CD with 4 page booklet
Gong electronic (2:08)
Marimba electronic (2:37) mp3
Flute circles (2:45)
Flute streams (4:10)
Marimba bells (4:43)
Zither flute (2:28)
Tunnels electronic (3:23)
Dulcimer flute (4:01)
String percussion (3:33)
Gong finale (0:34)
The wind upon the moor (2:09)
Tribal dance (7:16)
Solo duet Nr. 1 (4:07)
Solo duet Nr. 2 (3:30)
Unidentified flying frequencies (3:31)
Your call requires a 10 cent deposit (7:04)
total time 68:40
Around 1970 I bought a 2 track Revox A77 tape recorder and 2 Calrec microphones (as the latter were known at that time). I soon discovered there were many ways to use this tape recorder. For example: Sound on sound and the use of echo in various ways or recording at 15 ips and then play back at half speed. But most of the tracks on this CD were recorded at 7.5 ips, before I bought a second machine with 15 ips. Later I had the machine fitted with a variable speed. The tape recorder for me became a musical instrument.
“Flute Circles” was recorded at 3.75 ips, and I believe that you will agree with me that the quality is astounding, also, don’t forget the master tapes have been standing unplayed in my archives for the past 33 years!
The Japanese Gong which is heard at the beginning and the end of the “Episodes at 4 am” tracks, dates back to the first year of the Empo 2 period, “The year of the tiger” (1674).
For “Marimba Bells” the instruments to be played were spread wide apart from each other so that a natural stereo picture would take place enhanced with Wendy slowly moving to and fro between the microphones, rolling snail shells in her hands - a natural panning effect –. I lowered the playback speed about 15% on “Zither Flute” because I wanted a kind of drugged/slow motion feeling to be the outcome.
“Tunnels Electronic” always conjures up for me the feeling of being sucked into a black hole (especially at 2 mins 26 secs into the track) which I achieved by drawing air into my throat.
“Dulcimer Flute” was recorded in a room with just 2 microphones set before Wendy and myself and no reverb added, just the natural room sound.
“The wind upon the moor” was recorded on modern studio equipment. Some time after the recording I extended the poem and the updated version you will see below. (Incidentally the poem is dedicated to the great American actor Vincent Price)
“Solo Duet Nr.1” and “Solo Duet Nr.2” were deliberately recorded to achieve a stereo effect with no centre sound, as both compositions were commissioned by the choreographer Robert Cohan of the ‘London Contemporary Dance Theatre’ for a modern dance with 2 female dancers on stage both spotlighted and separated by at least 10 meters apart. The dance for one dancer was choreographed by the sound coming from the left speaker and the other one from the right speaker. (You will notice quite a bit of variable speed was used on these 2 tracks.) The fast and abrupt swishing sounds were produced by blowing through the flute head only.
“Unidentified Flying Frequencies” was created while I was preparing to record something and inadvertently a fault occurred in the equipment which somehow got on to the record heads and hence to the tape. I took the opportunity to manipulate the recorder and thus achieved the end result.
“Your call requires a 10 cent deposit” was made with a portable cassette recorder. People seem to be surprised about some of the sounds that I had recorded, saying that they had never heard them before when using call boxes in New York. At the time I was a trifle horrified at what was coming out of the telephone earpiece after all my heavy manipulating of the dial buttons. At one point I decided to make a hasty retreat, fearful that I was in the process of being traced by the telephone exchange. At this time in Europe there were no “musical dialing tones” in public phone boxes. My idea of bringing this piece about had a theatrical touch to it. I wished to portray someone that had absolutely no idea how to make a call. I think that does indeed come across. (Bob Downes)
The wind upon the moor
The wind upon the moor
where no other sound is heard
cool grey mist sweeps a searching face
soft green moss
a careful silent tread (not to wake the dead)
the coming darkness can be seen
a figure looms ahead
an increase of fear, as it comes near
a stifled cry, as it passes by
the wind upon the moor
the wind upon the moor
the wind upon the moor
Bob Downes is most often thought of as a jazz flautist, composer and group leader, but throughout his varied career that has included such diverse musical activity as working with the John Barry Seven and playing on Egg’s second LP, he also had his own fluid conceptual group “Open Music” with principle bass player Barry Guy and drummer Denis Smith. Other players that passed through Open Music include Chris Spedding, Kenny Wheeler, Ray Russell, Ian Carr, Henry Lowther, Harry Beckett, Harry Miller, Barre Phillips, John Stevens and many others. Besides the free jazz and jazz rock influences, Bob Downes has also been involved in much experimental music. After his early 70s releases on Philips, Vertigo and Music For Pleasure there appeared a series of 3 private pressed LPs on his own label Openian that explored this more experimental style. “Episodes at 4 am” is the second in this series and is by far the strangest of the three.
Released in 1974 and commissioned by the Welsh Dance Theatre, it consisted of 10 short duos performed by Wendy Benka on zither, dulcimer and small percussion, and Downes on flutes, various percussion and plenty of electronic manipulation. Nearly every sound on this LP was processed using a variety of shimmering delays, controlled feedback, reverb and speed change to create a haunting and delirious mix of musical styles and atmospheres.
Taken from the master tapes, this 33 minute LP has been expanded for the CD release with 35 minutes of previously unreleased experimental works, mostly from the same period, that cover even more ground than the LP, including one piece made entirely from the sounds of various phone booths on the streets of New York.
Paradigm has to be one of my favorite reissue and archival labels around. I have previous knowledge of some artists in Paradigm catalog, but several have been completely new discoveries. Bob Downes Open Music is one of the latter. I may have seen the name mentioned at some point, but didn't know anything about his music. Apparently this is one of his most out records, and it is absolutely stunning. Present are sparse improvisations on gong, marimba, flute, zither, and dulicmer - focusing on one instrument per track and all heavily enveloped in echo and electronic treatments. Like Takehisa Kosugi, it is not simply the echo that makes this music so downright psychedelic, it is the playing of the instruments as well. The sounds unfold in slow motion and draw you into a cosmic world. Complete and utter head music that has really blown me away. In addition to the original 1974 LP, this CD adds 7 extra tracks from over the years. Although a couple date as recent as 2005 and 1989, they fit right in. Some of the pieces from 72/73/74 seem like they might have been outtakes from the album itself. Closing the album is a piece recorded on the streets of New York with public telephone. Out of all the things I have reviewed in this issue, this is probably the most impressive. So, run down to your local record store, tell them they are crazy for not stocking it (as odds are pretty good they aren't) and order one from the label. (Eric Lanzillotta)
Multi-instrumentalist Bob Downes plays a busy little part in the development of 60s British modern jazz. By the early 70s the "scene" had scattered all over the place, and Bob Downes, with his Open Music theories, had progressed into newer areas of freedom and expression. This album is easier on the ears than his earlier, harder jazz experiments of the late 60s. It's gentle, spooky, even a little surreal in parts - not unlike the 1930s sculpture that inspired it all in the first place. The recording was originally commissioned for ballet; you'll sit and imagine the shapes they must have been throwing on stage in 1974 as the music chimes, bongs and vibrates around your room. And the CD comes with bonus recordings Downes made on the streets of NYC, mainly using phone boxes by the sounds of things. It's a curious, soporific listen, and an interesting musical way to end the day. (Jonny Trunk)
Paradigm continues to uncover important fragments of the historic record. Bob Downes was everywhere on the musical fringes of the '60s, and his own 'Open Music' with Barry Guy and Denis Smith was part of the furniture of the time. Here, he and Wendy Benka with an orchestra of flutes, hammer dulcimer, marimba, gongs, percussion, jew's harp, saxophone, electronics, feedback, public telephones, water pump, zither, wind gong, cello, crystal glass vase, snail shells and tablas, produce an airy semi-electronic music - originally commissioned for dance, and released on Downes' own Openian label in 1974. What makes it especially interesting is the ground it explores between acoustic and electronic musics: all the sounds are processed, using the limited equipment available at the time, but with a great deal of inventiveness - and imagination will trump outboard computing power every time. Re-mastered from the original tapes, adding 7 extra tracks made between 1972 -2005 (one using only New York Public telephones, au naturel). Chris Cutler
Sound Projector - issue 17
Excellent reissue of a 1974 rarity from this English avant-garde jazz musician. I never heard his music before and have been trying for some time to find a copy of his Electric City LP which was released in 1970 on the Vertigo label, a record which amazingly managed to feature Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers, Ian Carr and Kenny Wheeler. But just about any slab of vinyl associated with that prog & jazz label has become ridiculously collectible. Downes has also been associated with Mike Westbrook, whose jazz Orchestras created many an album of eclectic music. All of this constitutes another piece in the puzzle that is post-psychedelic British underground jazz music which always remains tantalisingly out of reach...
Episodes at 4 AM however is perhaps not the record to reach for if you're a fan of Brotherhood of Breath, Ian Carr's Nucleus or Keith Tippett's Centipede. Performed mostly solo by Downes with the occasional help of Wendy Benka, the original record is one of extremely moody, mysterious and exotic flute and percussion sounds, enhanced and treated extensively by Downes with his electronic studio processing. Nary a bebop lick in sight as Downes picks up his Japanese bamboo flute, his Chinese gong and his hammered dulcimer, and of course his flutes (the instrument he's most often associated with) of various size. Commissioned by the Welsh Dance Theatre for a piece choreographed by David Nicholas, Episodes offers no lively rhythms or intense jazz-rock odysseys, rather a collection of extremely atmospheric and dreamy improvisations. The use of many Eastern instruments also gives it a very recherche vibe, in places almost like a slowed-down Gamelan orchestra in miniature.
The CD arrives with a generous selection of bonus cuts recorded at various stages across Downes' still-active career. 1989's 'Tribal Dance' is an extremely successful mix of the ethnic and the electronic, as it were, on which Downes lets fly with an inspired Don Cherry-esque solo over the top of a pulsing electronically-generated rhythm track. From 1973, there are two very extreme experiments in sonic mayhem – 'Solo Duet Nr 1' and 'Solo Duet Nr 2', in which the sound of his instruments is so radically transformed that he appears to have temporarily mutated into an android. The first one is especially harsh, using wild frequencies and echo effects and constantly folding the recording in on itself in exciting ways. The epic 'Sacrifice' from 1974 is another one fit for stirring your primordial bones – a lonely wailing voice seems to be uttering his moans across all the prehistoric deserts of eternity. And the eerie shapes of 1972's 'Unidentified Flying Frequencies' will be lapped up with delight by all you fans of early electronic composition and the Radiophonic Workshop. In many ways these bonus cuts are more interesting than the main event, but this is a most welcome release and an unusual selection in the Paradigm catalogue. Ed Pinsent 06/09/2008
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