Monday, July 27, 2009

dêti z havel 2. - a most mysterious rhythm

During the encore of her concert with The Bang on a Can All-Stars, which appears on the highly recommended DVD, Superchameleon, Iva Bittová had them singing a round which went

“Smetaná, Dvorak and Janacek are the most famous composers of the Czech Republic, they often write to a most mysterious rhythm”.
It’s been noted that odd time signatures come very naturally to the Czechs. Oddly, though, this collection may be a bit more straight forward, has more rock-y pieces included, but the stretched forms are still prevalent. Someone once suggested to me that the Czech scene must be drawing on King Crimson. To which my response was, well, Robert Fripp was drawing on Bartok, and the Czechs probably drew on both Bartok and his folkloric sources, not to mention the composers noted above. They had no need to go through an English rock filter to reach their own traditions. An indication of this is Iva Bittová’s disc with her sister Dorothea Kellerová of Bartok’s 44 Duets for Two Violins, in which they add extemporaneous singing to his string writing, in effect, making obvious the link between the concert hall and the village origins of the music. A couple brief excerpts from this disc are found in this compilation. Like the prior collection, I made this for a CD swap group to which I belong. Unlike the other one, I never sent it out, as I was already sending two other unrelated mixes at the same time and it just seemed a bit much to expect them to be able to digest. Last evening I listened through it and opted to swap out a couple of pieces and rearrange the order slightly. I could only draw on recordings I have of course, and while I have quite a few discs from the Czech Republic, they tend to be multiple albums by the same small group of people, rather than a large varied pool of artists. There’s a lot more to be discovered there, and I hope these collections prompt people to delve further. I wrote notes for this collection, but I can’t find them so I will re-write them on the fly.

01. Paranoid Like Me - Sing Sing (5:03)
02. Nebojím Sa - Dogma (4:20)
03. La Vie Prochaine - Boo (4:15)
04. Mali - Klar (2:29)
05. Vysocka Stolicka - Z Kopce / Osklid (3:14)
06. Nemilovany Svet - Uz Jsme Doma (2:52)
07. Azpak - Uz Jsme Doma (5:36)
08. Flandaci - MCH Band (3:38)
09. Widze Widze - Tara Fuki (3:25)
10. Niagara - Slede, Zive Slede (2:16)
11. Moondance - Rale (4:03)
12. Dunaj (The Danube) III. Allegro - Brno Philharmonic Orchestra [Janacek] (3:07)
13. Krasobruslar - Filip Topol & The Agon Orchestra (4:11)
14. Kazani na Hore / The Sermon on the Mount - The Plastic People of the Universe & The Agon Orchestra (6:54)
15. Moravian Folk Song - Iva Bittová, Skampa Quartet (3:56)
16. Slovakian Song - Iva Bittová, Dorothea Kellerová [Bartok] (0:50)
17. Slovakian Song II. - Iva Bittová, Dorothea Kellerová [Bartok] (0:53)
18. Nemám Jen Oci Krásné - Vaclavek, Ostransky, Suzanna Jelínková (2:01)
19. Bitevní Pole - Domáci Kapela (4:40)
20. I Sweep But Don't Clean - Pulnoc (6:53)
21. Wondering - Klar (3:49)

download [CD rips | mp3 - 320 kbps | 164 MB]


gidouille said...


01. Paranoid Like Me - Sing Sing – group made up of members from two other Czech groups, Deep Sweden and Metamorphosis. I recall them being compared to some US indie band of the 90’s, but I can’t recall who. At times on this record, and with Deep Sweden, singer Alex Marculewicz reminds me of Elaine di Falco, but here she’s more reminiscent of another alumnus of Caveman Shoestore, Amy de Vargas.

02. Nebojím Sa - Dogma – bit of a ringer here, as Dogma are not Czech but Slovak, with ties apparently to the underground theatre community of Bratislava. Musically, it’s almost triphop but of a variety you’d not find in the west.

03. La Vie Prochaine – Boo – half of Dunaj with the Austrian Christoph Pajer of Metamorphosis on violin and vocals and cellist Konstankiewicz from Tara Fuki.

04. Mali - Klar – Vaclavek with Dunaj’s producer, Volkmar Miedtke, and Dominic Mohr. The structure here is so very Czech, yet it works seamlessly with the tapes of West African singing.

05. Vysocka Stolicka - Z Kopce / Osklid – I don’t know too much about this group. The liner notes are in such densely packed cursive that it’s difficult to figure out who the players are even. I’ve deciphered that Pavel Koudelka, later drummer for Dunaj and Boo is involved. I saw this used in a shop and remembered seeing the name in the ReR catalog, so I figured it would be pretty good and it is.

06. Nemilovany Svet - Uz Jsme Doma – Unloved World, the title track to UJD’s second album. This was the lineup that first came to SF in 1992 as part of a cultural exchange program. Though leader Miroslav Wanek always featured great bands on subsequent visits, this one seemed the most organic to my ear, a kind of hyper ska with staccato tenor sax melodies by Jindra Dolansky, reminiscent in a way of Dan Finney’s role in The Orthotonics, and mock operatic vocals. I read an interview once with Wanek that provided clues to UJD’s sound. It seems that he was influenced by clandestine tape compilations, which were passed around in the 80’s. As these were the forbidden sounds from the west he took them all to represent an unified punk rock scene. Well, they did include bands like The Clash, but alongside tracks by Art Bears and Etron Fou, thus the sound. Wanek founded the band as a way to showcase his lyric writing, so the musical strengths in evidence are even more impressive.

07. Azpak - Uz Jsme Doma – a later UJD track from what some consider their best record, Pohádky ze Zapotrebí from 1995. By this time the rhythm section had turned over several times, but co-founder Dolansky was still integral to the sound.

gidouille said...

08. Flandaci - MCH Band – another track from Karneval, I considered swapping this out, as I’ve recently found a couple other very good albums by Chadima, but it’s such a great track, I could find no compelling reason for removing it. The title translates as Bible-Thumpers and the lyrics heap scorn on the sort of ersatz Christian hypocrisy, which is all too common in the US, but I wouldn’t have thought would be in the Czech Republic.

09. Widze Widze - Tara Fuki – another track from Tara Fuki’s debut. The booklet features the Polish lyrics with Czech translations, but no English, which when you think about it is rather refreshing. Not much help to me however.

10. Niagara - Slede, Zive Slede – Herring, Live Herring was a Brno based indie trio of guitar, double bass and bassoon plus guests. I originally had a track up from their more lushly arranged second album, Rostliny (Plants), but opted instead for this more stripped down one from their debut, Honey Shapes the Land. Both feature elaborate packaging and liner notes which are virtually short stories.

11. Moondance – Rale – Rale is a band which likely owed its existence to the Mimi Festival. Vaclavek and Ostransky no doubt met Fukushima there, and of course two of them were involved with Ferdinand Richard’s Arminius project (along with Helmut Bieler-Wendt of The Blech). This track is from their third and best album Twilight / Soumrak where the quintet, now including Konstankiewicz on cello, is augmented by a theater group called Kublai Khan Investigations. The album features singing in Czech, Japanese, Spanish, French, Polish, English and I think, Vietnamese.

12. Dunaj (The Danube) III. Allegro - Brno Philharmonic Orchestra [Janacek] – a section of Janacek’s symphony The Danube. I first was made aware of Janacek in 1974 when Lindsay Cooper name checked his Cunning Little Vixen in the Henry Cow band file in Melody Maker. That profile was very useful for opening up the world of music, as Frith and Cutler both named Messiaen works among their favorites.

13. Krasobruslar - Filip Topol & The Agon Orchestra – This is the same piece played by Psi Vojaci on the other collection. Here Topol’s tune is arranged and played by the 20 piece new music ensemble, Agon Orchestra, under the direction of Petr Kofron. They find fascinating colors within the structure, which weren’t available to the original quartet arrangement.

14. Kazani Na Hore / The Sermon on the Mount - The Plastic People of the Universe & The Agon Orchestra – The Agon Orchestra again, this time with The Plastic People, revisiting their 1978 Passion Play album, recorded live in April 2004 at the Archa Theater in Prague.

gidouille said...

15. Moravian Folk Song - Iva Bittová, Skampa Quartet (though I don't believe they are on this track) – This is a traditional song entitled Slo Dievca na Travu and comes from Bittová’s Classic album, which also features the string quartet she wrote in homage to Tom Cora. Beautiful and unusual arrangement by Milos Stedron and Arnost Parsch.

16. Slovakian Song - Iva Bittová, Dorothea Kellerová [Bartok] - The first of two of the Bartok 44 violin duets I mentioned in the intro. The singing parts are not in the score, but are inspired ideas, which most classical violinists would never dare to consider.

17. Slovakian Song II. - Iva Bittová, Dorothea Kellerová [Bartok] – The second example of these brief pieces.

18. Nemám Jen Oci Krásné - Vaclavek, Ostransky, Suzanna Jelínková (2:01) – Another lovely little tune from Domaci Lekar (House Doctor).

19. Bitevní Pole - Domáci Kapela – Offshoot of The Plastic People led by former drummer Jan Brabec. The song translates as Battlefields. Singer Michaela Nemcová was also the vocalist for Pulnoc.

20. I Sweep But Don't Clean - Pulnoc – Another offshoot of The Plastic People, this one led by their main composer, Milan Hlavsa. This is the disc from whose liner notes comes the Havel quote, which introduced these collections. This album exists in two forms, one recorded in the Czech Republic and one recorded in Brooklyn by Robert Musso. The sonic differences are interesting. This song however only appears on the US album. Again the singer is Nemcová, and the Velvet Underground roots are more apparent than ever. Both versions of this album include a tune called Song for Nico and the US release even sports a cover of All Tomorrow’s Parties.

21. Wondering - Klar – For their third album, Between Coma and Consciousness, Klar obtained permission from Peter Hammill to take certain of his songs and reset them to their own music. At one time I tracked down the original sources of all the songs they used. Most of those on the album are spread among Hammill’s solo albums, but this is a Van Der Graaf Generator song from World Record.

icastico said...

Cross pollination in music is greater than most people realize, but it is not always easy to tell who is influencing who because there is a lot of dynamic back-and-forth feedback. In many ways music is a cross cultural conversation.

Nice stuff, thanks.

gidouille said...

Yes, I agree, up to a point. Still, the comment when made was specifically aimed at Dunaj and the Czech scene more generally. I'm not denying western or outside influence, but rather that the odd times and harmonic palette stem from so-called progressive rock, when clearly those aspects of the music were in the air all around. Dunaj recorded two covers of tunes well known in the west, The Shocking Blue's Venus and Gary Glitter's Rock 'n Roll Part 2. There's your western influence.

It's more than a bit off topic, but I'm reminded of the Japanese group Lacrymosa, who are often said to be drawing on Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. One still sees this claim made routinely. I read an interview in the Recommended quarterly well over twenty years ago, in which their main composer, Chihihiro S, flatly denied it, saying that his music drew on Berlioz and Messiaen and what rock 'n roll feeling was present he got from Arthur Brown.

seeds of dholl said...

very interesting compilation, thanks.

i kind of stumbled here and, apart from Deep Sweden, have next to no idea about the contemporary Czech alternative scene.

Favourite songs:

01. Paranoid Like Me - Sing Sing
03. La Vie Prochaine – Boo
07. Azpak - Uz Jsme Doma
13. Krasobruslar - Filip Topol
14. Kazani Na Hore - Plastic People
15. Moravian Folk Song - Iva Bittová
20. I Sweep But Don't Clean - Pulnoc

James Anderson said...

Hey, I would be very interested to hear this but it seems now that the link is broken. would one of you be able to or up for sending it to me? James