Thursday, 22 November 2007

Space Movie

Voiceprint DVD30

Compiled at the end of the 1970s from NASA’s archives by British director/editor Tony Palmer this visual history of our first tentative steps into space would have been a feast for the eyes by itself. But, nervous of Mike Oldfield being at a potentially damaging creative loose end following competition of Ommadawn, Richard Branson brokered Oldfield’s involvement as soundtrack composer. The result was a compelling and moving marriage of visuals and rock music, a space equivalent of the use of Floyd’s Echoes in surf-classic Crystal Voyager.

Oldfield found music to hit all the right keynotes by using symphonic tones from Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge and reworking part of Incantations. There’s his updating of Blue Peter’s Barnacle Bill signature tune for the ramshackle early attempts at flight that open the movie through to the subdued and contemplative moods that accompany the stunning film of flaming ascents and fireball destruction. Each step of the way, every moonscape and earthlight is richly delineated in sound.

Viewing this celluloid sense of wonder in these more risk adverse days, with manned space-exploration no longer the brave new frontier but fading history, Palmer and Oldfield’s montage of visuals and music has a moving beauty that illuminates once again that pioneer spirit.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Wayne Kramer Interview

Back on 25th May, 2007 I had the great pleasure of interviewing one of rock’s true gentlemen, Wayne Kramer of MC5. This was for a Q&A piece to go with a review of MC5 manager John Sinclair’s book Guitar Army, recently reissued by Process Press – a fine collection of agit-prop writings from the 60s. The chat with Wayne was so fascinating that I’m publishing the remaining text here, sans the material used for Record Collector. If you want to read the rest, and the review of Guitar Army you’ll need to look out the back issue in question but, even though it’s a bit off-topic for this blog, here’s the rest.

IA: Looking back, what was driving the revolutionary fever between music and social change?

WK: When I was young I believed I knew everything and would live forever, so that enthusiasm to jump in there and make it better comes with being young.

IA: Music isn’t talking about Iraq now in the same way as you guys would have talked about Vietnam though…

WK: They’d [the authorities] learned the lesson in Vietnam of a free press, and they’re determined not to let that happen again. Reporters had been allowed to go wherever they wanted to go and report the war as they saw it. That’s not allowed any longer. All the American military operations, Grenada, Panama, had controlled media coverage. So they’ve learned how to clamp down information and pervert the constitution of the United States and no one does it better than the Bush administration. They’re absolute masters of at least the attempt to control the media.

The Internet has become the underground news service of today. Where we used to have underground newspapers, today we have the Internet and news does get out. We have blogs and internet news reports do in fact disseminate the truth. There was a story of a woman stoned to death in Iraq for having a boyfriend of a different faith, a different God. Those kinds of stories they wouldn’t want to come out, but they do because someone had a cell phone and filmed a mob stoning her to death. So, this is the nature of the struggle for civilisation, there’s no one great victory. You fight and loose, fight and loose, and then you win one. Everything that’s ever happened, in terms of social justice issues, happened from the bottom up, never by government, congressmen or laws. It’s people with cell phones, with video cameras, filming the LAPD beating Rodney King. The civil rights movement came from the streets, up. The end of apartheid, the end of the Berlin Wall came from the streets up, not from the top down.

I’m so proud of Jimmy Carter coming out and saying that the Bush administration is the worst administration in the history of the United States government. Jimmy stepped up, Jimmy manned up!

IA: Whatever happened to rock music’s passion for politics and change?

WK: It’s there [references Dixie Chicks, Serj Tankian and Axis of Justice as examples] but, you’re right, there’s no agreement amongst the new generation about the direction of the country. If you polled young people today, I’m sure half of them would think the war in Iraq was a good thing. They’re ethically and politically ignorant. I don’t know what happened to young people [laughs]. I put some blame at the door of the artists because it’s the artist’s job to carry a message and tell the truth about the world around them. When Picasso painted Guernica, it was an outrage to the government that he’d depicted the outrages and madness of war. That’s the artist job, some of us have to be the Paul Revere riding through the town saying ‘the fascists are coming.’ And I put some of it at the door of the news media who toe the party line of the administration and are afraid to step up and question war criminals like Bush, who’s a criminal based on the tenants of the Geneva Convention.

Rock ‘n’ roll itself is political in its passion and its fiery quest for a voice for young people, of breaking through the status quo. That’s what every generation’s rock ‘n’ roll does. It’s what Elvis did to the big band era and that kind of syrupy rock ‘n’ roll of the 50s, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry … this white boy from the South broke-out with this raw sexuality. It’s what happened with the first wave of the British invasion, that whole new culture and then the 60s generation where the music reflected the culture and the time. And today, with Hip Hop which is their voice which has a political component almost like a Bertolt Brecht sort of thing … the underclass screaming for recognition and using the symbols of the upperclass as batons and so there’s some political consciousness in that world. But there’s also a kind of ambivalence that gets us into trouble like we are now.

I don’t think a rock band can charge the world, just like a movie or a book. But all those things have a role in consciousness raising and information dissemination. The songs are the places where we meet, those are our town meetings, our community meetings and the banners that we wave and the symbols of how we feel about things. Could there be more bands taking a bigger role in contributing to the world around them? Sure, absolutely. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, but if they just want to sing about cars and girls, that’s okay with me as well … I’ve no quarrel with them!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

vert:x - a.f.m.o.m.a.h.e.


“It’s a bit like a cross between Hawkwind and Can” explained Neil of vert:x when sending through this 40-minute CD-R. Well, yes, there is that comparison to be drawn and I also hear a bit of Pressurehed circa Infradrone in its make-up. Neil also suggests that it’s something of an ‘acquired taste’ and I part company with him on that as I crank up the volume and find it immediately impressive. The title track tells you an enormous amount about what to expect here, ‘a floating mass of metal and heavy electricity’, and it certainly delivers in spades.

This is an instrumental album with driving bass and grinding guitars and an industrial overlay, think heavy-duty space-freighters drilling a hole through the fabric of time/space reality and you’ve got something of the abrasive vibe of the music. It takes the jamming around a single theme from krautrock and gives it a sci-fi overtone, sort of sounding like an elongated middle-eight from an early 70s Hawkwind gig. There’s a familiar drone to the tracks with nothing particularly standing-out in distinction from the rest, the same tone and metre employed, but that in turn gives it a hypnotic feel – play it at high volume whilst driving quickly on a darkened motorway and you’ll play right into its buzz and atmospherics.

That consistency of texture applies even to ‘Space Junk’, credited as vert:x v/s s.t.s, which features guitar and sax from Niko Potocnjak and Lovro Zlopasa from Croatian band and self-styled freak-out commune Seven That Spells. The sax gives the clue that something different is happening here whilst the flow of the track is still right into the groove of the surrounding music. So, although broken into seven tracks (eight as I played them but I’m not clear whether that’s an additional ‘hidden’ track or an additional one on my copy) it’s real fair to see this as one cohesive whole.

I was most suitably impressed – and will play this one lots.

vert:x at Myspace
Buy at CD-Baby

Mooch - Dr Silbury’s Liquid Brainstem Band

Dr Silbury’s Liquid Brainstem Band
Ambient Live Records 2xCD

SF Writer and musician Steve Palmer has been recording under the Mooch by-line since the early 1990s, releasing a series of ambient and psychedelic space rock albums in-between his literary endeavours of which this formidable collection is by far the most ambitious and challenging. At its heart is the concept of the quantum jukebox through which Palmer has assembled alternative versions of his band, a sort of multiverse exploration of Mooch – some very similar to his own vision, others far away from the original. To achieve this, he’s gathered an impressive collection of collaborators, including former Hawkwind vocalist Bridget Wishart, Spirits Burning and Noh Poetry Records guru Don Falcone and the dazzling electric violinist Cyndee Lee Rule.

The results are something of a Curate’s Egg, varying from studied jazz based psychedelia and world music through baroque piano and art-school experimentalism and on to some seriously heavy rock, not all of which successfully strikes the target. “Silver Violet Flame” is a delightful and melancholic rumination and “Eight Spokes” an engaging ethnically charged improvisation. “Sandman” on the other hand, predominately Palmer’s instruments with Wishart providing sax and vocals, is disappointing because it’s so nearly right but just fails to find its hook and is the clearest demonstration that a little less material developed over a tad more time might have been the way to go. That said, it’s a substantial and neatly presented package and some time invested in sorting the perfect from the ‘almost there’ still leaves the listener with a well-realised achievement. Palmer comments that he’s always regretting his ambitions exceeding his techniques, but in pushing those boundaries there are certainly some fine instances here where he’s succeeded.

Mooch at Myspace
Ambient Live

Stephen Palmer

Alison Faith Levy & Mushroom - Yesterday I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers

Yesterday, I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers
Four Zero CD

Once alluded to as Space Rock’s answer to Eartha Kitt, the combination of Alison Faith Levy’s deliciously sensual voice with the feel-good and vibrant interstellar jazz-fusion of the ever-evolving Mushroom is a smooth hybrid of laid-back 60s San Francisco sensibilities and smoky basement establishments. As a solo artist, Levy is of the voice and piano, Tori Amos or Veda Hille, approach but here, breathlessly washing across the top of this psychedelic morass she’s an entrancing and ethereal angel, both lulling and beguiling. On “Ocean Beach” with the classic sound of Tom Waits band saxophonist Ralph Carney’s blowing and the sunshine warmth of Erik Pearson’s gently drifting guitar underpinning her understated performance she’s the passing breeze that freshens the dry summer day. Here is a collaboration that could have been made in Heaven.

Mushroom themselves are that archetypal loose collective. Guitarist and vocalist Josh Pollock has drifted through collaborations with John Cale, Damo Suzuki and Kevin Ayers and spent time working with Daevid Allen on various permutations of Gong and the Gong/Acid Mothers Temple psych-terrorist tryst Acid Mothers Gong. Bassist Michael Clare serves with Daevid Allen’s University of Errors whilst percussionist Dave Mihaly works with country/folk performer Jolie Holland. Coming together in this way is clearly an opportunity to cut loose and produce something both contemporary and cool whilst reflecting back on more wide-eyed and optimistic times.

4 Zero Records

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Soft Mountain

Soft Mountain
Hux Records HUX084

Touring Japan in 2003 under the identity of ‘Soft Works’, Soft Machine’s Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean stopped-off at Gok studio in Tokyo on 10th August for two ad-hoc sessions with composer/keyboardist Hoppy Kamiyama. Though not quite in the league of Sun Ra in terms of prolific output, Kamiyama’s career has yielded some two hundred albums of “art-noise-punk-funk,” making him the perfect foil for Dean and Hopper’s more avant-garde experimentalism.

With Ruins and Acid Mothers Temple drummer Yoshida Tatsuya completing the quartet, named after the English translation of Kamyama’s name (‘God Mountain’), they improvised two forty-five minute jams of free-form jazz, which have been condensed down onto this release as Soft Mountain Suite PT.1 and PT.2.

The first cut (running at 30.40) is a cool late-night jazz blow, centred on Dean’s saxophone playing, whilst the other (at 27.55) is a more percussive piece shared between Hopper’s bass and Tatsuya’s busy drumming. Captured whilst Dean and Hopper were on their way to re-establishing Soft Works as the Soft Machine Legacy Project, it’s by its nature at times an uncomfortable and discordant recording. But it’s also an absorbing insight into a couple of hours spent playing outside, or around, the dots.