Morgan Fisher Miniatures

M1-12 Fred Frith

M1-12 The Entire Works of Henry Cow

After receiving his invitation to Miniatures, Fred sent me this miniaturised, almost devoweled letter (click to enlarge):

i dd nt wrt a rply in th sme vn as i dd nt wnt to cpy hs styl, bt i snt hm a pstcrd (ths ws lng bfr th intrnt) syng hw hppy i ws tht he hd agrd to prtcpte in th mntrs albm

He then sent me – if it is truly what the title says – the most maximised track on the album, in terms of thickness and complexity. But I think he’s been having us on – I can hear at the most about 6 different layers in this track, and I know Henry Cow made more than 6 songs.

The best punning album title is theirs to claim, though. The cover of the 1973 Henry Cow LP “Legend” features a sock (think about it; answer below*). Fred formed Henry Cow in 1968 with Tim Hodgkinson, who appears three tracks later on Miniatures with his band The Work. Later Henry Cow merged for a while with Slapp Happy, a brilliantly eccentric English/US/German trio.

The world of Japanese TV ads being what it is, even the most obscure experimental artists can be invited to make music for it, and Slapp Happy’s singer Dagmar Krause was invited in 2000 to sing on a TV ad I composed for Dydo Miu mineral water. Slapp Happy were here in Tokyo performing and I went to see their marvellous otherworldly gig and got to know the three genial members of the combo, Dagmar, Anthony Moore, and Peter Blegvad.

Peter also put on an exhibition of his marvellous otherworldly art including his new “The Book of Leviathan.” His art has been lavishly praised by Matt Groening and continues to expand into deeper and weirder dimensions here.

Fred, meanwhile, got into customising his guitar with various objects and playing it on a table with various objects and hitting other various objects at the same time. What we are talking about here is extended technique. So although Fred can play keyboards, violin and drums too, I think one of his main delights is to create marvellous otherworldly sound collages live onstage using samplers and loopers to expand the huge palette of timbres he can wrench from his guitar.

In 1990 a brilliant documentary about Fred aptly titled “Step Across The Border” was released, and includes one of the most mouth-watering scenes of a Chinese guy cooking outdoors I have ever seen in a film. Plus of course, due to Fred’s non-stop love of collaborating with musicians and artists from almost any genre (which continues apace – see his very informative website) a variety of weird, jaw-dropping, virile, hearty, marvellous otherworldly jam sessions.

Naturally his music is ideal for the more artistic type of film, and his listing shows a total of almost 30 films (Orlando!) to which he has added his atmospheric, droney, bleak, intellectual, emotional, funny, dark, uplifting music. In other words the man is capable of anything and should be watched closely. Especially now that he has since 1999 been dealing with innocent young minds, forcing them to create marvellous, otherworldly music as Professor of Composition in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Well I sincerely hope that this tracks leads you to explore Henry Cow’s music one song at a time instead of (supposedly) all at once. The British prog rock scene led to a lot of pompous silliness at times, but this band’s music still retains the depth of the Mariana Trench and the cutting edge of a Gillette razor. As does Fred’s ongoing music journey which I find marvel… well, you know…

OK, if you think I’ve been repeating the “marvellous otherworldly” phrase too much, you can bugger off. I’ve been through a bloody great earthquake here in Tokyo just 3 weeks ago; aftershocks are still coming nearly every day (one came while I was writing this) so if I need to go to marvellous other worlds for a while I damn well will. Cheers, Professor Fred!

PS: check out this post-quake youtube channel I and two friends have created: ArtistsSupportJapan

* answer: Leg End

Next up: meet on the ledge…

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