Monday, October 31, 2011

Reading the Entire Skull: Caroliner

 A Caroliner live show. Photo thanks to Last.fm.

Caroliner is the ongoing performance and sound recording project of an aggressively anonymous San Francisco collective. Their principle media are vinyl records and live performances, although visual arts and poetry also play important roles in their aesthetic. Since their inception in 1983, they have released 13 full-length albums, numerous EP's and have been featured on many compilations. Many of their recorded songs appear to be studio-constructed sound collages, made up of a diverse blend of post-punk jams, sound effects, bizarre Dionysian vocals, grungy folk songs, semi-orchestrated string and horn sections, field recordings, and free improvisations, often played on modified or homemade instruments. Album sides blend together as suites, and songs are connected with short interludes or transitions. These transitions can range anywhere from several-minute-long untitled piano improvisations (as on Toodoos) to a simple brief drum beat played in reverse (before "Rainbows Made of Meat" on Strike Them Hard, Drag Them to Church).

Caroliner often filters instruments through various media like telephone receivers and oddly-placed microphones, which add curious distortion and reverberation to their recordings. Some songs are further colored with media like old shellac record noise, recording tape and wire. In effect, recording media are used as instruments.

Caroliner Rainbow Scrambled Egg Taken for a Wife, Banknotes, Dreams & Signatures (1994)
This final product is presented to the listener with great care, albeit in a more-than-slightly DIY flavor. Packaging ranges from heavy cloth to cardboard boxes to diaper disposal bags. Each cover is adorned with a calligraphic band logo, which is sometimes part of a larger set of detailed pen drawings which depict characters or situations from the songs. Inside, one will find a vinyl LP record (sometimes two), and a sheet of paper with lyrics and drawings. The Caroliner experience is already weird: next you take a look at the lyrics.

The lyrics really give the listener an idea of the depth of Caroliner's concept: songs on their recordings are elaborate sonic stages, on which performers enact various scenes. Among these performers, you might encounter a horse named Loin Loin, an outlaw named Frank Fuller, the Levitt children, or various hybrid-mutant creatures like Dumhevae, Caeyman, and a 12-headed squirrel god. More generically, lyrics feature imagery of bulls, horses, cowboys & Indians, and other cultural aspects of the 1800's. These characters are typically involved in strange antics and supernatural events, but sometimes they are just starving and being dismembered.

Strike Them Hard, Drag Them To Church center label artwork
Underneath the Caroliner logo can be found the rest of the band's name, which changes from album to album (and apparently from tour to tour as well). The reason for this is not explained by the band, but in doing so they ally themselves closely to Sun Ra and his various Arkestrae, another art project which experimented with radical identity art. But unlike Sun Ra's bands, which sometimes feature musicians' names printed on the covers, no names are mentioned on Caroliner album covers at all. In this way, they are similar to the Residents and Jandek. But unlike these projects, which are not just anonymous but also very private, Caroliner seems to freely give interviews, talking at length about a variety of topics, in a style which reminds one of the band's lyrics. But in interviews, band members use pseudonyms which are the names of their character in the band, cleverly evading personal questions. Caroliner band members are characters in the Caroliner-verse.

There is usually only one reason why bands change their names: for marketing reasons. If another band of the same name is encountered, legal problems can ensue. If a once-cute band name has now worn out its humor, a new one can help a band feel more confident to break through to a larger audience. Caroliner changes their name so often that it's part of the project's aesthetic. In experimenting with their identity (collective and individual), Caroliner join the ranks of other contemporary projects like the Neoists, who invented the identities of Monty Cantsin and Karen Eliot for similar social/experimental reasons. These experiments also expose flaws inherent to the music business, which is wholly unable to deal with such projects.

Caroliner, Toodoos (1999)
The band shares another similarity with Sun Ra in its adoption of a complex and unbelievable mythology of its origin and purpose. Caroliner is a tribute band to a bull of the same name, which rambled the American frontier in the 1800's collecting folk and worker's songs and singing them back like a bovine jukebox. Somehow or other, a book of the bull's songs was acquired in 1983, compelling this band to recreate the songs in their own style, which is ... varied, to say the least. Their performances attempt to recreate the experience of ergot poisoning, during which "you actually see regular or fantastic things that are in different colors"[2].

This phrase is understated description of their live show, which features surreal masks, costumes, instrument decorations and set pieces. Many sets pieces are colored with day-glo ultraviolet paint, which become illuminated by the half-a-dozen black lights which hang above the band. The band's spokes-character Cottypearile once described a Caroliner show as a "handful of 1800s character-denizens parading a parlor room soaked in scream light"[1]. Elsewhere, "The costumes all have semi-specific Caroliner characters portrayed by each human member, turning them into a walking musical god of some sort." [3] The band roars through their set with a feverish abandon:


Other than matrix numbers printed on the vinyl, the only feature of their albums that relates Caroliner to the outside world is Kind Cataracts, a legal entity which holds publish- and copyright over the music and lyrics. Kind Cataracts was established in 1983, which is probably the year the project was initiated.

Close listening to Caroliner will summon up associations a wide-ranging cross section of modern musical philosophers: Sun Ra, Mayo Thompson, Harry Partch, Captain Beefheart, The Residents, Frank Zappa John Cage, and Morton Subotnick. But just as prevalent in their sound is the influence of music from the other end of the century: American folk music and blues. The band claims to have not been influenced by bands like the Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth; rather they cite Gid Tanner and Dock Boggs as prime influences. (Also the Barrel Gordon Trio, which may be in some obscure discography but also may have been made up by the band.)

Caroliner was a strong influence on the early Deerhoof, as well as on much of the Bay Area underground music scene, particularly Hans Grüsel's Krankenkabinet and the Spider Compass Good Crime Band. Caroliner have toured North America several times, as well as Japan, and Europe. Covers of their songs have been recorded by the Sun City Girls and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, and probably others as well. Wolf Eyes members Aaron Dilloway and Nate Young were also strongly effected.

Due to the music business' institutional bias against such projects, wider recognition has eluded Caroliner. They performed as the closing act at the 2010 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, indicating that perhaps their public recognition is beginning to increase.

With all that said, I close with a quote from the Buttonup Skeleton:

"Those are words that the music critics use to describe things. You must realize that with such words are you are dealing with an after-the-fact treatment of events. You are already lost. Even the most accurate of music critic description is still dealing with a history where the ghost has gone by." [3]

Do not take my word for it. Explore this important project on your own. They may be known as:

Caroliner Rainbow Grace Blocks Used In The Placement Of The Personality 
Caroliner Rainbow Fingers Of The Underground & Their Breakable Bones 
Caroliner Rainbow Tongue On The Fingermill Of The Paste Demon 
Caroliner Rainbow Stand Still Or Fight Beans And Sunstroke 
Caroliner Rainbow Brain Tool Imbued With Rust And Mold 
Caroliner Rainbow Wire Thin Sheep Legs Baking Exhibit 
Caroliner Rainbow Customary Relaxation of the Shale 
Caroliner Rainbow Hands Replaced By Oversized Rocks 
Caroliner Rainbow Scrambled Egg Taken For A Wife 
Caroliner Rainbow Solid Handshake & Loose 2 Pins 
Caroliner Rainbow Water Tainted Finger Sap 
Caroliner Rainbow Cannon And Church Mister 
Caroliner Rainbow Cook Up Yer Pants To Eat 
Caroliner Rainbow Snake Tailed Waxwalker 
Caroliner Rainbow Splinter Mine Deserves 
Caroliner Rainbow Susans And Bruisins 
Caroliner Rainbow Open Wound Chorale 
Caroliner Rainbow Stewed Angel Skins 
Caroliner Rainbow Hernia Milk Queen 
Caroliner Rainbow Open Sore Chorale 
Caroliner Rainbow Throw Up Fantasy 
Caroliner Rainbow Gumkuppers 
Caroliner

[1] Caroliner. "Interview by way of the Museum of Viral Memory". Posted to the band's MySpace blog on December 5, 2006.
[2] Caroliner, interviewed in Skogh Magazine, Sweden. Posted to the band's MySpace page on October 4, 2006
[3] Caroliner, interviewed by someone from the Berkeley Art Museum. Posted to the band's MySpace page on March 12, 2010.
[4] Caroliner, "Caroliner Interview Questions". Posted to the band's MySpace page on Wednesday, August 19, 2009.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Listening to the Radio: On the use of broadcasted or pre-recorded material in musical improvisation


I'm taking a break from the free improvisation series for the time being. There are about 5 parts to go, so I'll be back to it eventually. Here's a slight change of pace.

Liberal improvisers embrace John Cage's maxim that all sounds are potentially musical. By extension, they accept that all objects may also be viewed as “instruments”, potentially usable to create musical sounds. In the late 1960's groups like Musica Elettronica Viva, AMM and Kluster experimented with contact microphones, primitive (sometimes homemade) synthesizers, and extended instrumental techniques to generate new sounds. These are challenging to use, but because the sounds are (to many) new and unfamiliar, they can excite musicians and enliven an improvisation. But Cage's maxim applies to the new and groundbreaking as well as to the painfully familiar. This is best illustrated by the use of radios and other sound playback devices in improvisation. Setting aside for now the insipid but unfortunately relevant questions about copyright law, and whether this kind of use of recording constitutes “fair use” or “public broadcast”, I'll address a few practical concerns about the use of pre-recorded material in a musical improvisation.

Many radio stations have contests which reward callers who are able to correctly identify a 1-second song clip. The human brain has a tremendous capacity for recognizing tiny fragments of larger pieces of information. Improvisations are by their nature formless and unpredictable; tuning a radio to a popular song or a piece of classical music may be viewed as introducing a highly suggestive (and undesirable) element which could influence the improvisation in a harmonic or rhythmic way. But this is only one interpretation of these sounds. For a different interpretation, we may turn to the theologian Alan Watts, who observed, quite simply that when we listen to a woman speak on the radio, we are not hearing her voice. We are hearing the vibrations in the air caused by the speaker's diaphragm. This is controlled by voltage sent from a radio receiver, which decodes the signals sent along the electromagnetic frequency to which it is tuned. These radio frequencies are encoded by the radio transmitter, according to voltage sent to it from the broadcast studio, where the sound of the woman's voice was actually present.

So when, in an improvisation, we suddenly hear sounds that we identify as Boston's “More Than A Feeling”, how can we accept it as a valid sonic contribution without letting it disproportionately influence our musical decisions? (i.e. if we feel that we should start either play along with it, or deliberately play "against" it, etc.)

As with anything else, the issue is not the nature of the sound, it is how we choose to perceive it. This perception informs, but does not necessary determine, our choice of response. Let's begin with the simple illustration of call and response which is a common starting point in free improvisation:

Stimulus(A) → Response(B)

wherein A and B are different individuals. Stimulus(A) and its response(B), given the assumption that player B is aware of player A's initial statement; in other words, given that player B is listening to player A.

Listening is a very complex phenomenon. Neuroscientists are just beginning to understand the way in which the brain parses aural stimuli, especially how it is able to pay attention to a single conversation in a loud room, rather than just perceiving a “blooming, buzzing confusion”. What is obvious is that we are only conscious of a fraction of the stimuli our brain receives every moment, and that we have more or less control over what this fraction is comprised of. Of course, we cannot shut our ears off, so it is likely that even if we are not consciously listening to Stimulus(A), our brain is still affected by it, albeit on a less conscious level. If this is the case, then it would follow that we would achieve a deeper relationship with the stimuli of other musicians by not listening directly to them. This obviously flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which emphasizes listening above almost all other musical values. Even the Nihilist Spasm Band wasn't willing to jettison the musical element of listening from their arsenal of musical ideals.

If music is most fundamentally a human activity, rather than the sounds that result from this activity, then listening is the glue which binds the individuals together, so that they are not just atomized particles which happen to be acting in the same space and time. Listening enables musicians to be aware of each other, and to act in concert with each other: mutual rather than independent action. But there are many different things to listen for in music.

Suppose musician A and musician B are both soprano saxophonists, and that stimulus(A) is flurry of discrete pitches with an up-down shape. If musician B's ears are developed enough in 12-tone equal temperament, she may perceive the flurry in terms of an implied harmonic relationship. In other words, she may listen at the level of 12-TET.

Now suppose that musician A plays a series of different crumpled up materials, each of which is mounted to a wooden board and amplified with a contact microphone. The sound spectrum may include sounds that have pitch value, but it is highly unlikely that these sounds could be meaningfully related to 12-TET. Stimulus(A) instead is a gentle agitation of each material between the index finger and the thumb. There is no pitch value to listen to. Musician B may hear some sort of rhythmic pattern emerge from the agitations, thus she listens at the level of rhythm. She may also listen to the rustling quality of the materials, thus she listens at the level of timbre.

Every instrument (an object used for musical purpose) has certain techniques which will result in sound. Technique is the bridge between the human body and the musical sound, whatever the particular bridge happens to be, whether it is that of Vladimir Horowitz or Jandek. Regardless of how you may feel about Jandek's technique, there is no denying that he uses one. Techniques can be varied, but the possibilities are not infinite. If you set a guitar on your bed and dance on the sidewalk in front of your house, you may be making a valid artistic statement in relation to the guitar, but you are not playing the guitar. You have to actually aggravate the guitar in some way (however indirectly) to make it make sound, and thus to actually make music. Technique on an instrument is limited by the different ways in which the object can be used to create sound.

Finally, let's suppose that musician A plays a boombox radio. A radio is a very unique instrument: it has an extremely limited spectrum of technique, but the scope of sounds it produces is conceivably infinite in variety. The radio player has control over 1) whether the radio is on or off, 2) the volume at which the radio plays, 3) the bandwidth to which the radio is fixed, and 4) the frequency to which it is tuned. Some radios also include 5) a tone knob which colors the timbre with high or low frequencies. Suppose stimulus(A) is a minute-long gesture, beginning with turning on the radio (the moment of articulation) at 88.3 FM, and gradually sweeping the bandwidth dial upward to 104.9FM. Rather than listening to the specific sounds which come from it, listen on the level of the technique. Whether the radio produces static or an NPR station or Boston's “More Than A Feeling”, what you will really hear (and thus respond to) can be written simply as this:

This illustration requires hacking Western notation so that pitch is read as bandwidth; but both are frequencies, so it's not much of a conceptual leap. Hopefully a radio player will be more creative with their technique than this example illustrates; whatever technique is used, any sound that happens to occur during this period is of little consequence. In this way, by listening on the level of technique, we can treat the radio with its myriad timbres as an instrument of equal value and influence in the improvisation ensemble. A similar principle applies to the use of CD's, tapes, vinyl, and other pre-recorded media, except that the range of timbres on sound recordings is at least static; it's potentially infinite, but it doesn't change over time like radio does.

Now that we have analyzed listening to a radio player in terms of various levels, let's apply this idea to other instruments. It is fairly easy to listen on the technique-level to instruments with simple playing mechanisms like a radio or a woodblock. But some instruments have very complex techniques, like the saxophone, and require that the listener be a specialist herself. Returning to our original example, in which both musicians A and B play the soprano saxophone, and stimulus(A), the flurry of notes. Listening on the technique-level, musician B would perceive a particular combination of lip, tongue, lung, arm and finger actions which happen to produce the sound that is heard.

The point being, there are many levels of listening. The jazz saxophonist may find interest in Charlie Parker's solo, and listen to little else; the classical music fanatic would like to listen to the differences between Leonard Bernstein and Leopold Stokowski in conducting the New York Philharmonic; 1960's audio engineers would listen to the slapback on the early Johnny Cash Sun recordings with great interest; a record executive would listen for noise, clicks and pops in the background of the sound to evaluate quality of his company's product; an aspiring songwriter may prefer to listen to the lyrics. You can listen for Frank Sinatra's influence in Scott Walker's voice, for Keith Jarrett's influence on Craig Taborn, for Elvis' influence on the Residents. You hear the influence of African music on Western classical music whenever you hear the xylophone; and if you listen closely to any sound recording, you can hear Edison, Batchelor and Kruesi busily tinkering in their workshop, fixing tinfoil to a hand-cranked machine.

All facetiousness aside, this model of listening helps explain the wide variety of thoughts and associations experienced by people who hear the same sounds, or by one person listening to the same recording more than once. There is a physical reality to the sound, but there is also a world of implications which lead to the physical reality that we hear. We can ignore these implications and cling to our first or second impressions, or we can use these implications to finely tune our ears to pick out the actual music.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: the Nihilist Spasm Band


The Nihilist Spasm Band
Many bands need to get high to play well. We need to play well to get high.” - Hugh McIntyre
Since 1965, the seven-member Nihilist Spasm Band of London, Ontario, has been making its unique, bizarre music. They are the earliest all-improvising ensemble on record (that I know of) to emphasize instrument building as a primary part of their improvisational language. For them, “total free improvisation” implies more than just a lack of any compositional structure. It also implies freedom from 12-tone equal-temperament (12-TET) and from what they call “conventional musical skill and knowledge”; in short, a detachment from the principle features of Western musical culture: compositional order, common tuning, and standardized pedagogy. Others may have felt this way, but the NSB is the first to state these as explicit goals.
The Nihilist Spasm Band in 1966. Photo from 20centsMUSIC.
Derek Bailey identifies two perspectives on the relationship between a musician and her instrument: that which views the instrument as a “collaborator” and “helper”, and that which identifies the instrument as a “liability” or an “intrusive” factor. [1] His explanations, while somewhat undeveloped, presume the musician's interest in honing a technique on the instrument, however unorthodox it may be. The Nihilist Spasm Band appears to have no such interest: the process of assimilating with the instrument is simply a part of their improvisational process. In this sense, they are essentially and proudly amateur, placing them closer to Jorn and Dubuffet than anything else in the modern free improvisation continuum.
The NSB places great emphasis on building or adapting instruments which are “completely flexible. For example, a piano produces the same not every time the same key is struck. This is no good for it imposes a scale. On the other hand, a fretless stringed instrument can produce absolutely any tone within its range, as well as glisses.” The NSB are also quite comfortable with non-pitched sounds, leading to their being known as one of the first noise bands. In spite of this, they are not intent on isolating their audiences for the sake of isolation; “We have been accused of venting our hostility on the audience. But we do not need an audience to play … When the hostility of an audience is reflected back at them many times magnified by our amplifiers, the effect can be very disturbing. On the other hand, a sympathetic audience can give the band a real lift.” [2]
“Entertainment attempts to take people away from the life experience, and my job as an artist is to intensify the life experience for myself and for those people who care to observe or accompany me. Similarly, performance interests me little. It smacks of crowd control and manipulation of people. My music involves a negation of craft as a means toward free exploration of sound.” - John Boyle, founding member
A recent photo of the Nihilist Spasm Band. Photo from Nihilist Spasm Band.

Read more: http://www3.sympatico.ca/pratten/NSB/
Buy their music online: http://20centsmusic.com/

[1] Bailey, Derek. "Improvisation: its nature and practice in music".
[2] McIntyre, Hugh. Liner notes, "Vol. 2", Nihilist Spasm Band.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: The Free Form Improvisation Ensemble

The Free Form Improvisation Ensemble
The social changes which occurred in America during the 60's can be seen wherever you look, including music. Some of these changes are visible on the surface: take a look at experimentation with different instrumental techniques (Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler), unique or modern instruments (Sun Ra, Rahsaan Roland Kirk), and melodic relation to given harmonies (George Russell, Herbie Nichols, and earlier, Lennie Tristano). Many of the most important changes, however, require a closer examination of a broad cross section of music from the period. By looking at “this music" [1] which emerged in New York City in the late 50's and 60's, we see a couple general highly inter-related trends: 1) a questioning of established social relationships, especially the roles of lead instruments vs. rhythm section, and interaction within the rhythm section itself; and 2) a heightened emphasis on individual freedom in improvisation. Both of these are pretty much ubiquitous in the social movements of the 60's, so it is no surprise to find them present in jazz as well.
Ornette Coleman presented a simple and very attractive model for the freeing up of improvisation in a jazz setting, one which kept to the head-solos-head format. This format was also used by Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Sonny Sharrock, and other proponents of “this music”. Sometimes improvisation was incorporated into a larger compositional framework, as with Miles Davis (late 60's), Cecil Taylor, and Bill Dixon. However, recorded evidence of completely free improvisation during this period is rather scarce. One notable exception is the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble, which grew out of a series of collaborations between bassist Alan Silva and drummer Clarence Walker in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Pianist Burton Greene started playing with them in late 1962, and by early 1963, the group also included Gary Friedman and Jon Winter, who both played woodwind instruments.
Burton Greene and Alan Silva. Photo by AC Wieringa
Silva distinguished the FFIE from the “jazz bands [who] were still using the rhythm sections the same way – continuous flow, with people improvising; in and out … We really thought that we were five people thinking collectively.”[2] Silva refers to the rhythm section and its role in the improvising ensemble, and this is a very important point. In conventional jazz, the role of the “rhythm section” was as a support structure for the front line. They played throughout the piece, while soloists took turns improvising. If this order is abandoned, the “rhythm section” as a functional unit ceases to be; more broadly, the “soloist” and “accompanist” both also cease to be: players are (in principle at least) all equally relevant to the musical task. When the musical task is, as Greene described the FFIE's aesthetic, one of “spontaneous composition”, the level of individual musical freedom is indeed quite unprecedented.
The FFIE played only a handful of concerts during its existence. In 1964 the group became members of Bill Dixon’s Jazz Composer’s Guild, an organization of musicians who were committed to building an alternative infrastructure for the performance, recording, and distribution of their music. The Guild’s most prolific activity was the organization of two concert series in late 1964, which garnered quite a bit of attention from the mainstream jazz press. Most members of the Guild concentrated their efforts on some combination of composition and improvisation; indeed, the FFIE played “scores” occasionally as well. But among members of the Guild, and that community in New York as a whole, they appear to have been the most committed, on principle, to completely improvised music. Their only commercial available recording (released in 1998) features a recording of the band’s final performance at a Guild concert series in December 1964. Shortly thereafter, the Guild itself ceased its activities.
Today, Greene and Silva are well-respected, but peripheral figures in the jazz scene. Their activities in the FFIE did not appear to have a particularly strong impact on the free improvisation scene which erupted in the 1970's. But the general activities of this radical group of musicians (the Guild, and various artists who recorded for ESP-Disk') were highly influential on some of the most major figures in the history of jazz. By 1961, John Coltrane can already be heard moving into the territory he would later dedicate himself to; he was a known admirer of John Gilmore (of the Sun Ra Arkestra), Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler (with whom he took lessons.) Miles Davis' 2nd Quintet experimented with the free soloing pioneered by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, as can clearly be heard on Miles Smiles, Nefertiti, The Sorcerer, and others. Live recordings from this period through 1970 provide even more dramatic evidence of this. Jimmy Giuffre, who wrote the jazz standard “Four Brothers”, led a highly experimental trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, which explored 12-tone writing, tone clusters, and free improvisation. Charles Mingus allowed the members in his ensemble to explore the kinds of territory they wished, which was often quite “outside” of traditional jazz. Jackie McLean, an accomplished and influential bebop saxophonist, released a series of curious and exploratory recordings in the mid-1960's. So while free improvisation was overshadowed (some may say suppressed) by the commercialization of jazz which began occuring in the early- to mid-70's, its influence is still felt whenever we listen to A Love Supreme or Miles Smiles.
[1] This is Bill Dixon's term for the music of the 60's.
[2] "The Free Form Improvisation Ensemble" liner notes; Cadence Records, 1998.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: Derek Bailey

Derek Bailey (Joseph Holbrooke)
Derek Bailey was one of the most vocal proponents of free improvisation, recording dozens of albums over a career that lasted over four decades. His contributions to free improvisation have been vast and multifaceted, including a book called Improvisation: its nature and practice in music, a valuable historical and philosophical text.
Derek Bailey
The first group in which Bailey freely improvised was Joseph Holbrooke, composed of Bailey, bassist Gavin Bryars, and percussionist Tony Oxley. Based in Sheffield, England, the group was formed in 1963. The group started out playing modern jazz; when they disbanded in 1966, they were playing completely improvised music. It is important to emphasize that this shift was organic, based on their emotional responses to traditional jazz rather than on intellectualization about it. Oxley summed it up: “The exclusion of the jazz vocabulary was an emotional act of feeling … when you're wearing chains, you don't become aware of them through intellectual process. You can feel them.” Bailey refers to the process of replacing “inherited things”, which were “stilted, moribund and formal” with things that felt “logical and right”. For the men in Joseph Holbrooke, the solution was in leaving behind the jazz idiom, in which they felt trapped, in favor of a more suitable frame of reference for their work.
But to create a new idiom would be to establish new boundaries. Therefore they sought to create music which was non-idiomatic, allowing them to draw from their personal influences at will. Bailey was interested in the music of Schoenberg and Webern, particularly in potential for improvising based on intervals rather than on chord-modes; Bryars would later become a well-known composer, and his study of the music of Cage, Messiaen and Stockhausen began during this period; and Oxley had an affinity for the modern American jazz of Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor. Their interests undoubtedly overlapped, but this is the general picture outlined by Bailey. Once the decision was made to remove the restrains imposed by composition, the three musicians were able to explore these interests in a mutually satisfying way, to listen and learn from each other through improvisation.
Unfortunately only one recording of the original Joseph Holbrooke has ever been issued: a 10-minute recording of John Coltrane's “Miles' Mode”, issued on a CD with interviews and other information. Perhaps other recordings exist, although Bryars is doubtful of this; we can only hope that, if they exist, such historically important recordings will eventually be issued.
Bailey's commitment to free improvisation continued up until his death in 2005. Many of Bailey's other projects involved exploring group and solo free improvisation; his work with the Music Improvisation Company from 1968-1971 is also particularly noteworthy as an early example of free improvisation, as well as for its excellent musicianship.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: Ornette Coleman


Ornette Coleman
I did not initially overlook Ornette Coleman’s music; rather I decided that because his music was, strictly speaking, not “free improvisation”, that I ought not include it in this series. However, I have decided otherwise, given the powerful influence of his ideas which led (in part) to free improvisation being explored by jazz musicians in the 1960's.
Ornette Coleman. Photo from breath of life.
In his small group work, Coleman has used the head-solo-head paradigm which originated in small group jazz in the 1930's or so. In this idiom, the harmonic progression outlined by the melody was also to be outlined by the soloists in their improvisations. Coleman used this idiom as well (many tunes on Tomorrow is the Question are altered blues or rhythm changes forms, and the solos follow the traditional forms) but more often he diverged from it, allowing the soloist to follow her own harmonic progression.
Improvisation can follow a chord progression with no set form, (see Miles Davis' “Flamenco Sketches”, “Teo” and “Spanish Key”) or form with no set chord progression (some of Tristano's and Dolphy's more-outside improvisations are examples of this). But in general, Coleman's music excised both. This apparently simple innovation provided a great deal of insight into the role of the accompanying musicians as well, and by extension, the nature of the interplay between soloist and accompanist(s). If we are to maintain the traditional jazz value of mutual “listening”, then two options for interplay emerge: 1. the soloist/accompaniment roles are preserved, and the accompaniment leaps into a state of hyper-intense listening, or 2. the soloist/accompaniment roles simply collapse and the group arrives at collective improvisation.
It's important to emphasize that 2. does not mean free improvisation, nor does Coleman see it that way. The fact that the improvisation is free from the harmonic rhythm of the melody does not imply that the improvisation is completely independent of the composition. (If it were, then why bother playing a melody at all?) So in Coleman's music, the melody sets the tone; the improvisations which follow draw from bits and pieces of the melody. (I speculate that this is also the basic idea behind Cecil Taylor's “unit structures” theory of improvisation.)
Coleman’s string of highly influential Atlantic recordings in the late 1950’s set off what would become a firestorm of controversy and experimenting. Coleman was to jazz musicians what Marx was to economists, or what Gödel was to logicians: although he disrupted the established order, he was actually right in his general theory. Therefore he couldn't be ignored. Jazz musicians were always searching for ways to feel more freedom in improvisation, and Coleman certainly did this. By the early- to mid-60's, a large community of musicians in New York and elsewhere were busily testing the boundaries of jazz composition and improvisation. (Even mainstream figures like John Coltrane and Miles Davis were using Coleman's head-free solos-head idiom.)
Did Coleman play free improvisation? Probably. But I'm not aware of any recorded evidence from this early period.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: Jean Dubuffet & Asger Jorn

Jean Dubuffet & Asger Jorn
I also have a preference for music without variations, not structured according to a particular system but unchanging, almost formless, as though the pieces had no beginning and no end but were simply extracts taken haphazardly from a ceaseless and ever-flowing score.” - Jean Dubuffet, 1961
In late 1960, Asger Jorn (1914-1973) invited his friend Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) to improvise music with him. They had several sessions between December 1960 and March 1961. Dubuffet recorded these encounters on a portable tape recorder, and made several finished pieces out of the sessions. Some of these finished pieces were released by an obscure Italian label called Edizione del Cavallino; others remained unreleased until the 70's or later.
The well-educated musical ear will likely interpret their formless and radical experiments as the clamors of inexperienced and unschooled hacks. But such judgments crumble upon consideration of their motivations for making music in this way. In 1941, Jorn wrote an article for the journal of Helhesten (“Hellhorse”), an underground art group, (in Nazi-occupied Denmark) in which he derided “the great masterpieces” as “nothing but accomplished banalities”. Describing the art of the non-professional artists, “[t]hese forest lakes on colored paper, hanging in gilded frames in thousands of apartments, are among the most profound artistic inspirations." [1]
Asger Jorn, Visio Geologico, 1969. Photo from NOT BORED!
These statements were not flights of youthful anti-authoritarian fancy, but early expressions of an ideology that would dominate his life and work. A lifelong sympathizer with communism and pacifism, Jorn was highly critical of the capitalist economic order and the ways society (and art) had become structured within it. He was a founding member of COBRA, which lasted from 1949-51. In 1957 he was part of a conference which resulted in the formation of the Situationist International. In May 1968, this collective succeeded in bringing about a general strike in France. Jorn had parted ways with the SI by 1961, although he continued to support them morally and financially.
Dubuffet studied painting at Académie Julian in Paris. In 1924, disillusioned with the value of art in society, dropped out of the art world and sold wine for his father's company. He returned to painting briefly in the 1930's, but there followed another period of silence. In 1942, he returned to art, this time permanently. He found particular inspiration in the work of Jean Fautrier, and became associated with the tachisme movement.
In 1923, he had been given a text of German psychologist Hans Prinzhorn’s “Bildnerei der Geisteskranken” [“Artistry of the Mentally Ill”] (1922), which helped developed his interest in the works of artistically untrained people.
Jean Dubuffet, Personage, 1964. Photo from the Opera Gallery.
In 1949, Dubuffet coined the term art brut (literally “raw art”) which he defined as work of “pure artistic operation, unrefined, thoroughly reinvented, in all its aspects, by the maker, who acts entirely on his own impulses”, brought on by a reliance “entirely on their own resources rather than on the stereotypes of classical or fashionable art”. [2] Dubuffet's ideas about art brut are complex, but in general, it was any art which was made independent of cultural influence. This could include, but was not limited to, art made by mental patients, prisoners, and children.
We thus see that both men specifically valued art which was aesthetically amateur and culturally unaffected. Since both had received formal art education, it is possible that they viewed music as a kind of blank slate for them to experiment with this amateur aesthetic more directly. Dubuffet emphasizes that neither he nor Jorn were “au fait with the output of contemporary composers”. They were not attempting to contribute to the theoretical canon that generated serialism, concrete music, and electronic composition. Both had had some previous musical training, but they deliberately chose instruments which they had no experience playing, many of them found or created by their friend Alain Vian.
The Grundig TK35. Photo by Michael Keller, from Rad-io.de.
Dubuffet recorded his collaborations with Jorn on a Grundig TK35 tape recorder (pictured above), Of the unprofessional nature of their recording methods, Dubuffet comments: “We consider that a good recording provides precise and distinct sound which seems to be coming from a close source; in our daily lives, however our hearing is submitted to all sorts of other sounds which, more often than not, are unclear muddled, far from pure, distant and only partially audible. To ignore them is to give birth to a specious artform, exclusively concerned with a single category of sounds which, when it comes down to it, are pretty uncommon in everyday life. I was aiming to produce music based not on a selection of sounds but on sounds that can be heard anywhere on any day and especially those that one hears without really being aware of them.”
Of music more generally, Dubuffet is acutely aware of the same truths expressed by John Cage (published that same year in Silence, 1961) and Pauline Oliveros (Some Sound Observations, initially published in 1968): the attempt to create music “which expressed people's moods and their drives as well as the sounds, the general hubbub and the sonorous backdrop of our everyday lives, the noises to which we are so closely connected and, although we don't realize it, have probably endeared themselves to us and which we would be hard put to do without.” He refers to this “general hubbub” as “permanent music which carries us along”, as opposed to “the music we ourselves express.” The two go together “to form the specific music which can be considered as a human beings'." [3]
:References:
1. Jorn, Asger. “Détourned Painting.” Translated by Thomas Y. Levin, available at Situationist International Online. Accessed June 15 2011.
2. Dubuffet, Jean. "Art Brut Preferred to the Cultural Arts", 1949 as cited in Krukowski, Jean Dubuffet and the Deculturation of Art, available at jean dubuffet. Accessed June 15 2011.
3. Dubuffet, Jean. “Musical Experiments.” Translated by Matthew Daillie. Available at UbuWeb Sound – Jean Dubuffet. Accessed June 15 2011.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: Group Ongaku

Looking back through history, one can find numerous cultural and art movements which consciously reacted against the status quo. All anti-art is also anti-culture, at least to some degree: these are movements have developed in reaction to perceived limits or inconsistencies within art or culture. Such limits are addressed or overcome with freewheeling satire (the French Incoherents), reactionary rhetoric (the Italian Futurists), and even social action (the Situationists).

Group Ongaku

Post-World War II Japanese music was dominated by the influence of American music (rock n' roll, jazz) on one hand, and a fusion of modern Euro-American composition and traditional Japanese music on the other. Group Ongaku can be seen as either a fusion of, or a reaction against both of these approaches.
This group first played together in 1958, as the duo of Takehisa Kosugi and Shuko Mizuno, two musicology students at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. It was not named until 1960 when other members, such as Meiko Shiomi and Yasunao Tone had joined. Only three tracks are known to have been recorded; all are available on UbuWeb Sound and were recently reissued by Seer Sound Archive. The recordings speak for themselves: completely improvised, action-oriented rather than product-oriented (in keeping with the general anti-art aesthetic of the period) and highly experimental.

Takehisa Kosugi, photo by Kiyotoshi Takashima, from The Japan Foundation, London.

To understand what I mean by "action-oriented", we should take a look at what was happening in the visual arts. Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai (Concrete Art Association) was formed in 1954; their 1956 manifesto (written by Jiro Yoshihara) declares that gutai art "does not change the material but brings it to life". They "pursue the possibilities of pure and creative activity with great energy." Some examples are described:

"Kazuo Shirago placed a lump of paint on a huge piece of paper, and started to spread it around violently with his feet."

Atsuko Tanaka's "Clothing". Photo from I like boring things.

"Shozo Shimamoto ... [fired] a small, hand-made cannon filled with paint by means of an acetylene gas explosion."

Murakami Saburo, a Gutai artist, creating "Lacerating Paper", 1955. Image from Outside Japan.

Gutai was a predecessor to and influence on Fluxus, an international and interdisciplinary movement which brought all arts even closer to "life", often with guerilla tactics. The most famous Fluxus artist is probably Yoko Ono; her early work is very interesting. Central to the Gutai concept is the idea of "psychic automatism", the process of "[uniting] abilities of the individual ... with the chosen material." It's worth noting that Group Ongaku named one of their recorded pieces "Automatism", suggesting a direct ideological link to Gutai. Group Ongaku is most well-known for their improvised pieces, but this was just one part of their overall activities. They often accompanied puppet shows, dance pieces, and sometimes even performed compositions. Julian Cope's book "Japrocksampler" tells the story better than I ever could.

"In Gutai art the human spirit and the material reach out their hands to each other, even though they are otherwise opposed to each other."


:References:

Cope, Julian. "Japrocksampler: how the post-war Japanese blew their minds on rock'n'roll." Available online, accessed June 13, 2011.

Stuart, Caleb. "
Yasunao Tone's Wounded and Skipping Compact Discs: From Improvisation and Indeterminate Composition to Glitching CDs." Available online, accessed June 13, 2011.
Yoshihara, Jori. "The Gutai Manifesto." Available online, accessed July 2, 2011.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: Pauline Oliveros / Loren Rush / Terry Riley

Though recreation of compositions has dominated Western music for the last two hundred years or so, improvisation has not been far below the surface. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, and Mendelssohn were accomplished improvisers; Johann Hummel even advocated for free improvisation, not just among performers and composers, but among the general public (quoted in Sarath, 2011). It was also, and remains common in organ performance. But as the years wore on, improvisation began to slip away from common practice of performers. It made a resurgence in the 1920's as jazz became a popular form of music, and this led to a lasting influence on Western music. But in the world of Western classical music, improvisation remained rare, and was even scoffed at by John Cage (during certain parts of his career).

Part Three -
Pauline Oliveros, Loren Rush, Terry Riley, et. al.
In 1957, Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932), Loren Rush (b. 1935) and Terry Riley (b. 1935), three composers in San Francisco, assembled at KPFA studios. Riley was asked to provide the soundtrack to a short film about sculptor Claire Falkenstein called Polyester Moon. Instead of writing and performing a piece, the trio decided to improvise it. Rush had been a program assistant at KPFA, and so had access to the station's Ampex tape recorders. The trio recorded several improvisations and picked what they felt was the best one for the soundtrack.
The Ampex 351 (1958), an example of tape recorders from the era. Photo by the Villa Raspa Factory Organizzazione.
The experience of improvisation was so thrilling that the trio decided to meet regularly. They also continued to record themselves, but not just for novelty or posterity: recording enabled them to improve their work through critical listening and discussion, without prescribing “guidelines or structure” for their improvisations. Oliveros notes that improvisation with such imposed guidelines often "fell flat". The use of recordings liberated them from "unnecessary controls", allowing them to "develop trust in process through spontaneity." (Bernstein, 81)
They improvised as a trio, but also with guests. Laurel Johnson, a friend of Oliveros', was an untrained musician and frequent collaborator in the late 1950's. A man named Bill Butler is also listed on the RadiOm website, where recordings of these sessions can be heard, but no information can be found about him. They were also joined occasionally by their composition teacher, Robert Erickson (1917-1997). All three were students at San Francisco State, but studied privately with Erickson, who encouraged his students to improvise. (Fischlin, 53).

Loren Rush, photo from My KPFA - Conversations

Loren Rush remembers Erickson's role in the improvisation sessions as more proactive: "He would ask us to try things, not very much ... And we were perfectly willing to do it, because we were just making music." (Carl, 126)
Terry Riley, photo from New Albion Records
The original trio of Oliveros, Riley and Rush stopped improvising together in the late 50's, and each pursued their own separate interests. But improvisation remained a critical part of each of their work, and in the work of their friends Ramon Sender and Phil Winsor. Instrumental improvisations were used as the raw material for tape-based compositions, as in Oliveros' Time Perspectives (1961). Her earliest electronic compositions were also improvised. (Fischlin, 53)
Pauline Oliveros ca. 1966, photo from Sonoloco Record Reviews
"Improvisation was an all-important tool for all of us in the development of much collaboration and of the community that was continuing to increase its numbers. Even though we improvised together often, each person retained individuality and a style that was specifically different. Even so we bounced off of each other's work with glee." (Bernstein, 82)
-Pauline Oliveros
References:
Bernstein, David W. "The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s counterculture and the avant-garde." University of California Press: 2008
Carl, Robert. "Terry Riley's In C." Oxford University Press US: 2009.
Fischlin, Daniel & Ajay Heble. "The other side of nowhere: jazz, improvisation, and communities in dialogue." Wesleyan University Press: 2004
Potter, Keith. "Four musical minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass." Cambridge University Press: 2002
Sarath, Edward. "Message from the President." ISIM Newsletter Spring 2011, Vol. 7, #1. International Society for Improvised Music.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Free Improvisation Series: Lennie Tristano

The next couple of posts will be a series based on research into free improvisation in recordings, which I undertook for my work at Hillsdale College as adjunct lecturer in music. Basically, my point of view is that free improvisation is an approach to music-making, not a style per se. Recorded evidence makes obvious that it developed spontaneously across several styles of music, in several different countries at about the same time, without any apparent communication between the people who engaged in it.
Therefore, this series is chronological, but this is not meant to imply a continuity as if this were a style like "jazz" or "baroque" or "reggae". These styles could be considered culturally-based, and are thus canonical; free improvisation is unique in that it is not.


Lennie Tristano

Photo credit: William P. Gottlieb

Given the integral role that improvisation plays in it, it was inevitable that jazz music would eventually lead to completely free improvisation. Although he has been overshadowed by the reputations of his contemporaries, Lennie Tristano was a significant figure in the jazz world in the late 40's. His approach to composing, often re-writing jazz standards with radical new melodies (i.e. "317 E. 32nd St." and "Lennie's Pennies"), foreshadowed future experiments with tonality by Andrew Hill and George Russell. He performed and recorded with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, both of whom he profoundly influenced.
In 1947, Tristano was named “Musician of the Year” by Metronome magazine (thanks no doubt to the support of his friend Barry Ulanov, who edited the journal during this time). With this honor came the invitation to contribute to the magazine. Tristano did so with a pair of articles: "What's Right with the Beboppers" and "What's Wrong with the Beboppers". In the latter, Tristano expresses that mere imitation of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker would lead to stagnation of jazz as an art form. But while his convictions were clear, Tristano was no hyper-modernist, emphasizing the value in “contributing” to the music that came before, rather than diverging from it.
Tristano pontificates that “[p]erhaps the next step after bebop will be collective improvisation on a much higher plane because the individual lines will be more complex.” During the next two years, Tristano and his group played some of the first known experiments with free improvisation, even performing it at Birdland. Tristano, and later Konitz, used the term “intuitive” to describe such playing. Sometimes they blended free improvisation with tunes, a la Ornette Coleman, sometimes they just played without any theme at all. These eventually culminated with a recording session with Capitol Records, where these free improvisation experiments were finally documented.
On May 16th, 1949 (the Blackwell guide to jazz says April 23rd, 1949), Tristano and his group recorded “Intuition” and “Digression” for Capitol Records. Now, strictly speaking, these are not totally free improvisations because decisions were made beforehand about the order in which the musicians would begin playing, and the time span between entrances. (One may consider the 3 1/2 minute time limit allowed by the recording medium to be another limitation, though a less controllable one.) However, since it was established that they "were going to improvise strictly from what [they] heard each other doing", it is still worth noting these sessions in a chronology like this.
When they began to play "intuitively", Tristano indicated that the engineer “threw up his hands and left his machine”. Tristano's management refused to pay him for the recordings and the company threatened that they would not release them. Barry Ulanov, who was present at the recording session, publicly challenged Capitol to demonstrate “courage and … enlightenment” by releasing the recordings. This coming from the editor of a major music magazine! Capitol eventually issued “Intuition”, the more upbeat of the two, as a single in 1950 (Capitol 7-1224, backed with a solo piano version of "Yesterdays"). "Digression" stayed in the can until this 10" EP came out in 1954 (Capitol EAP 1-491):

"Classics in Jazz" indeed.

Tristano was a critically-acclaimed jazz musician, written about frequently by major music magazines. He played on Symphony Sid’s popular radio show. Capitol, one of the "Big 6" record companies in 1947, also had Stan Kenton, Peggy Lee, and Bennie Goodman sides in its catalog. (To put it in perspective, this is exactly the kind of exposure being given to Miles Davis at the time.)
The 1950 release of “Intuition” received mixed reviews. Ulanov to describe the new recording as a “[revivication of] the contrapuntal form which underlies the great years … of Johann Sebastian Bach.” Billboard Magazine called it "Tristano's weirdest yet - only the most advanced tastes will appreciate the subtle work of Konitz, Marsh, Bauer and the rest of the group. This is bop to the nth degree." in 1953, Charlie Parker commented that “rather than to make the melody predominant … in the style of music that Lennie and them present, it’s more or less heard or felt.” (There are several recordings of Tristano playing with Charlie Parker between 1947 and 1951.) Of the EP which contained "Digression", critic Nat Hentoff lauded the group's “fascinating study in presumably ad lib counterpoint.” Even composer Aaron Copland weighed in, stating that "something has been developed here [in America] which has no duplication abroad]."
Of course, Tristano also had his detractors. Nat Cole, Tadd Dameron, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and others, felt that the improvisations were esoteric, and criticized their self-conscious experimentalism.
It's no surprise that free improvisation didn't catch on of course: it's far too experimental and unpredictable for mainstream radio and club performance, but at least Capitol records took a risk by releasing it. I don’t know of any earlier recorded free improvisation, but it would indeed be exciting to discover free improvisation in ethnographical recordings, some unique home recordings, or long lost Louis Armstrong sides.

You can hear "Intuition" and "Digression" for free on Grooveshark.

Part Two of the series will be George Gurdjieff.

:References:


Shim, Eunmi. “Lennie Tristano: his life in music.” Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.
Kernfeld, Barry. "The Blackwell guide to recorded jazz."
“What’s Wrong/Right with the Beboppers” June/July 1947 Metronome

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Sounds of Earth: Interstellar Freeform (revised)


(photo: NASA)

This is The Sounds of Earth, a gold-plated copper record album which has been fastened to the identical Voyager I & II spacecrafts. One side includes images, depicting Earth, some as diagrams, but many as color photographs.

The images are encoded in a way that is both analog and digital, a less high-tech version of what would later become the RCA VideoDisc. A binary signal is encoded, physically, to the disc. It is read in exactly the same physical way as an ordinary vinyl record: a stylus runs over a groove. But there is another process involved in encoding and decoding the information: a binary, and therefore digital, process. The end result would be a kind of phonographic slideshow.

At a rotation speed of 16 2/3 rpm, Frank Drake figured out how long the record would have to spin to encode and decode a color picture. A small video company called Colorado Video, Inc. was selected by Valentin Boriakoff to encode the images. This was in 1977; in 1971, Jon Clemens at RCA filed a patent for an "information record" which was the first step in a consumer line of VideoDiscs. These didn't go public until 1981, so it's likely that CVI's was developed independently. I am looking for the patent used by CVI. In the meantime, the principle is diagrammed here, in Jon Clemens' 1971 patent on the "information record":



What images were included?


The sound portion begins with a welcome from the United Nations secretary general, Kurt Waldheim. Then come greetings in 55 languages, representing a greeting from the entire world. Whether this will mean anything to any potential alien listeners is questionable, but if they are as curious as humans, there is no doubt that they will pore over these words, as our archaeologists furiously hypothesize about Stonehenge.

What follows is a sound collage called "Scenes from Earth", a narrative which begins with a selection from Willie Ruff and John Rodgers' realization of Johannes Kepler's Harmonia Mundi, a sonic representation of our Solar System. The collage ends with sounds of human consciousness and a few seconds of a distant pulsar. In between, we hear sounds of earth's storms, volcanoes, and sounds of human activity and invention, all brilliantly mixed to give the collage a binaural quality.

The musical selections are drawn from all around the world. Admirable attempts are made at representing as many cultures as possible, although Western music is a little over-represented in my opinion. The entire record, can be listened to here:


From an extraterrestrial's (or future human's) perspective, our music may be no different than human speech: simply a manipulation of sound waves by which we communicate ideas. With language, we communicate ideas more concretely: specific requests, questions, etc; with music, more abstractly: through manipulation of bamboo pipes and boxes with strings in them. From this perspective, what we call "music" is the simple and predictable result of natural phenomena, expressible as mathematical equations, just as are the sounds of volcanoes, the weather, and other animals. Similar sentiments have been stated by John Cage and Pauline Oliveros, among others: music is just sound, and nothing more. It is simply our psychological projections and theoretical analyses that make it seem like more than this.

The separation between human and primate, technology and object, music and sound is not real, it is only imaginary. The limitations of the sound recording medium allow incidental machine sounds, speech in 50 languages, and "music" alongside each other as if to demonstrate this fundamental equivalency. (Incidentally, an excerpt of the impulses in Ann Druyan's brain was included in the aforementioned sound collage.)

The media's response to the Sounds of Earth was largely positive. One negative review could be found in The Wilson Quarterly, in which the critic asks what "some future cosmic junk collector" would make of the record's various features. The cynicism of this point of view is matched only by the hastiness with which this review was obviously written; it can be dismissed. I know of no other attempt to criticize of the Sounds of Earth, other than perhaps that it was a waste of money. This is just a question of priorities, and priorities are simple to rearrange.

For Sagan, the Voyager spacecraft were not mere scientific tools. They were expressions of mankind's creativity, curiosity and hope. In their era, Voyager I & II represented the pinnacle of jet propulsion, aerodynamic, computer, and nuclear science. This knowledge was applied to exploration and discovery, rather than to petty intimidation and violence. The Sounds of Earth is no different: Sagan viewed it as more than sound, more than music. It is a beautiful artifact to behold, and if we had any sense, CD's of it would be in every library in the country.

Project Director: Carl Sagan
Image Director: Frank Drake
Image Conversion: Valentin Boriakoff & Colorado Video, Inc.
Music Directors: Tim Ferris, Carl Sagan
The Sounds of Earth: Ann Druyan
Greetings: Linda Sagan

Revised June 2nd, 2011