Cecil Taylor never ceases.
Having only encountered Taylor outside of his music through rare interviews and odd transcripts of jazz roundtables during the mid 1960s, I am now congratulating myself for trying to idle some dead time by entering Taylor into a Youtube search. Through his 2006 documentary ‘All The Notes’ Christopher Felver has somehow managed to gain access to his home/workspace, and appears to have given Taylor the space to speculate on his endless interrogation of both the piano and sonic limits.
The short sequence available through Youtube fascinates me, primarily because in it he repeats an intriguing insight on James Brown, the likes of which he has also discussed in other interviews. Despite his most obvious reference points arriving through the likes of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and the conservatory training of his youth, Taylor nearly always also isolates Brown, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin as artists who constantly feed into his work. I read a story somewhere of Taylor warming up for a performance backstage ( I think it may have been at the Lincoln Center, before he was effectively forced out by Wynton Marsalis). Apparently Franklin’s ‘Say a Little Prayer’ was booming out over the speakers, and he was offering an accompaniment by way of his restless polyrhythmic thrashing of the piano. Taylor obviously hears something going on in there, something we perhaps refuse to acknowledge but which he equally refuses to ignore.
The Buddha Machine
Some more glorious woozy drones courtesy of Dave over at Low Light Mixes - perfect for a mildly hungover sombre Autumn afternoon. The guitar pieces he links to are quietly stunning as well. I should also mention the Hydrogen Cafe whose Light Cycles mix has been haunting me for some time now. And on an ambient/drone bent, there's an interesting history of ambient over at FACT magazine (see also their top 20 ambient albums from last year - where oh where are Labradford and Susumu Yokota??).
I see also that there is a new version of the Buddha Machine available. This wonderful little machine is essentially a drone generator, pulsing out a series of randomised oscillations that swell and throb. The new version has added a whole bunch of new loops and you can now adjust the pitch of the drones. You can even hook a few up together and start generating great washes of sound, sound that seems to escape the confines of the space it was meant for, leaking through the walls and moving ever outwards. As Gavin Bryars said of Marconi: 'Towards the end of his life, [Marconi] became convinced that sounds, once generated never die, they simply become fainter and fainter until we can no longer perceive them. Marconi’s hope was to develop sufficiently sensitive equipment, extraordinarily powerful and sensitive filters, I suppose, to pick and hear these past, faint sounds.' Maybe someone just did...
I was given one of the original machines as a present a few years back and I thought I'd lost it. The other night I was woken by my two year old crying in his sleep and I stumbled in the dark to comfort him. As I laid alongside him in the bed, waiting for the soft murmurings to subside and his breathing to slow, I started to sense rather than hear, another sound in the room - almost as if someone where breathing a low thrumming music. It slowly dawned on me what I was hearing and I leant towards the source, following the swell. Between his pillows, the red light on top flickering in the dark, was the Buddha Machine pulsing out its soft glory. I placed it carefully back where I had found it and went back to bed.
You need some Manatees in your life - not a brace of cumbersome marine mammals but this primeval threshing whiplash of a band. They sound at times as if they have been dredged from some ancient quagmire - peat-clagged and fetid - or as if they have been cut from living rock, the massive dry-stone walls of guitars and the lumbering tempos obeying some other hidden geological rhythms. The first untitled album sounded a little like Isis or a lot like Sabbath - but as if they had dug down beneath the surface of that sound to some subterranean vitality, something more gutteral and primal. The EP that followed, WE ARE GOING TO TRACK DOWN AND KILL VINTAGE CLAYTAHH. THE BEARD BURNING BASTARD (I didn't make that up. I couldn't) is something more dangerous. In parts it has an Earth-like stillness and grace it also has moments when things fall apart at the edges: the track with Eugene from Oxbow is like hovering above an exorcism; 'Mêlée Cut' (see track below) threatens to collapse under it's own weight... I beleive they are in the studio at the moment; and if what they're making follows on from these two records it could be astonishing.
Download: Manatees - Mêlée Cut
Last addition to the alt-folk pieces of the last few days is a repost of a Memory Band interview we did a while back - Stephen Cracknell was good enough to answer a few of our inane questions last July. If you're intrigued by this then go check out The Accidental as well. It's a band Cracknell formed with Sam Genders from Tunng and their album from earlier this year, There Were Wolves is a great record.
The Memory Band are a ragged collective grouped around the elusive figure of Stephen Cracknell - once of Badly Drawn Boy's band and the experimental folk of Gorodisch. At one time or another the band has featured Jennymay Logan, Adem, Polly Paulusmaand Alexis Taylor. As that diverse rabble might suggest they play what is ostensibly traditionally English, or British folk music but with a subtle electronic sensibility bubbling just beneath the surface. The first album kind of caught me by surprise in that it seemed underdone, slightly shambolic even; but over time I found myself listening to it more and more and I became if anything, beguiled by its simplicity. And Apron Strings has had a similar effect: it comes unadorned, unapologetic and it's a record that implicitly understands the participatory space of folk music: it's easy to feel welcomed inside where all those uneasy ghosts are having way much more fun than you are...
Thanks to the band for some cracking music and to Stephen Cracknell for taking the time to answer these questions.
Download: The Memory Band - I Wish I Wish
Listen: The Memory Band - I Wish I Wish
The Memory Band
mountain*7: You’re quite an eclectic bunch - can you give us a potted history of the band and how you got together?
stephen: The band started with me writing some things at home and recording using my computer and releasing it on a 7" single. After a while I realised it was music to be played by a band so I did some gigs with Adem, Polly Paulusma and Jennymay Logan helping out. When Adem and Polly signed solo deals I looked for more collaborators and we did our first gig with a full band at the very first Green Man festival, Nancy, Rob Spriggs and Alexis from Hot Chip played that day. as time has gone on the line up has changed with people coming in and out, there is a core group who play regularly but it stays pretty flexible.
mountain*7: How has this year been for you guys? How has the reaction to Apron Strings been?
stephen: It's been great fun we've played some lovely gigs in great locations and enjoyed ourselves immensely. the reaction to the album was good particularly in the US where it was our first proper release. Now I am about to start work on the third album so will be taking a break from live shows for a while.
mountain*7: I noticed various good reviews and quotes from the US including Spin magazine and Pitchfork. It's quite a 'British' sound you've got (whatever that might mean) - what sort of response has their been in the US?
stephen: The response has been very positive, being on Dicristina Stairbuilders [mountain*7: home to Vetiver and Vashti Bunyan amongst others] helps, they have a great little roster and it was our first US release. US writers seem to really like tracks like 'I Wish I Wish'. I think we stand apart from a lot of the psych-folk stuff thats very prevalent over there and that helps us the US media. Although on the surface our music is very British underneath there are a lot more global influences.
mountain*7: My initial reaction to Apron Strings was that it was a lot more structured than The Memory Band, which contained a lot of looser, almost jam-led material, – was this a conscious decision?
stephen: Not really, it was probably a result of playing more live shows and developing the songwriting. I don't tend to make conscious decisions in music, just follow where the notes take me. At the moment I think the next album will draw more upon the idea of jamming around loops and sketches, but you never know until you're into the process how it will sound.
Artist: The Memory Band
Album: The Memory Band
Label: Hungry Hill
mountain*7: How do you approach your material? I’ve read somewhere that you ‘had in mind drawing upon the vast "memory band" of music created since time began’ – that’s a daunting prospect!
stephen: It doesn't feel daunting, it's just freedom to take influence from everywhere without restrictions which feels liberating to me. I write in different ways with no particular method. Although we've always been described as a folky band, in truth the influences come from a much broader spectrum. I don't really understand the idea of musicians being influenced by other artists and trying to sound like them. I have no desire to sound like the people who inspire me, I more interested in using their ideas in new ways to create new sounds.
mountain*7: The traditional folk song, ‘I Wish I Wish’ has been collected numerous times (most famously by John Clare) – does the weight of all that history become cumbersome? Or is there a kind of freedom with genuine folk music?
stephen: Not at all. Our version isn't really an arrangement of a trad tune, the music is wholly original and the words just appealed to me and fitted with what I had, it just seemed to work. I don't really think about types of music, history or such weighty matters. the great thing about making music is the freedom to do what you want. Obviously folk music is a form where history and tradition has often been given a lot of emphasis but that feels quite alien to me. When I make music I feel free to do whatever I want.
Artist: The Memory Band
Album: Apron Strings
mountain*7: Does the same ideal of freedom lie behind the covers of such disparate songs as Ronnie Lane's 'The Poacher' and the Carly Simon/Natasha Thomas track 'Why (Does Your Love Hurt So Much'?)?
stephen: Yes, I like doing covers, as with the Arthur Russell track on the first album and its great fun doing them and trying to put our own spin on the tunes, which I think we do manage to pull off. I'd like to think we aren't intimidated with what others have done with the songs before.
mountain*7: What have you got planned for the summer? I see you had a slot at Glastonbury – any other festival plans, The Green Man maybe?
stephen: The plan is to get on with making the third album. I'm just finishing another project I've been producing in conjunction with Sam Genders from Tunng, which has yet doesn't have a name, we used the Glastonbury slot to try out some of that material - it wasn't really a Memory Band gig. When that is done it will be back to The Memory Band, which I'm really looking forward to. I've spent the last few years doing loads of music festivals, it will be good to take a break this year.
mountain*7: There seemed to be a nucleus of a 'scene' there for a while with the likes of yourself, Four Tet, Tunng and the whole Homefires thing etc, all melding various styles to varying degrees. Was that, and the godawful folktronica label, just something dreamt up by the music press or was it more than that?
stephen: Well I've known Kieran quite a while and the gang from Tunng are now good friends of mine. Along with the Fence Collective and others we have played a lot of the same festivals and got to know each other. I suppose that constitutes a scene, although I think there is far more diversity and variation in the acts than the media ever recognised. It wasn't just a media creation but the constraints of journalism often mean these things get simplified for a sound-bite culture and important factors are overlooked. What has been funny is seeing a lot of young acts following on who definitely call themselves "twisted folk" acts and very much focus on following in the footsteps of 60s artists which the media have identified as "heroes". I feel quite distant from that and that the earlier artists you mentioned are far more forward looking and less stuck on replicating what has gone before. That's not to say the younger acts aren't good, because many of them are, but that their emphasis seems quite different.
mountain*7: I read somewhere that you're originally from Hale in Surrey, near Hindhead. It's odd because I was reading some William Cobbett recently and he used to frequently crisscross that area of the country on his Rural Rides and there was a strange aura about Hindhead - almost as if it were treacherous or a place to be avoided. What was it like to grow up there, has it affected the way you make or approach music at all?
stephen: That's true I am from Hale and my family have lived in and around Aldershot for a several generations (Hindhead about ten miles south near the Sussex border). I have read some Willliam Cobbett but am not really a fan, he was a bit of a tory. That area of the World is very prosperous now and in truth I couldn't wait to leave, although it was a very beautiful area it was a bit of a cultural desert. My memories of it are that if you went towards London you headed into suburbia but if you headed West you came into a very English countryside, a few miles down the road they still talked with a real Hampshire burr, although the landscape is much transformed now, its part of one of the largest conurbations in the country. As for it affecting my music, I really couldn't say, I suppose it has to really maybe my music still looks in both directions. The story of Fanny Adams which inspired a song on the first album comes from Alton about ten miles further West, but I don't think there is anymore of a dark underbelly to the area than anywhere else, these things are universal. All the gang who started Trunk Records come from that part of the World too.
mountain*7: Trunk Records still seems to be going strong (I love the search engine description: Music - Nostalgia – Sex) – It seems to fit well with the overall aesthetic of The Memory Band, the idea of dipping into all that abandoned cultural memory and retrieving it…what’s happening with that right now? How do you source the material for it?
stephen: I haven't been involved with Trunk Records for a long time now, although I keep in regular touch with Jonny who is still a very close friend and am very proud that what we started is still going strong. Its had some great releases, the new release by Michael Garrick is spellbinding and I adore the Basil Kirchin stuff. As you say there is a strong aesthetic link with what The Memory Band does, its all connected in some strange way.
mountain*7: What are you listening to/reading/watching at the moment? Any recommendations for us?
stephen: I've been enjoying the Gruff Rhys album a lot and also the Fennesz/Ryuchi Sakamoto collaboration. There's an album coming out on Static Caravan by a harpist called Serafina Steer which is wonderful (she plays on the project I mentioned above). She covers a Brian Eno song which has led me to go back and listen to albums of his like Before And After Science. I listen to radio 3 a lot. The one thing I haven't been listening to is folk music....
Apropos of the last post and the spooky folk that dominated the Dead Man's Shoes soundtrack and the odd omission of Matt Elliott who somehow seems to embody this style and implicitly understands its lineage and also to urge you to go out and buy his new record, Howling Songs... Elliott was part of the ragtag collective that made up Flying Saucer Attack, those seminal west country pastoralists who seemingly no one bought but everyone cites. He then went on to form the Third Eye Foundation, whose sound was wash of skittery, almost drum n bass beats, lit by a backwash of queasy synths and disembodied voices (you can hear a bunch of stuff at the band website). His solo stuff has something of this soundscaping instinct but tends towards something more interiorised, and at times the sound seems to emanate from Elliott, creaking from between the hinges of body, ghosting from him. It has the haunted air of a Grimm fairytale, the sound something like a west country take on the lonely hobo folk of Eastern Europe.
'The Kursk' is a track taken from the Drinking Songs album and is as disturbing a track as Elliott has recorded. It details the story of The Kursk, a Russian submarine, lost with all hands in 2000 whilst on a routine exercise in the Barents Sea. It is thought there was a malfunction whilst launching a torpedo and a explosion caused the vessel to sink to a depth of 108 metres. Despite rescue attempts by British and Norwegian fleets, all 118 on board were lost.
This is from the Wikipedia article:
The Russian admiralty at first suggested that most of the crew had died within minutes of the explosion; however, their motivations for making the claim are considered by outside observers as political.
Captain Lieutenant Dimitry Kolesnikov, one of the survivors of the first explosion, survived in Compartment 9 at the aft of the boat for hours after the blasts. Recovery workers found notes on his body. They showed that 23 sailors (out of 118 aboard) had waited in the dark with him.
There has been much debate over how long the sailors might have survived. Some, particularly on the Russian side, say that they would have died very quickly; water is known to leak into a stationary Oscar-II craft through the propeller shafts and at 100 m depth it would have been impossible to plug these. Others point out that the many potassium superoxide chemical cartridges, used to absorb carbon dioxide and chemically release oxygen to enable survival, were found used when the craft was recovered, suggesting that they had survived for several days.
Ironically, these cartridges appear to have been the cause of death; a sailor appears to have accidentally brought a cartridge in contact with the sea water, causing a chemical reaction and a flash fire. The official investigation into the disaster showed that some men appeared to have survived the fire by plunging under the water (the fire marks on the walls indicate the water was at waist level in the lower area at this time). However the fire rapidly used up the remaining oxygen in the air, causing death by asphyxiation.
This isn't an easy watch.