Monday, 30 November 2009

Gerhard Kammerlander

An impersonator of bands, Gerhard Kammerlander produced each sound with his mouth alone, like the various human beatboxes to be heard on rap records, the self-proclaimed first of these being Doug E. Fresh. Kammerlander first came to my attention several years back, via an airing of my friend Alasdair's copy of the essential John Peel's Archive Things (http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/John_Peel's_Archive_Things), a 1970-released BBC label compilation (REC 68M). This absolute treasure trove of a record gathered together "unusual recordings from the BBC archives" - for instance, a traditional children's rhyme from Liverpool; a Zulu gumboot dance; Balinese gamelan; a live beetle jew's harp from New Guinea; and a nose flute quintet from Malaysia. In his back sleeve blurb, Peelie describes his "personal wish" for radio : "a completely flexible and format-less service", going on to mention that he came closest to realising his ideal in 1968 - '69 - firstly in the opening half of his Wednesday Night Ride show; and then in its Wednesday evening successor which "appeared briefly... before being pruned in the name of uniformity".
Herr Kammerlander's 1 min 40 track which closes side one - impossible to follow, I guess - is his interpretation (listed as Trumpet Imitation) of a march called Uzun Havasipo, "meaning a "long" or "tall" melody". Sad to relate that Internet searches have failed to turn up any information on this wonderful Austrian vocalist (from Bludenz, Vorarlberg). I'm unable to say if he's still alive, or if any other recordings exist - but I dearly hope there's more out there : how did those hundred seconds happen to be in the Beeb's archive ? Surely there must have been other performances, an interview, even... ?
John Peel went on to select more archive material for his 'eighties series Peel's Pleasures, including a marvellous recording of one Mrs. King and her Siamese cat Si-Si (sp ?), Mrs. K. singing Mighty Like A Rose with pussycat yowl accompaniment. I remember that Ivor Cutler incorporated BBC archive recordings into a series of programmes he made for (I think) Radio 3. Time, surely, for many more volumes of oddities and wonders from this rich source to be exhumed and compiled.

Link (active?) : http://www.fileden.com/files/2007/3/7/860001/Brassband.mp3.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Sparkie Williams

Here's a good pop quiz poser : Which 'fifties British recording star was stuffed after his death in 1962 ? The answer : Sparkie Williams (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/79/Sarkiethebudgie.jpg), the red labels of whose Parlophone single (Philip Marsden Introduces Sparkie Williams ; 45-R 4475), offering up the info that he was, "The 1958 Champion Talking Budgerigar". On this disc from that year, "The T.V. budgie man" Philip Marsden introduces himself, then has an amiable cut-'n'-paste chat with Sparkie, who reveals his address as, "34 Garden Drive, Forest Hall" (Newcastle); comes out with a few phrases ("Mama's precious pet"; "Mama's little treasure"; "Mama's beautiful little bird"); and states that he loves his "mama" and "daddy". A requested cup of tea is gently denied him by Marsden, who puts the talking wonder through his paces, encouraging him to recite various short pieces of poetry before the beverage is finally forthcoming in sympathetic response to Sparkie coughing. One poem is rendered in Sparkie's local Geordie dialect.
The flip Sparkie The Fiddle spoofs an American thriller, all D.A.s and "dames", and sees the budgerigar "acting" (i.e. with recordings of his voice dropped into the story). Each side has a "Peacock" composer credit, which gives the game away rather as regards the topside, the notion of Mr. Marsden and Sparkie having a cosy natter together in the studio. I wonder if there were any earlier records of talking budgies, back in the 'twenties and 'thirties, the heyday of novelty 78s ?
My first encounter with Sparkie was on the Caperns Pretty Talk ! flexidisc (Printed Sound Limited) (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Ya4mXnw2WsI/Ss89olSvlCI/AAAAAAAAAzY/QCcNXFWK3m4/s1600-h/pretty_talk_record_front.jpg), on which he demonstrates his prowess on the final track, the other seven being devoted to his "mum" Mattie L. Williams (who provides helpful back sleeve blurb) repeating phrases over and over so that your budgie might pick them up. Michael Nyman's 1977 piece Pretty Talk For George Brecht (unheard by me, alas) made use of material from that flexi. More recently, Nyman produced an opera based on the brief life of Sparkie : http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/tyne/7963007.stm; and http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/stage/opera/article5977349.ece. Recordings of
Sparkie have also appeared on a 1967 Philips label budgie tuition L.P., Talking Budgerigars With Philip Marsden (BL 7824); and on the British Library's essential Bird Mimicry CD (http://publishing.bl.uk/cd/bird-mimicry).
I've no idea as to whether budgerigar-keeping is still a popular pastime, or if there's a ban in force these days... it feels very much something from a bygone era - perhaps a bit Beanoland; from a climate in which some features and attitudes are in aspic, like mortarboard-wearing schoolmasters : one can easily imagine a first frame in which Biffo says, proudly, "Isn't my new budgie a beauty, Buster ?", as said creature greets the bear's bereted sidekick to his amazement and pleasure.

Links : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparkie; http://archive.thisisthenortheast.co.uk/2002/12/3/112483.html.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

John Cage and Lois Long : Mud Book

A book on an unexpected subject. Subtitled, How To Make Pies And Cakes, this five-and-a-quarter-inch-square hardback appeared via Harry N. Abrams in 1988 (ISBN 0-8109-1533-2) and consists of forty pages plus a three-page essay by John Russell in which the mud pie is described as, "the first working model of all human makings". Composer Cage and 1918-born textile designer Long collaborated on Mud Book's original text and artwork one mid 'fifties autumn evening in Pomona, New York. It was intended as a children's book with a view to it bringing in some money. Unfortunately they were unable to raise any interest in it. Having rediscovered the moquette in her files, Long showed it to artist Graham Snow, whose dealer, gallery owner David Grob, was enthusiastic. A numbered, signed edition of five hundred concertina-format books was produced in 1983 in conjunction with Tokyo printer Hiroshi Kawanishi (Simca Print Artists). Simca used over one hundred silkscreens to approximate the original as accurately as possible. Abrams published the first trade edition, but I wonder how many copies of this more financially accessible version were bought for kids, if it ever transcended its artist's book status and reached its intended audience ?
The pages are thick cream-coloured art paper and the easy-to-follow (a mud pie being something anyone can make, whatever their age) instructions and ingredients ("some dirt and enough water") are handwritten in black in upper case. The illustrations are lovely and simple, with just brown, orange and white being used along with the aforementioned black : for "some dirt", we see a basic brown triangle representing a heap of earth; for "dump it onto a newspaper", a real torn-off piece of newspaper is the background for the mud's brown blob - the facing page shows a newspaper rectangle with six different brown shapes painted on. Classified ads on both of these pieces of paper concern the availability of pets : golden retriever, poodles, rottweiler, samoyed, Siberian husky, cats - and a "female, Tig tail MacAcque" for sale for two hundred bucks. The sun is pictured as an orange disc with stylised flames shooting out.
There's a recipe for a mud layer cake, with a depiction of sieving to extract the black pebbles which will form the cake's filling. A fine double-pager illustrating the mud and water mixing process is rather ab ex, all Pollocky scribbles and drips. Cage and Long also show how to decorate the layer cake, with dried dandelions as candles, for a birthday, and a great spread has the white seeds floating away against a black background after the blowing-out ceremony.
Lois Long worked with fungi expert John Cage (with Long, plus a couple of others, Cage formed the New York Mycological Society in 1962, hunting mushrooms) on another book, Mushroom Book (http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/268626/surprising-literary-ventures.thtml), though I've yet to locate a copy and am not certain as to whether it was republished by Abrams alongside the pair's mud pie one.

New York Times article : http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/30/magazine/the-mud-club.html.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

two decimalisation-themed 45s

I always rather enjoy records pertaining to events, fads, and campaigns; in addition, I take a perverse delight in owning just one or two discs by folk whose music I generally find unpalatable : Cliff Richard's Thunderbirds movie song Shooting Star is great, but is pretty much all the Cliff I can cope with. Similarly, Des O'Connor's dance craze cash-in Twist Drive and his swinging London paean Dick-A-Dum-Dum are the only Des necessary. And I find Shirley Bassey's Bond film work sufficient too.
Max Bygraves is one of those cringe-inducing light entertainment characters to whom I've always given a wide berth - but I'm pleased to possess his 1970 single Decimalisation (Pye 7N.17999) in its blue wavy-top paper company sleeve. A Gordon Rees/Ernie Ponticelli composition, Decimalisation is a close relative of Cliff's irrepressible '68 Eurovision smash Congratulations (note the extra syllable in its one-word title) - and thus sounds at least two years out of date for its release year.
Halfway through, Max tries his hand at rapping : "The half-crown too has gone for good/ A coin that foreigners never understood" is my favourite couplet. Earlier, Max rhymes "shilling" with "milling" : "A fifty pence piece hasn't got a milling" is perhaps the sole instance of this word's use in a pop song. I prefer not to ponder the lengthy career of the British institution that is Max, save for to mention that I once learned that a Canterbury charity shop was refusing donations of Max's numerous albums for the reason that the sheer quantity, combined with the regular passing-on of members of his audience who'd agedalongaMax, meant that supply far outstripped demand. And Max's son recorded a few glam-era sevens (like Banana Pie) under the name "Ant".
A companion piece to Max's single is by a labelmate, a little lad name of Sebastian (no surname). My advance copy of D.E.C.I.M.A.L. (Pye 7N.45048) is rubber-stamped with the release date 26 FEB 1971. I guess this was Sebastian's only record. Penned by Roker and Beadle, its jaunty, easy listening pop backing isn't too far off what Dawn were doing in '71. Sebastian opens with, "Once upon a time we divided up our money into units called l. s. d." - those initials raising a smile coming from the mouth of one so weeny. Like Max, Seb does a little rap towards the record's close, and there's a great three-times-over call-and-response part worthy of James Brown : "Have you got it ?" "Yeah !" The flip, The Decimal Theme, has Seb prattling away precociously, displaying his knowledge over a spot of m.o.r. : "Now if a pound of meat costs 42 new pence what do three pounds cost ? The answer is 126 new pence which is the same as 1.26 pounds. Decimals are easy !"
I don't know how many decimal currency records appeared around D-Day-time, though I do have the BBC's 1970 Decimal Points L.P. (REMO 46M) upon which is explained the inevitable inaccuracy of a system which sees ten transposed onto twelve, and the resulting perceived short-changing of irritated customers by shopkeepers. I still seek Albert Steptoe actor Wilfred Brambell's CBS single The Decimal Song... was that the lot ? I've a decimal currency song from down under, on the magnificent Antipodean Atrocities double, but that's another story/continent...

Link to piece with Sebastian reference : http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,904712-1,00.html.

two decimalisation singles

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Postage cassette

Set up by Michael Leigh, The A.1 Waste Cassette Co. was "inspired by Morgan Fisher's Miniatures project" which, although not mail art network-related, "had a similar easygoing attitude and commitment", its accompanying documentation resembling that for a mail art show "if only people had the funds to pay for it !" (Quotes from interview with Michael by Ruud Janssen.)
The deadline was set for 20th July 1995, with Michael requesting brief submissions - music, poetry, whatever - on the single subject of postage, appropriately for the mail art community. The cassettes upon which contributions were sent were returned to each person containing a copy of the finished collection, a good way of reusing them and for Michael not to be left with a boxful of partially used tapes.
I've no idea who pioneered the running of a mail art project which concentrated on sound as opposed to visuals, though I'd wager that it wasn't Michael who was the first to do so. I can't remember how this cassette entered my possession.
A couple of points : How did Michael find participants ? Any direct approaches to folk he knew might be interested, or was every response to his call for submissions in (perhaps) Artists Newsletter ? Also : I wonder how many of those involved were at all known for their work with sound/music, or if this was a big departure for people more familiar with expressing themselves visually... ?
The tape contains thirty-nine tracks, with an international list of participants from the U.K., Italy, the U.S., France, Finland, Canada, Hungary, The Netherlands, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and Eire. Names I know : Patricia Collins; Robin Crozier; Ruud Janssen; A.1 Waste Noise Co. Ltd.; and Bill Whorrall. The single-sided b&w inlay has tape graphics with "BUSH" altered to read "MUSH". It's a cleverly presented wraparound with a space cut in the centre of one panel to accommodate the case's twin prongs which slot into the spools. After the final track, Michael reads out the contributors' contact details, then fills the cassette with information on other mail art projects.
Bill Whorrall kicks things off with some dialogue, this being followed by the off-the-cuff Postal Rap. There's some chopped-up Beatles - Please Mr. Postman, inevitably; a poem with what sounds like yogurt pot percussion; music by the splendidly monickered Ivor Arbuckle; raspberry-blowing sounds by Robin and Chris Nolan Crozier; some saxophone; the word "postage" as a sample over some jaunty backing music featuring whistling; a song entitled Disgruntled Postal Worker; Ruud Janssen at his desk reading out part of the project's instructions; someone knocking on a door; a Japanese spoken word piece; some chat about the design of British postage stamps as compared to elsewhere in the world; Water Letter For Ray Johnson which seems to combine a manual typewriter and a flushing lavatory; a bunch of phrases on the subject for English learners from a crackly old tuition disc; an item being wrapped with paper and sticky tape; and lots more besides.
Whatever became of all these folk ? Somehow the medium (although never quite obsolete; occasionally experiencing a small revival) makes this cassette feel much further in the distance than its fourteen years, like a relic from the 'sixties or something. A very entertaining listen, though a shame it peters out three-quarters of the way through. I guess all of these recordings were of varying quality, which is pleasing; and nothing's permitted to outstay its welcome, the chopping-off point being one minute.
Michael also assembled collections on the themes of peace, and waste; in addition he ran a thematic tape exchange, building up a catalogue from which contributors of cassettes filled entirely with songs on a single subject could select one in return for theirs.

Michael Leigh : http://bootsalesounds.blogspot.com; http://flobberlob.blogspot.com; and http://curiosthings.blogspot.com.

mail art cassette inlay

MICHAEL : Please notify via comments if any errors/serious omissions and I'll rectify the entry, thanks !

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

two sleeves for milk chocolate records

Sitting proudly face out on a shelf in my flat are two seven-inch card sleeves, for "long "eating"" milk chocolate records made by Rotterdam company Beukers & Rijneke. The first I found was for Contemporary Mood - from the catalogue number on its front (Melodisc MLP 508), I guess this was an album sleeve shrunk down to size; no artist is given, but the feel is very 'fifties. (In the Record Collector Rare Record Price Guide there's a Lord Kitchener ten-inch numbered MLP 510 and dated 1957, which helps to pinpoint the date of the original jazz (?)record*, though I can't say if the chocolate version was produced in that year.)
The second sleeve was eagerly snapped up by me on eBay as it's a version of a cover I have (illustrator : Denis Piper) with the actual record inside - a wonderful 45 r.p.m. extended play entitled Calypso Time (Melodisc EPM 7-67) featuring Lord Kitchener's All Stars; Lord Kitchener with The Fitzroy Coleman Band; Russell Henderson Steel Band; and The Mighty Terror and The Rupert Nurse Calypso Band. Neither disc nor sleeve bear a date, though I'd hazard '57 for this one too, judging from a couple of the Leadbelly catalogue numbers with dates given in the aforementioned price guide.
The backs of the two choc record sleeves are identical - "This MILK chocolate record is wholly edible once the paper disc has been removed", runs a portion of the text. How many different Melodisc sleeves were used for Beukers & Rijneke chocolate records ? Would these discs have been playable in any way ? The reference to the paper disc is puzzling - could that have contained a sound recording ? Or was it just to protect the record's sleeve from staining by the confectionery ? Perhaps the chocolate record had paper labels, and this is what was meant ? I'm sure I've read about chocolate records covered in (briefly) playable tinfoil...
Whatever, these definitely served as unusual advertisements for the Melodisc label's output.
What other chocolate discs existed ? You'd think there might have been ones sold in repro Elvis and Beatles E.P. covers as those would have been real moneyspinners - but then such huge artists didn't exactly require the sort of commercial boost which would have been of benefit to a label such as Melodisc which dealt in more specialist musics.
I'd very much love to unearth an intact choc record in its sleeve, though fifty-two (?) years on it's unlikely that any survive owing to the foodstuff's fragility - as well as its utter scrumminess to the purchaser. Who'd not have felt tempted to eat their record ? (Having said that, I still have an unopened Thornton's Screaming Lord Sutch chocolate lolly made for the 1997 General Election.) I wonder if Robert Opie might have one... ?

* Edit : the artists on the Contemporary Mood L.P. were Ginger Folorunso Johnson, Fernand Calvet, Lionel Kerrien, and George Browne.

sleeve for chocolate record
sleeve for chocolate record

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Victor Olaiya & his "Cool Cats" Band : The Kerosine High-Life

One of my very favourites in my sizeable and rapidly expanding advertising discs collection, this undated, South Africa-made cardboard eight-inch 78-revs single-sider "comes to you with the compliments of Shell". Its manufacturer was Cameo Sound Pictures (Pty.) Ltd. of P.O. Box 5944, Johannesburg. Perhaps strangely, the music isn't South African, but is by the Nigerian Victor Olaiya & his "Cool Cats" Band (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Olaiya).
The play side is black with red and yellow print, plus white, and shows a Shell advertising character pointing to that famous company logo, and a great little "HOW TO PLAY THIS RECORD" panel near the top instructs the proud owner on using their "hand-wind portable gramophone" or "automatic electric gram". The disc's reverse is yellow, printed with a great drawing of a kerosine lamp aglow, wit the same advertising character holding aloft a small can/bottle and pointing at the word "kerosine".
The music is, I'd guess, typical of trumpeter Olaiya and his band at that time. The lyric's first verse runs, "For the brightest lights buy Shell kerosine/ For lighting and cooking use Shell kerosine/ It lasts longer and is three times brighter/ Shell kerosine (burns ?) stronger and is three times better." The following verse is , for me, less easy to decipher but does mention the cooking of food and "the brightest light". Prior to all this, a chap announces the band : "The makers of Shell kerosine have pleasure in bringing you the music of Victor Olaiya and his celebrated "Cool Cats" Band, and here they are - the "Cool Cats"."
The clear plastic disc is raised in a few spots around the edge on my copy where not sufficiently adhered, but the record still plays well after all these decades - a bit of pressure of the thumbs helps to subdue those slight bumps, helps the stylus get through them a little more easily - though the defect isn't at all a major one and is only detactable during the announcement. I'm not sure if there's a reliable method of re-adhering the disc to its backing card.
I wonder how this record was presented when new - mine came without a sleeve, via an eBay auction back in February 2008 (the seller described it as being 1950s). It's one I display on its edge, at the front of a shelf, leaning back, permanently visible - a beautiful artefact to the eyes as well as the ears.

South African cardboard record (front)
South African cardboard record (back)

Link to video of cardboard record collector Michael Cumella : http://www.printmag.com/Article/Michael_Cumellas_Flexi_Disc_Collection_Video.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Laurence Lane : Bip / Bip Bip

A record I own but have never heard. Presented in a transparent PVC sleeve, this double B side picture disc was released in 1999 on This Is Pop Records (5 029385 161187). The red label area mentions W&LI (Work & Leisure International - see write-ups of singles by Matt Wand and Hayley Newman; link : http://www.international3.com/work_lesure/wlitext.htm). Each side of this disc is black (aside from the label area), aping a conventional record, with the notable exception that on side B there's an unnumbered bar code, and two such bar codes decorating side BB.
I tried this record on my turntable, but not only did I just get silence but the stylus didn't progress : whilst it appears at first glance that there's a groove, that's just part of the picture - both sides are smooth to the touch.
This single is actually only audible if read with a bar code scanner. The topside's label area indicates that it's a 45, with the flip mentioning 90 BPM, so my interpretation is that it's necessary to hold or secure the scanner above the spinning record to get the desired effect, the ninety beats per minute.
Perhaps a ridiculous record to have spent £4.50 (plus handling charge) on, as I doubt I'll ever possess the correct set-up to experience it properly - but more than worth that price for its novelty value.
Interestingly, Lane receives the in-brackets composer credit for each side - I'm confused as to how that works copyright-wise : is it that particular numerical bar code Lane "composed"; or do Bip and Bip Bip refer to the broader idea ? That is, if someone made their own version of this single using their own unique bar code, would it constitute a cover, with royalties needing paying to Lane ? Certainly the "bip"s would sound the same...

Record available here : http://www.simplesampling.com/stockAvailablePAYpalV1.htm.
Laurence Lane is a director of International 3 : http://www.international3.com/about.php.
Link to one of Laurence's projects : http://www.croweandrawlinson.net/atp/artists/lane/intro.html.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Granny Takes A Trip 1980

This CD, issued by Allan Henry's imprint Topplers (perhaps best known for releases by former Swell Maps Jowe Head and Phones Sportsman), on their "cheap and nasty offshoot label" Topplers Lite, comes in a card cover upon which is reproduced the lovely colourful artwork from an old Hong Kong-manufactured "C-60 Compact Cassette" - an Eltex Space Tape (there's a fantastic web site, a gallery devoted to such recordable cassettes - it shows the inlays if you click on the pictures of the tapes to enlarge them : http://www.c-90.org/catalogue/tapes).
The disc itself is unusual as it's black rather than the typical silver, its label side cleverly designed to resemble a five-track vinyl record, with raised, feelable grooves.
In 2004, the cassette in question was unearthed in a Kilmarnock charity shop, and an edited version released by Topplers Lite in 2008; my copy is the '09 reissue (no catalogue number visible), the full recording with new music added. Sometimes this music is gentle and unobtrusive beneath the dialogue, other times it's a little more bubbly, makes its presence felt slightly more. Said dialogue is a day-to-day diary documenting an unknown Scottish woman's holiday in Europe : she visits France, Belgium and The Netherlands, a bit of a whistle-stop tour, seemingly. In her delightful accent, we hear details of her travels, learn of the various hotels, one "the full length of the street" with 290 bedrooms; of the weather; of what she had for breakfast and dinner - each meal almost invariably concluding with a cup of tea; of her inability to work the lift as she couldn't read the French-language instructions; of her impressions of the French (a lack of friendliness); about her having been told not to drink the water in foreign countries; of the dirtiness of Belgium; of the coronation of the new Dutch Queen (Beatrix); of a visit to an 81-year-old Mae West, who turned out to just be a woman who dressed up as her; of the Dutch flower market; and of the exploitative prices of certain things - "£23 for a headsquare ! It was ridiculous !". We also get guide book descriptions of the places Granny visits, including their populations, and we hear her chatting and joking with a couple of fellow holidaymakers. Prize quote for me has to be, in a French hotel, "I had twenty-eight potatoes on my plate !"

This release doesn't appear to be available any more.

Topplers : http://www.topplers.net.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The ESP Sampler

In my early teens, the sampler album was an excellent way of having seemingly important artists represented in my tiny record collection. Island's late 'sixties/early 'seventies various artists budget releases were still in the racks, the single L.P.s available for the price of a new 45 - King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man and Dr. Strangely Strange's Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal were particular favourites at thirteen. Other tremendous discoveries via samplers were the Third Ear Band's Stone Circle (off the twenty-track cheapie promoting the Harvest Heritage series - Shirley Collins was featured too, as well as Tomorrow's My White Bicycle); and Peter Hammill's German Overalls from a reduced-in-the-sale Charisma round-up. A few weren't so great, like the free CBS and Polydor ones I acquired through music weekly Sounds - generally, pretty dull; I wish I'd put the postage and packing money towards an Ivor Cutler or Lol Coxhill L.P. instead, but I was impatient to hear, and own music by, as many different artists as I could.
Amongst the most consistent samplers I've found are the three Virgin Front Line collections; and the 1982 double put out by Recommended, two hours long and encased in a glitter-decorated thick plastic outer. By comparison with the latter, On-U Sound's first Pay It All Back offering looks disappointingly cheap and nasty, though houses some gems like Prince Far I's classic ode to Bedward, a preacher whose faith erroneously led him to believe he could fly. Y Records' Birth Of The Y is pretty fine too, as are those assemblages of music from around the world on GlobeStyle. Then, each having its moments, there's Virgin's V double with its famous sleeve image of the six-fingered hand making a victory (or peace) sign... and of course Dandelion's There Is Some Fun Going Forward, the cover star being John Peel in the bath, with female company.
In the 'eighties I haunted Brighton's secondhand record shops, one day stumbling across The ESP Sampler (ESP-Disk' 1051) in Vinyl Demand. I knew of The Fugs, and Pearls Before Swine, and of course Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra, had an awareness of the label... The vinyl looks very distinctive, twenty-one tracks per side, most of equal(ish) length - one-minute excerpts from the ESP-Disk' catalogue. There are so many tracks that the listing had to be continued from the back cover onto an insert tucked inside the blue and red sleeve. I'd always loved records with lots of little tracks, from Young Marble Giants' Testcard (unusually, a six-band E.P.) through to Ivor Cutler's Privilege which had track separation lacking on his Virgin albums. I enjoy studying vinyl, generally trying out the shortest tracks first, wondering, "What on earth... ? !" if they clock in at a minute or less.
There's plenty of free music on this 99 cent sampler - it proved a crash course for me on those artists I'd read about in Valerie Wilmer's overview of the new jazz, As Serious As Your Life : Pharaoh Sanders, Milford Graves, Sunny Murray, Albert Ayler... There's so much more besides, though - underground stuff like The Godz (and the aforementioned Fugs and Pearls Before Swine); a portion from The Coach With The Six Insides (a musical adaptation of Joyce's Finnegans Wake); William Burroughs; Allen Ginsberg; Ishmael Reed; something from the Movement Soul L.P. of sounds of the freedom movement of the deep south; and a version, sung in Esperanto, of Auld Lang Syne, taken from the label's inaugural release. Vocalist Patty Waters first came to my attention via this sampler.
I guess The ESP Sampler might be filed alongside Morgan-Fisher's Miniatures project for which he enlisted numerous artists who submitted short tracks of around one minute. Although there were different reasons behind the two records, they seem to fit together nicely because of the brevity of the pieces.
The ESP Sampler was perhaps a canny commercial idea : give just a mouthwatering minute of things, enough to tantalise, arouse curiosity, encourage purchase. Maybe it was a little mean not to offer up entire tracks in most instances; or was that more to do with the lengths of many of the free jazz excursions which could scarcely be kept intact ? It's a pretty different story with rock-based samplers where whole tracks appear.

Link : http://espdisk.com/official/catalog/1051.html.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

David Ewan Campbell : Stucked - Up PART ONE (Stucks One to Twenty-Six)

This self-released, no-company-name 60-min cassette from sometime during the 'nineties was assembled by I'm Being Good's David Ewan Campbell, who recorded vinyl sticking on an irritatingly malfunctioning record deck, turning things around to make a virtue out of a hindrance.
No source listing, though David included a folded piece of paper showing approximate timings; and, if more than one for a source track, disc speeds. The inlay's spine reads, "Stucked Vinylesque Emmisions (sic)." The shortest stucks are a scant fifteen seconds apiece, the longest clocking in at a respectable-for-a-punk-45 2:36.
David invited folk to mail him blank cassettes which he promised/threatened to fill with their choice(s) from this collection - "guaranteed to be mesmerising, even mind-warping." He continues, "I defy anyone to gues where all these come from....." - quite a challenge. He did reveal his sources to me once, but - aside from his beloved Bonzos - I've entirely forgotten, which is possibly more fun than having immediate access to my jotted-down info, if indeed I still own that document. Knowing David, I'd wager there'd be some Beatles or an unusual Beatles cover here somewhere... Yesterday was my first listen to this cassette in years.
There's some jazz - David gives us a few secs past the stuck bit, but I don't recognise it. A nice one features some tuneful jazz piano with the typical appreciative smattering of applause which just continues and continues. Something that sounds like cartoon music reveals itself to be from a crackly old E.P. called Musical Multiplication Tables. Side B opens with a 45 version of side A's 33 closer, putting me in mind of when Neu filled a side of an album with a single played at different speeds - supposedly due to no recording budget remaining, or is that a myth ?
There's little chance of mistaking Beefheart - another of David's favourites.
On more than one piece it sounds as though David was monkeying about with the turntable, speeding up the disc with his fingers for comic effect... or perhaps he'd placed a finger on one of the tape machine buttons, half-depressing it to slow down the cassette so it'd play back super-fast. Or both.
Some tracks were recorded sticking at different speeds and in a variety of spots - there are as many as five examples from the disc used as the source for side A, number 6. Some have been faded carefully, others chopped abruptly.
Appropriately, David selected a Rev. Awdry illustration of a stuck steam engine for the b&w Xeroxed inlay - the inside has a quote from an Awdry Thomas story. My tape is black and labelled with manual-typewritten slips of paper, cut out wonkily and sticky-taped on.
To end the whole shebang, some spoken word : something perhaps Churchillian (?) and suitable for these stucks' "unquenchable spirit" (until, that is, David decided to fade/chop them) : "unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit/of the great and unquenchable spirit of the British race."

David Ewan Campbell
I think this photo was taken several years after the cassette...

Monday, 2 November 2009

Christof Migone : Crackers

The only joint Christof Migone is able to crack at will is his right ankle. (Experimenting, I discover that I can do my right elbow.) Eight other joint-crackers join him for this CD, dated 2001, which I guess was Chicago label Locust Music's inaugural release (Locust no. 1), which came to my attention via an ReR Megacorp mailout.
The reverse of this package reproduces a small ad run in a weekly paper : "Do you crack your fingers? Your neck? Your back? Your knees? Your elbows? Your ankles? Your hips? And your...? If so, please phone 230-2749 to make an appointment for a recording session."
Said sessions took place during a residency at Ottawa's Gallery 101 back in October '97 : the gallery's membership and the radio were the other two channels used for the recruitment of volunteers. Editing was performed the following January, and mixing in July 2000.
Here are fifty-two minutes-plus of knuckles, knees, wrists, jaws, toes, ankles, backs, necks, elbows and hips, all pressed into service to create Migone's compositions. It's enjoyable to hear enjoy the shards of fascinating dialogue from interviews preceding the cracking sessions.
Track one is quiet, necessitating the raising of hi-fi volume, or listening church mouse-like, but it's insistent with it : sharp pops and sizzles, plus what's possibly the high-pitched whistle of mic feedback. Another piece comes closer to replicating the sound of something ablaze; whilst a further one has plenty of off-kilter rhythm to it, as though a mysterious sport or dance is being participated in out of view : one can only guess, picturing a bizarre combination of, say, ping pong and tap. Close to the CD's end is a piece during which the individual cracks seem less apparent : there's something of a dense cloud effect.
A very engaging collection of works, and interesting to contemplate how the viewpoint of an uninitiated listener might alter upon their learning of the sound sources - would they be quite as receptive or would the ick factor prejudice them ? If they'd no notion that joints were being cracked, the pieces might not sound a million miles away from Jana Winderen's cassette of sea crustaceas, perhaps...

Links : http://www.christofmigone.com/html/projects_gallery/crackers.html
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christof_Migone.