In 1974 heavy duty German classical label Deutsche Grammophon issued a 3LP over-view of European improvised music (pictured above) featuring a full two sides each from a French combo (New Phonic Art), A British trio (Iskra 1903 led by guitar titan Derek Bailey) and the focus of this blog posting, the German ad hoc ensemble known simply as Wired. The truly notable thing about Wired is that it featured super-producer Conny Plank conducting the entire very delicate and minimal affair from his mixing desk. The other players here are Harry Partch disciple Mike Ranta on percussion, guitarist Karl-Heinz Böttner on stringed instruments and Mike Lewis on Hammond organ. Have a leisurely listen to the entire thing, it’s quite a lovely and slowly unfolding bit of primitive soundscaping :
Wired Side One
Wired Side Two
The reason I sought out the above rarity is that the above rather handsome box-set has just been released. Recorded a mere month after recording the Wired LP by the same group (minus Böttner) but previously unreleased, this sounds pretty wonderful. Then again nearly everything Conny Plank had a hand in is worthy of celebration.
Kool Herc, the legendary Jamaican-born DJ famous for “inventing hip hop” during South Bronx dance parties in the early 1970s is ill, and in dire need of financial assistance. According to a story that’s appeared in places from The Source’s website to The Guardian, Kool Herc, now 55, was discharged from a Bronx hospital yesterday, but still needs desperate help to pay for his medical bills. The cause of his illness has not been disclosed and it’s unclear whether he’s had the needed surgery or not.
Armed only with dual copies of James Brown and Jimmy Castor Bunch albums—not to mention a couple copies of “Bongo Rock”—and as many turntables as his mixer would allow for, DJ Kool Herc was the first turntablist to isolate the instrumental “break beat” from hard funk songs and turn them into five to ten-minute long extended workouts for the “break” dancers at his parties. Later these same beats became the musical backdrop for the toasters of the nascent “rap” scene. Kool Herc’s style on multiple decks was soon copied by Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa.
Donations for DJ Kool Herc can be sent to Kool Herc Productions PO Box 20472 Huntington Station, NY 11746
Below, DJ Kool Herc explains how he came up with the idea for isolating the break beat, in the process helping to birth hip hop culture.
An uncredited photo taken of William S. Burroughs and an “up and coming” young Madonna during the author’s big 70th birthday bash at the Limelight nightclub in New York, February 1984.
You have to love this example of her insane chutzpah. He probably had no idea who she was, but there she is, right in the middle of it! I also like the detail of the joint being passed. What a great photo.
Composer Milton Babbitt died yesterday at the ripe old age of 94. I have always adored his piece Ensembles For Synthesizer, composed from 1962-64 on the guargantuan RCA Mark II synthesizer for which he was an official composer/consultant. I include that piece here from the 1967 album New Electronic Music from Leaders of the Avant-Garde which is a toweringly great slab of classic experimental music. Seek it out !
And because it’s so totally great, here is the John Cage piece from the same LP: Variations 2 as performed with brutal precision on amplified piano by the great David Tudor.
As bewildered analysts on the sidelines wring their hands over “what’s next in Egypt,”Al Jazeera continues to very simply shame the American news media with regards reporting on the region’s issues.
Jane Dutton, the host of the network’s “Inside Story” show, does what we used to call actual insightful reporting by bringing into AJ’s Cairo studio Egyptian activists Gigi Ibrahim, Amr Wakd and Wael Khalil and, remotely, Tunisian graduate student activist Fidi Al Hammami. And while these kids may represent a somewhat elite and educated part of the thousands on the streets, Al Jazeera goes a long way here beyond the usual news formula of interviewing either excited guys in the middle of a protest yelling at the camera or annoyingly hedging news “contributors.”
At around the 18-minute mark, Khalil makes the crucial remark that puts the American punditry’s narcissistic agonizing into perspective: “We don’t need the US.” In short, Uncle Sam, the EU and the international community are rather irrelevant to this struggle. The paradigm’s changed, and the old powers need to get over themselves.
Mutamassik (meaning “stronghold” and “tenacity” in Arabic) is the nom de tune of Giulia Lolli, a half-Italian/half-Egyptian composer and DJ with a background that’s reflected in her splintered internationalist musical style. Born in Italy and raised in the American Rustbelt, Lolli went to New York City in time to swoop quickly in and out of the illbient scene of the mid-‘90s before heading out to Cairo, and finally landing up in what she terms a “CAVEmen-style” existence with her husband, Brooklyn guitarist Morgan Craft, and child in Tuscany.
Lolli has described her music as “Sa’aidi Hardcore & Baladi Breakbeats: Egyptian & Afro-Asiatic Roots mixed with the head-nod of hip-hop & the bass and syncopation of hardstep.” (The term “Sa’aidi” can refer to people of Upper [central-eastern] Egypt, and can also be interpreted as “ascending”; “Baladi” refers to traditional, oft-rural Arabic folk music.)
With that said, That Which Death… sees Lolli lay down a ritualized heavily percussive base over which she smears rumbling bass tones, cranky cello, evocative samples and scratches, various electronic instrumentation, and her own subliminal vocals to create an otherworldy brand of liberationist marching music.
I grew up in Tunisia. For me, like I’m sure each country is for every kid, it was the center of the universe. I truly believed that everything revolved around Tunisia. People from all over the world literally did pilgrimage to it, whether for religious reasons (during Lag Ba’omer, a Jewish holiday that takes place after the celebration of Passover, Jews from all over the world come in masses to Ghriba synagogue, home of the world’s oldest Sefer Torah), or more commonly for touristic reasons during the summer when Tunisia becomes a Mecca for beach-goers and sun-lovers.
As I got older I realized it wasn’t really the center of the universe. I discovered we were categorized as a Third World country, and since both my parents are revolutionary syndicated journalists (my father was jailed during the 1978 manifestations), I learned pretty quickly that we were living in a dictatorship, that the media is censored and freedom of speech is virtually non-existent. Sure we ranked highly among African and Arab countries, and women enjoyed a freedom unheard of in the neighboring countries, and for decades that was the thread of dignity we, people of Tunisia, hung onto. But that wasn’t enough, not if we wanted our kids to be proud of being Tunisians.
It took long enough, but Tunisians rid themselves of their fears—fears of the government, but most importantly fears of leaving their comfort-zone and the apparent safety and security our country was famous for. And they marched into the streets simultaneously, first to express their anger and discontent, then to ask for reforms and, well…jobs! Then, finally, to demand and ultimately impose a radical change—a historic one, too. For the first time in history, an Arab people has ousted its president and dictator without foreign help or the use of force.
And on that Friday, the 14th of January, the eyes of the whole world were on Tunisia. On that historic day, Tunisia was and forever will remain an idol and an inspiration for the tired and the poor, the weak and the oppressed, anyone who has ever dreamt about liberty while living under dictatorship. On that historic day, Tunisia WAS the center of the universe. I couldn’t help remembering all those revolutionary rap songs I wrote, all those cliched phrases that even I was starting to get tired of: “Power to the people,” “We can change our destiny,” etc.—and smile. Finally it was relevant, finally it made sense.
The battle is far from won, but we know the challenges awaiting us, and we will work them out as a united free people in a democratic way. Because now that we tried the taste of freedom, we are never giving it up again.
Thank you people of Tunisia for making her once again the center of the universe.
Here’s the video for Firas’s recently released tune, “Tunisian Revolution,” with a translation from the Arabic below:
[The chorus is sampled from “Homma Min Wehna Min” (“Who are They and Who are We”), a song by revolutionary Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam.]
If the people one day decided to live*
then it’s as if they decided to walk on water.
Hands are cuffed, my “masters”’s needle has sewn our lips
nothing left but the weaponized pencil
and my fist.
The night they arrested my heartbeat…**
Long live my country
he who betrayed it will live in it
and he who isn’t among its wealthiest won’t.
The people have been subdued, robbed,
heroes been put down, burnt down,
riches have been accumulated and disappeared.
Underneath us the fire is burning,
and above us the wealthy are living,
and we’re stuck in the middle.
If the people one day decided to live,
start digging graves and preparing burial shrouds.
Blood is screaming inside our veins,
we die and they live, dear country.
If the people one day decided to live,
then destiny has to obey
and the shackles have to be broken
and the dark night has to end.
- CHORUS -
Who are they?
U won’t see them but u will feel their shackles
Who are they?
The ones that deafened hearing people
and muted the talkative until we became like statues,
steered like a herd.
Who are they?
They’re the ones who dried the ink out of our pens,
Who are they?
They’re the ones that made the flag cry.
Who are they
and who are we?
Where are they?
In fortified castles.
Where are we?
In destroyed shacks.
Their sons enjoy our misfortune,
our sons get beaten in universities,
Their sons get the highest positions,
our sons hang from coffee shop to coffee shop, from bar to bar
are unemployed, with diplomas…
*A take on Tunisian national anthem by Abul-Qasem Alchebbi:
“If the people one day decided to live
then destiny has to obey
and the shackles has to be broken
and the dark night has to end”
**Refers to the famous 1984 Egyptian TV film The Night They Arrested Fatma, a drama about a young woman who became radicalized during the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.
After the jump: the video (with English subtitles) that helped get Tunisian rapper The General arrested…
I never pictured John Galt wearing a baseball cap, did you?
Far-right ideologue, Ayn Rand wrote of moral absolutism: “There can be no compromise on basic principles. There can be no compromise on moral issues. There can be no compromise on matters of knowledge, of truth, of rational conviction.” Yup, but wouldn’t you know it, Rand, who spent her life deploring the New Deal, Social Security, the Great Society and every other form of government aid to the poor and elderly ended up taking *GASP* government “handouts” herself in the form of Social Security and almost certainly Medicare, too.
The Right should be commended politically for their ability to develop and stick to a unified message. But close inspection of this unified message reveals a disappointing secret identified by a student of the Godfather of Neo-conservatism,—- the University of Chicago’s Leo Strauss. The student, Anne Norton (Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire) identified what she called “VIP-DIP” meaning Venerated in Public, Disdained in Private. “Do as I say, not as I do.” The list of vip-dipers on the Right runs from Harold Bloom to Newt Gingrich, but certainly not Ayn Rand. Right?
A heavy smoker who refused to believe that smoking causes cancer brings to mind those today who are equally certain there is no such thing as global warming. Unfortunately, Miss Rand was a fatal victim of lung cancer.
However, it was revealed in the recent 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand by Scott McConnell (founder of the media department at the Ayn Rand Institute) that in the end Ayn was a vip-dipper as well. An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).
As Pryor said, “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out” without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn “despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently… She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”
Although FOI requests have confirmed that Rand got Social Security payments under her married name from December 1974 until her death in 1982, one researcher’s recent FOI request for her Medicare records turned up nothing. Even if true believer Randroids would fail to take Evva Pryror at her word, certain things might be assumed, like an elderly author, even a successful one, being wiped out financially by a catastrophic illness. Lung cancer treatment isn’t cheap—it’s the kind of thing that could put someone out in the street—but Rand, a notoriously heavy cigarette smoker, must’ve been grateful for the virtues of altruism (and the benevolence of her fellow American taxpayers) when presumably no bill came for her cancer treatment in the mid-70s
Does this make Rand no better than the “looters” and “moochers” of the welfare state she decried for her entire career? Not necessarily, but it would make her a hypocrite.
Lee Harris is a playwright, poet, publisher and “foot soldier” of the UK’s counter culture. Born in Johannesburg in 1936, Harris was one of the few whites on the African National Congress, opposing segregation during the time of Apartheid, and was involved with the Congress of the People rally in Soweto in 1955.
Harris arrived in the UK in 1956, to study drama, after college, he had a small part in Orson Welles’ film Chimes at Midnight and later worked in theater.
A major turning point for Harris came on the 11 June 1965, when he first heard Allen Ginsberg at the decade defining International Poetry Reading at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
We turned up in our thousands to hear some of the best poets of the Beat Generation. When Allen Ginsberg stood up to read his poems you could feel an electric charge in the air. There he was, like an Old Testament prophet, with his long dark hair and bushy beard, his voice reverberating with emotional intensity. Never before in that hallowed hall had such outrageous and colorful language been heard…..Hearing Allen that first time was a revelatory and illuminating experience.
That event and his presence in London that summer, helped kindle the spark that set the underground movement alight in the mid-sixties.
Harris began to write plays with Buzz Buzz and then wrote the critically acclaimed Love Play, which was performed at the Arts Lab in 1967 - a highly important venue for alternative arts, founded by Jim Haynes, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono exhibited and David Bowie performed. It was during this time Harris became acquainted with William Burroughs, Frank Zappa, Ken Kesey and toured with The Fugs.
Harris wrote for the International Times and in 1972 established the first “head shop” Alchemy in London on the Portobello Road, where he sold “paraphenalia” brought back from India and counter culture books.
“I’d started off in the West End before as an anarchist trader selling psychedelic posters in the late sixties you see because I did not know how to make a living. I ended up in the Portobello Road, making chokers, selling chillums, first because that was the in thing with beads.
I had traded at many festivals so it was natural for me and I started to be a sort of medicine head, with Tiger Balm, Herbs and I believed in cannabis as the ‘healing herb’.
It was here that Harris was famously prosecuted for selling cigarette papers. The shop was a focus for alternative culture, and it was here Harris began publishing underground ‘zines, including Jim Haynes, infamous drug-smuggler Howard Marks, and artist, journalist and activist Caroline Coon.
Part two of ‘Life and Works of Lee Harris’ plus bonus Lee Harris and the Beat Hotel, after the jump…