Magic, Mystery & Music
PAUL HORN Inside the Great Pyramid Mushroom Records (US) MRS5507.
STEVE HILLAGE Green, Virgin Records V2098.
AS magic and mystery have reentered the lives of many in recent years, so they have come back into music. No doubt as a direct reaction to increasing materialism and the ridiculous state of modern society (of which punk is surely no more than a logical extension), a growing number of top musicians have been influenced by the undercurrents of metaphysical thought (if you'll pardon the word) which have run rampant, if underground, since the heady incoherent drug-crazed days of '67.
I suppose what was wrong with '67 and all that was the fact that no-one knew what to do next. Peace and love as ideas were fine, but the movement of the time didn't really offer any sensible alternatives to the rat-race, let alone constructive alternative societies. I've often wondered what happened to the Woodstock Generation: most of us are bank managers, these days, I expect, or ageing lefties (sad cases both) or maybe milkmen. Who knows? But underneath all the subversion of New Consciousness, or whatever label you give it, by the old materialist dogma — be it Left or Right — has emerged a more structured approach which is only now coming into the open. It has its faults, like excessive charges for 'mystical' techniques and a tendency to airy-fairyness with no real basis, but the overall direction is only to be encouraged.
Not surprising, then, that these two albums exist, both from artists who have done similar work in the past. Paul Horn, an ex-mainstream jazz musician, recorded Inside for Epic Records in the Taj Mahal in 1969, utilising the tomb's remarkable acoustic properties to produce an exceptionally calm, peaceful album of solo flute music. This was after he had recorded an album with Ravi Shankar in 1965, and had come in contact with Transcendental Meditation. TM changed his life — it has a disconcerting tendency to, if you can afford it — and it was out of this changed perspective that music like Inside and the Great Pyramid set emerged. There can be few better ways of understanding the Unity that binds all things together than to experience that unity directly, and TM, amongst many other things, enables you to do just this. Such an experience renders most of the world's books on the subject obsolete.
The Great Pyramid double album seems to say, Unity, peace, tranquillity; a totally improvised set of pieces that just flow together. There seems to be a duet between Horn's flute and the multiple echoes and long reverb time (at least 7-8 seconds). There's no point in giving track titles: they just flow into each other and invoke a totally peaceful atmosphere. No more need be said except if you're into these kinds of ideas, go out and get the album, even if you have to order it from the States. It's just beautiful.
Steve Hillage's latest offering, Green, is a different vessel of fish. A fair amount of this album is good straight rock, yet with inspired lyrics. Hillage belongs to the Western school of mysticism: much more into concepts and structures, systems and explanations. This, in a sense, typifies the difference between US Eastern-influenced mysticism and Britain's Western Magic. The Eastern paths are about Being; the Western approach is Knowing. Hillage has taken his cue here from author John Michell (mis-spelt on the album cover) and his book View Over Atlantis, an exposition of Watkin's theory of 'ley-lines,' dead-straight lines of natural orgone energy linking Britain's ancient sites.
The album has a different sub-title for each side: the first, Green Rock, opens with Sea-Nature, composed by Hillage and Miquette Giraudy, the 'synthesiserist' on this album. It's straight in with a good solid rhythm section, Joe Blocker on drums and Curtis Robertson Jr on bass. Then in comes a typical Hillage guitar solo with effective use of tape echo and synthesisers various. This track as a whole is a pretty good exposition of Hillage's mastery of the art of magical rock; the lyrics are loaded with meaning — sometimes a little brash in content and presentation, but good and effective nonetheless. 'I want you to come with me/Journeying with your mind...' This track sets the tone of the whole album: a mind-trip, a 'celebration of time-space travel through Nature'. The almost Hawkwindish middle section of rippling synths and tape repeats leads back into another drums/bass section, solid yet inventive, particularly on the percussion side.
This track leads into a very watery and atmospheric sub-piece, Underwater Vocoder Poem, consisting of Vocoded string-synth against synthesised guitar backgrounds. Pretty normal use of the Vocoder here, but very effective.
Again without a break, a synth sequencer pattern opens the second track Ether Ships. The sequence here is based around a brain-pattern: the alpha-wave basic frequency of 10.25 Hz or thereabouts. Theoretically the characteristic pattern of meditation, you couldn't really relax to this one, especially after Andy Anderson's drums come in along with a heavy bass line and into a long fade.
The third track, Mustek of the Trees, opens with a tasteful ADT'd electric guitar, maybe a 12-string(?), joined by an exceptionally high synth solo. Soft, almost Floyd-like, multi-tracked vocals enter with the bass and drums, alternating with synthesiser leads. A good solo from Steve in the middle section, with a pleasant feel and neat rhythm breaks characterises this piece, with inventive key-changes, before leading into the second verse of solo synth alternating with vocals and harmonies, with a big rhythm build-up on the last line of the song, 'I talk to the trees/They show me the way/Their auras are so strong.' This gets a little out of hand, but leads nicely into a return of the sequencer and fade. The last track, Palm Trees (Love Guitar) forms a good ending to Side One, with inventive phasey echo solos, but with lyrics not quite as pregnant with meaning as the others.
Side Two, subtitled Om Rock, opens with Unidentified (Flying Being). I know that Tony Andrews, mentioned on the liner notes, likes this kind of sound, and I wonder if the track wasn't written for him and Silver. Who knows. It's a tight, uptempo funky number, with bubbly low synth lines a la Stevie Wonder against a solid backing, plus Hillage's echoed vocals: 'I am-You Are-We Remain.../Unidentified/Like the Saucers in the sky/Unidentified/And I want to be/Om Orgoniser...' My only reservation here is that by this point I was getting to find the inevitable guitar solos a little boring. But good, so maybe I shouldn't complain. The danger here is concentrating too much on a concept, especially a heavy mystical one, and getting out of balance with the music. 'Please be careful' is my comment here.
The next piece, UFO Over Paris consists of tasteful synth and guitar-synth lines over sequences. It leads into Ley lines To Glassdom, where the Michell influence comes into its own. Glassdom, Glastonbury I presume, is the mystical centre of Britain, the fabled Isle of Avalon, through which many energy lines pass. Here is a peaceful instrumental with echoed backwards drum beats (from Nick-producer-Mason) and tasteful solos. It is followed by Crystal City — Glaston again? — with sequencer and a medium-heavy riff with odd chord changes and even odder vocal melodies. 'To touch the secret lines of power/That run across the land and sea/Waiting for our hearts to build/The New/Fusion of Earth and Sky.' The Fusion here is Michell's 'Alchemical Fusion', the meeting of the Solar Force 666 with the Earth Current, source of the ley-lines, 1080, to create the New Jerusalem, 1746. Outro into guitar-synth solo and phased synthesisers.
Activation Meditation which follows is almost one of the most interesting tracks on the album. It is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, or more likely, is influenced by the music of Zorch, a — regrettably now defunct — band who specialised in electronic synthesiser sequencer music and improvisation. The band produced an album that was never released, but is certainly known to Hillage. The track here consists of tape-repeated sequencer with a beautiful synth topline held back in the mix with reverb. Very nice this, leading, with the entry of the rhythm section, into the last track, The Glorious Om Riff, 'Loaned by the Master Builder for Invisible Electrick Temple Geomancy'. An instrumental, this quickly builds into a complex heavy riff, with phasing keyboards and the Devas know what else. The drum pattern is totally deceptive and forms an intricate cross-rhythm with the rest of the track, so fast it's hard to count. Is it three-against-four? A very strong opening leads into a guitar solo, and a stabilisation of the rhythm pattern. A couple of key changes and we're into a sequence-based multiple rhythm; a change again, and in comes a synth solo with a sound like the North African Raita, or shawm. Then back to the top. The track finally emerges through a series of upward progressions and more crosspatterns and solos into a long fade, where the drums gradually drop down to soft, effective cymbal-crashes. Sequencers emerge again and, with a guitar solo and deepening fade, the track finally vanishes down the hole in the middle. Phew!
This album was produced by Nick Mason, and as a result shows none of the 'gratuitous gimmick' and cluttered approach which coloured Malcolm Cecil's production of Motivation Radio. The album was recorded at Ridge Farm, Dorking, with the Manor Mobile, and a better atmosphere for creative musical mystics can hardly be imagined. Overdubs were at Matrix and Britannia Row, where the album was mixed. Engineering was by John Wood.
Everyone did a good job on this: all I'd say is that Steve should be careful not to sacrifice musical invention for lyrical power. Both aspects should be in balance, and here there is a slight tendency to musical repetition, particularly in the guitar solos. But it's not a serious problem and no doubt Hillage has a best seller on his hands, but one that actually tells us something. All power to his elbow (literally). If that balance is attained, he'll be even better. And after all, balance is what the New Age is all about.
Sound Reports & Views
Music Review by Richard Elen
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!