Morgan Fisher Miniatures

M1-37 Michael Bass & Ellen Tenenbaum

M1-37 A Miniaturisation of Bartok…



What marvellous names, thought I. Michael Bass – might he be related to the the film titles sequence genius Saul Bass, a towering figure in motion pictures of the 50’s and 60’s? “The Royal Tenenbaums” were several years away (22, actually), but back in 1979 Ellen’s redoubtable European surname reminded me of the evergreen Christmas Carol, “O Tannenbaum.” Anyway, the two mystique-laden names sailed gently across the Atlantic to me in Notting Hill, on a rising tide of Bartokian marimbas topped with a froth of soprano vocalese.

The original work is a sparkling, fiery piece that must have absolutely thrilled (or in some cases horrified) listeners at its debut performance by the composer (his wife on 2nd piano) in 1938. Bartok later orchestrated it and the new version was the last performance he ever gave before dying of leukaemia in 1945. Michael and Ellen have cunningly dovetailed the start and end of the 3rd movement in this delightful miniature.

This post is rather like what Wikipedia would call a “stub” because Michael and Ellen come under the MAYHEM category (Miniatures Artists You Haven’t Even Met – the “you” being me) and I can only scrabble around on Google, etc., like any other nerd, to ascertain what they have been getting up to since (or before) Miniatures. All I found out was that Michael has just two albums (released 1978 and 1979 on Random Radar Records,  the first one dedicated to Philip K. Dick) listed on Ellen has two less than that. So, I can only hope that they are leading rich creative lives away from the harsh glare of public scrutiny. Good for them!

They generously trusted me to create their poster image (see above) based on the text they sent me. Being utterly untalented as a painter/drawer, I scribbled at random with a marker on some blotting paper, then turned it over to show the reverse side, and got busy with the Letraset.

Random Radar also released a Lol Coxhill album in 1979 which inspired me to hook up with Lol the following year for a similar ambient collaboration. The label was started by Steve Feigenbaum who since 1984 has been running the thriving and equally left-field label, Cuneiform Records.

Anyway, thanks again to Michael Bass and Ellen Tenenbaum for this little gem – I love  hearing witty, radical re-arrangements of existing pieces of music, especially when it’s the radical new one I hear first, before seeking out the original and marvelling at the transformation that has taken place. On Miniatures the same sort  of delightful shape-shifting happened with The Residents, my track, Pete Challis, Robert Wyatt, Stinky Winkles, David Bedford, Neil Innes, and R.D. Laing – all of whom have already been covered in this blog and can speedily be found and enjoyed via the Search window at the top-right. Enjoy!!!

PS – this just in courtesy of Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records: “Ellen and Michael were a couple when they recorded this [their miniature], but they have not been a couple for at least 3 decades. I don’t know what happened to Ellen. Michael became a science teacher and teaches high school science at a private school. He is married and has two sons. Once in a while I run into him at the grocery store.”

Next up: a pretend ornithologist…

Read/Leave Comment

    • Michael Bass
    • July 22nd, 2014 10:21pm

    I am Michael Bass and am flattered to find this blog post about something I did a long time ago. To correct the record (of my life, I mean) I teach 5th grade at a public school and have been teaching for about 25 years. I still play a bit but have MS. so it can be tricky. Every year, I have my fifth grader perform an abbreviated version of a Shakespeare play and I play piano (badly) and write a song or two. You know –

    Once in ancient Rome
    Lived a man named Julius Caesar

    or maybe you don’t.

    Ellen moved on soon after this recording and last I heard was an attorney in DC. I think she’s married and has a couple of kids. I have two sons – one of whom is a fabulous cellist. We pass on what we can. I now have lots of plants and a dog.


      • morganf
      • July 22nd, 2014 10:56pm

      Many thanks for your news, Michael, it is really great to hear from you! I am so impressed that you are soldiering on and playing in spite of everything, and wish you all the best for a long and creative life! Warm wishes from hot Tokyo! – Morgan 🙂

        • Michael Bass
        • July 22nd, 2014 11:24pm

        Great to hear from you, too, Morgan, and to see that you’re soldering on in music. Not an easy thing to do as a youngster but even more difficult as we age. But what choice do we have? Warmer wishes from very hot Washington.

          • morganf
          • July 22nd, 2014 11:49pm

          Actually, Michael, I am lousy with a soldering iron – which is a pity for one who has so many analogue synths. But I appreciate the sentiment!!! (large wink!)

          And it’s people like Elliott Carter (who aged 103 came to see a Japanese friend of mine play his complete piano works) that make me happy to be a musician and grooving until the last drop.



            • Michael Bass
            • July 23rd, 2014 1:42am

            Soldiering/soldering – never really thought about it but related I think. But bad spelling is my specialty. Remember the first album I made was called ” Parchesi Pie” – and that wasn’t so I wouldn’t get sued. If only there had been spell check then.

    • Zvi
    • March 12th, 2014 11:38pm

    This is a great series! The link to the song seems broken for this one.

      • morganf
      • March 13th, 2014 1:11am

      Thank you for letting me know! Have fixed it now – don’t know how that happened.

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