New Musical Express January 3, 1976 - by Miles


Experimental and avant-garde music, by its very nature, exists mainly in the fringe area of private pressings, such as the Musica or George Avakian productions of John Cage or else on the smaller experimental labels such as American Odyssey, Nonesuch, ESP or Turnabout or the French Shander or Actuel labels.

In Britain there is a big need for such a label and it could be that Eno is going to fill it.

Eno has said: "Obscure Records is an attempt to inject whole new areas into rock". It is interesting that he regards the label as a research and development area for the industry and its true that no other industry of comparable size exists which pursues such a hit-and-miss (literally) development plan. Rockbizz does no independent research into future sounds itself.

If this is what Eno's up to, then all power to his shining elbow.

The name disturbs me, though.

"Obscure Records" is surely a form of inverted snobbery certainly more designed to appeal to upmarket Sunday supplement reading intellectuals who want to think they're hip than to your average Rock and Roller who has his or her ears already open for interesting new sounds.

And as Rock and Rollers' ears are more open, moist, receptive and much more numerous, may I suggest Eno advertise in NME as well as The Sunday Times?

The only music weekly ad I saw was in Melody Maker (well, CSM saw it actually), but the ad should have been in all of them.

How else are people to know about the albums since hardly any stores stock them?

There's little new or obscure on Eno's label that we haven't heard ten years ago and the name "Obscure" is likely to turn people off rather than introduce them to new areas.

Though it is filling a need among the community of experimental musicians and composers to hear each other, Obscure is doing nothing new unless it reaches the rock audience.

Zappa was able to get his Bizarre label pressings of the GTOs and Wild Man Fischer distributed to a wide market by using rockbizz machinery to the hilt.

Maybe Eno should change the name to "Accessible Records". After all, over a million copies of Tubular Bells sold in this country and that ain't exactly Gary Glitter.

The difference between Tubular Bells and Gavin Bryars is not quite as big as some people might think.

Gavin Bryars' The Sinking Of The Titanic is a work for string ensemble, essentially based on the hymn(s) known to be played by the band as the ship went down. The piece is inspired by Marconi's suggestion that sounds, once generated, never die but just get fainter.

In principle the sound of the band playing a hymn as the water closed over them is still being transmitted through the sound efficient medium of the Atlantic water.

Superimposed sparingly over the music is a recorded conversation with Miss Eva Hart, one of the survivors and also the sound of a music-box which was saved and entertained the children on one of the lifeboats.

I find this piece a remarkably complete and satisfying statement. All relevant details and sources of information concerning the hymn and the event are included in lengthy sleeve notes.

Side two contains Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet which is sung by an old tramp on a looped tape. Various forms of orchestral accompaniment are used.

I highly recommend this album, the one I liked most of the four.

Before going on - Bryars makes a statement, "pataphysics is the science", on the sleeve and makes other references to this subject. Since Paul McCartney once used this reference in a song (Maxwell's Silver Hammer) it seems we should clear up any, er, obscurity.

The full quote is "Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attribute the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments."

In other words it examines the laws which govern exceptions. It's so nice to make everything clear.

Gavin Bryars has a further composition on Ensemble Pieces called 1, 2, 1-2-3-4.

I once stayed in a hotel in a small French town. Across the street the local Communist Party fete was going on. Everyone fell over drunk by about 1 A.M.

Everyone except one young farmer who found to his delight that the stage microphone had been left on. He sang drunken snatches of popular songs for about an hour-and-a-half in the warm night. As he swigged on a bottle of claret his singing became more and more fragmented.

Though 1, 2, 1-2-3-4 has no lyrics as such it's feeling is very similar to this experience.

An eight-piece orchestra including Cornelius Cardew on cello plus two vocalists, one of which is Eno, play the instructions given to them on headphones from a cassette.

They cannot hear each other and their machines don't quite synchronise and it is these time differences which give the piece its dynamic interest.

I thought Cardew had stopped doing this kind of thing and was doing nothing but sing 1930's working-class songs these days. Certainly his last album was like that.

Aran by Christopher Hobbs is played on tubular bells, toy piano, cowbells and stuff. It marches in a pleasant note for note way in an apparently random direction.

This is probably because the notation for the piece was determined by random means. I like it.

On side two he has a Pibroch style number. Pibroch is the most highly developed form of bagpipe music. He plays it on four reed organs simultaneously. It's like Nico without the vocals.

John Adams' American Standard is played by a traditional wind ensemble with percussion.

I don't see anything new or obscure about this three-part work, unless the fact that a tape recording of a TV talk show has been overdubbed over part of it is thought of as unusual.

Everyone from Cage through the Bob James Trio to The Velvet Underground has done this before. Try Elisabeth Lutyens' work instead.

Brian Eno's own Discreet Music is Obscure 3.

It echoes his work with Robert Fripp on No Pussyfooting and is not really very good.

A very few notes played using an extended echo effect. It is supposed to be played very quietly, just above the threshold of hearing.

There was an Atlantic album about five years ago of a computer-generated piece to be played very quietly. The hall-like tones were supposed to calm people and make them relax. It made visiting children stop crying.

Eno is only five years late with this one.

Johann Pachelbel is "in" again. Both Eno and Van Dyke Parks have recorded his Canon In D.

Just shows you can't keep a good man down, and he's only been down since 1706. His keyboard compositions were a big influence on Bach as well as Eno.

Parks plays Canon In D on his new album using a Trinidad Steel band, and at just about its correct speed. Eno plays it at about quarter speed, giving each member of the group a fragment of the score to play and permutate.

I've tried playing it at 78 but finally decided that it sounds best at 45 rpm. Try it out. You can have fun with these records.

The fourth album is New And Rediscovered Musical Instruments.

On side one Max Eastley strums various instruments of his own invention which are illustrated on the sleeve by drawings.

He seems more interested in the visual arts and I suspect that these sounds just happen to be produced by something which looked good.

I would recommend playing instead the new album of Balinese music called Bali Barong on the Disjuncta label which has the most beautiful bells as well as some complex cross-rhythms which really do rock.

Back to Max and he has a track here which sounds like a speeded up tape of someone sawing wood.

Actually it's an elastic aeroplane with a centriphone. (Probably rubber bands). Not very interesting. The Bashet Brothers' home-made musical instruments are more exciting.

David Toop has the last side. There are various prepared and percussion instruments varying from Japanese resting bells to a large lorry hub. Eno plays prepared bass guitar.

The piece is quite pleasant, but since the silences are important it is very annoying to have so much crackling on the pressing.

Dave And The Celaceans (vocal group including Eno) sing a silly song called Do The Bathosphere very slowly in a wavery high-pitched voice and slight pop inflexion.

Despite all, this is a very worthwhile new venture by Eno.

Hopefully they will reach the audience he originally intended them for. The albums are available by mail from Ireland Records, Horton Road, West Drayton, Middlesex at £1.99 each plus 40p post and packing each.

Record shops can order them, but very few stock them.