Tagged: cut-ups

Ornate Verbs


Here’s a popular trope or theme – electro-acoustic art-music derived from old wax cylinder recordings. The last time we heard something directly produced by this method was Music For Wax-Cylinders by Merzouga in 2014, where two improvising electronic types were allowed to get their stubs on thousands of rare cylinders stored at the Berlin Phonogram Archive, and produced subtle and delicate sound-art. There was also John Schott’s Shuffle Play: Elegies For The Recording Angel (from 2000), which included historic Edison cylinder recordings woven into its ambitious fabric. It’s always welcome in our line of music – everyone loves “old” recordings, the distressed surface noise, the “ghostly” hauntological vibe…78 RPM recordings are fair game too (just ask Robert Millis), but for sheer rotational groove and fragility, you can’t beat a wax cylinder.

In the case of RRBVEETNSOA (National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales / Sian Records GENCD 8002), we have a single recording made around 1904 or 1905 by Evan Roberts, an important Welsh revivalist / evangelical speaker whose enthusiastic preaching, along with the singing of a small male choir, was captured on a cylinder. John Harvey, the Professor of Art at Aberystwyth University, used this as the starting point – or I should say, one of several starting points – to compose the present work. The first piece we hear on the CD is the source recording itself. For 2 mins and 22 seconds, the stentorian voice of Evan Roberts struggles to be heard across 110 years of history. He wins that struggle. The authority and confidence with which he makes this “revival address” are astonishing; the force of his religious conviction can still be heard, and felt.

Professor Harvey faced a second challenge; the cylinder he was working with was broken into 11 pieces when it was deposited at the National Sound and Screen Archive of Wales in 2002. The archivists had it repaired and restored, using (unlikely though it might appear) the services of an American dentist. At the end of the process, the Archive had a playable object ready in time to coincide with centenary events and exhibitions celebrating Welsh revivalism. But it’s this “fragmentation” which clearly preoccupied the composer’s thoughts; even when we hear the source material, the clicks and scratches and breaks in the cylinder are audible, providing the impromptu “rhythm track” which many composers and scholars in this area appreciate, a mechanical rhythm further accentuated by the rotation of the cylinder itself in the machine, and the heavy needle scratching away.


Exploring the idea of fragmentation, John Harvey proceeds to subject the source material to various re-recording and playback methods and technologies (all presumably digital in nature), producing samples, overdubs, remakes, cut-ups, and generally radical rearrangements of the potentially unpromising source. All elements are eligible for inclusion: voice, music, surface noise, artefacts. The extensive reworking processes transform them into drones, echoes, strange unearthly sounds. What does he create in these 12 episodes? Sheer beauty. He rescues and unleashes the evangelical power of Roberts the preacher…scrambling his words, but advancing the underling messages, now dark, now joyful, now full of foreboding, now promising salvation. The choir becomes, on ‘Servant Robes’, a celestial choir of angels with a virtual church organ accompaniment. Some of the reworkings exhort us to action; some are quiet and meditative, allowing space for prayer. Others, such as ‘Braver Notes’, are near-horrifying views of a bleak apocalypse spreading across the earth. Far from being an empty process exercise, the overall composition is entirely in sympathy with the devotional and religious meaning of the recording.

To call attention to the fragmentation theme and his own scrambling processes, Harvey has titled all the works using anagrams of the letters in Evan Roberts’ name. Even the title of the piece is such an anagram, and goes further to advance the theme through its use of reversed letters (which I can’t replicate here). Issued with a short booklet of explanatory notes and a full transcription of the sermon / address, this is a powerful and fascinating statement of electro-acoustic music, as well as a sympathetic reworking of a historical source. Recommended! From 20 April 2015.

Divan, Divan…Weisst du wer ich bin


Montreal genius Martin Tétreault does not come our way very often, so it’s nice to savour a solo effort by this significant creator who’s usually associated with turntabling and collage techniques, the latter not just restricted to cutting up tapes, since he also clips up magazines to make visual puzzles for the roving eye. His cassette tape Sofa So Good (TANUKI RECORDS #12) is a highly glorpified admixture of epoxy resin, stale molasses and overlooked fragments of trash found in the streets. “I used to have trouble sleeping,” admits Tétreault from the confines of his cosy apartment, “until I bought a fine new sofa from Style Labo, in Rue Saint-Laurent. Now I just curl up on that French-Provençal styled beauty and I’m out like a light. I have all my best musical ideas when I’m on that sofa.” Clearly, the oneiric process has served him well on this occasion, and the processed organ drones, uncertain percussive effects, and general air of mistiness on this 33-minute episode is not something you encounter in the realms of the everyday. His throwaway sleeve-note, “Rèvé A Montréal entre 2010 et 2014” confirms the above. The B-side of the tape is blank; label owner of Tanuki Records is particularly keen that the listener should use this blank canvas to record their own piece, and submit it to him. He even provides an email to assist in this purpose. From 15 April 2015.

Acid Breakdowns


Which Head you’re Dancing in? (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO082) is the enigmatic title given to latest collaboration between Johannes Frisch (bass player, one of the main men in Kammerflimmer Kollektief) and Ralf Wehowsky, the German maverick experimenter and rugged electro-acoustic grand master. They’ve met up before on Tranende Wurger (Korm Plastics, 2005) and Unwahrscheinlichkeiten (Waystyx, 2010), but this time the conceptual “theme” of the record is dedicated to the music of Ornette Coleman. Even the track titles make references to his compositions or album titles, such as ‘Crisis in Space’, and sometimes doing it in a darkly detourned fashion, such as ‘Skies Of Guantanamo’ – the latter a clear reference to Skies Of America, Ornette’s 1972 orchestral suite, but these cynical Europeans perceive those skies which once shone with hope and opportunity are now permanently darkened by covert political operations and anti-terrorist measures taken too far.

The colour scheme of the cover – sickly green and pessimistic greys and blacks, decorated with images of grotesque puppet heads – further confirms the caste of this album, which is somewhat gloomy and angst-ridden, veering between abstract passages of uncertain moody contemplation, and restless beat-heavy electronica episodes which are like a sarcastic parody of techno or jungle or other forms of dance music, spitting out twisted noise spurts among wild computer-drum patterns. Wehowsky plays all the instruments apart from the bass, and he also does his “sound transformations”, throwing a lot of instruments and samples into this sprawling, angry melange, quite often overwhelming the ears with the generosity of his layers and bricolage. And then the next track will be minimal and perplexing, still ugly and strange, but grunting out inexplicable and solitary noises like an unhappy pig in a factory farm.

Frisch responds manfully to the impossible task of attempting to “accompany” Ralf as he freaks out on these crazy flights, weaving his bass plucks and bowing his strings into whatever gaps might be suitable, and driving the faster and more agitated tracks along with his manic free jazz energy. What often results is like a darkened, 21st-century parody of free jazz updated with more recent forms of music, depicting an unhappy world where all the 1960s dreams of civil rights, justice, and freedom are being buried under a welter of political incompetence, paranoia, and rampant misuse of computer technology against its own citizens. It’s disturbing to imagine that Ornette’s uplifting music could have been the inspiration for such bleak pessimism, but I suspect that’s entirely the point; if this is a “message” record, it’s a message which ought to give the President of the United States something to choke about over his morning muffins. Even the title indicates the general “wrongness” of things: the simple clarity of Ornette’s “Dancing In Your Head” is recast as the awkward, ambiguous and not-entirely-grammatical utterance “Which Head you’re Dancing in?”. Not a happy listen, then, nor a particularly comfortable musical/aural experience, but a very strong and timely statement. Released in September 2014.

Palace Of Words Reversed


Flee Past’s Ape Elf (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR096) is an infamous cut-up record from the 1970s, which Feeding Tube Records have now reissued in “expanded” form as a double LP. Robert Carey was a student at Hampshire College (in Amherst, MA) in the early 1970s and studying electronic music, where he got his hands on a stack of reel-to-reel tapes of voice recordings. Hauling himself up by his own hamhocks, he starting cutting and splicing the material to arrive at his own personal style of musique concrète and tape editing, inspired by William Burroughs cut-ups and by Frank Zappa’s use of the technique on his early records, especially Lumpy Gravy. An LP appeared in 1979 on the Twin/Tone Records label, under the name Orchid Spangiafora, with an absurd and slightly unsettling collage artwork on the back cover, and no other information apart from the track titles. Byron Coley, the music journalist, may or may not have assisted with the work. That same year, Orchid Spangiafora was namechecked on the equally infamous Nurse With Wound list 1.

The record’s a fun and bewildering listen. Carey’s source materials were perhaps unpromising – almost everything comes from the TV, so it’s a mix of adverts, game shows, actors, news clips, announcers, and banal background music, none of it particularly well captured or well recorded in the first place. His methods were simple but bery painstaking, making small mosaic-like fragments of sound, and carefully assembling them to form nonsensical or absurd statements…or sometimes they are repeated and looped – not always in exact patterns, but slightly varying ones – to likewise arrive at verbal gibberish. Surreal humour emerges, and this has proven to be one the most endearing and popular aspects of this avant-zany item. These cut-ups also make a kind of musical sense sometimes, such as when we hear the differences in timbres and tones of voice all collided and mixed up with each other; and the fragments of background TV music which accidentally leak into the mix also create fragmented non-tunes. At the more extreme end of his experiments, the record dispenses with spoken words completely, and simply samples phonemes, pauses for breath, gasps, and other “errors” in human speech. It’s all in the service of scrambling common sense, of bypassing rational thought. I suppose there’s some part of the human brain that wants to make sense of it when we’re apparently hearing another human being talking. When this fails, thanks to Carey’s multiple tripwires and booby traps, I further suppose that the brain goes slightly bonkers.


I call this approach “uniquely American”, because to my mind it’s clearly fundamentally different in method and intent to the French school of musique concrète. The latter was proposed from the start as high art of some sort, and made serious-minded, methodical explorations of the potentials of magnetic tape and its playback; even the original sound sources were created or selected for their aesthetic properties. Conversely, the Orchid Spangiafora record derives from decidedly “lowbrow” source material, and Carey while perhaps not a pure autodidact plumped for the “hands-on” method of tape splicing, rather than any dry, academic approach. The intentions behind it are, I suggest, more about having mischievous fun than creating an artistic statement. The record wallows in its meaninglessness, and is almost devoid of content 2 …you’d have no problem tracing its lineage back to American Pop Art, and it also carries a lot of Pop Art’s sneering, nihilistic cynicism with it too. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but you can also see how this record is one of the missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that includes Negativland, People Like Us, the Illegal Art community, and the Broken Penis Orchestra. All of the above came after Orchid Spangiafora, and they have all been ruder and nastier; they’ve also used similar methods to make well-aimed subversive attacks on the mass media 3.

This reissue includes a booklet compiling images, photos, stories and research that shows how this record has resonated over time, “landing in the ear” of not a few influential and significant listeners, including Boyd Rice, Richard Rupenus 4, Mark Mothersbaugh, members of Pere Ubu, William Burroughs, and Gary Panter. Coley’s exemplary research pays off again in this fine reissue of an essential slice of historical freakdom which still delivers many twisted thrills. From March 2014.

  1. Although the chronology may appear a tad puzzling, since that first NWW LP came out in January 1979 and the Orchid Spangiafora not until October; I think it the explanation is that it had been circulating as a cassette tape since 1977, before the record deal was struck.
  2. That said, many listeners have found a species of absurd Dadaist poetry in the bizarre utterances, and Steve Stapleton went so far as to title an album track after his own (mis)hearing of one of them.
  3. My point here would be that although Flee Past’s Ape Elf may derive from mass media sources, it doesn’t explicitly critique them in the way that Negativland did.
  4. His early Mixed Band Philanthropist records, and the Bladder Flask LP, are fine examples of absurdist tape cut-ups; “I…knew how laborious it could be”, he states on the back cover here.

Boy, I really get around

A pleasure to get a newie from Fred Bigot, who impressed us heavily with that 2009 compilation on Holy Mountain Mono/Stereo from 2009, a disc which compiled a handful of his much earlier 12-inchers from 1999 and 2000. Since we’re firm devotees of the Rockabilly genre, Fred’s reverbed and meaty guitar riffs combined with electronica pulsations proved an irresistible mix of lean, mean and slightly nasty twangification, propelled by modernist beats, and with a slightly nasty darkened edge hanging over all…but La Voix de la Route (LES DISQUES EN ROTIN RÉUNIS / NO SCHOOL TODAY LDRR#048) is quite a different quarter-pound of beef. The A-side’s ‘Bon Voyage’ is the immediate audience-pleasing grabber, but even this is less a sampling of his Rockabilly riff chord book and more a knowing dip in the water of very well-known Krautrock tropes, including borrowings from Kraftwerk and Neu!…it’s got oodles of what muso-journalists are fond of calling that “motorik” vibe. In this context, the three tracks on the B side are much more experimental, forming vague sound-pictures out of throbbing reverb drone effects, voice vocoder chants, sound effects and field recordings, and just plain odd assemblages of tape cut-ups. Clearly, as car records go, we’ve come a long way since the innocent days of the Beach Boys and their ‘Little Deuce Coupe’…this particular roadster is fuelled with irony, humour, and lashings of lead-lined darkness. Plus there’s nobody at the wheel and we don’t know where we’re heading.

Matter of fact the entire disc makes references to American highways and road trips in both titles and sounds, and even the cover art features two dummies relaxing in the back of a chauffeured futuristic buggy…that’s because this record is in fact a distillation of Bigot’s 2011 road-trip across America, a funded art project which he undertook with money from the Institut Francais, and an exploit whose other published statements included weekly sound reports, an installation, and a performance by Werner Hirsch, whose voice is sampled on two tracks here. Oddly enough, the Discogs entry for this release tells a slightly different story and proposes this album is the soundtrack to an art exhibition called “Sur La Route (au hasard)” created by Arnaud Maguet 1 in 2014. So now I’m confused 2. At any rate, Maguet provided the cover to this release, and that is beyond dispute. It’s a powerful theme to be sure (European take on American road myths), but hasn’t this been definitively explored by Wim Wenders in the 1980s, and possibly even by Jean-Luc Godard before him? No matter, since Bigot – whom we haven’t heard from since 2012 as one half of Melt Famas – has turned in an exemplary and entertaining disc of art music. The B side of the vinyl is noteworthy for using parallel grooves, so you never know what track you’ll hear when the needle drops. Arrived 12 September 2014.

  1. Maguet’s career shows he is one who “questions the basic aspects of 1950s to 1970s subculture”, whatever the Heck that means.
  2. It doesn’t take much.

The gift of brain-waves


It’s been a bumper few years for us Horacio Pollard fans…since 2013, we’ve heard solo tapes and CDRs such as The Words Came Through The Bung and The Frequencies Of Seizure, plus his manic contributions to band projects such as Clifford Torus and Fully Blown Dental Reform. From 25 July 2014 we have his solo album The Emotional Freedom Technique & The Theta Brainwave Amplitude Caused by Manta Ray (ADA0034), released on the London label Adaadat which has been very consistent in sending us some splendid examples of world-wide loopiness and insanely frazzled musical utterances. When working solo, the English-Argentinean Pollard can produce endless streams of delightful gibberish, but for this album he opts for the “pop-song” length and serves up 10 examples of illogical tape assembly and incomprehensible performance mayhem, more or less crowbarring the constituent parts into something that resembles an instrumental tune. There is an over-abundance of ideas, noises, sounds and sprawling musical information to absorb; each track proceeds remorselessly along its path, capering forwards like The Fool in the Tarot Deck with a dog snapping at his heels as he careers over a cliff. Not only are the assembly methods completely nuts (loops, wobbly tapes, distortion, treatments, sounds played back to front and upside down), but the original sources sound like they were already pretty crackpot to begin with. The brain and the ears struggle hard to keep up, but it’s worth exerting yourself as the reward is an incredibly liberating sense of absurdity, all done with good humour and a healthy sense of fun.

Instant Insanity


From Maxi Bacon, we have the nauseating pleasures afforded by Maci Bacon (ADAADAT ADA0033), a fairly indescribable racket that borders on the indigestible…the “charismatic” half of this strange duo is undoubtedly Scott Sinclair, an Australian performance artist who also appears as Company Fuck, a riotous karaoke / table-noise hybrid act that has been embarrassing audiences around the world for the last eight years. Clearly unafraid of the “bad taste” label, Sinclair’s act is one that mercilessly takes the mick out of “serious” music, and gleefully mixes music and sound from all manner of sources, carrying on the high-art low-art dialectic on his own dumbed-down terms. From the one video I’ve managed to find of his Company Fuck hi-jinks, the word “irrepressible” springs to mind when faced with this hyped-up cheesy-grinning court jester. He’s also associated with Borborg, The Superusers, Stick In Your Eye, and Kottbusserdamm Terror Corpse. A wonder to me that this phenomenon hasn’t yet been signed to Dual Plover Records.

Could be that Sinclair, currently based in Berlin, has found a suitable sparring partner in the form of Freeka Tet, aka Sgure, a Parisian loon who’s been assaulting the civilised world with his extreme take on electronica-noise-gabba-glitchcore (whatever…) since 2005 and his Surr Grr CDR album, which distinguished itself with the catalogue number DUMB001. My hunch is that Freeka is the one who’s nimble with his fingers and may be supplying the “customised music software” which Maxi Bacon use to cut up and rearrange the materials, in order to advance their mind-shattering outbursts. On the evidence here, the project aim is to achieve total meltdown of multiple music sources (this goes far beyond the humble “mash-up”), transform them into hideous, unrecognisable shapes, and combine everything with shocking explosions of obnoxious noise, deliberately ignoring any precepts of compositional order – “thrown together” is the order of the day. When this strategy is used as backdrop for the intense and stinky vocalese of Sinclair, you can be sure the sparks will fly. If you’ve played your 1990s Boredoms collection to death and still clamour for more insanity in like vein, I suppose this is your next stop.

Not every single track is a one-way ticket to the Bughouse, though. I’m struck by ‘Analchemy’ which doesn’t fit any of the profile outlined above, and emerges as an interesting sample-jigsaw piece that makes effective use of exploding cymbals and slow, treated noise. In this context, it’s practically Bernard Parmegiani. And the long track ‘Careless Sniffle’ feels uncharacteristic somehow; it’s as though the duo left the tape running in the studio to capture aimless humming and random noise, and published the half-baked results just to annoy the listener. But it’s a strangely compelling episode, for all its tawdry banality. For the most part, though, be prepared for shocking noise assaults, fun, silliness, and just plain weirdness. The “outrageous” cartoony collage cover art is an exact visual analogue to the music herein. From 25 July 2014.

Cosmic Pollution


Following on from their release by oMMM (which was sent here at the same time) the bizarre London label Adaadat has sent us another marginal and thrilling example of DJ culture going insane. The record PSS4 (ADAADAT ADA0029) by DJ Topgear – i.e. Simon Petre – is a sprawling rag-bag of far-out ideas, executed using a radical, splurgy approach to editing and mixology methods. Samples, field recordings, illogical electronic sounds, strange noise, and extremely randomised beats are piled up in exciting disarray on each of these 12 experimental tracks. It’s as though the creator were a voracious monster attempting to consume as much information from the 21st century as possible, with all parts of its body called into play – teeth, stomach, eyeballs, claws and tongue. If our culture suffers any damage under this gluttonous and omnivorous assault, then so be it. Topgear sometimes can’t escape the restrictions of the bedroom experiment, but the occasional touches of clunkiness on this album add considerably to the combined effect, and when he unleashes his imaginative spirit into the wi-fi equipped shopping malls of Canary Wharf, you can be sure the sparks will fly and ignite many a pile of over-priced tat in that obscene monument to consumerism. Some listeners appear to find this work rather bleak, but on the contrary – there is a savage glee in his eyes as he sets about his work with fiery passion, usually yielding maximal results. Simon Petre is also known as Auaua and Onthema, and used to be one half of Wang Wang Gou. The first two releases in this PSS series were released by Animal Fact Records, but good luck finding volume 3 – it was only ever out as a very limited cassette and given to friends.


A rich mish-mash of audio surprises is Borderline (EH? 78), an hour-long sprawl of tape edits assembled by Milwaukee’s Neil Gravander appearing here as Lucky Bone. He’s sewn together recordings from multiple sources, including found tapes, field recordings, live tapes of rock musicians and bands, and answering machine tapes purchased from charity shops. There are probably extensive treatments going on too, because what reaches our ears is quite often a delirious jumble of noise, distortion, repetition and looping effects. Fragments of “real life”, in the shape of documentary field recordings, leak into this fascinating and sometimes overwhelming maelstrom; they are no less strange or other-worldly than the extreme tape treatments that Gravander is constructing, and the listener needs to be prepared for a very strange journey through many surrealist corners and side-roads of the American landscape. The work is structured as four parts, each described in allusive prose by the creator writing with the associative brio of an early Jack Kerouac. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gravander is also an experimental film-maker, and while I haven’t yet ventured to experience the delights of his cinematic craft, numerous examples can be found posted on Vimeo. From 19 February 2014.


Some very imaginative and textured, dynamic electronic noise-whatsis from the Italian creator SEC_. His Outflow (dEN RECORDS 017 / HEART & CROSSBONE HCB052) was generated using the full frying pan of now-familiar methods – tape recorder, feedback, radio signals, field recordings, contact mics, synths, etc – but the outputs are tightly composed and assembled, enabling him to serve up a tremendous wallop at the business end. His highly abstracted sounds may run wild and crazy when he lets them go free, but he’s in total control at all times, and he can pull in 13 errant barking dogs with just a single tug on his mechanical leash. Each track is a fascinating assemblage of layers, all competing for oxygen inside a tight, compacted space; SEC_’s editing skills are merciless, always knowing precisely where to let the blade fall. Fans of Miguel Garcia’s brooding night-bloomers are invited to check in here immediately, but whereas Garcia likes to let his surly, ugly sounds go for an extended rampage around the garden to terrify whom they may, SEC_ is all about measured control, economy, tautness, and selection. Every second counts in his no-nonsense, monochrome world. This is the fifth solo record from SEC_, who is Mimmo Napolitano from Casamarciano. Beautiful fold-out package printed silver on black. Arrived March 2014.

Three Vinyl Vinculums (3 of 3)


Great four-track 12-inch EP by The Slate Pipe Banjo Draggers, called Peeled Up For The Sake of Fruit Music 2012. This is the work of Londoner Andy Rowe, and it’s a superb slab of lo-fi grunged up collage-techno nonsense, making a mockery of most beat-based musical genres while still retaining a strong and unignorable rhythm of its own. How does he produce these clanking, heavy, churning rhythms, which are almost like a toy-robot version of drum tracks from Can albums? He seems to be layering together several loops which don’t quite match up, and at times produces the effect of an old Gibson Les Paul being used as a drumkit. Plus there’s plenty of lovely abstract noise, general scruffiness, and obscured sampled voices. The posh Southern lady telling a banal story on the title track becomes a completely surreal personage in this context. Lovely! Last noted the work of this talented multi-media creator with his Prime Bolus Music 2010.


The Big Oaks are or were a “pop-punk” band from Newcastle Upon Tyne, and the album Monster Turd (DISTRACTION RECORDS DIST20) is intended as a tribute to the band’s main man John The Rat, also called Simon Windsor – the songwriter and personality behind this little-known but remarkable band. I’ve been unable to date the music, but Windsor died in 2012 and it all seems to have been very recent, which surprises me as it reminds us so much of Half Man Half Biscuit, Ted Chippington, or even some earlier antecedents like cassette-band unknowns The Twizzlers. Yes, The Big Oaks have a very twisted and black sense of humour, and the lyrical content comprises John The Rat’s wackoid and warped view of UK popular culture, refracted through the twin lenses of television and football, but mostly representing his own unique thought patterns. No quirkoid observation, no matter how trivial or pointless, is overlooked in Windsor’s world, and he seemed to have an uncanny ability to turn each odd detail into a short song at the drop of a hat. The rest of the band are not especially talented – you won’t want to tune in for inventive chords or dazzling guitar work, and most of these 28 songs are as simplistic as an adult nursery rhyme, with clunky 4/4 beats and very basic axe-shredding moves. But that’s all that’s needed. The label, also Newcastle based, got this release funded through a kickstarter project, and while I can’t quite share their view that The Big Oaks are “real outsider music, folks”, there’s no doubt that The Shaggs comparison is appropriate. Absurd, lively, incendiary stuff with deranged singing with lots of songs about sex and monsters, and it’s pressed in coloured vinyl – how can you resist?


Santasede‘s ten-inch (LE SOUFFLEUR 74) is on Raymond Dijkstra’s imprint and I expect we received it along with the horrifying NIvRITTI MARGA item noted here. It has a similar cover image, cut-ups of photos of antique furnishings, only now printed in negative. Grisly, nerve jangling metal percussion is to the forefront of both sides of this white vinyl slab; lurking in the background are quiet but fatally sinister chords of a murderous nature, lurking like shrouded assassins. The entire release is a ghostly vision, hinting at a dissipated European past of decadence and ghastly buried family secrets. It’s like the soundtrack to an Italian horror movie, only nowhere near as lurid as you’d expect from your typical Dario Argento gore-fest, and if a cinematic abortion existed to accompany this unsettling music, it would be a severe psychological horror of such monstrosity that viewing two reels of it would send the cinema-goer straight from the theatre to the bughouse, transported in a special truck constructed for the purpose with padded walls. Santasede is a collaboration between Raymond Dijkstra and Tiff Lion; Tiff, who might be better known to Italian indie-rock fans as the singer Tying Tiffany, provides the eerie voice work, electronic music, and acoustic instruments. Chilling, distant, alien.

Hip and Deranged


J Marks / Shipen Lebzelter
Rock and Other Four Letter Words

Here’s a real one of a kind item from 1968, reissued in 2012 by Clive Graham on his own label…once in a while Graham gets his hands on some real freakeroonies, such as Beyond The Black Crack by Revd Dwight Frizzell and the indispensable Bunhill Row by Adam Bohman. Rock and Other Four Letter Words, as a partially spoken-word LP, also fits into his personal interest in the Sound Poetry genre, and he has played it on his radio show Sound Poets Exposed alongside the works of Peter Handke, Kenneth Gaburo and Lou Harrison.

The original album was put together by J Marks and Shipen Lebzelter, and released by Columbia Masterworks. The story of it is that J Marks had just compiled a paperback of this title for Bantam Books featuring photographs of contemporary rock stars by Linda Eastman, with quotes from Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Bee Gees, The Mothers of Invention… The record we now hear was built around his tape recordings of these interviews. I should say that this LP is very far from being the “album of the book”. In fact neither these tape snippets, nor the LP itself, really explain anything about the rock musicians or their music. Instead their statements are largely fragmented, cut up and rearranged with tremendous care to form ambiguous and witty collages. It’s form of electro-acoustic manipulation, and does in some sense qualify as “sound poetry”. At least four of the tracks here allow us to hear imaginary surreal dialogues and conversations taking place between Townshend, Page, Grace Slick, Tim Buckley, Lou Adler, the Dave Clark Five and other luminaries. In these meticulously assembled segments, can we expect the “truth” about rock music in 1968 to leak out, Burroughs-style, from these compressions and cut-ups? Hear (and read) to judge for yourself. On ‘Eine Kleine Hayakawa’, Marks edited together various out-take portions – strings of pauses, yawns, mutterings and stutterings from these genius rock stars, not necessarily to make them look stupid, but simply to create 90 seconds of gloriously loopy mouth-gibberish.

I suppose we might expect “rock music” to appear here somewhere, but apart from a “rock riff” supplied by J Marks on the first track, there isn’t much of it. There is gospel, soft pop, absurd songs, microtonal chanting, and an orchestra of session musicians playing all sorts (some of them are from a free jazz background, see below). It’s a verbal and vocal album – if I can state the obvious, there’s a lot of vocals on this album, and they’re producing a veritable tidal wave of verbal information, crashing against your brain in slow motion. “This is the Word” is the opening statement on the insert, as if we’re being read scripture from the Gospel of Rock. On top of the recorded voices and cut-ups, we’ve got two separate choirs – the Gregg Smith Singers and the Greater Abyssynian Baptist Choir, and occasional lead vocals from Marks and Lebeltzer joined by the soloists Hilda Harris and Carol Miller. Harris and Miller do a fine turn on ‘It’s True’, one of many easy-listening swoonalongs on the record, Lebeltzer recites a poem on ‘Essence of its Own’, and all four are featured on ‘Greatest Hits – Love Your Navel’, a vaudeville parody song with absurdist lyrics which would’ve felt right in place on the first United States Of America album (one of this disc’s progenitors, in my estimation; another would be Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy). Harris and Miller are also called upon to recite random words plucked from US sportscasts as the libretto for ‘Poop for Sopranos and Orchestra’, another grandiose nonsense which inflates the ridiculous into the size of a Macy’s parade balloon. To their credit, the very professional singers take it all perfectly seriously, never once cracking an audible grin. Can this possibly get any better?

Well, there’s Gregg Smith Singers who on side one perform ‘In the Middle of Nothing’ which is a gorgeous Fifth Dimension soundalike with a suitably smooth arrangement, but they also sing a remarkable free-form microtonal piece on ‘Essence of its Own’, worthy of a Ligeti choir piece. At moments like these it’s clear the record has an artistic side and the creators’ printed dedication to Karlheinz Stockhausen “who destroyed our ears so we could hear” is not merely empty posturing. Besides that, they somehow recruited Alan Silva to contract some of the session musicians, and he brought in some of his free jazz friends – Andrew Cyrille, Roswell Rudd, Stephen Furtado, Martin Alter…seems astonishing that CBS would have lavished all this money on such a bizarre project from two unknowns, but I suppose this was a more innocent time. The back cover blurb “Featuring a cast of thousands” isn’t far from the mark…and that phrase resonates nicely with the hucksterism promised by the front cover, which resembles a Barnum & Bailey circus poster as much as it’s inspired by Dada typography.

It’s one thing to zoom in on various odd aspects and single tracks of this unusual album, but the totality of it is a very well-integrated and strangely mind-sapping listen. It hangs together beautifully as a fuzzy, dream-like and hilarious-serious album. It’s a unique counter-culture statement of some sort – using themes from underground and mainstream rock, free jazz, gospel, easy listening, poetry, Burroughs cut-ups…and released on a major label. “Remarkably, it is also the first record either of them made,” points out Clive Graham in his sleeve notes. “Nothing of [their] later work compares with the grand scale of their debut.” Graham has done his research, too; J Marks appeared on one other album for the same label by the 1st National Nothing, a colourful rock-theatre combo from California who wound up in NYC. After this he seems to have become Jamake Highwater and is claiming a Native American heritage in his writings and documentary works. Lebzelter’s story is no less strange; he joined The Trees Community, a travelling Christian group of folkies who made a record called The Christ Tree in 1975, which has since acquired some of the same cultiness that attached itself to Father Yod. A fine reissue job, and particular care has been taken with the insert to approximate the wild typography of the original. Groovy! Mad! Intense & really subversive but reasonable!