If you don’t like it, it’s your problem. Get busy liking!

screen-shot-2016-04-13-at-10-28-50-amI’m right now downloading “71 Minutes of Faust” and I can feel myself in danger of going on something of a Faustian feeding frenzy… On top of that, I’ve somehow, in my eMusic wanderings, come across this strange piece…

Outside the Dream Syndicate

Tony Conrad was a proper avant-garde situationist artist with a career in experimental film and abstract art, and a bit of a name in the New York underground scene of the mid-sixties. He rubbed shoulders with (and was a little snooty about) Andy Warhol; took drugs with La Monte Young and John Cale, and was instrumental in the forming and naming of the Velvet Underground. All well and (presumably) good, but way beyond my ken.

So let’s catch up together with this trailer about his life:

 

As well as being an artist and film-maker, Conrad was incorporating his highly individual violin playing into his art. However, although he was playing a miked up violin and making experimental music with John Cale and the Theatre of Eternal Music in throughout the sixties, his first venture onto vinyl wasn’t until 1972 when he was introduced to Uwe Nettelbeck, the man managing and producing my new favourite band. He flew out to the old school house where Faust lived, rehearsed and recorded, and together they spent three days making a very curious record indeed. As his most recent work in New York had been done under the stage name of the Dream Syndicate, the recordings that were made with Faust were christened Outside the Dream Syndicate.

If you’re thinking that such a project would sound a bit like Cale and Klaus Dinger going on a gigantic weekender bender, you’d be pretty much right. Listen to the track that plays underneath the YouTube trailer and you’ll hear part of “The Sound of Man and Womankind” which makes up the first side of the record.

As far as I can see, the main difference between Cale and Conrad’s playing is that the Welshman in spite of his love of experimentation and all sorts of abnormality, still had an ear for a song and was not averse to having a crack at the odd three-minute ditty. You get the feeling that Conrad, however, had little time for such constraints. He was in his element playing (and playing) and would probably have carried on until the lights went out. He speaks in an interview of the private pleasure of playing single notes and chords repeatedly or in elongated sequences – effectively the originator of electronic drone music.

Here’s an interview with the man:

 

The record is pretty, er…,  unusual – two 27 minute slices of grinding, whining repetition, which on the face of it might sound like a pretty hard listen but is actually much more fun than that. Conrad often spoke of enjoying letting the tone and depth of a single note unfurl itself (and if this all sounds rather self-indulgent, he was under no illusions that that was exactly what it was – he considered it the listener’s responsibility to make something of it, if he or she didn’t like what they were hearing)

What rescues the whole venture from being an obscure art happening and gives it shape and structure is the gallant efforts on drums and bass of Zappi Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Peron. Considering the recordings were done not long before Faust IV was recorded and presumably in the midst of the rehearsals for it, a new project, although recorded relatively quickly, must’ve been something of a challenge in itself.

The real trial, though, was the heroic levels of self-denial the pair had to display in the monotone roles that they were given. Conrad’s Smithy-style instructions were: “one note, one beat, one hour”. (It’s not repetition…) This must have been a bitter pill for members of a ferociously ill-disciplined musical collective, well-known for their fanatical levels of self-expression, to swallow. Peron said afterwards:

“We were used to extraordinary music but had never come across anything like this. It was more of a trip inside. I went through all kinds of mental states: boredom, anger, ecstasy, doubt about myself and what I was doing.”

It’s actually a surprisingly compelling listen, with Conrad’s eerie wail floating heedlessly above Diermaier and Peron’s surly compliance. Hard to say much more about the two tracks (and I have no idea about the titles) other than that they are wordless statements of do-what-you-like-with-me that you don’t really want to leave unfinished.

There’s a well-written Pitchfork review of the album which sheds more light on it, here and a really good March ’16 interview with Conrad in the Guardian (“People thought we were on drugs, and we were!”) here. I’d recommend them both.

I’ll leave you with this track from YouTube which was recorded during the same sessions but somehow never made it on to the record (maybe it was too short, maybe it was Conrad’s stab at making a 3-minute “hit”?)

 

I’m not really one to have the patience or commitment to take modern drone music very seriously, but maybe I need to rethink this…

The cement mixer – I like it, so I will play it and try to go a bit deeper

faust-newOnce you’ve missed a self-imposed deadline, it becomes a little tricky to pick it all up again, no?

My actual Christmas, however, was pretty darn good, thank you. Christmas as a blogger was pretty poor, even by my own ragged standards. In the Bloggers contract that you sign at the outset, you’re supposed to do a series of lists for the year, and at the very least a best records of the year post. And I kind of started this with the last post about Commontime, but, well, other stuff got in the way, and I never quite got around to putting together the posts about the other two albums I really enjoyed from 2016 (Ryley Walker and Meilyr Jones, as you’re asking).

But… as I did do posts on both these artists earlier on in the year, let’s just imagine that the “2016 – Phew! What a year that was!” ship has sailed and wave a rueful hankie at it, as it disappears.

Time to move on, methinks…

As a miserable old lag of uncountable years, Christmas and birthday presents these days are mainly comprised of books, DVDs and whiskey (who’s complaining?). And of course a fair smattering of music (although most people are a little wary of my snooty tastes). Nonetheless, I’ve acquired some cracking music over December – West African highlife; Czech funk; Spanish garage punk; a great Move CD and a whole collection of Jimmy Webb records. I’m truly a lucky feller…

I’m also very much enjoying this, at the moment.

Faust IV

Maybe it’s me, but the music world seems over the past few years to be awash with Krautrock. It’s everywhere: in the bands you hear about, the reviews you read, the liner notes you pore mi0002187528over. To avoid cliché, new (to me) words – “motoric” and “kosmische” for instance – have appeared. Loads of today’s new things have nailed the black, red and gold to their masthead and it’s become a pretty routine part of our 21st century melting pot. I’m not really complaining, it’s a genuinely interesting genre, as experimental and edgy as any other movement and one that was obviously massively influential on the coming bands of my own youth. It’s impossible to imagine, PiL and the rest of the fresh-faced Post-Punk crowd, straying from their limited palate without their European uncle-pioneers.

The first time I remember reading the term was in an interview with a fresh-faced Julian Cope (one of my first pop heroes), way back in the days when he was still a Teardrop and before his book started changing hands for eye-watering sums. In an interview with Pete Frame, he referenced “Can, Neu!, Faust, you know, those sorts of bands”.

I most certainly didn’t know. In fact, the first three words seemed entirely random collections of letters which in those pre-Internet days it was hard to check up on. In the head of an impressionable, not to say feverish, punter, they became the stuff of myth and allegory. Not to mention that bloody exclamation mark…

It’s all much easier, these days, of course; I own quite a few Can and Neu! records, but Faust I’d somehow not really got on board with. Until this year, when my sister bought me a birthday copy of Faust IV, and I really, really love it.

The well-informed folk who come here will, of course, know all about Faust, so I’m not going to run through the obvious (or, indeed, pretend that I’ve known it all for ages); but if you do need a little pick-me-up…

 

(And if you want more, this is quite good.)

The most well-known track on Faust IV is the monstrous opener, “Krautrock” itself (named presumably in defiance of the offhand British label which many of their compatriots found offensive).  I’d like to think they went out of their way to write the definitive Krautrock track, here, and, well, if they didn’t…

It’s a fuzzy, magnetic beast and for a track which does without drums for the first seven minutes, it’s conspicuously driven by the sturdiest of rhythms. In and out of the distortion, modified sounds appear (squawking guitars, metallic segments and backward loops). They mooch around a while and grudgingly slope off after a while. Perhaps I’m making it all sound a bit psychedelic but, really, it’s so damn harsh, so unforgiving that nothing could be further away from the innocent larks of the sixties. (And, by the way, the outtake of the same track, included on disk 2 of my version, is if anything muddier, nastier and more obdurate.)

faust_02I’ve frequently bought albums with one standout, famous track before and been disappointed by the rest of the record, but although “Krautrock” is still my favourite track, there’s really no rubbish on the rest of the record. There are moments which come close to the craziness of the opener, but many other strange, intriguing segments throughout. “Jennifer”, for example, starts off as a slightly curious song with actual lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on other people’s records. After its four-minute pop single phase, however, it moves characteristically into a howling, rasping segment of feedback, that eventually yields to some sort of irregular barrelhouse piano outro, all of which would most definitely have been out of place anywhere else.

From “Jennifer”, the record moves into “Just a Second (It starts like that)” which to my mind sounds a lot like Can, and makes me realise that for all the talk at the time of moving away from American R’nB and creating a uniquely European sound, a lot of the German bands spent a lot of time jamming, Dead-style. Within about a minute, however, the song sheds its skin again and is taken over by experimental synth sounds, again, with distorted cameos from different fragments of the band. I read somewhere that this second, third and fourth phase of a song is something the band delighted in, preferring, in fact, to think of these being bone-fide, distinct songs concealed within others.

The second disk actually has a ten-minute version of the first half of “Just a Second” which is all uninterrupted guitar freak-out. I’d say the fact that they didn’t use very much of this version in the original release is significant, preferring instead, to rough up the freak-out version, giving it a right old shoeing. There are other notable tracks too (“It’s a bit of a Pain”, for example, which would again look like a straight (-ish) seventies folk song, where it not for the shrieks of dissonant, digital nonsense that poke their noses in, periodically) but I’ve gone on enough.

There’s not a lot of seventies Faust on YouTube, which is a massive shame. Perhaps predictably, however, they’ve reformed and there’s footage of the new version (less predictably, they still sound way, way out there). Here’s a clip of the regrouped Faust, playing to a live backdrop of the 2012 Presidential Debates. Regrettably, there’s no Trump (now that’s a fist-fight, I’d pay to see), the cement mixer, however, is definitely out of retirement.