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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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…