Funny or interesting Scaruffi Quotes (part 3)

Previously: 1, 2.

On Sonic Youth (Google translated):

Sonic Youth have embodied the figure of the musician who intends to transcend the stereotypes of his time and explore new musical forms while remaining faithful to a nihilistic and alienated ethics like that of punks. In this sense the Sonic Youth are both heir to both punk-rock and new-wave, although they have little in common with them either musically or sociologically. Their origins are in avant-garde classical music, their vocations (as the solo works have shown) are the creative jazz and rock music, their personalities belong to the galleries of art and the intellectual circles of New York. Contrary to what might seem at first listening, the Sonic Youth have never repudiated the rock song format. Their formation is the typical guitar quartet of rock music. Their songs are almost always structured around a theme and contained within three or four minutes. Even in their most experimental moments, the Sonic Youth have followed their rock and roll roots.

On David Sylvian (Google translated):

[He had] an extremely ambitious solo career, which led him to collaborate with some of the deepest intellectuals of rock music.

Sylvian grew so rapidly, moving from a futile electronic dandy, not much more serious than David Bowie, a world-music accountant, and finally a spokesman of a symbiosis between electronic genres and acoustic genres. His limitation has always been that he could not always [live up] to the (often presumptuous) premises of his records. In the best moments Sylvian is just a diligent student of Sakamoto, Robert Fripp and Holger Czukay. In the worst moments [he] is simply an artist of dubious talent and of very limited ideas (moreover stubbornly repeated to the point of nausea).

…[On Brilliant Trees, thanks to] the presence of exceptional collaborators such as Jon Hassell, Mark Isham and Kenny Wheeler (three avant-garde trumpets), Holger Czukay and Danny Thompson (bass), Sylvian coins a sound that starts from the popular music of [the band Japan]… but he arrives at a form of avant-garde ballad regurgitating minimalist, environmental and psychedelic techniques… Sylvian reels without [knowing] what direction to proceed, more often taking refuge in a parlor jazzrock (‘The Ink In The Well’) or in nightclub ballads (‘Nostalgia’) or in the technological rhythm and blues of Madonna (‘Pulling Punches’); rarely finding (‘Red Guitar’) a valid combination of rhythm and melody, rarely managing to put the song in the right place (it almost always seems “forced”, driven into harmony by force, and almost always ends up ruining it more than cementing it). The album is performed flawlessly (merit of the collaborators) but does not have adequate material (demerit of the composer). Sylvian is better at drawing up posters than creating art.

On The Swans:

The Swans, one of the most significant bands of the 1980s, …[was] the vehicle for Michael Gira’s apocalyptic angst. Filth (1983), featuring two drums… and two basses, was the ideal soundtrack for mass suicides or nuclear holocausts. Gira’s agonizing roars echoed as a hardcore, as depressed as Joy Division, as a strident as industrial music, as distorted as psychedelic-rock, as loud as heavy-metal. The music on Cop (1984) was born at the intersection of a Kafka tale, a Freud treatise, a black hole, a medieval exorcism, the first wails of a robot and the last spasms of a serial killer on the electric chair. [Existential] boredom exuded not only from Gira’s (criminal, obscene and blaspheme) lyrics but also from Roli Mosimann’s drumming and Norman Westberg’s guitar noise. Their gothic phase peaked with “Young God” (1985), a slow, austere, terrifying journey into Gira’s sinister psyche. The sound of the Swans changed dramatically when keyboardist and vocalist Jane Jarboe joined them. The apocalypse began to clear up with Greed (1986) and was replaced by a new genesis on Holy Money (1986). Gira and Jarboe sculpted chamber / orchestral arrangements, martial tempos that evoked esoteric rituals, catacomb-like atmospheres and liturgic / medieval tones. The new phase peaked with the monumental Children of God (1987), a set of stately, majestic lieder that rediscovered Gregorian chanting, church psalms and folk melodies. Spheres, oneiric lattices of acoustic sounds to Wagnerian apotheoses, while the lyrics feigned the biblical vocabulary of sin and redemption. Although a little unfocused, Burning World (1989) further dilated the harmony, bringing in Nicky Skopelitis’ guitar, Garo Yellin’s cello, Bill Laswell’s bass, Ravi Shankar’s sitar and all sorts of percussions. The angelic and pastoral Jarboe had redeemed Gira the tormented devil. His Dante-esque descent into hell had ended up in purgatory, if not in heaven. White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity (1991) …was even more medieval and exotic, its melody quite paradisiac, its tone mostly magniloquent and frequently ecstatic… [Late] Gira penned His most metaphysical work, The Great Annihilator (1995), virtually a book of allegoric sermons, as well as his most musically ambitious compositions, the lengthy and complex Soundtracks For The Blind (1996), which, de facto, represented [a separate] (albeit brief) phase of the Swans, one in which Gira’s emotions are materialized as abstract soundscapes. His entire ouvre was basically a paranoid quest for a new form of religious music. No wonder that many of his masterpieces sounded like spectral requiems for his race and his time.

On Saint Vitus (here):

A Los Angeles band, Saint Vitus, had the idea that would provide a career to a new generation of heavy-metal bands: take Black Sabbath’s slowest and gloomiest riffs, and just play them over and over again. Albums such as Hallow’s Victim… were obsessive repetitions of Black Sabbath cliches. A few years later, this music would be called “doom-metal.”

On Voivod (Google translated):

Voivod is a heavy metal band from Quebec that has dedicated its career to the exploits of the barbarian Korgull, immersed in an imaginary medieval future. Not only the individual records are concepts, it is the whole [discography] that is…

…[on Dimension Hatross] the compositions are increasingly complex, but never pretentious; impeccable execution allows any experiment to be digested. It is a style that by now is no longer correct to call heavy metal… It is as if the MC5 performed a piece of Schönberg, or if a piece by Bartok was orchestrated for dynamite charges. Meanwhile, the story of Korgull’s sci-fi adventures continues, amid galactic mirages and anti-material catastrophes…

On Beastie Boys (Google translated):

The Beastie Boys… proposed a dance music practically devoid of melody and song… [On <em>Paul’s Boutique</em>] the Beastie Boys are not particularly good at anything, but they are fun in everything… The Dust Brothers, behind the scenes, provide samplings (in particular jazz and soul) that constitute the true novelty of the record… The album sold millions of copies even though it didn’t boast a single catchy refrain.

On Primal Scream:

Jesus And Mary Chain’s invention (feedback-pop) was delivered to the masses by another Scottish band, Primal Scream, who went on to establish a unique style of danceable psychedelia. After two albums devoted to mediocre imitations of Sixties pop, producer Andrew Weatherall (not the band) penned the lush, dense kaleidoscope of Screamadelica (1991), a dance album that was propelled by both strong disco beats and Rolling Stones-like riffs, that fused acid-house and blues-rock. Later albums, rich in hype but poor in substance, revealed that the Primal Scream were little more than second-hand revivalists. XTRMNTR (2000), a concept album about the evils of modern society, returned to the trick that made them famous: a sophisticated exercise in layered arrangements. That was also the limit of the most over-rated band of the 1990s before Radiohead.

On new age music generally:

Far from being only what was advertised (relaxation music for aging yuppies), new-age music represented the first broad application of pretty much all avantgarde techniques (electronic, electro-acoustic, minimalist, improvised, ethnic) to the melodic, tonal system.

New-age music, properly speaking, faded during the 1990s. Branded as “adult” music, it did not quite find an audience beyond the meditation and relaxation market (a market that could not sustain artistic growth).

On Jon Hassell (Google translated):

Jon Hassell has invented one of the most original and influential musical styles of the twentieth century. World music was born in the 50s, but it is only with Jon Hassell that it has become a “major” genre, comparable in complexity and ambition to classical music. The trumpet had been one of the guiding tools of improvised music for decades, but Hassell gave it a profoundly psychological and sociological voice, a voice that evokes the whole history of humanity.

…he settled in the Buffalo Center, where he befriended Terry Riley (he plays on In C , the first ever recording of a minimalist work) and composed the first pieces for tapes collage ( Time-Sculptured Dense-Spectrum Music , Solid State, Ocean / Desert). Meanwhile he was active in the group of minimalist composer and guru LaMonte Young, who helped develop his “Dream House” (Hassell plays on the historic 1973 recording). During a tour with Young in Rome he met Pandit Pran Naht, from whom he took lessons in Indian singing (in 1972 in India, always in the company of Young). In their wake it began to cherish a confluence between classical and popular cultures, along the lines of Indian music.

Thus Hassell came to the notion of a “fourth world”, a world that unites the instinctive impulses of the Third World and the rational instances of the First World (three plus one equals four). It was Pandit Pran Nath himself who taught him to use his voice as an instrument and to inspire him with a style that was at least unusual for the trumpet: trying to play ragas with a trumpet (that is, without the pauses of western music), he understood how to use the instrument’s valves for such a continuous flow and thus came to sonorities similar to when one blows into a shell. Like the others in the minimalist school, Hassell added electronics to his repertoire in order to further enhance the spiritual quality of his music.

From the multitude and the diversity of influences a music of the “fourth world” has sprung up, a primitive-futurist ethno-electronic techno-exotic sound…

…[Possible Musics (1980)], the collaboration with Brian Eno that brought him to the fore, is… slowed down by Eno’s “environmental” game. It was at this point that Hassell realized he was subjugated by the personality (and publicity) of his patron…. When Eno and David Byrne stole from him the idea [in My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts], it was from that theft that one of the musical events of the time originated, which caused a sensation in the press of the whole world; Hassell decided to return to the avant-garde darkness [with his next album Dream Theory in Malaya].

On Allan Holdsworth:

The good news is that all tracks except one [on Atavachron] are instrumental (his vocal tracks are a real curse). The real good news is that his orchestrations often duel with Frank Zappa’s in terms of eccentricity and randomness. The bad news is that Holdsworth embraced an electronic guitar-like instrument called “synthaxe”, which allowed him to produce symphonic sounds but also overloaded the arrangements … It is not a coincidence that simpler pieces… sound more vital.

That format was improved on the six pieces of Sand and reached a baroque sort of peak on Secrets, whose subtle and sophisticated compositions (“City Nights”) are soothing the way “soft jazz” used to be without ever sounding moronic.

On Pussy Galore:

Arguably one of the most inept bands of all times, Pussy Galore played [blasphemous], obscene, irreverent, barbaric and often out-of-tune punk-blues. The hoarse and demented vocals of John Spencer, the ridicule guitar strumming of Julia Cafritz and Neil Hagerty framed the sub-amateurish sound of the EP Groovy Hate Fuck (1986). They moved to New York, where they added ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert and keyboardist Cristina Martinez, and they tripled the absurdity of their garage-sound. Thus, their first full-length, Right Now (1987), sounded like Captain Beefheart meeting the Cramps and Einsturzende Neubauten in a studio with defective microphones. Spencer disassembled and “de-sematicized” rock’n’roll and then built a new syntax based on the genre’s illicit sounds, i.e. on its most subversive codes. And carried out this semiotic operation while posing as a satanic pervert. Dial M For Motherfucker (1989) was even more meaningless and pointless, but that was precisely the point. Pussy Galore begot an impressive cast of alternative groups: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Royal Trux, Bewitched, Boss Hog, etc. Never was an irrelevant entity made so relevant by its irrelevance.

On Royal Trux:

Royal Trux… carried out a post-modernist program of revisiting and deconstructing rock music, a program that encompassed countless quotations from the Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart and Jimi Hendrix, as well as fueling them with the aesthetic excrements of the “no wave”. Royal Trux (1988) revealed the duo’s perverted passion for disfiguring blues-rock and leaving only harmonic ashes behind them… There was no music per se: there were only subsonic litanies, limping rhythms and disjointed accompaniment, that mirrored (on a very warped parallel universe) the stereotypes of blues-rock. Twin Infinitives (1990), one of the milestone recordings of the era, a sort of Trout Mask Replica for the grunge generation, toured an impassable jungle of clumsy and puerile noises. Derailed by pseudo-jazz and pseudo-avantgarde pretentions, its delirious pieces sounded like nuclear bacchanals via spastic jamming. Lacking any sense of order or purpose, the album was a colossal chaos of musical detours. The anarchic and illiterate art that had been foreshadowed and incubated throughout the 1980s by the works of punk-rock, the no wave, industrial music, and so forth, had reached the terminal point. The two devastated psyches had forged a hyper-psychedelic form of cubism.

Twin Infinitives… [had] ambitious intentions: pushing the art of rock composition to the limits in a way that it could be rock and roll but without people recognizing that it was. Contrary to those who thought this came about from a colossal improv during a drug orgy, the album represented an analytical reflection on the perception of the details and the linguistic system which transcend the literal and create an abstraction, but an abstraction anchored to the literal. There was also an anarchical and libertarian message, of revolting against institutions, of hating classes. It was composed and recorded under the influence of the monument of rock culture that was Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. It was also intended to be a tribute to the 2 great double albums of the golden era of rock, Exile On Main Street by the Rolling Stones and Uncle Meat by Frank Zappa. Additionally, it was also one of the albums that invented the lo-fi aesthetic, which exalted the underground, independent American musical craft: a semi-amateurish musical style that had a “home-made” sort of feel; a hobby of the highest quality and attention to detail. It became one of the most important albums in rock music, …an impenetrable jungle of dirty sounds and childish rhythms, smothered by electronics; a cubist masterpiece of deconstruction and reconstruction of musical forms. Not only Beefheart (who inspired more spirit than form), but also Faust – German geniuses of chaos, Pere Ubu – from which they borrowed the art of assimilating electronics within the harmonic structure of rock, and Chrome – from which they borrowed the brutal method of transforming the conjoining of sounds by torture. Every track was immersed in a blazing stream of noise (instrumental and electronic) that was totally illogical: just casual and random noises. The few phases of music that were composed, or planned, were put under every sort of butchering: tapes were cut and recomposed above all, some fragments were left behind, some others duplicated, and still others accelerated or decelerated. The duo showed no mercy. In “Chances Are The Comets In Our Future,” one of their most programmatic, resounding, and hallucinating feedback filled tracks which accompanied the vocal rhyme in a manner that joined the two, the phrases by the two voices were gradually torn from the tape and randomly replaced, crumbling even the shred of logic that remained. Analogically in “Solid Gold Tooth,” a deranged blues in which the vocal harmonies (the call of the muezzin by him and the moaning by her, with a newscast in the background) seemed to originate from tapes that were played just for their own sake. It was the rigorous method of insanity. From that prospective, Royal Trux either created a regressed variation of industrial music or very advanced psychedelia. In “Jet Pet,” the singing of Herrema was shattered by a colossal distortion, but on a background of warbles and electronic thuds. For its part, “RTX-USA” was like a ritual dancing from a metallic jungle, which indulged in the most wild chaos; from formless matter emerged a mysterious flute and one of the most graceless guitar solos in the history of music. Industrial and metallic rhythms fill “Glitterbust.” These were ballads by wasted artists, in which not even a shred of a song remained and all the other sounds were horribly deformed until it lost their trademark, their melody line, their rhythm; until it became only hisses, hums, and rumbles like that of a monstrous nightmare (“Kool Down Wheels”). Sun Ra comes to mind in the prolonged dissonance of “Osiris,” that served as cosmic admonitions, while unidentified bodies hissed; Herrema recited something, but the substance was that of noises, without melody or theme, only unpleasant noises; one of their most evocative cacophonic displays. The tour de force of this spastic jamming was the suite “Ape Oven,” which was infernal, like a horror film, with a menacing riff (perhaps the most musical thing on the album) superimposed on an uninterrupted sequence of free dissonance and all covered with hard-hitting percussion in a weak manner. But where it coagulated into a recognizable form, even if through a thick fog, there were musical events that would go down in history. A semblance of blues emerged in the pace of the guitar in “Yin Jim Versus The Vomit Creature,” while Hagerty mumbled unintelligible words under the thick blanket of distortions, feedback, and assorted noises; quickly the noises take to the wind but he continues to yap and laugh in the whirlwind of noxious radiation. Before that there was a piece of music that was magnificent, an extravagant example of recitation. Herrema was more spatial and her drunken rants (her whining similar to Lydia Lunch was tired and bored) were perfect for songs like “Ice Cream,” or for arrangements that consisted of a whistle and a chord (an off-key solo) by the guitar that strummed the melody, with a chord (also off-key) on the other guitar that played the counter point, and also maracas and the usual tumultuous electronic sounds that grow in the background; or like “Ratcreeps,” a duel between a slightly off-key chord and an electronic rumble; or like “Lick My Boots,” on which Herrema pretends to commit herself to the song and duels with a pair of methodical dissonances. Her litanies were set in an apocalyptic scenario, post-nuclear, a scenario of destruction and decay, of ruin and devastation: the survivors enter into unison with the wreckage. The Dadaism instituted by the instrumentals has its own value. The dissonant apex of the work, that would be the envy of Varese and Cage, was the track “Florida Avenue Theme,” as unmusical as a song could be. But perhaps the most ingenious piece in this area was “Funky Son,” with irritating scordaturas on the guitar, broken dishes, sol-fas on trombone and strumming on the piano at a danceable pace: if school-children broke into a recording studio and played the instruments, they could not produce anything less harmonious. Shamelessly, this ends gloriously: with a love-song on piano sung by Herrema (and naturally neither the vocalist nor the piano carried the tune). In this monumental work, Royal Trux deconstructed blues-rock by dissecting and separating rhythmic patterns, marks, melodies, and recording songs under the influence of massive amounts of hysteria, not so much theatrics. All in all, Twin Infinitives was a collection of precious musical rubbish. Super psychedelic keyboards and the vocal harmonies by the duo were not half bad (for a mess).

Comments

  1. qj says

    Hi there Luke,

    I just read through your excellent “beginner’s guide to modern classical music”. Since you seem like a pretty systematic person (“listening through the history of rock and roll”), I wanted to ask if you had any recommendations for finding classical compositions in a a systematic way. I’m currently researching modern classical music recordings of the ’90s. What I am constantly finding is that it is very easy to miss important works because online music databases like allmusic and discogs (and even livingmusicdatabase.com) do not account for composition date, and clearly something written in 1720 can appear on CD in 1997 and something written in 1997 might not appear on CD until the 2000s. Scaruffi is a great resource for finding modern classical compositions, since he lists works by date (although there are many errors). Rutherford-Johnson’s book “Music after the Fall Modern: Composition and Culture since 1989” gives a good overview of composers and where to begin, but it is by no means comprehensive. Any recommendations for other resources, either in print or online? Many thanks!

    Sites like https://www.livingmusicdatabase.com/, allmusic, and discogs are not very helpful – mainly because none of them allows you to search by year of composition, meaning you’ll get all

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