Reading the Roons

In terms of core issues around maximal engagement with keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community, one of the saddest, sorriest and sighfullest sights among them is that of the talented lad from the wrong side of the tracks who betrays his class by turning himself into a Guardian-reader, in terms of core cultural assumptions and behaviour.

Northampton’s Alan Moore has done it.

London’s Stewart Home has done it.

Huddersfield’s John Coulthart has done it.

How do I know?

[Readers’ Advisory: If you are easily disturbed, distressed and/or disgusted, please stop reading NOW.]

I know because

[I mean it. Stop reading or you may well regret it.]

I know because each of these talented lads from the wrong side of the tracks now bears the Mark of the Beast, metaphorically speaking.

[Last chance.]

Each of them has, on multiple occasions and without the minimalest micro-metric of shame or irony, deployed the key Guardianista phrase “in terms of”.

• For proof of Alan Moore’s deplorable delinquency, please see here.
• For proof of Stewart Home’s dep-del, please see here.
• For proof of John Coulthart’s dep-del, please see in the same place as you possibly saw or are-about-to-see Stewart Home’s, i.e. here.

So. After seeing and lamenting those horrific examples of class-betrayal, I thought I was hermeneutically hardened and would never again experience sadness, sorrow or sighfullness at the sight of a talented lad etc.

I was wrong.

As I learned when I read this interview in The Mail on Sunday:

There was a lot of negativity in terms of my mum getting frustrated with us as kids, messing around all the time, smashing things in the house and my nan lived in the same road, a few houses down. […] In terms of therapy, I have spoken to a few different people. I have never done a period of time where I have done two years with someone and it has been ongoing. […] Everything I am asking of those players in terms of hard work, honesty, trust, commitment…if I was just to turn round and say “I have had an offer, I’m off”, I honestly couldn’t do that to the players and the staff. — Wayne Rooney reveals his secret two-day drinking binges etc

Oh, Wayne, Wayne, Wayne. How could you do it? But I think we can easily guess where he was infected: it was during his therapy-sessions.


Elsewhere other-accessible

Ex-Term-In-Ate! — interrogating issues around why “in terms of” is so teratographically toxic…
All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”…
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates…

Cry’ Me A Shiver

It’s not true that Cryogénie are best experienced live. That would imply their music can be experienced some other way. It can’t. The live experience is the only experience. And it’s guaranteed unique. These French avant-gardists aren’t the only band to hand out earplugs on the door, but they don’t do it for the conventional reason: that they play so loud.

In fact, they don’t play loud. They don’t play soft either. In the conventional sense, they don’t play at all. Here’s an interview from 2008 with Tïurbeau magazine:


Tïurbeau: I’ve got your latest album in front of me now. Words fail me.

Alexandre: And us too.

François: As usual.

Tïurbeau: Then one has to ask: why do you bother to release albums?

Alexandre: We see it, you could say, as a little ritual, something solid, something material––

François: Something permanent.

Alexandre: Yes, something permanent, to mark the occasion, that will remain with our audience. Often, we hear, they will buy an album after they have attended a concert, as a souvenir, almost. And they will truly play it!

Tïurbeau: They will play thirty-seven minutes of silence?

Cryogénie, Nix Sonica (2008)

Cryogénie, Nix Sonica (2008)*

François: Yes. The silence creates a space, a kind of opening in the present, for memories of the concert.

Alexandre: Yes, for memories, exactly so. Although, of course, in one sense we have pride in the irreproducibility of our music, in another sense we are recording every moment we are on stage. On the brain.

François: On the brains of the audience.

Alexandre: We are recording memories.

Tïurbeau: And the albums are designed to trigger the memories?

Alexandre: Trigger?

Tïurbeau: Bring the memories back.

Alexandre: Ah, yes, exactly so. The albums are a focus for memories of a concert.

François: Almost talismans.

Tïurbeau: In a magical sense?

Alexandre: Yes, why not? For us, experience is the ultimate magic. In the moment, but also in memory.

Tïurbeau: And does this relate to the sensory restrictions of your concerts, the way you try to turn down some senses in order to heighten the sense you are seeking to stimulate?

François: Yes, exactly so. Earplugs.

Alexandre: No aftershave, no perfume.

François: And please shower carefully before you attend.

Alexandre: Yes, shower carefully. And we ourselves, we will take care of the light. Remove it, make the scene very dark. You are not at a Cryogénie concert for pleasing your ears, your nose, eyes, mouth. Non, vous êtes là pour la chair!

François: Oui, pour la chair.

Tïurbeau: For the flesh.

Alexandre: Yes, the flesh. And how do we stimulate the flesh when we may not use another mode, not exploit another sense? No vibration, no infra-bass even. Then what?

François: Yes, this was the question we faced in our formative days.

Tïurbeau: And the answer…

Cryogénie, Rois du Froid (1996)

Cryogénie, Rois du Froid (1996)**

Alexandre: The cold!

François: Cold.

Alexandre: Please remember a question in the Gay Science of Nietzsche: Ist es nicht kälter geworden?

François: “Has it not become colder?”

Alexandre: And we want, if you attend a Cryogénie concert, for you to say: Ja! Oui! Yes! Kälter, kälter! Plus froid, plus froid! Colder, colder!

Tïurbeau: The triumph of the chill?

François: Yes. Triumph of the chill!

Alexandre: I don’t understand.

François: [Explains briefly in French]

Alexandre: Ah, yes, a triumph.

Tïurbeau: And with the concept came the name?

Alexandre: Yes, and so we had our name also. Cryogénie. With several meanings. Cryogénie is “creation of cold”, but also, for us, “genius of cold”, “spirit of cold”. Remember the concept of ritual. Our concerts, you might say, are rituals of cold, invocations of cold.

François: And: “If it’s too cold, you’re too old!”

Alexandre: Yes, so it’s said. Of course, in truth we welcome all ages, but if you are in poor health, perhaps better not to attend.

François: Nevertheless, visits to the pharmacy surely increase after we have passed through a city.

Tïurbeau: How cold do you go?

Alexandre: Ah, we prefer not to speak of that. No numbers, no statistics. You are there for the music, not to watch le thermomètre.

François: We get cold enough for our purposes.

Tïurbeau: That sounds rather sinister!

François: Yes, perhaps so. But would that not be the ultimate experience, to die pour une grêlodie, for a grêlodie?

Tïurbeau: Grêlodie?

Alexandre: It’s a joke, un calembour, a mixing of words.

François: A pun. In French, grêle is “hail”, you know, the little balls of ice, and mélodie is “melody”, of course, and so you have grêlodie, for a tune as performed by Cryogénie, a tune of ice, a tune of cold.

Tïurbeau: But not literal hail?

Alexandre: No, not literal. Though sometimes the breath of our audience will freeze and fall as a kind of snow. It makes a sound, that, a very delicate sound, le chuchotement des étoiles, comme on dit en Sibérie.

François: Yes, the whisper of the stars, as they say in Siberia. But of course, no-one will hear it, if they have followed their instructions.

Alexandre: Earplugs in!

Cryogénie, Blanchette (2003)

Cryogénie, Blanchette (2003)***

François: But the snow, the breath-snow, can be felt on the skin as it falls. This is acceptable, though it is an indirect effect of our music, not something we have planned for.

Tïurbeau: I have felt it. In the middle section of “Frissonique”, particularly.

Alexandre: Yes, and in “Bruitmal”.

François: When the framplifiers are cooking, as you might say.

Tïurbeau: Framplifiers? Can you explain for the benefit of our readers?

François: It is from froid and amplificateur. Framplicateur, framplifier. Amplifiers of cold, or generators of cold.

Tïurbeau: That is one of the most widely discussed aspects of your music, isn’t it? Your equipment.

Alexandre: Yes.

François: Yes, certainly.

Tïurbeau: But you’re rather secretive about it, aren’t you?

Alexandre: Yes!

François: You discuss, we are sphinxes.

Tïurbeau: Silent?

François: Yes. We have our – what is the term? – our trade-secrets. It’s not in our interests to expose our techniques. Nor in yours, we think.

Tïurbeau: You want to preserve that air of mystery?

Alexandre: Yes, precisely so. The experience is more strong when you don’t understand.

François: Like magic.

Alexandre: Yes, magic. We perform a ritual. The invocation of the cold. We invoke the cold and we throw the cold, we throw it on the audience.

François: Waves of cold. Cryorrhythms. Chords of cold, congelations, grêlodies, chills, thrills, rivers of shivers. That is the Cryogénie experience.

Tïurbeau: But there’s some serious technology behind the experience, isn’t there?

Alexandre: Yes.

François: Yes.

Tïurbeau: And you’re saying no more?

Alexandre: Yes, no more.

François: It’s not in our interests to explain. Or yours.

Tïurbeau: Nothing?

Alexandre: Nothing.

Tïurbeau: Not even a little?

François: Well, maybe a little. We had problems, in the early days, with unwanted noise, from the equipment.

Alexandre: Just a little.

François: I mean, if you think of a refrigerator, there is noise, of course. And we didn’t want noise, we wanted silence, pure silence.

Tïurbeau: A blank canvas, sensorily speaking?

François: Yes, a blank canvas, for us to paint with cold. So there was that problem to solve. The noise, unwanted noise.

Tïurbeau: And you solved it?

François: Yes, I think we did.

Alexandre: I think so.

Tïurbeau: But the earplugs are still necessary?

Alexandre: Yes, necessary, we think. Because, of course, with silent equipment there is still the movement of people, our movement on the stage, movement of the audience.

François: And the whisper of the stars, with some other effects. There are many things to create noise at a concert. We cannot eliminate them all, or we choose not to, because the earplugs are in themselves symbolic. To use them, you say: “See? I choose to close this door, this sensory mode.”

Alexandre: And you give yourself to us, to Cryogénie, to exploit another sense.

François: To submit you to our chill.

Tïurbeau: Esclaves du froid?

François: Yes, very good. Slaves of cold! But equally we are the slaves.

Alexandre: Yes, esclaves du froid. I like it. Perhaps we will write a song of that title one day.


Elsewhere Other-Engageable:

Rois du Froid — Cryogénie’s official site


*Sonic Snow.
**Kings of Cold.
***Little White One.

The Sound of Silex

Some of the most beautiful patterns in nature arise from the interaction of three very simple things: sand and water, sand and air. Sculptrix Sabulorum, a side-project of the Exeter band Slow Exploding Gulls, are an attempt to do with sound what nature does with sand: turn simple ingredients into beautiful patterns. Here are extracts from an interview and review in the Plymouth fanzine EarHax:

Hector Anderton: OK. The obvious first. Sculptrix Sabulorum. What does it mean and why did you choose it?

Joe Corvin: It’s Latin and literally means “Sculptress of the Sands”. We chose it, well, because we thought it looked and sounded good. Good but mysterious.

Hector Anderton: And who is the sculptress? The sea?

Joe Corvin: Well, the sculptress is Mother Nature, in the fullest sense, but she uses the sea. The wind. Gravity. Simple things, but put them together with sand and interesting things happen.

Cath Orne: Which we wanted to explore, but we didn’t think S.E.G. [Slow Exploding Gulls] was the way to explore them.

Cover of Silica by Slow Exploding Gulls

Hector Anderton: But hadn’t you done that in Silica?

Joe Corvin: We’d started to, but Silica hadn’t exhausted the theme. Of sand, I mean. It’s something I’d always been interested in, but with S.E.G. we tend to go with the organic side of the sea, with sea life.

Hector Anderton: Whereas sand is inorganic?

Joe Corvin: Exactly. Silica was a bit of a departure for us, in that respect. It was as though we were walking down a corridor and we opened a door in passing and thought, yeah, that room looks interesting.

Sand Band: Sculptrix Sabulorum

Sand Band: Sculptrix Sabulorum

Cath Orne: So we’ll come back and have a proper look later.

Joe Corvin: Yeah. Under a new name. Which we’ve done. Hence, Sculptrix Sabulorum.

Extract © EarHax (1992)


Skulsonik, Sculptrix Sabulorum (Umbra Mundi 1995)

Macca to Madonna: “Listen to the music playing in your head.” In fact, we never do anything else. We don’t experience the world: we experience a sensory simulacrum of the world. Light or sound-waves or chemicals floating in the air stimulate the nerves in our eyes or ears or nose and the brain turns the resultant stream of electrical pulses into sight or sound or smell.

Skulsonik (1995)

Sculptrix Sabulorum: Skulsonik (1995)

But it does more than that: it covers up the cracks. Raw nerve-stuff is not smooth and polished sensation. We have blind-spots, but the brain edits them out. Only a small part of our visual field is actually in clear focus, but we think otherwise. If we could see raw nerve-stuff, it would be a blurry, fuzzy mess.

The same is true of hearing. And Skulsonik is an attempt to record raw nerve-stuff: to capture not sound out there, but sound in here – the music playing in your head. Sculptrix Sabulorum have set out to answer a simple question: “What does music really sound like?” Or rather: what does music cerebrally sound like? What does it sound like in your head?

Extract © EarHax (1995)


Previously pre-posted (please peruse):

Mental Marine Music – Slow Exploding Gulls

Get Your Locks Off

Led Zeppelin, Ray Tedman (Titan Books, 2011)

Front cover of Led Zeppelin by Ray Tedman

The most important thing in this big book of photographs is, of course, Robert Plant’s hair, which often looks remarkably like mine in both its colour and its curliness. There’s also little to choose between me and Robert Plant in the sex-god stakes, so I’ve often wondered precisely whose gigs my mother was attending in her youth (related rumours circulate, muso mutato et mama mutata, about at least one other keyly committed core component of the counter-cultural community). These aren’t unusual thoughts for me when I look at a book about Led Zeppelin: their hair interests me more than their harmonics. I usually get bored well before songs like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway to Heaven” are over and I would much rather listen to the Beatles or Black Sabbath, even at their worst, than to Led Zeppelin, even at their best.

But, at their best, before their locks were shorn as the 1970s ended, Led Zeppelin did look much more like rock-gods than either the Beatles or Black Sabbath. One thing all three bands have in common is their classic quadrivalency: there are four men in each filling the four standard rock roles. I’ve outlined my humorous theory of the classic guitar-bass-drums-vocals line-up elsewhere, so all I’ll say here is that Led Zeppelin fit the theory well. Each member has a distinct personality as he plays a distinct instrument. Each is also distinct in appearance: Jimmy Page is rake-thin, Robert Plant well-built, John Paul Jones average, and Bonzo stocky. Bonzo always had facial hair too, which must say something about his psychology. The colour of his hair certainly says something about his psychology. Like skin-colour and eye-colour, hair-colour is a chemical phenomenon: different colours signal different chemicals or different levels of chemical in the body, and so in the brain. Lighter hair, like lighter skin and eyes, tends to go with a more introverted, less aggressive personality and it may be significant that Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, with lighter hair, are said to have been the two best-behaved members of Led Zeppelin. Black-haired Bonzo was notoriously bestial and also the heaviest drinker. Jimmy Page wasn’t violent, despite having black hair, but his somatype, or body-shape, doesn’t predict violence.

His face may predict high intelligence and high artistic achievement, however: he has always been a good-looking man. Good looks are related to symmetry, and symmetry is related to intelligence and coordination. Again, this isn’t an absolute rule: good-looking people can be stupid and bad at music, just as ugly people can be intelligent and good at music, and strange things can sometimes happen at the extremes of the bell-curve. But biology is about averages and tendencies, not absolutes, and biology is central to understanding human beings and their behaviour. That’s one of the things I find interesting about looking through this book, but there’s much more than individual biology at work here. Led Zeppelin followed fashions as well as setting them and faithfully reflected the look of the three decades in which they existed: the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s.

Or first year of the ’80s, anyway: Bonzo died on 25th September 1980 and the band broke up. The book then follows Plant and Page into their solo careers and their occasional re-unions with Jones, but nobody looks as good as he did in the band’s mid-’70s prime, when their locks were longest and their testosterone levels highest. Endocrinology, or the science of hormones, is another essential part of understanding human behaviour and rock music at its loudest may influence hormones with more than its rhythms and melodies. High volume affects the entire body, not just the ears, and Led Zep were loud and proud, a band who shook the glands of their fans in more ways than one. As I’ve said, I’m not a big fan of Led Zeppelin myself, but if you are I can recommend this book. The photos range from the casual to the candid, the rampant to the risible, the phallocratic to the fan-worshipped, and there are regular biographical pages to guide you through the Led Zeppelin story. Oh, and there’s an index too, which books like this often lack.


Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, Brad Tolkinski (Virgin Books, 2012)
Front cover of Light and Shade Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski
I’ve seen too many bad bios about big beasts of the rock jungle to expect much when I pick up a new one, but I was pleasantly surprised by Light and Shade. It does descend into rock-journalese from time to time – Cream and Jimi Hendrix adopted “a new, heavily riff-driven mode of expression” in 1967, apparently – but the conversations with Page are interesting, intelligent, and even impish, as when Page reveals he can mock himself:

On your 1973 tour you started using your own private plane, the Starship. Was that a good thing, or did it just guarantee that the party could continue and you’d never have a moment of rest?

No, it was a good thing. It was a place where you could bring your music and books and create some semblance of continuity as you travelled from city to city. However, [our former tour manager] Richard Cole ran into one of the air hostesses on the Starship recently and she told him, “You know we made a lot of money off you guys,” and Cole asked her how. “Well,” she explained, “when people on the plane used to sniff cocaine, they’d roll up hundred-dollar bills to use as straws. Then after they were high or passed out, they’d forget about the money. So we would go around and grab all the money that was laying around.” That might’ve been true, but I’ll tell you one thing: They never got any of my money! [laughs]

(Ch. 7, “The tours were exercises in pure hedonism…”, pg. 172)

And now you know, if you didn’t already, why Page has the nickname “Led Wallet”: he has always been canny with his cash. But don’t be misled by the coke reference or the chapter-title: this isn’t Hammer of the Gods, the most notorious of the Zeppographies, so the sex’n’drugs side of Page’s rock’n’roll story doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as his music, his metaphysics, and his mutating fashions. There aren’t many photos, but they’re all well-chosen and you can trace the evolution of Page’s looks, locks, and collaborations right from the 1960s to the present day. There are also contributions from John Paul Jones, Jack White of the White Stripes, publicists, guitar experts and fashionistas, so you do get a well-rounded portrait of an interesting and highly influential musician. I’m not a big Led Zeppelin fan and I still liked this book. And regretted the absence of an index. So it’s a shade light there. Otherwise, it should provide many pages of pleasure for Page-o-philes.