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 discogs.com. 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…

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