- Ork! News
- A&M Advert ’73
- A Mimi Festival Travellers Guide (photos: Rolf Spengler)
- Bloomsbury 15-01-88 (Andy Hurt)
- ‘Merci’ (Dave Massey)
- Christian Vander Trio
- Art Zoyd’s Inhuman Perfection (Anthony Thomas)
- The night Univers Zero flattened London (Anthony Thomas)
- Bernard Szajner interview (Andy Garibaldi)
- An Irresistible Life force (Ian MacDonald and Klaus Blasquiz)
- 1976 & 1978 Tour Adverts
MAGMA / OFFERING
1991 TOUR NEWS BULLETIN
Saturday 30-03-91 Magma Reims
Saturday 06-04-91 Offering Soissons
Saturday 13-04-91 Offering Viroflay
Friday 19-04-91 Offering Beauvais
STELLA VANDER has at last started working on her solo album ‘D’epreuves D’amour’, which she discussed in Ork Alarm! #2.
Cyborg are currently busy promoting the new OFFERING CD/K7 ‘III et IV’.
The Lockwood / Top / Vander / Widemann album ‘Fusion’ is to be released on CD this April, on the JMS label – I hope they manage to use elements of both the brown and yellow covers used for the first two LP releases of this excellent Jazz-Rock gem. The bass sound on a CD version should be exhilarating if your speakers are up to it. Now, where did I put my Ferrari overalls?
While in France (for the French Grand Prix mainly) I did manage to get to the MIMI Festival for the OFFERING concert – and bloody great it was too! There was a maelstrom of a mistral blowing which played havoc with the countless illicit microphones popping up out of the alien orifices all around me – but we stuck it out. OFFERING were not quite as good under these extreme weather conditions as perhaps they could have been under more normal circumstances, but it certainly added atmosphere and tension to the set, which was very apt. The support group were a wonderful band from Holland called BLAST.
You have to consider how far the Mimi Festival site is from civilization and other human settlements: On the Wednesday and Thursday I had spent a lot of soul searching, agonising and footwork trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get from Marseilles to St Martin de Crau and then on to Etang des Aulnes and back to Marseilles with no transport and an incomplete command of de lingo.
By Thursday night I’d given up hope and set off to the Grand Prix track at Castellet on Friday morning at 05h00. Then after the practice sessions, at about 15h30 on the coach back from the circuit to the Hotel Concorde la Palm Beach in Marseilles, I decided that no matter what happened this was an opportunity that I could not miss. So I decided to give it my best shot. By 17h00 I was harassing the bewildered souls in the Office Tourisme … my original plans were to get a train to Aries and then figure it out from there, but for some reason they disagreed. I was eventually persuaded to try the coach station and get a bus (unlikely I thought, but time was running out). Thirty minutes later a much bemused jeune femme in the coach station info office suggested I get a bus to Salon. (“Where?” I thought…”This is getting peculiar – wish I’d remembered to pack a map in my rush to leave the hotel”). So armed with a bag full of bus timetables I got the 18h00 bus to Centreville (Salon) a real nice place to raise your kids. It was 19h30 by the time I arrived in Salon and still no idea where I was in relation to the Festival site – except I was told it was only about thirty minutes away. No buses from Salon in the evening – tough luck! So the next step was to search this tiny town for a taxi (similar to a needle in a haystack).
Eventually I found a taxi driver who’d packed up for the night and persuaded him to take me – except neither he or I knew where the site was. So off we jolly well go ‘cos its about 20h15 by now (a slight doubt begins to cross my mind about whether this was such a brilliant idea). Twenty minutes later (after stopping at the taxi drivers house for info / maps etc) we find St Martin de Crau, but don’t see any sign posts for the gig. So after asking directions at a local garage, we set off towards a place called La Dynamite. I had realised the driver was not really concentrating and had to keep pointing out signposts etc until…. Hooray, we arrive at the festival site at Etang des Aulnes!
It’s about 21h00 by now, but the relief was enormous – at last another OFFERING concert. Then a surprise bonus in that BLAST were so much better than I had anticipated. They were like the early MOTHERS. At approximately 02h00 the concert finished and it was time to join the party inside the barn for Coffee and a smoke …”Now (I thought) how do I get back to Marseilles before the coach leaves for the second day of Grand Prix practice…. hmm…. never mind that, how the hell do I get back to civilization!”
The site closes at the Mimi Festival at four in the morning. This was an unexpected surprise! Oh joy, by then I’d sorted out a lift to Marseilles with Eric – only trouble was that by then he was too stoned to be moved further than the car park. Frantic enquiries provided the solution – I hitched a lift with BLAST (the band) into St Martin de Crau and then got a lift from a Ray Charles fan in his 2CV to Aries. Then I got a train to Marseilles and the metro to Prado. Finally I took the bus to the Hotel … and missed my coach to the circuit de Castellet (Paul Ricard) by thirty minutes. Great fun. Next year I vow to plan ahead and sort out some transport!
MAGMA IN LONDON 15-1-88
ANDY HURT – Sounds 30-1-88
CRIKEY! STEVE ‘Interesting’ Davis presents…Mag”Interesting”ma! And so they proved to be, for the first hour or so. With individual songs longer than most bands’ sets, the Magma experience can be viewed as either incredible value for money or a war of attrition.
The night set off on the former track, with some hypnotically monotonous rhythms produced by the conventional 12-piece line-up (two drummers, percussionist, three pianos etc). This sounded something like the band of ’70s legend.
But with the extraordinary falsetto voice of the squat-figured Christian Vander leading his football squad into a seemingly interminable Latin American workout, spiked with a curious stab at gospel, attention began to waver and the bloke next to me fell asleep (true).
Well into the third hour came the moment I’d been hoping would never arrive – the drum solo. Some people have a fear of licking stamps; me, I’m a drumphobic.
Vander is a bit of a whiz, but it’s like those nice strips on the Wembley turf – very admirable but I wouldn’t want to watch a guy mow the lawn for a quarter of an hour.
Still, it was an experience.
Jaro (JARO 4120)
Dave Massey – Sounds 5-1-85
THE MAGNIFICENCE of Magma first struck me when I was a tender-eared teenager. Regardless of some of the dubious attitudes / trappings and tales of the cosmos that would make even Carl Sagan blush, the music that Magma made was unstoppable and unique. ‘Merci’ is the result of two years work, and is in marked contrast to the ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ hurricane blitzkrieg that might have been expected. The invented Kobaïan language is still employed as the verbal means of communication, but the ‘black’ backdrop and spirit come from the cultures that produced John Coltrane and Otis Redding.
Three of the six tracks, ‘I Must Return’, ‘Call From The Dark’ and ‘Do The Music’, are more than just examples of Magma going funky. They encompass pieces from gospel and soul, the Chic and Philly feel and, even more disorientating, the post-Scientology ramblings that Stanley Clarke explored with disastrous results. Diehard Magma fans probably won’t like this at all, and I’m not sure what to make of it either.
‘Eliphas Levi’ and ‘The Night We Died’ are fifteen minutes of predominantly massed chorale that chills and uplifts, drifting in reverential menace. ‘Levi’ even reproduces McCoy Tyner’s piano solo that was created on Coltrane’s seminal interpretation of ‘My Favorite Things’, and these pair of songs are the most singularly satisfying moments on the record.
Christian Vander Trio
1991-01-12 Mille Jazz Club, Le Bourget
1991-02-07 Salle Paul Fort, Nantes
1991-02-08 Centre Fuzz ‘Yon, La Roche-sur-Yon
1991-02-09 Théâtre, Cholet
1991-02-12 Centre Jaques Prévert, Inventaire, Le Mans
1991-02-13 Centre Jaques Prévert, Inventaire, Le Mans
1991-02-14 Duc des Lombards, Paris
1991-02-15 Duc des Lombards, Paris
1991-02-16 Duc des Lombards, Paris
King’s College – London 27-11-81)
An aura of uncertainty characterised my long journey towards the big city, for I was heading for the British debut of Art Zoyd – who presumably, have been noted for their unpredictability, their close affinity with Univers Zero, and their Magma-influenced, but totally individual approach to music.
It was easy to admit that I felt uncomfortable as I sat there waiting for the performance, and wondering why the hell there was an arrangement of instruments on the right-hand side of the hall, rather than the allotted stage area. My queries were finally set right by a representative of Recommended Records (the spark behind the whole fiasco), who explained the group wished to play in this part, and were performing the earliest of the publicised groups. “Ah!” I said, and waited for what must have seemed an eternity while the musicians fussily took ages to sound-check and tune up, before pummelling the somewhat small audience into oblivion with a finely structured and enjoyable hour or so set.
The introduction was particularly effective, with a tape-loop rhythm that provided them with the opportunity to burst into their opener. Bass/cello player Thierry Zaboitzeff was a mobile powerhouse, parading in and out of compositions with bass phrases that one could have considered reminiscent of Bernard Paganotti. Thenceforth, partnered by the unique layers of sound created by Jean-Pierre Soarez on trumpet, Didier Peton on sax and the direction of Gerard Hourbette on piano/violin, an exhilarating performance was achieved, featuring confident tightness and almost inhuman perfection ranging from beauty to darkness.
Each number became intricately timed with a fondness to burst out into the violent and unapproachable, before returning to wave a breeze of tranquillity bordering on the meditative at the best of times. Hourbette’s piano pulses formed visions of eternal void and stark emptiness. Then, paradoxically, one became pulled back to reality by the wind machines of Peton and Soarez. The final composition, ‘Dernière Danse’ illustrated Art Zoyd in full swing, with “Eastern promise” keyboard sounds, unpronounceable words bellowed through the mike, and trumpet whirlpools, similar to say Magma’s ’1001 degrees’. By this time, the place had filled considerably, and an encore was demanded. This they provided with a fluctuating piece that drifted inwards and outwards. One was left with fond memories to carry on my journey homewards. Temperamental they may be, but nevertheless, Art Zoyd maintained the power to entertain and I strongly recommend that they warm you – as they did me – on a bitter winter’s night.
King’s College – London 07-12-81
Just as Art Zoyd had captivated and mystified an audience at the very same place just over a week before, Univers Zero decided to go one better – they flattened them! If it was said that Art Zoyd performed with brilliance, then it must hereby be chronicled that no mere word from any mortal could begin to try to describe the set of Univers Zero. Straight from the beginning, they built up excitement through a dense melange of swirling keyboards that drifted and built up the metabolic rate. The drones of piano, organ and synthesizer rapidly thrashed and, like the sea, became more violent in a veritable orgasm of electronic density, before erupting into a climactic struggle as the six-piece punched out a rhythm that instantly defied conventional composition techniques. The drummer acted out the role of the nucleus, centring the flow, as the other participants of the ensemble revolved around his pulsating beats, each contributing towards the forward movement of a spectacular musical form, extremely rare to these shores.
Between numbers, futile attempts were made to communicate with the audience – cut short, due in no uncertain terms to the microphone failure. This, though, was unimportant, as words were useless in a situation where actions take precedence; and Univers Zero, despite equipment problems, retained their freshness throughout the night.
I did, however, ask myself: “Why do U.Z. and Art Zoyd both insist on wearing nothing but black garments?” Are they mysteriously treating us to a morbid European fetish? Or are they secretly dejected cat burglars trying to earn an honest yen? Whatever the answer may be it certainly must be said that these uniforms are an integral part of the performance, and seem to add an aura of mystique to the already atmospheric proceedings. Particularly impressive was a collection of the group’s numbers clustered into one piece amusingly entitled ‘Univers Zero’s Greatest Hits’. It was a complicated configuration of keyboards, chamber music and pounding vibrations. Once again, the bass was reminiscent of Magma, and overall one could easily compare U.Z. to Vander’s group. However, it must be categorically written that they retain their originality, and came across as an individually powerful entity in their own right. After witnessing both ‘Rock in Opposition’ events, I tip my hat to Recommended Records, whose guided influence helps others to near the real qualities of music; not the fashionable worms with huge bank accounts and even bigger egos.
BERNARD SZAJNER INTERVIEW
This is an interview conducted by Andy Garibaldi with Bernard Szajner of ZED and ‘Some Deaths Take Forever’ fame. It was originally published eons ago in Faceout magazine.
“It all started around about 1967, when Karel Beer, who is now directing IRC (Initial Recording Co.), was manager of a group called BACHDENKEL and I was in France interested in light shows, and I was making my very first experiences in France of psychedelic light shows. Karel asked me to come and do these experiences in a concert at the American Centre in Paris, which I did, and I liked it a lot, so I got more and more involved in buying equipment, and working to buy the equipment as the lightshow in itself wouldn’t pay very much. So I worked in publicity making lightshows, which, by the way, I still do, but I’ll come back to that a little later, ok? I started working with a girl named Patricia, and she’s still working with me after these thirteen years, and together we worked, and worked (laughs) there seems to be a lot of work going on! But it was true – we had absolutely no money, it was very difficult. We practically had nothing to eat.
After a while, we started to work with French rock groups. One of the first we worked with was GONG, the original one with Daevid ALLEN. Some years later we made the first experiences with Tim Blake, ex-Gong at this time – well, I must say that in between, unlike most other light shows that existed in France, which were very big groups who had found money somehow or other, we were not well equipped, but we studied very, very carefully, how we could express pictures or visions on music, and that has been our aim and purpose over these past thirteen years. Now, that may not seem important, but in a way I think it is because that might be one of the reasons that all the other light shows disappeared. Because they were a reflection of the psychedelic era and people were just interested, in the sensations given by any film or slide or effect. Now, we were interested to find out how one could express something parallel to the music with visuals. I still have an article which was printed in a magazine which tells the story of the Festival Of Lightshows in The Museum of Modern Art about twelve years ago, and we were at that time considered, or became considered, as the best because we were the only ones who worked with the groups to create a complete event. The musicians composed the music and we composed the visuals on the same theme. For this moment it was a new concept, so we always worked it that Way.
After some time, we worked quite a lot with MAGMA. This is how I first came to meet Klaus BLASQUIZ and Bernard PAGANOTTI and we became close friends. At the end, we were practically working with only slides and very few effects. We also found that we had by now quite a lot of equipment, but this was not the major thing, it was doing the right thing to go with the music. After a while we could not go on with Magma because it was getting quite complicated to tour often and there was very little money. We were still making publicity and working for commercial shows, and this was when we met Tim BLAKE and started working with him (pre Crystal Machine – Ed). Now, we had quite a few problems with him
He was one of these very pop-star-ish people, who was more interested in the looks he had or in the appearance of his music than the contents, or in working very strongly to prepare a show, but we did make a few with him. Again, we really didn’t make any money. We would do one show a year, where we made no money but we would do the show that we wanted to do. The first of the interesting shows we did with him was in the Kinopanorama in Paris, which is the equivalent of the Cinerama for Russians. This was at night after the film, and things were complicated because we had to have friends looking after our equipment during the daytime. This lasted for three nights. The only publicity we had were some leaflets, and the place was full. We had, 800 to 900 people per night, and it was quite a success. This was the first time that we started to use little lasers.
Now, that was a very interesting experience because we were projecting onto a huge screen. This was during our, er… ‘cosmic’ period when we were into science fiction (which I still am, by the way, but in a different direction), and the whole thing was very SF-orientated. Now, the difficulty with working with Tim Blake was that he didn’t want to compose or to structure anything, and we needed structured music in order to make structured visuals. So we had quite a few fights with him, but we got it on anyway. After this show – I can’t remember the date, but it must have been about seven years ago, maybe more- I had a proposition to go to England and meet the people who were in charge of the Who, and after some very complicated events I found myself on tour with two big argon lasers (and the Who of course!), which were rented from an American company called Spectra-Physics, for eleven days in Germany – the first time that they had any lasers. I got completely ripped off, but it was an interesting experience. I learned a lot about how complicated it is to tour, with all the organisation involved and also how to use big lasers. Nobody in France was using these lasers at this time and I had found out how impressive it was, and through my publicity business I managed to buy my first big laser. So after this big Who event, the next year we had our laser. Of course, the Who, with all their money, had masses of them – I must say, it wasn’t the Who, who ripped me off, it was someone else, by the way (the curse of Watergate hits again!) but that’s the past. Anyway, we made another show with Tim Blake in a place called The Palace, which is now the biggest Nightclub in Paris. At that time it was a theatre, and our show was for one week. Again, a few leaflets and posters advertised it and it was a big success. The first laser show in Paris.
After that, we split with Tim Blake because we found that he didn’t work in the same way as us. That was our one show a year where we lost money as I mentioned before, but we were satisfied with it even though we weren’t satisfied with Tim Blake. A year or so later we made a show in the French Planetarium. This was in two parts, one in the afternoon with Beethoven’s ‘Third Symphony’ with slides and things like that, and the other in the evening, where we featured some small French groups and individuals, all completely unknown, changing weekly for the five-week duration. All played electronic music because I was very, very interested in electronic music. Our light show group was now bigger we had perhaps four or five people. The whole thing was most interesting, but I found out the same thing, which was that all these groups and musicians and so on would come to play their music and interpretations, none of them would compose music so that we could compose a light show.
So for this whole time we had to improvise, with about five or six of these groups, which was still an interesting experience. The Beethoven part was not improvised at all, because of the structure of the music. Some of the groups were close to contemporary styles, others nearer to the ‘cosmic’ side of things, so we had some diversity, a range for our improvising. I thought to myself that if none of these people were going to make an effort to make some music to go in with our visuals, then perhaps I would have to do it myself, and that’s how it started for me with my own music. I was not (and in a way, am still not) a musician. When I had my big idea I had not touched a musical instrument in my life. So what I did was borrow a little Oberheim, an OB One, I think, although I don’t remember exactly – you might have guessed by now that I have the most terrible memory – which has a little sequencer inside it and I started making tapes on a Revox; tapes and tapes and tapes…
After about a week, I found out that I could not just make music or sounds in isolation, I had to have something to equate it to, a story or something in my head, or related visually. Now it happened that I had been reading Frank Herbert’s book Dune, so I became attracted to making music, or sounds that were for me symbolic of people or visions from that book. After a while I had a pile of tapes. I borrowed a four-track recorder and tried to make some sense out of them by mixing and cutting, and adding a few more sounds (I also borrowed an ARP from another musician at this stage). I also had some very special sound generators, which were used to make electronic shapes to compliment the laser. I used all this to make the first tape, the first mix, if you like, which I took into a studio and transferred from four to sixteen track, asked Klaus (Blasquiz) to add some voices, and also a guy called Clement BAILLY (who used to play with MAGMA) to put on some drums and that was it – a rough mix emerged. It lay around for a while until I met a guy, called Graham Lawson. Hang on a moment; things are getting mixed up in my mind. Ah, in the meantime, we had been to the Albert Hall to do a laser show for the (JO PROJECT with Stomu YAMASHTA, Klaus SCHULZE and others whose names escape me now (again, my terrible memory!).
Now, so Graham Lawson was Yamashta’s manager, and during the same show in Paris (The GO Live in Paris – Ed), Lawson was around, so I made him listen to my tapes. He thought there was a chance of a deal so he took the tapes around and went searching.
After a while he brought along a few people from some English record companies (even some French!) to my studio, which was now well-equipped, and we made them some demonstrations, with lasers and so on in an attempt to impress them, to give them an idea of the whole concept. It finished up with me almost making a deal with Island. However, they said that it could do with a slightly better mix, and suggested I come to England with thirty hours of studio time to work it out, to use any way I wanted. So I went to London for about three weeks. I did some re-recordings and what have you, adding some guitar parts played by Cohn Swinburne (from Karel Beer’s first Bachdenkel), and also some bass from another guy called Hansford Rowe who was the current Gong bassist (this was Pierre MOERLEN’s Gong, also managed by Lawson).
However, a problem arose with Island. They had some kind of trouble and Chris Blackwell decided to review the acts they were negotiating with, such as me! He said my music wasn’t commercial enough, and said that unless I could come up with something a little more like KRAFTWERK, then that was it. I said ‘I am sorry; I am not going to do this. Kraftwerk are not to my taste and besides, I am not a musician’. This all came to me via Lawson, and it was after all the work had been done, for months That was it, it could not be done, so I was left with my tapes until I met with Karel Beer who had just got his little company IRC off the ground, and he offered to take the tape. It got a bad reception in France I think because at that time French people did not believe in French electronic musicians, except for HELDON and Richard PINHAS who had been at it for years, I got no reviews at all but it still sold approaching 5,000 copies. Tim Blake was not considered French and he was ex-Gong, so that was OK for him, but me… I was unknown, and nobody in the media was really interested. These sales were a bit sensational for an unknown like me.
After this, I became very interested in music and I bought myself a very big custom-made synthesiser with a big modular synthesiser with many sequencers made the way I wanted them. I had a lot of technical problems, but I built up piece-by-piece, even before the record was released, and I had quite a complex synthesiser, but it was not working that well, although I was learning how to handle it. We did a show in Paris under a circus tent supposedly for a week with the release of the record. It was a complete flop, mainly because it was in the middle of January and awfully cold. People were freezing to death under this tent. The synth would go out of tune like every three minutes and there were four musicians playing with me; guitar, bass and keyboards. I played a bit, stopped to re-tune, and in the meantime had tapes of the album going, with the other people attempting to play live. The paradox is that we spent so much time on the music that my original visual thing I was so keen on went to pot. Perhaps the poorest we had ever had, despite the two big lasers, dancers, smoke and graphics and whatever. It was very un-together (wry chuckle). We had to make the music very quiet but it was still too loud and we got kicked out for this. So much energy and so much money, all for just about nothing. It was sad and it took us a while to recover.
Well, we did, and I continued working on the music, and the net result was that the system now is unique in the world, with direct and indirect linkups between the music on synth and the visuals. It is the result of two years work, which we hope to get on the road next year (i.e. ’81 – Ed). In the meantime I got into microprocessors, and the system has been worked on and worked on so much that hopefully by the end of the year I can punch one code to get out one complete piece of coordinated music. No tuning-up!
That is the state of the music, now, what happened with the second record was that I was still working on the equipment, when Amnesty International approached me with the idea to do a piece of music for a film they were doing against the death penalty in France. Just thirty seconds of music. They liked the music very much, and suggested I do a whole album. I worked for four months on this with some difficulties with Amnesty International. They wanted a certain type of image, and, I had to respect this and at the same time tell the story. When the record was made, I took it to the record companies myself (I had no manager). Pathé Marconi took it. This record is much more satisfying for me, because I had more knowledge but at the same time I was not trapped by any standard things. I still have no idea of music, and I can’t write or read it, so chords and things are not there to be worried about in the embryo of a piece. This can cause problems – when I play a chord, all I know is it fits in with the music, the sequencers or whatever, the sound, which is sufficient for me. The musicians would find that I had made some strange chords because it’s all played by ear. When composing, I listen to what’s there and whistle or hum a piece into a cassette for them.
It worked well, and it gave me the idea to form a kind of group to play live. All the reviews for this record, ‘Some Deaths Take Forever’, were good. One, in a magazine called Actuel, called it innovative, a bit further than ENO and FRIPP. This was a big compliment for me because I respect them, but I thought it was a bit exaggerated maybe in a way. Anyway, the thing is still going on, and I intend to record the third album in December (1980) at my own studio. I have a 16-track. I cannot say precisely what will be on it, because it is not recorded, but I would think it will be more towards rock, which I am more inclined to be interested in, and away from the more ‘German’ side of things, the TANGERINE DREAM and Klaus Schulze directions. If I find some intelligent lyrics, I might even sing them. That’s about it. Next year, perhaps there will be a show in England maybe, but after a concert in Paris if that is so.”
Thank you Bernard for taking the time to record a tape for us. If you’ve got to bring a tent over here with you, then make it the summertime and bring your umbrella!
AN IRRESISTIBLE LIFE FORCE
Ian MacDonald – 1975
SUPER NOVAE are stars that suddenly flare up with dramatic brightness. They are believed to be ‘binary systems’ – two stars jammed inextricably into a similar orbit. Such a star pairing will exchange energy, in the form of radiation, with unstable particles accelerating into collision. This process results in the creation of a light source of incredible intensity.
Magma are a binary system, fusing elements of music and language into volatile cohesion. Magma’s entity is potentially explosive, or more correctly, implosive. Like a black hole neutron star, the end product of a twin system collapsed in upon itself under colossal inertia forces. Magma wear black. Black is neutral, a composite of all colours. It absorbs all light directed upon it; Tuareg nomads wear black to protect themselves from the Sahara sun. Black is an expression of nothingness, therefore one of totality, of infinity. It is the favoured colour of white magicians. Black hole stars present an existentialist threat to life, as we know it. They beg disturbing questions about what, if any, kind of environment could possibly exist beyond them. Alternate universes, perhaps exactly correlative to our own and in duplicate. Backward and forward time continua, with neutron stars as inter-galactic junction boxes.
Magma’s cosmology concerns itself with interplanetary space (or inner mind-space, it doesn’t matter on which level you approach it). Similarly, if entertained at all seriously, it demands a reassessment of Mankind’s relationship to his immediate environment and to his universe. Magma’s final solution necessitates radical change, apocalypse and the instigation of a new life cycle. This cycle’s growth curve would be as diametrically opposed to current practice as any conceptualisation or actual discovery of an alternate universe.
Initiated and subsequently directed by drummer Christian Vander, Magma are an eight-piece French band, tucked under the wing of Yardbirds / Byg / Marmalade Records man Giorgio Gomelsky. Magma have undergone frequent personnel reshuffles during their six year existence, although Vander, his wife Stella and Basque singer Klaus Blasquiz have remained permanent fixtures, an epicentric trinity. The totality of Magma, as vehicle for the exposition of an integrated ideology, rests here, but primarily with Vander himself. Vander is reticent in conversation; Blasquiz explicit, exact and loquacious. For both men, Magma is anything but a casual involvement. Vander, grounded in jazz through gigs with Jean-Luc Ponty and Chick Corea, dreamt of forming a band to play his ideal music. Dreamt, as in vision. Revelation, as in Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. For Vander, Magma had to happen: an obligation, a foregone necessity. Blasquiz offers a New Testament parallel/parable in comparing Magma’s inception to the growth of a seed or grain fallen on fertile ground.
An irresistible life force.’Magma Live’, their recently released sixth album, succeeds devastatingly in recapturing Magma’s essential sound. This last was felt to be absent on ‘Köhntarkösz’ a project regarded by Blasquiz as Magma music, but not Magma. Although the ‘Tristan et Iseult’ soundtrack (from the Yvan Lagrange film interpretation of the Celtic legend), recorded with a skeleton line-up of Vander, Blasquiz, erstwhile bassist Jannick Top and Stella Vander, transpired to be more accurate in its portrayal of Magma’s essence. In other words, “Magma music” – regaining the spirit of Magma. And how to define this spirit? Over to Blasquiz:
“The spirit of Magma is Zeuhl Wortz, which in its entirety is more than Magma. Magma is the instrument of the music; Zeuhl Wortz is that of all actions of which men are capable. We aspire through the strength of this spirit, which entails the transcendence of Man, towards the infinite. Because the infinite is indefinable, there are only indefinable ways of defining it. The void and nothingness, for example – and to express nothingness one must go beyond mere mortality. The concept is an abstract one, beyond mechanistics. Even though one has a musical form, which is definable, behind it lie areas which must remain totally inexplicable.”
Right, before proceeding any further, explanations of Zeuhl Wortz, a key phrase in Magma’s Kobaïan tongue, the language itself, and some of its accompanying mythology.
First: the mythology according to Vander. Briefly, it concerns a group of men who leave Earth some unspecified time in the future and colonise a planet, Kobaïa. There they establish a new order of humanity, based on universal respect. Neither good nor bad exist on Kobaïa, whose realisation is a triumph of White Magic, based on Love (the capital letter is Blasquiz’ insistence). Kobaïa is synonymous with Harmony.
A Kobaïan mission returns to Earth and is expelled; Earth remains bent on self-destruction, thriving on systematised love of hate, jealousy and fear of the strangely new. In the ensuing struggle the Kobaïan’s employ The Weapon, made of Zeuhl, a celestial metal formed from the collective mind-strength of their aspirations. This weapon is reflective, a kind of force field, re-directing Terran hate upon Earth. End of Earth, but not extermination of life, which is reborn, based on altruistic Kobaïan principles. More later.
Secondly: the language, its whys and wherefores. Kobaïan is basically phonetic not semantic – based on sonorities not on applied meanings. It was incorporated gradually into Magma’s music, by improvisation. Glau, for instance, means blood and should convey the implication of some thick, glutinous liquid. Say it aloud and see; it works. Blasquiz describes Kobaïan as “a language of the heart”. He continues, “People have a habit of listening to words even if they have no importance whatsoever. This hinders a fuller appreciation of the music. If conversely, words are inseparable from the music, such close correlation paradoxically tends to cancel out any interference. It does mean it’s more difficult to connect initially as an effort bias to be made, although not an exceptional one. More like letting oneself go, and then penetrating, exploring the music. Some groups do everything for their audience, reaching a sort of lowest common denominator.”
“That’s an unfair trade because it’s based on condescension. We try and achieve a two-way profit, a mutual elevation, but not on people’s backs; instead, with them. Music for the people and for us: popular music in the real sense of the term. As far as the language is concerned, we could have developed a new Esperanto, but that would have been artificial and thus inconsistent. Kobaïan is however needed because we’re dealing with something that’s not of this world. We couldn’t sing about Kobaïa in French, German, English or any existing language.”
In fact, Kobaïan’s closest relatives are the Indo-European caucus: Hungarian (Magyar), Finnish and Russian, all of which are about as properly phonetic as you’ll get. And (by strange coincidence) Vander’s Kobaïan tale aligns itself approximately with Mesapotamian and especially Indian legend. In which heroes and heroines are transported by airborne vessels to some celestial paradise, and upon their return to reality are either rejected, mistreated or even slain. Something like the Kobaïan exodus and revisitations.
Furthermore, other associations abound. The Tigris and Euphrates Basin (Old Testament Eden) has valid claim to be the primordial cradle of Eurasian civilisation. Activities are reputed to have centred on the Chaldean city of Ur and Babylon, whence science filtered down to Egypt. From Egypt, you can extend the spread as far east as China (a separate evolution altogether) and as far west as Bronze Age Britain, Brittany and, fancifully, Atlantia. But the Ancient Egyptian priesthood remain the most significant progenitors of culture. Among their heritage can be included numerology (numbers and letter characters in a unified system) and the hypothetical Golden Ratio. The latter was (is) a kind of ultra-sophisticated divine harmony, involving complex astral mathematics. It dictated the pyramid’s progressive angles of inclination towards the constellations, also their ground plan. Altogether, a system of triangles, circles and intersections, extrapolated with computerised accuracy, and found in megalithic stone constructions.
Magma’s symbol is delineated along similar lines and projections. It is fashioned out of bronze, as this metal is receptive, selecting positive vibrations for the benefit of protection of its bearer.In addition, the Egyptian symbol for infinity, a spiral: the mystic representation of life to be found in Celtic jewellery, the Hindu swastika and natural life forms, like seashells and plants. Thus, back to Magma
“Yes, the spiral is a very good analogy. It can be interpreted in one of two ways, either horizontally or vertically. There are many connecting points. The first time someone sees us perform they may receive an impression of force and certainty. But it’s a gradual process; everything is initially not explicable. One must want to involve oneself, that’s all we ask.”
Imagine going into a Chinese market place and hearing a poet recite some of his work. One would be completely disorientated by the journey into China, its landscape, pace of life and so on. But there are degrees of understanding. If one stayed to listen one would begin to comprehend, but not all at once.”
“Magma is more of a catchment area like that market place. We represent different aspects of a whole.
“Courage? Well we’re still new, therefore often rejected, because we’re a little unconventional. But we’re always human, because the music is played by men. In a way the music is religious and through its ritual we can attempt to rise above our limitations. There are various levels, which evoke melody and harmony, beyond the quality of sound itself. All the same, we are perhaps misunderstood; the achievement of Love and Harmony is vital to us.”
“The contact between us and our audience is like an electric circuit. Such a passing of current is similar to the function of pop music in general, but in that instance there’s often an applied brutality and insensitivity. A current passes and nothing results. The experience is no more than mere noise. Surely it’s wrong just to deal with the surface of things, although skin, surface and silhouette are useful as ways of understanding. They act as guides, but in a limited fashion with no implied realisation of the inner-structure – that of the heart. All the same, life isn’t all mere structure or formality. One progresses gradually, step by step, towards its secrets and such advancement is an essential function of Magma. Aspiration and the growth of the spirit are similarly vital aspects. We want to welcome, embrace and include other souls alongside us and propagate Love and Harmony.”
And thus Blasquiz demonstrates pretty convincingly that an awful lot of people have got their lines on Magma hopelessly wrong. Talking to both Vander and Blasquiz one rapidly gets (and retains) the impression that neither of them are the cranks – for want of a better word – they’re usually made out to be. Monomaniacs, yes, but that’s something else altogether.
They are both dedicated men, purposefully outlining their hopes and fears, with a minimum of indulgence and a maximum of feeling. Men, who believe in something strongly enough, to take it out into the open, in the face of predictable flak. But to each their own. You can admire Blasquiz and Vander for that or not, just as you choose. Nobody would deny that Magma’s music is not at times as intimidating as it is rhythmical and lyrical. However, it’s more a business of sorting out why this should be so, which entails checking through Vander’s ideology in more detail. After all, ideological dedication and involvement is more often than not likely to result in corresponding musical divergence and extremism; Magma are no exception.
But back to Blasquiz’ outlines of Magma’s function and purpose. He refers with insistent regularity to the Beatitudes: Love and Harmony as spiritual states, states of mind. He states that their achievement is of paramount importance – an attitude that effortlessly slots the Magma focus into a more medieval framework. In effect, such aspirations (a key word) parallel with a large amount of literature produced about the Grail (the cup-reputed to be that used by the Christ at the Last Supper and possessor of remarkable healing qualities) and associated subjects. Among the writers responsible for extant material in this field one can number the French romancer Chretien de Troyes and, more importantly here, the Thirteenth Century German mystic Gottfried de Strasbourg. De Strasbourg was a Cathar, a member of a sect who believed heretically that Good and Evil were independent, equi-balanced cosmic forces, battling it out for dominion over souls through all Eternity. (In fact Catharsism was subsequently suppressed by a particularly bloody pseudo-crusade against its strongholds in Southern France led by Simon de Montfort, but that’s another matter altogether).
Now, De Strasbourg also wrote up his version of the Celtic-Breton Tristan and Iseult legend. In this both hero and heroine (illicit lovers in exile) seek a rapport of increasingly spiritual intensity. They rendezvous in a vast crystal cavern and there their relationship is effectively de-sensualised: a mystic communion of souls, which is repeatedly emphasised. A cult of love, a kind of strange new religion of its own. Not that far removed from what Blasquiz hints at, and it seems more than coincidental that Vander wrote music for Lagrange’s film on the subject.
Vander’s conception of the struggle between Kobaïa and Earth is itself essentially Cathartic and in both senses of the term: on the one hand Good versus Evil in combat and on the other a climatic resolution of the conflict, resulting in exorcism and spiritual acceleration past accustomed levels of experience. If in doubt, observe Magma on stage and watch Vander use his customary drum solo to fulfil the latter function. However, it must be said that Vander’s ideology weighs in on a more optimistic note since it envisages the ultimate triumph of Good as in White Magic.
And here is where the Kobaïan alternative is most vulnerable to sceptical assault. Vander’s slant is Aryan, as in Indo-European, as in secret cabal, as in medieval Order of Templars, themselves connected with Catharsism on several counts. Aryan ideologies have tended historically towards obfuscation and, on occasion, fatal misinterpretation. For example: Nietszche’s Super Man stuff, which was intended (in its original context) as an un-prejudicial blueprint for collective aspiration. Guidelines for getting Man out of his usual state of disorientation as a result of conflicting desires – those of ‘the flesh’ and those of ‘the spirit’. And one hardly needs to mention the utterly perverted Nazi exploitation of such philosophies. However, although Nietszche accepted the Aryan propagation of knowledge as inalienable historical fact, he didn’t pay as much attention to the Aryan as White Magician angle, which is where he and Vander disengage dramatically.
If one’s going to take Magma at all seriously, the magic and mysticism stuff has to be accepted on its own terms. Whether it’s hopelessly idealistic and/or sincerely directed at working towards a better world is something you can decide in your own time. Its importance and complete integration into Vander’s ideology can’t be denied. It is as explained above, medievalist, and in addition personalised. But not exclusively. Instead, a good deal more open-armed than its avatars. Just who, for example, would the initial group of exiles from Earth be, and on what basis would they be selected? As far as Blasquiz is concerned it’s down to anybody who’d care to come along, whatever colour or creed. Courage and dedication to the White or Good are the only requirements to be met. Which isn’t exactly that discriminatory; the Kobaïan’s could be readily compared to any present day minority (political or social) struggling to assert their ideals. If you like, in dead simple expression, it’s all something to do with the, ’68 ethic (Love and Peace to All), which itself had plenty of religious and mythological outriders – the Glastonbury cultism and interest in Orientalism. All this wrapped up in intergalactic fuzz. Also, next to nothing to do with the post-war imperialism of sci-fi writers like Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke with their foundations, empires and mega-systems throughout the galaxies. Magma’s vision is rather different, more independently adventurous, a kind of crusade. It offers a fairly accurate prediction of how Magma themselves would be handled by critics and some audiences – with acerbic disinterest. A touch of self-willed martyrdom? Unlikely, more downright realism.
Nonetheless, some would extend the authoritarian tag to Magma’s music as well as to their ideology, which itself springs from a separate, spiritualist inspiration. Yes, some of the material is militaristic – stuff like ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’. And why? Because (and it’s really this easily justified) Magma’s music is intended as a soundtrack or commentary in alignment with the unravelling of Vander’s tale. The Kobaïan’s fight, like most soldiers they march, even though their methods of combat are based on mind-strength. Like psyching out the (by definition) fat, mean, bourgeois straights with ‘good vibes’ – or whatever variation on that theme you remember once crediting. Conversely, just as much of the material is lyrical (several songs on the new record, much of ‘Köhntarkösz’, etc.) and/or cumulative, stretching up to complete release of tension. And there’s nothing objectively ‘wrong’ about percussive music per se. Think of Stravinsky (growth and celebration as in ‘Firebird’ and ‘The Rites of Spring’) or Bartok’s abrasive string quartets. In addition, Vander’s as much of a percussionist as he is a drummer, and if you investigate his favoured time signatures at all closely, you’ll note correspondence between them and any amount of contemporary jazz – from Ellington to Weather Report. It’s just too easy to hack up a fashionably provocative tangent, like the fascist angle. Too damn easy.
Magma’s music is forceful because it’s attempting to put across an equally coherent and enduring mystical overview. Point taken, it’s not that readily assimilated or accepted, but a lot of the most sincerely intentioned music available finds itself denied a fair hearing in much the same way. An occupational hazard of moving into left-field and taking risks perhaps, also saddening.
But, like I said, you decide. End of apologetics.