May 31, 2012

A very good review on TEB's "Music from Macbeth" by Robert Barry of "Electric Sheep Magazine" Web site.

On May 25th, 2012 Robert Barry from the site "Electric Sheep. A deviant view of cinema" writes a very good piece on TEB's "Music from Macbeth" (
It's so rare to read something of new & deep about that wonderful, gloomy music...

"Full of sound and fury: the Tragedy of Macbeth

Back in the early 70s, the Third Ear Band were the festival band. Wherever there was mud, cider and an outdoor PA system, there would be Glenn Sweeney’s merry band with their strings and their hand drums, wigging out on some epic jam which somehow managed to blend together the collective folk music of half the world. Curiously, only when they were asked to provide an explicitly period soundtrack did they find it necessary to add an electronic synthesizer to their line-up. Simon House, later of Hawkwind, joined the group for the Macbeth soundtrack and left shortly after. He played a VCS-3, a keyboard-free analogue synth beloved of Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire (not to mention Karlheinz Stockhausen), and designed in London by the composers Tristram Cary and Peter Zinovieff (with engineer David Cockerell).

This sudden addition of electricity to the previously acoustic group seems to suggest an understanding that the sheer macabre weirdness of Shakespeare’s play – especially as interpreted by Roman Polanski and Kenneth Tynan – demanded something other, some element of fantasy that went beyond what could be notated on manuscript paper.

For a group whose previous compositions averaged close to 10 minutes in length, the Third Ear Band are here remarkably restrained. The extended prog-rock ragas of Alchemy and its eponymous sequel are here compressed to clips of but a few seconds’ length. And for most of the play’s first act, they stick to a fairly straight medievalism, the pentatonic melismas of Paul Minns’s oboe doing a serviceable imitation of a twelfth-century shawm. The only note of something sinister – and obviously anachronistic – comes from the bass playing of Paul Buckmaster: one minute plunging into psych head music, the next evoking the drones of the tambura in Hindustani classical music. This soundtrack was Buckmaster’s only recording with the Third Ear Band, a performance turned in between arrangement work on Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate and Miles Davis’s On the Corner.

As Shakespeare’s story grows darker and weirder, so too does the music. While Macbeth contemplates murdering Duncan, a fizzling hum of shuddering VCS-3 and scraping guitar noise underscores the famous ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ soliloquy. Upon the deed itself, a wild dervish of free improvisation. As the film draws towards its conclusion, with the army approaching upon the hill and mist engulfing the screen, a thick fog of dissonance drifts in likewise, seemingly emerging directly from precisely the kind of snaking modal oboe line which had once seemed to speak of happier times. As Macbeth finally meets his end, high tremolando violin merges with more VCS-3 in a pitch of piercing tinnitus.

The Third Ear Band’s music for this film has been compared to both the chamber music of György Ligeti and Masaru Sato’s soundtrack to Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957). The Tragedy of Macbeth has often been called the bloodiest of all Shakespeare films. With its murderous tones, forever teetering on the edge of some horror, this music may be bloodier still".
©2012 Robert Barry

The original Kurosawa's film poster

Interesting the connections with Ligeti's music and, above all, Masaru Sato's soundtrack for the Kurosawa "Throne of Blood", a 1957 transposition of the Shakespeare's tragedy.
You can watch &  listen a very significative excerpt from YouTube here: 

no©2012 Luca Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)   

May 26, 2012

The (Chief Druid) DAVID LOXLEY interview!

We have here a very exclusive precious interview with DAVID LOXLEY, Chief Druid of the Ancient Order of Druids (London) and designer/writer involved with the London underground and the TEB in the '60's-'70's. Loxley assembled the "Alchemy" cover and designed lot of posters and flyers for gigs and festivals, drawing graphics for magazines as "Albion" directed by Steve Pank. 
In this short interview he reveals the origins and meanings of the TEB's first album cover and the connection between the band and the Druids...

As every TEB fan knows you designed the beautiful “Alchemy” album cover. I’ve discovered the picture was taken from an old book about alchemy titled "Atalanta Fugiens", edited by German Michael Meier in 1617. Can you tell us the genesis of it, the reasons behind it, the real meanings?
"I didn’t really design the cover, it kind of happened with parts of it coming from different people. I put all the ingredients together. The main drawing is from a book written and illustrated in 1617. I think this originated from Glen or Steve Pank. I thought this was a bit too medieval.

One evening in my flat a girl from California drew a doodle of some snakes, and left them there as a gift. I redrew them and put them in the corners of the medieval image to make it look more celtic looking.
The image itself I have never interpreted for anyone before, but it has a very deep meaning, which could be the subject of a book and not just an answer, so here goes with an answer with a book hidden in it. 

The picture has a courtyard with a tunnel entrance with a man in the middle about to crack an egg on a table. This is a totally symbolic image. On a material level the courtyard is a womb, if it was the Great Pyramid in Egypt it would be the chamber of transformation. The tunnel is the entrance to the womb, it has an egg in it waiting for a sperm to fertilise it. 
The original 1617 engrave
The image was meant to be interpreted on the mental level according to the upper room or womb. The brain is a courtyard with an egg in it called the Pineal gland. On an abstract level this gland has the same function as the egg in the physical womb. The tunnel is the Pituitary gland or the entrance for light to enter into the courtyard or brain and fertilise the Pineal gland. Both of these eggs, abstract and material are functionaries of the moon. The Great Pyramid at Giza has two entrances, one for the physical seeds to enter (mummies) and one for the light to enter, the physical body is the same.

Detail of the egg from the original cover
The egg is the sleeping Beauty which will only wake up for the light. In the same way that the physical sperm has to give up everything or die into the egg in order to be resurrected into a new world as a baby, then the Pineal gland will only operate as an entrance to another world if the Pituitary gland which is ruled by Mercury gives up all of its light to the Pineal.

The Sword held by the man is not a weapon, but a symbol for something which cleaves the air. Light or electrons cut through space like a sword or a word and represent light and the present tense. The Moon will only give itself up to the Sunlight and than reflect it onto the land. To be enlightened the man must give up everything, judgements, what he thinks he knows and become nothing in order to be accepted by the egg, in return for this death he will be resurrected by the present tense which is the womb with an egg in it.

I think I have gone on long enough, so lets just finish by saying that the cover represents the real mysteries of Sex or creativity in the present tense".

Which meanings have the snakes around the border of the cover? In an old interview the same Glen Sweeney stated that they are there to protect the band and its music...
"The serpents at the corners of the cover had no real meaning intentionally. Originally they would have been used to protect the four corners of the world, north south east and west. The serpents lift the slightly flat image of the main picture and provide some contrast to project the cover a bit more".
Do you remember when/where/how did you meet Glen and the other guys of the band? 
"I cannot guarantee my memory for some of these questions but I think I first saw Glen at a club called the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road in London in 1967 or thereabouts. At the time this was the place to be, but it was still quite a small scene with enormous potential for the future of social change. Glen was playing in a band whose name I cannot remember, It was a sort of free form spontaneous jazz group, I think [maybe the Hydrogen Jukebox?]".

What was you doing at the time? Which was your role in the London underground?
"At the time I was very young and did not see myself as having a particular role other than helping out where I could. I had just dropped out so to speak, a concept which would sound alien today. I was into having a good time. My flat was raided by the police but rather than arrest me for something they just said we will be back in 30 minutes and if I was you I would not be here, so me and my brother ended up 30 minutes later walking down the road to somewhere or nowhere. We asked in a bar if anyone knew of anywhere to stay, and we were sent to Steve Pank's flat, who kindly put us up for about a week. That is how I met Steve Pank who I have known for forty something years. At the time if it was happening anywhere it was in Portobello Road, Steve had a magazine called "Albion" which I did some drawings for and
later on I helped him run a club in a church hall, for which I did the posters and handouts and any other menial tasks. This club never advertised who was playing because most of the people who came to jam did not tell their managers or record companies, even Steve did not know sometimes if anybody was coming to play or not. Some of the musicians and acts were very well known, and people just turned up to see whatever happened. The council eventually closed us down for making to much noise, or that was the reason given. One of the bands who played regulary was the Third Ear Band who Steve introduced me to them".

Can you tell me which was the real connections of TEB with the Druids?
"The real connection between TEB and druidism was or is, well I am not sure. I was interested in druidism so I joined a group, Steve Pank was also interested so he joined also. TEB music like a lot of freeform jazz at the time was about being in the present tense, opening up the door to another state of being. Some freeform jazz branched out into various kinds of indian or oriental music and created fusion music. Some of this music had spiritual connotations and meditation was also becoming popular. The TEB was a fusion between freeform jazz, indian music, meditation and folk music played on classical instruments. It was probably the first band of its kind but it was still about getting into the present tense or another state of being. The Druid Order is about the same thing in another context, linking up with another state of being or going beyond time and space searching for reality. So I guess although some of the connections are physical the real connection is abstract".

What do you think about TEB experience? Some people asks me if TEB music was devoted to the black magic... What can you tell about it?
"My previous answer answers most of this question as well. TEB has nothing to do with black magic. If black magic is superstition then no they were not. Black magic is just going against the light, every habit and resentment which we are stuck in is black magic, every desire to get revenge or hurt those whom we thought or did hurt us is black magic, war is black magic if it is based on an illusion and personal pride. Primitive people need a devil to blame otherwise they would have to take responsibility for their own actions. The devil is needed by immature people. If the devil existed he or she would be your best friend, supporting you to be in the past tense and stuck with the fantasy that you can have it all now and take it with you. It is if we are large enough a great honour to take the blame for the negative thoughts of others who cannot face the reality of their own failure to support the light. I think I will stop there as i am starting to sound like a born again preacher!"

What are you doing now? I know you’re still a Chief Druid…
"At the moment, I am still a Chief Druid which takes up some time, I have semi retired, I still do some design work, some writing, some physical work, making things etc. It is my second dropping out and I am looking at ways to earn some money without having to work all the time. So that ends my answers on a very practical note". 

Loxley at the Spring equinox Druid ceremony on London Tower  Hill in 2010. Note Carolyn Looker at the core of the picture (photo: Steve Pank).

about the "Alchemy" cover

about the Ancient Order of Druids

Loxley wrote also an introduction for a Graham Howe's book titled "The Mind of the Druid" (Skoob Esoterica, UK 1990).

no©2012 Luca Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)   

May 21, 2012

An autobiographical documentary movie about Roman Polanski's life.

An autobiographical documentary movie on Roman Polanski's life directed by Laurent Bouzereau is at Cannes Festival in those days.

It is titled "Roman Polanski: a film memoir" (90'), but hardly the famous filmaker will remember there his experience with the Third Ear Band for "Macbeth"...
Anyway, we'll check it out... 

Polanski directing "MacBeth" in Northumberland in November 1970.

no©2012 Luca Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)   

May 02, 2012

A review of "Hymn to the Sphynx" from "Prog Archives" Web site.

This recent quite interesting review of "Hymn to the Sphynx", written by "Sean Trane",  has been published by "Prog Archives" Web site 
( it'd be good if some TEB fans would like to review records, facts, things for this archive too!

"The present double-disc collection is a weird throw-it-all-together compilation, mixing some already-released first-era TEB material and some studio and live second-era recordings. The main interest of HTTS is the band's history in the booklet. A fairly ugly artwork disgraces this confusing compilation album as well, and while the music is mostly about the second-era, the pictures in the booklet are solely about the first-era, which kind of induces (willingly?) in error.

I'll first spend a few lines over the Abelard & Heloise suite, which had received a few months before its own release, and it represents quite well the TEB's first line-up. If you want to know more about A&H, read my review on that album's page. Of course, you'll find much more info about the piece and its background in the booklet of the present collection. To be honest, I'd have preferred the A&H suite to be released with the BBC sessions (are they still available?), rather than the second-era stuff present on HTTS.

Coming to that second TEB life, the studio tracks (recorded in 90, as part of the Magic Music album) on the first disc present relatively lengthy (5 to 9 minutes) ragas, that while being interesting, are mostly diluted via the electronic violin gear of Neil Back, while Dobson's saxes are in the line of what Minns did. But drummer Sweeney is the only remaining original member on this session. The trafficked violin gear was able to produce some electronic loops, sometimes approaching the future techno music stuff, even developing a slightly industrial feel, especially on the session-closing Midnight On Mars. The booklet tells us not to confuse the music of this session with the Materiali Sonori album of the same name, but you'd have to be a real TEB expert to tell a difference. To be honest, it's quite a relief when the A&H suite comes around.

As for the live recordings of the same year (featured on the second disc), it features the same line-up as the studio session; but they don't sound as "electronic" or "industrial" as those studio tracks, although the extended raga gives it a family resemblance. The set features a couple of tracks from their future album (most notably the very Indian-sounding Sun Ra Raga), one from the previous Live Ghosts, and more important their first-era compositions of Egyptian Book Of The Dead and Pyramid Song (both from their debut, the latter featuring some Dobson-scat vocals), which is an interesting exercise in comparison between the two eras - quite different versions, and the original being superior, but these are not without charm. It's unclear to me whether these live tracks are the ones that came out on the Voiceprint label's 96 release TEB Live, in which case this would render the present compilation almost utterly useless. Not sure the Mooncrest label did you a favour to you by releasing this one, because even parts of the liner notes seem to be paraphrasing Joynson's Tapestry Of  Delight book TEB entry. I'm rounding this up to the upper third star".

no©2012 Luca Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)