Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Urban Sax/Gilbert Artman
Fraction sur le Temps

Released 1985 on Celluloid
Reviewed by Lugia, 04/01/2004ce

Urban Sax: "Fraction sur le Temps" (comp: Gilbert Artman)
Celluloid CEL 6788. Recorded 1982 & 1985, released 1985

Parts 1 - 6.

This is some amazing shit right hyah, folks. Imagine something like, say, a concert band playing outtakes from Magma's "Theusz Hamtaahk" trilogy. You'd possibly arrive at this.

Gilbert Artman is an interesting sort. Part of the free jazz and other troublesome music scenes around Europe in the 1970s (he was part of Catalogue, which was where we find Jacques Berrocal just prior to the thing or two he did with NWW), he got into this 'heavy minimal' sort of thing with his expanding Urban Sax ensemble during the early 80s. Urban Sax was an interesting thing in of itself, staging large happening-like events in post-apocalyptic nuke suit and gas mask costumes, parading around playing Artman's orchesto-Zeuhl work. This particular work, in fact, was composed and staged for the G7 summit at Versailles in the mid-80s. I wonder what Ronzo thought of it...anyway...

Everything starts with this massive (and I mean it...we're basically talking about something the size of an orchestra here) wash of sound, like something dropped wholesale out of the trippier parts of Ligeti's material in the "2001" soundtrack. Then we get swept into the primal repetition of a simple motif...very Magma-like, save for the obvious difference in forces. As the proceedings go on, it gets more complex; another wash, and then into another primal minimalist cycling with strange, otherworldly drones and choral voices in the background, chuffing percussion...and then a drift off into Ligeti-land again, with chanting vocals following, and huge gusts of wind from the sax players breathing thru their horns as some sort of Saturnian Sun Ra lullabye starts to course through the group. And that's just the first half.

This is some potent stuff. It's very much 'ritual music', as one would expect with it being composed for Urban Sax's ritualistic performances. And it's quite trippy, especially for something largely acoustic (although there are four presumably electric guitars in the forces) with little electronic tinkerage to enhance the strangeness.

The end of the first side consists of building up the 'motif' for the second (ie: parts 5 and 6) as the bass pulse and descending melody that underpins both sections gets 'assembled' during part 4, which closes side 1. This sounds especially strange, building as it does out of that droning, nocturnal sound that starts the section. Then the voice that starts side 2 and which ends side 1 comes in, and the amazing part-by-part build of part 5 starts. These last two parts have always amazed me as a composer, and still continue to do so. And it's a strange sound...a ethereal meeting somewhere between Steve Reich, Magma, Tortoise, LaMonte Young, and post-Daevid Allen Gong. And it just keeps building...not ominously, but like some weird double moonrise over a distant planet. You ain't in Kansas anymore. Nuh-uh.

Then the finale...honking, wailing, primal screaming, over a plodding one-note bass that Klaus Blasquiz would've been proud of and strings that sound alternate between Stravinsky and Stockhausen, with guitar clangers right out of some of Rhys Chatham's more formula-based work and this repeating melody that sounds like Count Basie as filtered thru Philip Glass. Tres apocaliptique, to use this stuff's mother tongue. Man...this must've been what went on in Sun Ra's brain as he was trying to get to sleep every night. It's powerful! Strange, too.

There are some other recordings in Urban Sax's catalog, but this is perhaps the most amazing, most trippy of them all. The others hold more to a 'classical minimalism' line, although you've definitely got that Zeuhl-esque action going on there, too. But those are just warm-ups to the ritualistic amazement that's going on on here, I think. It really doesn't sound the least bit earthly, to be honest. Jazzy mood music from Kobaïa, more likely. It's not for everybody, since not everybody can wrap their head around such stuff. But for those who can...you oughta find this puppy!

Reviews Index