January 24, 2010

"A very precious little group at one time" by Richard Williams ("Melody Maker", June 6th, 1970).

Among the few articles on the original Third Ear Band, the one written by Richard Williams in 1970 is one of the best ever. Here, Sweeney explains the musical form of the group and the relations with audiences.
"Glen Sweeney, percussionist of the Third Ear Band, thinks that the media  have done a great deal of harm to popular music.
"The methods employed by various critics to write about  the music  have stop our communication, not with the audience, but with the media", he says.
"Those people have just turned on teeneybop. They went through the pretentious bit early on and they have seen Satori, which to them is an acne-faced pop star doing his thing.
"Our kind of music would take  them back to what they've left, so they reject us. But they can't stop it, because the audience knows about music this time round".
The Third Ear Band are one of the few genuinely unique bands on the scene, using almost total improvisation to produce a consistently fascinating tapestry of sound. Besides Glen they include Paul Minns (oboe), Richard Coff (violin, viola) and Ursula Smith (cello), and their second Harvest album, which depicts musically the tour elements of the universe (Air, Water, Fire and Earth), is on the point of release.

"It was conceived at about the same  time as our first album", says Glen, "when we've found that some of our pieces were beginning to represent the elements, which is something we'd wanted to do for a long time".
They are currently going through their biggest set of changes since the early days when Jim Haynes helped them with gigs at the Arts lab. Glen, after a year banging hand-drums, has decided to revert a conventional drum kit, and they are in the throes of purchasing a magnificent British version of the Moog Synthesiser.

"We  work out a basic drone which I always  equate with OM, the sound of the universe, as opposed to most groups who work with  riff patterns  which I suppose are derived somehow from jazz.
The synthesiser will enable us  to use varied multitoned drones, plus attack  and decay effects which will alter the notes over periods of time. We're going to be much more exciting - we really were a very precious little group at one time".
Like, say, Indian classical music (which also uses drones), the Third Ear's output has always seemed to me  to be essentially a functional music, extremely useful for clearing your head. What kind of reaction do they get from audiences?
"We've never had any audience hang-ups. We've played to 150.000 people in Hyde Park, with the Stones, and 200.000 people on the Isle of Wight, plus several other festivals, and no one has ever asked us what the music is about.
"Infact I always get the impression that they know more about  it than we do. We never intellectualise, or even discuss, the music between ourselves.

"When we started we had one piece of music, and out of that the nine or ten items of our repertoire have evolved. What emerges from the improvisations are simple structures which everybody enjoys, but playing to big audiences on the pop scene does tend to change your attitudes, and you tend to produce a certain formula so that when you find yourself in a difficult position you have something to fall back on"."
©1969 Richard Williams-"Melody Maker"
(end of part one)
no©2010 Luca Ferrari

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