The genius of Captain Beefheart

beefheart.jpg

Mission: unlistenable
His music is described as a metal sock, an action painting and a mad, giant watch—yet it has inspired bands from Talking Heads to the White Stripes. John Harris gets to grips with Captain Beefheart

John Harris
Friday August 4, 2006
The Guardian

IN THE 1980s, American researchers found that the average album was played 1.6 times. Given the new practice of impatiently scouring a CD for one or two highlights and then discarding it, the iPod age has presumably seen that figure tumble, but the basic point remains: most of the music we buy lies pretty much unplayed – either because it is rubbish, or because it says a lot more about our vanity than what we actually like. On the latter score, history’s most shining example may be Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, an allegedly classic album that must surely sit undisturbed in thousands of households. Playing it—or rather, attempting to—is a bit like being in one of those cartoons in which the principal characters cagily open a door, only to find all hell – elephants, possibly, or a speeding train – breaking loose behind it, whereupon they slam it shut again. Its opening moments let you know what you’re in for: a discordant racket, all biscuit-tin drums and guitars that alternately clang and squall, eventually joined—apparently by accident—by a growling man complaining that he “cannot go back to your land of gloom”. Skipping through the remaining 27 tracks does not throw up anything much more uplifting. Indeed, one song finds the same voice rather distastefully evoking the Holocaust: “Dachau blues, those poor Jews/ Dachau blues, those poor Jews/ One mad man, six million lose.”

When this kind of experience happens to a rock critic, it can easily bring on a chill feeling of inadequacy. After all, Beefheart—those in the know rarely use the “Captain”—remains a gigantic influence on so much rock music that has claimed to stand as something more than mere entertainment, from the post-punk likes of Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, Gang of Four and Public Image Limited, through names as varied as Tom Waits and Happy Mondays, and on to such talents as PJ Harvey, Franz Ferdinand and the White Stripes. Equally importantly, he is a crucial part of the gnomic culture through which those people (men, mostly) whose lives have been hopelessly afflicted by music commune with one another. It’s not in the film, but the Jack Black character in High Fidelity was surely a Beefheart obsessive.

Continues here.

Wyatting

These are people after my own heart as this is something I’ve been doing for years with jukeboxes. Usually the challenge was to find the weirdest thing in the whole selection of records which would often be a B-side of some sort. “Wyatting” seems a rather unfair name for something that’s annoying people (although if it’s going to be named something it may as well be after the wonderful Robert). If it’s irritation you want then “Merzbowing” (see below) would seem more apt, not least because of its relation to the Dada works of Kurt Schwitters.

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Wyatting (vb): when jukeboxes go mad by Ned Beauman

Just as the best way to judge an adult is by his or her record collection, the best way to judge a pub is by the albums on its jukebox. Or it was, until the 21st-century caught up with the noisy machine in the corner. There are now nearly 2,000 internet-connected jukeboxes in the UK, each of which can access as many as 2m tracks – and with them has come Wyatting, which is either a fearless act of situationist cultural warfare or a nauseatingly snobbish prank, depending on who you ask.

The phenomenon was first identified in the New York Times by Wendy McClure. She was in a grimy rock bar when someone pulled up Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, which consists of a single distant piano phrase repeated for more than an hour, and found herself too mesmerised to leave. “Imagine replacing the brass cylinder in a music box with a Möbius strip made from nerve endings,” she wrote. The rest of the bar’s patrons , however, were soon in revolt.

This wasn’t to be an isolated incident. After music critic Simon Reynolds linked to McClure’s article on his weblog, several of his readers wrote in to confess that this is a game they regularly play. Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London, coined the term “Wyatting” because sticking on Dondestan, the 1991 avant-garde jazz-rock LP by ex-Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt, is the perfect way to disrupt a busy Friday night in a high street pub. Other favourites are free-jazz clarinetist Evan Parker and surrealist Japanese noise producer Merzbow. In theoretical terms, Wyatting has been explained as enacting the theories of Adorno, who believed that subverting pop music would help to bring down capitalism. Alternatively, if you listen to Neville, it’s simply “childish, futile, but finally hilarious”. (More.)

Summer of Love Redux

The New York Times finally gets hip to the new folk/weird America thing.
Arthur receives a passing mention.

Summer of Love Redux

By WILL HERMES
Published: June 18, 2006

ASA IRONS of the Vermont musical collective Feathers is stroking his beard. It is formidable beard; a biblical beard. He and his band mates—who mainly operate out of a rural farmhouse without cellphones, Internet, manager or booking agent—are at WNYC radio to perform their enigmatic, pixie-ish folk-rock on the long-running show “Spinning on Air.” Today their instruments include a lap harp, a toy xylophone, a Middle Eastern hand drum and an acoustic guitar hand-painted with animals and rainbows.

Ruth Garbus, a dark-eyed 24-year-old whose T-shirt depicts tractors flying through space, is talking about conjuring mystery with music, “that whole psychedelic thing of letting your mind go where it will.” Mr. Irons, 24, his long hair tied up in a bun, chimes in with a story about working as a carpenter and about growing up with parents who were “woods hippies, not town hippies.”

“I’m all about the old world, man,” Mr. Irons says with a mischievous laugh.

Perhaps. But he and his band mates are also about a new world: one of the most creatively vigorous strains of underground music. Initially dubbed “freak folk,” it looked like a trend of the moment a couple of years ago, when two California artists, Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, attracted attention with charmingly shaggy, deceptively whimsical, largely acoustic albums.

But the scene they spearheaded has grown steadily and expanded sonically, getting less folkie and more, well, freaky. It has also gone international. And this season—the Summer of Love 2.0—it comes into full, wild bloom with releases, tours and festival appearances that promise nothing less than a new age of Aquarius.

Continue reading “Summer of Love Redux”

Chris Corsano

Chris Corsano

I’ve seen a lot of drummers performing with various bands over the years but Chris Corsano has to be the most extraordinary and most talented, putting the often third class art of percussion centre stage and giving it status as an artform in its own right.

Corsano is a young American currently resident in Manchester. I’ve had the opportunity to see him play live twice so far, first time in a thoroughly mundane upstairs room in a backstreet pub in a duet performance with a soprano sax player (whose name eludes me just now…sorry). This evening he was playing with Mick Flower from the Vibracathedral Orchestra (both have played as extra members of Sunburned Hand of the Man).

Corsano’s playing takes improvised drum work beyond the usual jazz-stylings of similar improv performers with displays of incredible virtuosity that can still keep a recognisable beat when required. But there’s more than just great stick work at play, he comes armed with a host of different drumsticks, brushes, kitchen knives and other implements, and also uses pot lids, Tibetan bowls and other metallic miscellanea to extend the range of sounds an ordinary drumkit can produce. A Corsano performance is exactly that, a performance, where seeing the way he creates the sounds (pushing elbow into a tom, throwing things onto the snare, juggling pot lids and sticks) is as compelling as hearing the sounds themselves. Mick Flower’s drones this evening, created on some unidentifiable tabletop instrument running through a variety of effects, were a great complement to the drum pyrotechnics. A marvellous act on an essential bill (with Jack Rose and Denis Jones) in a packed venue. More please.