samedi 17 mars 2012

Interview : Craig Leon on Nommos (1981), Visiting (1982) and Tape From Atoya with Arthur Brown (1984)

Craig Leon with Cassell Webb and Pavarotti.

Which artists/records influenced your work while recording "nommos", "visiting" and "the complete tapes from atoya" ? 
For Nommos, my main influence was the music made in Mali, and also George Antheil, particularly “Ballet Mécanique”, which was the first mechanical music piece to be sequenced. It was first performed in the 1920’s.

For Visiting, it was Kraftwerk’s early records, as well as The Cosmic Couriers and Ash Ra Temple. It’s funny because Kraftwerk actually liked Suicide’s first album that I produced in 1977...

Atoya was just a mad record without any influences.

What are your thoughts on Krautrock, notably Harmonia’s records? 
I always loved Krautrock artists, Kraftwerk and the likes of Cosmic Couriers, Ash Ra, Holgar, Can.

What are your thoughts on American repetitive music (Riley/Reich/Glass)? 
I have always appreciated the work of Terry Riley and La Monte Young, two composers who are both very special. I see myself more in the world of Carl Ruggles as well as the minimalists of the 1970s. But it is a different type of composition you ask me about. To be honest, I see nothing in the work of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich that is different from what others and I have done before them or after them. It really does not take much talent to create "minimalist" music that is pleasant to listen to based on the use of ostinato.I have a lot of fun doing it myself but it is not really so serious.

"The Nommo are ancestral spirits (sometimes referred to as deities) worshipped by the Dogon tribe of Mali"*. At which level Africa influenced your albums? What about the themes of ‘water’ and ‘fluids’?
Concerning the Nommos, I have tried to recreate the music of the Dogons’ ancestors who, according to folklore, came from another world. In order to achieve this, I combined a typical Dogon rhythm (two contrasting counter rhythms like 6 against 4) with early ancient Greek melodies. I felt that it is how the music we inherited from this other world must have sounded like. Therefore it must be the most ancient folkloric music on Earth.

What kind of music were you listening to at the time you recorded these 3 albums?
At that time there was nothing like Nommos that I knew of.  That recording was done in Texas so I think that I was listening to things like Terry Allen. I had of course heard Can. Kraftwerk, Ash Ra, and the other German electronic bands years before.

Were you recording on your own or with the help of someone else?
Only with the help my trusted musical friend, Cassell Webb.

Were the tracks on these albums improvised or written?
I never really used improvisation on this type of project. Almost everything I produce is handwritten before being played. I am quite old fashioned in this sense.

How did your collaboration with Arthur Brown come about? 
Arthur is a very instinctive artist. I created the music and he improvised his voice on top. I appreciate his talent and the folkloric quality of his art.

There is something primitive about these records, a kind of minimal African trance, but treated in very technological kind of way, very metallic. Why did you make this choice?
For a simple reason. At the time I didn’t have enough money to produce the music organically. But this will be rectified when I record the ‘organic version’ of Nommos later this year. This will be the version I originally intended.

You mean that you will re-record nommos with a new instrumentation? Will you use strings for this version?
Yes, except probably it will be more winds and brass than only strings. Someone has asked me to do this and to re-create the ballet in a new way for a performance in a festival in St. Petersburg, Russia in November 2012. Let’s hope that it will really happen and that it is not just someone’s idea.

How many records were pressed at the time ?
I asked this question to my friend Denny Bruce who was working at Takoma Records at the time and he honestly had no idea. It turned out that Denny and John [Fahey] already knew that their relationship with Chrysalis was coming to an end so they decided to become patrons for artists instead and signed Charles Bukowski and me. I don’t think that the number of record pressed and/or sold will ever be known. It is probably only a few.    

What kind of critical reception did the albums get?
Many electronic magazines of the time liked it and also several pop music publications. Like anything else there were some who did not like it so much but overall the response was favourable.

What kind of musical legacy do you think the albums have? Which artists or musical genres have been influenced by them?
I know of quite a few dance music DJs who have done remixes of Nommos but I don’t know if they have actually influenced any individual artist.

Do you think that a track like "Three Small Coins" could be a precursor to some of Autechre’s compositions (for their use of ethereal synthetic waves and deconstructed rhythms built in counterpoint, particularly on ‘tewe’ and Chiastic Slide)?
Sorry but I have never heard of Auteche or their work so I can’t really say.

Craig Added:
As a matter of fact, several new compositions I have written in this style will be included in a program called "Quest Beyond the Stars" (but not based on Edward Hamilton’s novel of the 1940s). It is a complete one hour concert show for the PBS television network in America. It is a co-production of The British Science Museum and NASA with PBS.

The show features Hubbell and NASA footage and photos with music that is either written or arranged by me and played by an orchestra along with the projections of visual images. I have done the entire soundtrack which has 5 or 6 pieces of mine and some of my orchestrations of Debussy, Bach, Pergolesi etc.

There are also a couple of famous pop songs that are about space that the orchestra plays as well.

There is a short segment in the show about ancient civilizations’ thoughts about space and space travel. This mentions the Dogon specifically. Rather than use « Nommos » I made something new for this short section of the show. The show will broadcast starting June 2012. It will tour the U.S. in winter 2012-2013. Probably It will also tour in 2013 in Europe after some European broadcasts have taken place.


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