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Celestial Music
By Brian L. Knight

Space has continuously been a theme in modern music. The Grateful Dead regularly played feedback that was affectionately referred to as "space". Everyone from Pink Floyd to David Bowie to Planet P sang of celestial travels. Bands like Gong and Magma created mythical space worlds while some of today’s bands like Sector 9, the Disco Biscuits and Ozric Tentacles specialize in creating lengthy improvisations that bring the audience on extended cerebral excursions. Here are some other musicians/ bands that deal with space. The one constant that you will find amongst these releases is the extensive use of keyboards, distortion, extended improvisations and the occasional use of dark lyricism.

Sun Ra & His Solar Myth Arkestra /Life is Splendid (Total Energy, 1972, 2000)

This live recording is a double whammy. First of all, it is yet another document to the short lived but talented heavy Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. During its short history from 1972-1974, the festival managed to bring in a diversity of acts that rivaled the Monterey Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival. Over the course of a weekend, one could hear musicians like Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Walker and the All-Stars, Dr. John, Miles Davis and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The second whammy associated with this disc is capturing Sun Ra at a creative highpoint. During the early 1970s, Sun Ra and his Arkestra was moving away from the complex Fletcher Henderson inspired arrangements and turning more towards its brand of cosmic music. This is shown with the presence of the newly penned " Space is the Place" and the vocal numbers "Love on Outer Space", "Enlightenment" and "Outer Spaceways Incorporated" (the band’s traditional closer). This recording also captures Sun Ra’s Arkestra with its classic lineup of Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and Pat Patrick on saxophones as well as the great June Tyson leading the way on vocals. Sun Ra was known for putting on truly inspiring concerts and it appears that this set was no exception. All the elements of a Sun Ra show are there: complex arrangements, massive percussion sessions, cosmic lyricism, free for all horn blowing and an over all sense of tribalism and belonging.

Lan Xang / Hidden Gardens (Naxos Jazz, 2000)

Lan Xang is yet another free jazz/avant-garde/fusion installment from New York City’s underground-experimental jazz scene. Named after the 14th-18th century Laotian Kingdom that represented freedom, The quartet consists of the dual reed/woodwind onslaught Dave Binney (alto sax, clarinet, sampling) who played on Medeski, Martin and Wood’s It’s a Jungle in Here as well as various albums by the New York City avant-garde funk rock band, Lost Tribe; and Donny McCaslin (tenor and soprano sax, flute, Tunisian horn) played with Ken Schaphorst. The rhythm section is anchored down by Scott Colley (bass, Percussion) who played on many Roy Hargrove and T.S. Monk albums while Kenny Wollenson is a veteran of New York experimental outfits like the Sex Mob, Curlew and John Zorn. Together, the four bring together a wealth of innovation and experience. Hidden Gardens ranges from ethereal woodwind sessions of "Incurable Dreaminess" to aggressive workouts like the hard rocking, free jazz of "Mode Four". For this tune, Wollenson and Colley attack their instruments like Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding backing Hendrix while the two saxophonists blow excessively. The title track resembles some of the free form grooves that M,M&W have come to stand for. In the course of fifteen compositions that range from 1:20 to 9:01, Lan Xang soothes; they incite; they groove; they distort; they relax; they aggravate. Hidden Gardens is quite a musical journey that is worth signing up for.


Hednoize /Searching for the End (Wax Trax Records, 1999)

What can I say, it’s all in a name. This duo of Daniel Lenz and Free (nee Brent Daniels) live up to their moniker by creating sounds that could cause cerebral break down if one is not too careful. Before Hednoize, Lenz was involved with a cyber punk outfit known as "Psyko sonik". He is the keyboarder, programmer, sequencer, distortions aspect of Hednoize while Free provides the soulful pop vocals. Here are the different pieces of the puzzle: Depeche Mode, Zooropa era U2, Air, and Nine Inch Nails. Somewhere in the middle of that technological cornucopia, you can find Hednoize. The computer programming is aggressive, relentless and submissive while Free gives the songs this mid 1980s pop flare. The music is haunting and disturbing but the vocals are catchy. This band is a 1990s industrial dichotomy of the techno–pop age. Plenty of styles but no identity.


theMoonDanceExperiement/Fall Awake In Your Dreams Tonight (self released, 1999)

Just as hearing Jimi Hendrix was an "experience", listening to Ohio’s theMoonDanceExperiment is definitely and ‘experiment". When listening to this album, one must abandon all preconceptions of the modern music and enter the folds of their sound. The album opens with the track ""Tonight We Take A New Direction" which has a heavy keyboard/synthesizer/percussion background with droning vocals laid on top. Kind of like Trent Reznor meets up with Brian Eno to discuss existentialism and the powers of infinity. Here is a sampling of their new age/ experimental/soothsaying vocals: "The babies of 2000 are dreamers – awestruck from the point of conception. A nucleus of light will explode on the future. Enlightenment will expose the undistorted truth." All of their songs follow pattern – textured music that fills very audible void and haunting lyrics that include phrases "higher consciousness", "search for meaning and purpose", "let your passion and mind make love" and "every sound is poetry; every image is spectacle; every moment is monumental". This album is undoubtedly a sensory journey that brings you through many varied musical passages and moods that are accentuated by the epitome of introspective lyricism. This trio consists of Nicholas Barger, Scott Parsons and North Turner, but through their experiments, they incorporate a sound and feeling, labeled "Lunar Experimentalism", they take the music far beyond the limits of a threesome . www.themoondanceexperiment.com

Space Team Electra / Space Apple Deluxe (Independent Release, 1999)

The sound of Space Team Elektra combines space age 1980s sound a la early Church or New Order with the modern Yo la Tengo-like drones. This EP was recorded live in the studio in one night in a Chicago recording studio. Many of the songs lack structure, such as "What’s the Wall Song?" which has the female singer, Myshel, chanting/babbling over a random improvisation (the liner notes suggest that Myshel did not know the words for this particular song). Myshel gets her stuff together for "Never Never Land", "Possum" and "Glitter Galaxy". Both tunes have great guitar lines by Bill Kunkel who can change the feel for a song by changing from a plucky space-pop song exploration to thrashing chords. When the band is not playing well-crafted pop songs, they are pushing the space rock envelope with "Improvisation #1" and "Improvisation #2". These two jams resemble the improvisations that cane be found on Phish’s Siket Disc and show the experimental side to Space Team Electra’s sound. There are a few covers: one was "Spherically Shaped and Oranges Colored Fruit" by Led Zeppelin (translation: "Tangerine"). A great Zeppelin tune that is given the utmost respect with this version. Another cover was a random solo piano version of "A Little Help From My Friends". Corresponding with the albums song titles, there are the time of the evening that the song was recorded. For instance, the opening track, "Improvisation #1" was played at 10:07 PM while final track, "Scurry(for Moondog)" emitted its first notes at 4:59 AM. For an EP that was recorded in one evening, this recording is great snapshot of the future capabilities of this band. I can’t wait for what lies ahead. 

Richard Pinhas/Maurice Dantec: Schizotrope – The Life and Death of Marie Zorn (Rune/Cuneiform, 1999)

Are you ready for one of the more experimental sounds to be released in the last twelve months? If you are, then seek out this album. For starters, who are these guys? Richard Pinhas is one of the most venerated musicians in France. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Pinhas experimented with guitars and synthesizers to create music that stands today as the precursor to techno. As a sidebar, he also received a Ph.D. in philosophy. While studying at the Sorbonne, Pinhas met up with philosopher Gilles Deleuze and they formed a bond that was to last a lifetime. Pinhas’ named his album Rhizosphere after a Deleuze writing and Deleuze can be heard on the Pinhas recording "Electronique Guerilla" reading Nietzche to Pinhas’ music. Unfortunately, 1995 brought the end of Deleuze’s life. Enter "cyber punk" Maurice Dantec. During the spring of 1999, Dantec and Pinhas collaborated to pay tribute to Deleuze. Calling the event "The Life and Death of Marie Zorn", which is named after a heroine from a Deleuze novel, the two made a spoken word of the United States. This recording is from that tour. The shows consisted of visual imagery, Pinhas’ creation of distorting electronica sounds and Dantec rasping quotations in a mysterious unyielding voice (in French no less). The concert made for a very interesting audio/visual experience. Even more amazing, the experience is captured on the disc. This is not a disc to play at a dinner party or when your significant other’s parents are visiting. Actually, it may be only for only your most open minded of friends. Although music elements like tempo and melody are completely devoid from this recording, there is still something captivating about the recording. There is an inherent intellectualism within the disc that ultimately gets the mind rolling. This is especially surprising considering the musical distortion and the French space whispering. Nonetheless, the album is intriguing. (http://www.cuneiformrecords.com)

The Durutti Column / A Night In New York (ROIR Records, 1987,1999)

Named after a famed anarchist Buenaventura Durutti who led an ill-fated siege of Saragossa during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Durutti Column also represents anarchy in music. The Durutti Column was led by guitarist Vini Reilly, who grew up listening to everybody from Django Reinhardt and Jimmy Page, and then became first involved with music professionally as a punk rocker. As soon as the punk anarchical musical movement became too mainstream, Reilly went the counterrevolutionary way once again with the creation of the Durutti Column. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, the Durutti Column went through many lineup changes (with Reilly always at the head) in which they played ambient pop music. Mostly instrumentals, Reilly used an echoplex guitar effect that created lush and tranquil soundscapes that sounded like a hybrid between Brian Eno and a chamber music ensemble. There may only be one other band out there like them – Throbbing Gristle, who are as probably obscure as the Durutti Column. ROIR Records resurrected this old live concert recording and it is definitely worth a listen.

Suicide/ Half Alive (ROIR Records, 1981, 2000)

New York City’s Suicide comes from a similar camp as the Durutti Column, but with a much harder edge. Formed in 1971, Suicide consisted of singer Alan Vega and keyboardist Martin Rev. Rev would play dissonant synthesized sounds on the keyboard while Vega recited spooky poetry/ballads over the textured layers of the effects. Sound somewhat innocent until you experienced Suicide alive. Vega’s rants would often result in quasi riots as he would use the audience as a target for verbal abuse. This 1981 live recording captures the band as its most obnoxious levels – imagine some cross breeding of William S. Burroughs, Sid Vicious and Brian Eno. Ric Ocasek of the Cars produced much of Suicide’s studio efforts but the band was really in its element when playing objectionably to the New York City underground.


When it comes to space rocking, there is no band that personifies the genre better than England’s Hawkwind. For the last 31 years, Hawkwind has been taking daring and willing participants on sonic journeys. Led by the king of the acid rock guitarist Dave Brock, the band has transformed from pounding guitar driven rock to techno wizards and back to guitar rock – always using England’s famous free festivals as a medium for their celestial jams. Before becoming Hawkwind, the band was known as Band X. Long before the phenomenon of associating the letter X with "space capades" during the 1990s, Brock was doing it in the 1960s. In America, Hawkwind has been responsible for the creation of numerous bands influenced by the music of Brock and Co. – Architectural Metaphor, Melting Euphoria and many others. As Hawkind has transformed from acid rockers to techno freaks and back, the band has experienced a constantly shifting lineup (with Brock always at the helm) – poet Robert Calvert, Motorhead front man Lemmy, and author Michael Moorcock are a few of the more illustrious band members.

Coinciding with thirty plus years of live performance is also an incredible underground following and unimaginable collection of memorabilia and live recordings. This is a phenomenon similarly patterned by America’s acid rockers – the Grateful Dead. There seems to be a never ending surplus of recordings that become reissued or released for the first time. During the mid-1970s, the band released classic albums such as In Search of Space, Warrior on the Edge of Time and Space Ritual. Here are some of examples of their output from 1979 onward. Throughout all of these releases, one will find the oscillating keyboard effects that give off swooshing sounds that came to define the space rock sound.

Complete 1979 (Voiceprint, 2000)

From the time of the band’s inception in 1969 up til 1977, Hawkwind tour and recorded fairly steadily. In 1978, the band temporarily disbanded and Dave Brock formed the offshoot band Hawklords with singer Robert Calvert. This lasted for about a year and then Brock reformed in 1979 and come out firing with the album Live 79. To complement the album, there is now Complete 1979, which documents the tour of the reformed band. This version of Hawkind consisted of Brock (vocals, guitar), Huw Lloyd – Langton (vocals, lead guitar), Simon King (drums), Harvey Bainbridge (bass guitar) and Tim Blake (keyboards). Loyd-Langton was the self taught guitarist who founded the band with Brock in 1969 and remained with Hawkwind off and on up to 1989. He plays on many of the classic Hawkind early albums but then left the band in 1971 due to illness. Harvey Bainbridge, who joined the band in 1977, grew up listening to the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Yes and was a presence in Hawkwind throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He did not return until 1979 and Complete 1979 is a document of his return. This is one of Hawkwind’s greatest lineups and this release provides over 2 discs worth of live material.


Choose Your Masques Live 1982 - Collectors Series Volume 1 (Voiceprint, 2000)

Besides countless live recordings, Hawkwind also managed to head intot eh studio. Choose Your Masques is an album that Hawkwind originally recorded with RCA. Since their 1979 release, the band had gone through yet another lineup change but
Brock, Lloyd - Langton and Bainbridge remained in the drivers seat. Although Choose Your Masques is a studio release, the album still captures the Hawkind concert experience, which was a full-blown sensory experience. Here is an excerpt from 1981 concert review in Sounds magazine: "The flight began before the first note, with the stunning light show that lasted throughout the gig with a display of sci-fi cartoons, cosmic trips and psychedelic circles.  Many eyes remained fixed on the pretty pictures and I'm not sure if this was due to their brilliance or the effect of the hippies' suppertime treats." Sounds like a Grateful Dead/Phish concert doesn’t it?

Live At Glastonbury Festival 1990 (Voiceprint, 2000)

The Free Festivals were home base for Hawkind and usually put on stellar performances. Live At Glastonbury Festival 1990 is a significant release as it captures Hawkind’s switch to the rave-orientated/ambient grooves that were popular in the 1990s. Recorded at 5 o clock AM, this set greeted the sleepy festival goer’s morning with a sonic blast. For this live recording, the band is joined by singer Bridget Wishart, bassist Alan Davey, drummer Richard Chadwick as well as Brock and Bainbridge. This release captures a brief snapshot of when Hawkind employed a female singer (Wishart). She sang throughout the late 1980s-early 1990s but that was about it. After Brock, Alan Davey has the distinction of being Hawkwind’s longest serving band member. He joined the band in 1984 and was responsible for much of the band’s songwriting throughout the 1980s-1990s. It was also Davey’s arrival that made Bainbridge switch bass to keyboards. Despite his bass duties, Davey is responsible for providing much of the "wave sequencing" that created the ambient grooves for the band (an job often associated with keyboards). Davey also belongs in a class with Roger McGuinn and Paul McCartney as he chooses the Rickenbaker as his bass of choice.