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Re: Henry Cow and Yes: polar opposites?

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  • Keef
    ... Well, with Takayanagi & Otomo, I think of it as an extension of what some of the conceptual artists were doing with music in the 60 s .... asking
    Message 1 of 34 , Oct 1, 2003
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      Ivan said:

      > Interesting perspective . . . what then to you make of
      > some of Takayanagi & Otomo's work which discourages
      > any form of communication/interaction between
      > musicians? What do you make of Borbetomagus? And how
      > do self described noise artists fit into your schema?

      Well, with Takayanagi & Otomo, I think of it as an extension of what
      some of the conceptual artists were doing with music in the 60's ....
      asking philosophical questions. They also might be looking to generate
      "happy accidents" -- those moments in music making where what you didn't
      intend turned out to be light years better than what you did intend.
      It's brilliant from an academic standpoint, but I seriously doubt
      they're going to make anything lasting or extremely memorable. What
      will ultimately happen though I think is that it's going to expose the
      idea that you can only play what you know, and I'm not sure we've not
      treaded that ground already with AMM. It was 1973 or so when I first
      heard AMM, and my initial reaction was "what is *this*?" It took a few
      years and a lot of reading and listening but I'm in the ballpark of
      getting it.

      Borbetomagus and noise artists? Exploring timbre. The new frontier
      that is our modern music. Artificially made timbres, extreme timbres,
      but they're still shaping sound. I find it irritating at normal volumes
      but very very pleasant and soothing if you turn the stereo *way* down
      and listen to it on the threshold of hearing. But I'm wondering if
      cranking up a sound until the waves square off and the stereo might blow
      up isn't just one of the latest hip stylistic cliches. Ultimately I
      think of all this music as reinventing the wheel, trying to discover a
      new way to make certain bricks that hold up the house. The problem
      (not one that I have with them personally, but a question of aesthetics)
      is where do you go after you've played out an idea like that? Is there
      *really* a linear extreme or does every avenue lead back to where you
      started? You did this, you found that, I got it. What am I going to
      do with it now that I got it?

      If I had to pick a favorite noise piece though, I'd probably pick
      "C.U.M" by Controlled Bleeding off their album "The Drowning." I was
      absolutely freaked out by it because you can adjust your EQ all you want
      and the damn thing is still going to peg the spectrum, and it's not
      really going to change the picture all that much. That and it's just so
      damn much louder than any other record I've heard except maybe Namanax
      or Merzbow. But it's a good stereophonic spatial study with extreme
      sound, and it's a *lot* of fun in the various forms of surround
      available. It's like having four or five pieces wrapped up in the same
      structure to me.

      Domique said:

      > I don't think it's reasonable to expect non-musicians to be that
      > interested in the mechanics of music. If, by some coincidence or
      > newfound interest in music form/theory, they did, then there is a lot
      > in Henry Cow, Yes, and many other prog bands to love for them. IMO,
      > this is one of the *main* reasons why prog is not more popular. My
      > question is, how many prog fans *aren't* interested in how music
      > works (or are musicians themselves), at least to a small degree?

      I'm not sure that's why prog isn't popular ... I think that's more a
      sociological thing. It's definitely not a buddy thing really. You
      don't get large groups of people hanging out drinking beer and eating
      potato chips to Henry Cow in an ordinary setting (maybe when you have a
      progfest or something). Of course when you're a band and you're writing
      fantasias left and right and there's very little in the way of
      verse/chorus (something that Yes only broke away from occasionally), you
      can't expect anything but those of us who do like to spend some time
      alone to want to delve into it. But there are exceptions to "thinking
      music" not being popular ... Stereolab for example.

      My problem though isn't with non-musicians not caring about the
      mechanics of music -- it has more to do with non-musicians who don't use
      their brains and base some sort of misconception (such as ELP always
      sucks -- no, they *sometimes* suck but frequently they're very good) on
      what some twit wrote in some magazine 35 years ago. My attitude toward
      all rock journalism can described with one quote from Henry Rollins --
      "Read Rolling Stone like you really care about that guy in the Eagles!"

      My partner doesn't care a flying ratfuck how music works and he's a prog
      buff. In fact that's how we met -- when he noticed me wearing my
      walkman phones around my neck he asked what was in my CD player at the
      moment and it was the then new Stereolab album. I asked what was in his
      player and (you guessed it, drum roll please ...) Henry Cow (either
      Unrest or Learning, think it was Unrest). Surprise, surprise. He was
      floored that I knew who they were, as was I. In the 80's his thing was
      4AD and abstract industrial, and he was worried that I would complain
      about the noisier things on his stereo. I told him well, if you don't
      mind me and my free jazz records, and the volumes of Stockhausen and
      Crumb that I listen to, not to mention the tons of Sun Ra, and the
      occasional Napalm Death roar, everything will be fine. I've lost track
      of how many years it's been. I think the new Stereolab album at the
      time was either Dots and Loops or Emperor Tomato Ketchup, so it's been
      awhile. Funnily enough before we met he'd never considered anything
      other than rock, jazz, or funk, but he does seem to be fascinated
      watching me play Sibelius or Chopin on the piano, something I do for two
      hours every day regardless of sleep. But if I need a non-musician
      perspective I ask him, and he's only a muso about it sometimes.

      > You think a lot more of Yes in the 80s than I do. Personally, it
      > sounds like Yes were actively *trying* to do things other people were
      > doing, but who knows.

      This is a bad thing? So they connect with a lot of people. This is a
      reason not to like them? I think that's really screwed up. Do you
      remember when 90125 came out? Do you remember what it was competing
      against? You'd be watching eMpTyV and you'd get Wang Chung, Nena, Nik
      Kershaw, "The Reflex" for the umpteenth time, etc. etc. etc. ad
      infinitum, and suddenly "Leave It" or "It Can Happen" would come on and
      your mind would be completely blown because suddenly there were records
      that weren't so challenging to find something to like about them. And
      if you were a chops guy like I was at the time, there were plenty of
      chops in those songs. Whenever I hear someone saying how Yes became the
      Big Degenerator in the 80's, I think, well, their putting that sort of
      music over on a large group of people is quite a feat, concessions made
      to stay with the times or not. Let's see *you* do it.

      > If your point is that there are interesting things to hear in all
      > kinds of music, regardless of the various non-musical criticisms, I
      > couldn't argue. However, not everyone interested in music listens
      > for the same stuff, even musically speaking. I'm sure ELP's voicings
      > are airtight (I'd even give them the benefit of the doubt for
      > being "inventive"), but excellence in execution is not enough for me
      > to like them. I've argued against a lot of the biases you are
      > exposing here, in record reviews and elsewhere, but ultimately, I
      > still think most of the "critique" is going to come from a very
      > subjective place - certainly no less so than "cool vs uncool".

      I sort of look at Keith Emerson as a fanboy with a hell of a record
      collection. As I get older things jump out at me that he's borrowed --
      I can't remember which song it's in (I think it's Karn Evil 9 II) that
      has this quote from Cecil Taylor's "Spring Of Two Blue J's" aka "Second
      Act of A." Years later when I got into Cecil Taylor and was grooving to
      him I found that record for a decent price (about $75) and was playing
      it when the bit that Emerson quoted leapt out. And then the flood of
      record buying begins all over again, this time with all sorts of modal
      jazz, just at the breaking point where it was turning into the "new
      thing" ... I had lots of "new thing" records anyway, but it's sort of a
      history lesson .... something leaps out and suddenly there's a new
      thread, a new something that I hadn't had before. What's not to like
      about that? I couldn't tell you how much music Emerson has turned me
      onto in this way, but it's a *LOT* because I'm in my late 30's and I
      started listening to them around the time of Trilogy and they were on
      the radio frequently.

      > If I had to make a simple (and very subjective) statement
      > to sum up this comparison, I'd just say Yes were a lot more
      > interested in appealing to a massive number of people than were Henry
      > Cow - and if I had to venture a guess as to why you don't see stuff
      > like that written very much it's because no "journalist" worth
      > his/her salt will be willing to throw that kind of statement out
      > there unless they are doubly sure they have the "evidence" to back it
      > up.

      You're going on the assumption that wanting your music to appeal to
      enough people to make you a millionaire is a bad thing, which to me is a
      very journalistic assumption. Or worse a muso assumption. "Oh I won't
      listen to that -- it's just not cool -- I want to impress the people
      that I hang out with and I wouldn't want them to think X about me." But
      you know, when people start saying "my way or the highway", they usually
      end up on the highway. I'd sell out in fifteen seconds to the highest
      bidder if I only knew how to get them interested or I had the looks for it.

      > Obv, "free improvisation" refers to that distinct from improv w/chord
      > charts, straight-ahead jazz, etc. You're right, nobody plays
      > completely "out of their head" in a literal sense, but I seriously
      > doubt that's what Johan meant.

      Well, with Damo, nothing was planned beforehand except a "you start this
      one" vagueness. It just fell together, and many people in the various
      ensembles each time I've played with him hadn't heard his work with Can
      (not "in" Can -- Damo will tell you that he was never a member of Can,
      ever, and we had a really fantastic discussion about why they're so
      lauded nowadays; he seemed to be floored that there was a resurgence of
      interest in that material). Some pieces didn't have chords or straight
      ahead jazz and turned into a giant noise fest but many of them developed
      chord progressions and verses and choruses as we went. But that was
      just as free as the other stuff. "Free improvisation" seems to me to be
      another journalism word to describe improvised structure, and I used the
      same tools I used with anyone in any situation to get me through it --
      although I used more of my compositional tools in that setting than I
      normally would .... it's always a pleasurable challenge to play with
      Damo. It doesn't matter what soundpaint you use -- it all boils down to
      starting a sound and finishing a sound over and over and putting some
      sort of spin on it each time you do it. You can be making Euro or
      writing like Ligeti or Xenakis and it's the same act over and over.

      > I am of the opinion that when you know how music works (technically
      > speaking), it can only add to your enjoyment/appreciation/various
      > enlightened experiences. The details you describe above are exactly
      > the kinds of things that might jump out to a musician faster than a
      > non-musician, though unless they were a major factor in why I
      > liked/disliked a piece, I probably wouldn't bring it up in a review,
      > or even at first in a discussion. In my limited experience, only a
      > small percentage of people actually care about my knowledge of Henry
      > Cow's knowledge of music. (If they do, they always email - and I'M

      I think Frank Zappa said somewhere that people in general don't care
      about music. They want the tune. He oversimplified it, as usual, but I
      think he's right. Most people don't care about music and if you make
      them dig for the structure they're less likely to get into it. A
      journalist is going on how a piece hits him on first or second time
      hearing it -- *always*. Wouldn't you say that was rather tough with
      Henry Cow?

      Most reviews that I read are comparisons. They seem to be a flowery way
      of saying this sounds like this other group, but too frequently it
      devolves into "it isn't as good as the album where just after it came
      out we found him in an hotel room with a mouthful of oatmeal, a needle
      in his arm and a carrot up his ass." There's very little that's
      insightful or thought-provoking and a great many of them are downright

      What about those records (and every collector/musician has a ton of
      them) that take a few years to sink in? There's only a small percentage
      of us that are fascinated when we *don't* get it, or when we partially
      get it. My big piece that I'm loving at the moment is "Two One Two
      Vibrations" from Burton Greene's Aquariana album, and one of the things
      that turned me on about it was that I only partially got it -- I got the
      bits that sound like incidental movie music right away or links that
      might have been good on Quincy, but when it got rhythmically out, I was
      left bewildered trying to figure out how it fit in with the "in" stuff
      -- still digging through it but this is going to be one of those pieces
      that I'm never going to quit loving, and I think I'll have to hear it a
      few hundred more times for it to really sink in deep.

    • Ivan Lapse
      Gotta admit that I picked up the Subotnick DVD to hear the full version of Touch. I don t know what Mode has planned for the other Vol. in the Subotnick DVD
      Message 34 of 34 , Oct 2, 2003
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        Gotta admit that I picked up the Subotnick DVD to hear
        the "full version" of Touch. I don't know what Mode
        has planned for the other Vol. in the Subotnick DVD
        series but I'm surely interested.

        One of the superb advantages to having musical pieces
        released on DVD to me is for the full length continual
        play aspect, as with the Feldman DVD. Why the recent
        Complete Jack Johnson set didn't come out in a DVD
        format is beyond me.

        As for DVD-A, I can't see the attraction of this
        format. Call me a gump, but I was perplexed to learn
        of the Chanel Crossings label's (Merdian Arts
        Ensemble, etc.)plans to reissue their catalog and
        future releases in only DVD-A format. Even more
        perplexing is the rumored reissue plans for the ESP
        catalog in DVD-A format!

        The whole DVD-DTS vs. DVD-A debate just gives me a
        headache. I suppose that I prefer DVD-DTS format as
        it is at the moment the more *inclusive* of the two
        technologies - from my standpoint at least. Can't
        lose with the Subtonick DVD though as it is dual sided
        DVD-A / DVD-DTS with a second DVD disk for the
        Gestures interactive program.

        --- Grant Penton <gpenton@...> wrote:
        > > Yeah, here's the full scoop on the extras
        > included:
        > >
        > > http://www.mode.com/catalog/097subotnick.html
        > Thanx for the info- now, to DVD or not to DVD? I'd
        > thought about getting a
        > DVD-A last year, but didn't see enough product to
        > make it worthwhile so I
        > got a standard DVD-VHS combo. If only I could get a
        > DVD-A-ROM, which would
        > be cheaper to replace my DVDR. I have 7 Subotniks
        > on LP which I've all
        > digitised along with a few hundred other
        > electro-acoustic LPs, and will
        > certainly review them while I decide. I won't spend
        > another $8 (Can) for
        > shipping if I can get it cheaper elsewhere though!

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