February 14, 2010
This is the second part of 1996 Paul Minns' memories about TEB experience. In the first part (read at http://ghettoraga.blogspot.com/2010/02/time-music-in-third-ear-bands.html) there was some strong opinions on Glen Sweeney's role in the band, the Blackhill Enterprises naive management and a general negative vision on the things happened. In these memories Paul talks deeply about the music TEB played, with an adverse criticism on the electric phase where the group seemed ready to become a pop rock thing. Probably this is also the best analysis on TEB music, made by a very sensitive person, honest and competent....
'Five years playing without anything being written down', 'A giant jam and it sounds like it' - some say. Fifty percent of the time it did but when it did come right it was magic. The group was supposed to be more important than the individual but I was frequently frustrated by the lack of "go" by the others, expecially Coff, and this is evident in "Alchemy" (hear "Area Three"). About that time I drove it from the top and I could have played with anyone. The line-up could have had a trombone, acoustic guitar or even at one point voice with varying degrees of audience success. Why some performances were better received than others has continually baffled me. Very little was discussed about the music between the musicians except for obvious project like "Macbeth" which makes this all quite difficult to recall. The best Third Ear Band music was the earliest and this for me has been confirmed by the emergence of a tape prior the "Alchemy" made at the beginning of 1969 [Paul means the unrealised reel of "Raga in D" that he found in his attic with the "Abelard & Heloise" soundtrack...]. Direct, uncompromising and strangely like a field recording despite its studio origin. One can understand this music's affinity with the outside where we often played like itinerant beggars crouched in the parks. Some pieces were blatantly naive (in the best sense), "Rite of Spring" music laced with birdsong and shades of Douanier Rousseau ("Mosaic" is such a progeny). Originally acoustic (I'm not counting the manic electricity of the Kingsley era when I hid behind the stacks) the music over the years deteriorated in relation to the amount of new gadgetry and amplification that was taken on board. The rush in the 1970's for the hemi-demi-semi quaver sheets of sound were no substitute for the acoustic concentration of a beautiful tone. One think of Miles Davis whose early priority must of been his tone which I am sure came from is "classical" training. In the same vein I never practised but spent a lot of time scraping my reeds. Later I felt marginalised by my background when it was proposed Third Ear Band should become a rock'n'roll band! For me, being an oboist wasn't enough. I had to improvise and obviously I had to be adapt at playing to achieve that. Having been brought up in classical music in the 1950's I quickly realised that the solo oboe repertoire was pathetic and that I would have to look elsewhere. In the band's early days I couldn't really play very well and I was very much to be seen but not heard thanks to Kingsley. He did me a service - there was much to be observed at the Middle Earth venue. I had come to realise that an identity had to be stamped on each piece either by key/scale or theme and that listening to one's fellow musicians was the only way this music would work.
Indian music provided a key to this door. To many of our circle this came from Dr. Jog and his jugalbandi colleague the shenai player Bismillah Kan (EMI ASD2312 in "Music from India" series, [pubblished in 1965]). It was only a short step from this shenai/violin to our oboe/violin.
Coff was also from classical background; still had lesson and for fun played Bach "Tri Sonatas" with me. An American draft-dodger he visit his "shrink" just in case there came back at his door. He was constantly bemused but as he was earning a trickle of bread it was better than starving (which we were all pretty near).
There was no attempt to duplicate ragas - the "feel" was more important. The thought to replicating Indian music makes me feel ill and the best thing we ever did was to steer clear of this and to do our own thing. We used the term "raga" to loosely describe a single theme that increased in speed unlike the constant music of "Dragon Lines" and "Mosaic". There was an exception to this with a killer of a piece that we called "The Groove" with Coff confortably strumming and increasing the speed with me trying to keep up. I can't tell how much I resented this - "Earth" on the second album is this same piece. I thought of it as being Greek but this is a nonsense. Our philosophy was very much "of the time" with everyone seemingly tapping things or dancing. In listening to the Indian duets the one thing I didn't like was the mimicking of what the other had played which smacked of the "look what can I do". But it was the sarod player Sharon Rani who enabled me to fathom what was going on in this music. I think the most important thing Indian music taught me besides the rhythm was the use of the full range of the instrument plus the leaps this could involve.
Also about this time I was greatly influenced by the music of the Balkans, expecially Albanian bagpipes.
I copied the breathing technique as well I could and the idea of an acciaccatura grace note (see "Area Three"). Early recordings for Geesin/Essex Music library [read about it at http://ghettoraga.blogspot.com/2009/12/national-balkan-ensemble-aka-third-ear_11.html] were of this type but I haven't heard them for years (any chance someone?). I never listened to classical woodwind. Through Sweeney I heard such jazz greats as Eric Dolphy, Pharoah Sanders and Charles Lloyd. John Coltrane was the greatest influence: I had known his work years earlier and liked is modal period. From "My Favourite Things" I copied some arpeggio chords ("Hyde Park Raga") and use of harmonics. I went on to discover more magic in this area.
Thrills between a true note and a harmonic equivalent gave a sort of shimmering; nuances between the same note with different fingerings - all now have become standard oboe technique (hear the start of "Egyptian Book of the Dead" and "Area Three"). The only jazz oboist I had heard was Yusef Lateef. It was a slightly corny track with snake charmer overtones and a tone to match. This has always been my gripe with oboists - they often sound like strangled chickens. Ives' music was unknown to me and it came as a pleasant surprise to hear "In the cage" from his set for Theatre or Chamber Orchestra 1906 much later - it has remarkable similiarities.
Malipiero is another I likebut I fancy his rustic lack of modernity would be despised by the intellectuals.
The early music was evolved over a long period of time - memory being crucial. We played to audiences almost every day - they the unknowing (?) guinea pigs accepted (?) any mistakes as "blind alleys". It seems like a dream now as to how liberal people were then. At the Arts Lab I remember Jim Haynes marvelling at our peregrinations and the more blind alleys the better. I took comfort from Vylat Khan's sitar "collapses" that occured regularly; that added to the eventual climax of the raga. In a way these uncomfortable parts gave a clearer idea to the listener what we were trying to do. Another person described the music as similar to the late Beethoven "Quartets"!
With Sweeney setting each piece with an individual speed/rhythm added to our key/motive they soon had an identity. Within a "raga" framework we were able to play for two hours at Les Cousins repeating every twenty minutes the "same" pieces. I should add that it was in the early hours and everyone was half asleep. This raga idea in meaning that it would increase in speed gave it a sense of purposeful drive that the 'constant' pieces never achieved (except the "Egyptian Book of the Dead" which combined both). On "Alchemy", "Ghetto Raga" and "Area Three" are of this type. "Mosaic" used a form of minimills akin to African music which was not fully explored. I was influenced on this by Stravinsky's "Three Pieces for String Quartet". Unfortunately this piece coming at the start of "Alchemy" was totally untypical of the album. The "Alchemy" recording went like a dream and was completed in a week. I remeber nothing of the production except that a few unnecessary effects were introduced, the worst at the end of "Egyptian Book of the Dead" sounding like a pyramid's bathroom. "Dragon Lines" had successfull overdubs but I was basically against any mucking about with the music. If I had had my way I would have had a close sound with no presence but in the end my tone was changed to fit the track after half-heartedly agreeing to use this "exciting" medium. I can't honestly say that I felt any different playing live outside than in the studio - I was so immersed in my instrument... The breathing made me so high and I can fully understand why wind players are so reluctant to stop. I lost the ability to play after the last Hyde Park concert (1969). I had problems finding somewhere to live, holding down a part-time job and my reeds were a continous problem for which my tone and technique suffered. Whilst playing at Arts Lab someone from Munich television called Morse (?) heard us and commissioned the music for "Abelard and Heloise", an animated film about 45 minutes long. I remember this as having fixed artwork with tele-visual techniques to give movement.
The artist called Fuchs (?) produced Hieronymus Bosh/Fuseli type colour fantasmagoria. It went surpisingly well. The film had distinct episodes to which we had to play while watching the film. I remember very little about this, except that Coff and Ursula, disillusioned, had formed a clique. Not long after they secretly decided to split and I remember there was a great rush to the bank. It rankled with them that nothing musically was discussed - in what direction the group was to go. To Sweeney this all smacked of insurrection as it was "his" band.
I was quite unable also to comtemplate a more structured approach to the music - perhaps even composition! It sounds daft but I related composition to classical which could only mean betrayal. As I realise now it was one thing to be able to improvise but quite another to improvise a theme. I have always loved lyrical classical music such as Prokofiev and I like to think that this shows - initially it came easily. For others though it blatantly didn't. Pressure was put on us to produce the second album (1970) which was a disaster.
At one point I had to convince Coff that it was possible to represent "air" as music. This turned out to be the best track, although it involved a major edit (we tagged the beginning onto the end) which was a pity. "Macbeth" was done at Air Studios playing live to black/white rushes. Often we repeatedly watched gory scenes. Polanski related quite a bit but was under pressure from the bankers as things dragged on. He had strong views about film music such as doing the complete opposite to that on the screen. This was contrasted with "cartoon" type sound for each action in the fight scenes. We spent a long time in the studio with very little material to show for it. The engineers didn't know what the hell was going on (I don't blame them). I was struggling and had to restrained from attending the last sessions. Buckmaster reminded us of his needing to protect his reputation and there was general jockeying for Polanski's favour. The Sharon Tate murder had happened not long before and I felt that by choosing "Macbeth" Polanski hoped to substitute one grisly act by another, so erasing his memory. My playing was very shaky on the record which I produced - everyone else having done a runner.
The other major event was "The Sun Wheel Ceremony" with the electronic composers from France. Parmegiani had come over previously to record some of our musical sounds so he could take them back, regurgitate and spew out something tasty.
The idea was to play along with this tape at concert. I remember no reharsal, although I can't believe we walked on cold, with a predictable result - a mess. The French tale themselves very seriously and must have been horrified by our laissez-faire approach. I think this had originally been set up by EMI but as usual nothing came of it. One novel feature at the time was the quadrophonic sound. Imagine trying to play to it.
Regrets. That more music had not been produced without the strict drum beat. Ditched the pop tag. Moved on sooner."
©1997 Paul Minns
no©2010 Luca Ferrari
Edited by Luca Chino Ferrari