Burroughs at 100

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Something from 1994 I found in an old sketchbook. Ink on paper with no preliminary drawing.

Happy birthday, Bill. To celebrate the Burroughs centenary I could have put together several very different mixes of Burroughs-related music—there’s been a lot of it, and he was blessed with some excellent collaborators—but in the end decided on a version of something I’ve been messing with on and off for about twenty years.

Seven Souls Resouled by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Bill Laswell’s associations with William Burroughs go back to Laurie Anderson’s Mister Heartbreak (1984) album which Laswell played bass on and co-produced. Burroughs had a guest spot on the last track, Sharkey’s Night, and that session may have led to the 1989 album by Laswell’s Material project, Seven Souls, a seven-track album based around Burroughs’s readings of passages from The Western Lands. This has always been my favourite of all the albums which set Burroughs texts to music, not least because Laswell has always surrounded himself with exceptional musicians. I liked this album so much I used to try padding it out on cassette tape with other Laswell productions, many of which feature the same musicians, and even similar riffs and instrument sounds. I could never settle on a definitive mix, however, and even the one presented here doesn’t feel absolutely right although it works far better than all previous versions. Matters aren’t helped by there being much extraneous material (so to speak): Seven Souls was reissued in 1997 with remix tracks, and there’s also a related EP, The Road To The Western Lands, with further remixes. Then there are the many tracks which match the Seven Souls sound, not least on the 1994 Material album, Hallucination Engine, which also features a Burroughs reading. Laswell’s solo albums, and much of his Axiom label, is infected by Burroughs-like titles; for a while Axiom even promoted its world- and genre-spanning ethos with the slogan “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”. The Beatles may have put Burroughs’s face on the cover of the Sgt Pepper album but Bill Laswell has done far more to spread the virus of the man’s work. Below there’s a guide to the tracks followed by another visit to the Wild Boys.

William S. Burroughs – Word Falling, Photo Falling (1960s)
One of the numerous tape recordings from the 1960s which are like audio equivalents of the books Burroughs was writing at the time. This one is from Nothing Here Now But The Recordings (1981).

Material – Ineffect (1989)
The first track from Seven Souls.

Ginger Baker – Dust to Dust (1986)
Bill Laswell produced two Ginger Baker solo albums, Horses and Trees (1986), from which this track is taken, and Middle Passage (1990). Both feature Laswell’s core group of Material musicians including Nicky Skopelitis, Bernie Worrell and Aiyb Dieng. Baker was a member of a later incarnation of Material, and appears on the Live In Japan (1993) album.

Material – Seven Souls (1989)
The second track from Seven Souls.

Material – Ruins (Submutation Dub by Bill Laswell) (1994)
From Material’s other masterwork, the mighty Hallucination Engine.

Material – Soul Killer (1989)
The third track from Seven Souls.

Ginger Baker – Under Black Skies (1990)
From Baker’s Middle Passage album.

Material – The Western Lands (1989)
The fourth track from Seven Souls.

Mandingo – Lanmbasy Dub (Kora in Hell Mix by Bill Laswell) (1993)
A slight deviation from the Seven Souls tracklist. The first four Burroughs tracks were followed by two very different pieces: Deliver, featuring the voice of Gambian musician and kora player Foday Musa Suso, and Equation which combined a rock riff with Rammellzee’s vocals. Foday Musa Suso is another floating member of Material who also released an album, New World Power (1990) on Laswell’s Axiom label under the name Mandingo. This track is an extended remix of the first track from New World Power.

Bill Laswell (with William S. Burroughs, Techno Animal, Iggy Pop) – The Western Lands (1999)
Hashisheen : The End Of Law is one of many one-off Laswell projects, this one featuring a collection of readings about Hassan i Sabbah set to music. Burroughs appears briefly two years after his death reading what may have been a Seven Souls outtake. Iggy Pop then reads a piece from The Western Lands.

Material feat. Rammellzee & phonosycographDISK – No Guts No Galaxy (1999)
In place of Equation from Seven Souls there’s this rap number from Material’s Intonarumori album.

Bill Laswell – Flash Of Panic [Pipes Of Pan / Up Above The World / Under Black Skies / Out Of The Ether] (1994)
Part of a track from the Axiom Ambient album which blends some of Laswell’s recording of the pan pipes at Jajouka with strings from a Jonas Hellborg album, and Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s ney from Under Black Skies.

Material – Soul Killer (Remote Control Mix by Terre Thaemlitz) (1997)
The reissue of Seven Souls featured three remixes of which this has always been my favourite. Terre Thaemlitz subjects Burroughs’s voice to some granular distortion then cuts-up his words.

Material – The End of Words (1989)
The seventh and final track from Seven Souls.

Continue reading “Burroughs at 100”

Weekend links 114

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David Bowie’s cigaretted fingers and bulging silver crotch point the way to the future. This summer sees the fortieth anniversary of the Ziggy Stardust album’s release. The Melody Maker ad above can be found with a wealth of other Ziggy-related material at the very thorough Ziggy Stardust Companion site. For me the definitive artefact isn’t the album itself but DA Pennebaker’s film of the final concert from the 1973 tour; the songs really come alive and Bowie’s performance is overwhelmingly electric. Related: Cracked Actor, the BBC documentary from 1975 about Bowie’s post-Ziggy life on and off the stage.

• The week in books: Amanda Katz described the remarkable history of a single copy of The War of the Worlds by HG Wells then asked “Will Your Children Inherit Your E-Books?” | Bosnian novelist Aleksandar Hemon in The Browser’s FiveBooks interview put Blood Meridian on his list. | “Call me the greatest American novel”: Christopher Buckley on Moby-Dick. | The Brit Lit Map.

• For another anniversary, the Alan Turing centenary, there’s The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing (part two here) and Breaking the Code (1996), Derek Jacobi playing the tragic genius in a biographical drama.

Commissioner of Sewers (1991) a William Burroughs documentary by Klaus Maeck in which the author reads some of his work and endures a Q&A session with surprising equanimity.

• Music, flesh and fantasy: When Mati Klarwein’s hyperactive paintings stole the psychedelic show.

• Move Over Casio: Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 Portable Synth Looks Cool, Does Everything.

• A retrospective of art by Madge Gill (1882–1961) at The Nunnery, London.

• “Art is unavoidably work”: Terre Thaemlitz interviewed.

• A trailer for Document: Keiji Haino.

WB Yeats, Magus

Pathétique 1 (1994) by Fushitsusha | Pathétique 2 (1994) by Fushitsusha.

Reworking Kraftwerk

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Ralf and Florian, 1973.

It’s a common problem when you like a musical artist so much that you own their entire catalogue: where to go next? In the case of Kraftwerk the problem has been exacerbated by the group’s famously sluggish rate of production: the last studio album was in 2003, the one before that was 1991. Cover versions are one solution, of course, and Kraftwerk have the advantage of providing simple yet memorable melodies that can stand no end of sonic mangling. I linked to a favourite Kraftwerk cover at the weekend, the Balanescu Quartet’s version of The Model. What follows is a list of favourite Kraftwerk cover albums (as opposed to one-off tracks). Given the vagaries of the music business some of these may now be deleted.

Possessed (1992) by The Balanescu Quartet

Robots
Model
Autobahn
Computer Love
Pocket Calculator

Kraftwerk are among the gods in the firmament of Mute Records so it’s not so surprising to find an erstwhile electronic label releasing an album of arrangements by Alexander Balanescu‘s string quartet. The Kronos Quartet were in the vanguard of working quartet variations on rock or pop music (their self-titled album from 1986 included a version of Purple Haze) but Balanescu’s arrangements still stand out for attempting to render electronic music with string instruments. Model is particularly good.

Trans Slovenia Express (1994) by Various Artists

Zrcalo Sveta (Das Spiegelglas Der Welt) by Laibach
The Robots by Coptic Rain
Trans Europe Express by The One You Love
Radioactivity by April Nine
Airwaves by Beitthron
Transistor by Data Processed Corrupted
Ohm Sweet Ohm by Borghesia
Neonlicht by Mitja V.S.
Antenna by Z-Entropa
Man Machine by Strelnikoff
Home Computer by Random Logic
The Model by Demolition Group
Kometenmelodie Part 1 by 300,000 V.K.
Spacelab by Videosex
Lie-Werk by Kraftbach

Also on the Mute label and less of a surprise since the contents are mostly from electronic groups. Laibach, who open and close the collection, were already Mute artists. Of the other Slovenians present, Borghesia and Coptic Rain were familiar names but the rest remain a mystery. This is nonetheless a great compilation with an equal mix of eccentric and sympathetic covers. Neonlicht features a banjo and the Enzo Fabiani Quartet, Coptic Rain give The Robots the Nine Inch Nails treatment while April Nine turn Radioactivity into a sublime mystery. Trans Slovenia Express Volume 2 appeared in 2005.

Die Roboter Rubato (1997) by Terre Thaemlitz

Die Roboter
Ätherwellen
Tour De France
Computer Welt
Techno Pop
Ruckzuck
Radioland
Mensch Machine
Schaufensterpuppen
Morgen Spaziergang

In which the musician/artist/theorist plays rubato piano variations on the well-known songs. The presence of Ruckzuck from the first Kraftwerk album is a surprise—hardly anyone does covers of tracks from the first two Kraftwerk albums. All Thaemlitz’s releases come with pages of accompanying text culled from Marxist theory, gender studies, queer politics and the like. Die Roboter Rubato is no exception:

Kraftwerk’s most vibrant celebration of this Homoeroticization is in the composition Tour de France. The sonic manifestation of the group’s well known adoration for cycling bears an undeniable resemblance to the sound of two men fucking one another – the rhythmic breaths of the top intermingling with the panting moans of the bottom.

Immediate questions come to mind: for all of the obviousness of homoerotic thematics in the world of the Mensch Machines, how do such thematics remain undiscussed by popular media? Is the dominant silence around homoerotic themes an act of social suppression or social obliviousness? (etc)

Subsequent Thaemlitz releases have given similar rubato treatment to Gary Numan and Devo.

El Baile Alemán (2000) by Señor Coconut Y Su Conjunto

Introdución
Showroom Dummies
Trans Europe Express
The Robots
Neon Lights
Autobahn
Home Computer
Tour De France
The Man-Machine
Music Non Stop

German electronic musician Uwe Schmidt uses his Señor Coconut guise to present songs by synth artists as though they’d been covered by a cheap Latin American ensemble. Swiss group Yello introduced Perez Prado-style shouts and brass stabs into the world of Fairlight samplers in the 1980s so this may be regarded as the logical conclusion. Funny arrangements, especially Autobahn where the car refuses to start and the radio is tuned to South American stations. Señor Coconut’s 2006 album Yellow Fever! reworks the Yellow Magic Orchestra to similar effect.

8-Bit Operators: The Music of Kraftwerk (2007) by Various Artists

The Robots (Die Roboter) by Bacalao
Pocket Calculator by Glomag
Computer Love by Covox
Showroom Dummies by Role Model
The Model by Nullsleep
Radioactivity by David E. Sugar
Kristallo by Oliver Wittchow
Spacelab by 8 Bit Weapon
Computer World (Computerwelt) by firestARTer
Electric Café by Neotericz
Trans-Europe Express by Receptors
Tanzmusik by Herbert Weixelbaum
It’s More Fun to Compute by Bubblyfish
Antenna by Bit Shifter
The Man-Machine (Die Mensch-Maschine) by gwEm and Counter Reset

The masters of minimal aesthetics here receive some minimal cover treatments. Advertised as being “performed on vintage 8-bit video game systems” I was disappointed when some tracks failed to adhere to this stricture and added other instruments.The voices can also be a letdown when they’re left unprocessed. Complaints aside, the fat and bouncy rhythms are a good match for tunes which in other electronic hands were being lured into techno remix tedium. And it’s also good to see Tanzmusik from the Ralf & Florian album given an airing.

As I noted at the weekend, Kraftwerk give a series of retrospective concerts at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, in April.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Martin Rushent, 1948–2011
Autobahn animated
Sleeve craft
Who designed Vertigo #6360 620?
Old music and old technology
Aerodynamik by Kraftwerk