Ten Hours of Stan Brakhage Radio Broadcasts

The ever-lovin’ folks at the utterly phenomenal UBUWEB have posted MP3s of Test of Time, a 20-part series of radio broadcasts by seminal experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, recorded at KAIR, Univeristy of Colorado in 1982.

The series includes “long passages of Brakhage musing on subjects such as film, poetry, theater, and other arts. Includes music, lectures, readings, and sound pieces by Edgar Varèse, Peter Kubelka, Kenneth Patchen, Charles Ives, Kurt Schwitters, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Glenn Gould, James Joyce, Virgil Thomson, Gertrude Stein, Olivier Messiaen, Louis Zukofsky, William Faulkner, Charles Olson, Henry Cowell and many others.”  Transcripts of the broadcasts are also provided in both HTML and PDF formats.

UBUWEB also offers a free PDF e-book edition of The Brakhage Lectures (1972: The GoodLion, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago), in which he discusses the works of George Méliès, D.W. Griffith, Carl Theodore Dreyer, and Sergei Eisenstein.

Antique Phonograph and Gramophone Thai Society (APGTS)

Thai children and a gramophone, date unknown.Courtesy of Climax Golden Twins’ blog, I learned of the Antique Phonograph & Gramophone Thai Society (APGTS) and the first phonograph and gramophone museum in Thailand.

The site is mostly in Thai with a little English sprinkled about, but it’s chockablock with photographs, downloadable MP3s you have to hunt for (unless you can read Thai I presume), and illustrated articles such as the one about the Phonautograph, an 1857 invention by one Leon Scott that has “a pulley and when the weight falls, a lamp-blacked glass, under a stiff pig’s bristle, has a translation motion and a stiff pig’s bristle draw a line if no sound.”

Make sure to stop by the photographic tour of the museum. If you happen to be passing through Thailand and wish to visit, you are asked to please first call 02-9399920 or 02-9399553, or email them ahead of time. (I presume it’s in Bangkok but, um, I can’t tell for sure.)

Here’s direct links to some of the MP3s I managed to scrounge up at the site — and apologies if I’ve mangled the titles.

Naptown Music, Sing This Song…

Calling all Hoosiers… For a good time Indy-style (yeah, kind of an oxymoron), stop by amongst the cornrows…Naptown!, posted at the Curved Air blog.

It includes various articles and some music downloads of ’70s-ish Indy music-ness: mostly jazz (e.g. The Naptown Afro-Jazz Quintet), funk and soul. But it even offers that rarest of beasts: some electronic somethings by a talented IU student Bloomingtonian named Steve Birchall. Bizarrely enough, that release is currently available on CD from Mimaroglu Music Sales. This is bizarre because I only just now Googled up this fact, yet the post I wrote mere moments ago happened to be about the Turkish electronic composer, Ilhan Mimaroglu. (Back in my Indy days, me and my friends called this a “toing,” sorta like synchronicity on acid and involving quantum physics and hootenannies. Long story.)

One fine discovery via that post is the Indiana 45s site — “a resource dedicated to the documentation and preservation of music and the history of Hoosier artists.” In other words, a really pretty thorough discography. Being good Hoosiers, it also includes some LPs, site name be damned.

Update: The aforementioned Steve Birchall electronic music album, Reality Gates (1973) recorded at the venerable Gilfoy Sound, proves to be really pretty good and well recommendable. Engaging and somewhat adventurous, and not as austere and stiff as many electronic works of that academic era. Highly recommended.

Alas, so far I can find precious little online about Mr. Birchall — or at least little I can be sure is actually about the electronic composer. It appears he had a stint as a writer editor for Digital Audio magazine back in the ’80s, which published his widely-linked interview with Frank Zappa in 1984. I’d love to know more about this (sorry) forgotten figure in Indiana experimental music — so if you know anything at all, please do post a comment.

Missing Pieces by Ilhan Mimaroglu

Composer Ilhan Mimaro�luI’ve been listening to a fair amount of early electronic music lately.

Via the copiously entertaining and worthwhile EARLabs site, I came upon Missing Pieces, a downloadable collection of eight early electronic and musique concrète works by Turkish composer Ilhan Mimaroğlu, culled from three out-of-print LPs released by the Finnadar and Turnabout labels.

Available tracks:

Bowery Bum (1964)
Intermezzo (1964)
Agony (1965)
Prelude for Magnetic Tape I (1966-67)
Prelude for Magnetic Tape VI (1966-67)
Prelude for Magnetic Tape IX (1966-67)
Prelude for Magnetic Tape XI (1966-67)
Prelude for Magnetic Tape XII (1966-67)

(Fwiw, there’s apparently also a BitTorrent floating about, courtesy of the Avant Garde Project, that includes these and a few other pieces, plus a text transcription of liner notes.)

For those unfamiliar with him, following are some biographic notes written by Mimaroglu, though I’m not able to determine their original source at this time.

Time has told in first person singular that I was born March 11, 1926, in Istanbul, turkey; son of the eminent architect, Kemalletin, whom I have never known as he died when I was barely a year old. He had wanted me to grow up with music. There was a phonograph in our house and a number of classical records. Those were my only toys.

I was also hearing music that the environment was offering me, music that I regarded rather anodine and began to say to myself that there ought to be more to music than all that. Indeed there was. First jazz revealed itself to me, then contemporary art music. My mother wanted me to go to the conservatory. I declined. They would teach me the wrong things there I didn’t know enough about music yet to tell what’s wrong and what’s not. Instead, law school. I couldn’t have cared less about law anyway. But I learned one important thing there, that I should obey only laws I could have made myself. Then came the time for music education as I knew enough about music to avoid the pitfalls. One learns best what ones already knows.

The first products of electronic music and/or musique concrete reached me in the early fifties. By that time I had established a reputation in Turkey as a writer and broadcaster on music. The Rockefeller Foundation heard about me and had me visit New York [in 1955] for a program of studies at Columbia University (primarily in musicology under Paul Henry Lang and composition under Douglas Moore).

A few years later I returned to New York to establish residence and further my studies at Columbia with a program centered around electronic music as in the course of my first visit I had come into closer contact with the work in electronic music (tape music) conducted at Columbia University by Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky.

For many years I worked in the studios of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Center [more @ Wikipedia]. My primary mentor was Ussachevsky. I also had the occasion to work with Edgard Varése and Stefan Wolpe, among others. In the early 1970s I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in music compositions.

In addition to my electronic and instrumental/vocal compositions, I wrote a number of books (on history of music, jazz, electronic music, plus a set of diaries, all published in Turkey).

Even if I hadn’t done anything else, having written (and published) my “Project Utopia” pamphlet, I would have regarded my existence justified.

Postscript:  To correct the (sadly) paltry Wikipedia entry on Ilhan Mimaroglu, he contributed music to the soundtrack of Fellini’s Satyricon, but was not a producer of the film (nor, I believe, producer of the soundtrack overall).

Aliens and Music — Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Somewhere in my web trollings I happened upon the song “Sky Men” performed by Geoff Goddard. An early ’60s British pop ditty with a for-me irresistible double KO of an alien theme and a killer gritty organ/proto-synth keyboard part, I can’t get the damn thing out of my head. It’s endearingly cheesoid, and I’m singing the thing in the shower, folks.

Photo of Joe Meek before early-'60s-vintage recording studio gear.Turns out, “Sky Men” was produced by one Joe Meek, an outsider producer lunatic genius (and slightly tone-deaf songwriter) who I’m now ashamed to say I was not aware of previously, although we’ve all heard his greatest hit, “Telstar” by The Tornadoes.

In addition to cutting-edge recording science, Mr. Meek had an abiding interest in space and aliens and the occult, to the extent that in 1959 he composed the concept album I Hear a New World — an Outer Space Music Fantasy, which he described as his attempt “to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space.” To realize his vision, Meek called upon a skiffle group he had worked with previously, The West Five, and re-christened them The Blue Men (a point of personal synchronicity I may expand upon some other time). Quoting further from Wikipedia:

“At first [Meek explained] I was going to record it with music that was completely out of this world but realised that it would have very little entertainment value so I kept the construction of the music down to earth.” This he (as producer) achieved by blending The Blue Men’s skiffle/rock and roll style with a range of sound and effects, created by such kitchen-sink methods as blowing bubbles in water with a straw, draining water out of the sink, shorting an electrical circuit, and even banging partly-filled milk bottles with spoons; yet one must listen carefully to detect these prosaic origins in the finished product. Another important feature of the recordings is the very early use of stereophony.

While the entire album was completed and slated for a 1960 release, only a 4-song EP ever saw the official light of day via the financially doomed label, Triumph Records. Fortunately, a few promo copies of the full album did circulate and were preserved by collectors, permitting grey-market releases many years later.

Meanwhile, the good folks of Comfort Stand Records, an internet label offering free music, offer a compilation of rare Joe Meek demo recordings which I commend to you. (Also available via Archive.org.) While you’re there, you may also wanna check out Comfort Stand’s 2-CD compilation, Interplanetary Materials, though I ain’t heared it yet and can’t attest one way or ‘tother.

Alas, Joe Meek suffered a singularly strange and tragic end. As related here, “Joe had a vision during a tarot card reading that his idol, Buddy Holly, with whom he was deeply in love, would die tragically on February 3rd, 1958. When the day came to pass, Joe informed Buddy of his prediction and told him how glad he was it hadn’t come true. Buddy Holly, of course, died on February 3rd 1959 [exactly one year later] in an horrible plane crash…”

Already prone to paranoia and manic depression, this incident apparently precipitated a further decline in Meeks’ mental health. This was not at all helped by the fact that he was gay — literally a crime in Britain in those days — and as the ’60s progressed there were increasingly draconian police crackdowns on “poofters.” In January 1967, police discovered a suitcase containing the mutilated body of a male prostitute who had at one time been associated with Meeks, though whether he was connected with the crime was apparently never conclusively shown. The murder became a public scandal, and with the police saying they would be interviewing all known homosexuals in the city, Meeks’ paranoia intensified still further. Whatever transpired, on the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, Meeks killed his landlady and then himself with a shotgun.

Today, a line of top-notch professional mics and compression gear continues to carry the Joe Meek imprimatur.

CD/LP cover of 'Music of the Future' by Desmond Lesllie - early British musique concrete. Another amazing discovery I’ve recently made (and one unburdened by tragedy) is the wonderful and nearly-lost-forever musique concrete works of one Desmond Leslie (1921-2001). While Joe Meek was basically just an alien fan boy, Desmond Leslie was practically hanging out with them: he co-wrote George Adamski‘s landmark UFO contactee book, Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953) and, by his own account, had several UFO sightings while visiting Adamski in California in 1954.

Coming from an Irish aristocratic family — complete with castle in County Monaghan — that “can trace their ancestry back to Atilla The Hun,” Desmond Leslie was able to support other endeavors that included writing and directing a couple science fiction films and brief but very worthwhile travels in electronic music.

During the late ’50s, while living in London, Leslie built a small private studio where he created a number of really quite good musique concrete works, which have been released recently on the CD Music of the Future from Trunk Records. Quoting from that release’s liner notes:

“…[T]he recordings that exist were privately issued by Leslie himself (and just for friends) on a single acetate called Music of the Future, in 1959. These pressings are exceptionally rare and of very poor quality [due to the fragile nature of acetate records]. All Leslie recordings were later licensed to Josef Weinberger, the famous London publishers. Leslie’s extraordinary recordings were pressed onto a short series of 78 rpm library discs, and were put to occasional use in science and mystery based programming, such as the early Dr. Who episodes.”

Except for that extremely limited release (and much to the chagrin of Mr. Leslie), Music of the Future dwelt in unjust obscurity for some 45 years…until 2005, when Trunk Records stepped up to the plate (or platter, as the case may be) and released the entire album on CD, with very well restored audio and complete with Leslie’s original liner notes. These include the following clues to his composerly philosophy:

“It is possible, perhaps, to abolish melody, form and thematic development when writing for the conventional orchestra which, like the frame of an abstract painting, of its essence, sets some limits even to the most anarchal frenzy. Abolish the orchestra as well and you are a creator without reference points, a creator in a pristine void. ‘Musique Concrete’ therefore must set its own aesthetic limitations, discover its own rules, and discipline itself.

“…Some composers of electronic music, ‘Musique Exotique’ and ‘Musique Concrete’ shudder at the least hint of emotion, thematic development, or any sound the least pleasing to the ear. …Why shouldn’t a sound be beautiful? Must the cult of Ugly, and the Highpriesthood of Drears have the final word on everything concerning the senses? The world is so full of beautiful and subtle sounds; and to capture these and present them in an original form, unashamed if they happen to please emotion as well as mind, is the motivation behind this work.

“Put this record on a good Hi-Fi set. Twiddle the knobs till you find the levels you like. Tell the neighbors to go to hell (they’ll probably only think it’s the plumbing). Sit back and enjoy yourself.

“My MUSIQUE CONCRETE is meant to be enjoyed.”

And enjoyable it is, indeed, though not nearly as pastoral as the above might lead one to believe. The disc is divided into four sections: “Theme music from the [apparently unreleased] film ‘The Day The Sky Fell In’”, “Music of the Voids of Outerspace” [sic], “Sacrifice, B.C. 5,000″, and “Death of Satan” — the latter two being especially appealing to my ears. Highly recommended.

With this rescued acetate Leslie is proved to be a neglected and nearly forgotten early master of tape music. You can (and should!) buy the CD of Desmond Leslie’s Music of the Future online while it still lasts via Ye Olde Trunkshoppe. Based in Britain, prices are in pounds but I can attest that the shopping experience for us Colonists is painless, and delivery is prompt and well-packaged for shipment across the big pond.

Cover of the 'Secrets of the Sun' LP by Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra (Saturn Records)

And naturally no discussion of aliens and music, or music qua aliens, would be remotely complete without a mention of Sun Ra. On that polyphonous note, I suggest stopping by the “sharity” site church number nine, which has been posting with some regularity complete, high-quality MP3 rips of otherwise long-unavailable limited edition vinyl LPs from Ra’s own Saturn Records label, complete with large-ish scans of the covers (though you have to grab those from the pages [click 'em for the big versions] — for some reason they’re generally not included in the downloadable zips).

Recent offerings have included Secrets of the Sun (ca. 1965), Sun Ra and his Arkestra, Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (1976), Sound Mirror (Live in Philadelphia ’78), and The Antique Blacks (There is Change in the Air) (Interplanetary Concepts), recorded live in 1974. There are more precious Saturn Records offerings further back in the archives (not to mention all sorts of delightful out jazz rarities). The older download links may have expired — but if you ask very nicely they might get re-upped. Meanwhile, more rare Sun Ra is promised in the near future.

Cover of the essential book 'The Wisdom of Sun Ra' edited by John Corbett (Chicago, IL: Whitewalls Press, 2006)And while it’s not audio, I would surely be remiss not to tell you, dear interstellar reader, of an incredible new-ish book, The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra’s Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets (Whitewalls Press, Chicago; 2006), compiled and introduced by the noted Chicago-based music writer John Corbett.

Run, don’t walk. The Wisdom of Sun Ra is an anthology of some of Ra’s earliest philosophical and religious writings dating from the early and mid-’50s in Chicago. This collection of writings, originally distributed hand-to-hand as mimeographs and intended for an exclusively black audience, were discovered in 2000 (appropriately enough) at an unnamed location on Chicago’s South Side in a folder labeled “One of Everything.” Apparently, these priceless documents were nearly destroyed, saved only by some unelucidated cosmic providence. As such this slim volume provides an absolutely invaluable (superlatives fail me here) glimpse into Sun Ra’s cosmology, mysticism, and racial/political analysis just as it was taking form.

As Corbett explains in his excellent introduction:

“Parallel with his secret musical activities [in Chicago ca. the early 1950s], Ra became the focal point of a secret reading group, together with his patron and later business manager Alton Abraham and a small cluster of South Side intellectuals. This group would eventually call itself Thmei Research, and its activities included the composition of a new dictionary based on Sun Ra’s intensely creative revisionist etymologies and the scholarly findings of the group.

“Street-corner preaching was one of the primary outlets for Ra’s findings, both on his own and as part of Thmei. …In these early broadsheet writings Ra was exclusively addressing a black audience. …As such, he didn’t pull any punches in his assessment of race and power. …On other corners there were Baptist preachers and Nation of Islam proselytizers. Ra’s declarations were in direct dialogue with those other figures of affiliated African-American intellectual life.

“Ra’s preachings was accompanied by writings — booklets, pamphlets and broadsides some of which were mimeographed and handed out to people on the street as well as members of the [Sun Ra] band. They were sometimes unsigned, sometimes signed ‘Ra’ or ‘Sun’ or ‘El.’”

And these are them. What…you’re still reading this? Click the damn link above and buy the thing already!

[Update: If you're interested in Sun Ra, you should read my follow-up post with the back-story on the rescue of these papers and much else besides. I also failed to mentioned that The Wisdom of Sun Ra consists of photographic reproductions of the originals.]

And since I’ve already mentioned sharity sites — and after all that book readin’ — I should prolly point y’all to some easily digestible music singles courtesy of the UFOMystic blog, run by Greg Bishop and Nick Redfern, who have compiled (among much else) a number of entertaining posts devoted to Flying Saucer Music, each featuring one fine close encounter of the (often kitschy) musical kind. Even if a couple-few are also available from that Mugu Brainpan stalwart, WFMU’s Beware of the Blog and their 2007 edition of the 365 Days Project, it’s a bee-line to the alien mind, yo, and unlike WFMU you can either (usually) download or stream via Flash widget.

(Downloader tip: If one of the links below doesn’t include a download link do this [simpler than it sounds]: View Source, do a Find on “.mp3″, copy that full URL, then go here and paste that URL in the blank labeled “Encoded,” and click the “URLDecode” button, copy the new URL in the blank labeled “Plain,” and use that URL to download the audio file to your hard drive.)

Offerings include:

And finally, the true alien audio fanatic would do very well indeed to pay a visit to the Faded Discs web site, an “audio archive of UFO history” run by one Wendy Connors. Ms. Connors offers some astonishing MP3 collections on CD, each running anywhere from 24-35 hours of total running time, and consisting of primary audio documents of UFOlogy, including original recordings of witness reports (the holy grail of all true researchers) to contactee babbles to rare radio & TV appearances by all and sundry.

Some of the most alluring titles are inexplicably and damnably no longer available, but what’s currently offered is still worth your archival lucre. For example, Saucerology (35 1/2 hours) includes all sorts of interviews, lectures, and whatnot by first-wave contactees (including a 23 min. interview of George Adamski by the aforementioned Desmond Leslie); Project Blue Book (27 hours) features the recorded words of direct participants in the earliest official and secret USAF investigations, from Project SIGN through GRUDGE and right up to Blue Book — including recordings of J. Allen Hynek debunking UFOs (he who later did a 180 on that point), interviews with Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, and way too much more.

Not least of the Faded Discs offerings is Research Recordings of Robert Gribble’s National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), Seattle, WA, 1974 – 1977, an incredible 44-hour collection of recorded witness accounts and interviews. As Connors explains on her site:

Robert Gribble began his research into the unidentified flying object phenomena in 1955. He began the Aerial Phenomena Research Group (APRG), which circulated a newsletter detailing new cases. [Not to be confused with Jim and Coral Lorenzen's group, APRO.]
In late 1974, Gribble converted the Phenomena Research Reporting Center to allow the public a place they could call and report their experiences to a nonjudgmental researcher. Commonly known as the UFO Reporting Center or UFO Central during the early years, it became known internationally as the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC). First calls received began on November 11, 1974.

Over a period of twenty years, Gribble received thousands of telephone calls from witnesses of actual encounters with UFOs, which were recorded and data collected. On-site investigations and interviews were conducted by Gribble and his associates and accompanying documentation for cases were archived.

Robert Gribble retired from research in 1994 and Peter Davenport took over the on-going data collection of the National UFO Reporting Center. In 2004, Robert Gribble donated his research materials to Wendy Connors, culminating in this audio archive of research material. Documentation accompanying these recordings are maintained along with the original recording sources, including the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all witnesses. What you hear is raw, minimally edited, research. Most of the interviews were done within minutes of the encounter or while the encounter was happening.

These recordings are of actual witness interviews to UFO encounters and were selected to show a broad based overview of the UFO phenomena being observed and reported.

I’m sayin’. To get a taste, you can read a sampling of ARPG reports compiled in the undated article “ETs from ???” archived at think-aboutit.com.
Definitely give Faded Discs a visit!

Oh, gotta go — my sinus implant is humming. Be Seeing You…

Drinking From the Music Blog Firehose

Of late, when moments allow, I’ve been exploring a number of very rewarding music blogs out there. Following is a compendium of what I consider to be particularly notable such blogs and/or postings (which I’ll likely add to in the next day or so, so revisit if you’re so inclined). It’s also well worth mentioning that the blogrolls of these cats are prolly worth exploring (during your copious free time) — not to mention the usual suspects WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, UBUWEB, Strange Reaction, 7inch Punk, and any of the various music links off on the right side of this here post.

Oh, and please remember (and spread the word): friends don’t let friends use RapidShare. (In this context, the more daring and tinker-prone might try RapidShare Link Grabber — caveat emptor and no warranty or endorsement granted or implied.) Here’s a link that offers a list of some alternative filesharing services with less obnoxious end-user experiences.

Mutant Sounds. Ho. Ly. Crap. Not only do you get numerous NWW List ultra-rarities, you get even more stuff that would make any self-respecting avant collector scum drool themselves half to death. And intelligent and oft-even-erudite annotations. Dang. There’s a reason this one is listed first.

FM SHADES. I first learned of this blog qua the Velvet Underground “Dolph acetate” I recently yammered about at some length, and I keep going back. Deeply obscure but almost always delicious selections of early electronics, prog, avant jazz, bent folk, and some things I prolly wouldn’t normally bother with but am almost always glad I did. Just one absolute must have is Pierre Henry’s incredible Mise en Musique du Corticalart de Roger LaFosse (1971), in which the brain waves of one Roger LaFosse are transformed by analog synthesis. Run, don’t walk.

Mended Records. A music blog, not a label. And yes, more please thank you! Currently an emphasis on vinyl rips of gaspingly rare ’80s avant music: Eugene Chadbourne free improv, Fred Frith table-top guitars in Japan, Arcane Device (!), This Heat, Slapp Happy’s BBC sessions, Bob Ostertag, and hell even avant garde groups from friggin’ Estonia! Downside: RapidShit.

Iva Bittová & Pavel Fajt: Bittová & Fajt (1987) via Orang Aural, which has now relocated to the fervently recommended Border Music (see below). Violin and percussion?? Oh hell yeah. Unspeakably beautiful music from this Czech avant duo deeply informed by Roma tradition. Every one of their albums are worth seeking out…if you can even find them. This one is especially rare. Iva has also released some very worthwhile solo recordings. Iva…if you ever need someone to have your baby, just let me know. It’s medically impossible, but I’ll find a way. I’m just sayin’.

Border Music. Um. Wow. Are you ready to pee your pants and not mind one bit? In re: the same cat that brought us the aforementioned Bittová & Fajt at his previous blog-home, I offer six all-important words (integers duly re-typed): The Residents – Early Works (1971-72). As in the complete mythic and illusory Baby Sex, the impossibly ellusive The Warner Brothers Album, and the very first Santa Dog double single. Wait, don’t pee yet. 192kbps rips. Okay, now pee. (And as you change pants, try to forget he uses RapidShitbag.) The Residents post alone is worthy of embarrassing kowtowing (op cit.), but our good captain is also conversant with the likes of Evan Parker, Bob Ostertag, Steve Lacy, René Lussier, Massacre, Frith, et al. Dude.

Bubblegum Machine. All this synaptic avant screeching humming blat shit is plenty well and good, but man…sometimes some delicious AM radio pop is just plain refreshing. Two songs posted every week, and the archives stay active in perpetuity. Quote: “Manifesto. If it’s ever been on K-Tel or Ronco, it’s in. If it features hand claps, cow bells, syrupy orchestration, walls of sound, wrecking crews, sha-la-las, toothy teen idols, candy-based metaphors for carnal acts or lyrics about hugging, squeezing and rocking all night long, it’s in.” You’ll be sitting at your desk stifling the urge to harmonize. Now…if someone would just start making flesh-toned iPod earbuds for use during meetings….

BBC Radiophonic Collections and Dr. Who Soundtracks. The infinitely magnanimous if slightly eccentric X-Y-Z-Cosmonaut once saw fit to post literally hours of precious recordings by the BBC Radophonic Workshop. (Read: “Incredibly rare and absolutely essential early electronic music.”) The rest of the blog is interesting if you’re interested: ’70s “blaxploitation” comic books, obscure ’70s Saturday AM superhero TV video rips, and similarly kitschy fare…all with admirably obsessive glee. But dude: BBC Radiophonics! (Albeit all via the damnable autofelching hell that is RapidShare). To wit:

And while you’re there — and only if you can’t find the original article, which is lovingly assembled, gorgeously packaged in an fascinatingly extensive hardbound booklet, and well worth every red cent — you may as well grab Raymond Scott: Manhattan Research Inc. (2-CDs, 69 tracks total).

And speaking of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, you should definitely read this absolutely superlative extended essay: “BBC Radiophonic Workshop: An Engineering Perspective.”

Delia Derbyshire: Electronic Music Pioneer. Speaking (again) of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, you must stop by this site to both learn about this (gasp!) female pioneer of electronic music and to visit the Music Clips page to avail yourself of excellent and rare works, including a few pieces unavailable anywhere else.

Crap I Found At the Library. Get real. How can you not be a slave to a music blog whose first-page posts include Curtis “Shaft” Mayfield’s gospel album, Killdozer, Javanese gamelan, and Woody Guthrie? Digging a little deeper, you’ll find yodeling from Austria and Switzerland, Hawaiian exotica, and a full rip of the priceless Best of Ralph compilation (which some rat bastard stole from me back in my DJ-ing days at Club Dreamerz…may your pecker fall off and kill all around you with its putrescence), a theremin compilation, circus music, and a sound effects record. Just for starters. Can you buy someone a beer over email? Hell…are we related?

ShortWaveMusic. Okay, I confess I’ve not yet really checked this one out…but how can I not include any blog “featuring music and/or musical noise intercepted via shortwave radio.” I mean, c’mon.

The Conet Project. Well, if I’m gonna mention shortwave at all, then I must not take one more breath or step without referring you to the legendary Conet Project: a 4-CD, 150-track collection released by Irdial Discs compiling recordings of broadcasts by so-called “number stations” — “used by the worlds intelligence agencies to transmit secret messages” — over 20 years. Fascinating, bizarre, sometimes hilarious, and utterly Yeah. Two different MP3 archives of this remarkable work are freely available online (thanks in part, and ironically, to a successful copyright infringement lawsuit against the band Wilco, which used some excerpts on their CD, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot):

The Ultimate Velvet Underground Rarity

photo of the Norman Dolph Velvet Underground acetate, 1966
Feast your eyes on the now-famous (at least 15,300 Google hits and counting) test acetate of The Velvet Underground’s first album as mixed by jobber engineer Norman Dolph, and purchased by one Warren Hill of Montreal for a mere 75 cents at a yard sale in Chelsea, NY in 2002.

The acetate was auctioned on eBay for the final price of $25,200. That was actually the second eBay auction of the record. The first auction ended at the mind-boggling price of $155,401.00. However, that winner of that auction (make that “ultimate loser ever”) ‘fessed up that he “can’t even afford gas for [his] car.” Dick. This led to the second auction. The name of the winner has not, at this writing, been disclosed.

Mr. Hill, proprietor of the Backroom Records and Pastries shop and member of the band Wolf Parade, made a 3,359,900 percent profit on the sale.

The VU acetate is much more than a test pressing, though. Not only are the songs in a completely different order than the final release on Verve, most are different mixes, and many are completely different takes. The master tapes of these mixes were lost long, long ago, forever amen. The acetate was submitted to Columbia Records for consideration. They, of course, declined. Mr. Dolph has kept the response, which reportedly read in part, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding” (or words to that precise effect).

Now feast your ears, for there are MP3 downloads out there. (Did I mention I really love the Internet?)

The FM SHADES music blog (which is very worthwhile even without the VU prize) has a zip for download with the whole thing, plus pix and a text file of the whole tale bundled right in. (Jump directly to the download page, via quickshare.com.)

Also, the WFMU Blog has posted the same MP3s as individual downloads, though you’ll need to add the track numbers to the file names to keep them in the correct order — which is odd cuz they’re usually better about that and they had to actually rename the files.

There’s also at least one bit torrent out there, with more undoubtedly seeding out even as you read this.

However, the true provenance of these particular recordings is suspect. A “high-quality digital back-up” of Hill’s copy was indeed made with the help of his friend Eric Isaacson of Mississippi Records in Portland, OR. But the FM SHADES blogger claims to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and while he strongly implies his MP3s are of Hill’s copy, he does not state that is the case (or explain how he came by them).

What’s more, there are rumors — probably true but not quite substantiated at this writing — that there is in fact a second copy of the same acetate that has been in the possession of VU drummer Moe Tucker. An individual claiming to be M.C. Kostek (perhaps Mike Kostek, author of The Velvet Underground Handbook) posted a “question” (time-sensitive link, login required) to the first eBay auction that stated:

The ‘rumor’ about Moe’s acetate is true! I have worked with her and Sterling on projects in the past, and they both mentioned how the band played it several times to see how the NY sessions had gone. I’ve seen it, with Sterling’s handwritten ‘featuring Moe Tucker’ on the front of the white cover. This ‘legend’ is true — there definitely is another copy.

And as noted on Olivier Landemaine’s fine web page, The Velvet Underground: Studio and home recordings (last updated in Dec. 2005):

An incomplete ‘edited’ version [of the acetate] was released as [a] bonus CDR with the 100 first copies of [the] At The Factory: Warhol Tapes bootleg CD [released circa 2005]. Another (more scratchy) copy which was used for the Ultimate Mono And Acetates Album bootleg [also released circa 2005] which offers the complete recording.

Another anonymous individual posted another “question” to the second Hill eBay auction, saying “For sure your copy is in better conditions than the Moe’s,” more than implying that s/he has heard both versions. This was accepted as implied fact by the seller’s response: “That Warren’s copy is far superior in sound to the bootleg is noteworthy, however, and would lend credibility to the notion that there could be another copy extant.”

Neither Hill nor Isaacson are saying, but the reported discrepancy in sound quality coupled with the anonymous eBay questioner’s claim that Hill’s copy is “for sure” in better condition suggests they may have been the source for the selections on the At the Factory bonus CDR.

Listening to the above MP3s, there’s a good deal of surface noise and they definitely represent the entire record, and given the unlikelihood (tho not impossibility) that some stray cat (supposedly) in Buenos Aires is the only guy in the world to post MP3s of the thing it seems pretty certain those MP3s are in fact of the Ultimate Mono And Acetates Album, which was probably mastered from Moe Tucker’s copy (which, given all the yadda yadda, I’m assuming does actually exist). …Then again, maybe “mister Buenos Aires” is really “hundred-thousandaire Montrealian,” eh wot?

Well, no big deal. It’s still a great listen and, for the record nerd if no one else, a real revelation.

Related Links

“Velvet Underground acetate sells for $25k in second auction,” Goldmine magazine, Dec. 8, 2006.

“The Vinyl Frontier,” Montreal Mirror, Dec. 14-20, 2006. Local boy makes history.

“The Velvet Underground Play Portland,” The Portland Mercury, Nov. 25 – Dec. 1, 2004. More about the PNW connection.

Metafilter: “Velvet Underground Acetate Breaks Record”, Dec. 5, 2006.

Wikipedia: “The Velvet Underground”

“Velvet Underground Rarity Sells on eBay”, Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2006.

The [unofficial] Velvet Underground Web Page, maintained by Olivier Landemaine.

The Inside Story

As written by Eric Isaacson and originally published in the Dec. 8, 2006 issue of Goldmine magazine:

In September 2002 Hill, a Kenny Rogers Roasters employee in Montreal, Canada, was perusing a box of records at a Chelsea, N.Y., street sale when he happened upon a nice Lead Belly 10-inch on Folkways, a water-damaged copy of the first Modern Lovers LP on Beserkely, and a brittle 12-inch piece of acetone-covered aluminum with the words “Velvet Underground. 4-25-66. Att N. Dolph” written on the label. He purchased the three records for 75 cents each.

As I have a small knowledge of records and am an old friend of Hill’s, I got a call from him the next day, and he described the acetate. Because of the date and the unique type of pressing, we both agreed that it was probably an in-studio acetate made during the recording of the first Velvet Underground LP back in 1966 (I had heard that they occasionally would have a vinyl cutting lathe in the studio to cut records of the day’s recordings for the artists and/or producers to take home for review). Warren didn’t want to play the mysterious platter due to the fragile nature of acetates and the cheap nature of his stereo needle, so we agreed that the next time he was visiting me in Portland we would check it out together. If it turned out to be what we thought it was, maybe we could sell it at Mississippi Records, the small neighborhood record store in Portland where I work. Sight unseen I estimated its likely artifact value to be around $800.

When Hill visited we cued up the acetate and were stunned — the first song was not “Sunday Morning” as on the Velvet Underground & Nico Verve LP, but rather “European Son,” the last song on that LP, and it was a version neither of us had ever heard before! It was less bombastic and had a more bluesy feel than the released version, and it clocked in at a full two minutes longer. Realizing that we had something special, I immediately took the needle off the record. Between the two of us we had heard many Velvets outtakes on official and less than-official releases, but the present material had never been heard by either of us.

The next few days found us scrambling for clues about what to make of this find, calling every record collector/historian we knew and reading everything we could find concerning the early recordings of the VU. We pieced together that this was probably a surviving copy of the legendary Scepter Studios recordings, which had been regarded as lost (hence the application of the moniker “the lost Scepter Studios recordings” to these unheard sessions over the years). The recording is composed of the primitive first “finished” version of the LP that Andy Warhol had shopped to Columbia as a ready-to-release debut album by his protégé collective.

Though the same compositions and even a few of the same takes (albeit in different mixes) were used on the subsequent commercial release, The Velvet Underground & Nico is a significantly different creation. I had heard of these nascent recordings before — it was said by some that the master tapes had burned in a fire, by others that all of those recordings ended up being on the released album, and still by others that the only existing copy of that material was on an acetate owned by David Bowie and that he was known to tout it as his most prized possession. The truth about what we held was fuzzy until Hill managed to track down the N. Dolph referred to on the label for an interview.

Norman Dolph was a perennial in the New York art and music scene of the 1960s. He worked as a sales representative at Columbia Records through 1967 and was deeply involved with different facets of the independent music world on the side. Warhol, who was managing the Velvets at the time, contacted Dolph and offered him a painting in exchange for services as ghost (uncredited) producer for the Velvets’ first recording session. Warhol wanted to record a Velvets album before they had a record company behind them, as this would tend to minimize meddling label executives in compromising the musical arrangements’ distraught primal force, not to mention the unprecedented taboo lyrics, which openly address sex, drugs and depravity. Warhol’s plan was to have Dolph record it and then shop it around to labels (first and foremost Columbia) as a finished recording. So Dolph rented out Scepter Studios, and with an engineer named John Licata by his side, they recorded the Velvets for four days. At the time, Scepter Studios was between reconstruction and demolition, with walls falling over and holes in the floor. The Velvets’ bass and viola player, John Cale, would later recall the environment as “Post-apocalyptic.”

Dolph took the master tapes made during this session to the Columbia building, which still had an in-house pressing plant, and cut the acetate “after hours” with people he knew on the inside. Dolph then sent the acetate to Columbia to see if they were interested in releasing it. It was returned promptly with a note that said something akin to “Do you think we’re out of our f***ing minds?” Dolph then gave the acetate to Warhol or Cale; he said he cannot remember which. Six of the songs recorded during the Scepter session made it on to the Velvet Underground & Nico LP, albeit with radically different mixes. The other four songs were re-recorded in Los Angeles by Tom Wilson. As far as we know, the only listenable copy of the original versions of “Heroin,” “Venus In Furs,” “I’m Waiting For The Man,” and “European Son” exist on the acetate that Hill found. (A Japanese bootleg of the same material did appear but in poor, arguably “unlistenable” sound quality.) We have since realized that we are in possession of a likely one-of-a-kind artifact, the first recordings by one of the most influential rock bands of all time!

“It seems to have gone badly at the end,” Hill told CBC Arts Online Monday afternoon.
After establishing the authenticity of Hill’s find we photographed the item and made a high-quality digital backup copy of the material. A media frenzy ensued. Calls started flooding in from people interested in buying the acetate, as well as record companies interested in releasing the songs on it. After much consideration, we decided that it would be best to release it to the highest bidder through an auction done by our good friends at Saturn Records in Oakland, Calif. (a store that has a well established presence in the international vinyl-collecting community and an excellent reputation on the Internet).

As to the most interesting mystery brought up by the appearance of this item — how did such an important artifact disappear for 37 years and end up at a Chelsea New York yard sale priced at 25 [sic: 75] cents — we have no answer.


What’s on the acetate? A Track-By-Track look…

The track differences between the acetate versions and the commercial recordings on The Velvet Underground & Nico are detailed as follows:

“European Son.”
Completely different version. Guitar solo is much bluesier. Less noisy and experimental. Longer by two minutes or so.

“Black Angel’s Death Song.”
Same take as released version. Different mix.

“All Tomorrow’s Parties.”
Same take as released version. Different mix.

“I’ll Be Your Mirror.”
Same take as released version. Radically different mix. No echo on Nico’s vocals. Background vocals on end of song are more subdued.

“Heroin.”
Completely different take than released version. Guitar line is different. Vocal inflections different and a few different lyrics. Drumming is more primitive and off kilter. There is a tambourine dragging throughout the song.

“Femme Fatale.”
Same take as released version. Radically different mix. Percussion more prominent. Alternate take on background vocals. Much more poppy.

“Venus In Furs.”
Different take than released version. Vocal inflections completely different. Instrumentation more based around Cale’s violin than the guitar, as in the released version.

“I’m Waiting For The Man.”
Different take than released version. Guitar line is completely different. Vocal inflections different and a few different lyrics. No drums, just tambourine. Bluesy guitar solo.

“Run Run Run.”
Same take as released version. Different mix.

Warren Hill

Lucky bastard Warren Hill, in his Montreal record shop, Backroom Records and Pastries, looking understandably disconcerted by all the hubbub.

El Topo and Holy Mountain to Play Seattle in February

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s twin masterpieces, El Topo and Holy Mountain, will grace Seattle with their inexcusably rare presence with back-to-back runs at The Grand Illusion Cinema in February. Both films will be shown in 35mm. My impression — unconfirmed as yet, and I’m seeing conflicting reports — is that these are possibly new prints. (Update: the “prints” screening at the IFC Center in NYC are not film but HD digital, presumably from DVD from HDcam tape.  What formats will actually be shown here in Seattle remain unconfirmed and I will update further if/when I know for sure.)

El Topo (1971) runs February 2 through 8, and Holy Mountain (1973) runs February 9 through 15. (Now that’s a Valentine’s Day date.)

The only other West Coast dates will be in San Francisco at the venerable Castro Theater during the latter half of January (tho there’s also a late Feb. run in Boulder). The films are making an (did I mention?) unspeakably rare tour of the US that began less than a week ago in NYC. The full US schedule is available at abkcofilms.com (which also features a Flash-ified trailer on the homepage).

This road-show is in advance of fully-restored releases on DVD, apparently including the US market for the first time ever.

If you even pretend to be interested in film, and even if you’ve managed to watch one or both on a home video import (to date only released [legally] in Italian and Japanese editions, with latter with digital blurs over all exposed crotches [the Japanese have a thing about pubic hair, apparently]), you must make tracks to see these justly legendary works of genuine visionary cinema — a much-bandied but rarely deserved appellation.

Sadly, both films have (obviously) suffered a terrible distribution fate, due to the infamously possessive Alan Klein, who owns the rights. (Klein also owns the rights to most of the Rolling Stones catalog, as well as the absolutely brilliant Antony Balch re-interpretation of the already brilliant Häxan, aka Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), with narration by William S. Burroughs and a soundtrack featuring Jean Luc Ponty, which — thankfully — recently received the always exquisite Criterion Collection treatment on DVD. A definite must-own.)

The lack of distribution has been the nexus of a decades-long feud between Jodorowsky and Klein, now finally resolved for whatever reason. And it’s about damn time. Props, however mitigated, to Klein for finally seeing the light. The irony is that Klein was prompted to obtain the rights to El Topo by no less than John Lennon, who wanted the film to be widely seen. Hey, better late than never. I suppose.

This November 8, 2006 post from the WorldWeird Cinema blog offers an account (via a Yahoo forum) of a Jodorowsky Q&A for a NYC screening of El Topo.

YouTube (Time‘s 2006 “Person of the Year”) offers this clip of Jodorowsky discussing El Topo and Holy Mountain.

Also, the Dinosaur Gardens blog offers twin posts with MP3s of the El Topo soundtrack (high sound quality rips from the Douglas 6 LP) and the Holy Mountain soundtrack (regrettably lo-fi rips, probably from a VHS bootleg) featuring the mighty Don Cherry and Archies (?!) keyboardist Ron Frangipane (ripped from the film, and thus including dialog).

Obviously, I’m excited about this. Watch this space for more related posts.

Dead Gwynne Gotcher Xmess Right Here

Way back in February, I posted about Chicago expat Brendan deVallance and his office cubicle art gallery, LMNOP.

One of Brendan’s various artistic efforts since relocating to Noo Yawk some 13 years ago is his band Dead Qwynne. Every year they’ve created a special Christmas song or two, and this year’s offering — “Rooftop Soliloguy” (2.8mb MP3) — is now available as a free download, just in time for your own xmess compilation. Your grandma will thank you (and probably not really mean it but still love you anyway).

The Dead Qwynne Holiday Tunes page also provides convient access to all their past xmess songs, right back to 1995′s “Earthling Christmas,” all in the festive MP3 format.

While you’re at it, ya oughta stop by Brendan’s blog, 11 vs X, chockablock with entertainingly baffling photos from his illustrious performance art days and posts with MP3s (albeit very lo-fi) about some of his favorite bands.