On Babaluma


It’s never the same without the foil sleeve.

Since the death of Damo Suzuki I’ve been reading the Rob Young and Irmin Schmidt book about Can, All Gates Open. Can’s history isn’t exactly unfamiliar so it’s taken me a while to get round to it. I’ve been listening to their music for over 40 years, and bought the Can Box when it came out, a release which includes the Can Book, a substantial volume by Hildegard Schmidt and Wolf Kampmann containing career-spanning interviews with the core members of the group. Mysteries persist, however, so it’s been satisfying to have some of them resolved in the newer book, like the question of what exactly the title of the group’s sixth album, Soon Over Babaluma (1974) refers to. I’ve always liked this album, it was the second or third one I bought in 1981 when I found a secondhand copy of the original release in its shiny foil sleeve. Irmin Schmidt sings the words “Soon over Babaluma” on the second track, Come Sta, La Luna, a title which Young reveals as originating with Leonardo da Vinci. Then he has this to say:

Playfully extemporising from this text, Irmin cast his eyes across the studio to where Jaki’s girlfriend of the time, a woman called Christine, was perched on a sofa with accustomed stillness. “She had this really mysterious aura around her… She could sit there for hours like a cat not moving, or just drawing, or maybe doing nothing,” Irmin recalls. “So ‘Come sta, la luna’ was about Christine in a way. I’m talking about this girl who is going through walls. I don’t remember the words any more and I have never written it down. But there is something very spacey in the words—’Dancer on the rope, in the space’ or something. But when I wrote that, she was sitting in the studio and I was looking at her… I found her very mysterious and very beautiful.”

Almost by accident, the phrase “soon over Babaluma” emerged out of this stream of consciousness. “The word ‘Babaluma’ came out of a conversation with Jaki about the words. He maybe thought I had another word before, and he said, ‘What did you say? Babaluma?’ And because it rhymed with ‘luna’, it was a kind of playing with words—it didn’t mean anything. And it’s true surrealism. But the whole text is about something happening in space, out there. Seeing the moon and, from there, soon being over Babaluma—which must be another star or something. So it has another story behind it.”

So it was automatic writing after all. For a group whose compositions evolved out of endless improvisation this almost seems inevitable. Young makes a good argument for Soon Over Babaluma being Can’s cosmic album, made at a time when the kosmische idiom was peaking in Germany; even Kraftwerk were a little cosmic in 1973/74, with their Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie single being reworked for side 2 of Autobahn. There’s a lot of enlightening detail in All Gates Open, I recommend it. (Although I’m sure that’s a Stylophone solo on Moonshake, not a melodica as he seems to think.)

Meanwhile, Damo returns to the world this month with an official release for the Paris, 1973 concert. This one has circulated for years as a bootleg, and it’s a better showing by the band than some of the other recordings in the recent live series. More, please.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Holger’s Radio Pictures
Jaki Liebezeit times ten
Can esoterics
Can soundtracks
Can’s Lost Tapes

Weekend links 713


Black Cat (1910) by Shunso Hishida.

• “A duck goes quack quack in English but coin coin in French. In Spanish a dog goes guau-guau, not woof woof, while in Arabic it goes haw haw, and in Mandarin wang-wang. In Japanese cats go nyaa, and bees—having no access to the zz sound—go boon-boon.” Caspar Henderson asks “Could onomatopoeia be the origin of language?”

• Coming soon from MIT Press: Blotter: The Untold Story of an Acid Medium by Erik Davis; “the first comprehensive written account of the history, art, and design of LSD blotter paper, the iconic drug delivery device that will perhaps forever be linked to underground psychedelic culture and contemporary street art.”

• At Aquarium Drunkard: The late Damo Suzuki is remembered with a recording of Can playing at the Volkshalle Wagtzenborn-Steinberg, Giessen, October 22, 1971.

• At Unquiet Things: Another collection of Intermittent Eyeball Fodder. I was sorry to hear from that post that artist Dan Hillier had died recently. RIP.

• At Bandcamp Daily: Mouse On Mars discuss 30 years of dynamic electronic music.

• Old music: Rare Soundtracks & Lost Tapes (1973–1984) by Alain Goraguer.

• At Spoon & Tamago: The imaginary architectures of Minoru Nomata.

• Mix of the week: DreamScenes – February 2024 at Ambientblog.

• At Vinyl Factory: Julia Holter on some of her favourite records.

• At Public Domain Review: Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats (1928).

• Steven Heller’s Font of the Month is Cuatro.

A brief history of London’s gas lamps.

• New music: Pithovirii by Aidan Baker.

Black Cat Bone (2000) by Laika | Black Cat (2005) by Broadcast | Black Cat (2008) by Ladytron

Weekend links 712


Above and Below (1968) by Wendy Abbott.

• “Thirty-two years after the five Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan appeared on the world map, little of the region has been portrayed in film. Countries associated with the -stan suffix are perceived as dangerous or sinister.” Komron Ergashev on Central Asia and cinema.

• Old music: Alice Coltrane’s Carnegie Hall concert from 1971 has been available for many years as a high-quality bootleg but never the complete recording. The first official release next month promises to at last present a full performance.

• RIP Damo Suzuki, vocalist for Can during the group’s peak years. The Rockpalast concert from 1970 captured the group in impressive form shortly after Suzuki joined.

• “I’ve always been drawn towards esoteric phenomena: the illogical, the inexpressible, the impossible.” Dorothea Tanning talking to Carlo McCormick in 1990.

• “This film was shot live on the surface of an 8mm² chemical reaction.” As Above by Roman Hill.

• New music: Floating On A Moment by Beth Gibbons, and All Life Long by Kali Malone.

• At Unquiet Things: The art of Kiyoshi Hasegawa.

Joel Gion’s favourite music.

Esoteric Circle (1976) by Jan Garbarek | As Above, So Below (1981) by Tom Tom Club | Esoteric Red (1997) by Tao

Weekend links 646


It’s that lethal book again. A sample of wallpaper impregnated with arsenic, one of many such pages in Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers (1874) by RC Kedzie.

• “I like to spend time in the now because there I can create something new but in the past I cannot.” Damo Suzuki, former vocalist in Can, on creativity and his resilience in the face of long-term illness. Related: a trailer for Energy: A Documentary about Damo Suzuki.

• “I enjoy Carnival of Souls, but it is a dark form of enjoyment, with high stakes, because the enjoyment is predicated on me being able to shake myself free of the film after it is over, and that can be a struggle.” Colin Fleming on fear as entertainment.

• “Some people like fantasy epics or Regency romance or Sudoku or science-fiction world-building or the gentle challenge of cozy mysteries; I like the undead.” Sadie Stein on encounters with ghosts.

• “You’re now standing on the blocks of the Great Pyramid at Giza. For the first time ever you can explore the entire pyramid interior.” The Giza Project.

• “What do we think about when we watch films set in vanished decades that many of us experienced at first hand?” asks Anne Billson.

• At Bandcamp: Touch celebrates forty years of not being a record label.

• “Why scientists are sending radio signals to the Moon and Jupiter.”

• At DJ Food’s: Retinal Circus gig posters 1966–68.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Feneon.

The Pyramid Spell (1978) by Nik Turner | I Am Damo Suzuki (1985) by The Fall | Carnival Of Souls Goes To Rio (2001) by Pram

Weekend links 416


Cover art and design by Arien Vallzadeh, Dan Kuehn, Mati Klarwein & Taska Cleveland.

• At Bandcamp: “Jon Hassell collages the past on his absorbing new record”. The new album, Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), was released last week, and it joins the rest of Hassell’s catalogue in sounding unlike any of his other albums while still being recognisably the work of the same artist. Musical collage is a familiar technique today but was much less common thirty years ago; it’s almost a constant in Hassell’s work, however, going back to Possible Musics (1980), with its tape-looped rhythms and layered recordings, to the later Magic Realism (1983), an album which was in the vanguard of digital sampling, and which still sounds like nothing else.

• “We’re supposedly in the middle of a vinyl revival, streaming services are hoovering up all the coin, and everyone seems to have a cassette column. But, argues James Toth, it’s the humble compact disc that we should be celebrating.” No argument here, I’ve long favoured CDs over vinyl even before the current fad for overpriced antique (or not-so-antique) discs and equally overpriced new pressings.

• “Reading [Robert] Aickman’s strange stories is to glimpse a reality you would prefer to forget,” says John Gray. Among the other writers mentioned in Gray’s piece is the excellent (and under-recognised) Walter de la Mare; Wormwoodiana’s Mark Valentine reviews a previously unseen de la Mare story.

• At The Wire: Greetings Music Lover: The premiere of Steve Urquhart’s new audio documentary exploring the life and work of BBC Radio Lancashire broadcaster and Wire contributor Steve Barker.

• Out in November: k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004–2016).

• “European cinema embraces the vagina—what’s taken Hollywood so long?” asks Anne Billson.

Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller.

• “Avoid all systems”: Ex-Can vocalist Damo Suzuki is interviewed at Dangerous Minds.

• “A new room in the Great Pyramid”: lost 1963 John Coltrane album discovered.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 656 by Mor Elian, and 6 by The Ephemeral Man.

• An introduction by Erik Davis to The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson.

Pyramid Of The Sun (1960) by Les Baxter | The Giant Pyramid Sitting At The Bottom Of The Sea Of Bermuda And The Ancient People (1979) by Isao Tomita | The Obsidian Pyramid (2005) by Eric Zann