Thanks to everyone who entered our competition to win an Off The Page booklet. The question was: which of the Off The Page speakers selected John Cage's "Goal: New Music, New Dance" (from his book Silence) as their favourite piece of writing on music? The answer was: Matthew Herbert.
The first five names out of the hat with the correct answer were: George Hardy, Richard Moss, Suriano Rafael, Philip Rhoads and Lawrence Roberts.
Your prizes will be winging their way to you any day now.
Once you've popped 'n' locked to this obscure slice of early 80s Transatlantic electro-soul, check for the credits, which harbour an unlikely link to one of the events happening at the Off The Page festival this weekend (and I don't mean Dave Tompkins's talk on the history of the vocoder: the track might be a prime slice of cyborg funk, but all the silicon synthesis is in the low end; the vocals remain strictly carbon-based).
Anyway, back to those credits: edited by Double Dee & Steinski, produced and engineered by Adrian Sherwood, mixed by Sherwood and Tom (Tommy Boy) Silverman, issued by Body Rock Records, a subsiduary of Tommy Boy itself, the original channel for technologized R&B. So far so good. But what's that? Hmm, a familiar looking name in the writers' credits. 'S Beresford'. Could it really be? You bet your life it could. But who'd'a thunk it? We all knew he was the nutty professor of Brit reggae, Adrian Sherwood's go-to guy whenever the On-U Sound boss needed some strange sonics or oblique strategies to goose up his latest bass odyssey. But Steve Beresford, the Everywhere Man of UK Improv, a playa in the emergence of boogie down fonk? You couldn't make it up.
This YouTube post is another nugget unearthed by the consistently dazzling Your Heart Out blog. I'm going to write about the blog in the Unofficial Channels column of the forthcoming April issue of The Wire. But for now, download Skimming Stones, the latest YHO post. It's a derive in the form of an essay through some of the dimly-lit back streets and alleyways of London’s late 70s/early 80s reggae underground (a favourite site of investigation for YHO) which along the way notes Beresford's presence at the intersection of any number of the capital’s contemporaneous sonic subcultures: LMC messthetix, subversive chart pop entryism, post-punk aktion, and of course, the alternative universe that orbited around the On-U Sound label.
At Off The Page Steve will be talking with John Keiffer (of the festival's co-producers Sound And Music) about a life lived in the thick of London's Improv scene. But one aspect of the Improv aesthetic that is not much acted or commented on these days is the way it enabled a musician like Beresford to operate almost at will across a whole host of musical activities that received wisdom still tells us were mutually exclusive – "to play, inspire, provoke and create,” as Steve Barker once put it. The same applies to David Toop, of course, another Off The Page guest, who in the period immediately following punk rock's year zero partnered Beresford in any number of audacious border-crossing sonic endeavours, from Alterations to General Strike, The Flying Lizards to Prince Far-I's Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 3.
It all feels a long time ago now. But so what? As Michael Chion tells Dan Warburton during his Invisible Jukebox interview in the new March issue of The Wire: "When I like something, I don't think of it as being from 1968 or 1980 or whenever. It's the present, for me." And for me, listening to Akabu’s "Watch Yourself” (or any of the many other records that Beresford, or indeed Toop, appeared on during the same period), the distant past suddenly materialises in the here and now to sound as immediate as any present you might care to mention.
The closing event of Off The Page this coming Sunday promises a collaborative and performative lecture by Claudia Molitor, Sarah Nicholls and Jennfier Walshe that will “muse on radical (or irreverent) modes of music notation”. What form this event will actually take is as elusive and mysterious as all the projects initiated by these mercurial composer-performers, who between them incorporate elements of film, theatre and multimedia into aesthetic strategies that playfully subvert the furrowed-brow, testosterone-heavy atmospheres of the kind of 'New Music' scenes they all emerge from.
When I asked Claudia for some inside information on her role in the scheme of the thing, she sent me the following photographs.
They look a little like images of hennaed hands, but with Persian tracery replaced by notes on staves. The mail from Claudia that accompanied the photos referenced Heidegger's theory of zuhanden (which translates from the German as 'hands-on'), using it to emphasise her highly tactile approach to the actual material process of composition: “Zuhanden? is a series of images that engages with my ‘visceral’ relationship to notation... In Zuhanden? the focus is on the physical reality of the act of notating and its transmission onto paper by hand."
How will such a seemingly prosaic notion be combined with Jennifer Walshe's multiple personas (her Miller Corp website is a twilight zone of alt.realities and shifting identities) or Sarah Nicholls's 'inside out' pianos?
Who knows? But from where I'm sitting it has all the makings for a fascinating way to (sp)end a Sunday afternoon.
The Wire’s monthly series of salon events returns after an extended Christmas and New Year break with an illustrated talk by the magazine’s former hiphop columnist Dave Tompkins on the history of the vocoder. The talk will be based on Dave's acclaimed recent book on synthetic voice phenomena, How To Wreck A Nice Beach (available from Stop Smiling Books)
In anticipation of the salon Dave and Monk One have made an exclusive edit of their How To Wreck A Nice Beach mix for The Wire. You can download it here. Also, click here to read Dave's extensive annotated track list for the mix in all its unexpurgated glory.
The Wire Salon: How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War Two To Hiphop takes place at London's Cafe Oto, 15 February, 8pm, £4.
In addition to his appearance at the salon, Dave will also be talking on (as opposed to through) the vocoder at the Off The Page festival in Whitstable this weekend...
It's by way of some sweet synchronicity (as opposed to careful programming) that appearances by Robert Wyatt and Scritti Politti's Green Gartside will top and tail the Off The Page festival in Whitstable this coming weekend.
Way back in the days of North London’s burgeoning post-punk underground, writer Ian Penman was a regular visitor to the now legendary squat Green shared with the other members of Scritti Politti, and he has recalled how Wyatt's Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard albums would reverberate through that famously squalid Camden house night and day, insinuating themselves into the occupants’ addled but expanding collective consciousness. And sure enough, in 1981 when Scritti’s still sublime sounding “The ‘Sweetest Girl’” single was released by Rough Trade, who should pop up playing piano but Old Rottenhat himself.
What Green and his comrades recognised in Wyatt's music was a shared belief in the pop song as a cultural agent that could act on you rhetorically and sensually at the same time. (Of course, just a few years earlier this was the self same notion that Wyatt’s colleagues in Soft Machine had utterly failed to grasp, and so they kicked their greatest asset out of the group – duh!) The directions that both Wyatt and Green have pursued over the years have kept faith with the idea that if you build them right, pop's shiny plastic vessels will be sturdy enough to accommodate and transport anything you might care to load inside of them, even Stalinist propaganda and Derrida-derived post-structuralist theory.
This Friday in Whitstable, at Off The Page's opening night event, Robert will be discussing live on stage some of the music that has most animated him over the years, and without wanting to give anything away, all of his choices somehow reconcile the urge to innovate or proselytize with the desire to craft perfect pop moments. Meanwhile, on the Sunday afternoon of the festival, Green will be going head to head with Mark 'K-punk' Fisher in a discussion that will no doubt make the synapses snap as it attempts to deconstruct the processes by which such a seemingly flimsy form as the three minute pop song can both distill and amplify hyper-advanced philosophical concepts, and in turn can be re-energized (rather than overloaded) by absorbing such heavyweight material.
Everyone attending this weekend's Off The Page festival will get a free copy of a special souvenir booklet that has been produced in a one-time-only hand-made edition of just 200 copies. For the booklet, all the festival’s speakers, delegates, guests, etc were asked to select a favourite piece of writing or thinking on sound or music. The resulting selections range from the philosophical musings of Ernst Bloch to a poem by Philip Larkin, David Bowie prognosticating on the future economy of music to Ian Penman riffing on Bryan Ferry, Lester Bangs hymning Van Morrison to Alex Ward analysing Derek Bailey. The booklet in which all these and more are now reproduced has been designed and assembled by The Wire's art director Ben Weaver. We are holding back five copies of this one off document in order to offer them as prizes in a competition, just in case you want one (and believe me, you want one) but can't make it to the actual event itself.
All you have to do to win one is tell us which of the Off The Page speakers went for John Cage's "Goal: New Music, New Dance" (from his book Silence) as their favourite bit of music writing. Was it Matthew Herbert? Jennifer Walshe? Or Christian Marclay?
To enter, send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Off The Page competition' in the subject line. Closing date: this Friday 11 February.