All Together Now

A blogworthy week of music events in the lead up to the Flying Mountain Extravaganza gig on Friday 22nd June at the Green Room Manchester…………with The Good Hurt as the house band.

Monday 18th June
Get a text from rapper Brother Ghazi that’s he’s pulling out of the show on Friday because he’s seeing family in Liverpool. I texted him back the one word “sucky” – he’d known about this gig for over a month and a half – it’s even on his myspace gig list. Text is a copout for a cancellation. Mail some more back and forth with Pauline from the Manchester Sing Out choir. One of the members expressed an interest in doing something with me having checked out my other music and I’ve tentatively suggested that they come down on Friday. The recently performed with Gorillaz when they were in Manchester. Great stuff.

Tuesday 19th June
Get a call from rapper The What Supreme saying he was pulling out of the gig on Friday. At least it was a call rather than a text however cancellations 3 days before a show really leave me icky – posters, mailouts and promo were now all wrong and the time spent by the band rehearsing a few extra pieces of music for rappers could have been spent elsewhere. This leaves no rappers for the rap portion of the Friday night’s show – so that’s now skratched. I make some phone calls to some of the other musicians playing on the night just to make sure they were good. The idea of the show is that The Good Hurt will invite a load of guests up to play with us. I keep calling it the alternative Glastonbury.

My e-friend Boofa (aka Beaufugg aka Generik) is coming up from London tonight. Boofa lives in NZ and we worked on a project called ‘12000 miles as the Crane Flies’ which was an electronic music project that we had collaborated on over the internet (see my previous post on collaborative working). Boofa was coming over to the UK and he factored some time into coming and hooking up in Manchester so that we could finish the project in a face to face capacity – Wellington, NZ is 12,000 miles from North Manchester, UK which is how we arrived on the name of the project.

I check out Cranes on the internet for inspiration and the more I read the more I liked the idea of Crane lore being a visual cue for our sonics…..some crane lore and facts below that I dig from the research :

  • Migrating cranes fly in an echelon, a V-formation, so that birds following the leader save energy by not having to push aside the air as they fly
  • Apollo is said to have disguised himself as a crane when on visits to the mortal world.
  • Homer told of the nation of Pygmies who each Spring would wage war on the cranes on the banks of Oceanus.
  • Mercury is said to have been inspired to create the shapes of the Roman alphabet after watching Cranes and their body shapes.
  • When a flock of Cranes are sleeping they nominate one Crane to stand watch with a stone in it’s talon/claw so that if it falls asleep the stone will fall and make a sound so the flock will know they are no longer protected

Boofa and me will be playing an electro set of the 12000 project on the night – it’s a handy bit of pressure to get us cracking this week.

I meet him and his lime green suitcase full of gear at the Tram station in Eccles in the early evening. We quickly get down to work after a delightful home-made curry. As I had been liberated of my laptops by oiks from Salford we weren’t sure which versions of the files I had for the project but luckily after a quick check on Boofa’s machine things were in order and I seemed to have the latest.

I’ve been lucky that the people I’ve met from the net for music have been normal/human/semi-sane and Boofa was no exception which was a good thing. I was glad he was here.

Wednesday 20th June 2007
Boofa and me get down to some jamming during the day and Phil Reed the flute player turns up to do a session for the 12000 Project in the afternoon. For V-Formation Phil does a cool trick of playing 2 flutes at once which looks like a V shape – we dig it. The soundcard is acting like a muppet and keeps putting digital fizz and crackle on the audio so we only manage to get some chunks that aren’t wrecked. Phil puts on the jam session in Chorlton known as Extraordinary Rendition. Before we know it we have to go to the soundcheck for the Circus Rock show tonight at the Mint Lounge in Oldham Street. My girlfriend hears us on the Revolution Radio 96.2 station on the way in – hooray. Between you me and t’internet it took a lot of doing to get them to play us. During the soundcheck Pauline from the Sing Out Choir calls – they are in rehearsals and want to know some details – I try and tell her over the sound of drumkits and musicians lugging gear.

Thursday 21st June
Recording and prepping for the gig tomorrow with Boofa. All day from midday to 2am. Synchronised button pressing, knob twiddling and new styles of dancing are the order of the day.

The tracks that we have are : Tsuru, Before The Stone Drops, The Wisdom of Two, Mercury Alphabet, Cranes vs. Pygmies and V-Formation.


Friday 22nd June
Glastonbury is a festival of music and double mud this year it seems – at least our alternative Glasto is sans glow sticks and rain. Tonights gig is for Universal Promotions. I always tend to do a little something special for shows via Universal Promotions because I like the guy that runs it. He called me up a month ago to do something under the banner of Flying Mountain Records to draw together some of the more disparate music I’m involved in.

 

Pauline told me that maybe 6 or 7 people might turn up from the choir – at around 9:30pm twenty of them turn up. The staff from the Green Room are lovely and we manage to get a little practise room recently vacated by the Flamenco dance classes and get down to working on three of the tracks for 20 minutes.It sounds wonderful with just the voices and guitar in the sweetly reverberant room. Everyone in the room gets proper tingles and I’m stoked to hear one of my tracks get the gospel treatment. The Manchester Sing Out Choir have a really good group unity feel about them and it’s infectuous. As some of the choir are younger we manage to wangle getting the three songs that they are doing shoe-horned earlier into the night. We play Good Souls, Amazing Grace (my arrangement from 100 Fields) and U Got the Love by Candi Staton. The choir do their best to fit onto the stage and it goes down a treat with the audience but the fact is that the sound was better in the rehearsal room. Ce la Vie. The band we jumped in front of to squeeze in our gospel thang are pretty peeved and a few of them stromp about onstage with their little grey clouds and teeth set to ‘crunch’. I say goodbye to the choir and buy a few of them a drink….I’m feeling pretty invincible and then around 30 mins later we play a blistering 4 song set with the Good Hurt – featuring Annette Gregory and Phil on Meet U in the Middle and then the core three of us (drongomala, sinik and tree) tear through Blowin Up Tryin 2B Somebody, Leave Ur Mind Where U Want to Pick It Up and Kick This Habit Of U – we pack our normal 40 minutes of energy into 10 minutes and the crowd really dig it. Sarah Evans follows us and does a oratory piece called ‘Bisexual Speed Dating’ which gives us a chance to set up the 12000 Project and to enjoy her freaking the room out with a blend of character performance, saucy wordage and defiant smoking. Even though the laptop was having a mini flakeout 20 minutes ago the electronic Drum ‘n’ Bass tinged 12000 Project set goes down perfectly and Boofa and me are stoked that we’ve pulled it off.

We hang out for the rest of the night – Tree jams along with the act on after the 12000 Project and Sinik b-boys to the turntablists. The Universal crowd are good and we have alot of repeat attendees from the last gig we played at here in the Green Room.

Finish up at around 4am.

Saturday
Boofa and me take a break and we go into town to hang out for a bit – to preempt the ‘cabin fever’ that is creeping in. We get some food in the café underneath the Buddhist centre in the Northern Quarter and some coffee from Nero where Boofa asks the waitress to “bake me a cake” in Polish. We have a super productive day and the tracks that didn’t make the selection for live performance are worked up a little.

Sunday
Final day of tweaking for the 12000 Project – this is much less fun than the writing part but smoothing out the rough edges and the structrure of the music we’ve been working on lets us finally sit back and enjoy some mixes. We watch a bit of the Who at Glasto as they sing and almost hurry over the line “Hope I die before I get old”.

that was the week that was
drongomala

One, two, three, four
Can I have a little more?
five, six, seven eight nine ten I love you.A, B, C, D
Can I bring my friend to tea?
E, F, G H I J I love you.

Sail the ship, Chop the tree
Skip the rope, Look at me

All together now….

Black, white, green, red
Can I take my friend to bed?
Pink, brown, yellow orange and blue I love you

All together now….

Sail the ship, Jump the tree
Skip the rope, Look at me

All together now….(the beatles)

Pre Sleeping Beauty

A sleeping beauty is always brought to life first in the eye of the beholder.

Gazing on a lover as they slumber.

Watching the seemingly endless calm

wash upon their brow

like waves on an empty moonlit beach.

The only coloured kid at school has had the

eyes of many stare onto her waking face.

Transporting their world on hers and

And now an attempted Romeo looks on solo

The spirit of this girl when she is awake could make mountains quake

and when asleep the tempers of a thousand giants keep.

She isn’t an example of Mother Nature she wears her very skirt

She moves between the Kings and the Madness and the Dirt

This power drawn by inverse engine of chaos and calm

her windmill grinds the gears and commands.

She is strident when she walks this world.

She entertains mosquitoes like she entertains fears

Those with the lucky eyes and ears

Can feel the magic and marvel at those who don’t understand it.

The stakes for a waking girl in this world are high

The challenges for men are many

Talk of morality in bars is easy.

She bears the fruit she is the harvest

Not one thing is wrong with her

Freckled nose twitching in repose

Hair lying delicately across a cheek

The hairspray can no longer keep

the sharp day up

and the warmth of her spreads out like a sunrise.

Kissing her on the lips is like particle generator

Placing your body and mind in paradise

Where you have no eyes to see it only your soul

She is always in and out of control

Her jaw is strong and soft

She always walks with her head aloft

Stars at her shoulder welcome her good morning and doff their heavy photon caps.

She is the horse the cart and the trap

She is Michael Angelo and the ceiling

She is every good feeling

Dawn together from different sides of the planet

She drags my heart to hers like a flesh magnet

Amazon woman captures my mind with her grace,

Gardens and dreams and planetary travel appear as a smile on her face.

Infinity refers to her eyes as an example

She is Adam and Eve and the apple

A Ragini Goddess cannot betray her roots

Her life astutely avoids the trivial pursuits.

The nature of man and woman is her work

Chemistry, bravery unexpected bliss,

Never ending belief in this.

There is no fork in the road only the meat

Your heart is only as big as you’ll allow it to be

 

Gazing with Imagery on sleeping Beauty

 

for Priyanka 8th Sept 2006

music enclosure : Good Souls by The Good Hurt

 


Romantic Interlude

I went into the Manchester Civil Art Gallery the other day and the one painting that transfixed me was this one of the Greek Legend Sappo – an 1877 painting by Charles-August Mengin (1853-1933).

…i bought the postcard and took it home for a quid – stuck it on the side of my peripheral vision on a box of unsold CD’s ..

I only just looked it up on the internet and the pictorial life of the character Sappo unfolded before me. I knew all the characters and the situations and the story felt like shoes and lives I had worn. Suddenly this simple postcard was like the wackiest tarot ever read out…

…. a romantic interlude in pictures…..I hate the ending though….but there’s no editing her story


drongomala

Robert Johnson, the Crossroads and Malkauns

These past few days I have had the strong image of Robert Johnson, the famous blues legend, waiting at the Crossroads to meet the devil and trade him his soul so that he could play the guitar better than everyone.The legend goes :

“If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and your go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘ fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”

In a directorial moment I have also been wondering just what are the possible soundtracks for Bobby Johnston sitting there at the crossroads? Other than the obvious strains of blues or wild heavy metal guitar. What melodies could be whispering through the trees and what rhythms are the tin cans blowing down the road? Hear me out on this one….


Indian music is not without it’s share of musical lore and one of the moody close cousins of the blues is the Raga Malkauns. Ragas, to be super brief, are musical scales with alot of rules attached to them and unlike Western classical music there is nothing written down paper. Ragas are passed from master and guru to student. Straight out of the block you know Malkauns is a bad boy because it’s got the recommended time slot of between midnight and three in the morning. That should fit with the devils appointment that Bobby has.

Malkauns’ current manifestation, and this is shifting ground, has been traced back some 3-400 years. Connections with pre-history is that it was the very raga that Shiva performed the Tandava-Dance. At the starting point of all creation this dance of violent and divine energies was designed to arouse destructive energies and to work havoc on the foe; at the same time, it is the triumphant dance of the victor. It’s a rebirth thing and I’m feeling that Malkauns is still ready to roll for Bobby as he emerges from the other side as the victorious bluesman with new hands and ears.

There is lots of voodoo surrounding Malkauns and superstitious musicians in India describe it as a raga with supernatural powers – believing that it can attract evil spirits. There is a definite danger and exotica associated with this raga and like all cultures it’s bad boy reputation means it’s popular. Indian Ragas often have pictures associated with them called Ragamala’s and they are a good giveaway of the story associated with the raga.

In ragamala paintings Malkauns is frequently portrayed as a heroic lord taking pan. Other depictions show him dressed in blue with dream kissed eyes. Sometimes holding a severed human head listening to music by maidens in the distance. Poets sing his praises. This cat is heavy. This might be the same dude coming to pay a visit to Robert Johnson sitting there under a tree in the night.

So other than the blues played by either Robert Johnson or the devil himself the I suggest that Malkauns is the perfect music for which to set that scene.

Check out a few wonderful raga Malkauns performances by the following artists :

Artist : Pandit Ravi Shankar Instrument : Sitar
Album : Sound of the Sitar

Artist : Hariprasad Chaurasia Instrument : Flute Raag : Malkauns
Album : India Night Live 88

Artist : Bismillah Khan Instrument : Shenai
Album : Malkauns and Dhun

Metropolis, Dada’ism and the Rise of the Machine.

Art, Technology and Social Feedback Loops

The mediator between the brain and the hand should be the heart”

This essay is an attempt to discuss issues regarding technology, culture and art how the artists palette was extended to include technology and cultural samples. This extension of art and society was once borne out of the need to co-exist with industrialization. The early 20th century, with the onset of industrialisation and science increasingly woven in society is a pivotal and perfect time in human history to explore this. I have chosen to concentrate on a few areas to illuminate my points :

  • The film Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1926)
  • The Dada movement
  • The first ‘World War’

The pivot point for the majority of this essay is the film Metropolis. This film was the first large scale piece of science fiction to be undertaken in cinema and both at once managed to be documentary and prophecy. The film has had a chequered history and taken a few critical beatings throughout the years however it has remained a zeitgeist moment in the culmination of politics, science and art made between the two World Wars.

It will be useful to examine the storyline of the film before we proceed onto how society influenced it and how it has influenced society.

Metropolis is a film with a universal theme of oppression set in the future (2026) one hundred years from when it was made. Fritz Lang, the director, had the idea for Metropolis while visiting New York. It’s endless and sheer landscapes punctuated by the frantic action at ground level confirmed it as a truly modern city stretching itself towards the future.

Lang took this rough model of New York and stretched it one hundred years further. Langs futuristic city was one where anonymous creatures of labour fuelled machines that supported the city – their labour, like clockwork, turning the giant mechanisms that ran up through the great structures of steel and light. The tone of the film with it’s great structures, electricity and relentless machinery effectively conveyed an accelerated industrialization and scientific development.

In the film the workers are portrayed slave-like with shaved hung heads and black disheveled clothing. The workers inhabit below ground, the privileged elite inhabit the ground level while the upper echelons of the city are reserved for science and government.

These broad classifications of groups by Lang represented his experience of hierarchies in ci401cAustria and Germany and the five central characters that are developed in the film are stereotypes representing the major drives of society. The first is the Lord of Metropolis, John Frederson, who rules and dominates the whole city as opposed to governing it. The second is the state scientist and inventor, Rotwang a focused man intent on invention. The third is the son of the Lord of Metropolis, Freder a happy-go-lucky character and with no direction at the start of the film and the fourth is Maria, a leadership figure for the workers. She acts partly as union rep and priest for the underground masses as well as symbolizing purity and mother earth. The oppressed workers are effectively treated enmasse and as such are effectively desensitized. The final protagonist is a Robot – an invention of Rotwang brought to life using the soul of Maria as source material in an experiment.

Freder is enticed by Maria to go into the underground city and there he witnesses a worker struggling to keep up with the demands of the machine and subsequently dies. This awakening to the reality of Metropolis’ underbelly prompts him to go and tell his father what he saw. His father replies “it was their hands that built Metropolis”. The implication is that the masses are responsible for Metropolis.

Freder returns to the underground and trades places with one of the workers, asking him to take a message to his friend. The newly liberated worker however is waylaid and tempted by the lure of the red-light district in Metropolis – another device used by the city to contain men.

The relationship between the main characters in the film is complex and we discover that Rotwang and the Lord of Metropolis both loved the same woman a long time ago. The woman gave birth to Freder and subsequently died. Joh goes to meet Rotwang where Rotwang shows him a robot modeled on the woman that died explaining that all it is missing is a soul. Rotwang manages to bring the robot alive using the soul of captured Maria and then places the evil Robot Maria into the midst of the workers with the intent of thwarting their plans of revolt. Eventually the robot manages to convince the workers to take up violence and not peace and leads them to the machines – ordering them to be destroyed. The workers do so and subsequently the underground is flooded and their children are in danger of being drowned.

“The machines are bound by the people and the people are bound by the machines”

Meanwhile the real Maria escapes and attempts to stop the flooding and to save the children. In the underground city the workers are on a witch-hunt for Maria – they capture the robot, which is laughing wickedly, and burn her seeing the mechanisms underneath the fake flesh. Freder in an attempt to save the real Maria from Rotwang, battles with Freder with Rotwang falling to his death. The masses realize that in fact Freder is the mediator that they were seeking to represent them.

The film narrative is often criticized for being simplistic and of containing an antiquated romanticism while it’s visual content tends to be lauded very heavily. However one German left wing weekly magazine commented, “This is not just Metropolis it is all of Germany as we know it and experience it every day of our lives”. On release in 1926 the film did not do very well in German cinema due to the recession and the need for quick, snappy upbeat pictures to relieve the depression. It did, however, find favour with Hitler whose perverse misreading of Lang’s nightmare into dictatorial heaven prompted Lang to flee the very same day.

The First World War left an indelible mark on the psyche on the world, particularly Europe. Germany along with other countries was left with a feeling of disgust and anger at the war and the dull echo of the romanticism that seemed to precede the war was a fading memory. There was great poverty in the wake of such industrialization and the science at the time did not seem to favour the poor. The demise of the arts and crafts movement destroyed generations of skilled workers and replaced their varied skill set with mass-produced goods.

There was never a point in human history like that between the two World Wars. Before the war the majority of the Western world was adjusting it’s psyche to regular news on a worldwide basis. The collective witnessing of the war started a fire in the hearts of artists. Like all rage it is a primal and confused beast like a Frankenstein toying the objects near to it in confusion. Who are we and what have we become was the response of the art world. It gave us Dadaism as the opposition party to the madness of war and the pervasive mentality of the time. The issues were so great that political action and shock tactics took precedence over the gentle pursuit of landscaping. Old classifications such as artist or poet became meaningless – only personal revelation and interaction with the world around oneself was sufficient to right the wrongs. Art now dealt with war not on a tribal, gentry or parochial sense it dealt with collective consciousness.

How do we govern ourselves? Who are we governing? Why is science and technology going in the direction that it appears to be heading? A new requisite for synthesis with technology and industry was thrust upon us.

These questions and issues gave rise to the art movement of Dada whose principles were the antithesis of everything that led to the beginning of the First World War. A renunciation of Nationalism, a rejection of the bourgeois, a blurring of the dividing lines between artistic disciplines and a reduction of the sanctity of high art. German Dadaism along with most of a recovering Europe was inextricably intertwined with a sense of new politics. Dada was a revolution from the gut – it characterized not so much by what it stood for as what it stood against.

The philosophies of this art movement read more like a political manifesto and the notion of gallery showings was replaced with happenings designed to confuse, irritate and prompt action in it’s viewers. The recent war had shocked minds and in the opinion of the Dadaists, events as art were of higher value than the art itself which could only be hung in a gallery. The very nature of how we live, act and react was the fodder of their work. They intended social change not as a byproduct but as a direct result of their actions.

Dada was also the first movement to re-contextualise objects resulting in a body of works described as “ready mades” which used banal objects of everyday use. Dada was almost like cultural sampling of the society in which it lived and which it fed back into. Mass produced items were for the first time being considered under the banner of art rather than science and the blending of science and art continued for a great deal of the early 1900’s. The art of this time was asking questions on the global state of mankind and assessing it’s progress and toying with it’s physical and mental inventions.

ci401cIt is clear that this examination of society is underway in the film Metropolis. The examination of physical, political, social and scientific drives and conflicts flood throughout the film. The huge relentless machinery of Metropolis provide a poetical tempo and backdrop to the stereotypes of the main characters who represent science, government, workers, mother earth the robot as a final fusion of all of these. Lang, like the Dadaist Mondrian, uses technology to examine his feelings about technology and a great number of inventive filmic devices were employed to create the desired effect on screen – from optical tricks, re-projection of backdrop scenery, swinging cameras and the techno-wonder of the robot Maria coming to life.

Social comments are woven into the visual language of the film. The intricacies and interplay of society symbolized by wheels inside wheels. Mass production and industrial culture is shown to be served by man rather than the converse. The increasingly blurred division between human and machine illustrated by the joining of worker with the machine. The confusion over what is real and what isn’t when the workers mistake the Robot to be the real Maria. Confrontational shots of characters staring directly into the camera for sustained periods of time beckon the viewers opinion of the object in the same way the Dada happenings pushed it’s audience. Masses of workers with shaved heads trudge in rags around the belly of the beast – an awful precursory image of the horror yet to arrive in the Second World War.

Art and science have been blending together since we could draw circles and triangles. Industrialization forced us to look at concepts of mass production and the commoditisation of art and laterally a global culture forced us to reinterpret cultural fragments of ourselves including everything from the banal to the political. Art is blending new science and spirituality in the same way that Islamic painting has blended old science and spirituality for centuries. There are new breeds of painters like Philip Laffoley who draw on ancient and modern methods to blend sacred geometry with physics and paint.

Metropolis is a piece of technological poetry that belies its date of creation. The strong architectural, visual and symbolic nature of the work make it a visionary piece of film that despite flaws with narrative survive the truth that time brings. Metropolis both reflected what was happening at the time and fed back into what was happening at the time. The Second World War must have had scenes to match frames of Metropolis – the film is terrifying and shames the almost kitsch Star Wars by comparison. Star Wars also had an evil dictator who had a son that must intercede in the fathers evil. The allegory in all of this is that each generation is the father of tomorrow’s generation – will they too have to intercede to stop our madness?

The question of the worth of science and it’s over simplistic classification of good or evil belies the real questions that surrounded the artists of the turn of the century. Dadaism was not necessarily against technology neither was it for the wholesale embrace of it. Dadaism used science and society to explore science and society. It was a widening of the palette rather than a choice of direction.

This inclusion of technology in a wider sense of ourselves was a major step in the development of society and without it we can hardly imagine the revolutionary mindset of the 60’s, the satirical antics of Monty Python, the noisescape bulletins of Public Enemy or the sensibility of punk and irreverence of Vivienne Westwood clothes.

The question is how do we harmonise with technology and industry and retain our sense of humanity?

Metropolis attempts to answer this question in it’s final frame with the quote at the end of the film by saying that

“the mediator between the science of the brain and the body (society) which carries out the action must be the heart.”

Fritz Lang was a visionary. Managing a cast of thousands, employing the latest technologies and writing with in a strong political and spiritual fashion he created a truly modern opera of light and poetry that endures to this day.

References

The Nature of the Beast, Fritz Lang by Patrick McGilligan

Fritz Lang by Lotte H.Eisner

Fritz Lang, The Image and the Look by Stephen Jenkins

Marcel Duchamp by Gloria Moure

The Dada Painters and Poets by Robert Motherwell and Jack D Flam

Futurism and Dadaism by Jose Piere

Various Internet resources