Julian Cope presents Head Heritage


Released 1971 on Wergo
Reviewed by achuma, 22/07/2006ce

Between were a truly unique multinational music group, based in Germany and formed in Munich, centred around keyboardist Peter Michael Hamel. Their first two albums are much-loved classics, but are very different to each other. While the second album ‘And The Waters Opened’ (reviewed recently on Head Heritage Unsung) hints at the forms Between would later take, it’s only a distant vision here on most of their one-of-a-kind debut, which is more diverse and experimental, the musicians still trying out various new approaches at melding their different musical palettes and abilities, and coming up with some striking original music in the process, even if it’s not as focussed and meditative as their later works.
This odd jumble of sounds and approaches comes naturally enough from the different cultural backgrounds and musical trainings of the musicians – Hamel had studied classical and modern composition, as did fellow German Ulrich Stranz (on viola); Roberto C. Détrée was a samba and bossa nova guitarist from Argentina, here also playing motocello and an adapted harp; New Yorker Robert Eliscu was an oboist with a classical background, also here playing crumhorn and lotos flute; classical flautist James Galway was an Irishman who later became famous in his own right; and African-American percussionists Cotch Black and Charles Campbell had backgrounds in rock and jazz, and singing, dancing and acting, respectively. Campbell didn’t play on the album, though.
The strange fusion that came from this also caught the ear of Carl Orff, impressed by its improvisatory nature and by its fulfilment of his vision of, to quote the CD liner notes, “an “elemental music” that would be accessible to people of all cultures”. I don’t know how accessible this album is, I’d say mostly not very much so at all, but I guess as experimental music goes, this one is largely easy on the ear and would probably go down well with people who weren’t used to listening to much weird music. Anyway, Orff ended up initiating a series of performances of “Improvisation without a Score: The Orff-Schulwerk and the Group Between”.
Incidentally, Détrée’s ‘motocello’ was an instrument he made himself, consisting of a single bass string strummed continuously by an electrically-powered thingamy like on a hurdy-gurdy. It’s this that produced many of the sounds on early Between albums that seem like they’re coming from a synth or other electronics. Hamel played only electric organ and treated piano, no synths. The music on this album was improvised live in the studio, making the result even more impressive and innovative. After having written the review below, however, I felt kind of guilty of spoiling the mystery of this album by laying out descriptions of each track. I prefer to listen to it by just putting it on play and letting it surprise me, and not playing it very often so I’m not sure what’s coming next. So, if you want to take heed, stop reading here! At the same time, though, I’m confident that I haven’t described the music well enough to really give it away, so take your pick. By the way, many track times given on the CD reissue are wrong; the times given here are what my CD player said.

The CD reissue is titled ‘Einstieg – Re-entry’, and is an expanded version, including the album as it would have been if CDs or a similar unbroken long-playing format had been around back then. As this is a very satisfying and complete listening experience, and as I’ve never encountered the actual original LP, this review is based on the CD version. Incidentally, music from this album was used as background music (amongst lots of other recordings, such as stuff by Terry Riley, Stockhausen, Pink Floyd, Stomu Yamash’ta, Ligeti, Fripp & Eno and Absolute Elsewhere) for the original radio production of ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’.

‘Katakomben’ [4:06] opens the album with quiet indistinct shuffling sounds fading out of silence, before choral Gregorian chants begin reverberating as in a large empty concert hall. This is joined by a steady percussive rhythm on congos, and subtle oboe sinuates along shortly after, as a serpentine ancient Egyptian ritual procession unfolds before us. Wordless cries, reverbed running footsteps, large animals growling and grunting all swim into the mix disorientatingly before a kettledrum beat closes the door and chants bring the track sulblimely to a close. This reminds me of some of the later J.A. Caesar, such as the ‘Pilgrimage of Blood’ soundtrack.
‘Song For Two’ (‘Two Trees’ on the original LP) [2:54] has a lovely pastoral European progressive folk feel, all prancing wind instruments, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and gentle hippie percussion ramble joyously across fertile spring meadows, and all is well in the world, at least for a few minutes of harmless bliss.
‘Volkstanz’ [5:32] begins martially with stabbing viola notes and reverbed rolling percussion setting a march-like throb (like the kind of beat Gomez used to love dancing to in The Addams Family, I think, whatever that is... a rhumba? I dunno [what?! and this guy’s reviewing music?]), as winds wind gypsy spells in the air, spiralling like smoke streams with a strong purpose and solidity. This definitely hints at the Between of the following two albums. Near the end organ enters barely noticed and begins weaving Terry Rileyean magic on the keys for the rest of the track, bringing it up to a discordant climax that wheezes out into soothing flute over the last 30 seconds or so.
‘Primary Stage’ [4:12] starts with light jungle percussion as some kind of agile bird whistle further strikes the jungle setting; shortly after various other odd sounds enter – a shuddering viola drone (or motocello?), caveman string plucking, creepy discordant organ drones, elusive flute, and jabbering vocal chants. A couple of minutes in the organ has led us to a plateau after which it falls back whilst the sounds restructure in a more expansive interplay, massively extended gong splashes ooze in and out of view like the swoosh of passing pterodactyls, and then it fades to a close.
‘Flight Of Ideas’ [6:45] begins sounding like a running stream, but no, it’s actually the buzz of a big propeller-driven plane approaching and nearly taking the top off of your cigarette as it zooms past in a blur (the motocello again? I like this instrument...). In its wake is a ghostly shifting drone that washes around in spectral sheets as electronic bleeps and bloops begin to populate a bustling rainforest of the mind (but they’re not electronic – it boggles my mind wondering how they made some of the sounds here). Soon flute begins to play seductively along with the singing arboreal life, and gradually a sparse percussive underlay takes tentative steps out from behind the bushes, and a strange-sounding reed instrument emulates another creature come to check out what’s going on and offer its own calls. Percussive treated piano tumbles forth, interweaving with the rhythm and then heralding strange shifts in the sonics, as it all gets a little weirder and more freeform... are you sure you didn’t eat one of those funny-looking mushrooms you were looking at back there? Because things are getting odd... but it’s good! Might go back and pick some more for later...
‘Triumphzug Kaiser Maximilian I.’ [3:17] begins what would be side 2 with what sounds like rhythmic synth throbs, but who knows what it actually is, sitar-like guitar dancing – or is it something else? A lot of these sounds are hard to place because they’re so unexpected and kind of out of context, not to mention being engineered and presumably processed with expert creativity. And what’s a crumhorn sound like anyway? I don’t know. Anyway, Indian-styled percussion is also holding everything up, along with organ taking charge of the chord changes, flute adding to the Indian flavour and wordless choral chanting on certain sections, and later, a bit of almost psychedelic electric guitar. Again, this hints at later Between. This is perhaps the most structured piece on the album, and was probably composed shortly beforehand rather than improvised like much of the rest.
‘Barcelona Rain’[5:26] starts as an acoustic guitar-driven wordless ballad, though soon oboes, percussion and the like take the lead and it all strums along gently until some crashing bad weather suddenly hits the scene and smashes away everything into discordance. After the last wheezing note dies out, guitar picks up from the start again, joined by light droning organ and flute which string it out mournfully for a while before shifting tack to more of an upbeat sea-shanty-ish melody, joined by viola, the kind of thing you can imagine seafarers dancing and drinking around in a ye olde worlde pubbe (well, except for the organ – and it’d have to be a fairly genteel drinking establishment I guess).
‘Memories’ [4:38] follows on with elusive free-form floundering about, all very restrained, mysterious and slightly creepy, weird organ drones, oboe and flute, percussion all combining to make you feel like something bad is about to happen, if we were in a movie (preferably one which places us in 19th century England on a fog-shrouded wharf at night looking for an insane killer but not being able to see a damned thing – hopefully that sets the scene sufficiently and gets me out of trying to describe the music in more detail, a difficult feat).
On the original LP, ‘Space Trip’ appeared as a 9:27 edit. On the CD, you get the whole thing, indexed in four parts. ‘Space Trip Part I’ [7:37] starts it off with another unsettling, expectant atmosphere of creepy freeforming with all of the instruments you’d expect to encounter by now, except guitar (maybe he’s doing something with his motocello here). It’s all pretty ghostly and kinda cosmic, slowly growing in intensity and purpose over the minutes, having coalesced more or less by the three-minute mark and shifting gear to drive home the cerebral insert with droning persistence, everything hanging together but changing in fascinating ways around the central organ drone chords. After a few minutes we have settled into a forest clearing in a new world, things sonically now less threatening but not at all less mysterious – maybe now more so. Too hard to really describe in pixels, but I’m thinking right now, this is what modern classical music SHOULD be like. It’s great how Between take all these (mostly) traditional instruments and use them in an experimental way that is informed by old styles but uses them as stepping-stones to take off into entirely uncharted territory.
‘Part II’ [3:16] and ‘Part III’ [9:16] are just weird, Hamel & co. dumping us further into the freefall between space and time. Let’s just say it takes some of the freeform atmospheric elements from earlier in the album and twists them into cosmic delirium. Halfway through and it’s starting to sound kinda like Kluster-meets-Anima-meets-Limbus, and it continues to get weirder, though now taking on more of a form amidst the darkening vibe, albeit a series of totally unconventional forms. Not for long, though, as any forms that materialise are swept before long into the ongoing flow of spent ideas, with new ones constantly taking their place. ‘Part IV’ [8:17] is another expansive jungle scene, percussionless but full of fake bird calls and ghost organs hanging like a persistent gloom as flute twitters across the lush hallucinogenic vista. There are things going on that sound electronic, but turn out to be brilliantly treated acoustic instruments on closer inspection, and as the sounds morph over time. Big hissing gushes of sound ooze out of the background before percussion and flute settle into a jamming groove, artificial wildlife and impossibly long gong strokes filling the humid air surrounding (there’s no gong credited in the liner notes, so I guess all gongs mentioned here are a creation of my mind, but I don’t know what made the sounds – I’m just trying to say what they sound like).
‘Try Bach’ [0:58] ended the original LP, and also ends the CD. It’s a short Bach piece (I presume) played on flute and acoustic guitar, complete with a fluff and restart halfway through. It ends with another fluff, as one of the guys says “Shit!” and snaps the flute in half, throwing it to the ground. And that’s that, a great way to end any album.

As you should know, the second Between album, ‘And The Waters Opened’, is also excellent, in a gorgeously psychedelic eastern-tinted cosmic meditative vein. The next album ‘Dharana’ brings in more percussive elements alongside meditative bliss-outs with very nice results, but not as classic as the first two records, and with a broader palette of ‘world music’ folk and Indian classical influences. Peter Michael Hamel’s 70’s solo albums, of which I’ve only heard ‘Nada’, ‘Colours Of Time’ and an excerpt of ‘The Voice Of Silence’ (that’s on the Ginkgo CD reissue of ‘Dharana’ as a bonus track), are also worth checking out, and bear some comparison to Terry Riley.

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