What if I told you there was an album that sounded like The Faust Tapes meets Raymond Scott meets the BBC Radiophonic Workshop? Like Stockhausen meets skiffle meets the Moby Grape? Like if La Monte Young made a cover version of “Popcorn”?
Haven’t you ever wondered what a dadaist cartoon scored by a meeting of the minds between Carl Stalling and Einstürzende Neubauten would sound like?
This exists. The soundtrack to the French cult cartoon Les Shadoks is such a rare bird. Aesthetically triangulated by musique concrète, Perrey & Kingsley’s electronic whimsy and Pink Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict,” the music of Robert Cohen-Solal—a member of les Groupe de recherches musicales, or GRM, the French equivalent of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop—nearly defies description. Lucky for you, you needn’t take my word for any of this, as there is a long excerpt/audio collage of the Les Shadoks soundtrack album embedded below for you to partake of. Please make it your soundtrack to reading this post.
Les Shadoks was created by French cartoonist Jacques Rouxel and animator René Borg—taking an obvious inspiration from Paul Klee’s painting “La machine à gazouiller”—and was broadcast in France from 1968–1974 as 2-3 minute cartoons. The Shadoks were absurd bird-like creatures, the inhabitants of a two dimensional planet. Their language has just five monosyllabic words—“Ga,” “Bu,” “Zo,” “Meu,” and “Ni”—but their primitive brains possess but four brain cells and they can only know four things at a time. The Shadoks represent French society. The Gibis are their intelligent and far more cautious opposites who are supposed to represent the buttoned up people of Great Britain.
“It was a long, long, long… long time ago. In that time, there was the sky. To the right of the sky, there was planet Gibi. It was flat and tilting from left to right. So sometimes when too many Gibis were on one side on the planet, it tilted too much and some Gibis fell into space. It was a big trouble… especially for the Gibis. To the left of the sky, there was planet Shadok. It had no precise form, or rather… its form kept changing. So sometimes some Shadoks fell in space. It was a big trouble… especially for the Shadoks. And on the middle there was Earth, that was round and moved.”
So the Shadoks and the Gibis are in competition for the Earth’s resources. Or something like that.
The simpleton Shadoks were famous for their dumb philosophies, and for their incessant pumping—“Better to pump even if nothing happens than to risk something worse happening by not pumping” being one of their mottos. Another example of Shadok philosophy is “When one tries continuously, one ends up succeeding. Thus, the more one fails, the greater the chance that it will work.” This theory is put to the test when a rocket launch is rushed through 999,999 failures on the calculation that it had a one-in-a-million chance to launch successfully…
Here are some more:
“Why do it the easy way when you can do it the hard way?”
“If there is no solution, it is because there is no problem.”
“To reduce the numbers of unhappy people, always beat up the same individuals.”
“Every advantage has its disadvantages. And vice versa.”
To this day, the French will compare their politicians with the idiotic Shadoks.
The soundtrack to Les Shadoks has been released in the past, but that 1969 album featured narration and character voices over the music. It’s also rare and very, very expensive. For the 50th anniversary of Les Shadoks, the complete soundtrack by Robert Cohen-Solal is available for the first time ever in its entirety, cut and mastered from the original reels and made in cooperation with the artist. Released by the marvellously named Swiss label WRWTFWW Records—that stands for “We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want” (and clearly they do)—the album comes in a glossy, high quality vinyl pressing (with 7” record) and on CD in a digipak.
If you tend to like—broadly defined, of course—“this kind of thing” then I highly, highly recommend this release. There’s really nothing else like it. The Les Shadoks soundtrack album is easily destined for my top 10 of 2018 and it’s not even March yet.
In 1973 ‘The Shadoks’ appeared on Thames Television in the early evening. Kenneth Robinson provided the narration in English. Sadly this is the SINGLE example that I can find of an English episode of ‘The Shadoks’ anywhere on the Internet. The French DVD box sets have only French narration. Someone needs to put this out in English, like NOW.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Il Gruppo: Ennio Morricone’s darkly avant garde experimental musique concrète krautrocky noise group