Even the most hardcore rock snob has probably never heard of the female punk band, Snatch. If they have it’s usually in connection with Brian Eno, who they recorded an amazing song about the Red Army Faction with in 1978 (“R.A.F.” was the b-side of the “King’s Lead Hat” single). I discovered them when the elaborate picture sleeve of “All I Want” jumped out at me as I flipped through a well-curated box of 45s at my friend Nate Cimmino’s apartment in the East Village in the mid-1980s. The cover, scuffed and reproduced poorly here, was really something, gold-gilded text and faux silk portraits of hottie punkettes Patti Palladin on one side and Judy Nylon on the other. “They sound like The Shangri-las if they’d have been crack smokers, I think you’ll really like them!” he said.
Nate certainly knew my taste in music! I promptly spent the next few years searching in vain for their ultra rare records. Eventually I found them all. And they’re on the Internet now, of course, so you can check them out for yourself. There is not a whole lot written about them that I can find. They were two ex-pat American girls living in London and Greg Shaw of Bomp Records released their first single in 1976. They recorded sporadically until 1980 and released one compilation album in 1983.
Judy Nylon was probably Brian Eno’s girlfriend (I think we can assume that “Back in Judy’s Jungle” is about her) at some point, and went on to make an album in 1982 with Adrian Sherwood called Pal Judy. Patti Palladin worked with the Flying Lizards and later recorded an incredible album of duets with ex-New York Doll Johnny Thunders titled Copy Cats. It’s one of my top favorite albums of all time and some of the very best music Thunders ever made.
Judy Nylon is also credited by Eno as helping him “discover” ambient music:
“My friend Judy Nylon visited me and brought me a record of eighteenth-century harp music. After she had gone, and with some considerable difficulty, I put on the record (Eno had just been released from the hospital and was bedridden). Having laid down, I realized that the amplifier was set at an extremely low level, and that one channel of the stereo had failed completely. Since I hadn’t the energy to get up and improve matters, the record played on almost inaudibly. This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music-as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience. It is for this reason that I suggest listening to my pieces at comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility.”
A super rare video recording of Snatch onstage at Hurrah in 1979. This came from Paul Tschinkel’s incredible NYC public access TV show Innertube:
“All I Want”:
“R.A.F.” with Brian Eno:
“Black Market” (1980)
Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin cover Elvis’s “Crawfish” (from King Creole) for their Copy Cats album: Poor quality music video here.
I find it difficult to watch Adam Curtis‘s various acclaimed documentaries without thinking: how much has he taken from Bruce Conner?
Indeed without Conner, would Curtis have developed his magpie, collagist-style of documentary making?
I doubt it, but you (and Curtis) may disagree.
The late Bruce Conner is the real talent here - an artist and film-maker whose work devised new ways of working and presciently anticipated techniques which are now ubiquitously found on the web, television and film-making.
Conner was “a heroic oppositional artist, whose career went against the staid and artificially created stasis of the art world”. Which is academic poohbah for saying Conner kept to his own vision: a Beat life, which channeled his energies into art - with a hint of Dada, Surrealism and Duchamp.
Conner was cantankerous and one-of-a-kind. He would wear an American flag pin. When asked why, he said, “I’m not going to let those bastards take it away from me.”
He kicked against fame and celebrity, seeing art as something separate from individual who created it.
“I’ve always been uneasy about being identified with the art I’ve made. Art takes on a power all its own and it’s frightening to have things floating around the world with my name on them that people are free to interpret and use however they choose.”
Born in McPherson, Kansas, Conner attended Witchita University, before receiving his degree in Fine Art from Nebraska University. At university he met and married Jean Sandstedt in 1957. He won a scholarship to art school in Brooklyn, but quickly moved to University of Colorado, where he spent one semester studying art. The couple then moved to San Francisco and became part of the Beat scene. Here Conner began to produce sculptures and ready-mades that critiqued the consumerist society of late 1950’s. His work anticipated Pop Art, but Conner never focussed solely on one discipline, refusing to be pigeon-holed, and quickly moved on to to film-making.
Having been advised to make films by Stan Brakhage, Conner made A MOVIE in 1958, by editing together found footage from newsreels- B-movies, porn reels and short films. This single film changed the whole language of cinema and underground film-making with its collagist technique and editing.
The Conners moved to Mexico (“it was cheap”), where he discovered magic mushrooms and formed a life-long friendship with a still to be turned-on, Timothy Leary. When the money ran out, they returned to San Francisco and the life of film-maker and artist.
In 1961, Conner made COSMIC RAY, a 4-minute film of 2,000 images (A-bombs, Mickey Mouse, nudes, fireworks) to Ray Charles’ song “What I Say”. With a grant from the Ford Foundation, Conner produced a series of films that were “precursors, for better or worse, of the pop video and MTV,” as his obituary reported:
EASTER MORNING RAGA (1966) was designed to be run forward or backward at any speed, or even in a loop to a background of sitar music. Breakaway (1966) showed a dancer, Antonia Christina Basilotta, in rapid rhythmic montage. REPORT (1967) dwells on the assassination of John F Kennedy. The found footage exists of repetitions, jump cuts and broken images of the motorcade, and disintegrates at the crucial moment while we hear a frenzied television commentator saying that “something has happened”. The fatal gun shots are intercut with other shots: TV commercials, clips from James Whale’s Frankenstein and Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The film has both a kinetic and emotional effect.
REPORT “perfectly captures Conner’s anger over the commercialization of Kennedy’s death” while also examining the media’s mythic construction of JFK and Jackie — a hunger for images that “guaranteed that they would be transformed into idols, myths, Gods.”
Conner’s work is almost a visual counterpart to J G Ballard’s writing, using the same cultural references that inspired Ballard’s books - Kennedy, Monroe, the atom bomb. His film CROSSROADS presented the 1952 atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll in extreme slow motion from twenty-seven different angles.
His editing techniques influenced Dennis Hopper in making Easy Rider, and said:
“much of the editing of Easy Rider came directly from watching Bruce’s films”
The pair became friends and Hopper famously photographed Conner alongside Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Mitchell.
Always moving, always progressing, having “no half way house in which to rest”, Conner became part of the San Francisco Punk scene, after Toni Basil told Conner to go check out the band Devo in 1977. He became so inspired when he saw the band at the Mabuhay Gardens that he started going there four night a week, taking photographs of Punk bands, which eventually led to his job as staff photographer with Search ‘n’ Destroy magazine. It was a career change that came at some personal cost.
“I lost a lot of brain cells at the Mabuhay. What are you gonna do listening to hours of incomprehensible rock’n'roll but drink? I became an alcoholic, and it took me a few years to deal with that.”
Conner continued with his art work and films, even making short films for Devo, David Byrne and Brian Eno. In his later years, Conner returned to the many themes of his early life and work, but still kept himself once removed from greater success and fame. He died in 2008.
Towards the end of his life he withdrew his films from circulation, as he was “disgusted” when he saw badly pixelated films bootlegged and uploaded on YouTube. Conner was prescriptive in how his work should be displayed and screened. All of which is frustrating for those who want to see Conner’s films outside of the gallery, museum or film festival, and especially now, when so much of his originality and vision as a film-maker and artist has been copied by others.
‘Mea Culpa’ - David Byrne and Brian Eno. Directed by Bruce Conner
Seven pages in, there is an incredible event that gets described where a bunch of professional drummers, invited by Brian Eno from some of the biggest bands in the world, allowed Eagleman to observe them. They were outfitted with EEG units on their heads in special workstations for the data collection.
Early this winter, I joined Eagleman in London for his most recent project: a study of time perception in drummers. Timing studies tend to be performed on groups of random subjects or on patients with brain injuries or disorders. They’ve given us a good sense of average human abilities, but not the extremes: just how precise can a person’s timing be? “In neuroscience, you usually look for animals that are best at something,” Eagleman told me, over dinner at an Italian restaurant in Notting Hill. “If it’s memory, you study songbirds; if it’s olfaction, you look at rats and dogs. If I were studying athletes, I’d want to find the guy who can run a four-minute mile. I wouldn’t want a bunch of chubby high-school kids.”
The idea of studying drummers had come from Brian Eno, the composer, record producer, and former member of the band Roxy Music. Over the years, Eno had worked with U2, David Byrne, David Bowie, and some of the world’s most rhythmically gifted musicians. He owned a studio a few blocks away, in a converted stable on a cobblestoned cul-de-sac, and had sent an e-mail inviting a number of players to participate in Eagleman’s study. “The question is: do drummers have different brains from the rest of us?” Eno said. “Everyone who has ever worked in a band is sure that they do.”
The drummers study was inspired by an anecdote Eno told Eagleman:
“I was working with Larry Mullen, Jr., on one of the U2 albums,” Eno told me. “ ‘All That You Don’t Leave Behind,’ or whatever it’s called.” Mullen was playing drums over a recording of the band and a click track—a computer-generated beat that was meant to keep all the overdubbed parts in synch. In this case, however, Mullen thought that the click track was slightly off: it was a fraction of a beat behind the rest of the band. “I said, ‘No, that can’t be so, Larry,’ ” Eno recalled. “ ‘We’ve all worked to that track, so it must be right.’ But he said, ‘Sorry, I just can’t play to it.’ ”
Eno eventually adjusted the click to Mullen’s satisfaction, but he was just humoring him. It was only later, after the drummer had left, that Eno checked the original track again and realized that Mullen was right: the click was off by six milliseconds. “The thing is,” Eno told me, “when we were adjusting it I once had it two milliseconds to the wrong side of the beat, and he said, ‘No, you’ve got to come back a bit.’ Which I think is absolutely staggering.”
Read The Possibilian: What a brush with death taught David Eagleman about the mysteries of time and the brain (The New Yorker)
And this is as good an excuse as any to post a number by my favorite drummer, Afro Beat pioneer, the great Tony Allen:
Here’s a 1989 documentary/ impressionistic portrait of DM patron saint Brian Eno that I’d never seen previously entitled Imaginary Landscapes: A Meditative Portrait. Featuring some great in-studio interviews and lots of er, imagery to go along with the ambient soundscapes and charmingly wobbly VHS artifacts, this has some nice moments. Besides, previously unseen/ unheard Eno documents are always welcome here.
These video paintings were created in 1984 by Brian Eno with friend, photographer and actress Christine Alcino as his subject. The soundtrack is from Eno’s Thursday Afternoon album which he produced with Daniel Lanois.
The visuals are as ambient as Eno’s music and move with a kind of meditative pace and therefore are best appreciated when you can pay close attention to them.
Meh. If he sang on it, it might have been something. As the man himself has stated: Anyone with some free software can make noisy/interesting post-rock soundscapes these days but there is no software for writing lyrics and human vocals (yet). That takes time and effort; something Herr Eno has evidently decided not to invest in this record. Too bad, as that would most certainly have taken this promising track from just OK to great.
Dangerous Minds patron saint Brian Eno has signed with the revered and generally high-quality UK label Warp in order to bring us a new collection of well, I don’t know exactly since there are no previews or samples, sorry. It’s called, charmingly enough, Small Craft On A Milk Sea. Eno’s last high profile release was 2005’s Another Day on Earth, a fine album that, ahem, I also was lucky enough to contribute to. If this new one is anywhere near as good as that, I’ll be a happy Eno fan indeed. You’ll also note, as is de rigeur for your higher profile artistes these days, that there are a few different and increasingly more expensive/elaborate packages available including the ultimate: a limited edition of 250 LP/CD package which will include a unique, signed by the man screen print and a golden ticket inviting you to visit and eventually inherit Eno’s candy factory (OK, I made that last part up).
Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, artist/musician/author/record producer/music theorist/ designer/inventor of ambient music etc. etc. turns 62 today.
Below, Roxy Music tear it up, performing Ladytron on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1972. Eno’s VSC3 solo comes in at 4:10, but you’ll want to watch the entire thing. The band is in fine form here, especially Phil Manzanera. Bottom: Editions of You on German television, 1972.
An amazing Eno-era live version of the For Your Pleasure LP classic that I’d never seen before. And our man Brian is a delight here, heavily treating Manzanera‘s epic guitar solo by rhythmically altering the VSO on the tape decks he’s running the guitar through. Good shit ! Ferry is also in ultra-fine form, though he seriously muffs the lyric at 3:16, it’s kind of endearing. Jah bless a You-tube !
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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