March 02, 2010

An analysis of TEB music by guitarist & electronic wizard Mick Carter.

Mick Carter, the last guitarist and engineer of the band, involved with Sweeney in the Hydrogen Jukebox project at the end of Seventies, on October 1996 wrote for my old book an interesting analysis of TEB music.
Now a Senior Archivist near to pension, Mick is an electronic experimental guitarist (à la Derek Bailey), the main responsible of the last TEB musical evolution.

"A note on the Third Ear Band's music
Third Ear Band music is based on scales/modes/ragas. To take only one example, "Alchemical Raga" (on "Brain Waves") uses the Lydian mode alias Raga Yaman (the Greek and Indian versions of the same scale) whose notes are (as we play it in A): A B C# D# E F# G# A compared with standard major scale (or Ionian Mode, or Raga Bilaval): A B C# D E F# G# A.

Mick Carter  on January 12th, 1989 with TEB at "Psycho Club" (Genova) 

Just the use of one change of note in a scale gives it its characteristic "flavour" (Ionian - positive, outgoing; Aeolian - sad, melacholy, introverted; Lydian, a kind of superIonian - open, positive but slightly less "grounded" than the Ionian: this is my subjective view; I'm sure the modes/ragas affect different people different ways).

It has always intrigued me how, despite changes in players from recording to recording (and despite even more radical personel changes during the intervening periods) there seems to be a continuity in the Third Ear Band recorded output from record to record, a retention of identity and approach in what has always been an improvised music and, one would think, dependant on individual and individualistic skills and attitudes.
Within this, the music also seems to progress sonically from recording to recording, a factor which can be partially explained by a gradual change in instrumentation - from acoustic to electric to electronic - partly by gradual changes in the recorded presentation of the band.

"Alchemy" is chamber music for somewhat mutated oboe quartet; the instruments are all acoustic, the ambience, apart from where the band motors off into the reverb, that of a concert hall. Double tracking is minimal.

The "Four Elements" album keep the same acoustic line-up but, although the reverb is used  in the same way as on "Alchemy", instruments are layered upon layer to give the dense texture which, at least on "Fire", gave the recording engineer such problems and which, together with "real world" sound effects, gives the album such an expansive sound.
The soundtrack of "Macbeth" ("Entr'acte"): although a  film soundtrack album, and thus approached somewhat differently to the other records, we see the first entry of electric (bass and guitar) and electronic (VCS3) instruments. Multi-tracking and studio effects are now an integral part of the sound, although necessarily undestated and non-intrusive.
"Live Ghosts", as a live recording, is obiously restricted by practical contraints, but (and from here on I am obviously less able to be subjective) the sound harks back to the "Macbeth" soundtrack and pre-echoes the album to come.
The cello has gone, replaced by electric guitar, which attempts a greater expansiveness and timbral range, but the band  is still three-quarters acoustic.

By "Magic Music" only two strictly  acoustic instruments remain, the reeds and drums, and the violin  and guitar, electronically modified, together with  the reintroduction of a later form of synthesizer, further broaden the sound out into all the ambiences possible in a studio recording.

"Brain Waves", on some tracks at least, features only one acoustic instrument - the drums. Electric violin, electric guitar, wind and guitar synthesizer all combine in the virtual world of studio electronics to produce a large and variegated sound of "orchestral" expansiveness.
Mick Carter 1996 handwritten text

Although I was obviously involved in the later recordings and, one would think, able to shape them according to my and the band's preferences, the music seemed to have a life and development of its own, a "wish" to expand and proliferate within its own identity, which, strangely, the players could only stand and watch and listen to".
©1996 Mick Carter

no©2010 Luca Ferrari

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