Chapter 8 ART ATTACK
Talking Heads and Wire
(Chapter 10 in US edition)
>Post-Sgt Pepper’s progressive
The entire 1967-76 period, when “serious” bands earnestly strove for “art” status and regarded FM radio and album-oriented rock as a highbrow sanctuary from chart pop and the limitations of the 7 inch single.
>“I object… in galleries"
--Harrison. Time Out, 11/28/80.
“There’s a sort of myth going around about us as artists putting down our paintbrushes and picking up guitars. That’s not really the case.”--Jerry Harrison, from Talking Heads by David Gans, 1985.
“have sincere… out onstage”
--Byrne. In David Gans’ Talking Heads (see bibliography). P. 64
“wasn't ‘arty’… all art”
--Newman, interview with author, unpublished, 1989
Or as he also said, at the start of the interview, discussing what the ensuing discussion might entail: “the word art needn't necessarily be excluded"
See also: Bruce Gilbert, Wire, NME 1978: “We never set out to be a band as such, in the beginning. For me, anyway, it was more of an art thing”
Or this exchange, which relates back to the note on post-Sgt Pepper’s, from Sounds March 11 1978
Gilbert: “The LP is the art object of the current time’
Lewis: “Painting’s dead:
Newman: “We as people have grown up in the light of rock and roll being the major art form, the Beatles and Pink Floyd made the breakthrough so that rock music could be taken seriously, we’re ten years after that.”
Or September 16th 1978 NME,
Gilbert: "Making albums is exactly the same as making a painting, really. A number of processes are very similar: the stepping back... The economy of effort."
Colin Newman, in an interview in Uncut, March 2006, noted with pride: “Wire were two things at once: a rock band and an art object. The only other group who I think pulled that off were The Velvet Underground.”
Tina Weymouth, source unknown: “ I dislike flashiness, I think it’s ridiculous… I’d sooner play something which sounds simple and repetitve than clutter up the sound.”
>second melodic voice
In his famous summer 1975 Village Voice article on CBGB’s punk festival (see No Wave footnotes), James Wolcott noted how the group’s "songs are spined by Weymouth's bass playing which, in contrast to the glottal buzz of most rock bass work, is hard and articulate--the bass lines provide hook as well as bottom."
“It’s an enormous… David's guitar”
--Weymouth, Sounds 6/25/77.
See No Wave footnotes for Christgau on New Wave’s “forced rhythm” aka “force-beat”, ie. its lack of swing
>herky jerky spastic rhythms
Brian Eno was a progenitor of this side of New Wave with the “idiot energy” mode of songs like “Baby’s On Fire” and “Third Uncle” on his early solo albums Here Comes The Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. Ideologically too, Eno’s critique of prog-rock, his proud description of himself as a non-musician, his advocacy of a “reductive” aesthetic, both anticipated and influenced punk. The “insanity… clumsiness and grotesqueness” that characterized Eno-era Roxy Music and whose fading away Eno mourned resurged with the quirked-out mania of New Wavers like Devo and XTC. Not shy about claiming his proper credit, Eno positioned himself as the instigator: "for the last four or five years, there has been a new wave…a new channel of activity,” he told Melody Maker in May 1978. “At one time, it consisted of not too many people, of which… I was one."
--Hoskyns, NME 8/27/83
>Average White Band
Who passed for black so well they’re the only white artist on the Rhino box set of seventies soul
"It gives incredible piston… down”
--Weymouth. Sounds 6/25/77.
Weymouth: “It’s a different kind of mechanics, I alternate pulling up and pushing down.”
In his early days Cleancut Byrne was often compared to Gregory Peck
“I think we… working musician”
--Harrison. In David Gans’ Talking Heads (see bibliography). P. 54
>Mutual admiration pact
Eno got on particularly well with Byrne and Jerry Harrison, the latter a Harvard graduate and painter; the three had many books in common and shared interests, including cybernetic theory. But Weymouth and Frantz were equally taken with Eno.
“You know what… I would say”
--Weymouth. Search & Destroy, issue 3 1978.
She also gushed about his ability to “talk about anything”, about how he was “a real gentleman… so nice… very sensitive… so polite… Very beautiful eyes.”
“I think they're… conceptual way”
--Eno. Quoted in Eric Tamm’s Brian Eno (see bibliography). P. 160
Eno also said “I like them so much as people” and thought their music “very attractive material, full of potential…” Over the years he would continue to enthuse about their collaboration as the “the best working relationship I've ever had within rock music."
Another Eno quote (cited but unsourced in Gans’ TH book): Eno: “What appealed to me intially about their music was its powerful structural discipline. The rhythm section is like a ship or train--very forceful and certain of where it’s going. On top of that you have this hesitant, doubting quality that dizzily asks, ‘where are we going?’. That makes for a sense of genuine disorientation, unlike the surface insanity of the more commonplace, expressionist punk groups.”
>embodied the very cerebral, well-raised
From his demeanour (“lucid and detached,” wrote John Rockwell) to his post-Roxy image (closer to a curator than a rock star) Eno was equally as un-rock’n’roll as Talking Heads.
“It's like David… that position"
--Eno. Musician November 1979.
“In that I didn't… picture-lyrics”
--Eno. NME 11/26/77.
Defending his own solo work, Eno said “What people call unemotional just doesn't have a single overriding emotion….”
>rock’s expressionist fallacy
“I know the deepest recesses of my soul are not even very interesting to me, let alone to others,” Eno told East Village Eye in 1981. He always rejected the entire gamut of rock rebellion-turned-tradition, from Rolling Stones-style druggy Romanticism to the Clashy side of punk that believed in revolutionary slogans, rabble-rousing, street cred and the Message. He also spurned as Romantic nonsense the notion that life and art should be the same thing (Keith Richards, to Eno, symbolized that notion of walking it like you talk it). Equally he was frustrated and contemptuous about rock’s “inarticulate speech of the heart” notion that people who were able to talk eloquently about what they were trying to and analyse their own creative processes were therefore somehow either inauthentic or disabled by self-consciousness.
“There are some… from within… way I work… in you”
--Eno Creem November 1978.
He further elaborated: “You set out in a rather deliberate way to do this by carefully constructing a piece that will evoke in you the feeling that you want”
>no emotional content whatsoever
Rob Tannenbaum, my editor at Blender, drew my attention to a running theme in Byrne’s early work that directly addresses this question of dis-passion, with a number of songs that are actively opposed to the emotions, suspicious or contemptuous or threatened by everyday human feelings. Reviewing the Talking Heads mega-box set Box, I worked it up into the following:
“Nervous, twitchy, seemingly alienated from his own flesh, David Byrne
physically embodied this [WASP-versus-funk] tension onstage. Discomfort and detachment also
provided the subject of many of his most provocative lyrics. In song after
song, he seems squeamish about his own emotions. Like Johnny Rotten, it's
almost as though he'd prefer to have "no feelings" and instead lead a life
entirely of the mind, all curiosity and fascination rather than messy
passion. "I'm Not in Love," from the second album More Songs about Buildings
and Food, is less 10 CC and more Gang of Four ("Love Like Anthrax,"
specifically). "Why would I want to fall in love?" ponders Byrne. "There'll
come a day when we won't need love." "No Compassion," from the debut Talking
Heads: 77, considers empathy disabling and burdensome: "Other people's
problems, they overwhelm my mind". Both albums contain several not-quite
love songs, such as "Happy Day," whose line "feel like my heart has a will
of its own" suggests a distanced attitude to one's own amorousness. Yet the
sound of 77 and More--Byrne's fluttering rhythm guitar, the crisp 'n'
quivery funk of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, Jerry
Harrison's darting flickers of keyboard--actual feels like butterflies in
The title More Songs About Buildings and Food chimed with the New Wave
belief that you could and should write about other things apart from
relationships or rock's standard-issue rebel scenarios. More than More,
though, it's 1979's Fear of Music where Byrne widens his lyrical reach….When Byrne does write about
love, though, there's still that sense of alienation. "Mind" involves a guy comically attempting to reason with a lover to stop her leaving him. Mid-song, though, he abruptly levitates above himself with a wry, self-mocking "and it comes directly from my heart to you," as if trying to escape the fatuity of his own feelings through a sort of out-of-body irony.
>plays with language itself
"Artists Only" for instance was based on a poem written by an art school friend which Byrne reorganized. The singer broke with rock’s pseudo-naturalism in his delivery too, singing parts of “Stay Hungry” in an exaggeratedly staccato Swedish accent simply because it sounded better.
>hummingbird dipping for nectar
the arrangements on Talking Heads 77 seem full of tinkling textures (critic John Rockwell sourced them in the gamelan chimes of Balinse music--
“at times there seemed to be an Eastern influence, intimations of Bali in bells and other fragile percussion effects”--but maybe he just happened to know that Byrne was a devotee of ethnological field recordings.)
This pre-Eno jangle-funk sound was widely inspirational, especially in the U.K., where everyone from The Teardrop Explodes to Haircut 100 (take "Pulled Up," add a gallon of saccharine and you've got that group’s sole US smash "Love Plus One") and even the earliest incarnation of Duran Duran took a leaf from the Heads’ book. Then there was the cluster of groups surrounding the influential Scottish label Postcard--Orange Juice, Josef K and The Go-Betweens- who were as taken with the Talking Heads’ cleancut image as they were enamored of the clipped Chic-meets-Velvets speedfunk of songs like “Found A Job”.
>Mr Jones… office drones… uniformity and restriction
The quote is from David Gans’ Talking Heads book (see bibliography).
Byrne: “In rock the normal point of view is exaggerated individuality--which is perfectly valid--but i thought it was more of a challenge to offer an opposing view… the Chinese idea that uniformity and restriction don’t have to be debilitating and degrading. I found that attractive. The easy way would behating the government, hating people’s ordinary lives. I thought that was too pat and wrote a song that was sympathetic to people who lived in the suburbs or in high rises and work in offices… that song was really intended to be in praise of appliances.” But Byrne further added that his voice wasn’t up to the task he intended, which was to be “sincere and genuine and sympathetic” and so the song ended up sounding ironic.
C.f. the lyrics to “The Good Thing” on More Songs About Buildings and Food: “As the heart finds the good thing the feeling is multiplied/Add the will to the strength and it equals conviction/As we economize efficiency is multiplied/To the extent I am determined the result is the good thing. So I say:I have adopted this and made it my own: Cut back the weakness, reinforce what is strong.”
The interest in bureaucracy, Maoism, well-ordered societies, etc chimed with Eno’s interest in cybernetic systems and the core minimalist idea that rules and restrictions could be spurs to creativity, rather than shackles. (Eno has often been critical of the philosophical basis of free jazz, as well as its actual sonic results, arguing in the East Village Eye, summer 1981: “My interest is more in rules and constraints than in the notion of absolute freedom”). There was an echo too of the Maoist chic of Eno’s second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy.
Before and After Science, released in late 1977, contained a couple of art-funk forays on its more energetic Side One. After years of antipathy to dance music, Eno had become fascinated by Parliament-Funkadelic. “What I like about the Parliament / Funkadelic people is that they really go to extremes,” he said in one interview.
>Creating strange new-sound colours
For Eno, sound came first. “The sound always suggests what kind of melody it should be,” he told Musician, in reference to his own work. “So it's always sound first and then the line afterwards”. Eno had long believed that the crucial and most radical element in rock wasn’t melody or harmony but timbre/ texture/chromatics and spatial ambience. The combination of chromaticism and space--what Eric Tamm calls 'vertical colour'--cannot be notated on a conventional score, but can only be captured on tape. And dealing with musicians during the creation process, or discussing his music after the event, Eno had to gesture at its qualities using at by visual, tactile, even olfactory imagery, or exotic tropes. He devised his own private terminology for these sounds, like “snake guitar”, a self-invented technique that essentially destroys “the pitch element of the instrument” (its melodic function) in favour of producing “wedges of sound that can be used percussively or as a kind of punctuation.” The credits on his solo albums are full of such imaginary instruments.
Talking about the later project My Life in the Bush of Ghosts but also obsessions running through his own career, Eno told East Village Eye (summer 1981) about the ”long running interest in my work and that is an attempt to update psychedelia--trying to do something with psychedelic music, rather than just dismiss it as most people have done.”
>Fear of Music
When I listen to Fear it always feel like it's been sequenced wrong, yet if I try and imagine another running order for the album I soon give up. Every song seems like its own genre. And you could imagine a lesser band milking any of those song-sounds for the rest of a career.
So many great tunes I couldn’t get into close description of for space reasons. Here’s two blatant ommissions:
“Heaven,” surely unique in being influenced equally by Werner Herzog, Neil Young, and Frank Sinatra, imagines the afterlife as unspectacular, a placid, predictable, pleasant limbo-lull, "a place where nothing never happens" and each kiss is exactly the same;
The oft-overlooked “Mind”. Byrne talked about being proud about
one specific sound in the song that non-verbally captured the heart-stick paralysis of love-gone-wrong. But actually the whole song, from its fidget-funk groove to Jerry Harrison’s glistening synth-twinges is all about the unease and anguish of a non-reciprocal, deadlocked relationship. Byrne’s lyric and vocal performance are fantastic too. His protagonist desperately seeks the magic verbal formula to dissuade his partner from leaving, first intoning glumly “science won’t change you … seems like I can’t change you”, getting desperate on the chorus (“I need something to change your mind”) and then exploding with exasperation “you’re not even/LISTENING to me!”.
>Real (if rather rare) phobia
Byrne had read about it in a technical book called Music and the Brain
>”Life During Wartime”
“It’s about people missing their nightclubbing because they have to be involved in guerilla warfare,” quipped Byrne to Talking Heads biographer David Gans.
>Eno’s role… fifth player… editor
Talking to Melody Maker about More Songs About Buildings and Food, Eno said “It shows on that album on the tracks that were done last. The ones that were least complete going into the studio came out best for me.” Even fewer songs were finished before entering the studio to record Fear of Music, allowing Eno yet more creative input.
Eno believed that the essence of rock was what Evan Eisenberg later called phonography, the art of using the recording studio to spin sonic fictions--a point missed by 95 % of rock producers who more or less aimed for an enhanced simulation of the sound of the band performing live. “As soon as the music is on tape, it becomes my medium,” Eno told Creem in 1978. “That’s when I can start working with it, because it ceases to be a purely temporal art, a performance art, and becomes a plastic art…. You can turn [tracks] round, edit them together in a different order-it's much like painting or sculpture. You can add or subtract, slow down or speed up. It's a plastic substance that is always there to be chopped or changed.”
“Listening to what… within their own… playing ideas… of interaction”
--Eno. Interview June 1978.
The track itself was inspired by an African record called 17 Mabone, which was quite different from Fela Kuti’s sound or King Sunny Ade. They found some conga players in Washington Square park; Robert Fripp is on the track also.
More on Hugo Ball, including a performance of “Gadji beri bimba”, whence the text of “I Zimbra” was derived, at http://www.ubu.com/sound/ball.html
This is what Ball originally performed, according to Ubuweb (it appears slightly differently on the Fear of Music lyric sheet)
Gadji beri bimba gadji beri bimba glandridi laula lonni cadorigadjama gramma berida bimbala glandri galassassa laulitalominigadji beri bin blassa glassala laula lonni cadorsu sassala bimgadjama tuffm i zimzalla binban gligla wowolimai bin beri bano katalominai rhinozerossola hopsamen laulitalomini hoooogadjama rhinozerossola hopsamenbluku terullala blaulala loooozimzim urullala zimzim urullala zimzim zanzibar zimzalla zamelifantolim brussala bulomen brussala bulomen tromtatavelo da bang band affalo purzamai affalo purzamai lengado torgadjama bimbalo glandridi glassala zingtata pimpalo ögrögööööviola laxato viola zimbrabim viola uli paluji maloootuffm im zimbrabim negramai bumbalo negramai bumbalo tuffm i zimgadjama bimbala oo beri gadjama gaga di gadjama affalo pinxgaga di bumbalo bumbalo gadjamengaga di bling blonggaga blung
In a sense, “I Zimbra” was a semi-remake of Before and After Science‘s “Kurt’s Rejoinder,” on which Eno sampled Dadaist Kurt Schwitters’s phonetic poetry (from his life-long work-in-progress “Die Sonate in Urlauten”, captured for posterity in 1938) over scurrying polyrhythms and almost-funky bass. You can find the original Schwitters piece on LTM’s compilation Futurism & Dada Reviewed. See also the Sub Rosa compilation Dada Anti Dada Merz which has two Schwitters “merzpoems”, "Anna Blume" and “Ursonate”.
Originally titled “Electricity”
According to T. Heads biographer David Bowman, on the track you can hear Byrne’s keys jingling as he runs on the spot to get the out of breath voice
Byrne: “There was no such thing as ‘world music’ back then”
>Jon Hassell… 4th World
Very early on, though, Hassell bowed out of the project, which gathered its own momentum and turned into something else altogether.
Eno, who collaborated with Hassell separately on the 1980 album Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics, described the phantom genre as “music that is done in sympathy with and with consciousness of music of the rest of the world, rather than just with Western music or just with rock music. It’s almost collage music, like grafting a piece of one culture onto a piece of another onto a piece of another and tyring to make the work as a coherent musical idea, and also trying to make something you can dance to”
Hassell pursued his 4th World concept further on albums like Fourth World Volume Two: Dream Theory in Malaya (1981) (with Eno’s involvement scaled back to “drums, bowl gongs and bells”), Aka/Darbari/Java (Magic Realism) (1983), and Flash of the Spirit (1988, this last a collaboration with the Burkina Faso balafon ensemble Farafina, but produced again by Eno with Daniel Lanois; the title from a book by reknowned ethnomusicologist and white Afrophile Robert Farris Thompson). From Hassell’s sleeve note to Aka/Darbari/Java, you glean a good sense of the flavour of 4th World:
“MAGIC REALISM • Like the video technique of "keying in" where any background may be electronically inserted or deleted independently of foreground, the ability to bring the actual sound of musics of various epochs and geographical origins all together in the same compositional frame marks a unique point in history. • A trumpet, branched into a chorus of trumpets by computer, traces the motifs of the Indian raga DARBARI over Senegalese drumming recorded in Paris and a background mosaic of frozen moments from an exotic Hollywood orchestration of the 1950's (a sonic texture like a "Mona Lisa" which, in close up, reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal), while the ancient call of an AKA pygmy voice in the Central African Rainforest — transposed to move in sequences of chords unheard of until the 20th century — rises and fails among gamelan-like cascades, multiplications of a single "digital snapshot" of a traditional instrument played on the Indonesian island of JAVA, on the other side of the world. • Music which is to this degree self-referential, in which larger parts are related to and/or generated from smaller parts, shares certain qualities with "white" classical music of the past. AKA/DARBARI/JAVA is a proposal for a "coffee-colored" classical music of the future — both in terms of the adoption of entirely new modes of structural organisation (as might be suggested by the computer ability to re-arrange, dot-by-dot, a sound or video image) and in terms of the expansion of the "allowable" musical vocabulary in which one may speak this structure — leaving behind the ascetic face which Eurocentric tradition has come to associate with serious expression. “
Hassell would appear on Remain In Light, supplying his signature sound--a wonderfully woozy trumpet that takes Miles-ian electric jazz to some indeterminately Asiatic-Arabic nowhereland of the Orientalizing Westerner’s mind-eye--to “Houses In Motion”
More info on Hassell, whose records--especially the above-cited, plus City: Works of Fiction and the album for ECM, Power Spot--are highly recommended, can be found at http://www.jonhassell.com/
Go to the end for my reviews of a bunch of Jon Hassell releases
>My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
The title taken from the 1954 novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola; according to Books and Writers, it’s about the “underworld odyssey” of “an eight-year-old boy, abandoned during a slave raid” who escapes into the bush, "a place of ghosts and spirits".
“Things sound really… jungle sound”
--Eno. Musician November 1979.
Eno: “And there's a peculiar perspective to it, so that everything's upfront but there's this very wide space behind it: it's a new production technique I've discovered."
On a vacation to Thailand, one of the few tapes Eno had brought with him was a BBC recording of English dialects. Eno became interested by the musicality of ordinary folk’s speech, the “redundant” sonic information thrown in not for any communicative purpose but purely with “the sole function of making the thing sound nicer”.
It’s easy to forget how shocking and disturbing the born-again fundamentalist resurgence was in the later years of Seventies, the “permissive” decade that had started as an extension of the Sixties. Many had assumed there would be a steady upward arc of the progressive and liberalizing tendency (which you continued to see in the Carter years with things like reduced sentences and near-decriminalisation in some states of marijuana possession). Instead there was a backlash to family values, the early stirrings of the Pro-Life and Just Say No movements, and so forth.
“In Britain… the airwaves”-
-Eno. The Guardian 2/14/80.
Eno: “ It seems to me that radio in America states the boundary conditions of madness --you have a constant source of extreme points of view on tap!"
diverse preoccupations were coalescing
“We realized that we were at a place and decided to be there” is how Eno described the epiphany-rush of disparate ideas converging into a single path
>the rival fundamentalisms
Opposed but actually having much in common (the Beloved Enemy syndrome). In a sense, their shared enemy as the very cosmopolitanism and open-minded cultural relativism that made a project like My Life In the Bush of Ghosts possible. The state of the world beyond America also gave Bush of Ghosts a polemical edge (see also Cabaret Voltaire’s Three Mantras), from the Iran hostage crisis to the mudjhadin rebels of Afghanisation resisting the Soviet-backed progressive government of Afghanistan.
>”dance your way out of your constrictions”
From the Funkadelic song “One Nation Under a Groove” of course, c.f. their “free your mind and your ass will follow”, which in some ways Talking Heads reversed to “free your (uptight WASP-y) ass and your mind will follow”. I.e. Rediscover the body, reintegrate with Nature, stop making sense (as their live album and live movie was titled). Or as Byrne pleaded in a later song, “God, help us lose our minds”.
Eno, talking to the Guardian, 1980: "One of the other main things we started developing that pleased me was the interlocking instruments idea. Instead of having a few instruments playing complex pieces, you get lots of instruments all playing very simple parts that mesh together to create a complex track”.
>noises of wood
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts features sounds of non-instrumental provenance like old pieces of wood or scrap metal, a technique Eno also deployed on his ambient classic On Land (1982, fourth in the Ambient Series, and also recorded in New York), on which he used the sounds of sticks, stones, and pieces of metal chain and recordings of frogs, insects, and rooks. More on On Land at
There’s also rooks on “Help Me Somebody” on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, courtesy of one “April Potts, Eglingham Hall”!
“Behind the rhythm and collage, both of which sound quite urban, modern and high tech, there is this strange mystical and rural atmosphere,” Eno told East Village Eye. “All is embedded in this sort of psychedelic wash.” He compared the wash to “the cinematic dissolve”, which indidates “you are shifting into another plane of reality such as a dream or another time.”
>joined the rest of Talking Heads
a few weeks after Byrne’s arrival, Eno followed. After some initial hesitation, fell in love with the group’s new direction and signed on for his third collaboration with Talking Heads.
>built out of layers
Remain In Light is like an Africanised Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, or Fela Kuti Performs In C. In reference to both Remain and My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, Eric Tamm nicely pinpoints “the increasingly pointillistic nature of the rhythms” and spotlights Eno’s “graph-paper approach to composition: the pulse and its subdivisions along with a few repetitive melodic or bass fragments, form a background matrix over which dabs or points of color or light are placed”
>tricks from early hip hop
Specifically Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks”,
>stiff-necked form of rapping
“The facts just twist the truth around” eight-bar section on ““Crosseyed and Painless” (the latter’s title a take on Andy Fairweather Low’s “Wide Eyed and Legless”).
Those eight bars of quasi-rap:
Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
>glistening dreamscapes of “Seen and Not Seen”
“Seen and Not Seen” is actually my favourite song on the entire album, but I didn’t manage to work any substantive description of it into the book. The track represents that whole other side of the postpunk that's ethereal, dream-like and shimmeringly textured:
without being abrasive or atonal, this track is about as distant from conventional rock'n'roll as anyone in postpunk got. A lustrous waver of heat-haze sound,
a lambent horizon of synth-glints and bliss-mist, frames Byrne’s spoken-word story, the tall tale of a man who learns how to change his facial appearance by the gradual exercise of will:
“He would see faces in movies, on T.V., in magazines, and in books.... He thought that some of these faces might be right for him....And through the years, by keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his mind....Or somewhere in the back of his mind....That he might, by force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal....The change would be very subtle....It might take ten years or so.... Gradually his face would change its' shape....A more hooked nose... Wider, thinner lips....Beady eyes....A larger forehead. He imagined that this was an ability he shared with most other people....They had also molded their faced according to someideal....Maybe they imagined that their new face would better suit their personality....Or maybe they imagined that their personality would be forced to change to fit the new appearance....This is why first impressions are often correct...Although some people might have made mistakes....They may have arrived at an appearance that bears no relationship to them.... They may have picked an ideal appearance based on some childish whim, or momentary impulse....Some may have gotten half-way there, and then changed their minds.He wonders if he too might have made a similar mistake.”
What Lester Bangs, reviewing Fear of Music for Village Voice, dubbed his Everyneurotic persona
“Not upset … just bewildered”
--Byrne. David Gans Talking Heads (see bibliography). P. 84
The Byrds rewrote Eliot’s epic of 20th Century anomie as the rippling raga-rock allegory “Mind Gardens.” An orchard on a hill is David Crosby's metaphor for the self, and to protect it from the harsh elements, he walls it in, but his over-zealous fortification blocks out the nourishing sunlight, and the 'Mind Gardens' start to wilt.; just before they perish, he comes to his senses and demolishes the wall, opening himself up to the world. See also
Joni Mitchell singing in “Woodstock” about how “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”
His second song attempting to see with sympathy through the eyes of a terrorist (the first being “Life During Wartime”). The lyrics certainly take on a strange, discomfiting resonance in these days of daily suicide bombings in Iraq:
Mojique sees his village from a nearby hill
Mojique thinks of days before Americans came
He sees the foreigners in growing numbers
He sees the foreigners in fancy houses
He thinks of days that he can still remember...now.
Mojique holds a package in his quivering hands
Mojique sends the package to the American man
Softly he glides along the streets and alleys
Up comes the wind that makes them run for cover
He feels the time is surely now or never...more.
The wind in my heart
The wind in my heart
The dust in my head
The dust in my head
The wind in my heart
The wind in my heart
(come to) drive them away
Drive them away.
Mojique buys equipment in the market place
Mojique plants devices in the free trade zone
He feels the wind is lifting up his people
He calls the wind to guide him on his mission
He knows his friend the wind is always standing...by.
Mojique smells the wind that comes from far away
Mojique waits for news in a quiet place
He feels the presence of the wind around him
He feels the power of the past behind him
He has the knowledge of the wind to guide him...on.
The wind in my heart
The wind in my heart
The dust in my head
The dust in my head
The wind in my heart
The wind in my heart
(come to) drive them away
Drive them away.
Amazing song with more than a passing resemblance to Cluster II and to Neu!’s “Negativland” specifically.
A TERRIBLE SIGNAL
TOO WEAK TO EVEN RECOGNIZE
A GENTLE COLLAPSING
THE REMOVAL OF THE INSIDESI
'M TOUCHED BY YOUR PLEAS
I VALUE THESE MOMENTS
WE'RE OLDER THAN WE REALIZE...
IN SOMEONE'S EYES
A FREQUENT RETURNING
AND LEAVING UNNOTICED
A CONDITION OF MERCY
A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER
A VIEW TO REMEMBER
THE CENTER IS MISSING
THEY QUESTION HOW THE FUTURE LIES
...IN SOMEONE'S EYES
THE GENTLE COLLAPSING
OF EVERY SURFACE
WE TRAVEL ON THE QUIET ROAD
>Radically decentered music
i.e. where the bass lines and drum parts were hooks as much as the vocal melodies
“By the time… impression on each other”
--Weymouth. Ibid. P. 87
As with his collaborations with the German band Cluster, the duo of Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius; namely, Cluster & Eno, self-titled, 1977; Eno
Moebius Roedelius’s After The Heat, 1978; and the Begegnungen and Begegnungen II albums credited to Eno Moebius Roedelius Plank (the Plank being producer Conny Plank).
Burned by his experiences with Bowie on Low and ‘Heroes’, where he had a much larger creative role than was registered in the credits, Eno wanted acknowledgement for his contributions in terms of creating the conditions in which Remain’s creativity took place--the over-riding sonic concepts--and for organising the sonic results. He also wrote and sang some of the key vocal melodies (he’s very audible in the backing harmonies to “The Great Curve” for instance).
> a new Roxy Music
Having started the Seventies as a key component of Roxy Music, the era's greatest art rock outfit, whatever better way to end the decade as unofficial fifth member and guru to a group that equaled Roxy's achievement and surpassed its artiness?
>Gone so much further
In 1981 Eno told Rolling Stone, “I really thought that if, at a certain point, I had had those tracks and had carte blanche to write whatever I wanted, song-wise, over the top… I could have explored this intricate song form that I was getting into more thoroughly. But I didn’t feel comfortable about usurping the compositional role any more than I had done already.”
>One evangelist’s voice
The estate of Kathryn Kuhlman, one of the evangelists they sampled, protested and this eventually forced the duo to replace her voice on Bush of Ghosts
Their sampling of Middle Eastern vocalists was often compared unfavorably to Holger Czukay’s “Persian Love” (from his 1980 Movies album ) which featured an deliriously enraptured Iranian vocal plucked off shortwave radio by the ex-Can bassist. Czukay was an old hand at “sampling”, having used the Dictaphone to play shortwave excerpts during the later days of Can, and redeployed a Vietnamese boat-woman’s song on his album Canaxis, a collaboration with Rolf Dammers recorded in 1968 and released in 1969.
Can’s Soon Over Babaluma, incidentally, was cited by some reviewers as a precedent for Remain In Light, but although there’s some resemblance--the collision of James Brown funk and post-Floydian psychedelia, the 4th World/ethnological forgery aspect, the “all gates open” pantheism and sensurround production, Czukay’s techniques of cut-and-splicing elements from long improvised jams--I’d say the ultimate results and overall vibe is pretty far apart.
Oddly, nobody complained about their sampling of a born-again preacher and an exorcist--the religious Right being fair game, apparently! Nor did they seem that bothered by the use of bluesy gospel vocalese from the Moving Star Hall Singers, members of an isolated black community who lived off the coast of Georgia. To charges of appropriation and tourism, Eno retorted that the project had been approached in a spirit of respect and reverence:
"It's the kind of criticism that always happens if you transgress any of those boundaries . . . The critics really think that white people ought to play white music and black people ought to play with blacks. In my case it's not any kind of intellectual decision, it's a feeling in my own music that I'm moving in a certain direction and realising that here's a group of people who have moved much further and deciding I'll learn from them, consciously use some of their devices. It arrives from a kind of humility rather than a kind of arrogance. I regard myself as a student. I'm very humble about my understanding of African music, it's a vastly more complicated and rich area than I had dreamed of. I'd say that anything I'm doing is simply my misunderstanding of black music."
>Algerian Muslims chanting the Qu’Ran
This was the track “Qu’Ran,” one of the best on the album. Reviewing the 2006 reissue of My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, I was struck by the fact that another track had been substituted for it, entitled “Very Very Hungry”. Now that tune, not on the original vinyl album, had first appeared as a bonus track on the first CD version of My Life (which came out around 1990). At that point, though, “Qu’Ran” was still on the CD (it had originally been the first track of side two on the vinyl). But now--meaning 2006--it was gone, replaced by “Very Very Hungry”. It didn’t take much guesswork to work out what had happened: clearly a case of post-Satanic Verses jitters, or actual threats. I soon confirmed that the latter had been the case: A record company person told me that “Qu’Ran” was removed under threat of a fatwa and due to pressure from various Muslim groups. The track was considered sacriligous because under Islamic law, the Qu’Ran must never be sung or put to music. Presumably the original chanting by the Algerian Muslims didn’t count as song? So the very clash of civilisations-- absolutism/literalism versus relativism/Rorty-esque liberalism--that My Life in the Bush dramatised came back to bite Byrne & Eno in the ass.
Here’s David Byrne talking about the issue in Pitchfork interview around the reissue of Bush of Ghosts, and why the removal of the track isn’t even mentioned in the liner notes:
“I sort of didn't want to go into it. Partly for the reason that I didn't want to make people feel like something was being withheld, like they were missing something. It also brings up a lot of issues, and I thought, "I don't know if I can resolve all this stuff.
“Way back when the record first came out, in 1981, it might have been '82, we got a request from an Islamic organization in London, and they said, "We consider this blasphemy that you put grooves to the chanting of the Holy Book." And we thought, "Okay, in deference to somebody's religion, we'll take it off." You could probably argue for and against monkeying with something like that. But I think we were certainly feeling very cautious about this whole thing. We made a big effort to try and clear all the voices, and make sure everybody was okay with everything. Because we thought, "We're going to get accused of all kinds of things, and so we want to cover our asses as best we can." So I think in that sense we reacted maybe with more caution than we had to. But that's the way it was. “
>eerily pitch-smeared arabesques
Eno talked (East Village Eye, 1981) about being humbled by the melodic complexity of Middle Eastern music, “their sense for incredible subtleties in melody… that informed what I was trying to do, a concern for subtle and extreme ornamentation and arabesque”, which he attributed to the absence of a history of harmony, so that “the whole musical energy goes into developing the single line, making that more and more interesting.”
>”charm and tightness” NME, 27/8/83.
Byrne talks about how the direction of Speaking In Tongues came from listening to old live tapes of the band for the live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads: “Some sort of charm and tightness in the earlier material that maybe we had lost, so we consciously tried to regain that and yet keep some of the other things that we’d done”
But in this same interview Barney Hoskyns pinpoints the problem with this stepping back: “for important groups the fatal turning is always the same: when there’s no way to stretch further, only the past to rediscover. Groups will always look over their shoulders, gaze fondly back at the innocence of the first tunes, written when commercial succcess seemed not only improbable but irrelevant.” The result, on Speaking In Tongues, was that “the pyrotechnic panorama of Remain In Light” was reduced to a “sterile lunar funk”
“spent so many… anymore”
--Weymouth. Ibid. P. 130
>ending the relationship with Eno
Although it’s clear that the Eno trilogy was Talking Heads peak work, the relative shortfall of the later albums is partly due simply to the fact that an X factor has been removed from the equation. Also, it's not so much the person of Eno that is missed as what he represented--a whole set of approaches, attitudes, techniques etc has been foreclosed for the band. They could have carried on in an Eno-like spirit but they didn't; you sense thereafter that Byrne is somewhat chastened, on a leash.
Hugely successful pop act
Relating to the early theme of emotional squeamishness, you can see a breakthrough of sorts on the awkwardly transitional Speaking In Tongues (1983) with "This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)," an exquisite attempt to write a love song devoid of romantic clichés, full of witty but heartfelt lines: "I'm just an animal looking for a home," "you have a face with a view." On subsequent albums, though, Byrne's apparent coming to terms with commonplace emotions leads him towards a sentimentalization of the common people, in the process sacrificing much of the tension that gave the groupits edge. Paralleling a general mid-Eighties shift towards Americana, LittleCreatures (1985) replaced funk with country influences (pedal steel,jingle-jangle finger-picking, and, on "Road To Nowhere," a Cajun marchfeel). The next album, 1986's True Stories, plunged wholesale intofascination with what we'd nowadays call the red-state heartland--the veryplace the boho Byrne once scorned in More Songs' "The Big Country." Lookingdown (in both senses) on middle America from an airplane window, Byrne haddeclared "I wouldn't live there if you paid me to" and "it's not even worthtalking about those people down there". But now with True Stories' "PeopleLike Us", he seemingly celebrated the apolitical fatalism of ordinary folkswith lines like "we don't want freedom/we don't want justice/we just wantsomeone to love". (In a sense this is an echo of “Don’t Worry About the Government”).
A survey of the group’s post-Eno career, written by me as part of a sleevenote for the Talking Head box set on Rhino, Once In A Lifetime, which was never used, owing to shall we say inter-band politics
Having stretched rock as far as it could go, Talking Heads gradually moved back toward the shapely economy of the pop song, starting with the transitional Speaking In Tongues. A more concise, less cluttered (and Eno-free) take on the musical ideas of Fear and Remain, it gave the band their first real pop hit with the scorching funk of "Burning Down The House" and produced their loveliest should-have-been-a-worldwide-number-one in "This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)". The parenthetical part of the title stems from the fact that each band member plays a different instrument than normal, an oblique strategy for achieving a slightly awkward but heartfelt feel. It’s the only conceptual twist to what is otherwise the group's first real love song.
Little Creatures went further still toward pithy pop appeal, embracing the "charm and tightness" of Talking Heads 77 while simultaneously abandoning the overcrowded dancefloor of mainstream pop (where bleached funk and blue-eyed soul had become the oppressive norm). Swapping synths and drum machines for acoustic textures and entering the studio with fully-written and rehearsed tunes for the first time in a long while, Talking Heads found themselves in alignment with a mood-shift in American music, toward songcraft, the Sixties, and the South. From the indie margins to the commercial mainstream, groups like The Gun Club and John Mellencamp were embracing roots music and Americana, while vocalists like Michael Stipe and Maria McKee were drawn to the "purity" and forlorn yearning in in folk and country. Little Creatures’ title track features steel pedal guitar and country-rock finger-pickin', the Cajun march beat of "Road To Nowhere" recalls the martial drumming on 77's "Tentative Decisions", while the lustrous jangle of "And She Was" is a blissful flashback to The Byrds.
Little Creatures’s cover, painted by Georgia “outsider artist” the Reverend Howard Finster, signaled that the Talking Heads had come home from panglobal adventures and discovered a different kind of exoticism right there in the American heartland. True Stories is likewise enchanted with the weirdness of the commonplace, the eccentricity secreted in the crevices of smalltown USA….
Naked closes the circle, offering the mature synthesis of the "American" and "African" sides of the band. This is a different Africa, though, not the seething polyrhythmic stampede of Fela Kuti but the quicksilver elation of African guitar-playing, so oddly redolent of English janglepopsters like The Smiths--and sure enough, the Smiths’ guitarist, Johnny Marr, actually guests on "(Nothing But) Flowers". Here and on the equally exquisite "Totally Nude", pedal steel entwines itself around scintillating Afropop guitars, while Byrne's voice soars like Roy Orbison or the Everly Brothers over lithe, frisky percussion. These songs offer two different takes on back-to-nature, Byrne reveling in the dream of paradise recovered on "Nude," then relishing the joke of "Flowers"---it’s the plaint of an anti-conservationist aghast that prime real estate has reverted to mere "fields and trees" and mournful about the extinction of Dairy Queens and Pizza Huts. Among the most breezy, beatific songs Talking Heads ever recorded, "Nude" and "Flowers" sound like the work of a rejuvenated band, a group reaching its third wind. But...
“one of the most… quite extraordinary”
--Eno. Colloquy with David Toop, Sonic Boom Exhibition, London 5/2/2000 http://home.iprimus.com.au/dcitizen/index.html?eno_int_sonicboom-may00.html~frameHOME
In the talk, Eno singles out Watford and Ipswich, the art college he started out at, as exemplary, “like Summerhill for grownups”--a reference to the famous radically freeform progressive school. “Everybody thought they could do anything. So painters could compose music, bricklayers could do happenings, prostitutes could write operas … Most of all what it said to me… is that 'At this moment of time there isn't a received container for what you want to do, there isn't a category into which you automatically fit. So though we are called a painting college, part of your job here is to find out what medium you want to work in…. Are you a sculptor with a foot in performance, or are you a painter who wants to use sound, or are going to work with some entirely new medium that nobody's exploited before, like knitting?’… We had one student there who was knitting, that was her work, and another who did performances with a violin on a tightrope”.
Schmidt painted cover for Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy and Evening Star (Eno’s second collaboration with Robert Fripp), and prints of his watercolours were given away with Before and After Science.
A tribute to Schmidt by Eno appeared in May 1987 in his label’s newsletter, "Opal Information #5”
“Looking back now at Peter Schmidt's work, I find myself thinking "This looks very contemporary" and "How did he cover this much territory this quickly?" And, inevitably, I ask "Why didn't anyone really notice?"
Well, I know that the 'neglected genius' is a mythical character. It's very unusual for real talent to be completely ignored. Peter was a real talent, and he was not completely ignored. Instead, he was regarded as something of an interesting curiosity, even a gifted eccentric, but certainly somebody at the margins of culture rather than at its centre. However, even in the few years since his death, there has been a major shift of values in the painting world. One of the results of this has been, in my opinion, to relocate Peter's work: it now looks very prophetic.
Perhaps this reassessment wouldn't have made much difference to Peter anyway. For someone who watched many conspicuously lesser talents rise to positions of respect and influence, he was remarkably free of envy. His work was very much a personal inquiry, a continuous questioning of deeper and deeper assumptions, a delight in finding himself in new territory without answers, and thus innocent. We are always innocent, unless, from laziness or for convenience, we decide to overlook the novelty of the moment, this particular now. It seemed to me that Peter was more capable than anybody else I have ever known of following that understanding through in his actions. He was always alert to those little byways of thought that might open out onto whole new vistas,and he followed them with a quiet kind of courage and with the very minimum
He wrote to me once, "In a roomful of shouting people, the one who whispers becomes interesting." By the mid to late seventies, voices were being raised. The streamlining of the art-world's selling machinery and the general Schnabelization of artistic behaviour was in full cry. Paintings and artistic egos were growing by the acre, and the business of marketing them had crossed over into real estate.
Peter seemed to pay very little attention to this cacophony. His work was changing too, becoming smaller, crisper, more alive. And as everyone else seemed to be switching back to oils and canvas (the guarantee of "real art.'), Peter became fascinated by watercolours and paper (a certain sign of dilettantism). In the short term, such an unfashionable decision firmly located Peter among the Sunday painters. From today's perspective, that assessment seems about 180 degrees off: his work is full of seeds, any one of which could form the basis of a healthy artistic career (and many of which probably have).
As with many good artists, one's admiration for Peter's work increases with familiarity. To follow the threads that are woven through his work, to watch the way that they cross and mesh with new threads and with older ones picked up again is to see a graceful and brilliant dance in motion. That this same pace and brilliance characterized his everyday life came, at first, as something of a surprise. He never raised his voice. “
Eno talked about the genesis of the OS in a Radio Four interview (Chain Reaction, Feb 2005):
“When I went home from the studio I'd think of things that I'd forgotten to think about in the studio. And these were not things like "Put on a guitar solo." They were things like "If you listen from outside the door, you hear things you don't hear when you're in the studio." or "If you listen to all the quieter details of things, that's a nice way of listening to things." Me and Peter Schmidt started to think that maybe we could come up with a sort of universal set of cards that gave you some strategies you could use in difficult working situations to knock yourself out of the furrow you might have inadvertently got yourself into. Some cards, their ideas have entered the culture so much that you don't need to say them any more. Like "Honour thy error as a hidden intention..."
Here are thel strategies:
• Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
• Don't be frightened of cliches
• What is the reality of the situation?
• Are there sections? Consider transitions
• Turn it upside down
• Think of the radio
• Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of a stricture)
• Simple subtraction
• Be dirty
• Go slowly all the way round the outside
• A line has two sides
• Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do & do the last thing on the list
• Into the impossible
• Towards the insignificant
• Ask people to work against their better judgement
• Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance
• Infinitesimal gradations
• Change instrument roles
• Disconnect from desire
• Emphasize repetitions
• Faced with a choice, do both (given by Dieter Rot)
• Children -speaking -singing
• Lost in useless territory
• A very small object Its center
• Dont be afraid of things because they're easy to do
• Dont be frightened to display your talents
• Breathe more deeply
• Honor thy error as a hidden intention
• What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving
• Only one element of each kind
• Is there something missing
• Use `unqualified' people
• How would you have done it?
• Emphasize differences
• Do nothing for as long as possible
• Bridges -build -burn
• Always give yourself credit for having more than personality (given by Arto Lindsay)
• You don't have to be ashamed of using your own ideas
• Tidy up
• Do the words need changing?
• Ask your body
• Tape your mouth (given by Ritva Saarikko)
• Simply a matter of work
• Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate
• Consult other sources -promising -unpromising
• Use an unacceptable color
• Humanize something free of error
• Use filters
• Fill every beat with something
• Discard an axiom
• Not building a wall but making a brick
• What wouldn't you do?
• Lowest common denominator
• Decorate, decorate
• Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle
• Get your neck massaged
• Listen to the quiet voice
• Do the washing up
• Is it finished?
• Put in earplugs
• Reevaluation (a warm feeling)
• Give the name away
• Intentions -nobility of -humility of -credibility of
• Abandon normal instruments
• Use fewer notes
• Repetition is a form of change
• Give way to your worst impulse
• Trust in the you of now
• Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events
• What would your closest friend do?
• Distorting time
• Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
• Feed the recording back out of the medium
• Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element
• The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten
• [blank white card]
• Ghost echoes
• You can only make one dot at a time
• Just carry on
• (Organic) machinery
• The inconsistency principle
• Don't break the silence
• Idiot glee (?)
• Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them
• Spectrum analysis
• What mistakes did you make last time?
• Consider different fading systems
• Mute and continue
• Be extravagant
• It is quite possible (after all)
• What are you really thinking about just now?
• Don't stress on thing more than another [sic]
• State the problem in words as clearly as possible
• Assemble some of the elements in a group and treat the group
• You are an engineer
• Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics
• Look at the order in which you do things
• Go outside. Shut the door.
• Disciplined self-indulgence
• Do we need holes?
• Cluster analysis
• Always first steps
• Cut a vital conenction
• Do something boring
• Define an area as `safe' and use it as an anchor
• Is the information correct?
• Overtly resist change
• Question the heroic approach
• Accept advice
• Twist the spine
• Work at a different speed
• Look closely at the most embarrassing details & amplify them
• Mechanicalize something idiosyncratic
• Emphasize the flaws
• Remember those quiet evenings
• Take a break
• Short circuit (example; a man eating peas with the idea that they will
• improve his virility shovels them straight into his lap)
• Left channel, right channel, center channel
• Use an old idea
• Destroy -nothing -the most important thing
• Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency
• The tape is now the music
Much more info on the history and origins of OS here
You can use the OS via this site
OS available as free downloadable program here
>Audio visual aids technician
And slide-photography librarian
Lewis had done one year of a foundation course at Lanchester Art College in Coventry, and then went on to study Textiles at Hornsey Art College in 1971; there, not fitting in, he moved to the college’s Fashion Department and got a degree in Fashion Design; just before Wire got going he was doing freelance T-shirt design for various high street clothing stores.
He did his foundation course at Winchester Art School; then on to Watford to do graphics/illustration.
>live at the roxy comp
1. Slaughter And The Dogs: Runaway 2. Slaughter And The Dogs: Boston Babies 3. Unwanted, The: Freedom 4. Wire: Lowdown 5. Wire: 1.2.X.U. 6. Adverts, The: Bored Teenagers 7. Johnny Moped: Hard Loving Man 8. Eater: Don't Need It 9. Eater: 15 10. X-Ray Spex: Oh Bondage! Up Yours 11. Buzzcocks: Breakdown 12. Buzzcocks: Love Battery
>Songs as ‘pieces’
In a 1989 interview with the group, I was struck by how they called the songs ‘pieces’. Newman explained that there were "two different approaches in the band-the Dome
attitude of making sculptural environments-and I made sculptural pieces that you stand in front of. That really is how I sometimes see our music-as a piece of stone that you chip away until it's shaped.”
Colin Newman: “Cerebral? Wire were the dumbest rock band in existence. You have to be to willfully play away at one chord like that. But yes, you do have to be clever to be that dumb” ((Uncut, March 2006)
“I don't think we've ever been in love with decoration as such,” Lewis told an Australian radio interviewer in 1979
>Nobody was precious about the words
Newman in turn would take liberties with Lewis’s words--drastically compressing or truncating them, turning ends of verses into choruses, repeating one line seventeen times.
Gilbert(from Ian Penman’s interview with Wire, in The Wire March 2000): “Graham and I had this habit of sitting in pubs with notebooks and sliding them round like games of Consequences. Quite a big aspect of it was the joy of it… the joy of the Absurd.. the collision of words and the way they sounded…..”
Newman, ibid: “I’m a bit of an anti-narrative person. Deconstructing narrative is one of my obsessions. I love the idea that something doesn’t have to be sequential”
> X Factor… something you don’t understand”
“That emotion in you that makes you [gasp]”. Source unknown.
“What art does… uncertainty”--Eno. MM 5/13/78.
Eno: “I consider that what art does for you is that it constantly
rehearses you for uncertainty. Something happened you didn't
expect. The codes you brought to understand this were inadequate. Something happened that defied your expectations, even. I chose to hang around for a while and endure this moment of uncertainty. Applied to music, I feel I can get involved with any
situation that includes a novel configuration. Like new wave. The
choices are to see nothing new in it, or else you live with it, if
that is your wont, as it is mine." Throughout his career he talked about enjoying aesthetic sensations of bafflement and childlike awe: “I'm interested in the idea of feeling like a very young child, but I'm not interested in feeling like a teenager…”, he said, rejecting rock's teenage kicks and hormonally-fuelled adolescent (ins)urgency and looking instead to
experiences and art that put him “in the position of innocence, that
recreate the feeling of innocence in you”.
Harvest, founded in mid-1969, was considered one of the premier labels catering for what was then called “the underground” (i.e. post-psychedelic/progressive music), alongside other major label imprints such as Vertigo and Deram. As well as Pink Floyd, Harvest had such post-hippie minstrels as Kevin Ayers and Roy Harper, psych-boogie outfit the Edgar Broughton Band, proggers Barclay James Harvest, and many more.
>Progressive element coming out punk
According to Newman, In late 1977, it looked like there was going to be a ‘pop’ version of punk (straightahead and raucous, singles oriented) and a ‘rock’ version (album-oriented, experimental).
>fifth member of the group
And very close to their own Eno in fact, i.e. a producer and technical whizz who also contributed musically. “They dragged my involvement out of me,” Thorne has said. “Bruce said: "Unless you play those keyboards and synthesizers we're going to get that Brian Eno in!"…” Chairs Missing, he continued, “was where everything started to get layered.” As with Talking Heads’s More Songs About Buildings And Food, the music was recorded live at first, “because you get the energy which you can feed on. Then the overdubs went on and things were replaced”.
>Pink Flag to Pink Floyd
NME's Monty Smith complained that “the weedy spectre of Syd Barrett looms large over their work” but Newman claimed he’d never heard Barrett’s music until the comparisons started coming in. Maybe he absorbed it via Eno’s first two solo albums, which have a strong Barrett-y feel at times.
“I just couldn't quite comprehend what the reality of being a serpentine Miner must be if there is a roof fall in a leaf,” Newman told NME, 1979.
“When I listen… insects"-
-Newman. NME 7/7/79.
Which scenario and the tone of perplexed fatalism faintly recalls all those Eno ditties about indolent dreamers adrift and treading-water you can find on Another Green World and side two of Before And After Science:. 'Golden Hours', where
the effete protagonist wonders how it can be that 'evenings go so slow'; the somber serenity of 'Becalmed', in which a man waits on a beach for a woman, not knowing or caring whether it’s been hours or years; the characters of 'Julie With...' floating on a still, empty sea, marveling at the sky’s fabulous blueness, and wondering if they've slipped outside time; the water-meadow listlessness of 'By This River', and 'Backwater', where a motley crew of castaways have drifted into the stillwaters at the very edge of time and Eno's limp character has abandoned 'ballistics' for resignation, seeming almost gleeful that there's 'not a sausage to do'.
>“I Should Have Known Better”
Another lyric: “valuing the vengeance that you treasure/I redefined the meaning of vendetta”.
>ideas of number
The album title came from Robert Gotobed’s diary and the fact that Wire had played 154 gigs.
One of Newman’s loveliest, most poignant melodies, but the lyric is empty of meaning; the title came from the fact that it was the fifteenth in a set of songs that Wire had at the time.
Even though a fair proportion of 154 is a bit of a glum stodge. “Indirect Enquiries” glances sideways to the bleakest, most metallurgical songs on a record released a few months earlier, Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division, especially bassist Peter Hook, had been influenced by Wire). "A Touching Display" is like a postpunk Black Sabbath, sombre bombast, a Damocles sword of a guitar solo lowering overhead. Elsewhere you can hear the oncoming angst-grey pallor of The Cure circa Faith and Pornography.
>Relationship with EMI had soured
Harvest’s Nick Mobbs had moved on
>“Map Ref. 41’ N 93 ‘ W,”
A song inspired by flying over Iowa, making it a sister song to Talking Heads’s “The Big Country”) and suddenly perceiving the terrain from a cartographer’s eyes: “an unseen ruler defines with geometry/an unruleable expanse of geography….”
>Central School of Art and Design
Lewis: “What was really important about that event was the collaboration with the students in the design department and the theatre design department. We also found this guy who was doing experimental video”.
>“Crazy About Love”
Which they’d recently written for a John Peel session. When the Radio One producer explained that they had approximately fifteen minutes to fill up and that this was equivalent to four songs, Wire had decided to play games with expectations and do a single fifteen piece.
The final straw came when EMI pulled the plugs on Colin Newman’s solo album A-Z.
“A breakdown… projects”
--Wire communiqué. NME, 2/9/80. News story.
>twelve people with newspaper head dresses
Among them their support group, the extremely arty and chaotic German outfit D.A.F.., whose performance was released as one side of their 1980 album Die Kleinen Und Die Bosen.
from my eMusic Postpunk Dozen, the micro-review of A-Z
Wire frontman Colin Newman's solo debut picked up where the band left off with
1979's 154 — heavily-effected guitar textures that glisten with a cold marble beauty, geometrically precise song structures seemingly plotted out on graph paper. Little wonder: like Wire's classic trilogy of Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, the record was produced by Mike Thorne, the group's unofficial "fifth member." Wire drummer Robert Gotobed provided further continuity with tough, unsyncopated beats. Stand-out track "Alone," a desolate dirge that sounds like it's hewn from a glacier, would be deemed an all-time Wire classic alongside "I Am The Fly" and "The 15th" if the quartet had managed to keep a lid on its internal tensions and complete a Thorne-produced tetrology. As it is, A-Z serves as an excellent, if often overlooked, addendum to Wire's golden era.
A collaboration with Mute’s Daniel Miller, a big Wire fan who signed the group when they reformed in the mid-Eighties
Seemingly circling Eno but never quite connecting with him (although Eno did finally contribute keyboards to one song on Lewis’s He Said project in 1986), Gilbert & Lewis struck up a relationship with illustrator Russell Mills, a future Eno collaborator who would go on to do a book of visual interpretations of Eno’s lyrics. Mills played bodhran and a miked-up table on the 20 minute Cupol track “Kluba Cupol”. He masterminded the visual aspects of a Gilbert/Lewis performance at the Notre Dame Hall, where the group (including Mills guesting on synth) played from behind a wire mesh of fluorescent light tubing. At the same time that Eno was exhibiting his video art in art galleries and museums, Gilbert, Lewis and Mills staged a month-long audio-visual installation at the Waterloo Gallery in London, which they later took to the Sydney Biennalle in Australia. The culmination of these ventures into multimedia was MU:ZE:UM:TRACES, a two-month exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that opened in December 1982. Matching David Byrne’s forays into soundtracking modern dance pieces like The Catherine Wheel and The Knee Plays, Bruce Gilbert collaborated with “punk ballet” renegade Michael Clark.
>Wire and da funk/”Lowdown”
Wire’s monolithic force-rhythm is like a cerebral version of the pogo, really.
Graham Lewis talks of the impact of hearing James Brown as being as powerful as encountering Beefheart for the first time, but the group’s appreciation of funk was academic and structuralist. Lewis also recalls being introduced to Parliament-Funkadelic in 1978 by the studio engineer on the first three Wire albums, who was a soulboy. While impressed by the extreme use of effects on the bass, Lewis response was “fuck, no way!
Colin Newman has described “Lowdown” as “slowed-down funk without any of the funk” (Uncut, March 2006)
>Reunited in 1985
With a gig at Oxford’s Museum of Art--arty is as arty does, and that’s a nice neat circle back to their start at Watford College of Art. And folks I was there, as a student idling away my days on the dole post-graduation. It was an excitingly forbidding show, very monochrome and strikingly lit. And it took place in the same upstairs gallery where Gilbert & Lewis had exhibited dead leaves and such-like a few years earlier.
Colin Newman reminisces on the early days of Wire on the occasion of the 2006 reissues
David Byrne talks to Pitchfork about My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Frieze piece on the very art-y (Rauschenberg-designed) cover for Talking Heads's fifth album Speaking In Tongues
my reviews of various Jon Hassell releases
Fourth World vol. 2: Dream Theory In Malaya
Aka-Darbari-Java / Magic Realism
Melody Maker, 1991
by Simon Reynolds
typo alert -- gameplan = gamelan!
City: Works of Fiction
Melody Maker, 1990
by Simon Reynolds
JON HASSELL, interview
the Observer, 1990
by Simon Reynolds
JON HASSELL, interview
Melody Maker, 1990
by Simon Reynolds
My review for Uncut of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, reissued in 2006
Brian Eno-David Byrne
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Virgin/EMI* * * * *
On its original 1981 release, this album was widely dissed for being “cold-blooded,” “detached”, an eggheads-in-the-soundlab experimental exercise. Yet Bush of Ghosts drips with emotional intensity, it’s just that the feelings don't come directly from the record's makers but from the found voices--Pentecostal preachers, Algerian Muslims--harvested by the duo from American radio and ethnic field recordings. In another sense, the whole project is framed by the conflicted emotions--uneasy fascination, admiring envy--that this material stirred in Byrne & Eno, at once attracted by the fervour of these true believers yet incapable (as progressive sorts trapped within modernity’s rationality and temperance) of accessing that kind of passion themselves.
Chances are, you’ll feel the same cold rush as Byrne & Eno the first time they heard the preacher who “stars” on “The Jezebel Spirit. ” The electrifying conviction of his cadences as he exorcises the slutty she-devil that’s possessed an unfaithful wife will make your hair stand on end, even as your liberalism recoils from the patriarchy he’s restoring (“Jezebel, you have no rights to her, her husband is the head of the house”). Elsewhere, it’s the mystical rather than moralising aspect of religion that enthralls Byrne & Eno: “Regiment,” for instance, entwines the ecstastic ululations a Lebanese mountain singer with sinuous bass and arabesques of synth. Throughout Ghosts, the duo lovingly recontextualise their sources, embedding the voices in a sticky web of psychedelic rhythm, funky ambience, and some of the most counter-intuitive and contortionist basslines you’ll ever hear.
Tracks 1 to 5 (the original first side) are great, but 6 to 11 (side two) is a whole other plane, gliding you through a phantasmagoric sequence of steadily more untaggable and precedent-less groovescapes. Following “Moonlight in Glory”-- falter-funk laced with the halting cadences of Scriptural chants and astral gospel plaints, as incanted by a literally isolated African-American sect from the Sea Islands off Georgia’s coast--“The Carrier” shimmers like a portent or future-ghost of The Unforgettable Fire. But instead of Bono, thankfully that Lebanese dude reappears to kiss the heavens. “A Secret Life” is an itchy microcosm as gorgeously infolded as Can’s “Quantum Physics,” while “Come With Us” pretzels bass-gloop and stereo-flickering sorcery into a disorientating audio-maze. Heading out into a non-specifically Oriental hinterland of gaseous gong sounds, “Mountain of Needles” sounds like God sighing with satisfaction at the end of the sixth day. Byrne & Eno, the Creators of an equally marvelous if somewhat more compact universe of sound, ought to have felt pretty pleased with themselves too. It’s a pity that the immaculate construction that is Ghosts now has an extension tacked onto it: the inevitable slew of out-takes, most of them sketchy and substandard, diminishes the sense of conclusion achieved by “Mountain”. A couple of the bonus tracks work as intriguing footnotes ( the ungodly exhalations of “Vocal Outtakes”, the needling stellar twinkle of “Solo Guitar with Tin Foil”) but overall, the effect is a bit like the Almighty following up the Cosmos with an encore of… Croydon.
Eric Tamm’s Eno book--Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound, originally published by Faber & Faber, Boston & London, 1989, but
now out of print--is available as a free download, at
my Melody Maker review of the first three Wire albums when reissued in 1994
(all Harvest/EMI )
It's the label, Harvest, that's the giveaway; art-school
punks Wire were really a psychedelic band, firmly in the
lineage of twisted whimsy and nonsense noir that runs from
Syd Barrett through Brian Eno's pre-ambient LPs to early
Bunnymen. It just took them a little while to become what
For the debut "Pink Flag" is very of its time, with its
1977 mock-Cockney vox and stop-start riffs. The original
"Flag" crams 21 brief bursts of abstract fury into a mere 35
minutes (this re-ish adds a few rarities); only the deadpan
absurdism of the titles--"Ex Lion Tamer", "Three Girl
Rhumba"--hints that these aren't rabblerousing rants but
Dadaist ditties. There's a school of thought that "Flag" is
Wire's finest moment (a few years back an American band the Ex-Lion Tamers formed just to play note-perfect versions of its songs). And
certainly, at their best--"12 X U", "Dot Dash"--Wire were
playing some of the most haiku-elegant, thrillingly minimal
punk this side of Buzzcocks' "Boredom". Elsewhere, the
anorectic arrangements and stilted unsyncopated beats--which,
in 1977's original context, must have seemed a refreshing
renunciation of prog-rock flab and soft-rock fluency--now
just make you long for some juice and raunch. Generally, the
stuff that sounds best is slow rather than speedy, like the
bludgeoning proto-grunge of the title track and "Strange".
"Chairs Missing" (1978) is where Wire start getting
luscious, multi-textured and spacious. This is classic neo-
psychedelia, its glassy textures paving the way for the likes
of Joy Division, but its deadpan wit forestalling Gothic
gloom. Colin Newman's feyly sung lyrics range from scenarios
as vivid-yet-unintelligible as dreams, to nursery rhyme
nonsense where the melt-in-your-mouth sensousness of the
sound of the words is all that counts. In the first
category, "Maroooned" is like one of Eno's songs about
castaways and treading-water idlers circa "Before and After
Science": "as the water gets warmer my iceberg gets smaller".
In the voluptuous gibberish category, there's the gorgeous
near-hit "Outdoor Miner", with its honeyed harmonies and
chiming Byrdsian chords skewered by lyrics like "face worker,
a serpentine miner, a roof falls, an underliner, of leaf
structure, the eggtimer". "I Am The Fly" ("in the ointment")
is virtually a Wire manifesto, while tracks like the Electric
Prunesy "French Film (Blurred)" and "Being Sucked In Again"
forge a whole new geometry for rock, all harsh angles and
"154" (1979) still has elegaic neo-psych beauties like
"The 15th" and "Map Ref. 41'N 93'W" but is generally more
bombastic and sombre, its concussive riffs and corrosively
miasmic textures looking ahead to Bailter Space or even Big
Black. As with other bands who came out of '77 looking to
progress yet were still hidebound by punk's taboo on
over-expressive virtuosity (c.f. The Cure circa
"Pornography"), the result was a glum stodge. Perhaps the
best of the bunch is "A Touching Display", as heavy as the
missing link between Joy Div and Sabbath, with a Damocles
Sword of a solo. On this reissue, there's also five extra
tracks of semi-ambient weird murk that looks ahead to Bruce
Gilbert and Graham Lewis' post-Wire project Dome.
After two and a half hours of Wire, I felt a strong
thirst for a dose of orgiastic self-indulgence, a "Freebird"
or "Voodoo Chile", i.e. everything that post-punk austerity
intended to banish. Still, at their best Wire created a
citrus-fresh strain of streamlined, strangely arbitrary
beauty that warrants the term 'perfect pop'. Like all
'perfect pop', it seemed to hark back to an age that never
existed, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the stuff
that was actually selling in the charts.
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated