(Please note that this page is in progress and is far from finished!)
and the Bulletin Boards or Blogs
What I perceive as progressive and its start - Germany
What I perceive as progressive and its start - London
What I perceive as progressive and its start - USA
Some Folk Music and its progressive ways
The Great Composers In The Middle Of All This
Film and Music
The Computers And All /that Stuff
My Worst Fear. It's All a Solo!
A few artists and some thoughts on their music:
Amon Duul 2
Ash Ra Tempel and Manuel Gottsching
Gong and their families
King Crimson and Robert Fripp
Incredible String Band
Egberto Gismonti, Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek and ECM
Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny
Since the advent of my first computer in 1989, I went after music and writing.
Inevitably, I got involved with various folks discussing music, and whose tastes were wider than just pop music. For the most part there were two areas where the music discussions were strong ... and they were not exactly about fans ... but a bit better and more interesting for myself, although the one thing that was obvious was that the knowledge of music and its history was not very good. I still think that the perspective was, and is, missing but it is really difficult to say that to fans of the music that are defending their heroes and favorite listens, which is almost all that "progressive music" has become these days.
These were fans ... not musicologists. And that is a very important distinction when you are involved in those boards. It's difficult to discuss musicology, and details about the music itself, since it is a "socialist" environment (is there such a thing?), and anyone else showing a bit more knowledge or understanding, eventually gets a lynching from someone, and that immediately gets the horde behind it! But, if you can get past that, there is a lot more ... and as Daevid Allen used to say ... you can kill my body ...
The two groups were New Age and Progressive.
What once was known as music that in a way was a reaction to commercial/popular material, all of a sudden had a "name" and while that is ok with me, the bad part of it is that much later, like today 20 to 40 years later, many people define this "Progressive" as a style in this way or that way, and most of the discussion is centered on invisible ideas that few musicians even consider. No one will compose something because it is "progressive" ... unless they are looking for another hit on the radio! They might be inspired by King Crimson, but the connection is more about doing guitar solos off the music, trying to copy a Robert Fripp ... and call it progressive? Inevitably one is going to ask if we're suggesting that every violin player in rock or jazz music can never be good, because Paganini was better? ... but no one has ever heard him! That Mozart is a great composer, but you never checked what a Dream Theater has done, or anyone else? Or you think that Genesis is better than all other music! So sorry Bach ... you lose!
This was a concern, and it was weird. They all love their favorites, and everything else is meaningless. One would think that a perspective is missing, and thus you find way too many things like ... best solo, best keyboard player, best bass player, best singer, best writer, best band ... and so many other things that tend to neglect the real value of the music itself, and the fact that there are a lot of other folks out there in this world (gawd ... I really wanted to say universe!) that also play those same instruments, but the sequence of notes is different, and at times it is playing scales and notes that are not a part of the normal and westernized musical notations ... but that's not music?
Likewise, a lot of "New Age" music was this and that and sold at many stores, but you never found Popol Vuh, and that music was far more centered and spiritual than almost anything on those shelves, that only had a title and sometimes it was easy to think not much else ... the soft keyboard sound with women in the background, suggests that these are angels! Very simple. Create an illusion for you! It became something like this ... your shaman is right and the Brazilian shaman is not right ... or the Japanese shaman is not right ... simply because you read Mrs. Andrews and Mr. Carey! ... to say anything else was insulting, and did not allow each individual person their own freedom to interpret the music, the art, or the words for that matter ... so, now we can't interpret what we see and grasp from the music unless someone tells us?
How commercial is that, right? How socialistic that thought is in a democratic country, is what I had always thought.
One of the most bizarre of these examples for me, is that many folks consider the group King Crimson "progressive" and right away they say that "progressive" can't have any improvisation ... which is insane, considering that Robert Fripp is one of the best at musical improvisations and explorations -- for the compositions for his group. It's usually the starting point. On top of it, his individual work is quite experimental and exploratory, and that is not considered progressive next to the work in his group ... which he has stated that mostly it is about paying the bills ... it's just mind-boggling, but it gives you an idea how someone now calls this and that "prog" and something else "not-prog" ... and this feeling and concept, takes away the most important thing that creates all the music ... the spirit and the fire inside ... and relegates it to ... an ideal meaninglessness that tends to not help you find and understand, and appreciate, something different. You are into "progressive", or "New Age" ... and sometimes, checking out Classical music is not on the program.
So, in this manner, Yanni, was New Age, but Mike Oldfield, Vangelis and many others more noteworthy, were not, because they did not write music for the audience that was buying the stuff. In the end, this is what it is all about with the commercial music ... it is music for the masses, not individualism for the masses. I suppose, that society is afraid of individuality, and this has been a theme for hundreds of years and is the very secret behind ALL art history, ALL music history, and ALL literary history.
All of a sudden that which created a lot of these things that we love, prevents anyone else from doing it! Because only the "greats" can do it, and these are sacrosanct.
The sad side of that is that the music becomes a copy, commercial, and no longer vital and intuitive ... and nowadays, someone will call a DAW piece of software "intuitive" when in fact it is not at all ... what you create from it could be when it comes to you, but the program itself is never "intuitive" since it is a mental design in the first place ... and one that has no life on its own ... and that is the state of the "prog bulletin boards and blogs", in general ... they can not discuss a lot of music, as the immediate examples are Genesis (early period), King Crimson, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and a handful of other bands. Or worse ... sub-categories are invented, so they can place the others in it and many folks don't have to listen to them because they are not "prog", they are "neo-prog", or worse "symphonic prog", something that all of the above listed were, for the most part, simply done with different combinations of instruments. In the end, almost ALL the music that has been remembered in the past 500 years is mostly symphonic, although we do not think of Bach as such, but the music structures that came out of that era, is the very foundation of music today.
The issue is that a lot of these folks have a problem defining music, thus creating a style and placing a band there, hopefully, tells a new listener what to look for and not have to listen to something they might not like.
My issue with that idea, is that it displaces the time and place and what helped the music get created in the first place. And it is hard to not think of Magma as just as progressive as King Crimson. Magma is Rhuel or some other weird term for it, so that other bands and musicians that had been in Magma can also do similar things and we know where to find them. And you get some definitions that are amazing ... the worst one being the aforementioned "symphonic", and the funny thing is that this term has absolutely nothing to do with the historical term in music history ... that's very American ... using the language to mean what you want with complete disregard for the nature of the term and its definition. So you get a lot of confusion that the Moody Blues are not symphonic - probably because you didn't hear Days of Futures Passed, heck that's 40 some years old already!!!! how could you have heard it? ... but Genesis is symphonic, Tangerine Dream (really?) is not symphonic (they have more "strings" than anyone else!), but some minor band that just uses IK Multimedia's Miroslav (or another program) is! And then, you get Caravan, who did an album with an orchestra, that shows that in the end, what we call "progressive" is actually a band that is extremely symphonic in its arrangements and compositions, but using the rock idiom with some jazz thrown in ... and the major fans of that band don't listen to that album and tend to think it is not that good! It is, by far, one of the most impressive combinations of rock band and orchestra ever done ... and very original, while also being faithful to the band's work!
And a lot of the music in other places on this earth used different ways to experiment, and they did not, and still don't fit ... the description it is almost all "London-based" ... when so much of it even took the inspiration from San Francisco, or New York, or Paris, or Berlin/Munich, or Tokyo, or LA for example and merely mixed with it classical music, or mixed it with blues, or mixed it with jazz, or simply explored ... and plainly showed the ability and type of musician that one was dealing with ... and it was not a pop artist or commercial music.
And a lot of the literary and artistic connections got lost in the process ... completely! ... and this is the most blaring of all omissions on the prog boards and blogs. It's very difficult to be literate and knowledgeable because someone is going to say the exact opposite and disagree. But you better not insult the collective intelligence of the hot dog! That's way too much Great Poupon!
I always thought that the main reason why "London" is the better known is because of its English speaking ability and the fact that it was also able to sell the material in America and it was able to make a name for itself. Both countries together could out-sell the world when it came to music ... there weren't that many record players in Africa compared to London, let's say ... thus and generally, it became something like ... Velvet Underground is not progressive ... Ange/Magma are not progressive ... Amon Duul 2 is not progressive ... Sadistic Mika Band is not progressive ... why? ... they don't have the time signatures of the "masters" and they don't have this and that ... when in reality they had something else ... sometimes a more literary inspiration, other times historical context, other times inspired sounds and music, other times just an ambience ... just with different ways of using an instrument that were influenced by cultural mixes and musical designs that hoped to create a new experience ... one always thought that a Raga was a Hindu form of music, but doing it with an electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards? ... or that meditative music (that became known as "Ambient" later thanks to Brian Eno) like the works of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream and many individual keyboard artists that flourished quickly all over Europe and the world ... for all intents and purposes these were "soundtracks for your imagination" ... a veritable invisible film that you could confine your imagination to, and this was something that America could not understand, or appreciate, with its commercial control of all things music and arts.
Let's not forget, of course, that England still is trying to show its imperialistic success to the world and as strongly and smelly as the Romans did way back when. And nowadays it shows itself in the commercial world and the arts are not immune. A lot of it was because the English could get to America, and America could get to England ... that simple, and that gave it a popularity that most news media across the world had not yet developed or used. And because of that nature the arts tend to get shared better in some places than others.
And getting a bulletin board or forum to accept that is tough. Every new kid has never heard that, or has any idea that there was a past behind all this ... and here comes yet another fan post about their favorite bands! There are some "grandfathers" in those groups, but their tastes and opinions are sometimes so detached from "art", that it is amazing that they are still standing. I tend to consider these "old fans" and I'm pretty sure that they consider me the same, although some of these younger kids can not understand how an old foggie can listen to such music and enjoy it! Heck, they better play some Hawkwind at my funeral just so I can tell those old ladies and turkeys that I didn't want them there at my party! Ok ... now I'm behaving like they do. Sorry!
I felt the freedom was lost ... and someone like Guy Guden was massive in this area ... not only was he showcasing many of these talents, he was also doing it himself, differently, and inspired by his own background, but he was doing it in Santa Barbara, something that is more likely to be appreciated in Europe by concept, than anywhere in America. A lot of folks heard his show, and some liked it and some did not, but there are but a handful of us, that I have met, that can appreciate the artistic depth of it, and talk about it. It's just not done, or appreciated in this country due to the 3 minute orgasm limit in music! Not to say that it can not be satisfying ... it's all, just not complete, in my book. And Paul, I have never seen, or heard him even discuss the music and Guy in that artistic element.
The progress, however, didn't die in the 80's, as some in the Progressive areas think, they mutated into something else ... and many of those folks on the board (so I thought!) wanted time to stand still, which you and I know, is literally impossible, and only Gort succeeded at it! For a few seconds anyway!
What is most amazing, in these boards, is that there are several suggestions by many of the artists that were interviewed that gave a very good indication of the time and place and how the music came about. And a lot of this information is lost ... and in some cases totally ignored like Robert Fripp and Florian Fricke. Scariest to me, is that many of the folks that consider themselves "editors" and in charge of these boards, have never actually read that material and asked questions about it, or augment the artist definitions and work descriptions and the voice of the "public" is way more important than the artist and their work. And many of those articles are gems in how some folks created their work ... total gems ... like hearing that Werner Herzog basically walked into Florian Fricke's closets, would find tapes, listen to some of them and come up with visuals and then the following week, he had another film made probably created from the inspiration of the music ... talk about inspiration? ... there it is ... right in front of you. And THAT, is what the so-called "progressive music" is really all about. But in those boards it can't be "progressive" if it is not accepted by the horde and they vote it as the top ten or one hundred albums of all time in the genre. Sorry Igor Stravinsky, you are just another Elton John and your music is just pop music! Oh, and by the way, your music is not, and never will be, symphonic!
I never thought, based on my early experiences in listening to music, and enjoying so many different things, that scenes in the arts started by themselves or simply one person.
In general that is not true in a place like London, or Paris, where artists and musicians are known to mingle, and often affect each other, and help create something that many people will remember a long time ... I often ask the great dumb question ... would existentialism exist without Paris? ... or Surrealism? ... and somehow, I don't think that it could ... and some of the "existentialism" was just about the fact that everyone was there, together, and yet ... they were not together.
London is the same. But there is one thing in England that stands out some, probably more than America, and it is that it still has a form of educational system that tends to force you to learn a little about the arts, and its history ... since, and rightly so, it is so intrinsically tied to its history! Along with these there is a very large theatrical community that is adventurous and not always wanting to do yet another musical revival, of the American style of Broadway and LA ... the only "history" that America has, in its arts? The only thing that 500 years has given America is? ... now you can see the cultural kill-down and metldown in American history!
But there are other places.
Based on the European arts, film and theater, there was one other scene that also stood out ... and it was in Germany. The country was split, in those days, but it is not hard to see how political the whole thing was then, when one can find hints of it in Amon Duul 2 and Guru Guru and several other groups. And things like Radio Free Europe were all over making sure of it ... maybe not as "progressive" as you and I would have liked it, but still there ... you can even read stories about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, in this area ... it's de facto history!
But the scene in West Germany was also taking the hippie thing to a finer degree, and taking the community/commune thing to heart.
Out of these came many things and groups, including Amon Duul, the original and the second edition. The original was a part of the commune experience, and someone is rigging off some money off it, that the commune never got! The second generation, and they may have been a part of the first group, has lyrics and feelings that suggest they were finally finished with the whole commune thing ... and their first 4 albums were still showing a group that had a bunch of different people playing with them, and it added an element and difference that most were not showing. It was probably a lot more about the adventure to express and learn and create. And inevitably, the whole thing comes to an end, and the anthem "Apocalyptic Bore" still shines today ... it is either a good bye to drugs, or a good bye to the commune. It fits both. But it is also about the changes in time and place ... and how things are not the same anymore. And in this same album (Vive La Trance), the group puts together the most vicious and outspoken attack on slavery and freedom, when they put together "Mozambique" ... a virtual assault in both music and lyrics, and in a way I think now of it as a follow up to "Apocalyptic Bore", since a lot of people in the commune had a lot of ideas and never did anything about it ...this song rips it ... and unloads all the fire and brimstone that you could imagine.
The original commune's experiments, and they are probably not the only ones or the only commune or group, are well known free form exercises, and it shows. For actors in theater and film, these can be fun and enjoyable. For the wife at home, this is probably the greatest bore you ever heard. But if London had its own scene, West Germany had by far one of the most intelligent film, arts and theater things come out of this ... when you start mentioning Peter Weiss, Peter Handke, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream/Edgar Froese, AshrRaTempel/Manuel Gottsching ... and the folks in the group Can. Others could be mentioned here, like the area towards the jazz and more experimental side of music itself, the "intellectual" I like to call it, that would show Agitation Free, Between, Embryo and others. But the main thing in the first group was that they stuck with experimentation and total improvisation and did well with it, and they are still remembered for it, although most "prog" folks don't like the word "improvisation" at all. And many of these are still there and doing it, meaning that it was not one of those commercial exercises ... they are still creating and exploring and they have never left that element.
It has made for all these years, one of the most exciting scenes in music ... Peter Handke in theater was all about word play ... and this brought Damo Suzuki to Can, it seems. Werner Herzog was mostly about music with visuals, and his films, many of them, feature Popol Vuh, one of the first parts (probably) of these communes to split into its own thing, and it appears that it was much more centered and spiritually focused due to Florian Fricke. They started their own thing really early ... and maintained it really well, and a lot of it was shown with visuals in the Herzog films, although to me, Popol Vuh doesn't need Herzog, but if you listen to the opening song in "Aguirre" ... you will find that you can not do without that astounding film shot opening in the film either, so, it's possible that it all goes both ways, isn't it? Later in an interview with Florian Fricke, he suggests that a lot of this was not designed as such and that too much of it was just music thrown into the film, but there are way too many moments in a Werner Herzog film that does not feel like ... this is here just for show and to fill in the time and space, and help you transition to another part of the story ... in many ways, many of the Werner Herzog films don't have a story in the sense that you know that things will continue ... for right or wrong. Sometimes it feels like an ending was created simply for film's sakes, but then, most films do anyway.
Klaus Schulze, broke away early, probably as soon as he got his handle on the keyboards, and fast became one of those people that only did these really long meditative things that just kinda never ended, and 35 years later, you can catch him doing this and Lisa Garrard (Dead Can Dance) adding some vocals to it, and you can see, first hand, how far these improvisations have come, and how incredible they are. Sadly, this is only appreciated in Germany, and a few places around Europe ... in America ... they will never see this, or come close to appreciate it at all ... I doubt Klaus will ever play here!
Thus, as you can see, at least here, in this side of the world, even with the East/West thing and Berlin Wall, things flourished. I've always had this idea that the main reason for a lot of its wildness and experimentation, if political at all, was a direct relative to the East German view that everything had to be controlled and it was a well known all over the world that the Russian dominated East Germany would not allow rock'n'roll and other more recent music's to enter its areas ... and here, the likes in radio of "Voice of America" or "Radio Free Europe" were important, but although they were more commercially minded, in the end, the "arts" took care of themselves and ensured that they also had their say. Thus the idea of letting go all control and simply improvise would be a very strong statement on its own right ... and is representative of a freedom, that otherwise many people thought did not exist at all. In some cases it led to more spiritual music, in others to some more improvisations, and in Klaus' case ... there is no telling, and you don't need to know ... just enjoy it!
In Guru Guru's album "Tango Fango" there is a song at the end of the album that makes fun of the East/West thing, and plainly shows that the musical inspiration is rock music in this case inspired by Chuck Berry, not some kind of political something or other ...and it is funny, although this is not something that Americans can comprehend ... being fenced in and locked up, like so much of Europe seemingly was.
This is what I could see in the Eastern European scene. It's hard to not mention Poland, and although its film community was, and still is, massive, I can not say with authority that their music and other arts were as strong, and that Lech Walesa embraced them as much as other places did. I have this idea that in many of those countries the whole "artistic" community was destroyed so hard, that it was difficult to flourish ... and not get un-needed attention by a government that was paranoid about its arts, unlike others like Spain. Krystof Kieslowski's films try to show and give you a chance to find some freedom inside, but somehow, it's as if one is always trapped, and this was also the case with many other film makers. I can not speak for the literature at all, but it's hard to imagine it not having similar feelings.
What I perceive as Progressive Music, and its start - London
London is a whole other different beast ... it is a great place to experiment, and was in those days, and it was visible in many ways, although the media tended to make fun of it, and the one example that I can think of, readily, was that of Yoko Ono showing up with her white spaces and one dot ... without saying anything, it all meant a lot more ... and this is what helped break up The Beatles? ... I doubt it ... totally doubt it. But the example suffices to tell you that there was a very vital scene underneath the commercial currents that stood out ... it may not get the press and concerns today, but it was there, and many people were seeing and catching up to it. Whether it meant a lot more and was designed to add something much more to the superficial and commercial art or music, I think the future will expound on that a lot more. I think it did, and while she is but one person in that area, I think that there were others as well.
One thing London is capable of doing is putting on music and shows and arts ... of all kinds ... probably a lot more than anywhere else in the world ... one only needs to take a look at Melody Maker or any music periodical to unlock an incredible variety of music and shows that you will NOT find in NY, Paris, LA, SF or Tokyo ... or anywhere else. And this is not only important for music ... it is also visible in theater and some film ... for in there, they love the arts ... and are not afraid to show something in other languages ... there are enough people that can enjoy something French or Italian, or Japanese and help make it better known ... and this is the important thing of a big city like this ... and the question is ... is it art because it was noticed in this big town, and the one piece that came from small town anywhere else is not art because it was not noticed! ... and sometimes I think the simplistic nature of some of Yoko's stuff, although not musical, or artistic in conventional terms, helped add something to it all ... you and I will probably never agree as to what that was/is, but it's hard to ignore it.
I always thought that a lot of the Liverpool music scene (and others) is almost the "sons and daughters" of the "angry young men" that were in film and theater during the 50's and early 60's in London ... and it is hard to not think of The Rolling Stones were not directly related to it, although Mick Jagger is likely to say ... heck no (because of The Beatles?). And probably think that his group was much more influential and greater than those writers and actors ever were ... and he would not be totally incorrect ... but there is not much difference between the indifference that you find in some of their material and some of the English literary and theater scene of the time. At least in attitude. The Beatles were much more subdued when it came to that "attitude" ... it's almost like they were less interested in "attitude" than they were in music ... which Mick might say ... hogwash ... it's all about attitude and feeling it! ... and he's probably right! ... and the "angry young men" certainly were!
I think that The National Theater and The Royal Shakespeare Company ... had a massive influence in the arts and music in London, and probably a lot more than they are given credit for ... and a lot of it had to do with how actors and actresses prepared for their roles and how they rehearsed. Peter Brook in a couple of his books gives us a very good idea on how to rehearse and what feelings to tap on many a play, and while these may be particular to theater and film acting, a lot of that shows up in music, and possibly other arts, and I tend to think that it is not accidental. And a lot of it, has less to do with conventional attitudes in theater and film, than it does with recognizing something else about the human spirit, regardless of how it comes about. And it is even more amazing when he takes this further and does a Mahabharatta with many actors from different countries and these folks at times could not even talk or understand each other ... but it works .... and is lovely to watch, albeit I am not sure an American audience can appreciate allegorical theater at all, when they are so infatuated with "A Star is Born" ... which actually is almost the same thing with its card board sets! The parallel to music is not obvious but can be used and worked with in a rehearsal to help the band get tighter and stronger ... something that most bands can not do because they do not have an external voice to help them define their strengths ... a veritable director!
The music scene already had come off its psychedelic craze and it was extending into other areas. Groups like Pink Floyd and Soft Machine made obvious overtures into changing that and going somewhere else with the music ... and I'm not sure that it matters if one thinks that Syd Barrett wanted to show Jimi Hendrix that he could also do far out and weird things on his guitar and no one has stood up and said ... that's not music ... and I always thought that a lot of this music is very similar to the learning that actors get when going through a rehearsal process, even if it is a pre-meditated exercise with a pre-conceived ending at times ... there are a lot of surprises in the middle of it all.All of a sudden, what might have came off as a rehearsal, or an experiment, is much more than just that and in no time it will show that it also works in music thanks to folks like Robert Fripp and others.
The rebellion against older and conventional material did not end there. It continued, and groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, the major groups at the time, were losing their touch. They were influenced by the scene like everyone else, but were still too deeply involved in the area of commercial music. Pink Floyd and Soft Machine were not. And they had connections to the world of literature that were a little more obvious than The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, who had become too big to be associated with anything but themselves ... perfect rock music history!
While Pink Floyd had just come through their psychedelic (and I think originally commercial - their first one) period, in general, they were quite literary with Syd Barrett providing a lot of lyrics, via his unusual view of things, a view that in theater is considered "eccentric" and helps define and detail much characterization for a play or film. This type of process is usually used in a lot of theater that is considered "absurd", for its material is often distant and sometimes plain weird, and is also a very good exercise for actors in rehearsal when trying to nail down their voice and work for a character ... it adds "reality" to it all after you experience the extremes during a rehearsal.
But it also helps create a free form of expression that is not easy to duplicate on stage for any individual, and sometimes it is about the play and the public about to enjoy it. Some learn how to use that material and some don't. The best actors love these moments, because it is here that they can usually flourish ... you just let them go. Most commercial music does not allow that freedom.
The Soft Machine put together music that was quite different, slight more tilted towards jazz and in their first album was somewhat "psychedelic" with Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen at the helm. That was not a surprise, as both gents were a part of the "beat poets" scene that included American free form writers and poets, some of which influenced the American scene some, but were to have their best effect used up in England and Europe, while at least one or two got their stars in the West Coast. There are some stories about both Daevid and Kevin having lived with many writers and artists, and there is no doubt that they are a part of that group ... their work over the years is as important and as vivid as those were. One might say that Allen Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac were the "trinity of beat poets", but one rarely sees and notes that both Daevid and Kevin spent time with these people and while they might not be considered one of them, in essence they are just like them ... in music and lyrics! Kevin tends to lean towards the humor a bit more and Daevid towards the free form and sometimes spiritual side of things, but the "freedom" is scary ... Daevid can spout poetry left and right non-stop if the mood hits him on any stage! As can Gilly Smith for that matter! That's how centered these people are "inside" as artists.
Pink Floyd, while having made its name earlier in the psychedelic days, in essence learned more and became a different group when they became an experimental band themselves, even though it could be said that their music took on the touch and feel of rock music and blues. But their early experiments were as significant as those from The Soft Machine, and valuable in general to what became known as "progressive music", although, I tend to think that it is "progressive" not because of one thing or other, but more because of its time and place, and what they did to work with that moment. Experiments were still the thing, and Pink Floyd took it into the rock idiom full force, while The Soft Machine went for a different jazz feel that had more of a RAGA feel within a jazz context, than it did the typical jazz that was found in America -- which had been quite experimental in the 50's and 60's, but had lost its drive with the advent of the LP and the music business, who immediately went after the hits and the strong selling things. In general, both Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine were not great sellers, albeit it was obvious they sold enough to be able to continue, but there was a bit of a difference. Robert Wyatt liked his music, but he also had a bit of the eccentric in him, and it is no surprise that towards the end of one of their pieces, he breaks into an ABC fun portion, as a way of telling us that the music may be this and that, but it is also fun and enjoyable that way ... I'm not sure that the American contingent, like Blue Note or any of them, ever had the chance to throw a little humor into the music, it just was not done, specially with lyrics .. I mean, Miles Davis with a ditty in the end of one of the pieces? ... you gotta be kidding me. At least no one has seen one in a recording!
Miles Davis's style is interesting and in an article on a recent Bass Player Magazine. There is a touch about one of Miles' players, a bass player and in it he mentions that the style was pretty straight forward, even though they were all master musicians ... and it went like this ... we start here, and then you pick it up there and then John does his thing and then Paul does his thing and then I do mine, and then we come together. The London scene was not about soloing with someone, and it was more "classical music" influenced in that they worked on composing things a bit, if you will, and not in the generic sense that Miles had mentioned. So it's no surprise when Pink Floyd unloads "Astronomy Domine" and "Be Careful with that Axe, Eugene" ... but it shows where the music is going, and where these people want to take it. An experiment ends up with a moody piece and an anthem! Theatrical rock music comes home!
Out of the scene comes another London area of musicians, and I call them "artists" more than I do anything else. Robert Fripp and his original group King Crimson, were one of the finest examples, although groups like The Nice, and other examples, were also on the horizon, and they were a bit more classically inclined and inspired, probably because Keith Emerson is ... a classical musician that does not want to do classical music ... too rigid and not fun for him, I think. But he did want to use the sounds of that machine on his songs and band!
At this time in London, there are also political problems, as ever. And the Vietnam war and the Irish problems were quite vivid. Let's call it the late 60's.
Part of being involved in a new scene would mean that poets and writers and others would also be a part of it all. And this meant people like Pete Sinfield eventually got his name around as a writer and did some nice things. And King Crimson, started out as a group wanting to do something different, Robert Fripp states that quite clearly, but where it took them, was not something that he imagined, and on top of it, did not answer what they (or he) would do musically. One of the songs in the first album, a searing attack and view at war, called "Epitath" made it big, and so did the first King Crimson album ... mostly because it was so different, and no one could figure out how to define it. And the other song appeared to be an attack at the commercial success of loud bands, simply loud rock music trying to make a point or another. And like some of the newer things being done, it was not commercial in the sense that it was just a bunch of songs for the radio. It's not too hard for you and I to imagine that the majority of lyrics in rock music are insipid and impotent ... but to imagine them being written by a real writer and poet? ... or someone else that had more to say than a song about another brown sugar? That is the difference ... the theme might even be similar ... but the attitude and writing ... yeah ... that's where it all differs!
There are other scenes in London at the time, and one that is worthy of mention, and rarely discussed. The Incredible String Band, who had made a serious attempt to mix music and theater, only to be blown out by commercial interests and forced to just do songs. In the film "Be Glad That The Song Has No Ending" and then later "U", it became quite clear that they wanted to do much more than just pop music or folk music, and sadly enough, their bit and part in Woodstock, was trashed and not appreciated because it did not have a "single" that marked them as "important" as all the others -- and was dumped, even by the film director and everyone else ... who did not get it or could figure out what this was all about ... which was a problem that would eventually hurt The Incredible String Band ... which, like the German scene, had also started as a commune by the way, and unlike almost all others, in this case the women WERE a part of it full force. Catching that film today, it seems more as a "nymph" or "ideal" than it does anything else. It doesn't seem right anymore, and the whole thing made sense ... it was the whole "hippie" thing brought out as an artistry, instead of being just a commune for sex, food and living -- as most the others were, with some bad consequences.
King Crimson did not last in one piece, and the main singer, who is much more of an actor with his voice than he is a singer, Greg Lake, eventually left to form a legendary group with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer. And they started out with an album that was a massive keyboard assault, that was amazing. Up until that time, the keyboards were merely an instrument that provided a background, like a Moody Blues, or anything else ... and all of a sudden, you have ... something else. And from that moment on, the keyboards would NEVER, ever, be just a background instrument ... in some cases it was downright up front and made the singers look stupid ... what else is new when everyone and the kitchen sink (and cynic) get into the act, right?
Another side of London, brought out groups like YES, and their greatest contribution may have been that they aligned themselves with an artist, who made them stand out. Roger Dean is today, probably one of the most respected artists of that era, and will likely be remembered as Andy Warhol was. An icon that did a lot more than just paint ... and this was something that Pink Floyd had also done, which gives you an idea that they were not oblivious to the arts around them. Hipgnosis, became their best friend and artist, and eventually they became big enough to do many other covers, including Led Zeppelin ... which tells you that even they were aware of the arts around them!
YES, started out simply enough, and it was not until their 3rd album, that they stood out ... and it probably was the keyboard wizardry of another classically trained player named Rick Wakeman that made them become what they became. Their next 4 albums became a whole lot of the definition of what today is called "progressive rock", even though their music had nothing to do with it at all!
Other scenes, smaller in scope but just as vital were around. It's hard no to mention Hawkwind here. They had combined with then unknown science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock and had created a whole mythology that took them 20 years to get rid of, but has stood up really well in music. While more of a "psychedelic" and what became known then as "acid rock", meaning that it could be fast, hard and non-stop, they were also quite literary and well defined and it is so clear in the album "Amazing Sounds Astounding Music" when a song called "Steppenwolf" and the "Reefer Madness" really explained the band in ways that are not usually mentioned. There was something to all this after all. It's easy to dismiss "Space Ritual" as just a fun show with all kinds of far out moments in between the songs, but in the end, it was not all about ...nothing ... Space is Deep, indeed!
The Soft Machine and lesser groups in London also became known later as the "Canterbury Scene", which sprouted a lot of bands and work that was quite nice and very enjoyable, but to my ear they were never "great" ... they were just nice ... very nice might be more like it.
The only one not mentioned here, yet, is the Folk Scene in England ... which is major, and unlike the United States, it tends to survive a lot more and better, and has some outstanding things to show for itself. But these tend to have their roots in the more traditional areas, although they are now being done electrically and quite differently than the folk ways they were known for. More on this later.
perceive as Progressive Music, and its start - USA
America had its own experimental scenes. Sadly, for many of us, they did not last long enough, and while some might say that the state of commercial music in America killed it, and the Media augmented it with horror stories, one could easily say that both the abuses of drugs and sex also hurt it badly ... there was no need for that abuse! These were aptly visible in the West Coast in San Francisco and Los Angeles, a lot more than they are in New York, although I doubt that they were also immune to it. And one doesn't need to see a film or 2 to learn more about that ...
The 50's had brought out a lot of LP's of music featuring blues and a lot of black musicians, but these were not getting radio play, and for the most part were only known in the "big city", and America is not all a "big city" ... so to speak, America is a whole bunch of small towns, and this tends to fragment the arts a lot ... many of the things that you can catch in New York, or Los Angeles, or San Francisco, will never get to the small part of America, and the chances that Television will address that are even smaller ... Cable TV is an extension of the commercial endeavors and is not there to create art ... it's there to provide you with "entertainment" ... and their interest is strictly in the channels and departments that are "famous" and might not necessarily have anything that could be construed or even mentioned anywhere near "art". You can get this idea and feeling easily enough if you take a look at the DVD where Tom Dowd tells his story ... it shows that the "progressive" and "experimental" was quite vivid and alive and it was the advent of "hit" for radio and then "star" for film (and eventually music) that killed a lot of the new music and turned it into radio jingles and top ten.
It doesn't help that places like The Metropolitan is not going to the Internet and helping make their presence known and seen ... which only makes for one thing ... classical music in America is going and going and will be gone soon ... and so is "serious music" ... and the majority of educational systems are not capable of defining "art" and helping people see that with art, you can find a world out there ... a voice that also exists, but can not reach you when you are segregated from it.
The movie studios, according to Tom Dowd (50's through 80's engineer in music in the US), were the ones that went after the fame and record sales and pushed their singers at first and those sales helped kill the jazz sales and start a "fame" thing that is still open and alive today in America. Many of them made it and many others did not. One of the best known of these, is, of course, Elvis Presley, who for his time and efforts was quite progressive and different than any other artist at the time, many of whom tended to be tame and usually mellowed out so a scene or movement that could not be seen ... the "hit" was the important thing, and the movie studios were not adverse to a little advertising to make sure their artists sold ... and helped the coffers. It is interesting to note that the rebel during this time in film was James Dean, and one could easily make a comparison between these "attitudes" and those on the other side of the pond.
But, while this was going on, there were, underneath it all, some different things happening, that had a hard time making it to the front. Mostly because the Media was more into the star thing that the movie studios had pushed, and this made it difficult to show any new artistry anywhere. In Europe this is not as much of a problem, and places like France have this over-reactive attitude towards the Hollywood money factory, for example, and at times will try to make something obscure simply to show America that it can do it ... which is silly, since a French film has a hard time getting an American audience and the days of overdubs are long gone ... and reading subtitles? ... don't even mention that!
My experience is limited, though I arrived in America in 1966 and could not speak English ... but it was no secret when one can hear Bob Dylan, and already know who Andy Warhol is, although I have to tell you that the Campbell Soup can thing and Marilyn Monroe pictures were quite boring to me -- Playboy did one of those much better! -- but the other side of Andy Warhol showed the experimentation that helped evolve some things in New York that ... probably did not influence a whole other bunch of people, but was strong enough to make a splash. And I think that it had its biggest success in music, the one thing that Andy Warhol was not very good at! His films were just a camera turned on ... and the famous one of people sleeping, and nothing else ... and I tend to think his art was more interesting ...
I kinda think/say that on the other side of town you could get things like The Velvet Underground, which came off as a really heavy drug band, but in the end, I think that imagery was just about the time, and not so much about the drugs even though the fame that came and went around it, ended up killing it ... probably with drugs. But the one person that is still with us is Lou Reed, and while he might not have been as much of an experimental person and artist, you could see him making his point and using music as an important expression, and I always thought his album "Rock'n'Roll Animal" is the quintessential idea ... taking music into somewhere else and helping show people that even in the rock era it can be seen, done and felt. And it is not just some idealistic idiocy! ... it is "real" as it comes!
The more literary side of this, I tend to look at the likes of Lori Anderson, who had a few "hits" at that time, but her music was highly influenced via her lyrics by the Beat Poets and Writers, one of whom she quotes openly and uses his own words in at least one piece. Hers is also an experimental work with synthesizers at a time that it was not easy to do what they did ... but it may sound small today, but the lyrical content ... is quite good and expressive.
Los Angeles and San Francisco is what I am more familiar with ... not totally ... though we moved into Santa Barbara in 1971. To the south and to the north was where the action was ... in between was this quiet town that was famous for its movie something or others, and expensive housing of wax and cardboard, or the over priced apartments fit for slums in Isla Vista for the students at the University.
Los Angeles in 1971 and 1972 for me, was ... strange ... and far out at the same time. You knew that Frank Zappa was there and so was Spooky Tooth and Led Zeppelin would zoom in and take all the groupies, some of the very girls you even went to school with! ... and then ... in September, you went to the Hollywood Bowl to catch Pink Floyd. And in those days, the bootlegs suggest that the band was still having some fun and did some improvisations here and there. By the time that you heard the quadraphonic sound and its effects go around the whole place, you knew this was good, and not just ... another rock show. The "meaning" of it all, might have been illusive, but it stood out and gave you some food for thought. At least, it was more on par with my idea of the hippie generation that all around me, and in school had dwindled to a free for all for getting laid ... you got the dope you get the lay ... you don't ... and you can rest assured that those school girls were a headache, or having delusions of virginity until their marriage, which in Southern California is a joke ... the only virginity you will have left is if you had a bi encounter or not! And, of course, the music did not mean much ... it's kinda hard to think of Crosby, Stills and Nash as important when it comes to meaning much. It's even harder to take Linda Rondstad more seriously. Or, if you really wanna dig down, to the one rock scene that became a couple of monsters ... The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, though this last band had its start in London, it's life ie in LA.
In the middle of all this, we all concentrated on school a bit, but I had a hard time with English and could not do my papers properly, but I was doing well in the technical theater classes. And while this was a way for me to do something since I could not take film classes, there were none at my level at Santa Barbara City College, at least I ended up learning some more about Acting, Directing and eventually the history of theater and film. I never quit film, and Guy and I became quite a pair of film hounds, although I could not get him to see a Fellini or Antonioni, at least he was saying ... no no no ... you gotta check these others out. And we did.
Music appreciation took a slight turn. Soundtracks. And then ... hmmm ... comedy ... and then ... more music, though the radio stuff with the FM radio, then, being so new, was quite experimental and playing things that were not top ten ... and some new things were seeping in. Pink Floyd was one of these, and other English bands as well .. you were not about to hear King Crimson on the AM radio band. And you were not going to hear Hawkwind either, or Man, or just a bit later, Nektar.
In San Francisco, it seemed like there was another scene altogether. It was probably centered on Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Spirit, Santana, and the bands that survived the majority of the drugs, or were already on the path to sending them off ... as it became obvious when Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin got together. And the music was pretty darn good, and probably was one of the first examples of what eventually became named "fusion", although now that you go back and listen to Frank Zappa, there is more fusion in there than just about anyone altogether!
By late 1973 and early 1974, it was becoming obvious that new music was the big thing ... and some of these names made it into the country and showed off their abilities and power. And then, while we were doing "Nothing is Sacred" (Guy's original play and production - his first in Santa Barbara), all heck broke loose with Dark Side of the Moon ... and remember that at this time, Michael Jackson was not on his own quite yet.
There had been very few "concept albums" that you could play from start to end, and they were not only good, but quite enjoyable, and I think these started with "Days of Future Passed" by The Moody Blues. The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper" was not, per se, a concept album despite the idea in the last song that gave it a thoughtful line and piano key that not only left you hanging for more, but thinking ... there is more to it all. Yes, had already come out with "Close to the Edge" and "Tales of Topographic Oceans" and Jethro Tull had come out with "Thick as a Brick" and ... then his best conceptual and far out work, "Passion Play".
LA was agog ... get Pink Floyd to do a myriad of shows ... all sold out within the hour ... Yes ... sold out ... Jethro Tull sold out ... Led Zeppelin tickets gone in 15 minutes.
And then, Guy's radio show happened, finally ... and he was given a chance to do his thing in 1974 ... and at first it was not the experimental, crazy show that it later became, but it had all the elements of fun stuff and Guy's abilities, and on Sunday nights, it was all European, with very few exceptions here and there. I'm not sure that show on Sunday nights ever touched Frank Zappa, but on his other nights ... he did and then some!
It took about a few weeks or months, and LA and SF lost their luster ... the new music that was being played, was almost single-handedly being done by Guy ... though some things ended up getting air play in LA as well, and it is possible (maybe even likely) that they got some airplay here and there in smaller stations, otherwise Moby Disk and Tower Records were not going to have them. Space Pirate Radio, WAS the bomb ... it gave you nearly everything that was out there, that no one ever heard ... I even remember walking into the Tower Records with a few friends, the same night we went to see Babe Ruth and Iggy and the Stooges ... that ... as Guy had said once ... all these records ... all of them ... you ever wonder what is in them? ... and Guy's show, unlike any other radio, put a dent in that thought ... a very big dent in that thought.
Do you, still, ever feel that way when you walk into a cd/music store?
LA had a very large underground scene that Guy can probably tell you about better than I, that I sometimes think is a second rate bunch of groups, but many of them went on to ferment into a slight punk scene, and then into an artsy scene, and then into ... you name it ... but one thing was clear about this time, the drugs were too much, and so much of this music was almost meaningless because of it. It did not have much to tell you and help you grow ... but the music was there, strong and loud! You could not miss it!
... and the European scene, did help you grow ... although one might sit and try to put these on a scale of some sort ...
I'm not sure that there is a best reason here. I do think, and I'm from Portugal and we went to Brazil when I was 9 and then to America when I was 16, that in the end, it is the history of the arts, that helped ... a lot more than the drugs.
I always thought that when you hear a lot of "Krautrock." you actually hear a lot of California in there in terms of expression, a nice loose, let it go thing ... that was very nice and enjoyable ... I say all the time that the first 3 GuruGuru albums is probably what Jimi Hendrix really wanted to try and do ... and couldn't.
But European bands, had/have a massive history of music that is thousands of years old, and when they don't know what to do, they fall back onto it easily enough ... in America, when many bands could not experiment or improvise anymore, they came back to a rock'n'roll song, or a ballad, or something that most audience members recognize ... and it comes off as an inspiration of sorts.
But, for me, this was strange ... you are trying to "raise" the level of the music, and you only come back to the simplest thing around, and it amounts to a pop song ... not more artistic music ... and this is what the Europeans did not do. To me, this was what made The Grateful Dead not as good as they could have been, and they were the original masters of the improvisation if you can believe it ... but all they could do with that was ... another 5 minute song? ... whatever happened to all those 5 and 6 hour all night shows? ... did no one have any more music ability other than very simple rock concepts and music and not learn to do something far more adventurous and musically important or interesting?
And this is where a lot of American music died ... coupled with the media controls and desire for another hit ... something that America is horrible at accepting ... only top ten means anything and the attempts to intellectualize it are ... quite pathetic, and not intellectually stimulating ... and European arts have one advantage ... they tend to not worry too much about the glory, when the art itself is what is important ... in America it became the art of making money, and, rip off people ... we don't have to discuss the Fleetwood Mac fiasco's, or the overly hyped Eagles! ... and these were not music anything other than mere radio/pop music ... it had no other inspirations behind it. For all the "meanings" behind it all, the faith was so fabricated and selfish that it wasn't funny any more. It all became Hotel California ... and who cares anyway?
There is no music that is more wide open in its application than most Folk Music ... and it doesn't matter where you are in the world.
These days a lot of it may be much more alive in that some of it is very electric, a veritable come to age and modern times thing, but in general, they probably are the most adventurous of all musical forms ... and the most important part of it all here is the simplest thing of all about music ... in the end, it's about you and the music and nothing else and all you got is your instrument and you ... regardless of what the lyric says ... but a couple of things always stand out ... the stuff is personal and too many literary comments tend to call it "self-centered" ... and you wonder who they are talking about ... since no one else ever in the arts has ever been like that?
There is no doubt that someone like Bob Dylan is important, but for all his writing he is not exactly as good a musician as he is a writer. And he is not a good story teller, which tends to be the one thing that centers around a lot of folk music ... Bob's work is a mere poem about this moment and how I feel, and he has an attitude that all the rest does not matter anyway ... it's all words, right? ... I doubt it, and this is the eternal battle for a writer and true lyricist and singer ... it can't be just about the words ... it has to be about the communication, and while I do not dislike Bob and he deserves his place in the history of all this, in the end, he is another E E Cummings or a free form poet ... not quite another musician.
The odd thing here is his material continually being listed and mixed with rock music ... because he employs an electric guitar now and then ... but there is an inflection and tone in his voice that at times booms a thought and idea right through your head, and you have to be cynical or not care ... for it not to get you. And at times, even many of your close ones are not that deep or stated ... and this is one of the dangers of a lot of artists for most of us ... audience members! ... and the threat is not about you and I, but about, how strong and courageous are you to be an individual and understand what that means ... and make use of it! Few people, writers or musicians, can ever do that ... and that is rare ... when most people are writing something with an idea in mind or a theme or around a musical moment or two ... Bob is not that vain, even if he likes to come off as aloof and eccentric and wants people to leave him alone ... at least that's what it appears to be ... he seems to have mellowed some in his later years!
It will be, sadly, on the day of his death, that American music will probably grow up ... he deserves much better than that ... I think that on that day, people might get an idea ... that singing and lyrics is not just that ... it's a lot more ... and if you can take a look at the mirror, you will be able to express yourself ... but you can't when all you think you want to do is "jazz" or "rock" or something else ... and that is an important thing to understand and realize when doing music ... you are either doing "yourself" and what you see and feel, or you are simply doing an image of something else ... and you know that with Bob, there is no image ... no rock'n'roll ... no nothing else ... it's you get what you get and that's that!
And some have stood out ... big time!
And folk music is often the best place to do this ... it's you and your guitar! ... you and your instrument! And it could be said that it is easier since there is only one person, since things start getting muddled when you add more people ... but there are exceptions in this area and Peter Hammill is the difference ... he is the ultimate folkie doing rock and was the leader of a group called "Van Der Graaf Generator", and he extends the courtesy to talking, singing, screaming, whispering and everything else ... in the end it is so personal and strong that it tends to scare some people ... but how can you argue with some 40 to 50 albums worth of music? It's almost an uncanny parallel to Bob ... in a way ... and I'm sure Peter would say ... I was just being nice! However, due to his band and incredible body of work, Peter is not considered a folk musician any more than he is a "progressive" musician. He is the ultimate folk'ster in his solo albums though his band is pretty much the same thing to my ear.
Not quite ... in a literary sense. If expression is important and creates books and poems, why aren't people like Dylan and Hammill the Shelleys and the Byrons and the Miltons of today? ... they are! But this is a really hard thing to fathom and understand if you are not well read in those folks ... to the point where you can see where their need for expression stops and their sense of literary/musical style starts ... and this is what a lot of folk music is all about. It's not about a song ... although it has all come down to just that!
(Farina's/Crosby, Still, Nash and Young .... Dylan, Baez, Collins, Mitchell)
(Fairport Convention/Steeleye Span and related famillies)
Of all the bands I have ever heard, none of them stand out as well as this one.
There are so many reasons that it is difficult to decide which one is more important. Needless to say, the most fascinating of all the reasons is that of all their catalogue there is very little that sounds similar to the previous album, with the exception of the concept of the original release of "Wolf City" (which had the order of the songs reversed from the LP's Side 1 and 2 when it came out on CD!), and their next album "Vive La Trance", where upon, right after one of the best anthems ever written about the good old days of drugs and hippiedom, they changed gears.
The group, originated from a commune that also had actors with them and more than likely film makers, and of course, musicians. And it appears that it was common place for everyone to get together and start up the drums (so to speak) and do something which was akin to experiencing things, even if one was on drugs, which is possible. These ended up in various forms as "Amon Duul" (the first version?) and not a whole lot is said about it, and I have this feeling that there are some reasons that Amon Duul 2 makes a bit obvious via their work in the next few albums.
The first one was "Phallus Dei" and I tend to thing that the long cut that made this band known in Europe is pretty much about the commune and the "party" atmosphere, as the song breaks out into a rock party. It is an interesting listen, but not as important musically as the upcoming albums in their catalogue. I tend to think that this is very much a comment that the whole commune thing was almost exclusively about sex and nothing else. There may have been political and social this and that, but it might have been minor and not that important. One thing is clear, and some of it shows up in another band's work, which is also important. Guru Guru.
Their next album is called "Yeti". The cover is an interesting design itself. A man with a scythe is harvesting something. It appears to be "energy". And I always thought that it was very symbolic of their work all around. The immediate question is, where is it coming from. The celestial atmosphere of the cover suggests somewhere else with a spiritual side to it, and this may have been a call back to the previous album. The internal cover, a foldout on the LP, suggests an underwater experience with visuals that seem to come and go. This shows up later, and is also the mixed media work of the man who played the keyboards for them.
The title cut of the album, is massive. If there is such a thing to describe a guitar as "raw" and "unbridled", this is it. I can only think of two other examples that even come close to it. They are the guitarist James Gurley (I think, sorry!) on the Cheap Thrills album during "Ball and Chain" and then Djam Karet in a couple of their pieces.
When I close my eyes, the whole piece comes off like this ... a spaceship landing and aliens coming out and trying to move around, and eventually dissipate into the midst of every thing else. I'm sure that others will interpret this totally different, but if there is a piece of music that would fit the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", this is it, although I am not sure that many would be able to handle it. The music is totally different and spaces out immensely and takes you away very quickly, if you are one of those folks that simply loves to fly with music.
Their next album, is different, and their first "change". Taking from their instrumental and experimental nature they put together a double LP called "Dance of the Lemmings". And much of the album flows together and at least one side of that LP suggests that these were improvisations. And if so ... wow ... is all one can say. The question often arises, where is the "improvisation" and the "song" and what starts where and ends where? At least one whole side "The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church" is a very quiet piece that stands out a lot, and it probably is/was the last of the big improvisations that this band did. The other 3 sides of the LP flowed together although each side has its own title with sub-sections. Of special note to me, is the section that was on Side 2 (Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child) and its pieces. And a moment that is very funny and crazy and the same time, and you have to hear it to appreciate it ... the opening of that door and the resulting sounds say it all. To many this is very weird. To some, it is music to the ears and then some, but I think that it was a commentary on how people saw them, since what they were doing was not "commercial music" per se, but some very vivid explorations. One can sit here and try to figure out what the lyrics meant, and they are of the psychedelic variety and it is very difficult to say and think that they mean something since the next moment it appears to go the other way. It keeps you totally off balance, but somehow, when you get done listening, you will probably end up saying to yourself something like "Wow, that is different" and on the 2nd and 3rd listen, you fall in love with it. It's that good, and there are no "conventions" in music to describe here, I don't think. It's strictly an experiential thing.
A year later, the album "Carnival in Babylon" comes out. I don't know how to review this album compared to the previous ones. It is different and even though there is one longer cut, there seems to be a concentrated effort, or demand, to make their material more accessible, and understood, and I think that meant that some of the material had to be more to a "song format", rather than their previous meandering material, almost none of which any one of us that has heard this band thoroughly can say that it is not good and could be cut down. I love to say, make it longer!
One of the best rock albums ever designed and played is their next album. It is called "Wolf City". From it's magnificent cover, energy from the ancients I like to say and describe it, the album starts out simply enough, turns into an instrumental that has a beautiful electronic mix with eastern music, and then fires away with a song that is very satirical of Adolf Hitler (Deutsche Nepal). As one turns the album one of their better known songs starts and is called "Surrounded by the Stars" and the most astounding thing to my ears is the ending of the song and the segue into the next one, which pretty much showed this bands roots, how to blend music from an improvisational idea and go to the next movement, or piece seamlessly. When you hear the sound effect of the saw and the soft bass carrying it into the next moment, one can only think that this is a dream that doesn't stop. And the album doesn't.
Vive La Trance is their next album, and it starts out similarly to "Wolf City", but it's highlights are 2 specific songs. The one that closes the side one of the LP is called "Mozambique" and it is a vicious attack on the slavery thing and the white man's part in it, and then opening the side 2 is "Apocalyptic Bore". And here is Amon Duul 2 at its very best, in what I think is one of the most important anthems about music and the "hippie" days, and the end of the "commune" idealism. They do not set out to say that it was wrong, but instead, say, in the last lyric in the song "it's ok" ... and it was very clear that they looked at the whole thing from a very ethereal and clear point of view. The song ends with a massive blast out of a duet between violin and guitar, something that I'm not sure has been duplicated as well or with such care ever, or since. And right after this song I was expecting something else, and instead, they break out into a series of songs that show their humor and abilities. But one thing was clear. The band that had started out experimenting and flying all over the place had changed and they were probably not going to do that again. And they didn't.
They became a very eccentric band with some very far out material. Some that stood out and some that didn't. Most of the AD2 fans that I know always talk a lot about their early material and not enough is said about their later material. Maybe the changes and come and go attitude that apparently was still incorporated into the group finally stopped, but with it went something else. The astounding sonic attacks in favor of music that, in some ways was still eccentric, but was somewhat more accessible to the public ear.
In between this and their next album there might have been some issues, and there was an album called "Utopia" that has some very nice things. It also featured some jazz musicians amidst their various friends, and it was very nice. In it featured a song that is/was one of their themes. "What You Gonna Do" is a song about some dead rock stars and I think it is stating, what now, that your heroes are gone. I never felt that the song was a downer, and really thought that it was a nice anthem and thank you for the inspiration that they had been all this time. But I still look at that song as a bit of a warning about drugs, and there will be more about this.
"Hijack" is their next album and it is an astonishing and eccentric mix that has a cartoon cover. And it ends with a funny song that immediately recalls a bit from one of the Firesign Theater albums. The very first song in it is daring. "I can't wait" is as far as I can tell an anti drug song, and it lays it on the line. The follow up to "What You gonna do" is here in "Explode Like a Star" which as the previous song is about the same thing, burning oneself out. And then one of the funny things happens. "Da Guadeloop" is a funny bit that has Renate marching off as if she were a big time feminist and the guitar plays a lick giving them the finger. It is, a hilarious statement despite it being such a somber thing to think about, but I think that it is more about the militancy of it all than it is against the feminism movement, specially since they came from the commune groups where sex was open, and women appeared to be the desired toys! The angry attitude is fine, but not necessary? Is all I ever thought this meant. The album closes with the song "Archy The Robot" and he has put the devil on TV! I'm not sure that this group had the opportunity to hear the Firesign Theater's version of this or not, but it may just be a compliment in the end to both Archy the hero that went on to star in some films, for making some drinking potions to ... and a whole lot of other things.
Of interest in the middle of this is a "Live in London" album where they play their material from "Yeti" and "Dance of the Lemmings", and it is a fabulous concert all around, with the musicians all standing out and probably playing better than the original, if that is not something that should or could be said.
After this came "Made in Germany" which was cut down into a single album for America from the double LP in Germany, and it had its moments although I can safely say that I missed the glorious improvisations. The group had some further fragmentation and there are a couple of other albums and "Vortex" is to my ear the one that stands out.
More than 10 years later, an album called "Nada Moonshine #" came out. At the time I thought it was fine. It was a going back to the "Hijack" days and then some, and it did have a couple of songs that were important, and hearing the word "divine slime" said, pretty much stated what they thought of some of the New Age stuff that was going on around them at the time. The album has some super nice stuff, but again, I miss the extended material.
When it comes to "different" and "exploratory" and "original" there are very few folks that can come close to this band. Be it the mix of a lot of other musics, including Eastern influences and instruments, or simply the talent and the harnessing of those energies into something glorious, I doubt that anyone could have done so much and not repeat themselves silly, or sound the same. Simply one of the great rock bands of all time, one can not even hear musical influences in here since they are so subtle and so well mixed together to the point that it is hard to not think ... this is good, and very different.
Headed by a drummer, Mani Neumeier, this is one of those groups that deserves a mention for various reasons. The first, is, free form and experimentation. The second is that while the lyrics in their music is slight, and sometimes not much, in the end, it is ALL about the music. And how to express it. I have always thought this is what Jimi Hendrix would have liked to try and do, if everyone around him allowed him to get out of the "blues" and music that appeared to not allow him to do what he really wanted, which was to experiment and see what the instrument can do.
It has been said that there are two kinds of music. The one where the instrument dictates the structure, and then the one where the moment dictates what to do, and it has less to do with the notes and chords than anything else. That moment, for some rock music, has been its greatest and most important gift to the history of music, but it comes at a price. Most musical historians and academics tend to not have a lot of words or feelings towards music that ... is not composed, so to speak. And I would venture to say that this band's first three or four albums are highly indicative of a freedom of expression, even with different guitarists, that is un-matched anywhere else, and more than like a tribute to its founder and drummer, Mani. And what a drummer he is.
Some bands defy description. According to Chuck Oken, the inspirations range from King Crimson, Richard Pinhas and much other music that is considered "progressive" from those magical days of the late 60's and early 70's.
But one listen to the first 4 or 5 albums by this group, and one is hard pressed to say that there is a lot more here than meets the eye, and that the inspiration brought on by those groups is, marginal, and what they have done is create an atmosphere that is far beyond a lot of music, and material that is so visual, that I would think that many folks find it scary, weid and strange. And it is all done with the music, and lyrics are not necessary which has always been a contention of mine, for a very long time. The music has to speak, regardless of the note or chord that the guitar is playing. It has to have a life of its own, with the background or without it. If the music can stand out, it will be remembered, regardless of whatever else is over it.
And this is where this band shines the most in my words.
On one of my listens, a friend once commented that they also have a bit of Pink Floyd in them. I prefer to state that if they do, it is not measured or tied to blues, rock, jazz or anything, but it's own strength and desire to live, and to me this is the most special feeling that one can add to music, and in the end is the stuff that is remembered and fondly discussed. What one does that is basically the same as what everyone else does is usually dismissed or forgotten, since it is so common. But when it is different, then it begs another listen, or view, and this is the diffeence between "music" and "art" for me. One lives, and the other has a very small and limited life span in the visual area. That is not to say that blues, rock and jazz or classical music can not have these types of moments. That is not true and they do, however, I find them more in the longer and expressive pieces and solos than I do in the conventional "songs" and smaller pieces that one is mostly used to hearing. In this sense, it more closely related to classical music and its history than it is to the smaller "songs" that rock music, so far, is mostly associated with - something that music history is finally attending to. I often say, replace that violin concert by Mozart with a well measured guitar (someone please do Albinoni's Adagio in G and start straight and then distort it further and further until the end ... please!), and what do you have? The same experience done by "our time and place" instead of the experience done "in that other time and place". And this is what music history has been about, when you go to see the local symphony do Beethoven, or Bach, or Berlioz (they need to do PDQ Bach too btw!), instead of taking the next step, that would naturally bring the younger audience to also appreciate some of the beautiful things that have been done before, and will continue to be done!
That said, Djam Karet, is about music. And only music. And the invention of "sound scapes" or "sound spheres". To my ear. And the style and expression that it is done with is quite expressive and so vivid that it is hard not to notice it and appreciate it.
In looking at it, as is the case when talking or writing in a blog or board that deals with music, such as Cakewalk (specially The Coffee House), a lot of it may be described very simply as just another knob being turned, and some folks love to say that Vangelis, Klaus Schulze and others are not that good because of it. The difference is, what does the doing of that bring about, in an experiential way, and to me, it is not about the knob as much as it is about that person exploring his/her own inner life. And when these are extended in music, this is one of the most enchanting and far out things, and often creates something in the experience that one remembers far more than simply the girl (or otherwise) that you had a very special evening with.
In the end, it begs to ask one question, that I am not sure most music lovers do. It might be in there for all of us, but rarely does it get discussed or mentioned. What is it that came from the music? Did it come from you, or from them? Music history will tell you that it is probably the combination of both, but it is really hard to not think that it has to be slanted towards the artist, since it was what triggered your imagination. And this is far more important than most people can accept or understand, I think, and it is an area that needs better understanding and discussion.
Is the music their for your experience, or is it there for ... just music? I think it can do both, but the first one is more important. Music comes and goes, but experiences are remembered forever. And the difference is how does one group attend to that difference. Djam Karet, to me, expresses that experience better, and much more satisfying than almost any group out there. And has for a long time!
I think that most folks will tend to stop at this point and not go further, when discussing music like this. Specially musicians. Many feel the pressure to put together something that can help them quit their meager jobs and take on the life full time, and one could easily say that there are way too many out there, that try to justify their presence with one line, song, word or sound effect, instead of developing the atmosphere and the value it has to offer. And, words are not the most important thing in here. Doing it and experiencing it are. Can this be done with words? I think it can and there are experiences in theater and film that show it, although some of them are difficult to discuss since everyone's view is different as is their expression of what they see. And Djam Karet themselves might see this differently than I do!
One thing is for sure, this group is not about the "commercial" sounding material, although there are moments here and there where there is some music that is easier for our ears to work with, but in the end, the part of this band that appeals to me the most is the part that is "less notes and chords" and more "sounds". The experiment. The experience of what those sounds mean and do to you. And no where is this more visible in their 3rd, 4th and 5th albums (I have to check that!) "Reflections From the Firepool", " Suspension & Displacement", and "Collaborator".
I, sometimes, like to say about this group, "Welcome to the Church of the Electric Guitar", but sadly that is not a fair description of this group's work, and I say "Welcome to the Church of Djam Karet", which is a bit stranger and more criptic than the first expression. But it is the way that the Electric Guitar is used here that is out of this world. And even if Chuck likes to say that Robert Fripp/King Crimson or Richard Pinhas/Heldon are an inspiration, I still say, that you, Djam Karet, are just as good and just as inspired, if not more so. And above all, you are coming from an area and place that is not exactly known for its originality in music since The Doors went away. A place where "hit" and "star" is the mode, and few people are able to succeed above it, in order to make a name for themselves. There are many musicians in that area that stand out, Frank Zappa being one of the most important, but few can easily say that their output is totally different and has a feeling of exquisitiveness that is intense, amazing and impressive.
And there is one other thing that is nice, and valuable, although sometimes it might be dismissed as not important, but cool. The fact that one of their most famous and identifying pictures is one of the band with instruments as their heads instead of their faces. In so many ways, this is so important and so indicative of the group and their work that it tends to pass by and not be noticed. This is this group's work and soul. And the image is really perfect, if you ask me. And it is a tribute to the instruments themselves that they can produce such work, and stand out so well.
During the late 60's and early 70's with the advent of the synthsizer, there were a lot of experiments and people talking about "anything" being music. From sound effects and any kind of sound created. And this helped place experimental music in the scene. Sadly, a lot of this was dismissed and many were not considered "musical" and were unfairly treated, but it only took one listen to the likes of the German group Faust, and see so much "noise" come together into something, to realize that ... these people are right. Everything can be, and is, music, in some form or other. And too much of it is thought of as music only if it uses the conventional musical scales and styles. And moments like these helped break that barrier, however, the music industry itself, was not kind to many of these people. Understandably, something has to sell to cover the costs involved, and my simple mind likes to think that today, with DAW's and such this would be easier, but guess what ... is the only thing that someone can do with a DAW beat strict and tied?
Do I have any special preferences of material from this group? Hard to say. I totally fly away with "Animal Origin", or "Dark Clouds, No Rain", or "Reflections From the Firepool" as the type of thing and "moment" that I love so much in music, and it is as loving to my ears and internal life as the best music ever created, or I have ever heard. And you can put on "Collaborator" to catch something else, that also takes you away.
Yes, I can hear Robert Fripp in here, and not as much King Crimson. Robert in his solo efforts has done so much exploration as to just about leave one silly and wondering what next, and almost all of it is "out there" and special in its own way. For fans of King Crimson, or "progressive music", I often think that this material from Djam Karet is simply too far out, and unusual for most music fans. But the discipline and attention to detail in these explorations is second to almost none in my view and something that should be a part of anyone's "musical discussion", as a way to describe what music is really all about.
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