Thursday, May 13, 2010
Music and Movement
I've had my mind on Canada lately for a few reasons (going to Montreal this weekend for a little getaway), but don't worry UK, I haven't forgotten about you. Please don't stab your eyes out over your gross new prime minister. BBC Radiophonic Workshop Month carries on in fine fashion. What I thought I would do in this incredibly long and boring post is present photos of some of my favorite records as a roundabout way of introducing the phenomenon of children's "movement" instruction in 60s and 70s Britain. As you do on a Thursday afternoon.
Last week my friend Paul over at Unmann-Wittering Blog wrote a really cool field guide to this strange new educational wilderness where clipboard holding schoolmarms joined avant garde percussionists to move children around like little marionettes. My own experience in the states was more in the era of the "lambada" (the forbidden dance!) so the 60s-70s British context sounds really appealing by contrast. (Although I do remember that our dance instructor had a really cool name; Sandy Pipkin Doyle where are you?). There's something about that era of plastic optimism and cultural planning that really strikes a chord with me. As with Sesame Street in the states, the stars were in perfect alignment and despite the clunky institutional apparatus surrounding the whole thing a unique if short-lived musical/aesthetic utopia was the result. Next time you see a 1960s UK film like Kes or Georgy Girl, keep an eye out for scenes of kids dancing around gymnasiums in their sock-feet to crazy electronic music.
Anyway, the BBC was one of the institutions swirled up in this vortex of educational modernization, along with the record label HMV (His Master's Voice), which issued many of the records and promotional materials for the new music curriculum. Some of the music was electronic and some of it was not, but all of it retains a certain period charm, not to mention weirdness. A lot of this has to do with the striking modernist design sensibility of the packaging. The little ep pictured above is the second in a series of 4 "Listen, Move and Dance" eps. Here is the first, with a little soundclip below it. Pure plinky plonky gold (note the cool percussion by, I think, John Donaldson.) I left this little guy in a scanner at school for a full week before returning to find it just where I had left it!
(BTW, I'm going to try out this Soundcloud audio thingie to keep things a little more accessible for my few readers who aren't mp3 hunter gatherers.) I've pasted in some more album sleeves below with a few more soundclips. The next one is probably my favorite, both musically and in terms of Roy Curtis-Bramwell's absolutely striking design. I did a bit of research of Curtis-Bramwell and it turns out he was (is?) a bit of an odd bird, an occultist apparently, and a fan of magician/artist Austin Osman Spare. He had a bit of a subversive streak too, biting the hand that feeds him in a satirical pamphlet called "Blatant Bias Corporation" that I've been trying to track down. I love the vertigo-inducing concentric circles and the bold red color statement. Designer and musician Julian House (who also happens to be a very thoughtful and interesting writer) reflects on the sleeve in a recent feature in Wire magazine. I love his description. The music is a wonderful example of Delia Derbyshire at the height of her powers. So strange to think that she made all this music without the use of synthesizers and armed only with a razor blade for splicing tape loops together. The track I've selected is called "Mattachin." (For a full rip of the LP see this excellent blog.)
I'll spare the color commentary and just post up the rest catalog style, in no particular order. These are all BBC releases, except for the last one, "Pantalone's Pantomime," which is part of HMV's "Stories in Movement" series. Click here for a view of another ep from this series. And make sure to check out my friends A Sound Awareness and Unmann-Wittering for more radiophonic treats. Also check out Jonny Trunk's "music and movement" page here.
(sleeve by Andrew Prewett, music by Malcolm Clarke)
(music by Vera Gray)
Oh, and here's a cool package accompanying the BBC record "Decimal Points." The record sucks, and my copy is also incredibly warped. The packaging is cool though!