Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

John Sangster
Marinetti (OST)

Released 2009 (rec. 1969) on Roundtable
Reviewed by achuma, 22/11/2010ce

Vibraphonist/percussionist/trumpeter John Sangster was a venerated figure on the Australian jazz scene, though most of his previously known output is pretty straight stuff. A major exception is this, the original soundtrack to ‘Marinetti’, an experimental film by Albie Thoms [of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo fame, income from which helped to get it made] that sprang from Sydney’s UBU underground film network in 1969. This CD marks its first release on its own, and the film itself is now also available on DVD. Unlike most soundtrack albums, this one is actually the complete soundtrack from start to finish, running for around 78 continuous minutes over three movements to coincide with changing to the next reel of film.
I have to confess some ignorance in that I’ve neither seen the film – reputedly a hallucinatory flow of imagery in typical late-60’s experimental film mode [from the liner notes – “a distilled concentrate of lysergic impression, a sacrament of celluloid metaphysics”] – or can claim to know anything about Marinetti the man beyond what’s in the liner notes and in some of the conversation on the soundtrack, so no comment there.
Sangster brought together five other musicians to join him in playing for the soundtrack, which would then be radically remixed by Harry Medax. Richard Lockwood [flute, sax, violin] from Tully had met Sangster from working as the house band for the Australian production of Hair, so he was roped in, as well as Michael Barnes [guitar] from Nutwood Rug Band who was also involved. George Thompson [upright bass] might be the same guy who later played with obscure rural rock band Swamp Salad, but somehow I doubt it because of his jazz background. Alan Turnbull [drums] had played in the Don Burrows Quartet, and later played with Heart and Soul, and Company Caine. Finally, there’s the great Dave McRae [keyboards], best known for his time in Matching Mole and Nucleus.
The soundtrack begins fairly normally, a conversation takes place about Marinetti, dada, surrealism etc with the jovial noise of student party conversation in the background, and from there things gradually become weirder and weirder. Unsettling organ drones cut into the mix, swelling and fading, as the room slowly swirls out of focus and consciousness shifts sideways. The flow of this album is much like taking acid and having it come on in almost real time, building to a bewildering plateau and imperceptibly gliding down towards some kind of normalcy again (except the whole thing ends still pretty mashed well before you’ve come down, so maybe you never did come down?). Mostly this is accompanied by a free-ranging artful use of musique concrete tape editing and stone-age electronic effects, using sources ranging from original music using the musicians mentioned earlier, snatches of meaningful and less-so conversation and vocalization, bird calls, machinery, and crudely sampled snatches of other people’s music, from Ravel to the Beatles. Some of the musique concrete elements were sampled from ‘De Moon Service’, a piece that Thoms and Gerry Dupal had previously made for the soundtrack to ‘Hallucinagenia’, a film by Gordon Mutch. Anyway, the ends justify the means, at least for those with the patience to sit through a 78-minute mind scrambling session with barely a ‘normal’ stretch of music in earshot, along the lines of experimentalists like Basil Kirchin, Trevor Wishart, Lawrence Wiener and Anima Sound fed into a mincer to create a sausage with a skin of spaced free jazz improvisation chopped into a thousand pieces. Sound good to you freaks? Nurse With Wound would have this on their famous list in a shot I’d bet, and if you’re of a similar mind you should too. And please buy rather than download for free, as this label is a very small independent putting out non-commercial music, and needs your support.

Beyond this, I’m still a relative newcomer to Sangster’s back-catalogue. He made some LPs inspired by The Lord of the Rings in the 70’s, which have a few interesting moments, but they predominantly feature very straight, unadventurous jazz and bossa nova. They’re available on CD from Move Records. His ‘Paradise Volume 1’ LP from 1973 has also been reissued on CD by Vibraphonic; I haven’t heard that one but it’s supposed to be pleasant, mellow jazz orchestra stuff. A much more interesting place to look, though, is another recent Roundtable vinyl-only release ‘Once Around the Sun’, a previously unreleased and unheard soundtrack Sangster recorded for a Gordon Mutch film that was abandoned before editing had been completed. It was to be a document of the Ourimbah ‘Pilgrimage For Pop’ in 1970, Australia’s first outdoor music festival, with Sangster’s soundtrack intended for the parts between band performances. Fortunately this lost piece of history has been recovered and edited for release pending some rights clearances, and that’s something I look forward to seeing, but until then, we have Sangster’s gloriously odd but supremely listenable psychedelic/funk/avant-garde classical soundtrack LP to check out – certainly worthy of an Unsung review yet to come!

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