Ork Alarm! # 3

December 1990

CONTENTS

  • A&M press release – January 1975 (Mike Ledgerwood)
  • Transition Live (Hubert Francillard, Antoine de Caunes and André Renault)
  • Cue Magma
  • I wouldn’t have missed it for galaxies (Jonathan Romney)
  • The Return – Powerful and Peerless (David Ilic)
  • Ork! Update

CONCERT NEWS

I spoke to Georges Besnier at L’Aeronef in Lille and although there are no immediate concert plans after the Magma gig in Bordeaux, there will be some concerts by Magma or Offering in March and April ’91. These will of course be in France.

CV TRIO 16-11-90 Centre Culturel La Clef, SAINT GERMAIN
CV TRIO 17-11-90 Voyager M.J.C., COMBS
CV TRIO 24-11-90 Salle Daniel Fery, VIGNEUX SUR SEINE
CV TRIO 01-12-90 Salle Dunoyer Dc Segonzac, VIROFLAY
MAGMA 05-12-90 Fnac Forum, BORDEAUX (MINI MATINEE)
MAGMA 05-12-90 Salle Du Vigean, EYSINES, BORDEAUX
CV TRIO 08-12-90 Blueberry Pub, YERRES


A&M RECORDS PRESS RELEASE

JANUARY 1975

Mike Ledgerwood

CHRISTIAN VANDER is the big-shot of MAGMA, the French group who provoked stunned disbelief among punters and critics alike on their British tours.

It is rare for drummers to lead bands, let alone those who can boast such an aggregate of sheer technical skill as do MAGMA. For he is not only a musician; his music is his lifework. Through his music, he has developed his own philosophy and cosmology, and he says, with deadly seriousness of’ purpose, that he will have failed in his life’s work if Magma’s music fails.

As a young man, Vander – of indeterminate Polish and Gypsy origins – was frighteningly precocious. One story about him has gained widespread currency.

Vander’s mother was a great friend of the Belgian flautist Bobby Jasper, and moved in the circles of American émigré jazzmen who frequented Paris in the Fifties. She introduced her teenaged son, who had started to play drums and had idolized John Coltrane since the age of eleven, to J.J. Johnson. Christian dropped in to their rehearsals, and persuaded Johnson’s drummer, the world-famed Elvin Jones, to let him have a go. The American drummer was astounded by what he saw. He drew up a chair and checked out exactly what the French kid was doing. That evening, to the astonishment of jazz “buffs” that had come to see Johnson, Jones ceded his stool to Vander for his first big-time appearance.

To watch MAGMA perform is an extraordinary experience. The group have been through many changes of personnel since their inception in 1969; but Vander remains its constant. Awe-struck audiences are compelled, willy-nilly, to watch him. Centre-stage, he is a lean, wolf-like man, mouth distorting, gaze fixed somewhere beyond the mechanical patterns of the everyday world, drilling out a marching rhythm on his kit. The intensity is fearful, the rhythm metronomic His whole body is drawn into the effort. The left arm, lies down from the elbow, rolls on the snare, whips back to shoulder-height. He has the air of one demented, one for who time is the most important of all commodities.

Now he starts to sing into the pendant microphone, all the while drumming on, as if wired to some ulterior rhythm. He chants in some weird, guttural dialect, and the sole spotlight picks out, glinting dully on his black-shirted chest, a cabbalistic symbol: an upside-down crescent with six downward-pointing prongs. This is CHRISTIAN VANDER. There will always be a manic, almost obsessional quality, about the performance that flows out, tangibly, from the drummer, and controls the flow of the music. It seems that by force-of-will as much as by physical sounds, Vander bends the musicians to his own ineluctable purpose.

That purpose is obscure, even to initiates. While avowing that total communication is his final goal, his lyrical and musical vocabulary makes it hard work to approach the centre.

He cites as his major musical and spiritual influence the late John Coltrane, admiring without qualification the American saxophonist’s relentless and reckless search for spiritual truth.

Obscurely, he seems to believe that he has inherited Coltrane’s mantle. He may yet prove to have the courage, technique and intellectual rigour to do so; and he certainly firmly believes that Coltrane’s music will increase in stature and influence in the next decade.

But, while the form of his music took after Coltrane, its content has drawn from many sources: “Bartok, Stockhausen, Carl Orff, Wagner, Coltrane, Ellington, fragments of European folk musics and oriental drones”, according to one perceptive critic. Recently the incorporation of sounds from the German choral composer Carl Orff has been noticeable, with its abandonment of melody and counterpoint in favour of rhythmic and harmonic development. Though only one of the three singers who made possible such a dense vocal sound now performs “live” with the group.

It is his lyrical vocabulary and philosophic approach that Christian Vander is most likely to confuse even his most musically literate listeners.

Vander has a mixture of Polish, German, Slav and Gypsy blood, and while he was brought up in France, he pays no particular allegiance to the country whose passport he holds. He regards French as a weak and ineffectual language and is reputed to dislike the conventional vocabulary of rock music, English.

So he invented his own language. He says that it came to him in a vision when he was sixteen; the next day he composed a piece in the language for the jazz group in which he was playing at the time. It was only later that he named it Kobaïan, after the imaginary planet Kobaïa. When he formed Magma, he had the opportunity to use and develop it. It is a curious tongue, strangely stripped of attractions: it is guttural, spiky and angular, like a degenerated and mutated central European tongue.

At first, the mythology of Kobaïa was vague but, with further use, it became more specific. It started out in Magma’s first album with an evocation of the departure to a new planet of a group of Earthmen who had rejected mankind’s headlong plunge into a consumerist death. But, in subsequent albums, the scenario sharpens up in focus, morally and pictorially: ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ is the judgement of the prophet Nebehr Gudahtt on humankind “for all its vulgarity, its cruelty, its uselessness and its lack of humility”.

Magma’s most recent album was ‘Köhntarkösz’, a detailed aside to the main history. It contains an elegy to John Coltrane and an incredible composition entitled ‘Ork Alarm’, as well as the main piece ‘Köhntarkösz’ in two parts, ‘On Entering The Tomb of Ëmëhntëht-Rê’.

The whole series is known as “Theusz Hamtaahk”, and was initially projected as a series of nine album releases; it seems unlikely that the grand design will be rigidly adhered to, for the process is essentially one of discovery rather than projection and planning.  There is something of the prophet about Vander. There can be no doubt that he is posing a “model” for an alternative world, and though we should not confuse the artist and the artefact, we may see that, in a practical as well as philosophic sense, Vander controls the imaginary world of Kobaïa: its musical and lyrical vocabulary can be modulated and understood fully only through Vander himself.

Vander demands the most rigorous standards from those who work with him, and many of the personnel changes in the group have been justified by an alleged lack of commitment. But this is only a function of his own moral and intellectual rigour: in this he has probably been more strongly influenced by his assumed nationality than he might believe.

To put himself in the position of the prophet requires blamelessness, but there is a catch-22 situation when Vander comes to explain his thinking, for he claims that, ultimately, the secrets of his belief are knowable only through initiation. Though he admits that he pays allegiance to Gurdjieff and maintains that, in order to understand, in order to restructure the world, it is first necessary to experience “le neant” – the void.

It is on this philosophic presumption that he describes the music played by MAGMA as “ZEUHL” music. Music with a moral purpose, requiring total dedication. Music, for a real world.

MAGMA - in brief:

MAGMA recently underwent a dramatic personnel change; with leader Christian Vander and percussionist Klaus Blasquiz the only musicians remaining from the five-strong line-up which made ‘Köhntarkösz’.

They are now a nine-piece group, based in Paris, and comprise:

CHRISTIAN VANDER: French, Polish, German, Slav and Gypsy descent; plays drums, composes most of MAGMA’s material.
STELLA VANDER: French (wife of Christian); Vocals.
KLAUS BLASQUIZ: French; Basque descent; Lead Vocals, percussionist
DIDIER LOCKWOOD: English; Brittany descent; Violin
JEAN YVRES: French; Violin
GABRIELLE FEDOROW: French; Guitar
BENOIT WIDEMANN: French; Keyboards
JEAN-PAUL ASSELINE: French; Keyboards
BERNARD PAGANOTTI: French; Bass

MAGMA have made four albums since their inception in 1969, all part of a grand design known as THEUSZ HAMTAAHK:

‘Magma’ (French Philips 6395.001/2 double album)
’1001 Degrees Centigrades’ (French Philips 6397.031)
‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ (A&M AMLH 64397)
‘Köhntarkösz’ (A&M MLS 68260).


Transition

Live in Lyon 25-10-70

Hubert Francillard)

Well, do you remember Deep Purple in Lyon? Follow me. Return to the past. It was the 25th October 1970. A Sunday, at three in the afternoon. at the Théâtre du 8e

The concert began not with the Deep, but with TRANSITION, a French group. Transition was Magma, minus a few of the band! We discovered with great pleasure, Teddy Lasry (flute), Francis Moze (bass), Claude Engel (lead guitar), François Cahen (piano) and Christian Vander (drums). And what they played was incredible. The sound was a little like Magma, for sure. That’s to say that it was in jazz time signatures, with a pop element too, but not terrifically original material. They brought up all their influences, to offer a complex music, rich in colour, which was gradually more enthusiastically accepted by the heavy rock audience as a way to start the gig. Transition swam in their relaxation and allowed us to judge each ones musical abilities in a series of improvisations. Two pieces were executed in the course of which the jazz culture of the musicians was very apparent; notably that of Cahen and Lasry, the principal melodic force behind the group. And Vander, he is a remarkable drummer. Subtle and yet concise. Without flashy embellishments yet adept at sparkling drum rolls… The others were not bad either. Transition eventually got pretty good applause from a full hall.

Transition – a curious interlude

Antoine de Caunes)

Short of money and with urgent material needs: Christian formed a parallel group with Moze, Faton, Engel and Lasry, destined to play the support act at Deep Purple’s Parisian concerts which they did not plan to listen to themselves. The group was baptised TRANSITION and interpreted the jazz standards of the sixties. But the public had turned up to listen to heavy English rock and not the Jazz that they were offered. At the end of one of Christian’s drum solos a heckler shouted “Yeah, not bad” sniggeringly. Out of curiosity, the musicians stayed to listen to Deep Purple and were amused by it’s simplicity. By contrast, in the hall the fans were delirious. Ritchie Blackmore drinking Coke with one hand while playing a solo with the other. Transition decided not to leave it at that. They prepared for the concert the next day with some special effects. Engel played his solos while drinking wine from the bottle; Moze presented Christian’s solo by saying “And now he will play for you in 3/3, very fast, again very fast etc.” At the end of their show, the group advanced to the front of the stage and threw carrots and turnips at the public. The folks in Deep Purple were outraged and decided they no longer wanted to be associated with these agitators who had ruined their lovely show. End of interlude.

Transition – Live in Elbeuf 2-11-70

André Renault

Theoretically on Monday the 2nd of November 1970, we were supposed to see Deep Purple with Transition as support. But after the concerts in Lyon, Sochaux, Mulhouse and Paris, they cancelled their contract for Le Havre, Elbeuf and Brest. Their place as the main act was given to ZOO who included at that time: Michel Ripoche (trombone and violin), Daniel Carlet (violin and tenor sax), Michel Hervé (bass guitar) and André Hervé (organ, vibes, guitar and accordion). Both the Hervé brothers later joined Magma. The first part of the show was definitely as planned, Christian Vander’s TRANSITION.

Eleven hundred people filled the hall for this show, many of them attending their first concert. In the dictionary of pop, Transition = an abbreviation for Magma. Bizarre, eh? I had been told that Transition were Magma less three of their main artists. We found therefore: François Cahen on piano, Teddy Lasry on flute, Christian Vander at the drums, Francis Moze on bass and Claude Engel on solo guitar. Because of the absence of Klaus Blasquiz the recital would be totally instrumental. They opened the act with three of their own compositions, which at first hearing seemed badly constructed, quite jazzy. Eventually however they gelled with a certain cohesion. The next three pieces were very personal adaptations of the work of Santana and Jimi Hendrix. For a quarter of an hour, Claude Engel demonstrated his vast talent for guitar solos. I think I can now say that he is indeed a guitarist of international calibre. Finally their show ended with the odd choice of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo á la Turc’ and then the group stepped forward and threw vegetables at the audience!


CUE MAGMA

English Newspaper – January 1988

WORLD snooker champion Steve Davis is breaking into the music business – as a promoter. Davis has set up his own company – aptly called Interesting Promotions – and has struck a deal with his favourite band, French jazz-rock outfit Magma who first came to prominence in the Seventies but have been little heard of since in this country.

Davis brings Magma back to England for three gigs at the London Bloomsbury Théâtre on January 14, 15 and 16. Davis said this week that his primary reason for the new venture was his own wish to see Magma live

“The only stipulation I made was that the dates had to take place on nights when I was free to see them myself” He added “I first saw Magma at Chalk Farm in 1974 when I went along to see the support band, Isotope. From then on I was a Magma fan and a collector. I wanted to get everything of theirs that was available so I put an advert in Record Collector and got back a letter from Duncan Lane who’s the biggest Magma fan in England. He informed me of all the Magma stuff I didn’t have.”
“I found out that they were still playing and going strong, but that they had no plans for coming to London. Nobody was prepared to take the risk of putting them on in London because there are 12 or 13 in the band. It’s not like bringing an American artist over and hiring a backing band in England. Also, they’re not in vogue.”
“I thought I’d take the risk and hopefully get people to come along out of interest, as well as the people who used to see them in the Seventies. Hopefully they’ll get a few fans.
“The thing about Magma was that they had no real idea of who I was. I thought that was great, quite funny.”

Davis intends to bring Magma back to Britain in the summer. He’s also considering the possibility of promoting “a couple of the more obscure soul singers that don’t have the chance to perform outside their local area”. He said “I’m not really after making money out of this. I’d much prefer that the quality and acoustics and artists were right, and that they were happy with their surroundings. I’m interested in intimate concerts, not promoting anything with mass hysteria appeal.”


I wouldn’t have missed it for galaxies

LONDON 1988

Jonathan Romney

Steve Davis and interesting promotions present Magma. Surely not? Yes, that Steve Davis who saw them play 14 years ago at the Roundhouse and has bought their records ever since. Magma aren’t just interesting, they defy belief. Their major influence is Carl Orff, composer of ‘Carmina Burana’ (the surfing aftershave ad music). They used to walk around wearing their sinister spider-claw logo on whacking great medallions round their necks and exude a Teutonic intensity that made Laibach look laidback. They sing in an invented language, and have made several thousand albums recounting a vast intergalactic saga beside which the “Epic of Gilgamesh” is like the “Beano Annual”.

Magma come on to a warm-up tape featuring a howling wind, sinister tolling bells and … can that be Bugs Bunny gibbering in the background? By the time they’ve reached full force, they’re 12-strong, and the extraordinary soprano of Stella Vander launches into a soaring operatic scat. But nothing prepares you for Christian Vander. Resembling Fish’s shorter, dumpier big brother, squeezed into a glitter-spangled jumpsuit with a shortie Batman cape, Vander glares and gestures as if trying to extract a dagger implanted in his kidney. His vocals are extraordinary – high-speed jabbering, bursts of scrotum-tightening falsetto, and an effect like an adenoidal Finn gargling mouthwash while impersonating Van Morrison.

No less interesting were the backdrop of a giant intergalactic cake stand, the fat bald man in a Dracula cape who walked on, screamed and walked off again, and the cloaked figure with a headdress like a golden sprouting potato who delivered a sermon in French about being Master of Truth and Light and something about flowers that I couldn’t make out.

Musically they were more interesting still. There were touches of mid-70s time warping, like the everlasting drum solo, the ear-piercing flute, the obligatory bit That Sounds Like Weather Report, and a jolly nice bass solo. There were some mighty impressive Orffian fanfares, an unexpected burst of ‘A Love Supreme’, and some dire gospelly bits. Some of it was boring, some of it cosmically awful, and some quite inspired. I wouldn’t have missed it for galaxies. What effect it will all have on the promoter though, is anyone’s guess.


The Return – Powerful and Peerless

David Ilic

The return to Britain after some twelve years of the French avant-rockers MAGMA (Bloomsbury Théâtre, Thursday through Saturday) might just have been a story in itself. But there’s another twist: The promoter is Steve Davis, snooker pro turned cultural dilettante. “You could say I am indulging in a passion,” he says. You could also say that Davis is rescuing Thatcher’s Arts policy from the dogs: private sponsorship at the ‘sharp end’ of contemporary culture has, until now, been largely non­existent. Magma is also a passion: drummer/pianist and leader Christian Vander has dedicated himself to nothing but over the last seventeen years. More so than any of the current crop of European avantists, Magma’s music demands that you accept it on it’s own terms. The amalgam of rock, opera, spirituals and jazz outstripped all formal references, a soundtrack to Vander’s tale of man, myth and magic, delivered in an invented phonetic, as opposed to semantic language. In the studio they are now way past their best: compared to the classic ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’, their latest ‘Offering’ (Seventh: import) sounds flabby and indulgent. Live wise they have always been a force to be reckoned with – powerful and peerless.


Ork! Update

JANNICK TOP

Jannick Top has a new CD available from Musea on the Baillemont Label. It is a collaboration with composer and keyboard player Serge Perathoner – called ‘Music Film Scoring’. One of the tracks is another version of ‘Soleil d’Ork’ but unfortunately this release does not include any other gems such as ‘Musique Des Spheres’ or the ‘Utopia Viva’ single from 1975, which is a shame. ‘Ork’s Sun’, as it is known here, is very similar to the original release, although perhaps the bass is less prominent in the mix. All Jannick’s compositions are quite interesting. In places similar to Les Mysteres Voix Bulgares, the whole album is sort of “New Age Style” but at least it is not as foul as some of Jannick’s past excursions with France Gall, Christian Gaubert & Bernard Lavilliers. The majority of the music was written by Perathoner, with approximately 16 minutes scored by Jannick. Guest musicians featured on this CD include David Rose and Claude Salmieri. You might find this in the New Age section in Virgin Records. The cover has a photo of Serge and Jannick together and is in black and white with red lettering.

MYTHES ET LEGENDES

The ‘MYTHES ET LEGENDES’ CD mentioned in the last issue does contain one bonus track: ‘Stöah’, and it is worth mentioning that part of ‘Theusz Hamtaahk’ comes from the master tapes of the ‘Retrospektïw’ concerts that Magma played at L’Olympia, Paris in June 1980.

FNAC FORUM, BORDEAUX

After the concert in Lille in November, the final stop on the tour was in Eysines (a suburb of Bordeaux). But that same afternoon there was a matinee mini concert by LES VOIX DE MAGMA in the Forum of the hi-fi / record shop FNAC in Bordeaux. It was a very short taster of about sixteen minutes, but the line-up of Christian, Emmanuel, Stella, Isabelle and Julie performed some superb acoustic versions of ‘The night we died’, ‘I must return’ (ending), ‘Hortz Fur Dëhn Stekëhn West’ and ‘Ehn Deïss’. Christian and Emmanuel took it in turn to play the grand piano while the choir sang exquisitely!

SALLE DU VIGEAN, EYSINES

The evening show started with the Magma (piano) intro tape, which faded into the Offering (wind/bells) intro. Magma then poured their hearts out to a packed hall, commencing with ‘Cosmos’ and ‘A Fiïèh’ and then a stunning version of ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’.
As usual on this tour, Magma finished their set with “La” Dawotsin’. After a long intermission, Offering came onstage and played ‘Another Day’. The encore provided another surprise with a new song being premiered. Christian played the drums on this jazzy number, with two keyboards, bass and half the choir. This piece (about 16 minutes long) reminds me of the “Trio + Stella” songs from 1985. After a rapturous standing ovation Offering returned with Christian singing a fine ‘Ehn Deïss’. The crowd eventually brought back Christian on piano with the choir to sing an acoustic version of ‘The Night We Died’. Altogether, I felt this was the best concert of the whole tour, and Christian certainly looked happier throughout. My personal favourite of the whole day was the second matinee piece, the acoustic section of ‘Mekanïk’, which I like to think of as ‘Mekanïk Wokehl Kommandöh’.

ZAO

ZAO – The Seventies jazz-rock offshoot led by Jeff (Yochk’o) Seffer and François (Faton) Cahen are going to have their classic Zeuhl albums reissued on CD starting with ‘KAWANA’ which should be released in the new year by Musea. This will be Digitally Re-mastered from the original studio tapes (not a pirate copy from vinyl). It will also include au extra thirteen minutes of previously unreleased music. This was not their best album by any means, but hopefully the others will be available in the next year or so. I believe Mantra Records have re-released their classic ‘Z=7L’ album on vinyl recently, but alas it is not available on CD at the moment.

YOCHK’O SEFFER

YOCHK’O SEFFER has three new CD’s due for release soon, starting with ‘ADAMA / IMA’ – which will include the material from his ‘Adama’ album and the tracks ‘Ima’ & ‘Ghilgoul’. The other two CD’s will contain the remaining tracks from Seffer’s albums ‘Delire’, ‘Ima’ and ‘Ghilgoul’. As if that was not enough, this set will also include a previously unreleased album called ‘Noce Chimique’. The Ultimate Seffer Collection!
NUMERIK are Yochk’o Seffer’s new group, continuing in the Zao / Neffesh Music vein – they will be performing some concerts early in 1991 and they intend to record a CD too. Should be good!

CHRISTIAN VANDER

Christian Vander – Reach for the Figgy Pudding bowl!
Rumour has it that apparently Christian’s latest project is to produce a Christmas novelty record, with a children’s choir, singing some new pieces and some traditional songs. Sounds absolutely revolting!!! But as I said, it’s only a rumour.

FALSE TOUR NEWS

The Telerama article mentioned in Ork Alarm! #2 should have referred to three or four separate tours, but you already guessed that. Apart from the Trio Vander tour as listed on page 2, there were also tours staged by the Michel Graillier Trio (in October and November) and the Simon Goubert Quintet in December.

XAAL

Xaal are a French trio performing Zeuhl Music mixed with Progressive Rock, influenced as much by Magma as by King Crimson – They have a cassette album available. If you invest in that, you will be helping them to finance their first CD recording.


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