Friday, August 14, 2009

when les equaled more...


sad news that les paul passed away yesterday. his music was not a constant presence in my life, but when i discovered this set of 7" records circa 1979 in a thrift shop, it blew my mind.

at the time i was getting into punk rock and scouring thrift shops for 50's clothes (to tear apart and safety pin back together... and no, i'm not running any pictures of that!). while hunting for iridescent suits and the like, i would always also root through the books and records.

at that time, i pretty much bought old records because of the covers, particularly things like jim flora's artwork, but i rarely listened to the music. when i saw this paul cover i couldn't resist it.

when i got it home, i threw the 45 of "what is this thing called love" onto the turntable. i was expecting it to be "lounge music" and instead it absolutely killed me.

the only thing i can compare it to musically, was hearing stan kenton's "artistry in rhythm", another thrift shop find, around the same time (and i believe of all the records i bought at that time, those two were the only ones that ever got listened to...).

like "artistry", paul's version of "what is this thing called love", involves a mathematical puzzle of interwoven parts and rhythms. unlike "artistry", paul's piece involves multi-tracking, and tape speed manipulations. it's not just the sound of 8 guitars, but the sound of 8 guitars recorded at different speeds... in a word... amazing!

it seems that many people consider these the earliest experiments in multi-tracking and tape speed manipulation, which i would probably question, but certainly paul was the first to bring it to the realm of popular music. the version of "how high the moon" from a few years later, where not only the guitars are layered and processed, but also mary ford's voice is, is absolutely spectacular.

so here i've added my three favorite tracks from this little box set for you to listen to and celebrate the man. in terms of sound and activity, these things seem audio equivalents of the cartoon images of tex avery - graphic, absurd, surreal, inane, and full of layers - sounding a lot like those howlin' wolves in avery's cartoons whose eyes and tongues pop out of heads, continually extending into the infinite...

click here to listen to:
what is this thing called love


Blogger Steven Grimley-Taylor said...

I'd be interested to hear about earlier experiments with multi-tracking. Wikipedia tells me Pierre Schaeffer premiered his first pieces also in 1948.

3:58 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

hi steve, i couldn't give you specific examples from history - i'm hardly a scholar - but i would guess there were numerous folks manipulating tape in the experimental world, like schaeffer whom we don't yet know about, or whom someone with a better knowledge than myself might be able to tell you about. certainly paul was there at the beginning, and what is remarkable about these early things is their connect and disconnect from what schaeffer was doing. it is pretty rare for avant-garde tendencies to seep into pop culture at such an early stage, and imagine how many more people heard paul's experiments than schaeffer's at the time. in light of the recent discovery of the phonoautograph drawing/recording of sounds, which suddenly trumps edison as the earliest sound recordist, one can certainly imagine that others were toying with tape speed and/or layering sound in their garage studios or bedrooms, although their work might not have made it into the public realm...yet! i remember while i was researching allan kaprow's 18 happenings in 6 parts in his archive, i found numerous letters related to electronic music made with sine waves, etc. and some early recordings of electronic music, and kaprow is not known at all for this, because most of it was experiments at home or in a small studio that were never released or performed publicly, so he's never part of the discourse around the development of electronic music, but certainly always discussed in terms of "the happening". so, i would imagine there is more to be discovered in terms of the kinds of experiments with tape that paul and schaeffer were inovled in, but perhaps someone else could shed more actual light on it for you. if you find anything else out, i'd be happy to hear about it.

7:31 AM  
Blogger ralph haxton said...

oh! i forgot to tell you... somehow i left the cursor over "what is this thing called love" yesterday, but forgot to click. 10 minutes later, mr. g is dancing in the office to this insane sound coming out of the speakers. i knew what it was, but had no idea how he'd done it (other than just clicking like he always does). the best thing... we listed to it three times in a row, then "caravan" twice, "brazil" twice and then back to "", but augmented by a floor tom, the little red banjo and the toy piano he made me drag into the room. we played through it several times. if only i'd had the video, i could have stopped him...

5:22 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

hey haxton... awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!

6:38 AM  

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