Category Archives: GUEST EDITOR

From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Andy Kaufman’s “Plays Carnegie Hall”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

AndyKaufman

Meiburg: Much of modern American comedy seems to flow from this surreal performance (or from Richard Pryor’s 1979 film Live In Concert), but it’s amazing to me how many people don’t know about it now (ask your dad; he’ll remember—maybe). Both Andy Kaufman and Pryor drew laughs from their unflinching devotion to their characters, rather than jokes—characters that included versions of “Andy Kaufman” and “Richard Pryor”

Pryor could cycle through different personas at dizzying speed, each with a staggering depth and pathos, but Kaufman’s trick was to never break character at all, no matter how absurd, and even in the darker moments of this grand celebration of pretty much all his best ideas, he still radiates a goofy delight, like he can’t believe he’s getting away with it. I’d tell you more about the show, but if you know it, you probably know it by heart, and if you’re here with innocent eyes, I don’t want to ruin a second. We have a great show for you tonight, ladies and gentlemen.

Video after the jump.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Laurie Anderson’s “Home Of The Brave”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

LaurieAnderson

Meiburg: For my money, this is the greatest art-rock concert film of the 1980s. It’s a little like Stop Making Sense but better in many ways; it places you not just on the stage but inside Laurie Anderson’s head, and it twists, mocks and celebrates the conventions of a rock show to the point that it becomes a completely new animal.

Anderson’s band of equally whimsical and brilliant performers look like they’re having the time of their lives: Guitarist Adrian Belew feasts on his guitar with a knife and fork, criminally underexposed keyboardist and singer Joy Askew stops setting up a miniMoog to take a phone call from Anderson (who’s just across the stage), and percussion wizard David Van Tieghen doesn’t mind playing drums on stilts, using sticks the size of baseball bats, or knocking over a stack of cardboard boxes instead of playing a fill.

At one point William S. Burroughs even turns up to dance a tango with Anderson, lit in a way that makes him look like he’s gone black-and-white in a world of color. Laurie herself is on fire, all-singing, all-dancing, impenetrable but somehow vulnerable—and her startling entrance and stunning exit are funny, compelling and slightly eerie, the whole show in miniature. The first time I saw it, I watched it again right away.

Video after the jump.

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: Peter Reder

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

PeterReder

O’Hagan: My Friend Peter Reder has been making a very unique form of theatre for 20 years. They can be installation or performance pieces, but they all aim to be poetic, funny and entertaining. The subject matter is usually how memory and history collide.
The greater part of Peter’s work has been as one-man shows, however Peter recently invited me to collaborate on his new show My Russian Childhood. The show takes us back to Wanstead in North London where the young Peter tries to negotiate his status as London boy with his dream of living his grandfathers legacy as a Russian émigré and dissident. It sounds heavy, but it’s actually very funny as well as poignant. I’ve written music for the show, which has been a new task for me, and I suppose adds to this drift into another way of working. This collaboration once more confirms that working to other people’s agendas is a great way of making you work. You can get blinded by the drag of repetition when working on your own. I think the fun returns. It’s a bit like running in dangerously low temperatures. It’s so easy because your body is instructing you to run, run, survive. I think agenda-driven work draws ideas from you out of sheer necessity.

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: Critic Catholicism

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

CathalCoughlan

O’Hagan: When I started out writing songs many years ago with Cathal Coughlan (Microdisney) we were both lucky enough not to have an assured grounding in any form. We were listening to all sorts back then: Scott Walker, Richard Thompson, Alex Chilton, Can, Steve Young, Tim Hardin. We drifted in and out of structure. Some songs were more transient and ambient. Some had elements of English and Irish folk, some were instrumental by virtue of a vocal sounding uncomfortable. As time went on, Microdisney became sort of successful, and the writing moved very much into safer accepted form. No surprises. It’s almost the same process that drives creativity from carefree under-fives and produces nervous 10-year-olds afraid of being judged.

Years on now, I feel as though I’m back there again. In and out of the High Llamas, I treasure the freedom to create music that answers your own instinctive question. Great music has been left to us in the classic form. I learnt from those songs, I see the virtues, but I’m now keen to avoid that process. I really value the open approach to writing. I suppose some would say it’s closer to arrangement than songwriting. This is fine by me. I tire of the charge of not attending to the ‘’proper’’ writing. Believe me, it crops up. Caught up in arrangement and not delivering a solid song! Its almost a form of critic catholicism.

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: Nylon Strings

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

Nylon

O’Hagan: When I first started on guitar as a young lad in secondary school, I was lucky enough to have access to a nylon-string guitar that the school had provided. I was thrilled with it and leaned the basics but soon graduated to a steel-string acoustic. “Much better,” I thought. Slimmer neck, brighter sound, more snappy, less soppy. The strings were settled on the neck and not an inch and a half above as on the old classical. Then of course I bought a cheap SG copy electric and so on and so on.

About 20 years ago, I was paying a lot of attention to the rhythm tracks on Italian and French soundtracks and realised that the soft, almost unacknowledged bed of harmony, the chords would in variably be a softly strummed or picked nylon string. I bought a Flamenco guitar, nylon string and cedar top. It’s become my instrument of choice ever since. The way I approach songwriting on guitar has been driven by this beautiful instrument. When ever I pick up a steel-string six string, I never get the same buzz. It just leaves me uninspired. I feel as though I can not make an original sound on it. There is too much history. The narrative of modern music is wrapped up in the sound of steel strings. The nylon-string guitar is almost an orchestral instrument. Arrangements can be fully realised and heard. One guitar, one player.

Baden Powell, the magnificent Brazilian writer and guitar player, has been a preoccupation of mine for some time. My tip for the uninitiated would be to check out Os Afrosambas from 1966. This record may encourage a few of you to take up with the nylon rig as I did and find a friend for life.

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: Turn On

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

TurnOn

O’Hagan: Some time ago, 1994 or 1995, Tim Gane, Andy Ramsay and I got together with engineer Fulton Dingley in Blackwing Studios in Blackfriars to make a record which had no stated intention or sound. The idea was that no ideas were to be brought into the studio. Everything had to originate in the room with the four participants facing each other and approval had to be unanimous. It was funny and nicely odd, and sort of like a committee gathering of the Workers Revolutionary Party, circa 1974. There were plenty of rules. A bass sound could not be generated from an instrument that already been used on that track. No pure electronic tracks and no purely organic tracks. The whole project was not allowed to exceed the appointed record time, five days. No consecutive speeds. No consecutive keys. Rules and regulations. The record was released by Drag City, and we called it Turn On. Actually, the whole exercise was created to break our recording habits in our respective bands, Stereolab and the High Llamas.

We are all back in the studio in Berlin. Are we making a Turn On record? Maybe. We will let you know in a few months. Meanwhile, where did I put that rule book.

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: Something New

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

YouTube Preview Image

O’Hagan: I have noticed something new in the evolution of music for commercials, or ads as we call them in the U.K. TV ads have always been a place to divide opinion, politicly (“my music’s not for sale”), taste (“this cut is lazy, so predictable”…”no, this is perfect”) anger “how could they—that song’s a classic”) and so on. Here in England, we have just been through the flood of under-achieving, folky, hum-dum tracks, some commissioned, some placed. Lots of singing in the vernacular accompanied by a sole ukulele, faltering to an unconfident fizzle which just gets you with its charm. It’s sunny, it’s relatively inexpensive, and its not alpha. Usually used by digital-loan companies or dig-holiday firms or startup banks.

The new thing is using classic ’70s tracks that are a bit obscure. It’s the Stones, no its not—it’s close but not. It’s Earth Wind and Fire … No, it’s the Ohio Players … It’s the Zombies, or is it Montage? Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young … No it’s America. So the chaps who move this all along, the sync chaps, are a well-courted group of gentlemen and ladies. I wonder how this new ’70s consensus came about. Do they all go on holiday together, or are there conferences or away days. I’m pretty sure there must be. Why did they buzz around the folky uke thing for so long. It was unavoidable for four or five years. Though not as lucrative as it was, TV music still commands a buy-out fee, no more repeat fees. But I wonder are these not-so-classic classics copyright free? Or negotiated to affordability? Who knows?

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: Cabane Music

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

ThomasVanCottom

O’Hagan: I first met Thomas Van Cottom maybe nine years ago. He had an enigmatic and wonderfully unique band with Aurélie Muller called Soy Un Caballo. The couple from Bruxelles worked with a small close circle of musicians from the city to create a European song form which danced between Françoise Hardy and an American highway. I was asked along with my old friend Charlie Francis to help produce their debut and, as it turned out, only record. Thomas’ idiosyncratic open-tuned writing and Aurélie’s sublime voice and bass playing combined to create something timeless.

Eight years on, Thomas and I teamed up again. After a break from music, Thomas came back with a manifesto of creativity. Thomas calls it Cabane music. Cabane is a collaboration of six or seven musicians from Belgium, England and the U.S. Thomas writes the songs, which require only two instruments plus strings and voices. So far, Bonnie Prince Billy, Kate Stables (This Is The Kit), Caroline Gabard (Boy And The Echo Choir) and I have joined Thomas on this venture. Cabane is music, photography, film making and seeks to draw on other creative activity on future projects. When I asked Thomas what he was trying to achieve with Cabane, he said he wanted to bring people together, almost beyond the structure of industry, more as a social experiment in creating new work.

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: The TV Writers

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

EdwinAstley

O’Hagan: In post-war Britain, there were a number of composers who emerged from their rolls as conscripted musicians to become ’50s big-band leaders and later TV music writers. Among them was Edwin Astley. Though his name is relatively unknown, Astley’s tunes are embedded in the memories of millions as he wrote the themes to a host of iconic ’60s TV shows including The Saint, Danger Man, Department S, Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) and many more. He worked mainly for ITC a company set up to provide programs for ITV, the independent channel set up to compete with the BBC.

What was remarkable about Astley and other composers who followed the same career path was their willingness to embrace experimentation in sound and composition. These chaps had been playing swing during the war and arranging for radio orchestras, and suddenly with the explosion of independent TV, they were tasked with creating new music, brave music, which was piped straight into the homes and consciousness of an audience who could not get enough. Household television arrived in the U.K. much later than it did in the U.S. Amazingly, there was so much ambition within the TV executives. Everything had to be new and challenging. There was no appetite for caution. What is striking was the composers commitment to electronic music and tape manipulation. This had been the preserve of academia and the electronic modernist/concrete composers. Astley and his contemporaries, Basil Kirchin, Barry Gray, John Baker, Delia Derbyshire and Laurie Johnson were able to write tonal and non-tonal composition as well as create sound design (not a known concept in the ’60s).

Astley’s work on The Saint, especially his cue list, was extraordinary. He managed to reflect the tonal modernist chamber string writing of Arnold Bax and Britten but also respond to the zeitgeist typified by John Barry and Bernard Herman before him. What excites me most about this group of composers was their ability to demonstrate a maturity in writing but also maintain a desire to experiment. They were also relatively anonymous.

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From The Desk Of The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan: Lineups

It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.

Lineup

O’Hagan: I have just realised that on the rare occasions on which the High Llamas play, the lineup will in almost certainly vary from a previous show. I suppose it varies to suit the demands of the show, and who is not working or in other bands. The last shows were Here Come The Rattling Trees performances at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Pete, Jon, Sean, Marcus and Nick Allum on drums with Rob taking over on the last show. Very quiet band, 12-string guitar, Wurlitzer, nylon-string guitar and vocals.
Previous to that I was commissioned by the London Animation Festival to write music for five 10-minute films featuring Felix The Cat (original prints from 1910). The band changed again. We performed the piece at the Cork Festival with a four-piece band: Pete, Marcus Sean and Dom this time adding marimbas.

Way back in the Hawaii days, we were known to have a brass quartet plus a string quartet as well as a six-piece band. I think when we played the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Musical Painting performances, it was this near orchestral lineup. I remember playing a French tour with two guitars (12 and nylon), drums and organ. All singing, of course, and another Bruxelles show with vibes, nylon, drums and Wurlitzer plus the spinning paintings. I think Marcus and Sean have played nylon-guitar and cello shows, and yes, a drums/bass/Wurlitzer/nylon quartet. I sat as I had a broken ankle at the time. We had a phase of poor old Rob playing with head phones to click tracks when we had electronics popping all over the place like popcorn in a saucepan.

Recently I was treated to Alex Von Mehren putting together a Norwegian High Llamas for four songs in Bergen at the launch of Alex’s Aeropop remix project. Always a nightmare for sound engineers (when we did not travel with our own) We played so quietly that it would confuse techs all over the world … with exception of Japan.

Last show: Sean at Club Integral, solo. Nylon guitar and piano. The jack to jack was breaking up, so I ditched the line and walked into the audience and went a-wandering, singing to the air and playing like a strolling minstrel. The audience stayed, thank heavens.

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