Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Vibracathedral Orchestra - Dabbling With Gravity & Who You Are

Vibracathedral Orchestra
Dabbling With Gravity & Who You Are

AOTM #34, March 2003ce
Released 2002 on VHF Records
  1. Hypnotism in your Hips (4.00)
  2. Let Steam Rule & Luck Lose (8.01)
  3. He Play all day Long (5.47)
  4. Bombay Stores Disco (3.17)
  5. Fingernail R’n’B (2.54)
  6. The Body is the Arrow, the Arms form the Bow (14.08)
  7. “Mutual Amnesia Sugar” (5.52)
  8. Hall 7 broke my heart: True as God (2.26)
  9. This is where No-one Worked Out (4.07)
  10. Mystical Coughing (7.25)
  11. Going Out Intending to Dig (3.40)

Note: The first time I heard this record, its compulsive rhythms and debased ragged raga immediately sold it to me as a righteous album of the month. Seven listens later, I was still convinced. Its title DABBLING WITH GRAVITY & WHO YOU ARE describes the Vibracathedral Orchestra trip perfectly, for this whole groove changes dependant on whether you are listening in the bath, in bed, or even in the concert hall. However, the more I have listened, the more I have realised that this is music that does not need much describing, indeed it could be off-putting to do so. Instead, listeners just need to be alerted to the fact that it exists.

No Freak Out
“The records should sound like bootlegs, as if recorded by somebody who passed a group rehearsing or jamming and then cut the recorded material wildly together.”
— UWE NETTLEBECK talking about his ur-vision of Faust in 1972

Although this lot have been called everything from a punk band (smart arsed bollocks) to a hippy freakout collective (careless bollocks), the most striking element in the work of Vibracathedral Orchestra is their extraordinary focus. It’s as though they have one riff and they’re gonna play it till they all die. The musicians swap instruments all the time, and still the groove continues, however much the shades and tones of the music change.
This is music as a shamanic aid, made as much for the players themselves as for the listeners. But as I’m writing from the listening perspective, I have to inform y’all that this is music to get you there. Every track sounds as though it has always just ‘been there’, it’s just you ain’t quite tuned into its peculiar frequency until now.

Vibracathedral Orchestra also employ a system of rough cut editing which is fucking magnificent – ragged as Sunburned hand of the Man, but intentional. The effect is something like that of THE FAUST TAPES, so that each piece is deeply inspiring and groove-some but rarely outlasts its welcome. Imagine a rough cut compilation of This Heat’s “Music Like Escaping Gas” spliced into Far East Family Band’s epic PARALLEL WORLD of Klaus Schultzean-grooves into RITE 2’s eternal “Ringed Hills of Ver” into Faust’s seemingly automaton-generated “Krautrock”, into Speed, Glue & Shinki’s free-floating Moog-generated “Sun” suite; into Organisation’s TONE FLOAT clatter skank; into the drum things of DISASTER-period Amon Duul; into the shake appeal dub of HALF ALIVE-period Suicide, and yooz getting close to the bubbling meditational caffeine that is Vibracathedral Orchestra.

It’s this insistence that makes Vibracathedral Orchestra so NOT a freakout band. Freak outs involve all kinds of wasted blurts of cantankerous refusenik moves, and often with as many unharmoniously unsynchronized moments as there are members of the group. Not so with Vibracathedral Orchestra. For this is measured music with no highs or lows (or if there are any they are carefully edited out). If they were Christians, they’d be on a John Wesleyan trip and in opposition to Gospel music. If they were Muslims, they’d all be circling the Kaaba and calling for the Dervishes to be kicked out once and for all. No solos and no individuality rears out of their locked grooves.

They drone (1)

Vibracathedral Orchestra is from Leeds, which is a city of enlightened souls and stupendously stupid footballers. I got married there once in the late 1970s, and still have a lot of extremely forward-thinking friends in the city. I don’t know the members of Vibracathedral Orchestra, but the evidence says they are extremely confident and together in their trip. This even reveals itself in the packaging of the albums, some of which are beautifully housed in standard jewel-cases, whilst others have been achieved by cleverly appropriating unique options provided by companies such as Ikea and stamping the group’s style upon it.
Musically, the refusal to provide any ‘lead’ instruments allows the generic eastern percussion and drums of Neil Campbell and Mick Flower to drive the sound, whilst Bridgit Hayden’s violin and Adam Davenport’s synthesizer and pshaum-like clarinet add weaving drones. Julian Bradley plays guitars ranging from tumultuous strumming through to Michael Karoli-esque single note funk, occasionally adding another generic Middle Eastern-ness with his extremely un-Augustus Pablo-like melodica. This musical range is also often supported by Campbell’s flute-like Casio.
By the way, I use the term ‘generic’ very positively, for half of the success of this music is its magpie attitude that nothing is beyond appropriation. Indeed, when they invoke the Sonic Gods of some particular region of the world, there is never any such attempt to replicate. When a reedy wail from the local mosque is added to a raga guitar, you can be sure that it’s the drums of Amon Duul 1 or the generated Cluster-type synthesizer drone which will provide the support. This ain’t no musicological study.

Dabbling with Gravity & Who you are

There may be thirteen song titles on this album, but it all works as a whole. John Peel once read out the names of THE FAUST TAPES’ songs but no-one knew them at the time. So for this Vibracathedral Orchestra album, I was even loath to specify individual song times and titles at the beginning, but being the fucker who always says you gotta accept the artists’ metaphors, I cain’t be saying one thing and doing the other. Anyway, brief explanations of the sound of each piece should be enough, so I’ll try and be economical with my praise.

Music For Red Breath

“Hypnotism in your Hips” opens all swaying Indian belly-dancing and snake-charming reedisms. The crosscut edit drops you straight into it and you feel like a cyber tourist in a two-dimensional bazaar. Next up, the 8-minutes of “Let Steam Rule & Luck Lose” is one of their hugely exhilarating Terry Riley-meets-Parson Sound single note howls. The Orchestra revisits this sound good and often, and the manner in which it slows down suggests this may well be an early take of the jam which spawned their amazing “Baptism Bar Blues” (which we’ll come across later).
“He Play All Day Long” is pure first album This Heat or Cluster, as generated keyboard shakes your shangalang and drops a confetti of suspended chords over the listeners while a mile wide tambourine flaps and fusses. This holding pattern continues with a slow cross fade into the E.F.S. pseudo-sitaraga of the apty-titled “Bombay Stores Disco”. Next up comes the Zoroastrian funeral dirge named “Fingernail R’n’B”, as plucked violin and curtains of sound FX transport some mythical patriarch across the Styx in his burning longship.

Lino Hi

Then it’s a ferocious wakey-wakey that cross-splices you out of the trance into the 6/8 of “The Body is the Arrow, the Arms form the Bow”, over fourteen more magnificent minutes of shredded Parson Sound strings and post-Velvets holler, as that gigantic hollow-bodied tambourine again threatens to flood the concert hall. Waves of Bridgit Hayden’s strings engulf this track like Chie Mukai and Tony Conrad joined halfway through on er-hu and violin respectively. Personally, I’d be happy with a full half-hour of this sucker, which (incidentally) does a very un-Orchestra thing and actually ends!
“Mutual Amnesia Sugar” is extremely well-named, being a deeply resonant non-groove of deep stasis shot through with an overpowering seam of baritone synthesizer drone. Only a distant scabies violin melody breaks the moods as it valiantly attempts to scratch an itch that’s just out of reach. Then we’re segued into the mysterious duelling raga banjos of “Hall 7 broke my heart: True as God”, which is just two and a half minutes of relapsing post-echo.
“This is where No-one Worked Out” is more of the same bile. An apparently random and stentorian Balkan-type acoustic guitar provides the rhythm as aircraft drone synthesizer attempts to drown out a tone generator and a solitary flautist. This cross-fades into the marvellously-titled “Mystical Coughing”, whose beautiful 7-minutes of low church organ/harmonium drone is the kind of suffocatingly oppressive John Cale-period Velvet Underground which Lou Reed so successfully Stalinised out of the band as soon as he got the power. I wonder why?
Just as you think it’s never gonna end, an old fashioned cash-register invades the proceedings and the chimps tea party concludes with the bouncy wannabe 45 “Going Out Intending to Dig”. This is massive Krautrock of the early Amon Duul PSYCHEDELIC UNDERGROUND variety, or even Circle without that ludicrous Freddie Mercury-type singing. You should just buy this album and be done with it, brothers and sisters. Once it insinuates itself into your brain, I’m sure your automaton will send you off to check out another of their oeuvre before you even know it yourself.

Long Live The Weeds

They drone (2)

For a moment, I thought the heavier and slightly more obvious MUSIC FOR RED BREATH might make a better Album of the Month, until LINO HI perplexed me and confused me. And so it was that the newness and evenness of DABBLING WITH GRAVITY & WHO YOU ARE won through. However, the former albums are both the kind of sonic monsters that sits right next to the dark stuff in your collection and leave a strange stains on the CDs either side of them. Both of these albums sound like two huge hunched giants with pudgy hands each playing drones on barn-sized synthesizers, as tiny humanoids rush about interrupting the sound with percussive toys, pitch pipe squarks and sprinkles of distant drum clatter. MUSIC FOR RED BREATH is slightly less realised than LINO HI. Indeed, LINO HI might be their best album of all, but I just don’t know it well enough to make that judgement, yet. I just listen to it a lot and it seems like the most sonically rich.

LINO HI is real intensity in 10 cities and should be the potential second purchase of any would-be Orchestra groupies. It came out on the American Giardia label and delivered the most un-Orchestral sound so far, dizzying the senses with long super-vibrations of post-Spaceman Three wa-everything – a shudderthon of fundametalism. The opener is the 8-minutes slow violin scrawl of “Can I put my Thumb in your Pudding please?” This is a place I could stay for a long long time, and is followed by the fast This Heatian 6-minute drone of “Roll on, Roll off”. The 9-minute fury of “Chasing a Rabbit” introduces flugelhorn and hollow tom-toms to marvellous effect, before dropping into more typically Orchestral stuff such as “Padded like a Starlight Saint”. “Airy Way” returns to the exotically Calesque drone of the opening song, while “TB Radio from a Shady District” is yet more drone. Then “Sink Me” rolls off beyond the quarter of a hour mark with more deep space trauma. This is the kind which twats you with a of wall-of-noise oblivion that should accompany every mental breakdown. “Pink Twinkle” cheekily adds a Velvet Underground “Heroin” chord sequence to stun the listeners at the album’s closure. A long fade to oblivion shows even they have the occasional moment of compassion.


The live album LONG LIVE THE WEEDS shows how well this music works in concert, especially without the benefits of their crosscutting technique of editing. Its hugely long drones are sonic catering of the highest order, as though several chefs are standing around their simmering vats, stoned and staring.

MMICD is the weakest of the bunch. Here, the group eschewed song titles entirely, opting for the more of-the-moment form of cataloguing seen in such ensembles as Marginal Consort, East Bionic Symphonia and Taj Mahal Travellers – you know the kind of thing I mean. The ethereally tough chorale that opens the disc is called “02/09.1”. Then we’re off into typically flute’n’spoons shaking Vibracathedral territory with more such titles: “02/02.2”, “03/10”, “18/10”, etc. etc. Cute, but hollow after the fuck-dog-pig of the other stuff.

The One You Call The Ghost Train 7"

Single releases, Solo projects & various vinyl appearances

Vibracathedral Orchestra on 7” single is a mixed blessing because the medium is outside the parameters of their experiment. Drone music in a shortened form just makes listeners wait for it to end. This is because the mind cannot break free because it knows that end is soon, and so anticipates it constantly. I always cite the end of the Beatles’ “I want you (She’s so heavy)” as the perfect example of a great track ruined by the gimmicky abruptness of its ending (it should have a 5 minute fade). And so it is with the mid-tempo highland drone of Vibracathedral’s “The One You Call The Ghost Train” 45. All very beautiful, but still leaves an unsatisfied feeling in the listener. However, “Oblong 2” on the other side of that single is dynamite: much shorter and more complete, like Comets on Fire’s massive shamanic clear-out “Beneath the Ice Age.”

12" LP with Jackie O. Motherfucker

Even more satisfying is the 12” vinyl-only album which the group shared with the US band Jackie O. Motherfucker (incidentally, with pop-artwork worthy of the Residents, Stereolab or Brain Donor). Two tracks only appear on the Vibracathedral Orchestra side, but both are superb. The 12-and-a-half minute “Wearing Clothes of Ash” is like a piano-led PARADIESWARTS DUUL-period drone-a-thon with John Cale and Terry Riley guesting on viola and keys. Following this, the sublime “Baptism Bar Blues” is proof positive that they can rock the riot house with pure adrenaline rush when the decision is made. Indeed, this 7-minute track is magnificent and should be available to the masses free or in pill form.

Last year, Neil Campbell’s excellent solo LP SOL POWR was released to further mess up the guesstimates of who-does-what in this band. This superb vinyl sounds as though Martin Rev had teamed up with Moebius and Roedelius, during their CLUSTER 2 period. Organs and Casios and (probably) cellos and occasional guitars drive the recording. Were this an official Vibracathedral Orchestra release, it would be one of my favourites.

Neil Campbell SOL POWR

In Conclusion

So ends my review. If you like music, you’re sure to get on like a house on fire with this lot. Also, I’m pretty sure there’s lots more from the Orchestra I ain’t never heard, and they’ll be sure to have had more stuff out by the time you read this. However, if I’ve provided y’all with a way into these Drones, then I’ve done my job. DABBLING WITH GRAVITY… is the one to start with, but I’m convinced that nearly all their albums could play some part in your future enlightenment. Get down!

Album Discography

LONG LIVE THE WEEDS (unlabelled)
LINO HI (Giardia)
MMICD (Ikea Packaging)

12” vinyl

7" with Low

Vibracathedral Orchestra v. Jackie O. Motherfucker (Textile split LP)
Neil Campbell – SOL POWR (Lal Lal Lal 2002)

7” singles

“The One You Call The Ghost Train” b/w “Oblong Two” (tonschacht)
“Stole Some Sentimental Jewelry” b/w “David & Jude” by Low (Misplaced)