Sunday, August 11, 2019

John Stephen French

I promised not to ask him about Don, and I did not. I just assumed that everybody
always asks about Don and this is time to talk about John. But of course Don
influenced everyone so here it all is:

The drummer establishes the music's foundation and Mr. French developed a strange
complex rhythmic sound that still amazes rock and roll lovers around the world.

In 1969 The Magic Band with Captain Beefheart had only two fans that mattered.
When they were performing most of the record buying public did not know what
to make of the strange rhythms and bizarre exaggerated barking and yodeling blues
vocals. Those two fans were Jann Wenner and John Peel. Wenner is the founder of
Rolling Stone Magazine, and John Peel was a radio personality, whose real name
was John Robert Parker Ravenscroft OBE, "the most important man in music for about
a dozen years" (says fellow DJ Paul Gambaccini) because he boldly featured emerging
musicians and genres including pop, dub reggae, punk rock and post-punk, electronic
music and dance music, indie rock, extreme metal, and British hip hop. He played stuff
he recognized as breaking open new territory and enjoyed the controversy of taking risks.

I first heard the name Captain Beefheart through Frank Zappa albums back in 1970 or so
and just had to hear whatever it was they were doing, I was a new vegetarian so the
name stuck in my head like a nightmare that I could not understand, but I could not
stop thinking about it. Sure enough the sound changed everything I had come to
understand about rock music. I knew the band was talking to me, mostly because
everyone was so freaked out about their sound, crazy convulsive rhythms and defiant
references to other pop phenoms like the Beatles: “Rather than I want to hold your hand
I wanna swallow you whole…” (Lick my Decals Off, Baby)

“In the July 26, 1969, issue of Rolling Stone, the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs called it "the most
unusual and challenging musical experience you'll have this year," and referred to the lyrics as "an
explosion of maniacal free-association incantations." Trout Mask Replica is the most art-damaged,
blues wailin', freak show ever committed to record. You can see straights run and hide, teeny boppers
cover their ears, and hippies crawl away in horror as the sounds here are unleashed. A simple overview
of the LP here cannot do it justice. Whether you take it all as a serious artistic statement, or as a insanely
ravaging assault, one thing is for certain, there is no other record quite like it in the entire library of recorded music.”

What have been your most important musical or artistic discoveries? 

JSF: That you can’t really be “taught” art. 
It’s something you’re born with. Yep, I took
music-reading lessons, but the real work is
learning to communicate your inward vision
with the outside world.  People can teach you
the mechanics of an instrument, but they can’t
teach you how to bring the inside to the surface.

JULY 26, 1969 4:00AM ET
Trout Mask Replica

“Captain Beefheart, the only true dadaist in rock, has been victimized repeatedly by public
incomprehension and critical authoritarianism. The tendency has been to chide C. B. and
his Band as a potentially acceptable blues band who were misled onto the paths of greedy
trendy commercialism. What the critics failed to see was that this was a band with a vision,
that their music, difficult raucous and rough as it is, proceeded from a unique and original

“This became dramatically apparent with their last album. Since their music derived as
much from the new free jazz and African chant rhythms as from Delta blues, the songs
tended to be rattly and wayward, clattering along on wierdly jabbering high-pitched
guitars and sprung rhythms. But the total conception and its execution was more in the
nature of a tribal Pharoh Sanders Archie Shepp fire-exorcism than the ranting noise of the
Blue Cheer strain of groups.”

“Thus it’s very gratifying to say that Captain Beefheart’s new album is a total success, a
brilliant, stunning enlargement and clarification of his art. Which is not to say that it’s in
any sense slick, “artistic,” or easy. This is one of the few bands whose sound has actually
gotten rawer as they’ve matured—a brilliant and refreshing strategy. Again the rhythms
and melodic textures jump all over the place (in the same way that Cecil Taylor’s do),
Beefheart singing like a lonesome werewolf screaming and growling in the night. The songs
clatter about—given a superficial listening, they seem boring and repetitious. It’s perhaps
the addition of saxophones (all played by the five men in the band) that first suggests
what’s really happening here and always has been happening in this group’s music.”

Regarding “matured— and "about—given,” I just had to leave the strange typographical
explosions intact, mostly because I like the way that they just sit there defiantly and
because the source available to me appears that way and I have no idea what Lester Bangs
at 4 AM intended to say, but mostly I am tolerant of the strange, no... I seek out the strange,
so it stands. I could have make something up and you would not have noticed. So there it is.

Is music a good choice of vocations, or is it a compulsion? 

JSF: It’s not really a vocation. 
It’s not either a compulsion.
It is a desire, and it often outweighs the practical. 
The gifted are often exploited.  



“Trout Mask Replica is one of the weirdest and wildest albums ever to be released. Landing on record store shelves on June 16, 1969, Captain Beefheart's masterpiece amazed, confused, irritated and enthralled anyone who dared listen to it. While certainly not the most listenable of Beefheart's albums, it remains his most well-known and most captivating, losing none of its distinct charm or fire over the years.”

“On first listen, Trout Mask Replica sounds like a wild, incomprehensible rampage through the blues. Don Van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart) growls, rants and recites poetry over chaotic guitar licks. But every note was precisely planned in advance – to construct the songs, the Magic Band rehearsed 12 hours a day for months on end in a house with the windows blacked out. (Producer and longtime friend Frank Zappa was then able to record most of the album in less than five hours.) The avant-garde howl of tracks such as "Ella Guru" and "My Human Gets Me Blues" have inspired modern primitives from Tom Waits to PJ Harvey.”

Are you able to bring music back from your nocturnal dreams? 

JSF: Was in a play once, and there were lyrics I was
supposed to sing, but no music.  I dreamed I sang
the lyrics and awakened with the melody. The
human mind is amazing.

From Rolling Stone’s 1970 Cover Story:

“When I bought Trout Mask Replica, entirely on faith — encouraged by the affordable price,
especially for a double LP, and the association with Beefheart’s high school friend Frank
Zappa, who produced the record and issued it on his Straight label — I listened at first in
shock, then embarrassment, as if I lacked the hipness to ride this atonality. But I refused to
quit, playing at least one side a day and studying the six-page lyric insert like homework until
I felt some connection, if not equilibrium. I came to realize that I didn’t need to understand
the music; it was enough to lose yourself in it, to enjoy the sheer audacity and secret-society
appeal — here was a record that wasn’t going to let just anyone inside — and let the restlessly
moving parts congeal in their own time.”

Did your parents make you practice? 

JSF: No, I made myself practice. 
Usually about 1 ½ hours a day.

ROLLING STONE JUNE 15, 2019 9:11AM ET “On Trout Mask Replica, breaking through the
limits of coherence and cohesion already reset in the wide-open liberty of rock in the late
Sixties, Van Vliet and his greatest Magic Band — guitarists Bill Harkleroad and Jeff Cotton,
bassist Mark Boston, clarinetist Victor Hayden and drummer John French — established new
margins of personal, idiosyncratic expression, much as the Velvet Underground did for drone,
minimalism and literary transgression. But even Van Vliet — who continued to press his
singular, soulful dada onto records as varied and inspirational as 1970’s Lick My Decals Off,
Baby; the near-pop of 1972’s Clear Spot; and his true triumph, 1980’s Doc at the Radar
Station — never made another album as foreign and raw as Trout Mask, maybe because
it was too dangerous to go back there.”

What would you tell a youngster about getting ideas for composing? 

JSF: Listen for your inner music. 
Communicate it via voice to a recording. 
Process the idea later. It’s often difficult to do the
mechanics of composing when in creative mode.  

Rolling Stone: DAVID FRICKE June 15, 2119 “Released 150 years ago, on June 16th, 1969,
Trout Mask Replica — the third studio album by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band —
still sounds like a tomorrow that has not arrived, a music created at a crossroads of sound
and language so far distant it continues to defy definitive summation and universal
translation. Guitars jut out at improbably severe angles in ice-pick treble, like broken bones
slicing through skin. The drumming comes in a rush of agendas, U-turn spasms of loose-limbed
time and tempo under melodies which, in turn, feel like they are yet only partially born, still
evolving in sense and structure. The singing is another primal logic altogether, an extreme
in octaves and sustain that goes from hellhound bass to wracked falsetto, the pictorial
cut-up frenzy of the lyrics run through archaic Delta-blues vernacular.”

Does the album cover come about during or after the music has been imagined? 

JSF: It’s totally different with
different artists, so there is no
“stock” answer.  

Here is The Book:

Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic
Paperback – 2013 by John "Drumbo" French (Author)
Publisher: Proper Music Publishing ISBN-10: 095612125X ISBN-13: 978-0956121257


1987 Crazy Backwards Alphabet
1987 Live, Love, Larf & Loaf
1990 Invisible Means
1994 Waiting on the Flame
1998 O Solo Drumbo
2000 Grow Fins
2007 Crazy Backwards Alphabet II
2008 City of Refuge


interview 10.9.10

The Trap Set interview

Rough Trade East interview

The making of TMR interview by Samuel Andreyev

More John French goodies French Frith Kaiser Thompson -- Drumbo ogie Magic Band Live at Band on the Wall

“To the Loft of Ravenscroft”

The Magic Band 2013

Drumbo Solo 2012

Drumbo Solo 2011

Click Clack

Moonlight On Vermont

On Tomorrow

Steve Layton

Composer, performer, recordist, connector, facilitator. Editor of, a long-running website
reporting on contemporary classical music.

Sequenza 21 “The Contemporary Classical Community”

Collaborator at ImprovFriday/Sound-In, a weekly web gathering of musicians from around the globe.

NiwoSound is an umbrella for innovative art music / art sound.

I met Steve Layton in 1977 at The Evergreen State College, this was the first year that the original
Communications building opened and there was still lots of mud everywhere. I was in the Motion
Picture Production program and he was in a Music program. I was looking for soundtrack materials
and needed guidance so I introduced myself. I remember a magical performance where he featured
a toy piano. He turned me on to Krzysztof Penderecki and I could never sleep again. Things have
never been the same since then.

"There are music, images and words in this place; together or apart, they aim for the same goal, evocation. Of what?... Too many answers to that question, some mine and some yours. I'm a musician by training but sometimes words and pictures come instead. To me, they all follow the same fundamental instinct and aesthetic. Art happens.

"Echoes and reflections are good things, in every sense; my debt of influences happily come from an enormous web of people, places and times. What is summoned here is up to you, through me..."

-- Steve Layton

"When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest." -- Henry David Thoreau, 1857


Monday, August 5, 2019

Jennifer Thomas

I have placed my piano on a couple of different beaches as well as a rainforest, and I've played my violin on a pirate ship, as well as lit a piano on fire in the middle of a desert. Of all these strange and surreal experiences, my favorite has definitely been the rainforest in my "Carol of the Bells" music video. There was a moment after our crew pushed that beastly heavy piano through mud and unloaded it onto the forest floor where I had some time to myself to play on it without anyone around. It was simply magical. Imagine stumbling across a beautiful instrument like that in the woods. I mean, it would never happen, but imagine it. You just don't hear the sounds of the piano naturally echoing in the middle of a forest like that, and I wondered what the trees thought, what the animals felt, how the sound was being absorbed. It was also very quiet in the forest, and the sound of the piano was simply magnificent. I can't even describe it. It was just magical.

With "The Fire Within," I had a very specific topic that I wanted to write about, and so I actually took the approach to this album very differently than my previous albums - in that I spent a great deal of time writing my thoughts out, recalling experiences and writing about those, writing poetry, coming up with appropriate song titles, and creating and ebb & flow to the album with it's topics and themes. And because I was this specific with the planning of this album, it felt much more like film scoring to me in that the scenes were already created and I just needed to score music to them. I suppose you could say the imagery came first, and the music followed.

I don't always write this way though. Many times the music just comes to me, and it's only after the fact that I name it, or associate a topic with that particular song. But for The Fire Within, it all was definitely very planned out and crafted much akin to scoring a film.

I have had several experiences when I have been driving late at night and it is quiet, and my mind will compose music in my head. I've had an entire symphony come to me this way from start to finish. As odd as this may sound, sometimes composing in my head is easier than composing at the piano - as I feel as though I can pause the process, go back, re-do, try new things, add instruments and different colors and timbres; whereas at the piano I am limited to just that instrument and figuring out more of the technicalities of how to translate what is in my head to the piano. In my mind, it is more free and natural. I suppose this is how many of us feel about life in general - we have these ideas and dreams, but executing them in physical form is always more involved and not quite as easy.

I think that all children should and need to be exposed to music education in some form. It awakens their minds in ways that other things cannot. I was brought up by a mother who was incredibly talented and dedicated to teaching my siblings and I music. We were required to wake up very early before school to practice, and then we went to early morning orchestra rehearsal before school, and then we were also required to practice our instruments after school. I participated in competitions, recitals and adjudications. But passion can't be forced or taught. I found my passion in music when I was 12 years old after watching an old classic movie that really inspired me and propelled me forward in my own music practice. This didn't happen for my siblings, even though we all watched the same film. I think it's deeply personal and affects no two people the same. We all had the same education and training, but the "spark" wasn't there for them as it was in me - hence why I had more drive and ambition to excel at music, whereas they had ambitions to excel elsewhere.

Artist Biography/Awards/Music

Jennifer Thomas Piano on Facebook 

Jennifer Thomas on Spotify 

Jennifer Thomas, Wikipedia

Forrest Fang

photograph by Carl Weingarten

In some ways, I find it difficult to describe something that has been with me as long as music has.  It’s more than just a soundtrack of my life; it’s also been a way for me to express myself since my college days.  I started creating music for fun and as a hobby, but it has evolved over the years into a serious hobby. I never intended it to be a means to support myself.  I consider a music project a success if I can at least break even. My day job over the years has been as a lawyer. The trade-off is that my law practice can take a substantial amount of time away from creating music.

Probably the most satisfying thing about making music has been meeting fellow musicians and learning about how music fits into their lives.  Some fellow ambient musicians, such as Robert Rich and Carl Weingarten, I’ve known for over 20 years. When I first started making music in the 80s, I was inspired by the independent cassette culture scene and its global community of bedroom musicians who were, for the most part, making music for music’s sake.  Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate in working with supportive independent labels such as Cuneiform Records, Hypnos, and Projekt Records, that have given me the latitude to experiment and pursue whatever has interested me. That has been extremely important to me, as the music I make is not particularly commercial in nature.

As many already know, rapid technological changes to the music industry over the past 10 years or so have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most musicians to make a living from their music alone.  On the other hand, advances in recording technology and the growth of online music platforms such as Bandcamp have made it easier to create music outside of formal recording studios and to make it available to the public fairly quickly.  It’s both an exciting and a scary time to be a musician.

For those who have serious thoughts about becoming a musician, I would recommend being realistic about what may be possible and having a longer view about gradually developing your identity and style as an artist.  It can take a while to develop your own musical style, and even when you do, you may have difficulty describing what that style is. But whatever course you might take, it would probably work best as an organic process, rather than it simply being a checklist of goals.

Probably the biggest and most important influences on me musically have been the ambient and non-ambient work of Brian Eno and the early minimalist music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley.  My exposure to non-Western musics through my studies of the gu-zheng (Chinese zither) with my teacher Zhang Yan, and workshops with Gamelan Sekar Jaya (Balinese gamelan group), Sensei Suenobu Togi (Japanese gagaku court musician), and Kulintang Arts (Filipino kulintang ensemble) also influenced my development as a composer.  These different musics and disciplines have given me new ways to look at the compositional process beyond the five-staff line and Western equal temperament.

My current music is primarily electronic, though I also use acoustic instruments that in many cases have been subjected to extensive sound processing.  I continue to use instruments such as saron (Javanese gamelan) and hicihiki (double-reed Gagaku instrument), as well as violin (which I have played since childhood).  I compose almost exclusively while recording in the studio, though the process is only quasi-improvisational, since I often structure the piece while overdubbing different parts and while editing the piece itself.

I have always enjoyed listening to music created by others and contributing parts to music created by my friends.  Thankfully, that enjoyment has not diminished over the years.

Sans Serif

Cuneiform Records



KQED The art of the double life

Echoes podcast featuring Forrest Fang

Music Eternal member profile

Kelly David

Today, the totality of electronic tools available to an electronic musician is seemingly endless.  With that in mind, it’s not the gear, it’s what you do with it.

My goal, as a composer, is to take the listener on a journey through a slow, constantly changing musical environment.  Sometimes we end up where we began, other times we end somewhere completely different. Either way, like life itself, it’s more about what we went through to get there rather than where we end up.

I do different kinds of listening.  When I’m writing words, I love to have music on.  It stimulates my subconscious and allows me to focus.  Other times I’m listening to music for more specific and detailed reasons:  how does the composer develop that bass part or what is the structure of this piece, etc… 

I view my work in the studio as musical lab time.  Some experiments fail, others give rise to new discoveries.  Sometimes, I’ll have a preconceived notion of what I want to do based on some experience I have outside of the studio.  I’ll see a landform or experience a sound I want to use. For example, the last piece on Meditation in Green is called “The Bells of Can Tho.” Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta and has some varied sounds in this city of 1 million people.  The piece begins with a swirling bell sound which is a heavily processed version of a sound I recorded with my phone over my backyard fence in Colorado:  a bell tune played by the annoying, weird little ice cream truck that drives through the neighborhood in the summer. I took that recording, raised it a few octaves, sped it up and processed it into that swirling sound on the beginning of the piece.  That’s a good example of how I incorporate the randomness of the world around me.

I think the audience for ambient electronic is pretty diverse – in age, background, occupation.  I think it appeals to folks looking to center into the different meditative qualities offered by this music.

Let’s go back to the beginning of what constitutes music.  For me, it’s always an organization of sounds. When I was in the classical mode, I believe there was only one way to organize sounds.  One must have melody and harmony both progressing essentially in parallel.

I distinctly remember the day when I first heard the music of Steve Roach.  I realize that he had mashed melody and harmony together in a way that I myself was yearning for.  I became fascinated with his music. So much so, that when I moved to Denver in 1997, I sent Steve a fax.

Yep.  A fax.  That long ago.

One of the greatest things I learned from Steve, was how to undo my classical training.  We joked about it when he was producing my first album. An amazing learning experience for me.

We were viewing the tracks in the computer and I asked him to move several bars back, and he remarked that it was time for me to come out from behind bars.  Yeah. In some ways, I was behind bars in my trained inclinations. I am forever grateful to him for that learning.

That said, my musical organization today invariably reflects my classical training, which I can’t completely undo.

Kelly David

Spotted Peccary Music

Broken Voyage


The Long Night

Timeroom Direct

Vu Nhat Tan