- Memories of Offering (Keiko Kifune)
- Vander and The Voices of Magma Bordeaux 1990
- UZMK Personnel Past & Present
- Paganotti Interview (Alain Juliac)
- On Tour with the Trio Vander
- Bobino 20-05-81 (Colin Potter)
- Technorock Interview (Klaus Blasquiz / Christian Vander)
- From the Golden Archives (UK Music Press 1974)
- Christian Vander’s Magma
- Magma scrape the surface (Steve Lake)
- Reading University Union – December 1973 (Terry Lee)
- Ork! Update
OFFERING TOUR NEWS
15-10-91 Le Transbordeur, Lyon
18-10-91 Café Théâtre de la Porte d’ltalie, Toulon
19-10-91 Cedac de Cimiez, Nice
11-11-91 Théâtre Barbey, Bordeaux (Festival Sigma 27)
20-11-91 Centre Culture! de L’Aérospatiale, Toulouse
21-11-91 Salle Diff’Art, Parthenay (Deux Sevres)
22-11-91 MJC, Joué-les-Tours (Loire)
06-12-91 Espace Carpeaux, Courbevoie (A Suburb Of Paris)
07-12-91 Centre Culturel Les Arcades, Faches-Thumesnil (near Lille)
14-02-92 Espace Villiers, Draveil
CHRISTIAN VANDER TRIO CONCERTS
27-09-91 Dame Bleue, Ris-Orangis (near Paris)
04-10-91 Le Havre
08-10-91 Alligators, Paris
22-10-91 Vienne-Elysée, Paris
23-10-91 Vienne-Elysée, Paris
24-10-91 Vienne-Elysée, Paris
25-10-91 Vienne-Elysée, Paris
26-10-91 Vienne-Elysée, Paris
MEMORIES OF OFFERING
Keiko Kifune – May 1987
Vocalists are Stella, Christian, and Guy. Guy used to sing with so much tension and laxity in his cheeks, and with a unique mouth shape. I imagine all Kobaïan’s speak like this… He also plays flute, usually a Yamaha model.
Acoustic piano is a very important instrument for Offering, performed by Simon and Emmanuel. Emmanuel’s playing is accurate and harmonious. Simon’s talented style is so forceful.
Electric bass, by Jean-Marc Jafet, he was born to be a bass player.
Fréderic Briet is a real contrabass lover. His warm fullness makes Offering sound happier.
Pierre Marcault is the leader of percussion section. His snare drum sound awakes a primitive pulse.
Jean-Claude Buire, the drummer, is a happy man, and his music also makes the audience happy.
Marc Delouya, percussionist, he is a hard worker. I sometimes saw him doing drum tuning even after the concert. Christian has full confidence with his tuning, and he knows well the sound that Christian requires. His sound timbre is like Christian’s. It’s such a profound sound.
Chorus girls support Offering, not only musically, but visually too. Sandrine and Isabelle, they have different vocal tones to each other, but both beautiful. They are like our spokesmen, because while they are singing, we are also singing in our hearts.
IN CONCERT AT THE THÉÂTRE DEJAZET
Dejazet is a small theatre near the metro station République. The first and second floor seats are for guests, and the third level is for lighting. Since Offering consisted of twelve members, they said laughing, that they would cross each other if they all played at the same time. The stages are also separated on two floors. Two acoustic pianos, keyboard, double bass, electric bass and drums were located on the first floor, along with the vocalists.
The second floor stage was prepared for various percussions and chorus. The entrance ticket fee was 90F (on the day 110F), at 8:00pm, many people were trying to buy Offering or Magma posters, T-shirts and also discs. In the hall, Coltrane music was played first, and after a while, the music changed to European classical music, and the lighting became darker, and the members of Offering entered one by one.
Though I saw the concerts continuously for nine days, I still could not recognise each person’s shadow clearly. Some of the band appeared on the second floor too. Stella and Guy came to the centre of the first floor. Finally Christian appeared on the stage, just then the music arrived at the climax, and the shadows stared at the audience without movement. Before the end of the tape music, members began to turn back to their individual positions, except Christian. He got this idea of opening the show, just three or four days before the concert. On the final day, he appeared wearing a black mantle with a hood, “since the audience had got too overpowering for him”… After the classical music ended, a bass sound came from somewhere, and the lighting became bright when the music changed into 3/4 jazz with an oriental flavour.
‘Offering’ started with Stella’s hot vocal and Guy’s flute. Piano swung between two scales, this was actually the beginning of the first song. The female chorus began, next the male’s, and then the sound became so heavy, and again soft, at last with the cue of the drum sound, Christian appeared in the spotlight. This song features some dramatic drumming, which you cannot hear on the ‘Offering I & II’ album.
Christian must sing with a high tone falsetto voice, since he reduced his cigarette smoking from the middle of April. It seems to be very hard for him, because basically he is a heavy smoker. But Stella doesn’t like smoke, so while the room filled with smoke, she used to go outside.
The third song was linked with the previous one, and Christian played the piano part. The next two songs were purely from the world of Vander. Quietly, the words of ‘Imaginateur solitude’ were refrained. I regret that this song is also still unrecorded. The song has a universal scale, and I felt that with ‘Imaginateur’, Guy was a storyteller with flute. Only three people played the song, but percussion sounds, like tambourine or bells, were coming from far away.
The fourth song used electric piano by Stella, and acoustic piano by Christian. She played and sang like a little bird, and Christian replied.
Next was ‘Ügümà Ma Mëlïmëh Gïngeh’ from ‘Offering parts I & II’. I heard that this song title was hard to pronounce even for members of the band. This was performed in almost the same arrangement as the original, including Christian’s final solo part, the spotlight closed up on him when he cried, “Oh Coltrane, I can wait for you, dear”. Perhaps he saw Coltrane in the light. Then, Stella and Guy left the centre of the stage, and Stella appeared on the second floor alone. She sang as if she was reading a poem, “one day, she flew away…. into the sky, into the moon”. With her singing, I felt as if the wind of sounds flew me away. Then, the sound got completely strange, and a Coltrane number was sung. Perhaps this was one of his early songs. Guy appeared with a hat, acting a dandy, the audience made fun of him. Simon played drums.
The light colour turned from red into white, and ‘Joïa’ began. It was my good fortune that Pierre played a longer version than the original. I don’t know about ‘Merci’, but I feel there is not so much difference between the live performance and records of Magma and Offering. For example, ‘Ügümà Ma Mëlïmëh Gïngeh’ as with the original recording, we feel a relaxed atmosphere, something like a rehearsal scenario. ‘Joïa’ too.
The next song was ‘Another day’, playing time was more than forty-five minutes. I have not enough words to explain this song properly. Maybe it consisted of four or five parts, but seamlessly linked. It included many solo sections. While playing, the audience were breathless. But anyway, I’ll try to explain. The beginning was very bright, and after Christian’s solo falsetto vocal part, the drum solo started. I thought he cried about Coltrane, but I felt the feeling of ‘Earth’. I suppose this song was not Earthly, but the words of Kobaïa were the same, and the style of singing also.
Again it returned to the main melody with many chorus parts. The audience began to beat time with their hands and feet.
Next, Simon played piano for a long time, but this was totally different from ‘Mazur Kujiawiaki Oberek’ or ‘Solitude’. It consisted of two parts, in part one, he turned notes out using all his fingers, and these notes purified at part two. Again the main melody returned. Stella began to sing with an energetic voice. Then Christian took over the vocals, a short sound break came systematically. At that time, Christian cried loudly against the backing of tiny bells.
The light caught Christian, and the word CHARISMA flashed across my mind. Finally the sound was running and running, I greeted the song’s end with rapturous applause.
The members were introduced during Christian’s drum solo, and the encore was performed solely on percussion, then the last songs were ‘Tilïm M’Dohm’ and ‘Ehn Deïss’. On the final day, two more encores were added, one was by Simon (piano) and Guy (Organ), and another was from the ‘Offering parts I & II’ album.
As always, their performance was so heavy, like a storm, I was anxious in case someone would die from lack of breath. After the show, I was too impatient to go backstage through the regular entrance, so I went there directly via the stage instead! But there were only smiling faces, I suppose they are all fit.
These concerts, without exception, began at 8:30pm and lasted three and half hours.
LAST WORDS After those gigs, Christian went on another concert tour, playing Jazz with his Trio. Next a holiday was scheduled, and he enjoys fishing, it’s his favourite hobby.
I left Paris and when I returned to Japan, I got some information: In August 1987, they were talking about recording ‘Ehn Deïss’ and Offering would have a concert in Germany on the 29th August, and two more in France in September. Christian used to send me a letter every January, and in the latest one he says his life is all music as usual.
I am not satisfied with just writing about their concerts or exploits. I want to say more, but I must stop. There are still so many unknown facts about them, I sometimes feel irritated at living so far away from them.
I’d like to talk with people who are fans of Offering or Magma, so please contact me through Marquee Magazine. I heartily hope, you are interested in Offering or Magma; please listen to their music!!
Vander and The Voices of Magma
When I arrived in Bordeaux I’d been apprehensive that the concert date Georges had given us was wrong, all the French music magazines stated that the gig was on the 13th of December and the venue had not replied to my inquiries for confirmation. Bearing this nagging worry in mind, you can imagine my horror when I strolled into Branson’s emporium in Bordeaux and tried to get a Magma concert ticket. In all the Virgin records stores and Fnac’s in France they have these concert ticket sales points, but in this one Vander’s gig was not listed! Fortunately the salesgirl reassured me that the show was still scheduled for the 5th of December but that they had no tickets to sell… Yet again I cursed the fact that you cannot buy concert tickets direct from Cyborg or Seventh records.
Almost immediately after I left the hotel the next morning I spotted a Magma poster, which confirmed that FNAC were selling tickets for it. Later that afternoon in a small room called the Forum inside the Fnac store, Stella, Christian, Julie, Isabelle and Pierre-Michel were going to perform a unique mini-matinee concert, with just vocals and piano! The evening concert however would be in a hall in Eysines, a suburb of Bordeaux.
At about two o’clock I found a suitable perch in the forum and watched Pierre-Michel Sivadier sound-check the piano. After about half an hour, Fnac’s management asked us to leave the room while Francis Linon checked out the vocal microphones. The stage had been set up with five chairs, four mic’s, a grand piano and a Bose micro-p.a. system. Now try to imagine a hundred ears pressed up to the glass of the Forum’s windows while we tried to ascertain what this show would consist of when Stella and the rest began singing. ‘Mekanïk’, ‘A Fiïèh’ and ‘The Night we died’ or was it ‘I Must Return’? I got a bit closer to the doorway when they rehearsed my old favourite; ‘Ehn Deïss’. When they let us back into the room, someone was setting up to record a professional video of the show, which someone has since told me may have been shown on the local TV news programme later that evening, but I don’t have confirmation of that.
By this time they had moved most of the chairs out of the way and removed the mic stands. The first piece was ‘The Night We Died (Windows)’ with Christian on piano and four vocalists; Stella and her daughter Julie Vander standing alongside him, supported by Isabelle Feuillebois and Addie Deat. This is a hybrid song beginning with the familiar “Ô Dewewileïss Dowero Derilendoï…” refrain, yet ending with the “Don’t open windows” choruses from ‘I Must Return’. The second number was ‘Hortz Fur Dëhn Stekëhn West’ with Pierre-Michel on piano and again the choir standing alongside the piano. Christian sat out this piece to the right of the stage – quietly singing to himself and smiling all through these eight glorious minutes of “Mekanïk Wokëhl Kommandöh” as I like to think of it. Christian stood up again to sing ‘Ehn Deïss’ and that was it – a brilliant acoustic concert by the Voices of Magma, sadly they did not perform ‘A Fiïèh’, just these sixteen minutes that I will treasure for eternity.
That evening, after warming up at the barbecue in front of the peculiar triangular roofed hall we crushed through the doors in the usual mad scramble for good seats, as the p.a. system played the new ‘Mythes and Legendes’ CD, ending with the less familiar “Sun ïwëhn do Wëhrï sun” section from the October 1971 recording.
As usual the audience talked all through the Magma / Offering intro tape, then the Magma formation started the show with ‘Cosmos’ followed as ever by ‘A Fiïèh’, Christian seemed to be enjoying it and was a lot less tense than he had been at the previous shows on this tour. There was a minor faux pas by Pierre-Michel Sivadier during ‘A Fiïèh’ but Zebëhn just shrugged it off, whereas at Elancourt he would have glowered! ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ began with the opening notes from Carl Orff’s ‘Triomphe d’Aphrodite’ (this bit is sung by Stella, just after the piano introduction and before Klaus Blasquiz makes his customary announcement). A new feature at this gig was that the lighting crew had silhouetted the Zeuhl symbol on a spotlight to project the silvery logo on the back of the stage throughout ‘MDK’. During the middle section in which the guitarist showed that he has improved his technique during this tour, more spotlights came on from both sides of the stage, beaming in fans like a bridge over the central trio.
When the applause died down after what I consider to be the optimal rendition of ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ from this tour, Klaus introduced the line-up, including Emmanuel Borghi. Then Christian returned to the drum riser for ‘La Dawotsin’, which I’m afraid is not one of my favourite compositions; it always seems a trifle inconsequential in comparison to ‘MDK’. My ideal culmination would be the superb opus ‘Malawëlëkaahm’, but they don’t play that anymore.
After a long interval, the OFFERING formation came onstage and performed ‘Another Day’, (without the indulgences of Pierre Marcault, who had left the group after the concert in Elancourt in October). Towards the end of this epic, Christian’s microphone broke, the top section of it rolling across the stage, needless to say there was some problem with feedback at this point. Stella retrieved the missing item and Christian reassembled the mic as he sang, but the fault was not cured so a roadie crept on stage and quickly exchanged microphones. As ‘Another Day’ reached its conclusion, I realised that my taxi was waiting outside, and figured I was in for a very long walk home – there was no way I was going to leave at that point. At the time of writing I’m not sure what the first song of the encore was, it’s a jazzy sixteen-minute piece played by a reduced line-up of drums, two keyboards and double bass with Stella and Isabelle on vocals. I think Marc Delouya took the lead vocal. After a standing ovation they returned and Christian sang ‘Elm Deïss’, and tonight the keyboard player did not spoil it with his attempts to impersonate Guy Khalifa which had marred the performance in Strasbourg.
Thinking that this was probably the end of the show I scuttled off to the Seventh Records stand near the exit for a brief word with Georges Besnier. The crowd was still hollering for more and to my surprise, Stella came back and agreed to do one more – which meant a hurried game of inverse-musical-chairs. This final encore was ‘The night we died (Windows)’, after which we filtered out into the bitterly cold industrial wastelands, with many of the crowd still singing, ‘don’t open windows…’ Luckily my taxi driver was a patient man (he’d only been there for forty-five minutes and was not going to charge me for that either!). All in all it had been a momentous day, and I strongly recommend a trip to the provinces next time they tour, MAGMA are still supreme.
Alain Juliac (October 1988) – Courtesy of Notes Magazine N° 32
AJ: The PAGA release ‘Haunted’, is it the second solo album by Bernard Paganotti or more correctly the first record by a group called PAGA?
BP: ”at the start of the second album I had not planned to form a group; I wanted to proceed in the same manner as the first album, that’s to say make the thing myself and ask the people I like to participate. I contacted Klaus, Claude (Salmieri) who had already played on the first album and Bertrand (Lajudie) and I asked them if they would help with this document; they accepted and it began just like that. I therefore came up with the structure of the pieces and well organised ideas and then when we started rehearsals, each one found new ideas and augmented them with their own style of playing, our story then became one of a group.”
AJ: A group of which you remain nonetheless the leader?
BP: ”A group where each has equal importance. Personally what interests me is to provoke things, but once they are aroused I want to take part without taking precedence over anyone else. I don ‘t like to manage people, I don’t think I have the temperament of a leader. To be the leader is not easy because there are other things apart from the music. To return to your first question therefore, PAGA has become a group where everything is quite free. It might be better to make an indication on the record sleeve, one could put ‘PAGA the group’, to differentiate a little from the solo albums that I shall make.”
AJ: ”That I shall make”, did you say?
BP: ”In the future yes, because I hope that I shall make some more, solo and with the group.”
AJ: Could you tell us how you met the different members of Paga group? Claude Salmieri to begin with?
BP: ”Claude: I met him in 1983 in the course of a variety music recording session. Before that I only knew of him by name, I only knew that he played with David Rose but nothing more. When I arrived at the studio 1 heard him playing, but without seeing him because he was hidden behind an acoustic screen, I thought that his drumming was so fantastic that I asked him straight away if he was ready to play something with me, he has already participated on my first solo album. Since then, he has worked in the studio a lot, for example in the latest album by Veronique Sanson.”
AJ: Bertrand Lajudie?
BP: ”I met Bertrand after Claude, but in the same manner: in a studio. He was playing piano, again knowing nothing about him, I found him so good that I went to speak to him, just like that. It’s interesting to see how one arrives very quickly at the realisation that a musician has the same spirit as yourself!”
AJ: Bertrand Lajudie was an unknown; he had not previously performed with an important group?
BP: ”He had just accompanied Beranger for several years. If you have not heard of him before, it’s because he is quite unassuming and has not pushed himself forward. That said, he has always wanted to play in a group, but found that the opportunity never presented itself for him. After WEIDORJE I believe that this was the personality that it needed to take part in this new adventure. I don’t think I was deceived.”
AJ: Regarding Klaus?
BP: ”Klaus is someone with whom I have always dreamt of producing something. That he be in Paga, to me, this is the peak of my relations with him over many years. If he is there, it’s truly because he made it. Musically he is always available, always lyrical in the manner by which he brings about the ideas, he is always in position to show the light. The music breathes thanks to him, and always the best when one has a problem, it’s Klaus that one calls. He’s a little like a tap that is always open.”
AJ: Klaus and yourself sing and both of you play the bass in the group. Isn’t this a little over-manning?
BP: ”I don’t think so because in fact we complement each other, concerning the vocals, we were already singing together in Magma and had noticed the vocal textures blended well. He found that I like singing very much, but not being a vocal technician there are some things I am not able to sing, only Klaus can, and on stage he is an excellent singer. In the same way, when it comes to the bass, on certain pieces Klaus will play the bass parts which allows me to do other things; to play tile stick or to play solos on bass.”
AJ: Your concerts, since you allude to them, will they be a fairly faithful reflection of this album?
BP: ”Everything you hear on the record will be recreated on stage. There are some things on tape, rhythm box sequences, synth sequences to be programmed, and the rest we will play live. With the sequences we will avoid, as was the case with WEIDORJE, making a musician play parts which are indispensable, yet which are not always very interesting for him to perform.”
AJ: Talking of the album, where was it recorded?
BP: ”it was practically all recorded, apart from the vocals, at the Longueville studio with an engineercalled Ludovic Lanen. The second part of the rhythm section was done in Switzerland at the Aquarius studio in Geneva with Jean Ristori. We finished some vocals at Acousti in Paris, finally we completed one piece in New York.”
AJ: Where was it mixed?
BP: ”Ludovic Lanen and Jean Ristori who were perfect for capturing the sound had a work schedule which did not match ours, so we had to search for someone who would experiment with us on this style of music. Bertrand and I had heard a certain number of records that pleased us and one name popped up more often than the others: James Farbe, who had mixed the latest Michael Brecker album. We called Ronald Mehu (Ronnie Bird), who found James and took him a cassette, which he played, and then he agreed to mix the album. He hired the Skyline studio and did it in the four days that Klaus and I were in New York.”
AJ: Was the result everything that you had expected?
BP: ”Completely, I thought that he did a marvellous mix. The problem was to conserve space and texture so as not to make it too linear, which is often the case in this musical genre. Apart from some little instructions, we allowed him the freedom to do things as he heard them, and this gave us something fairly different from what we would have been able to do. I truly think that the album would not have had such a good sound if it had not been done that way.”
AJ: What was your musical approach to the album?
BP: ”I sought to make it as condensed as possible in order not to fall into the trap of making the pieces too long, we tried to keep the space to say a maximum amount without repeating ourselves. We tried to make an unassuming album and I think we achieved a compromise for the media and the radio stations to have some passages to broadcast. There are titles that would be acceptable on FM, on jazz programmes, but also on some programmes a little more popular.”
AJ: A difficult music to label?
BP: ”James Farber who mixed the album asked us how we would classify it, but we did not know how to answer him really. He had discovered the term ‘Gothic Fusion’, which in fact fits quite well, because it implies something that comes from the European culture, in part the Latin and Germanic/Slavic music’s. For me, when I make music, before thinking of the commercial aspects, I always look for a mystical contact with it because it is firstly a spiritual language, and this is why I finally think that Gothic Fusion is a good expression, it has the imprint of spirituality.”
AJ: The album is due for release quite soon?
BP: ”it will be released towards the end of November 1988. It only remains to make the contacts required for the pressing, also to be done in New York. We will simultaneously release the album on cassette, vinyl and CD and it will include a small voucher which will enable a reduction on the entrance fee for the first concert, at the beginning of December, at La Cigale in Paris. This is the first real concert by PAGA.”
AJ: Which will be followed by numerous others, I hope, notably for the people in the provinces!?
BP: ”We will try to co-ordinate our work schedules in order to get a tour together for the spring. It’s up to Bleu Citron to organise the concerts. Jules Frutos, of SOS Productions, who is a co-producer of the album with Bertrand and myself; will organise some concerts, it was principally Jules who brought Peter Gabriel over here.”
AJ: Before concluding, I would like to know your feelings on two other albums you have participated on this year: the first record by TROLL, released by Musea at the beginning of 88 and the album by the Guillard brothers (PAZAPA) which is being mixed and should be released at the beginning of 1989.
BP: ”Concerning TROLL, this was a great experience and it was truly brilliant for me to be able to play on it. There are fine compositions and Michael Altmayer allowed me complete freedom on it, I envy that album. Even if one finds the climate of Magma in his music, one senses that Michael Altmayer also has his own things to say; I think that this is someone who has a lot of talent and personality, he is also a very good drummer and more importantly he is very likeable. With the Guillard brothers it was quite eclectic, there are many different styles, r’n'b, funk. They try not to copy anything, just making what they want to make and it is because of this individuality that this is interesting. It’s from this approach that they are able to arrive at an original tone colour and to construct something which is really personal.”
A.J: Thank you PAGA (Bernard) and good luck to PAGA (the group)!!!
On Tour with the Trio Vander
France Vacance rail cards are wonderful things. It’s only a short hop from the Palais d’Ork down to Dover and a quick burst across the English Sewer to Calais, then you are away. A few hours later and Paris looms up out of the twilight. A couple of days later, having fallen asleep at an Allman Brothers concert in the meantime, and it’s time to continue the trek southward.
First stop Lyon, to pick up the tickets for the concert later that week in Francheville. After checking out the hotel situation I realised that it would be better to find one in Francheville itself as the local bus services in France tend to shut down after 20h30. So a short ride out to Francheville where a room was soon booked in a cheap hostelry for the night of the 7th. Back to Lyon for the night; then on to Marseilles in the morning. I just had time to whirl round my old stamping grounds before catching a train on the coastal route to Cannes.
What can one say about Cannes… Well contrary to my expectations you don’t have to be super-affluent to enjoy yourself here, there is a large selection of hotels of all grades. Tearing myself away from the beaches for a while, I caught up with the bastard who used to work in Monster Melodies, Paris who ripped me off a few years back.
On the 5th at the MJC Picaud we gathered on the banks of a garden on the edge of town and settled down to watch AGORA QUINTET, Jean-Marc Jafet’s neo-Brazilian salsa outfit. They played well, but most of the music was a little too sweet and syrupy for my tastes. A TV crew was there to film Jafet’s set so they had done an extra long sound-check and the evenings schedule was running a little late. The Christian Vander Trio only had time for a reduced set tonight before the curfew, but the sound quality was tremendous. A concise, tasty little sucker of a show nonetheless.
After the concert Sous les paimiers in Cannes at the MJC Picaud I went backstage (ha-ha! it was more like behind the biggest palm tree) and spoke to Philippe Dardelle and Emmanuel Borghi. Christian was standing next to us, but someone else was already interviewing him. Philippe told me that the trio were not going to play an après-concert jam inside the MJC hall because they had a long journey that night to Pernes-Les-Fontaines. So did I, but I waited until early the next morning before catching the train to Marseilles and then on to Avignon. From there I could not find a local bus service that went frequently to Pernes so I got a taxi instead.
The hotel was very pleasant and the tourist information centre was not far away. So I inquired about the venue and discovered it was about a twenty-minute walk from the centre of the village. Later that evening I strolled out to l’Excalibur which is a little club aptly situated on the edge of a lake. The summer heat was pervasive, so after several bottles of the house wine (or perhaps it was Evian…) I was really glad that the trio were setting up their equipment under the trees for an open air gig. The next few hours drifted past as they performed a very long sound-check during which the lighting crew received a lot of flak. Christian objects to yellow lights, but this concert was to be filmed by a Television crew and they had set up a mini-studio inside the club itself. Eventually the conflicting views were settled; the yellow lights were all taken down and replaced with red or orange ones.
That evening, the music was unbelievably majestic, with endless solos from each of the ensemble. Particularly noteworthy was Philippe’s long bass solo on ‘Lonnie’s Lament’ – a Coltrane number, but also it was one of those shows where Christian excelled.
Early the following morning I set off for Francheville, it was the day of the French motor racing Grand Prix and by midday when I arrived in Lyon the weather was foul. A thirty-minute bus ride later I waited patiently for someone to answer the hotel doorbell. Several hours later, I was still there, outside the hotel but now soaked to the skin. A little birdie began to whisper in my ear that perhaps the hotel staff had gone racing for the day… I retired to a café for a little more non-alcoholic plonk. Meanwhile the rain continued to fall.
About 19h00 I decided to drag my heaving bulk up the hill to the Fort Bruisson where the band were due to play. Earlier in the afternoon I’d seen Christian and Emmanuel drive past while I hammered on the hotel gates. A café or two later, I swayed into the Fort to be greeted by a dirty great CONCERT ANNULÉ signpost! The gig had been intended for the fort parade ground, which was now awash, and the show aborted. After hanging around for a while I got a lift back to Lyon with Valerie. I figured that the Urban Sax spectacular in Lyon’s central park would also be cancelled and decided not to waste any more time in the rain. The late train took us down to sunny Nice for a few days and then on to Cannes for the remainder of the holiday.
Théâtre de Bobino
How would you feel if, like me, a Magma fan for about eight years, you decided to go for a short holiday in Paris and then you find that the said band are playing every night? Pretty damned excited?
From what I could gather the band was playing a series of fourteen concerts in a row, which I found rather surprising. What was more surprising was that I went on a Wednesday night about halfway through the series and the place was absolutely packed out. While we sat and waited, it seemed very strange to hear people shouting “Magma!” and the odd (accurate) impersonation of Vander’s voice. The lights finally go down and the curtain goes up. The stage is dark and a back-projection shows a geometric pattern like a modem city skyline – all tower blocks and skyscrapers. The band begin a bloodcurdling theme over which doomy vocals intone something which I didn’t understand, but judging by the way the back-projection changed, was a tale of man’s woe and stupidity. The skyscrapers gradually crumbled and the band reaches a climax. The stage is lit up and I can see a drummer, two bass players; Dominique Bertram on six-string bass and Jean-Luc Chevalier (who also plays guitar), two keyboard players, a sax and a horn player (who I think are the guys from WEIDORJE). They all appear to be wearing er… spaceman costumes, which look a bit silly. Still the opener is terrific and is greeted by heavy applause. Then that beautiful piano intro from ‘Hhaï’ begins and who should shuffle onstage but Vander himself. Aha! So it wasn’t him playing drums after all (but one Doudou Weiss I believe). He’s joined by two female singers (they appear on the cover of ‘Retro’. Vol. III’, but I’m not sure who’s who). They too are wearing costumes that are silly in the extreme. The sound quality is excellent, very punchy and full. Vander’s voice sounded a little tired, but it is still amazing in its range and intensity; there is still no one who can touch him. The piece develops as on ‘Retro’, and sounds excellent, really tight. As it takes off Vander begins to drum and his ferocious ability becomes apparent after about five seconds. He remains on drums for the next piece, which is instrumental and a bit freeform. Bertram takes a very impressive fast bass solo, but the piece is not very cohesive.
For the next number the rest of the band come back on stage and this is a version similar to side one of ‘Retro. III’. The first part of this track I really do not like at all, on the album or here live. I think the main reasons for this are the vocals by Khalifa and the ladies and the overall feel, which is a sort of mutant soul- gospel-funk conglomeration. The vocals seem like real “hey lordy mama, get on down” stuff, which seem totally at odds with Magma’s sound. After the vocal section however, the piece develops into that well-known drive. Vander’s drumming is amazing. I’ve never seen a more powerful drummer. He’s all over the kit, arms blurring and his face horribly contorted as he puts all of his energy into his playing. Chevalier, now on guitar, takes an excellent solo. He really seems to be enjoying himself and bounces all over the stage. The piece thunders (and I mean thunders) to a halt and the band take a fifteen-minute break after playing for about an hour.
The second half begins with a new (to me) number with a lot of emphasis on the ladies’ vocals -more like earlier choral work. It’s interesting but not riveting. For the next number, Vander comes to the front of the stage and the other drummer takes the chair. Vander goes into a long rap about (excuse my French) a guy who gave a lot to music and achieved something celestial (spiritual?) and proceeds to devote this new song to Otis Redding. At this stage I must admit to some confusion, as this little interval is just a bit too “cabaret”. The music and vocals sound nothing like any Otis Redding song that I know, and very weak for Magma. Vander’s vocals are only just short of demented. Suddenly it occurs to me that he reminds me of Joe Cocker (remember him?). I didn’t like it much, but it is well received.
Then the stage darkens and a projection of a huge amphitheatre floating in space appears on the backdrop. The band begins a typical asymmetrical Magma beat. A figure appears slowly on a dais at the back of the stage, wearing what seems to be a helmet from the cover of ‘Tristan & Iseult’. It’s Vander, who belts out along harrowing tirade. It doesn’t sound too optimistic and I keep catching the words “dernier rendezvous”. The band builds and builds the power drive and Vander slowly disappears and the band picks up a different direction. Vander reappears at the front of the stage wearing a really dumb looking pair of fake claws. He takes the lead vocal with the usual intensity and also appears to be “conducting” the band. There is a really frantic vocal/guitar exchange at one point. Eventually the backing singers appear and, er… get on down. The piece changes direction a number of times, but always maintains a tremendous pulse. The other drummer keeps up an amazing constant pattern. I keep wondering when he’s going to collapse. After 20 -25 minutes it finally ends and they leave the stage to tumultuous applause, which lasts for about five minutes. It’s obvious that the band will come back, but it takes a long time. They must be pretty tired.
They reappear and begin a lighter number, which again leans towards the folk-gospel-style. Vander shares lead vocals with Khalifa, who just doesn’t seem to be in the same league. I keep catching the phrase “funky, funky Broadway” and cringe a little. Vander returns to the drums and the number lasts about ten minutes, again interesting, but not brilliant. More thunderous applause; who said French audiences were cool and restrained? Everyone wants more, but the band must be worn out. Surely they can’t be doing this for fourteen nights in a row? Vander introduces the band members by their Kobaïan names in garbled French (which is why I’ve had trouble identifying some of them), thanks us and leaves.
And so I’ve finally seen them. I must admit to a lot of reservations about the performance and the direction the band seems to be heading in. I couldn’t fail to be impressed by a concert of such intensity. But, whilst accepting that I wasn’t seeing one of the classic line-ups from the past, I was surprised by the fact that the music seemed to be more conventional – more rock orientated. The stage “show” was not, in my opinion, very good. I’m not saying that I’d rather see everyone standing stock-still dressed in black, but really, some of the posturing and the costumes just looked really bad. I’m not sure where Vander is taking the band now. He always said he would never compromise, never sell-out. But if he continues in this direction, he may become more ‘popular’, but on what terms? Who can say? He’s never let us down yet and I hope he never will. But I am worried.
Klaus Blasquiz interviews Christian Vander
In the early 1980′s Klaus used to write for Rock et Folk magazine, which is of course where this interview originates from. Many thanks to Rock et Folk magazine and immense apologies to Klaus and Christian for the “translation”…
Since the start of the seventies, Christian Vander has sounded the death-knell for uncultured and metronomic rock drums. With Magma he opened the doors to a French show business, always shifted forward a little (to say the least) for a multitude of groups who, without distinction of styles, have generally considered him as a reference point for drum technique and stage presentation, if Christian is not considered more as a jazz drummer, and therefore less as a rocker, this is partly due to the spirit of all living music inside him which makes him a universal musician, a staggering player with unfathomable energy.
KB: After various attempts, all more or less fruitful, to make your own model with the assistance of French manufacturers, you returned to a Gretsch drum kit. What was your approach?
CV: That happened by chance. When Magma went to New York, my prototype drum kit was in the rehearsal studio; it had to be sent on by ship. As it did not arrive, Elvin Jones obtained a small Gretsch for me in its place. By a stroke of luck it was well built! Finally, I could not dismantle the kit. In the end I kept the Gretsch and came back to Paris, passing through customs with the toms under my arm.
KB: What became of the metallic prototype constructed by Asba to your specifications?
CV: I did not play it a lot after that, principally because of the weight of the clips, the constructor was obliged to consolidate the general structure with some interior reinforcements, this “puffed out” and certainly caused bad resonances. It was a redoubtable drum kit of some bearing and the principle remains good, above all in the relationship of the sizes, but I was not completely satisfied with the overall result.
CV: The basic idea is of a more sophisticated tam-tam. The sound needs to have a very dense body; it needs to be compressed, savage, cutting and staying precise.
KB: Where does the clear snare, which you play, come from? Is it a unique model?
CV: Practically. Billy Cobham had a prototype made for him some years back by an instrument maker in New York, Inger, who has since died, and I followed his example. This artisan was a constructor of percussion instruments for symphony orchestras and he made these snares by hand – a little like Deslaurier in Paris, who continues to make his exercise drum sticks in ebony, one by one. This type of instrument is magical, it is necessary, and in fact indispensable to put all your love in this skill, otherwise it is impossible to continue to fabricate them in the manner of an artisan.
KB: There are “Christian Vander” drum sticks. You’re not satisfied with them, what are they like?
CV: To begin with they were like a Rim Shot B, but as time went by, and without asking me, the model was changed but kept my name. I actually play with the “Major Ceccarelli” (because my own model does not suit me anymore); I think that this is the best drumstick one can find in France. However, I used to perform with some gilded hickory Gretsch sticks: when they are well balanced you have the impression of having nothing in your hands, the weight being spread in the body. The other day, to illustrate this point about the level of the weight, I was choosing between two fishing rods, the shopkeeper affirmed to me: “They are strictly the same, sir”, but I found that one was slightly heavier than the other. Despite them being seven metres long, weighing them in one hand I was able to feel a difference. I insisted, and after verification it turned out that the “heavier one” was actually longer by a few millimetres. I had sensed the extra grammes.
KB: How is your kit made up?
CV: It’s quite disparate. The casks are of course Gretsch, with Slingerland fasteners and a snare by Inger (except in a club I prefer to use a Gretsch). The bass drum pedal is a Cameo, now produced by Tama, and that of the Charleston is a Capelle (ex-Orange) with the Asba “tilter”. Asba, are the only ones to keep the cymbal truly on the rod – besides, they’ve been the same since 1970. Very important: one time when I’d finished my adjustments, I chopped off the top of the rod, because it bothered me when playing passages on the cymbals; playing quite low, I clearly did not need the stem to be any longer. When it was installed on the riser, I found that it did not sit firmly on the ground, that it was less stable. It’s not a question of the height of the drummer, since Elvin (Jones) and Billy Cobham play low despite their size, Tony Williams and Ceccarelli too. When I started, I played high because I had the impression that I played better; from a fear of being overtaken by the drum kit, psychologically I wanted to dominate, therefore I had the impression of being as big as my childhood friend Elvin (who, even when seated on the floor, overwhelmed the drums). Finally, I perceived that the more I was stabilizing, as much in tempo as in style, the lower I was sitting. Today I play very low, and I should eventually be able to take my Ludwig seat down another notch. Currently I am on the third hole and that suits me well if I want to perform in an agile “dancing” manner; otherwise, I’m stabilizing too much and obstructing my movements by balancing.
KB: On that subject, there are three remarkable aspects in your way of playing: First you are seated, balancing on two of the three feet of your chair, next you rarely lay your heels on the pedals, and finally the extremely upright positioning of your spine makes your vertebrae column a pivot for each of your movements, the opposite of most drummers who are usually “hunched over”.
CV: I have always played with my heels effectively raised, because I sensed that I was able to perform a lot more strongly in that manner. When you start, you are told to perform with your feet flat on the floor. Finally, on the job, when you really need to perform, I lifted my foot, struck the drums and then I had the sound. With this method I have developed the suppleness in my ankle, as for a wrist. In fact, my position on the drum seat is completely in balance yet “unstable”.
KB: What type of cymbals do you use?
CV: Generally I play on thick cymbals, cymbals for harmony. Sadly, these are getting increasingly rare. They are hand-made by true artists, signed, with each one having its own bell form and tone. Those by K. Zildjian were so good that I still own a broken one, I had the break repaired and it still rings as it did on the first day! I recently discovered something, amongst others, that the sound can be clearly heard when struck with the hand, for the first ten minutes of playing, the cymbal has its original ring, then little by little the sound hollows out and changes, if one listens at the end of a hall, each blow sounds different. For example: I give one last crash, and apart from the blow itself I can hear three different sounds, a malleable quality. At the limit, it is possible to play on a heap of mud and to find a sound from that. You need to warm up the cymbal in a way that will preserve the tone. In concert I have some Paiste Charlestons, which are very precise in their level of strength, but they are lacking a little in musicality. In a club I play more on the Zildjians or the UFIPs, but the latter are not quite powerful enough, they are a little “cotton woolly”. Both possess quite an attack for starting to play at a relatively high level: but in concert, it’s insufficient. I use the Chinese ones, Wuang China: imported from Holland but made in China, they are enormous and very thick, veritable cauldrons. In fact, my cymbal style is based on a set of Zildjians, with several external contributions for the effects; I change the cymbals according to the concert, the hail and its resonance. For Magma, I take powerful models, but sadly the sound of the drums does not just depend on me, but also on the p.a. system, however in a club I am in complete control. I entrust in the precision and the power of the cymbal. For the “crash”, it’s better to take a specialised cymbal. On the other hand, apart from the crash and the Chinese ones, I consider the small cymbals, the bells, the “minis” and other gadgets in the percussive domain: I think that these sounds are not integral with the drums. When one is in the whirlwind of toms and cymbals, if a sound of this sort arrives it remains foreign, as if another musician was playing on another instrument.
On the other hand, it’s very agreeable if I continue to play the tempo on a cymbal; that has to be accompanied, not solo. When Steve Gadd plays tight, he integrates other instruments with his set, this is very nice, the sound of the drums is well wrapped, but when he opens up, and this is when the hell begins, he no longer masters the sound, the bass drum is not balanced with the tom and the cymbals are crushed, He does not play loud, the level is below the normal limit for playing drums and if one wants to rise to a higher level and keep the sound, one should get another drummer…
KB: When you make the demos that you use to compose with, how do you go about it?
CV: The tape serves me as a score. I record while looking for the climate, I search for a good balance between my voice and the piano, but I am not trying to find “a sound”: I simply regain my climate on the tape. To compose it’s necessary for me to be in a trance, I merge myself into the piano, and become part of it. In an hour of delirium, there are certainly some moments where I’m released after achieving the “take” and I come back to earth. Sometimes I compose a piece entirely in this manner, in improvisation, but occasionally it needs months to rebuild the vague intermediary sequences. I never think of the drums when I compose. Except for a solo that I have “composed”, that does not interest me. I always try to find the opening, a little like Elvin Jones and Al Jackson, the deceased drummer with Booker T. This opening corresponds to the moment when the drums become something other than an accompanying instrument, when they overtake the boundaries and transport the music into another dimension.
From the Golden Archives
UK Music Press 1974
‘Mekanïk Machine’ (A&M)
A highly commercial offering from a brand new name on the pop scene. Plenty of potential for further development here, catchy melody and intelligent perceptive lyrics – altogether, an astonishingly new concept in chart sound. Actually, it’s a track from the group’s lively album ‘Köhntarkösz’. Hot enough to melt the brain and send the cortex dripping out of your ears. A hit.
Paris-based Magma aren’t exactly a band that one likes. One is impressed – overwhelmed even. Their kind of black ferocity inspires, rather horrified fascination. Myriad line-up changes seem to have made very little difference to the dark designs of composer/drummer/leader Christian Vander whose obsession with apocalyptic themes makes Black Sabbath seem like easy listening. Although of French origin, the heaviness of Magma’s music has more in common with German composers.
Christian Vander’s Magma
On a purely personal level Christian vander’s drum kit work-outs are sense numbing. In terms of stamina, strength and endurance he’s without par. By comparison, human juggernauts like Ginger Baker and Keith Moon seem like pussyfooter. However, if muscles were all that the Magma drummer-leader possessed, he’s doubtless be in the employ of one of those dumbo two chord combos, a Black Sabbath, mayhap. No, Vander’s strength is allied to a unique and perceptive mind. Magma is Vander’s band, make no mistake about that, and his drums are the key featured instrument.
That’s a minor revolution in itself. In Magma, melody lines are subservient to rhythm, which means that for the most part all instruments are hammering out variations on the same pulse. Vander comes hurtling across the top like some crazed Norse berserk; eyes wild, sticks flailing. But beneath the visual impact of the Frenchman’s animal savagery is the phenomenal technique of a master drummer, and one who treats drums almost religiously. The same dedication that say, Indian classical musicians have for their sitars and tambours. Historically, it’s very difficult to discover much about Vander’s background. He repeatedly insists that Magma marked the start of his musical career, yet he’s played with litereally dozens of bands, working with everyone from Arthur Conley to Chick Corea, Graham Moncour III and Jean-Luc Ponty.
Magma scrape the surface
Steve Lake – July 1974
If you’ve ever seen Magma live, then there’s a good chance you’ll probably wonder just why it is that the band have consistently over four albums to date, failed to capture the strength and immensity of their concert performances on vinyl. One thing that could be much improved is the pressing, but there’s something other than manufacturing perfection that’s lacking here, and it’s a missing ingredient that’s hard to pinpoint.
‘Köhntarkösz’ was recorded immediately following the departure of guitarist Claude Olmos, and Brian Godding, late of the BLOSSOM TOES, plays all the guitar tracks here. Maybe the newness of this association, made recording a little uncomfortable; I don’t know. Still, there’s plenty of good music here, and it’d be churlish to ignore that.
The title track is a more intricate version of the number with which the group open on stage; and begins with typical blitzkrieg flourishes from drummer/leader/composer Christian Vander who hurtles across his top kit with alarming speed, and beneath this ferocious snare-tom-toms-cymbal onslaught, bassist Jannick Top lunges upwards with sustained single notes that punctuate the music like a series of exclamation marks. And it’s Top’s composition, ‘Ork Alarm’, that is the most surprising feature of the record. Virtually a solo performance, it features the bassist over-dubbed on bass, cellos, piano and vocals and is chock full of otherworldly textures and insistent, accelerating rhythms. Imagine Penderecki attempting to write the sound track to “A Clockwork Orange” and you’ll have a vague idea of the nature of this piece.
‘Köhntarkösz’ (the track) extends over on to side two, and then finally we’re left with ‘Coltrane Sündïa’, a very beautiful dedication to one of jazz’s most important innovators, and the inspiration-source for all Magma music. Had any other band recorded it ‘Köhntarkösz’ would doubtless represent a pinnacle of creativity. But for Magma, the surface is merely scraped.
Reading University Union 12-73
I first saw Magma about December 1973. I was at college in Reading and I saw an advert for their gig somewhere. I quite fancied a foreign band (I was already into Tangerine Dream, Can, Anon Düül II etc.). No other bugger wanted to go, so I went on my own. It was about a one-mile walk to the University Union. There were no seats in the hall of course and I can remember that there were microphones set up about ten metres in front of the stage, forming a rectangle with the wiring taped to the floor. It was like a “no-mans land” that no one entered throughout the gig. I can’t recall much about the actual show except to say that I couldn’t stop talking about it in the weeks that followed and quickly bought ‘Mekanïk’ and played it to everyone. The following summer I saw them again at the Colston Hall in Bristol, the venue was only about one-third full and it was a disappointing show. The power of the 1973 show was not there.
SOME NEWS ON UZMK MUSICIANS
Daniel Denis’ new album has just been released it is called ‘Sirus & The Ghosts’ and is available on the Cuneiform label in America (and the Musea label in Europe). Daniel was very briefly the second drummer in Magma in 1971/1972 then he returned to ARKHAM with Jean-Luc Manderlier before he went on to found NECRONOMICON who later took the name UNlVERS ZERO.
This is his first solo project since the last UZ album ‘Heatwave’ and, for me the first track on ‘Sirius’ is a direct continuation of the themes expressed on that. The repetitive structures of the subsequent tracks also bring back memories of the ‘Ceux du Dehors’ album and some of the work by their colleagues ART ZOYD. It is not a truly solo album, Denis plays keyboards and drums on most tracks but he also has substantial assistance from his friends Dirk Descheemaeker on sax and clarinet and Michel Hatzigeorgiou on bass.
GAUTHIER – KHALIFA – SIVADIER – VANDER – STELLA
Patrick Gauthier is recording a new album for Seventh records in their studio (for release in 1992 or 93 perhaps?)
Guy Khalifa (Züress) also plans to record his own solo album.
Pierre-Michel Sivadier is about to record an album I believe, he was also playing some concerts with his own Jazz Trio, in Paris, earlier in the year.
Christian Vander (Zebëhn Strain dë Geustaah) is still hard at work in the studio recording the next album with the rest of the group, it will contain ‘Cosmos’ and ‘A Fiïèh’ and other songs played live in recent years but previously unreleased.
Stella Vander (Tauhd Zaïa) has finished her first solo album (CD and K7 only). The earliest possible release date is the l0th October 1991. Buy it! You’ll love it.
‘Fusion’ – by Lockwood / Top / Vander / Widemamn was released on CD OMS 015-2 in April 1991. The new sleeve design is silver / grey in colour with blue and yellow blobs superimposed on a (Ferrari?) tyre mark. This jazz-rock album recorded in August 1981 was one of Vander’s first offshoots from the MAGMA/UNIWERÏA ZEKT scene. It contains some powerful music nonetheless, in particular the awesome ‘GHK go to miles’. Didier Lockwood’s soaring violin playing is quite magnificent throughout the album.
There are more Offering / Christian Vander / Magma? concerts planned but as yet unconfirmed for: Vichy, Bedarieux, Saint Dizier and Perigueux