- The legend of Kobaïa (Translation: Betsy Draine)
- La Fête de L’Humanité 11-09-71 (photo: courtesy of the Tauno Keto Collection)
- Gomelsky An ambassador of new music?
- The new Master Builders (Dany Huc)
- A duel with the machine (Gabrielle de Lioncourt)
- Salle Pablo Neruda Bobigny ’94
- Magma: Chants d’un autre monde (Michael Draine)
- Christian Vander “I have always wanted to learn” – (Marcello Casali)
- Genet & Plouvier Plaisirs et Penitences – (Michael Draine)
- Magma in New York (Giorgio Gomelsky)
- Ork! Update
The legend of ‘Kobaïa’
Translation: Betsy Draine
© Christian Vander
Earth, This concerns you, Your systems crush and your revolts assassinate: actually, you destroy what you don’t understand.We know that you too will be destroyed. Our music witnesses to the Beauty that you want to ignore, and to our hatred of your accursed evolution. Beyond space and time, a planet, KOBAÏA, awaits us. We have known this world since the day we opened our eyes, millions of years ago. If only all those suffocating down here could follow us. Only the hypocrite has no hopes! Earth! You are now only oblivion.
All the singing and vocals are in Kobaïan, our own language. The music is expressive enough so that you can follow, for yourself, the thread of the voyage.
Call to all on Earth who are weary of the conditions afflicted on them, to leave with us for Kobaïa. The ship is in view. – recitation of the commandments of Kobaïa. – evocation of the splendour of Kobaïa. Procession toward the ship. – the emigrants’ aggressive thoughts toward the Earth, expressed by the guitar. Entering the ship.
Beginning of the voyage. Nostalgic thoughts of the passenger who have cut all ties with the past. The joy of the departure dissolves all sorrows, as the voyage continues. One arrives in view of the stopover planet Malaria; the ship leader.
The Earth stains the sky with a pale gleam. The Kobaïan’s spit out to the Earth theirrancour and their spite, recalling its horrors and injustices. Isn’t it said that all wrongs are paid for eventually?
Night has fallen on Malaria. Day rises softly. We must set out again. SCKXYSS: The ship takes off. Rain of meteors. The ship reaches outer space, in sight of Kobaïa.
The ship turns in orbit toward Kobaïa. The passengers witness the dawn, and discover the planet, marvelling. The ship lands: we are forever KOBAÏA.
One of us is in love. Only he knows with what or with whom, only he knows how…
Nature seems to consider us intruders. We exhort her with our songs to open her self and to reveal her marvels. She accepts with benevolence – We participate, with others, in a giant ballet of monsters – Under the suns, we give free reign to our joy. Then twilight falls
Time has passed. Life on Kobaïa flowers in Happiness and Beauty. Earth has learned of our existence; she is boiling over. The Kobaïan’s sense they must gather together. One of them reveals to the others the problems posed by Earth, and their solution. The Kobaïan’s set to work with fury: the results will be conclusive.
We return to Earth in order to expose the splendour of Kobaïa, which is only Beauty, Happiness, Wisdom. We again invite those who wish to follow us, and to that end we recount to the Earth its own story. Alas, the only response is the threat of the destruction of Kobaïa. We reveal that we possess STÖAH. We set out again for Kobaïa. The clamour of Earth dies away.
An ambassador of new music?
In the sixties and early seventies, foreign artists rarely made the grade in France, yet how much less were French acts seen abroad! Even Johnny Hallyday, who can lay claim to be one of the most consistently successful artists anywhere – albeit with derivative styles – is hardly known outside France. A sign that this was to change occurred on the 25th of August 1973 when Magma came to England for the Reading Festival. Herb Alpert of A&M had decided to release Magma’s third album (third in a projected series of nine… a super-ambitious series of nine) despite its inaccessibility. Let me break a customary rule and quote from a 1973 press release on the subject of Magma.
“Magma play recognisable music, but have rejected all known languages like English (the pop Esperanto) or even French. Their language is Kobaïan, which comes from Kobaïa the imaginary planet where the new concept will one day be able to flourish and where the new man, Uniwerïa Zekt, will find, we hope, greater energy and meaningfulness…
“With the expansion of leisure and leisure industries it is important that popular music should evolve a greater sense of social action as much as for the vast audience that it covers as for its own aesthetics. In the age of Prof. McCluhan’s Global Village we cannot just go on amusing or entertaining ourselves without due care to our spiritual, as well as physical survival.”
Gomelsky, I suspect, wrote these words. But the true power behind the group is Christian Vander, the group’s leader, composer and drummer. His commitment to the group is absolute. “Magma is my entire life,” he is reported to have said. “If it fails I shall die. For me, personally, on this earth there is after Magma, nothing.” Vander’s music, which demands an absolute commitment from its members, is strongly influenced by Coltrane, though this is not evident on the surface. One of its features is the use of odd time signatures, as opposed to even, which when mastered allows a strange but potent liberation – most of John McLaughlin’s pieces are in odd time signatures. On first hearing them, I could not say that I got to grips with Magma’s great design. But it seemed to have strength of purpose, a grasp of the social role music can play in people’s lives, not yet attempted or even formulated before.
Meanwhile, Giorgio Gomelsky claimed to have heard ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ in concert some four hundred times before the end of 1973, and was still finding new shades in it. There is a lot more to tell in the Gomelsky history, but here would not be the place to tell it. What is more important is that he was instrumental with his facility for travelling through every country as a stranger and therefore as much at home in England as in France or Germany, in a major development in breaking down the xenophobic myopia which even now still afflicts Europe.
It was not without a certain pride that he said: “Robin Scott, BBC’s Head of Light Entertainment, once told me: ‘What a shame we could not appoint you as the official ambassador in Europe for the new British music.” It may no longer be for the British music but an ambassador of sorts he must certainly be.
The New Master Builders
Dany Huc – Tartempion: October 1976
Magma: spring 1973: Jannick Top was the bassist; he stayed with the group until the end of the summer in 1974.
Magma: autumn 1976: Jannick Top returns.
This reunion is not one of those chance occurrences, too often found in the formation or the deformation of groups; it comes after two years of reflection, of reconsideration of the problems posed by the way of life of a group. It also comes after two years of work, as much for Magma as for Jannick Top (the numerous studio sessions have been a good opportunity for him to research and learn).
The fruit of this return is an LP (which is due very shortly) which is certainly surprising: side 1 consists of quite short pieces (composed by J. Top – Christian Vander – B. Paganotti) quite similar to the little Japanese poems which can be reduced to a single phrase, to a very banal image, yet are very dense, carried by their energy and force; side 2 is a sole long piece composed by Top.
Therefore, it is evident that Magma have now settled on an new association of two people, each bringing that which they have to bring.
The text that follows is the transcription of a talk with Jannick Top, which took place on the 17th of September 1976:
ONE STONE MORE, AND THEN ANOTHER STONE…
“In contrast to the Anglo-Saxon groups which have a musical base and a rock music community, French musicians possess nothing similar. They have to construct an edifice, stone by stone. This means that the will of an individual has to be accepted from the start, because that’s the only way to embark on a team effort. That can cause problems, but once they are overtaken and mastered, the communal energy is released and it radiates”.
“The team work (actually started by C. Vander when he was seven years old) gives Magma a severe test where each strength will be able to express itself if it carries enough dynamism, where the music is open and will remain so, and it is a dialogue; firstly between the musicians who serve each other, and consequently, inevitably, with the public. Furthermore, the current musical climate in France is extremely harsh. Almost everything is governed by money and it’s always managed in the same sense. The profitability has to be evident and immediate for the people in control (the record companies, etc.) this explains their hesitation in assisting a music like that of Magma. It is very difficult to do something without assistance; that is a supplementary reason for teamwork in order that the forces are combined to avoid being crushed by the machine that has broken many others.”
“We lay claim not to destroy those who already exist, nor to intervene in their music, but it would need a place for everyone; in fact there is practically no free choice: it’s just French pop (variety) or American music. The vicious circle is buckled. The French musicians willing to do other things not being very numerous, this circle is still far from being broken; those who allow themselves to follow their aptitude would be able to react, if they don’t do anything, they alone are responsible”.
OPENING A BREACH
“Clearly, the reactionary path is not easy, but once the decision is made, the essential thing is to do what you have to do, all it needs is time, the path will doubtless be long but perhaps one day we may be able to hear Magma’s music played on the radio!”
We have to open up a breach by which this music will pass, and to be armed with patience and wisdom…”
IF ONE WERE TO DREAM
And if Magma were to receive a subsidy?!!
For sure, there would be a chorus of disapproval; the myth of the cursed performer is still so alive… Just to reassure these aggrieved souls, this is only a dream, far short of reality; but everything needs to change…
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
“Why is the music of Magma not given assistance, why is it so often streaked with the muddy paths of slander? Above all, because it is like a spotlight which denounces the slackness and mediocrity, and that the only possible defence of these mediocre minds is slander. But it is more engraved: this music troubles, even if this is an unconscious feeling of discomfort, because it is directly connected to the beat, which is relative. We act, in our minds, like eternal beings; and this music, if we are sincere, enables us to gain conscience of the contrary world, to notice all that is wrong.”
“This grasp of consciousness has to help us to do things in another spirit, the notion of target is transposed; one is no longer able just to do, in the passage given to us one can only be. One then arrives at not to do, this is not negative, quite the opposite… The path of time and of the ultimate passage is hidden by lies! If one suppresses these lies, these devices, what danger! One would then arrive at having no need for words; no longer needing explanations or analysis… The music is a vehicle, one chooses one way or another; they are multiples.
It needs to be listened to… to be tasted… Let the music speak….”
Very soon the Magma album: ‘Üdü Wüdü’ will be released, and in the course of 1977:
- a solo record by Christian Vander
- a solo disc by Jannick Top
- another record by Magma.
A Duel with the Machine
Gabrielle de Lioncourt – OKAZ Magazine 2-94
At the opposite extreme from the glitter and samples of dance music, the little pop songs hoisted into the charts by market forces, the drummer of the mythical group MAGMA pursues a career as writer, composer, drummer, pianist and singer. We met in the tranquillity of his studio in Epinay.
GdL: You created the Seventh Records label in November 86, to finally reissue your early albums, and to continue your musical output without the constraints imposed by the major record companies. What were those restrictions?
CV: ”The constraints were on time, the length of the pieces was not suitable for the radio station format.”
GdL: But also for your creative freedom?
CV: ”Yes, for sure (laughs). But that is a long story…”
GdL: Being an artist who has proved his independence, how could you compose for the movies?
CV: ”With Jean Yanne, it all happened very fast. But there was only one piece (‘Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est gentil’) in the film. For ‘Tristan et Yseult’, it came about in a different way. In fact, the producer was given the tapes for the film soundtrack without consulting me. Then, he invited me to a screening. I did not like the results and I proposed to him that we would redo the music. The new recording came out on an album, but the soundtrack of the film stayed as it was. In fact, I have never really worked for the cinema, but I would like to do so.”
GdL: You state that you have dedicated your life to your music. How do you work and what are the respective parts of inspiration and of work?
CV: ”For me, music is everything. A colour, a flower, a stick of bread, to me, all the objects in the world reveal a musical form. But I could work on a theme for fifteen years before I find the exact expression. My musicians are free to propose their own solutions. Sometimes I experiment without achieving satisfaction… but sometimes the alchemy achieves a formidable result. There are no rules.”
GdL: Your principal source of inspiration is the music of John Coltrane, to whom you have dedicated an album. You often mention Elvin Jones, Kenny Clarke, Chet Baker, Wagner and Stravinsky. Are there any others?
CV: ”I listened to Sebastian Bach a lot when I was very young. I also quite like Frank Sinatra.”
GdL: And of the current acts, Rap or Acid-jazz, is there no one who gets your attention?
CV: ”No. Sometimes my ears prick up, but that’s not often. In any case, listening to Coltrane is always a source of new discoveries. Each of his albums was a giant step, a real extension of the limits.”
GdL: In 73, Magma worked throughout Europe and in the States (at the Newport jazz festival), you were actually in the charts with ‘Üdü Wüdü’. Why has your career not developed internationally as one would have expected?
CV: ”That is a good question, but I don’t know the answer. It is not easy to keep a following, you have to keep a certain presence, do many concerts…”
GdL: What are your future projects?
CV: ”After the Bataclan, in the autumn of 94 there will be an event at Reims with a symphony orchestra. I also envisage recording a disc for children, containing versions of traditional songs like ‘A la claire fontaine’ or ‘Do l’enfant do’. I will change some of the words or some details to make it react for the children. This will be conceived like a songbook. And then we also plan to record a new Magma album. In some ways it will be a continuation of ‘Merci’. Its title, ‘Magma Aeterna’, came to me in a dream. This is a record on which, for the first time, we will use many electronic instruments. A duel with the machine.”
Salle Pablo Neruda
Atüh! Atüh! 20h50; a late start for Les Voix de Magma. In a packed hall, underneath the town hall at Bobigny on the northern outskirts of Paris. The familiar detachment of “Les Voix” materialized with Alex and Jean-Christophe wearing Magma shirts with the red emblem and Benedicte in a black gown on the upper right tier. Julie, Isabelle, Stella (wearing the red belt and pixie boots she wore on the flight deck of the Bataclan) and Addie on the upper left of the stage. Simon assailed us with part of ‘Ëmëhntëht-Rê’ on the Yamaha grand piano aided by Jean-François on electronics and Pierre-Michel on Rhodes and DX7. Then Simon replaced Jean-François on the electronics consoles and Christian entered stage left. Taking over the pianists role, Fleet Admiral Vander sang ‘I must return’… it’s funny how a song can grow on you when you see it performed often enough, I always have considered ‘Merci’ an inconsequential album but the songs are more satisfying en concert.
Two thirds of Les Voix left the stage, leaving only Philippe on double bass, Christian on Yamaha piano and Simon on Rhodes. Stella (as ever the Siren) skipped over the web of electrical leads to the centre of the platform behind the still silent drums, for ‘C’est pour nous’. Eventually, the others came back on to the stage while Christian attended to some urgent matter in the wings. They performed the instrumental overture to ‘Zëss’, with Pierre-Michel operating the DX7 with his right hand and Rhodes with his left. Then Zebëhn Strain de Geustaah returned to the centre of the stage and sang the Kobaïan version.
‘Ronde de nuit’ followed with just Stella, Julie, Isabelle and Alex chanting the refrain and Christian, Simon and Pierre-Michel on keyboards. In some ways, this is the crystallized essence of Les Voix de Magma, the purity of vocals and piano. But the still immature work for Glockenspiel / Electronics / Choir, ‘Tous Ensemble’ brought the first half to a less than perfect conclusion.
Then the sombre, throbbing (reminiscent of Peter Frohmader’s Nekropolis period) began. The electronics tore at the walls and Christian perched himself at last on the drum stool. The next fifteen minutes were an intense sirocco of percussion as the trilogy of “Le temps de la Haine” unfolded. Transporting the hall exactly twenty years into the past, to the time of the quintessential Magma European tour; Strasbourg, Bremen, Hamburg, Brussels, London…. Supreme again in all their majesty, we witness: Christian Vander’s MAGMA (true it was “Les Voix”, but let me assure you, for the second half of the show at least, this is MAGMA).
‘Theusz Hamtaahk’s initial percussive storm is always like a trance inducing opiate, your reviewer immediately forgets to take any more notes for the rest of the concert… fleeting images are recalled, but the effect is much like the arrival of the mothership in Spielberg’s ‘Close encounters of the third kind’ – awesome. About half of the ‘Wurdah Ïtah’ album continues the temporal dislocation with Simon on piano and Christian forsaking the drums for the lead vocals. Then the gates of time are ripped apart by three quarters of ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’. The vocal and keyboard lines on this current version are spellbinding; the drumming is as it always was, out of this world. Time passes and Ïtah has revolved through 30° before the Kobaïan’s leave the arena.
1st lieutenant Stella then presents her crew to the people of Ïtah, who are still in a spiritual frenzy. Admiral Vander then leads the Kobaïan’s in their final hymn, ‘La Marche Celeste’, before the beams of crimson light appear and the walls of the Salle Pablo Neruda dissolve, revealing the Seventh Records hypermarket. Suddenly the people of Ork are attacking, bodies scatter and Ehn Aïmaah gets struck down by the full force of the Kobaïan’s super weapon, STÖAH.
Chants d’un autre monde
Michael Draine (© 2003 Michael Draine) – Courtesy of i/e magazine
Magma formed in 1969 around the creative linchpin of drummer/vocalist Christian Vander, who came from a professional jazz background including study with Elvin Jones and work with Chick Corea and Mal Waldron. Borrowing a concept from Pharoah Sanders and scat vocalist Leone Thomas, Vander coined the synthetic language Kobaïan, a vaguely Franco-Teutonic codification of his own guttural, glossolalic vocal style. The abstraction provided by the Kobaïan verse seems to inspire Magma’s singers to heights of emotional abandon rarely permitted by conventional lyrics.
With Magma, Vander brought forth a body of work distinguished by levels of energy, inspiration, and spiritual power unprecedented in progressive rock. Operatic vocals, pulsing bass lines, jazz sonorities, mystical science fiction themes, and large-scale compositions influenced by Carl Orff, Igor Stravinsky, and John Coltrane are the individual facets that make up the canon that Vander refers to as “Zeuhl Music”, music that aspires to goals beyond the material world.
The November, 1986 establishment of Seventh Records for the purpose of bringing the Magma back catalogue to CD has introduced a new generation to the band’s formidable corpus, while Musea Productions has dutifully restored a host of Magma splinter group recordings to print. Magma’s eponymic 1970 double-LP debut (aka ‘Kobaïa’, Seventh REX IV/V) is a remarkable achievement, considering the group had only been together about eight months at the time of recording. The prominence of horns and piano suggests an outré variation on Traffic’s mildly psychedelic jazz-rock, and lead vocalist Klaus Blasquiz was still under the influence of the gravely white blues mannerisms of the time, further dating the album.
’1001° Centigrades’ (1971, Seventh REX VI) is a stylistic, as well as narrative continuation of ‘Magma Kobaïa’, with stronger dynamics, tighter ensemble playing, and better integration of the brass trio. An octet for the first two albums, Magma suffered a high turnover rate in later years, as Vander demanded a level of commitment and musical discipline few could sustain.
In 1971 Magma’s former manager Laurent Thibault founded Thélème, the first label devoted exclusively to French rock. At Thibault’s instigation, Vander sanctioned a one-off studio project by Magma’s constituents under the name Univerïa Zekt. An intriguing (if ultimately unsuccessful) endeavour at reaching a broader audience by grafting the less threatening elements of Magma’s sound onto accessible jazzipop songforms, Univerïa Zekt’s ‘The Unnamables’ (Musea FGBG 4086) consists of three compositions by reedman Teddy Lasry, one by Francois Cahen, and three by Vander. The English vocals on two Lasry songs are uncomfortably reminiscent of Blood, Sweat, and Tears’ overwrought R&B, while Vander’s own entries resemble the more languid passages of Magma’s first LP. A pleasant, if miscalculated admixture of white blues and jazz-rock, ‘The Unnamables’ (which betrays none of the Lovecraftian menace suggested by the title) should be viewed as an adjunct to the Magma oeuvre, rather than an essential entry.
Magma’s six-minute, summer ’71 live take of ‘Mekanïk Kommandöh’ on Thélême’s ‘Puissance 13+2′ (Musea FGBG 4087) is easily the best track on that Laurent Thibault-produced anthology, though Francis Moze’s bass sounds a bit anaemic in comparison to future Magma bassist Jannick Top’s elaborations of the theme. While the band’s threshold of aggression was still delimited by the leisurely pace of the first two albums, this performance more than hints at the urgency and intensity in the offing. This germinal ‘Mekanïk Kommandöh’ should not be confused with the subsequent Philips 45 entitled ‘Mekanïk Kommando’, nor the single-track, 38-minute Seventh Records, ‘Mekanïk Kommandöh’ CD. All three are very different recordings.
Following a late ’72 break-up and reformation, Magma found its full voice with the devastating ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ (1973, Seventh REX VII), massive, martial choral work graced with the siren-like presence of Stella Vander, heraldic brass by Teddy Lasry, and an unstoppable, iron-fisted rhythm section. Often misleadingly referred to as the “classical” version of ‘M.D.K.’, ‘Mekanïk Kommandöh’ (recorded January 1973, released 1989, Seventh REX VIZ) is the initial recording of ‘M.D.K.’ that was rejected by Virgin Records. While lacking the formidable production and aura of menace of the subsequent Giorgio Gomelsky-produced rendition, ‘Mekanïk Kommandöh’ is the more fluent, spontaneous reading. (Actually the “classical” versions are the live performances of this epoch, where Magma were assisted by an orchestra – Ed.).
The most significant difference between the January ’73 ‘Mekanïk Kommandöh’ line-up and the group that recorded ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ three months later is the arrival of bassist Jannick Top. Top brought throbbing, insistent bass lines, voiced in a fierce, growling tone that became the most imitated instrumental signature in French rock.
As the original 16-track masters were lost, Seventh Records’ original CD release of ‘M.D.K.’ was transcribed from vinyl copy, with a striking, mostly-instrumental rehearsal take of the entire album included as a bonus track. Seventh has recently recut ‘M.D.K.’ from the high quality “copy masters” (two-track duplicates of the original tapes used in the production of foreign pressings) from which the clear, dynamic Japanese A&M ‘M.D.K.’ CD was mastered, while deleting the bonus track.
Bristling with barbaric chant and percussive piano figures lifted from Orffs ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’, Christian Vander’s solo debut, ‘Wurdah Ïtah’ (1974, Seventh REX LX), came as a result of Laurent Thibault pirating a 1971 Magma rehearsal tape for use as the soundtrack to Yvan Lagrange’s ‘Tristan et Iseult’ film. Vander exacted compensation by having Thibault, then in the employ of Barclay Records, arrange for a legitimate recording and release of the same material (movement one of the Theusz Hamtaahk Cycle, to initiates) on Barclay. As Magma were under contract to A&M at the time, no mention of the band appears on the album, and all personnel credits (save Vander’s own name) are in Kobaïan. What’s most intriguing about ‘Wurdah Ïtah’ is not its spartan bass/drums/piano/vocal line-up, but the opportunity to hear a major Vander composition free of time fusion influence that incrementally supplanted the Wagnerian rock of ‘M.D.K.’.
The elegant ‘Köhntarkösz’ (1974, Seventh REX VIII) turns from the goosestep gait of ‘M.D.K.’ and ‘Wurdah Ïtah’, which, along with the group’s penchant for cryptic insignia and uniform black attire, brought accusations of fascism from intimidated audiences. Infused with exotic, Mahavishnu Orchestra-like colourations, the expansive, lyrical two-part titular elegy rivals the infinitely darker ‘M.D.K.’ for status as Magma’s magnum opus. Other tracks include Jannick Top’s harrowing cello piece, ‘Ork Alarm’, and Christian Vander’s ‘Coltrane Sündïa’, an intimate tribute to his musical fore bearer.
The 1988 Seventh Records reissue of ‘Köhntarkösz’ was mastered from a poor LP copy, a shortcoming inadequately compensated for by the inclusion of a drab, badly recorded demo of ‘Köhntarkösz I & II’. As with ‘M.D.K.’, the current Seventh edition is mastered from the same high-quality source as the Japanese A&M edition, again minus the bonus track.
One Köhntarkösz-era milestone lacking digital documentation is the raw, riveting ‘Mekanïk Machine’ single (1974, Vertigo), possibly the fiercest sonic evocation of the techno-teratological nightmares of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger ever to reach vinyl. Appropriately, Giger was to provide the cover art to 1977′s ‘Attahk’.
1975′s heart stopping ‘Hhaï / Live’ (Seventh REX X/XI) serves as an ideal introduction to Magma. Newcomer Didier Lockwood’s gliding, mellifluous violin fronts a confident, unified ensemble, and Klaus Blasquiz and Stella Vander’s vocals are nothing short of rapturous. As Jannick Top had left the band, Bernard Paganotti (who had played R&B and jazz with Christian Vander in the ’60s in the groups CHINESE and CRUCIFERIUS LOBONZ) stepped in, bringing a comparably floor shuddering approach to electric bass. The audiophile-quality Seventh Records double-CD adds an eight-minute extract of ‘Ëmëhntëht-Rê’, as well as the volcanic ‘Mekanïk Zaïn’ finale. Lockwood departed in 1976 to join the more narrowly fusion-oriented Magma splinter group ZAO for their fourth album, ‘Kawana’.
Jannick Top returned to time fold for ‘Üdü Wüdü’ (1976, Seventh REX XII), an unwieldy attempt at coupling time heavy chant and jackboot rhythms of ‘M.D.K.’ with a contemporary synthesizer sound. ‘Üdü Wüdü’ is not without compelling passages, such as the ominous Blasquiz / Paganotti oratorio, ‘Weidorje’, and Top’s eighteen minute, multi-instrumental workout, ‘De Futura’, but Vander’s energy was clearly flagging, and the group had dwindled to as few as three members on some pieces. The Seventh CD adds the stirring studio version of another extract from Vander’s major unreleased project of the mid-seventies: ‘Ëmëhntëht-Rê’.
‘Inedits’ (1977, Tapioca LP, out of print) is a badly pressed bootleg compilation of 1971 – 1976 performances, capturing the band in a freer, more visceral mode than on the exquisitely refined ‘Hhaï / Live’. As the mass of ‘Inedits’ lacks corresponding studio documentation, an authorized CD reissue would be most welcome.
Lighter in tone than any previous Magma opus, ‘Attahk’ (1977, Seventh REX XIII) crossbreeds funky, keyboard-driven fusion with what sounds like extra planetary gospel. Unlike Üdü Wüdü’ and the later ‘Merci’, here Vander’s spiritual presence transcends time limits of his material. Partly at the encouragement of co-producer Laurent Thibault, Vander took over lead vocals from Blasquiz, with Vander’s coarser, more emphatic delivery constituting the main difference between the two chanteurs.
The stateside Tomato CDs of ‘Live’, ‘Üdü Wüdü’, and ‘Attahk’ are must-avoids not only for their abysmal sound, but also for the fact that Vander receives no royalties from these editions. The same caveat applies to the UK Charly release of ‘Live’.
The thirty-five minute ‘Retrospektïw III’ (1981, Seventh REX XV) documents highlights of Magma’s 1980 reunion concerts. As with the LPs, the ‘III’ CD released prior to the (originally) combined volumes I and II. Portions suffer from overworked arrangements and pandering solos, but the eighteen-minute ‘Retrovision’ displays the vocal powers of Stella Vander, Lisa Deluxe, and Maria Popciewicz to breathtaking effect.
‘Merci’ (1984, Seventh REX XIII) mixes French, English, and Kobaïan lyrics, Tower of Power style horn charts and Motown song forms, culminating in plastic soul that sinks like a rock. The memorable exception is ‘Eliphas Levi’, an enchanting madrigal incorporating Christian Vander’s recreation of McCoy Tyner’s piano solo from Coltrane’s first version of ‘My Favorite Things’.
‘Mythes et Legends Vol. 1′ (1985, Seventh REX XIV) compiles excerpts from early releases with snippets of live material, interleaved with French and Kobaïan commentary from the Vanders and late-vintage vocalist Guy Khalifa. It’s a choppy assemblage, and the epic scale of Magma eludes capture in truncated sound bites. Still, the 1971 B-side ‘Klaus Kömbälad’ is three minutes of pure poetry otherwise unavailable on disc.
ZAO was formed by saxophonist / clarinettist Yochk’o Seffer and keyboardist Francois Cahen upon their 1972 break with Magma. Featuring the sensual scat vocals of Mauricia Platon (like Univerïa Zekt trumpeter Tito Puentes, one of the few black artists to participate in the French progressive scene), ZAO’s 1973 debut, ‘Z=7L’ (Musea FGBG 4081), synthesizes the incandescent passion and dense arrangements of the Zeuhl tradition with a more flexible, jam-oriented electric jazz aesthetic. The equally strong ‘Shekina’ (1975, Musea FGBG 4067) finds ZAO’s wiry fusion leavened by the classical stylings of the Margand string quartet.
‘Kawana’ (1976, Musea FGBG 4039) bears a colder, more technical approach, and marks Seffer’s final work with the band prior to turning to a full-time commitment to his solo vehicle, NEFFESH MUSIC (which assimilated the members of the Quatour Margand).
The Vander/Top/Blasquiz/Garber CD “Nëhèh (Këhr) / Sons’ (AKT II) is an unstructured 1973 improvisation exhibiting our heroes arrhythmically battering keyboards and percussion instruments while making embarassingly silly vocalizations. Recorded late at night after an ‘M.D.K.’ session, ‘Nëhèh (Këhr)/ Sons’ provides the most persuasive argument for saying “No” to drugs in recent memory.
Bernard Paganotti and keyboardist Patrick Gauthier left Magma in 1976 to form WEIDORJE. On their only album (Musea FGBG 4058), the septet extends and improves upon ‘Üdü Wüdü’s simultaneously martial and mystical airs, while sustaining a distinctive space-rock atmosphere of their own.
Paganotti’s Laurent Thibault-produced solo debut, ‘Paga’ (1985, Columbia 4684412) alternates powerful, bass-centred anthems with insipid, overproduced ballads. The 1988 follow-up with Paga Group, ‘Haunted’, (Bleu Citron BLC-D 004) marks a further occlusion of Paganotti’s musical gifts by a reliance on digital sequencing. Both Paganotti’s vocals on Paga and Klaus Blasquiz’s on ‘Haunted’ are unpleasantly suggestive of Barry Manilow with a French accent.
One of the most sought-after of all Magma satellite LPs, Laurent Thibault’s pastoral, poetic ‘Mais on ne peut pas rêver tout le temps’ (1978, Musea FGBG 4054) revives the Zeuhl spirit in primarily acoustic settings, abetted by consummate studio craft. Highly recommended.
The outstanding compilation ‘Enneade’ (1987/1990, Musea FGBG 4005) showcases the work of former Magma personnel and French and Belgian Magma-inspired bands. Despite a few clinkers (bland Fender Rhodes noodling from Cahen, a 1982 Magma track that could be mistaken for Earth, Wind and Fire), ‘Enneade’ stands as compelling testimony to the group’s seminal power.
With Magma in abeyance for most of the ’80s, Christian Vander played jazz with ALIEN (in Quintet, Quartet and Trio formations), FUSION, and the Christian Vander Trio, invoked the spirit of Coltrane with his semi-acoustic group OFFERING, and in 1992 began live performances of classic Magma material under the name LES VOIX DE MAGMA. The band’s first CD, ‘Les Voix’ (1992, AKT I), is a live recording of Magma and Offering standards arranged for drums, string bass, keyboards, and chamber choir. The Vanders’ lead scat singing is embarrassingly florid in places, and the ensemble only intermittently taps into the confluence of spiritual and physical energies that is the essence of Zeuhl.
With the 1992 establishment of Seventh’s sister label, AKT, for the purpose of releasing live and obscure recordings from the Vander archives, a forthcoming studio release by Les Voix de Magma, and the possibility of an electric Magma reunion including Jannick Top and Klaus Blasquiz, Magma remains a vital and pervasive force in French modern music.
“I have always wanted to learn”
Christian Vander talks to Marcello Casali
(Music Annonce 1-94)
MC: Which current musicians or formations do you think are doing something new musically? Are there things that surprise you?
CV: ”Individually there are always musicians, but at the group level there are not a lot of things that I really want to listen to. But there is always something that I like a lot, but often they seem un-together, they don’t seem to be constructed in real time, it’s rather cut-by-cut. A theme with a certain sound on one disc, another one on a different disc, a musician who plays correctly here, but I do not see one approach to follow yet.”
MC: Do you think it is essential to have an approach in order to make creative music?
CV: ”Essential!? I suppose so. I could not confirm that, but it’s true that all the great musicians that I know up to now have had a style. A clear approach at the time, whether it was the classical period, in jazz musicians, and the same for rock musicians. In the jazz field I always talk of the image of Coltrane, but Miles Davis also had a style in his own way.”
MC: At the French level?
CV: ”There are isolated musicians. But I think that at the jazz level, it is a little early. Again, this music is still young here; it is not totally assimilated yet. Our musicians still try to refine Be Bop, when there are other things to try to play, that’s not to exclude Be Bop, but well … The musicians here have a lot time to spend on rehearsing Be Bop, when the musicians over there, who created it, were without fail living on the tight rope, that’s what made this style of music. I believe that you have to take a lot of risks to learn!”
MC: Precisely. Back to the music of today, whatever the style, from the small taste of it that you have already heard, do you think that the future will be more promising?
CV: ”During the 80′s there were many schools, and so the people learnt to play, but they played a little like the books they learnt from. Even in the same style, close to the same sound, and they produced nothing from all of that. I believe that occasionally it all needs to be relearned. I know many musicians who have returned to the clubs. In the clubs they try to rediscover or to forget what had been instilled in them, by force or otherwise, because the things they need are different in real life. One does not make giant steps every day, you have to like all the notes that you play, to take time to fully understand the value of one note, of one rhythm. For myself, I always want to learn, to be on stage. It’s my life! As for the future, I believe in the victory of life, the creation!”
MC: You rarely see big names jamming in the clubs, like that, for pleasure. Why?
CV: ”It’s a fact that they often need to be pushed to do that. They either have no wish to be fulfilled, or it is due to fear. I know that there have been times when I played in a jazz club in Paris, the Sunset, and nobody wanted to jam. I had to provoke the thing because they were not bad musicians, and then finally when they were on stage, they could not stop! They were there on trust, and above all an appetite comes from eating, so they need to go there! These people lose the habit of jamming. There are some clubs that organize this once a week, but a lot of young people come to play just to release their surplus energy, instead of performing attentively within the music.”
MC: You have just released two albums, ’65!’ with the trio and ‘A Fiïèh’ with Offering, what are your plans for 1994?
CV: ”Already, there are the 7th Records concerts at the Bataclan, with twenty-five musicians and six formations. Each one will be a five-hour long festival, I hope! Five hours is a little short, I wish that they were longer. Perhaps next year… And then I think I’ll make an album of songs for children, with atmospherics, some funny things or simply pleasant ones to listen to, also some mysterious things, all arranged in my usual manner… It is something I have wanted to do for a long while.”
MC: What advice would you give to young musicians; you are one of the rare musicians who have never made any concessions?
CV: ”It’s true that in my most extreme phase, I even considered that it was dishonourable to earn money from the music! Now if I can earn money without making concessions that’s great, but if that is not possible I have to continue anyway… This is the choice at the start! That is perhaps very, very hard! He also has to discover in the course of his music the value of some things, not to think that one can revolutionise everything in two seconds, because he has been to school. You must always be attentive, to avoid needless repetitions, learn to be lively, and also to create a sound, your own sound. Not everyone is called Elvin Jones or Tony Williams, but everyone carries a name which could become respectable in time, one respects his name, his sound.
CHRISTIAN GENET & JEAN-LUC PLOUVIER
Plaisirs et Penitences CD (TA4 Records)
Michael Draine (© 2003 Michael Draine) – i/e #4, Summer 1993
Best known for their tenure with Univers Zero, bassist Christian Genet and keyboardist Jean-Luc Plouvier also comprise two-thirds of the rock trio NINOVE, and Plouvier is pianist for MAXIMALIST. Here Genet and Plouvier present nineteen creepy electronic instrumentals recorded between 1985 and 1990 for Belgian dance theatre productions. Music-box minuets, Residential twitterings, tinny fanfares, and poignant, reflective interludes ensue in rapid succession, with the most effective pieces betraying a troubled, careworn nostalgia, a tenderness informed by a cultivated sense of tragedy. The Sadean aesthetic implicit in the title manifests itself in perverse touches such as the lash of a whip intruding on the Satiesque delicacy of ‘Le Petit Jesus’, from the play ‘Juste Ciel’. Like most incidental music for film or theatre, much of ‘Plaisirs et Penitences’ seems fragmentary and underdeveloped in isolation from its visual complement. ‘Plaisirs et Penitences’ never approaches the funereal majesty of Univers Zero, but it’s a provocative, if musically slight, reminder of the Belgian affinity for the threatening dark side that underlies our lives.
Magma in New-York
Let me tell you the story of Magma’s visit to the Newport Festival in New York in 1973 and the signing of the record contract with A&M. In the autumn of 1972, Michel Colombier took his friend Herb Alpert (the “A” in A&M) to a concert by Magma. Alpert was so impressed by the group’s music that in the following, months he made enquiries to me about the possibility of a deal to release Magma’s music in America. In the course of six months negotiations with A&M and our French label, Philips, we were able to arrange to sign a worldwide contract with A&M. A truly historic contract for any group, let alone a French artist: the production over five years of ten albums (two per year), royalties of 12%, and an investment in advances and promotion of $1,000,000. You must understand, from such an investment, that A&M believed intensely in the future of Magma and their music. For my part, I had been dealing with record companies for 20 years and I had never encountered people with the open minds, the artistic and commercial intelligence and the plain honesty of the A&M folks.
The contract was signed in June. One month later the Newport Festival would start in New York, organised by George Wien. At the Chateauvallon Festival in France in 1972, he had heard talk of Magma and we had been highly recommended to him by his European correspondent, Simone Ginibre. Immediately, A&M suggested a visit to New York to allow us all to meet their team, and some journalists, and to have the opportunity to make a small start, because the USA is such an immense country that you have to begin somewhere! Now, that year, encouraged by the success of the “Newport” the year before, and a little optimistically, George Wien had organised a lot of concerts, all over the city: enormous stadiums like Shea or tile Nassau Coliseum (20,000 seats) and halls like the Carnegie Hall and the Philharmonic Hall (between 1,800 and 2,500 seats), as well as a multitude of other places.
First of all, Wien proposed to us that we should be the opening act, with Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway, but on one condition: our set should not last more than twenty minutes, because the show had to finish on time to avoid trouble with the unions, etc. But Magma played concerts which lasted a minimum of two to three hours, and twenty minutes was just too short, just enough for half of ‘Mekanïk Kommandöh’. Finally, after some discussion and a visit to New York, and knowing that we would not be able to play under our normal conditions, we were obliged to accept the concert on the 7th of July at the Philharmonic Hall with Doug Kershaw (traditional jazz with banjo), Roy Ayers (jazz-soul with vibraphone), and Aïrto Moreira (the celebrated percussionist with Miles Davis, the big star of the evening). It was obvious that the audience was not into the avant-garde (like that of Mahavishnu, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and others), but it was that or nothing. All the same, we had permission to play for fifty minutes. As we were the illustrious unknowns, our fee from George Wien was not enough to cover transport and lodging, so A&M took over all the costs.
Magma arrived in New York on the 1st of July after an epic voyage lasting 48 hours. During the next five days, there were rehearsals with some very good horn players from New York (among them Randy Brecker, the young trumpeter with Horace Silver) and the preparations for the concert; the choice of material, the sound equipment etc.
Saturday 7th July. There were five hundred people in the hall, known for its disastrous acoustics for groups. Among them were Herb Alpert, Jerry Moss (the “M” in A&M), all their team, and some journalists. We were scheduled as the second act, and we distributed five hundred programmes, which gave a short explanation of our music. Magma played for an hour and a half. As always ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ disconcerted some of the audience, notably those who had come to see Doug Kershaw, without doubt they expected to hear something else, and had come along half-cut, as is the custom at festivals. A few days later, when we went to the Village Vanguard club to listen to Elvin Jones, a dozen students recognised Christian and the others and expressed their satisfaction at seeing a European group produce an original and intelligent music, a rare thing. Above all, we were left with the impression that rock & roll, while still very powerful, was in a state of crisis. The work of people like McLaughlin had started to make a profound mark on the young, but the music of Magma was without doubt an evolution in taste away from the reality of American music.
We had another confirmation of this at the reception that A&M organised for the press on the 10th July at the Hippopotamus club, New York, where we were able to play for a little longer. The journalist’s reactions and those of the people in the music business, were extremely positive. Gil Evans, the highly respected arranger and composer, congratulated us. He had been at the concert. The minds of the media were more open to innovation in the States than in France. Our next album ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ was released in America on the 24th August 1973, followed a little later by a simultaneous worldwide distribution.
LES VOIX DE MAGMA
12-03-94 Théátre 71, 3 Place du 11 Novembre, 92240 Malakoff
SIMON GOUBERT QUINTET
28-04-94 to 30-04-94 Le Sunset, Paris
The release of ‘Retrospektïw II’ on CD is planned for April 94, this is the album with the first movement of ‘Theusz Hamtaahk’ (the time of hatred). But Georges Besnier said that the long awaited ‘Retrospektïw I’ reissue will follow later, he could not be more specific, as nobody seems to know for sure.
The next Magma album will be called ‘Magma Aeterna’. I have no idea when it will get released. Still no news on the next album on the AKT label, I suppose it will either be from Toulouse 1976 or partly from studio rehearsals (the September 1969 session with Zabu I presume).
MAGMA CONCERT NEWS
The Magma concert in Reims (Stella says it is planned for September 94) will include a symphony orchestra. The concert by Les Voix in Malakoff also features a sixty-piece choir (members of the Choeur Edgar Varese).
ESKATON will have their first album ’4 Visions’ released, with bonus material, on CD by the Swedish Ad Perpetuam Memoriam label before the summer of 1994. Then, APM will release the second album ‘Ardeurs’, again with bonus tracks (hopefully before the end of the year). If sales of these two great Zeuhl music albums go well, Michael Thorne (APM supremo) says that they may release ‘Fiction’ with the fourth Eskaton album on one CD. The fourth album is the 86/87 recording that was never released on vinyl, so if you like Eskaton (check out their track on the ‘Enneade’ album if you are not familiar with their work), then you must get these first two discs, otherwise the fourth album may remain lost.
I recently discovered another sampler album, which features Magma that I missed when the discography was first printed in Ork Alarm! Issue #11. This obviously little known album (since no one wrote to correct me) is ‘The Tomato Sampler’ (Tomato 2696162), a 1989 Dutch release, but presumably available in America too. This double CD contains Magma’s ‘Soleil D’Ork (Ork’s Sun)’ as stated on the outer case, whereas on the actual disc it claims to be ‘Tröller Tanz (Ghost Dance)’ (3:50). Careful comparison of the fade out of this track reveals even more clicks than are present on the Tomato CD version of ‘Üdü Wüdü’ and they are even more pronounced than those on the Charly (Decal) version. I think that this sampler edition runs a fraction longer than the other CD versions, and noticed that even the Seventh reissue (actually the shortest version available) has one click before that is faded out, so some of them could be on the master tapes. For those pedants who are about to write in and tell me that the original title was ‘Soleil d’Ork (Ork’ Sun)’, I am quite aware of the misspelling above, but obviously Kevin Eggars record company chose to change it at some point.
On the subject of spelling, you might be interested to know that the first issue of ‘Üdü Wüdü’, on the Utopia label, credited the drummer as one Christian Wander and had a vocalist by the name of Klas Blasquiz.
Another cassette was also not listed in the original issues of the OA! discography:
TITLE: LIVE (HHAÏ / LIVE) 6/75 75 K7 NL TOMATO 2696 084 UNUSUAL INSERT 89
Obviously a full international discography is not easy to compile, so please could every single reader of Ork Alarm! spare ten minutes to compare their record collections with the discography in issue #11 and let me know if there is anything missing. I am sure there are more cassette details to be added, so please check any cassette releases you have too.
Before Christian Vander formed Magma, one of his groups was called LES WURDALAKS, for whom Christian composed two pieces, entitled ‘Nogma’ and ‘Atumba’ (which later became ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’). I wonder whether Christian still has tapes of these that could be included in the AKT series?
The Czech group STROMBOLI that I mentioned in the last issue, turned commercial after recording their first double album in 1986. So the second album ‘ Shutdown’, released on the Panton label in 1989, is a big disappointment. However the eponymous double album (Panton 81 0698) offers very good hard progressive symphonic rock with great guitars and superb female vocals.
Jannick Top, as you have read earlier in this issue, planned to release an album in 1976. His single commonly known as ‘Utopia Viva’ (actually containing some wonderful tracks called ‘Utopia’ and ‘Epithecanthropos Erectus II’) was released in 1975 (Utopia Records 42519) and was (allegedly) distributed worldwide by RCA. A well known history of French rock music claims that he released a solo album called ‘Live’ on the EMI label in 1975. I don’t know anyone who has seen this mythical album; so if you can prove it exists on vinyl, please let me know. I suspect there are official concert tapes of Jannick’s cello ensemble UTOPIC SPORADIC ORCHESTRA in existence and possibly the 17-10-75 Nancy Jazz Festival gig was intended for release. That gig featured ‘De Futura (Hiroshima)’ and Monsieur Vander on drums and would also be a worthwhile item for consideration by AKT Records….
ENSEMBLE NIMBUS are a new Swedish ‘RIO (Rock in Opposition) style’ group with a CD due for release very shortly, probably just known as ‘Ensemble Nimbus’ (APM 9403 AT). The group are a chamber-rock quintet featuring Hans Bruniusson on drums and percussion, with keyboards, clarinet / bass clarinet, violin, electric bass and… mellotron. The Ensemble Nimbus sound is an amalgam of Samla Mammas Manna and Univers Zero. Bruniusson’s input obviously biases their style more towards Samla / Von Zamla, but fans of either approach will find something in this new work.
JEAN-MICHEL KAJDAN, the guitarist who played with Christian Vander in the Alien Quintet in 1979, has a new CD on the Bleu Citron label entitled ‘Blue Noise’ (BLC D013). The 1993 sequel to his ‘Blue Scales’ album (a jazz-rock-blues jaunt which was released in 1990) also features Benoît Widemann on Mini-moog and saxophonist extraordinaire, Eric Séva. This instrumental album has a predominantly blues-swing ambiance with a superb line-up of musicians, most of whom take a solo at some point. Kajdan himself has a crystal guitar tone, well suited to this relaxing if unchallenging style. Fine musicianship, yet ‘Blue Noises’ is unlikely to appeal to most OA! readers.
HAMTAÏ – the young group based in Epinay-sur-Seine who interpret the music of Magma – are as follows: Marc Delouya (drums; worked alongside Christian Vander in the Offering formation for eight years), Philippe Bussonnet (electric bass; played with Magma in Epinay and Reims in March 1991), Vincent Dupuy (keyboards), James McGaw (electric guitar and keyboards), Julie Vander (lead vocals and percussion; Christian’s daughter, also known as Aïna Kobaïa, first appeared with Magma in 1981 when she was ten years old, still sings with Offering, the Patrick Gauthier Group and Les Voix de Magma), Isabelle Dujon (vocals and percussion) and Luc Vejux (lead vocals and percussion). The band was formerly known as Zukunft, which was formed in 1990, their average age is 25.
LYDIA DOMANCICH’s ‘Chambre 13′ (Gimini 1007) sure is a weird album to appraise. It begins with Stella Vander singing Pip Pyle’s title song in English, then a jazz piece with Italian lyrics by Leonardo da Vinci… The mood alternates between afro-jazz and smoky nightclub ballads. The woodwind and synth instrumentals are a quirky avant-jazz-rock with the omnipresent African influence from Pierre Marcault’s special percussion set-up. The vocals are so pure that they haunt you for hours after listening to this CD, which requires repeated playing to reveal its mysteries. Another song, again in Italian, uses a text by Michelangelo. The recording quality is superb; several cuts being performed live without overdubs. The compositions are enchanting. An essential purchase for fans of Stella Vander’s solo album, or Pierre Marcault’s solos with Offering.