Monday, 8 November 2010

Brian Eno and Terry Riley on radio 6

The cover of Eno's Small Craft on a Milk Sea

There were two towering musical figures interviewed on radio 6 on Sunday. Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service show had Brian Eno, once his train from Brighton arrived (delayed outside Gatwick as usual). Eno was there ostensibly to talk about his new album on Warp records, Small Craft on a Milk Sea, although the conversation inevitably wandered into all kinds of interesting avenues. The new album is based on improvisations with guitarist Leo Abrahams and keyboard player Jon Hopkins, although Eno talks of how he tried to introduce guiding instructions to give them some shape and prevent them from drifting along on an unchanging plane. He describes them as being musicians who are very accomplished on their instruments, but for whom that is just the ‘beginning of a long chain of things that can happen to sound’. Their approach to the music they set out to make had an element of cerebral imagination, as Eno asked them to imagine looking back on the musics of the future as if all recorded traces of them had been eradicated and only written descriptions remained. Such attempts to jolt the mind out of its conventional patterns of thought led on to discussions of the oblique strategies cards, which Eno developed in the 70s with artist Peter Schmidt. These are a collection of suggestive aphorisms, designed to be picked at random in order to suggest ways out of creative impasses. Eno came up with them to help him with his own work in the recording studio, but they can be applied to a wide variety of situations. Jarvis had a pack to hand and drew his own card out. It read ‘look at the order in which you do things’.

They also talked about the early days of Roxy Music, when Eno would retire to the back of the auditorium, from where he would also provide backing vocals in full peacock finery. He professed himself glad to be back on a small record label, the likes of which he compared to galleries, gathering together and curating a particular style (he used ECM as another example of a label which had done this). White noise was cited as being a good learning aid, blotting out the anxiety of the mind at receiving new information, and he revealed his attempts to do something new with the fusion of music and spoken word (something which his old musical partner Harold Budd has managed admirably on records such as By Dawn’s Early Light and his Beat recording, made with Daniel Lentz and Jessica Karraker, Walk Into My Voice). Eno is also stubbornly persisting with his ‘unwelcome jazz’, despite its less than rapturous reception it received on the album The Drop, its previous showcase. The track which he played, Bone Jump, sounded fine, but its perhaps best enjoyed in small doses. In what was an excellent programme in general (and how could a show which started off with Richard Burton’s intro to Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds be anything but) he also played Kate Bush’s recording of Brazil, made for Terry Gilliam’s wonderful film but not, to my knowledge, used in the final cut (I’d certainly never heard it before). Also featured was some of Edward Williams’ music from Life On Earth (as released on Trunk Records) and the mixture of spoken word (by Derek Bowskill) and music for November, from David Cain’s Radiophonic Workshop LP The Seasons.

Following on from this, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone featured an interview with Terry Riley, alongside one of his fellow musicians on his current tour, George Brooks. Riley is playing concerts to mark his 75th birthday, and also to celebrate the legacy of Pandit Pran Nath, the Indian musical master with whom both he and Brooks studied. The music which the trio (currently touring Britain and Europe) are playing has a strong traditional Indian component, driven by the tabla playing of Talvin Singh. Riley looked back to the music which inspired him in his youth, coming up with the rather surprising choice of Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Favouring uplifting art, he suggests that ‘music has to have a smile’. It’s a sound which comes over in his voice which, like that of Jerry Garcia, suggests a Californian quality of sunny optimism and engaging enthusiasm. Such an outlook creatively clashes with the more glowering attitude of the New York avant garde, as heard in the first track which is played, Church of Anthrax, his collaboration with John Cale. He briefly mentions their common participation in LaMonte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music, but given the bad blood that seems to exist for pretty much everyone involved in that, it’s probably best that they move swiftly on.

The cover of the Eddie Cochran Instrumental EP on Fruits de Mer
Riley talks with clear admiration for his former teacher, and describes how he was caught up in the chaos of partition on the Indian subcontinent, having to flee his home in Lahore with countless others who suddenly found themselves displaced. The brief extract from the soundtrack to Lifespan (a film which apparently starred Klaus Kinski, among others) clearly displays the influence of his studies of Indian music with the Pandit. He also expresses interest in Native American music, which he describes as representing an older, occult tradition of American culture. This is reflected in Salome Dances for Peace, recorded in its full 2 hour form by the Kronos Quartet. This has some kinship with the music Brian Eno was talking about creating for his new LP. It arose from improvisations made on the piano, which were then incorporated into a more composed structure. It still forms the basis for improvisations on stage, however, and thus refuses to remain in a fixed form. The story behind the piece takes the form of a future myth, with Salome seen as a reborn female shamanistic warrior for peace, doing battle with war demons in her own non-violent way and travelling into the underworld to regain the way of life which these demons have stolen. It sounds like it would be great if staged, a slightly less grandiose (and hopefully more coherent) equivalent to some of Stockhausen’s Licht cycle ‘operas’. The Freak Show being the eclectic beast that it is, Salome Dances For Peace was followed with the nostalgia rush of Tony Hatch’s music for Sportsnight. There was a gorgeous piece earlier by Head South By Weaving called Rain, a cover of an Eddie Cochran instrumental from an EP on Fruits de Mer (which my smattering of French tells me translates as seafood) records with the self-explanatory Eddie Cochran Instrumental EP. It reveals a whole different side to Eddie’s musical personality. And it’s about as far from The Who’s cover of Summertime Blues on Live at Leeds as you can get.

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