In The Preserving Machine, one of our favourite short Philip K Dick stories, a scientist who fears for the survival of the world’s greatest music in the face of nuclear armageddon creates a machine that translates musical compositions into living creatures, and releases the results into the forests.
But he hadn’t reckoned with the savagery of natural selection. The offspawn of peaceful songs are devoured by the aggressive ones. Only those that acquire offensive or defensive traits – claws, horns, sting and armor – can survive. After a time, the scientist rounds up some of these survivors and performs on them the reverse transformation that he used at the beginning, from animal to sound. A barrage of dissonance, shrieking and wailing explodes from his speakers, the sonic representation of the amoral violence which defines the natural realm, red in tooth and claw.
In his latest release in L.I.E.S., Jorge Velez plays a similar trick, synthesising sound from animals, but with results that are anything that harsh. Each of the songs has an harmonious cadence, an organic order and a mysterious, elegant, simmer. It is as if Velez had started from the pure essence of each of his subjects, their image and movement in an idealised linnaean classification perhaps illustrated by Katie Scott, and turned those into music.
The uncanny sense of serpent-ness in the track below attests to his success, as if our aural space had been turned into the setting of one of those hypnotic Attenborough high-res documentaries; a pure wave of deadly intent undulates funkily through the forests of this night, headed towards us; we stay fixed in our spot, mesmerised with a cool appreciation of the pattern, and its beauty.
Mark Barrott is back within the frames of this webzine, doing his regular public service of opening a portal between this northerly island and his southerly paradise. His Sketches From an Island records — now surely a series — are psychic field recordings smuggled amongst Balearic tempos and actual field recordings. They chart a sense of place (purely imagined in my case), like folk records: often hyper local in focus but revealing of a larger, more universal feeling.
Where previous records have seemed to look at the world and wonder why it rushes past so much beauty. This one’s been born into trouble. This one seems to be a sign-post to sanctuary. A liquid distillation of calm, a vital elixir to draw in the true believers.
Der Stern, der nie vergeht emerges in the last third of the album, all polyrhythmic North African drums and gentle, drifting melodies. Like a magical excursion through Motorik. A Motorik from a land without Autobahns where the road (and the rhythm) is formed both by the irregular movements of wildlife and the lost wandering of man.
Der Stern, der nie vergeht is taken from Mark Barrott’s new album Sketches From an Island 2. It came out on his label International Feel a few weeks ago and it’s (currently) still in stock on vinyl at Juno.
In the 1990s, certain sections of the British music press began to enforce a ban on their writers using the word ‘eclectic’ due to overuse. If 20JFG were to enforce a comparative ban, it would surely be on the word ‘Russom’.
Gavin Russom – and his early sparring partner, Delia Gonzales – are names that have haunted this blog since its early days. Since before LCD. In our days on Mars.
Ecstatic Recordings – whose The Head Technician we’ve been plugging lately – have now recovered a capsule of retro-tech mega-lo-fi music puzzles that Gavin recorded in the mid 1990s.
These cryptic, cartoonish squiggles and belches of audio code were all fired out of the following thrift store noise rig: Sony TC-155 and TC-102 reel- to-reel tape machines a Silvertone guitar, ATUS AM100 mixer, Boss Harmonizer, a tiny Radio Shack mic, a Radio Shack Realistic Electronic Reverb, Casio MT-40, Univox Compac 2 and Casio SA-41.
Ecstatic’s excellent Source Cognitive Drive: Transmissions 1996-1998 compiles 16 of these exploding head doodles, but we’ve managed to get an exclusive, never-heard-before track from these sessions for you to download:
Bernie Worrell died a couple of weeks ago. Who was Bernie Worrell? He was the future in Parliament-Funkadelic’s afrofuturist future-funk. If bandleader George Clinton (aka Supreme Maggot Minister of Funkadelia aka Maggot Overlord aka Starchild) was the cartographer of these strange outer limits of the African-American musical experience, and bass player Bootsy Collins was the mothership’s own alien, then keyboardist Worrell (aka Spaced Viking) was the whole mission’s technology.
Post-Parliament, Worrell would front or support in a variety of talented projects – most notably he was Talking Heads keyboardist from the Remain in Light tours onward, but he also lent his sounds to Fela Kuti, Bill Laswell and Sly & Robbie, and performed in supergroups with everyone from Buckethead and Les Claypool to drone metal producer Randall Dunn, Mos Def and Prince Paul.
As an early adopter of the Moog synthesiser, though, Bernie brought the first significant contribution from synthesisers to dance music in our timeline, although Worrell was still operating in the margins of the Parliament-Funkadelic funk-rock sound during this period – contributing what George Clinton called “sound effects” – smears and dashes of Moogy code. It wouldn’t be until Flashlight in 1978 that Worrell was holding the entire bass, rhythm and melody of the band’s hits in his fingertips.
The symbiotic psychedelic funk troupes Parliament and Funkadelic had both evolved from George Clinton’s 1950s doo-wop vocal group, The Parliaments, and their backing band, which became Funkadelic.
Bass player Bootsy had been a member of James Brown’s JB’s, and the twin groups would later also absorb Brown’s legendary horn section – The Horny Horns – featuring Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker.
By the mid-1970s, the two bands – who had shared musicians but assumed separate brand identities for a mixture of legal reasons – had been consolidated as ‘Parliament-Funkadelic’, and while Parliament was originally perceived as being Clinton’s soul outfit, with Funkadelic being his outlet for harder, rockier, more psychedelic stuff, the respective directions of the two groups had increasingly merged into something idiosyncratic, innovative and groove-laden.
This music was P-funk. It was music that was only ever played – and could only ever be played – by Parliament-Funkadelic, during the band’s sweet spot, right just when the eternal acid trip of early Funkadelic began to melt into a surreal, but angry, realisation of the world around them, but before the cocaine and moneystacks of late seventies Parliament rotted away the black hippy harmony that had had fostered their telepathic musical abilities and passionate work ethic.
Mothership Connection, released in 1975 under the Parliament brand, might be considered now as Clinton’s masterpiece, but it was Parliament-Funkadelic’s tenth full-length album in just 5 years, all unloaded with barley a dip in quality.
This is pure P-funk. A lurid, lewd, brash, brave, hilarious-offensive dance music wrapped up in a surreal comic book cosmology that drew on Sun Ra’s afro-futurism but made it hyper-sexual, pop-arty, gloriously mad.
Sun-Ra used the concept of black space-travellers as a metaphor for an afro-centric cultural space that could operate to the limits of the imagination and beyond and draw exclusively from non-white, non-European traditions, while articulating a better tomorrow. It was Utopianism, but with a scathing cultural critique.
In Clinton’s hands, afro-futurism was a little hokier and more pantomime – live shows would open with Clinton emerging from a prop UFO that would descend from the stadium rafters, and his key characters, the puritanical Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk and hedonistic Starchild were locked in an eternal battle for the funk, which would typically resolve during live performances when Starchild (Clinton) shot Sir Nose (sort of a pimp version of Pinocchio) with a “bop gun”, causing the too-cool-to-dance Sir Nose to submit to the universal rump-shaking om sound of the funk and lose himself in a flurry of dance moves.
And if you’re wondering where Clinton and company got their ideas from, well, a 2011 Guardian interview with Bootsy might offer some clues:
“Imagine a lot of chicks and people walking around naked – people doing the wild thing everywhere. Everyone’s taking LSD, smoking weed, no one is scared of doing anything. Whatever you can think of, do it! And it was like that before the gig, on the way to the gig, during the gig and after the gig. Truly, the freak show never ended. I took LSD every day for at least two years, right up until the point I began feeling like I was living in another world.”
“One night this chick gave us all Purple Haze acid,” Bootsy continued, “and everyone on stage was turning into giants and butterflies, it was so beautiful! We were playing so well that we didn’t notice that the lights had come on and everyone had gone home. We were playing to an empty room.”
Parliament-Funkadelic may have been space cadets, but in their trippy Robert Crumb-ish album artwork and alter egos they exaggerated to the point of near-abstraction a spectra of insidious African-American caricatures and stereotypes, and in doing so had reclaimed them.
In their make-believe black America, Muhammed Ali was in the White House, Aretha Franklin was the first lady, Stevie Wonder was the Secretary of Fine Arts and Richard Pryor was Minister for Education.
This was an emancipatory, consciousness-elevating dance music. Pimps, gangsters, intellectuals and hippies alike loved this band and still do.
And that funk – throbbing, reality-dissolving, lysergic funk. A funk that could make you see through time.
Postscript: Not strictly dance music per se, but those early, pre-P-funk Funkadelic records really are the last word in face-melting acid rock. Largely built around the superior psych-metal guitar streams of Eddie Hazel, this was where Hendrix should have gone next, if he’d stayed alive and ended up fronting Acid Mothers Temple. For those who are yet to be initiated, we’ve created a 2-hour collage of the most far-out moments from those LPs:
It is a suggestive, Pynchonesque investigation into the career of the mysterious T J Eerie, who ‘shaped the modern electronic boogie sound without even realising at the time’, coming with a soft focus intimacy that reminds us in a hard to pin down way of Todd Terje’s heartbreaking Inspector Norse. It is also a gentle mockery of obsessive music nerds and cultural theorists who turn lost musical figures from a mythical past into Maltese Falcon-like McGuffins, and in so doing, mistake the trees of their lives for the forest of their art.
There was the risk that this could have ended a too meta and self-referential for your earnest 20JFG scribes (who have themselves built their careers with many a trans-mediatic, exaggerated nerdery) but the video pulls it off, not least because it unfolds over the backdrop of Mount Liberation Unlimited’s irresistible display of interstellar boogie foot ‘n’ fire-working – a perfect reminder of the un-codifiable mystery that exists in the best music, a kernel of pure joy and feeling in front of which we can only surrender our intellects, gasp, dance.
This isn’t the first mix that Pye Corner Audio’s The Head Technician has fabricated for 20JFG – to experience that, you need to travel back in time to this post – but seeing as he has helmed two awesome albums that have been released in the past 9 months, it was certainly worth inviting the enigmatic engineer back for another spin.
The first of these albums was Pye Corner Audio’s Prowler LP, released at the end of last year.
And more recently, Ecstatic Recordings have supplied listeners with Zones, a revamped solo set from The Head Technician.
This week on 20 Jazz Funk Vids, we bring you the self-directed music video for U’s U2.
Created from layers of classical samples, looped and folded into recognisable sounds in alien tempos, U2 is Bernard Herman doing a strictly 2-step soundtrack. U2 is Industrial music if it didn’t go on to influence Techno but instead found its way to South London in the 90s. And finally, U2 is the waltz and the horror of fin de siècle Vienna (where these sampled records were found), refined, cultured and possessed of horror.
The video for U2 is similarly constructed from incongruous samples. Old footage of clouds forming; people travelling; train stations; pigeons riding on a rotating advertising (or informational) display. At the centre of it all, a drunk/disturbed man moves about a train station. Sometimes interacting with the camera, more often, lost in his own world. His movements sometimes syncing with the underlying music, his words sometimes appearing in the mix.
This is the hallucination that snippets of reality, snippets of the sampled truth conjures. A portal between the dislocated present and the past we can not possible know, but that we can possess for a reasonable price.
U2 is taken from the album Vienna Orchestra which is out now on Where to Now?. And you can get it right here.