BERNARD HERRMANN on DECCA PHASE 4

From my YouTube channel

I discuss the classic records made in the 1960s and 70s by Bernard Herrmann for Decca Phase 4 Stereo.

These recordings of music from his own scores included Citizen Kane, Psycho, Vertigo, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Obsession.

I talk about the scores Herrmann recorded from his collaboration with Ray Harryhausen.

Herrmann also recorded scores by other composers like Shostakovich (Hamlet), Miklos Rosza (Julius Caesar), and Arthur Bliss (Things to Come).

So sit back and enjoy this journey through a unique legacy of classic film score recordings. And stay tuned for a fun Easter egg at the end of the video……

THE “OTHER” TERMINATOR ( MARVIN THE PARANOID ANDROID )

Marvin+the+Paranoid+Android single cover

It’s a signature time for robots. In real life we’ve got Curiosity taking a years-long constitutional on the red planet, Rosetta dropping in on Comet67P, drones over the White House and Iraq, and a Korean Man Machine doing some nifty stuff at DARPA.

In the movies, in this year alone we’ve already been seduced and terrorized by the babe-bots of the brilliant Ex Machina —

ex-machina girls

— and now the granddaddy of all metal men, the Governator himself, is about to blast across the eons (again) in Terminator: Genisys.

terminator-genesis-arnold

It’s easy for a human to feel a little overwhelmed and, frankly, a little redundant, with all this talk of self-driving cars, AI, and the imminently self-aware iPhone (okay I made that last one up but, hey, we all know Apple is working on it).

So, in this age of Terminators and drones, whizz-bang exterminators and pseudo-human love machines, might I suggest it’s time to remember a gentler breed of “Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun To Be With.” A robot who doesn’t have all the answers, even though, as he constantly reminds us, he does have “a brain the size of a planet”.

I speak, of course, of Marvin.

Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Marvin on telephone

Marvin, a prototype of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, equipped with the ground-breaking GPP factor, as in “Genuine People Personality”.

Marvin, who upon entering the room, is inclined to talk not of the weather or the traffic, or what passes for news on Alpha Centauri, but rather will announce with breathtaking candor:

“I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed”.

Marvin_meets_Ford_and_Arthur

Yup, that’s a Genuine People Personality all right. And yes, I know what you mean Marvin. It’s just so nice to hear someone else say out loud what many of us are thinking. Much of the time.

Marvin was the creation of Douglas Adams, a former script editor and writer on Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Doctor Who.

Douglas Adams

Marvin is everyone’s favourite side-kick in Adams’s magnum opus, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

hhgttg-original-records

This was originally a radio show for the BBC, but it was so popular it evolved into a series of books, a TV show, and, finally, a movie. But it is in its original radio incarnation that Hitchhiker’s shines most brightly.  For most fans, Marvin as personified by the lugubrious, jaded tones of Stephen Moore, is the bright star bringing just the right amount of cynical illumination to the Galaxy.

Marvin with Stephen Moore

Stephen Moore and friend

That is the genius of Marvin and the assorted droids and computers in the Hitchhiker’s universe: his too-human side. In trying to make machines more empathetic and relatable by giving them Genuine People Personalities, their creators (us) have made them uber-human to the point of ridiculousness. Thus we have elevators having existential crises: terrified of heights and cowering in basements.  Or Eddie, the shipboard computer, who either declares life to be fantastic, all the time — or who mothers you like that over-protective aunt who smelled of slightly rotten elderberries.

It’s a delicious take on the old fear that the technology we create will somehow inherit way too much emotion for its, or our, own good. (Hi there HAL).

Marvin, reduced for most of the time to menial labour (like parking cars), prefaces much of his complaining with “Brain the size of a planet…..”

Ah, I know how you feel, Marvin. No-one really understands the full extent of my unique skills either.

Like, for example, I know I could have been a pop star. I just needed that one big break…..

Yup, Marvin’s been there, done that.

Is there nothing in this world a paranoid android cannot achieve, if only he dreams big enough?

And long enough?

(from l. to r.) Douglas Adams, Geoffrey Perkins (producer), David Tate (Eddie etc.), Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect), Mark Wing-Davey (Zaphod), Simon Jones (Arthur Dent), Alan Ford (Roosta)

(from l. to r.) Douglas Adams, Geoffrey Perkins (producer), David Tate (Eddie etc.), Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect), Mark Wing-Davey (Zaphod), Simon Jones (Arthur Dent), Alan Ford (Roosta)

Marvin Your_plastic_pal_who's_fun_to_be_with!

 

 

JOHN BOORMAN IN HOLLYWOOD ( “QUEEN AND COUNTRY” AT THE AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE )

John Boorman color

I will never forget the first time I entered the unique film world of John Boorman. I was around 17 or 18. A matinee screening of Zardoz at the National Film Theatre on London’s South Bank. I wandered out of a misty Autumn day into the mist-shrouded strangeness of the opening of that film and was spellbound. A giant stone head floats across a rocky wasteland —

zardoz2

— and Sean Connery emerges reborn out of the ashes of his tour of 007 duty as a bare-chested, mustachioed enforcer in a post-apocalyptic society populated by actors I knew from British sitcoms.

ZARDOZ Connery enforcing

Strange does not even begin to describe this film and yet….. Yet…..

This was film making that did not play it safe. It tackled big themes and mythological subtext was pushed to the foreground. It was artful, adventurous, and frequently fell on its face. The performances pushed the envelope. In short, it was everything that mainstream British film-making of the time mostly wasn’t: risk-taking, emotionally naked, larger-than-life, intellectually challenging, and willing to put it all on the line.

Zardoz chamber

I was hooked. I sought out Boorman’s previous work in late-night screenings at the Penultimate Picture Palace on the outskirts of Oxford, my film school at university. There was Deliverance; the masterpiece Point Blank (the ONLY truly great color film noir that is also the quintessential, ground-zero genre exploration of existential angst); the extraordinary Hell in the Pacific, in which Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune play two combat soldiers from World War II still fighting the war on a remote Pacific atoll long after VJ Day.

hell_in_the_pacific_1962

In 1981, Excalibur was released.  This was Boorman’s vast, sprawling telling of the Arthurian legends, and I was spellbound. It was (and still is) the only time that a film has utterly committed to telling myth as if it was real history, with magic and the supernatural acting as strongly on the protagonists as their own turbulent emotions. Yes, the film is occasionally wayward, and elicits giggles in some of its more on-the-nose moments, largely because of memories of Monty Python and the Holy Grail which had been released some years earlier.  But then again there are images, scenes, juxtapositions which are as breathtaking as any in cinema.

Excalibur in forest

And then there’s Merlin: Nicol Williamson’s entirely off-the-wall, off-kilter, playful, eccentric characterization that was savaged (and I mean savaged) by the critics of the time, but which I believed then, and certainly believe even more now, is one of the most iconoclastic and brave performances ever put on celluloid.

Excalibur-Merlin

And a young, entirely sexy Helen Mirren as his evil nemesis.

Excalibur Helen Mirren

Plus one of the most priapic, Jungian/Freudian (take your pick) sex scenes in movie history (you know the one….)

Excalibur sex scene

The best book written about Stanley Kubrick is by the leading critic of the French journal Positif, Michael Ciment. Which other director did he choose to write about in similarly expansive fashion? John Boorman. There’s a good reason for this. Like Kubrick, Boorman has consistently challenged our expectations of what a mainstream genre film can and should be. Both books have sat prominently on my bookshelf since they were published, and I dip into them often.

Michael Ciment (left) with John Boorman

Michael Ciment (left) with John Boorman

These thoughts were much in my mind last night as I strolled into the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica to see the Los Angeles premiere of John Boorman’s self-declared final film, Queen and Country, presented by the American Cinematheque.

Queen and Country

It’s a sequel to his masterly autobiographical film about growing up during the London blitz, Hope and Glory. In attendance was Boorman himself, a spritely octogenarian, his eyes sparkling with all the wit and impishness that drives the originality and risk-taking at the heart of his work.

The author (l.) with John Boorman outside the Aero Theatre

The author (l.) with John Boorman outside the Aero Theatre

The film itself was as fresh and surprising as any of its predecessors. It focuses on the young hero’s experiences as a conscript doing his British national army service during the Korean war. In characteristic Boorman fashion, the film serves partly as an anthropological investigation of a social group adrift from its moorings – in this case an army that is not actually fighting a war. The absurdities of the hierarchies and rituals of the institution are thrown into relief as Britain and its inhabitants reach for meaning in a post-War world.

queenandcountry2_2915573b

Within this world we follow our hero through the travails of first love, the complexities of adult relationships, and discovering his passion for movies.

queen-and-country

The film ends with the hero and his girl locked in a playful embrace, sinking beneath the waters of the Thames, as his abandoned camera film the scene. It’s a lovely, perfectly apposite image on which Boorman ends his film maker’s journey, recalling the many rivers that run throughout his work, conduits of destruction and rebirth – tactile, universal, mythological.

point-blank-1967

Deliverance rapids

Excalibur 40

Emerald Forest

After the screening, the director took the stage to a standing ovation. He offered insights and advice that any film maker would do well to heed, including the recommendation to seriously consider an alternative career: he reflected that he had spent more time on films that never got made than on ones that did.

And he told some great stories about working with two of the cinema’s greatest acting legends: Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune.

hellinthepacific on the beach

Boorman’s relationship with Mifune could best be described by the title of the film they were shooting: Hell in the Pacific. Boorman recounted how, at one particularly fraught juncture, he let fly with his criticisms, then insisted that the interpreter through whom they communicated repeat his words verbatim to the star. Mifune listened, then proceeded to punch and knock out the interpreter. Without missing a beat he turned to the director, smiled and nodded. At one point in the shoot, Boorman fell ill and production halted. Worried producers offered Mifune the opportunity to replace Boorman, which they thought the actor would jump at. Mifune instead insisted they stick with Boorman.  It was, he said, a matter of honor.

Not a familiar concept to your average Hollywood suit, commented Boorman.  The audience at the Aero ate this up.

john-boorman-lee-marvin-e-toshiro-mifune-no-set-de-hell-in-the-pacific

Boorman recounted how he and Lee Marvin became close friends, and he told several wonderful stories about their friendship.

LEE MARVIN, UN PORTRAIT SIGNE JOHN BOORMAN

After Marvin and Boorman had completely reworked the original script for Pont Blank and it came time to start filming, Marvin literally threw the script out of the window. At a meeting with the studio brass Marvin said that he was ceding all his story and casting control to the novice director. Boorman never forgot this support. He noted that the film, about a man who is shot and left for dead, then goes in search of his killers, became a means for Marvin to confront his own demons from combat duty during the war.

Angie Dickinson, Lee Marvin and John Boorman on set

Angie Dickinson, Lee Marvin and John Boorman on set

On a lighter note, Boorman recalled a memorable evening out with Marvin who, by closing time, was very drunk indeed. Boorman struggled to prevent Marvin from taking the wheel of his car to drive home, finally wresting the keys from him. Marvin proceeded to jump onto the roof of the car and refused to come down. Boorman decided to drive him home anyway.

There they were, weaving their way up the Pacific Coast Highway to Marvin’s home in Malibu, Boorman at the wheel, the star clinging to the roof. Suddenly a siren sounded, and the cops pulled him over. Up walks the patrolman.

“Sir, you do realize that Lee Marvin is on the roof of your car…..?”

How many directors can tell a story like that?

John Boorman in river

JAMES EARL JONES REMEMBERS ( Filming “THE COMEDIANS” with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Alec Guinness )

The Comedians - table scene

Long before he provided the ominous tones for Darth Vader and created the most iconic-sounding villain in screen history, James Earl Jones made his mark in a number of major productions of stage and screen. It was his role in Jean Genet’s groundbreaking play The Blacks, first staged in New York in 1961, and running for a record-breaking 1408 performances, that led to one of his most memorable early film experiences.

James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in The Blacks

James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in The Blacks

Polish poster for The Comedians

Polish poster for The Comedians

Peter Glenville

Peter Glenville

Peter Glenville, a leading British director of the time who had closely collaborated with Graham Greene and Tennessee Williams, was looking for a number of black actors to take roles in his forthcoming film of Greene’s The Comedians, set amidst the turmoil of ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s Haiti.  Going to The Blacks, which was one of the top off-Broadway hits of the decade, Glenville was presented with an embarrassment of acting riches.  Jones was not the only one to be cast in the film as a result of his performance in the play: joining him were Cicely Tyson, Zakes Mokae, and Roscoe Lee Brown.  Also in the film was a young Gloria Foster, who later made a mark as the Oracle in the first two Matrix pictures.

Jones and Zakes Macae

The-Comedians James Earl Jones

For Jones, working on The Comedians was memorable both on, and off, screen. For rarely can a young actor have found himself spending time with such a luminous A-list cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov, not to mention the legendary star of silent pictures, Lillian Gish.

Peter Glenville with the cast of The Comedians

Peter Glenville (c., standing) with the cast of The Comedians

A few years ago I produced an oral history of the life and work of Peter Glenville, and James Earl Jones kindly agreed to share his reminiscences with Susan Loewenberg, Producing Director of L.A. TheatreWorks, who commissioned the history on behalf of the Peter Glenville Foundation.

Peter Glenville directing Ustinov and Taylor

Peter Glenville directing Ustinov and Taylor

The segment about The Comedians was my favorite, enlivened by Jones’s commentary, his extraordinary presence, and that voice. (In a technical sidebar, that voice was so resonant with bass frequencies that the engineer had quite some trouble recording it without distortion).

Jones and Burton

Now you can enjoy his story too……

Narrator: Martin Jarvis.  Voice of Peter Glenville: Simon Templeman.

James-Earl-Jones-001

 

 

You_Only_Live_Twice_-_Gun_Barrel

In 2008, TV’s best series on the arts, The South Bank Show, trained its telescopic sight on James Bond, to coincide with Daniel Craig’s second outing as 007 in Quantum of Solace.  The result was one of the best documentaries on the film series of Ian Fleming’s iconic creation, and includes a rare interview with Sean Connery, plus some marvelous behind-the-scenes footage.

PART 1:

 

Ursula Andress and Ian Fleming on location for Dr. No

Ursula Andress and Ian Fleming on location for Dr. No

 

PART 2:

 

Bond ian_fleming

 

PART 3:

 

Fleming and Connery on location for From Russia with Love

Fleming and Connery on location for From Russia with Love

 

PART 4:

 

Connery, Shirley Eaton, Fleming on set of Goldfinger

Connery, Shirley Eaton, Fleming on set of Goldfinger

 

PART 5:

 

Daniel Craig

Skyfall-James-Bond-will-return-50-Years-logo

 

THEMES FOR SECRET AGENTS ( The Phase 4 Stereo Effect Part 1: James Bond, Roland Shaw, et al. )

roland-shaw-secret-agents1

Note: Where indicated, audio only tracks are transfers from original vinyl in my collection, yielding the best sound quality. Otherwise, audio tracks are from 2009 CD reissue of selections from Roland Shaw’s spy soundtrack albums (where masters are unknown).

James Bond Theme (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra):

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach

Roland Shaw

Roland Shaw

Phase 4’s compilations of spy themes were entirely the province of arranger/orchestrator Roland Shaw. He was one of Decca’s principal house arrangers, working for Vera Lynn, Mantovani, Ted Heath, and the label’s principal conductor of film music, Stanley Black. He also worked on several films himself as composer, including The Great Waltz, Summer Holiday, and Song of Norway. He had a passion for motor cars, of which he owned several exotic examples over the years. These ranged from a Rolls-Royce to a Bentley and a beautiful classic red Ferrari. He competed in club meetings at Silverstone, Goodwood and Brands Hatch, where he often acted as a race marshal. In fact, it was while parking his Rolls near his home in Barnes (purchased with a royalty check from Tutti Camerata) that he got his break with Decca Records. He was approached by an admirer of the vehicle, who turned out to be Frank Lee, head of A&R at the label.

Roland Shaw - the James Bond thrillers

Monty Norman

Monty Norman

Shaw’s first spy genre album, Themes from the James Bond Thrillers, was released in 1964 to coincide with Goldfinger. It was a massive hit, spawning a series of further records of “Spy” themes.

Monty Norman had composed the music for the first film in the Bond series, Dr. No, and Shaw’s arrangements filled out the minimally orchestrated originals to great effect. In this track, Underneath the Mango Tree, the addition of rippling flute and harp, plus swirling strings, creates a sense of travelogue exotica.

Underneath the Mango Tree (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra):

 

John Barry

John Barry

However, it was John Barry’s iconic arrangement of the James Bond Theme, and his scores for Goldfinger and beyond, which defined the “Spy Sound” of the Swinging Sixties soundtrack. Barry seamlessly blended his jazz and bop background with lush romantic strings and heavy Wagnerian brass chords (interspersed with fabulous, soaring breaks that wailed over the propulsive drums and bass) to create a sound that defined the cool of Bond every bit as much as the beautiful girls, designer clothes, exotic locations and futuristic gadgets.

Every bit the epitome of Swinging London: John Barry and his wife, Jane Birkin.

John Barry epitomized Swinging London just as much as the spy whose musical identity he forged on the big screen. Barry is seen here with his then wife, actress and singer Jane Birkin

You can hear all these elements at work in this music from the pre-credits sequence in Thunderball, which culminated in Bond making his escape with a jet-pack.

Chateau Fight (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra):

 

Thunderball jet_pack_2

Record labels were jumping over themselves to create knock-off compilations of Bond and other spy music, using various Easy Listening arrangers and scratch bands. The results were frequently lacklustre, but every so often these cover versions struck gold. Such was the case with Roland Shaw’s series of albums for Decca Phase 4.

Roland+Shaw+-+The+Phase+4+World+Of+Spy+Thrillers+-+LP+RECORD-382357

Roland Shaw rear sleeve

In his arrangement of music from Diamonds of Forever you can hear how Shaw, while remaining true to the essence of John Barry’s original, has embellished the orchestration to highlight the Hi-Fi aspect of the recording and give it more zest.

Diamonds-are-forever-James-Bond-Poster

He has added soaring and swooning contrapuntal string lines to the original, no doubt a legacy of his arranging for Mantovani’s orchestra. Then fat, funky bass lines combine with propulsive guitar licks (even throwing in a bit of wah-wah for good measure), latin drums and stabbing brass to give the whole thing an extra tinge of pop and of the exotic. (Many Phase 4 albums highlighted unusual percussion and other sounds from world music to lend a sense of travelogue to their albums).

Roland-Shaw-Themes-From-The-J-376147

Staying with Bond, here is Shaw’s arrangement of one of Barry’s most lyrical inventions for the Bond series, You Only Live Twice.

Bond girl Akiko Wakabasyashi behind the wheel of her one-off Toyota 2000 GT convertible

Bond girl Akiko Wakabasyashi behind the wheel of her one-off Toyota 2000 GT convertible in You Only Live Twice

Interestingly, one of the theme songs that Shaw leaves more or less unchanged, is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Maybe this was because the track was already one of Barry’s most exciting inventions — and why mess with perfection? It was the first title sequence in a Bond film not to feature a vocal.  Instead, to accompany visuals that recapped the previous Connery adventures in preparation for George Lazenby’s assumption of the role, Barry built a driving chase fanfare over a Moog synthesizer playing in unison with a bass guitar.

Robert Moog pictured with his invention

Robert Moog pictured with his invention

The Moog was a completely new kind of instrument, purely electronic with no acoustic elements, and sounds radically different even on Barry’s own various recordings of this theme.

ohmss title

In the wake of Bondmania, film and television companies fast-tracked numerous secret agent projects, all demanding their own John Barry-tinged music. One of the most successful of Bond imitators was the series starring James Coburn as an urbane American agent, which kicked off with Our Man Flint.

Japanese poster for Our Man Flint

Japanese poster for Our Man Flint

 

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

 

Jerry Goldsmith, one of the most distinctive film composers to emerge at that time (his credits include Planet of the Apes, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Alien) provided a theme which channeled the Barry sound in its guitar licks and brass stabs. But he also added his own elements (percussion and jazzy improvisations) to convey a sense of the send-up that the film encapsulated.

Our Man Flint (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra) (LP transfer):

 

Back in the U.K., a quirky TV series that combined Bondian elements with fantasy and sci-fi became a cult classic and ran for many years.

the-avengers-series

The Avengers launched the careers of several subsequent Bond girls — Honor Blackman in Goldfinger and Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The hero, John Steed, always immaculately dressed in the finest Savile Row suits, with accompanying umbrella and bowler hat, was played by Patrick MacNee, who later featured as Roger Moore’s accomplice in A View to a Kill.

Diana Rigg and Patrick MacNee

Diana Rigg and Patrick MacNee

The Avengers had a killer theme written by Laurie Johnson.

Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

The Avengers (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra) (LP transfer):

 

One of the most successful TV riffs on Bond was The Saint, which also proved to be a training ground for a future 007, Roger Moore. Based on Leslie Charteris’s series of novels about a Robin Hood-like character, the show’s catchy theme song was the work of Edwin Astley, a prolific TV composer who became a regular contributor to ITC Entertainment which produced the show. He also scored the themes for Patrick McGoohan’s iconic Danger ManRandall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and, in a different vein entirely, Kenneth Clarke’s epic documentary series, Civilisation. The theme for The Saint opened with a characterful motif for flutes, echoed woman’s voice, vibraphone and muted trumpets which would play as a halo appeared above Roger Moore’s head. It perfectly mirrors the cheeky quality of the character and show.

The Saint - Roger Moore

This kind of unusual instrumentation was typical of the genre, and is why so much of this music is such a good fit for the exotic orchestral palette of Easy Listening records. (Shaw’s arrangement dispenses with the woman’s vocal but goes to town in the blaring brass section; there’s that terrific drumming again too.)

the-saint- with car

The Saint (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra) (LP transfer):

 

A precursor to Bond was the American TV show Peter Gunn, the creation of maverick film-maker Blake Edwards, one of the most underrated talents among post-War American writer/directors, who found enormous commercial success with the Pink Panther movies.

Peter_Gunn poster

The iconic theme song, by his long-time collaborator Henry Mancini, undoubtedly influenced later composers working in the genre (including Barry).

Henry Mancini receiving the Grammy for his album of music from Peter Gunn

Henry Mancini receiving the Grammy from Peggy Lee for his album of music from Peter Gunn

Peter Gunn has been much covered, most notably by cult 80s group The Art of Noise, with Duane Eddy taking on the guitar “twanging” duties. In his version, Roland Shaw doubles that guitar line with an early synthesizer, adds some percussion pops for Hi-Fi glitter, and plays up the drums and jazzy improvised elements.

Not all spy movies of the 60s were upbeat. John Le Carre’s The Spy who Came in from the Cold offered Richard Burton one of his most celebrated roles in a gritty cat-and-mouse game set in a divided Berlin. The muted, evocative score was by Sol Kaplan.

The Spy who came in from the cold

The Spy who Came in from the Cold (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra) (LP transfer):

 

Another highly successful series that, tonally, fell somewhere between Fleming and Le Carre, was launched with The Ipcress File, starring Michael Caine as the world-weary British agent Harry Palmer. The series shared much of Bond’s DNA, not surprisingly because the producer was Harry Saltzman (half of Eon Productions), bringing with him Bond’s editor, Peter Hunt, and production designer, Ken Adam. The music was also by John Barry, who used his taste for exotic instrumentation (in this case the cimbalom) to evoke eastern menace on the streets of London.

ipcress-file- Music by John Barry

The Ipcress File (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra) (LP transfer):

 

John Barry also contributed a memorable score to The Quiller Memorandum (1966). George Segal and Alec Guinness starred in this straight ahead cold war thriller, with a script by Harold Pinter.

Quiller_memorandum_EP6305

Wednesday’s Child from The Quiller Memorandum (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra) (LP transfer):

 

In finest Easy Listening fashion, even Shaw was not afraid to go with a somewhat cheesy vocal arrangement when called for. Here is his take on one of Burt Bacharach’s numbers from Casino Royale. (In the film it was only used as an instrumental; this is the version with Hal David’s lyrics).

Casino Royale record cover

Note, as always, the fabulous drumming and that tight rhythm guitar. I wonder how many bachelor pads have echoed to this track at the cocktail hour…..

Martini anyone?

James-Bond-Martini

“Let the Love Come Through” from Casino Royale (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra) (LP transfer):

 

Avengers - cocktails

Twisting with James (Roland Shaw and his Orchestra):

 

Bond Connery aston martin Goldfinger

 

Nora Ephron dead at 71.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep

“That’s your problem! You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.” (Sleepless in Seattle)

Nora Woody

“The desire to get married is a basic and primal instinct in women. It’s followed by another basic and primal instinct: the desire to be single again.”

When Harry Met Sally

“And then the dreams break into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice: you can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream.” (Heartburn)

Nora_Ephron Carl Bernstein

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Ephron with sons Jacob (l.) and Max (front)

Ephron with sons Jacob (l.) and Max (front)

888739-when-harry-met-sally

“I’ll have what she’s having.” (When Harry Met Sally)

The Most Of Nora Ephron

 

 

The Wit and Wisdom of Nora Ephron

THE MAN IN THE MACHINE ( Kraftwerk Live at Disney Hall )

Kraftwerk - silhouettes

One of the most momentous discoveries of my musical life happened almost by accident.  I was a teenager at boarding-school, just hanging out one afternoon, when one of my friends sauntered by.

“Read about a pretty cool album in this week’s New Musical Express.  You should check it out.”

He ambled away down the corridor, and after a few minutes returned with a copy of the music broadsheet.  On the cover were four men dressed in red shirts and black ties, hair plastered down, heavily made up, their faces locked in expressionless sideways gazes, arranged in a highly stylized shot that reeked of both Teutonic totalitarianism and mechanistic macho.

kraftwerk2

“I think this might be right up your alley”.  No, he wasn’t making a crack at my expense.  My friend knew that I was heavily into avant-garde classical music, and especially the German avatar of progressive and electronic music, Karlheinz Stockhausen.

He opened the paper to the feature review.  It was of an album called The Man Machine, and those four men on the cover were its creatorscollectively known as Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk_-_The_Man-Machine

From the moment I started reading about this band I realized this was music I had to investigate.  I inhaled the article.  I was only just starting to listen to pop and rock seriously; up until then I had been strictly into classical and jazz, assembling a semi-improvisatory ensemble when I was 12.  But recently I had discovered Pink Floyd and David Bowie and was getting really fired up by these new musical worlds.  By the time I finished the article I knew I had to have the record, and headed down to the local record store as soon as I could.  That record is still with me, one of my prized possessions, albeit with one chewed corner courtesy of a family pup who bypassed Bach and Basie in favor of Krautrock, discriminating fellow that he was.  On a good system this record sounds like you are inside the man machine.  Those analog synths and drums are fat.  None of the reissues or even the American pressing comes close to the sound of that original English pressing.

Kraftwerk-The_Man_Machine-Interior_Frontal

I will never forget the first time I played the album.  It was on headphones and I didn’t just listen.  I was absorbed into the music, and into a sound world unlike any other.  The electronic canvas was so rich it felt organic, and the short, motivic melodies were immediately catchy.  The occasional human voices, often fed through a range of processing devices, were flat and mechanistic, yet also oddly imbued with real feeling.  There was a sense of melancholic machine chanting.  The B-side led off with a number that is the closest the group has ever come to a conventional single, The Model.   The song plays on how we objectify feminine beauty, turning models into remote, almost technological creatures: infinitely desirable, and infinitely unapproachable.  It is an incisive piece of musical observation, made all the more poignant for the yearning that lurks just beneath the surface.  That yearning is transmogrified into something both familiar and otherworldly in the next song, Neon Lights, a tour de force of electronic expressionism.  I think it is their greatest track, a road song of the modern urban experience, driving through canyons of steel with the neon lights of the city dancing and dazzling the senses.  Cascades of shimmering synthesizers ripple over a relentless march beat and a simple, haunting melody, again tinged with melancholy.

Neon lights

Shimmering neon lights

And at the fall of night

The city’s made of light.

Neon Lights live

Many a time I have found myself on a freeway, sometimes with a light or heavy rain to deepen the electric shadows, with that music playing on the stereo or in my memory.  I am sucked into a netherworld of strange, Metropolis beauty.  (Metropolis, not surprisingly, is the title of another track on the album: an apt hommage to Fritz Lang’s silent epic which defined the modern cityscape on film, in our heads, and finally in reality).

The Tower of Babel in Metropolis

The Tower of Babel in Metropolis (1927)

Kraftwerk performing Metropolis

Metropolis live

I still hear details in that record that I’ve not heard before, it is that well-crafted.  At the time of the album’s release I was not alone in the opinion that this group was creating something unique, not just in pop music, but in music, period.  I immediately bought their earlier albums, Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express.

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I quickly discovered that Kraftwerk were sui generis, and today they are hailed as the most influential group ever, even more so than The Beatles.  And it’s not just the music which continues to ripple through practically every genre, even non-electronic music.  (Listen to Philip Glass or Steve Reich and Kraftwerk is right there at the heart of their work.  No surprise then that their appearance at Disney Hall is part of a citywide celebration of musical minimalism).  Kraftwerk’s stripped-down sense of design, for example, was a huge influence on Peter Saville, who designed covers for Joy Division and New Order, and spawned a million imitators.

Joy Division Unknown Pleasures cover

Peter Saville's cover for Blue Monday single

Peter Saville’s cover for Blue Monday single

At the time these record covers were the complete opposite of Roger Dean’s visual fantasias for Yes, as was the music.  Everything was stripped down to the essentials.  Repetitious and hypnotic rhythms were so carefully layered that they avoided any of the dead-hand quality of their numerous imitators.  Melodies were short and mesmeric, and full of romantic yearning.  Kraftwerk’s tunes are some of the most memorable in pop.  That romantic quality evokes the human in the machine, and it is in that domain that Kraftwerk’s music breathes and finds its staying power.  The only other techno act that I think approaches that quality is Massive Attack, but it does so with more conventional vocals laid on top of the electronic palette.

In the Kling-Klang studio

In the Kling-Klang studio

The thing about Kraftwerk is that it’s a band whose work still sounds incredibly modern at the same time as feeling timeless.   No matter that you can hear the evolutions in electronic instrument technology from album to album. (Techno Pop, formerly Electric Café, is suffused with the new digital technology of Yamaha’s DX-7 synth, and was the least well-received of their albums, though in its new remastering it is redeemed).  Timeless, indeed, as the masterworks of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner that came out of Germany’s classical tradition.  But it was in reaction to that tradition that Kraftwerk crafted its distinctive sound and ethos.

Kraftwerk_by_Ueli_Frey_(1976)

After the war, German musicians wanted to do, and be, anything so long as it was far away from the German classical tradition which had been heavily tainted by its co-option by Hitler into his promotion of the Aryan ideal.  Young musicians needed to turn their back on centuries of German high culture, but they also shied away from the popular forms of their conquerors.  Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider started Kraftwerk in 1970 within the loose umbrella of the Krautrock movement, and their early albums used conventional instruments and free-form improvisation seasoned with the spice of electronic manipulation.  But their compositions were essentially conventional in method and execution.

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That all changed with Autobahn, whose single A-side concept piece was an electronic realization of the aural and aesthetic experience of crossing Germany via the new freeway system that had no speed limit.

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It was a revelation, both for what electronics could now do, and for its reinvention of what a pop record could be.  And it was as potent in its ideas — of sound as movement, and vice versa; of engagement with technology as romantic — as it was in its execution.  Its successors were no less influential.  In particular, Trans-Europe Express, which did for rail travel what Autobahn had done for motorways.   Together with The Man Machine and Computer World, these albums created a sense of what it felt like to exist as a human being in the late 20th century: one’s humanity slowly leeching away from the organic experience of life, through the mediation of technology, into something both immediate and distancing, something “other”.

KRAFTWERK 3D MoMA

On Trans Europe Express people remember the epic title track and its extension, Metal on Metal, but they forget about the haunting Hall of Mirrors, a meditation on identity and celebrity with glistening synthesizer figures rippling against a pointed refrain (“Even the greatest stars discover themselves in the looking-glass”), and the elegiac Franz Schubert, a techno call-out to Germany’s most lyrical and poetic composer, who in the here and now is buried beneath the literal and aesthetic railroad tracks of the new Germany.

kraftwerk-3d-trans europe expres

It is often claimed that hip-hop begins with Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 club hit Planet Rock, which quotes from Trans-Europe Express and Computer World I remember hearing this on the dance floor of London’s legendary Camden Palace, and being blown away both by the fact that I knew where the melody and rhythm had come from, and that they now existed in this cool new context.

KRAFTWERK 3D Der Katalog  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Kunstsammlung NRW Düsseldorf 2013

But back to The Man Machine, which I think is Kraftwerk’s most fully realized and perfect record.  This was the album in which the individual members of the band finally disappeared into their conceptual creation.  They became their own robots, literally using mechanical alter-egos in videos and live performance.

This week I revisited this album in vivo, so to speak, as part of the band’s 4-day trip through their complete oeuvre in live performance in the iconic performing space of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

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Two modern icons working in tandem, so to speak.

Kraftwerk 3-D disney hall

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Only Ralf Hutter of the original band still remains, one of four “operators” onstage (Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen), all standing behind minimalist work stations (one of whom “mixes” the 3-D visual component of the show in real time).

Kraftwerk - Hutter projection

Quite apart from the excitement of finally seeing one of my favorite bands in action, I couldn’t wait to see how music that is so essentially “canned” would work as a live show.  Stripped of the crowd-pleasing elements of the typical live rock or pop show, like barnstorming guitar or drum solos, I wondered how well the Kraftwerk aesthetic of complete control and pre-determination would play for an audience.

Kraftwerk in 1981

Kraftwerk in 1981

It took about a minute for my doubts to evaporate.  First of all the sound, the best I’ve ever heard at a live rock show, was both muscular and delicate, subtle and forceful, going as deep as any bass I’ve ever heard.  And it travelled through the space – around, about, and in and out.  No doubt those famous Disney acoustics had a hand in rendering the Kraftwerk sound so vividly and precisely.

Kraftwerk – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 TOKYO AKASAKA BLITZ

Whatever elements were pre-programmed, nothing about the musical performance felt canned, and the personality of each member of the band clearly emerged in the ways in which familiar musical lines were varied, embellished, speeded up and slowed down.  In a nice touch at the end, each player had a chance to improvise at his work station, and I was left wishing they had done a little bit more performing on the musical fly.

Kraftwerk onstage current

But it was the visuals that added a whole new dimension to the Kraftwerk experience.  On a large screen behind the four band members (who wore black suits with grids on them), a mixture of ultra-high tech and almost retro video, fully exploiting the ability of 3-D imagery to pluck at your eyes, created a fully integrated “happening”.

Kraftwerk - Disney Concert Hall - March 18, 2014

autobahn - vw

Kraftwerk live w: drawings

kraftwerk spacelab

In fact, the whole evening felt closer to a piece of performance art than to a concert, which is no doubt one of the reasons why these events have been mostly presented in museums and architecturally significant spaces rather than stadiums.  Viewing and hearing the Kraftwerk oeuvre as a whole one was struck not just by its originality and uniqueness, but by its prophetic nature.

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Everything about how technology has come to shape our lives was there in this extraordinary music, created years before this phenomenon fully came to pass.  Nowhere was this more evident than in a sequence from Computer World.

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Here, patterns of fluorescent numbers flashed by and undulated towards us in sensual waves, while the music alternatively spiked and caressed, threatened and lulled.  It all perfectly caught the dichotomy of our love-hate affair with personal technology.

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The most chilling note was sounded with the performance of Radioactivity from the lesser-known album of the same name.

Kraftwerk – The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Tate Modern

Against a deeply funky groove, the names of nuclear incidents like Chernobyl and Harrisburg flashed on the screen, and then —

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Fukushima copy

Germany has committed itself to going nuclear-free within a couple of decades.  In a nice twist of fate, the country that originated modern mechanized warfare with the objective of cultural subjugation and annihilation has become more sensitive to the lessons of technological misdeeds than its conquerors.  Maybe the rest of us, those who are inclined to forget the lessons of history, and are unwilling to accept the prophecies of climate science, are indeed destined to dance with Death into oblivion.  If so, it will be in beautiful buildings like Disney Hall, and all to the techno stylings of a generation of musicians who confronted the dehumanizing legacy of their forefathers by seeking the man in the machine, and vice-versa.  It is an irony at which Mr. Hutter would no doubt smile.

kraftwerk robots with instruments

Kraftwerk Boing

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And in the world of Kraftwerk cover bands —

KKK4 cover & back