Sunday, 24 October 2010

Comics | Mixtape | Mixtape XIV, Polymathematicism, starring Peter Blegvad

Music As Reading: Mixtape XIV, Polymathematicism, starring Peter Blegvad

For an extremely substantial and, yes, sometimes rather off-topic background to this mixtape, open your exercise books here. Peter is also one of the minds behind the Radio Free Song Club, another excellent location for finding some of his most recent work. He’s generally pretty generous with it online: here and here are crucial inter-Blegvad starting-points that you’ve no business not exploring.

The Seventies: Slapp Happy and Henry Cow
We’ll start with ‘Casablanca Moon,’ a track that Blegvad described as ‘our biggest hit (not that it was a hit of course)’ at, of all places, the ‘Avantgarde Festival, Schiphorst 09’. So expect couplets along the lines of, ‘He used to wear fedoras, now he sports a fez / There’s cabalistic innuendoes in everything he says.’ Alongside this are a couple of tracks what appeared on the record of the same name… Actually, that’s not quite true: it was originally released as a self-titled record, and the versions you’re hearing are from a Virgin-demanded re-recording, including strings and session musicians and so on. The original recording featured FAUST AS A BACKING BAND, for goodness’ sake, and is available under the title, Acnalbasac Noom. For this anagramatical reason, the accompanying Levi strip to go with the section is this one. But anyway, a couple of tracks what are Blegvad-only compositions, on one of which you can hear his voice behind Dagmar Krause’s wonderful gargle.

Then we’ll go with three tracks celebrating the best of Slapp Happy’s surprisingly productive short marriage with Henry Cow, a band Jonathan Coe memorably described in The Rotters Club as ‘The Yardbirds getting into bed with Ligeti, then driving through the ruins of a divided Berlin.’ ‘Riding Tigers’ and ‘Strayed’ are, once again, Blegvad solo-comps – and ‘Some Questions About Hats’ is included because it’s utterly frightening, frankly. All three are from1975’s Desperate Straights.

The Eighties: John Zorn and solo records
I’m going to quote the following direct from Wikipedia, because it’s one of those occasions where its passionless prose describes something more effectively than I ever could:

Zorn’s early major compositions included several ‘game pieces’ or ‘game theories’, which he describes as ‘complex systems harnessing improvisers in flexible compositional formats,’ and which ‘involved strict rules, role playing, prompters with flashcards, all in the name of melding structure and improvisation in a seamless fashion. These works, in which groups of performers improvise whilst following structural rules, were often named after sports…These compositions use cues, rules and strategies to combine and contrast improvisations in various, sometimes extreme ways…In 1981, Zorn was ‘blowing duck calls in buckets of water at fringe venues,’ which included 8BC, Roulette, Chandelier, and Zorn’s own clubhouse, the Saint…Zorn’s early small group improvisations are documented on Locus Solus (1983), which featured Zorn with various combinations of other improvisers.

This strikes me as an appropriate Leviathan reflection for silly old John Zorn, who people really should listen to more.

Anyway, this stuff counts as eighties Blegvad because it was released then, even though he remembered it, over email, as being ‘1978 or ’79 I think.’ He added: ‘That’s my youthful self getting well avante-garde. Hilarious.’ We’ll go with three Locus Solus tracks feat. Blegvadian contributions.

Then, three tracks from The Naked Shakespeare, mostly produced by XTC’s Andy Partridge. And one very 80s number from Knights Like This, the prevailing opinion of which seems to be it might have been better if it had been produced by Andy Partridge too – rather than overproduced into next week by David Lord. ‘Irma’ is particularly worth drawing attention to by the by – very Laurie Anderson-esque, I reckon.

The Nineties and Noughties: Slapp Happy reunited, an Eartoon and some recent spoken word
Slapp Happy reunited in 1998 to record Ça Va, a lovely record bookended by Blegvad solo-compositions which are included here. And then some treats: first, a NEW VERSION of the first ever ‘eartoon’ he recorded for the BBC, along with a ‘montage of all the various takes I recorded’ for the same – as I say, UNIQUE. He describes the eartoons project thus (thanks, again, to the Believer):

For the past six years I’ve been writer/actor/producer of short radio routines I call “eartoons” for a weekly magazine program about language on BBC Radio 3 called The Verb. They’re three- to seven-minute-long dialogues between the two halves of my divided self—with occasional guests. I’ve done about sixty. The subjects have included “Words of Power” in early rock and roll (“Poppa ooma-mowmow,” “Wop bop a loobop,” “Diddy Wah Diddy”), initiation ceremonies, the Phraselator translation device used by the US Army in Iraq, universal languages, book burning, and screams. They aspire to strangeness and comedy, in the vein of Ken Nordine’s “Word Jazz,” but they’re quite didactic as well—there’s an aspect to them of the illustrated lecture. Teaching is a form of show business, as Steve Martin says in his memoir.

Actually, instead of linking to another Levi cartoon, here’s another eartoon THAT YOU CAN SEE…

Then a couple tracks from another collaboration between Blegvad and Partridge, Orpheus the Lowdown, which dropped all traces of the ol’ 80s neo-pop in favour of an insanely textured spoken word. And rounding everything off, a NEW TRACK, ‘We Fell Thru a Crack’ recorded in 2010 and with a title spelt in a manner that Prince would approve of. One thing I must draw attention to: using iTunes, when I attempted to ‘get info’ re. ‘We Fell Thru a Crack’, I found the following little textual fragment, a testament to Peter’s ability to find amusing space for writing in even the most unlikely liminalities and, therefore, a perfect note on which to conclude:

Featuring John Guerrasio (screams)


1. Casablanca Moon – Slapp Happy, 1973
2. Half Way There – Slapp Happy, 1973
3. A Little Something – Slapp Happy, 1973
4. Riding Tigers – Slapp Happy/Henry Cow, 1974
5. Strayed – Slapp Happy/Henry Cow, 1974
6. Some Questions About Hats – Slapp Happy/Henry Cow, 1974
7. Bass and the Treble – John Zorn, 1983
8. The Acquisition & Control of Fire – John Zorn, 1983
9. Juan Talks It Out Of His System – John Zorn, 1983
10. Naked Shakespeare – Peter Blegvad, 1983
11. Irma – Peter Blegvad, 1983
12. Vermont – Peter Blegvad, 1983
13. The Wooden Pyjamas – Peter Blegvad, 1985
14. Scarred for Life – Slapp Happy, 1998
15. Let’s Travel Light – Slapp Happy, 1998
16. Wop (eartoon) – Peter Blegvad, 2003 (updated)
17. Wop (montage) – Peter Blegvad, 2003
18. Savannah – Andy Partridge & Peter Blegvad, 2004
19. Beetle – Andy Partridge & Peter Blegvad, 2004
20. We Fell Thru A Crack – Peter Blegvad, 2010


  1. Brilliant. Have been a Blegvad fan since Kew Rhone, and have seen him perform live (opening for Pere Ubu in 1990, doing material from :King Strut"). Unfortunately we don't get Spotify in Canada and I'm dying to hear the Wop eartoon ... any way you can post it anywhere else?

  2. Apologies for the late reply Majus, I've only just seen your comment.

    I'll ask Peter if it's cool to email you the mp3 - email with FAO Sam Kinchin-Smith in the subject line and I'll see what I can do.