Cyber Secrets #3: Mutant Sounds

The world wide web has become a virtual universe illuminating the reach of collective human imagination, which stretches farther every day. In our new series, we explore the forgotten corners and disused spaces of this universe, revealing some of the most ingenious, absurd and wonderful rest stops of the information superhighway. This time around we asked the infamous blog devoted to musical curiousnessMutant Sounds for their secret stash.

Following on from Bertolt Brecht’s admonition that “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” here are ten squeaky clown hammers, the better to batter your corporately saturated brains back to an expanded awareness of art’s deeper potential with. And watch out for the hidden whoopee cushions and pulled rugs… they’ll get you every time.

1) Carles Santos “To-ca-ti-co To-ca-ta” (1982)
Spanish composer, sound poet and avant garde pianist Carles Santos’s elaborately patterned solo vocal works are vortexes of screw loose invention, with Santos flinging intricate mosaics of percussively enunciated speech fragments and fine tuned glossolalian gibberish off the twisted tip of his tongue with the whiplash panache of a seasoned bullfighter. Don’t be surprised to find yourself privately emulating these same vocal routines later on in the shower.

2) VISITORS (Massiera JP) (1981)
One of France’s most willfully outre musical voices, producer Jean-Pierre Massiera cut a blazing arc of unbridled strangeness through more than a decade of French underground rock. With a vast CV spanning the gamut from absurdist acid psychedelia to cosmic disco, his path was consistently marked by both its perverse humor and outwardly-bound sensibility, beginning back in 1968 with his brain-burning first album under the guise of Les Maledictus Sound. Resurrecting the band identity of VISITORS, with whom he’d cut a different self-titled album of prog-rock surrealism back in 1974, the version of the band re-assembled by Massiera in 1981 and seen here is an unbridled blast of period hilarity – this outing of theirs amounting to Massiera’s last great hurrah. On this band anthem (every band should have one!), JPM and crew perfectly capsulise the kind of Dr Who-damaged space kitsch that he’d first initiated with his cosmic disco outings under the banners of Venus Gang and JPM & Co.

3) The Wirtschaftswunder “Der Große Mafiosi”
Comprised of an international assemblage of Germans, Italians, Czechs and Canadians, this garrulous Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) unit from the early 80s featured guitarist Tom Dokoupil, a cornerstone NDW scene fixture and member of the equally striking Die Partei, Quick Culture and Die Radierer. In Wirtschaftswunder, he sends jagged shards of guitar scrabble sailing through the orifices in his bandmates’ trombone-blurting, synth bass-blooping, stentorian blathering and kettle drum-pounding sonic architecture.

4) Et Cetera “Raga Lady/Blue Thursday Morning/Sunrise” (1971)
Founded by Wolfgang Dauner, a one time free jazz pianist turned krautrock grand magi, Et Cetera finds him steering an A-list jazz-rock ensemble that includes bassist and future ECM label jazz star Eberhard Weber and guitarist Siggi Schwab of Embryo and theVampiros Lesbos soundtrack into the furriest hinterlands of lysergic destabilisation, with Schwab tearing away at his Indian Tarang as Dauner unleashes hailstorms of ring modulated clavinets and EMS synth squelch, and drummer Fred Braceful chimes in to opine about “the returning generation of the mighty mystic dream, come to burn away the fungus in your ears.” For a culture long accustomed to being bought off by cheap simulacra, the kind of soul purifying medicine on display here is almost too much to have to confront.

5) Arrigo Barnabé no Festival Universitário da MPB - parte 2
Watch in confused bemusement as arena-sized crowds of shirtless Brazilian hippies are whipped into fits of hysterical ecstasy by a hocketing, Zappa-damaged minor key jazz rock big band. Thrill to the sight of avant-garde interpretive dancing by men in ski masks. Gasp as teams of seductively shimmying Brazilian gals toss off dense contrapuntal roundelays of choral vocalese while being rudely interrupted by bandleader Barnabe’s gruff exhortations and baton waving. And if you thrill to this sort of thing as much as I do, your baton is likely to be waving in the breeze over this footage, too.

6) Samla Mammas Manna medverkar i en talkshow 1974
Amid the many fascinating currents of underground music that wound their way through the Swedish counterculture of the 70s, the work of Samla Mammas Manna (roughly: Collect Mothers Manna) stands out in stark relief. While there were many Swedish underground bands and artists that were mining the folkloric musical traditions of their country for inspiration, like Bo Hansson and Kebnekaise, only Samla saw it as a springboard to giddy absurdity. On this jaw dropping set from ’74, they pivot from windblown jazz rock lyricism and cheerfully galloping Swedish folk melodies into raspberry-blowing bulldada and muppet prog pantomime in the blink of a time signature. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, consider seeking professional help.

7) Magma Hhai TV show 1978 , very rare!
People have changed their lives for less than this. Seizing on the emotionality of gospel music, herculean drummer and Magma mastermind Christian Vander would radically re-wire its internal circuitry in the most unorthodox and radical of ways, using it as a springboard to express the hopes, desires and, eventually, terrors of a whole parallel universe for which he then invented a language, mythology and symbology to express it. This emotionally loaded and coded language is known as Kobian and he had his band send it spilling out of their impassioned, hysterical mouths in frantic Orff-ian choral arrangements amidst some of the densest and most furious jazz fusion of the 70s. More than merely a band, Magma would birth an entire genre (known as ‘Zeuhl’) in emulation of the sound they pioneered and exponents can be found carrying on (along with Magma themselves!) to this very day. Beware all ye who enter here, though: there is nothing that can prepare you for your first taste of Magma and once this shit gets into your blood and under your skin, you’re done for. Nothing else will ever give you this kind of soul hit and you’ll be stuck like the rest of us poor fevered souls, conscripted forever into The First Church Of Magma.

8) Cardiacs “Tarred And Feathered” HQ
Extant from 1977 until 2008 and now tragically kaput due to bandleader Tim Smith’s combined stroke/heart attack, this unprecedented outfit tapped a mainline into the nerve-shattering, imagining a world in which bombastic prog rock, post-punk herky jerk and glam-pop camp not only co-exist but kaleidoscopically transmute into one another in a fever-pitched fit of punch drunk gooning and face pulling. Imagine Queen, Sparks and XTC simultaneously doing The Time Warp at warp speed, with choreography by The Marx Brothers.

9) Tuxedomoon “Colorado Suite (Early Studio Explorations)” [1977]
Initiated by former members of the radical transvestite theatrical troupe/commune/Cockettes-offshoot The Angels Of Light, this pioneering and under-sung San Francisco (latterly Rotterdam based) unit pioneered one of the most evocative strands of post-punk extant with their moody and arch stylings; a stance that would latterly get them tagged with descriptors like ‘cabaret wave’, though their aesthetic runs miles deeper than that would suggest. The combination of their curious instrumentation (sans drums but with prominent use of sax, synths and violins) and the seductive and idiosyncratic attack of vocalist Winston Tong conspire to erase all artificially imposed (counter)cultural boundaries between pre-punk and post-punk; the various members of Tuxedomoon having already lived through and emerged from the chrysalis of earlier subcultures. This 28-minute block of footage from 1977 captures them at the spellbinding peak of their powers, Tuxedomoon having arrived fully formed and life-altering right out of the gate.

10) Urban Sax
While I’ll refrain from launching into an impassioned argument about why the 70s and 80s French underground superseded in all respects the countercultural output from their krautrockin’ and Neue Deutsche Welle-ing German neighbors (you can go ascertain that knowledge yourself via Mutant Sounds), I’ll simply posit that within the hierarchy of French underground rock and weirdness from that time frame there exist certain vectors that reign supreme. One of the foremost of these is the malevolent spin on cosmic rock created by Urban Sax mastermind Gilbert Artman and his old band Lard Free in concord with the likes of Heldon and Verto. After wormholing his way to the farthest reaches of the lysergic unknown with his final eponymous Lard Free recording, Artman would re-group and emerge with a concept expansive enough to encompass whole universes: Urban Sax. Suiting up armies of sax players in dystopian costumes and arranging them across vast urban spaces that range from Versailles to Venice, Artman utilized this accumulated lung power to generate enveloping minor key drones that encircle his audience in eerie purgatorial vortices that slowly cascade in rounds from the bellows of his splayed out alien minions. This stunning 40+ minute documentary covers the full grandiose sweep of Artman’s work with Urban Sax from it’s inception onward. Bask in the sheer audacity of Artman’s musical vision and then ponder the era of diminished expectations that you currently occupy. 


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