedomoon’s music. His designs for the group are closer to the styles seen among the independent labels in the UK which is one reason I find them attractive. The following represents a small and very selective fraction of Roques’ work as a designer.

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Half-Mute (1980) by Tuxedomoon.

The first Tuxedomoon album.

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Dark Companion / 59 To 1 Remix (1980) by Tuxedomoon. Photography by Mark Sangerman.

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What Use? (front, 1980) by Tuxedomoon.

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What Use? (back, 1980) by Tuxedomoon.

Continue reading “Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques”