From the Almond Spire:
Samuel Andreyevs Songs
As the great Marv Sandeye once observed, there is no excellent beauty
that isnt at least slightly odd in some way or anotheran adage
well-suited to the work at hand, for the beauty of Songs of Elsewhere
is both excellent and, in its genial way, just that little bit odd.
Now, this peculiarity does not arise, as some might presume, from its
having been performed by a band of philharmanic telepaths. After all,
sensitives of every sortfrom transaurics to audiokinesicshave
been paraded in and out of studios since at least the days of Perez Prados
Mexico City recordings for rca over half a century ago.
Nor does it result from the oneiric scoring techniques of its creator,
revealed to me in secret by the composer himself one extravagantly stormy
afternoon at a sequestered table in Torontos storied Thwakatas
Eats. No, composing in sleep is nothing new: while it may not be common
knowledge, the wave of somnolent songwriting began to swell in the early
60s when the words-and-music duo of Dion McGregor and Michael Barr
dreamed up Where Is the Wonder?
Some might suppose that recording the vocals with the singer immersed
in a bath of sheeps milk dyed fluorescent chartreuse would be enough
to place these tracks somewhere outside the ordinary. May I remind them
of certain rituals practiced by the renowned vocalists of the past. Caruso
was said to have recorded Una Furtiva Lagrima with one bare
foot on a torpedo ray and the other on a mound of ermine fur. Yma Sumac,
legend has it, twirled upside-down in a snakeskin harness during her Voice
of the Xtabay sessions (hence that unearthly tremolo). Sammy Davis
Jr. did about half of his Decca recordings smeared in avocado from the
waist up. Anita ODay sniffed wood between takes. And Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
sang Strauss Four Last Songs from within a custom-built orgone
box. So you see, the methods of our singer of Elsewhere are as typical
as could be within the pantheon of great songsters.
What, then, makes
Songs of Elsewhere other-than-usual? When I posed this question
during one of the albums more philosophical mixing sessions, a look
of otherworldly aspect fell across the features of flautist Brian Brian
Taylor Taylor. Ater a full minute of transfixed contemplation which
silenced the room, he stoodlike a newborn fawn testing its hoovesand
wobbled out of the studio. We didnt see him for two days, but on
the third he returned, his usual earthly and amiable self. I think
I figured it out, he proclaimed, waving a sheaf of Masonic-looking
diagrams. It crossed my mind that if the score were analyzed according
to certain alchemical and cabalistic directives, it might reveal some
sort of underlying design. When I thought of the line Everybodys
letters burn, I knew that it had to be a clue to the works
esoteric significancethere was just something gematric about it,
but it also hinted at what you might call an alphabetic crucible. So I
translated the lyrics using sacred numerology and then I deciphered the
chordal and melodic structure of each tune by applying formulæ revealed
in the Auralchemicus Hermetica of Torvig Blassphernis, from 1691.
As near as I can figure, what Songs of Elsewhere
really iswell its a kind of arcane blueprint for an interconnected
series of fourteen geomantic gazebos meant to be construced on the east
shore of Lake Huron, a few miles south of Kincardine to be exact.
There was an impressed hush, which I quickly and perhaps tactlessly shattered.
Thats very interesting, Brian, said I, but it
hardly makes Elsewhere unique. I mean, look at all the examples
out there of architectural works which have a cryptophonic origin. Frank
Gehrys Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is an architonal interpretation
of the bandoneon melody in Astor Piazzollas Allegro Tangábile.
Gaudís Güell Colony Crypt is a structural translation
of Schoenbergs Transfigured Night. Theres even an entire
village in Cornwall constructed from early Van der Graaf Generator albums.
Do you need to hear more? The Kansai Airport Terminal in Osakathats
strictly Aphex Twin. The Banca Popolare di Verona, in case you cant
tell by looking at itLed Zeppelin. There are five or six malls in
Ohio alone that are construced from nothing but Gustav Mahler. That doesnt
mean these gazebos of yours are of no interest. Theyd probably be
quite remarkable if they were built. But I dont think theyre
enough to make Elsewhere odd.
Yeah, admitted Brian, I guess youre rightI
Hey! interrupted Mike Smith, on hand for a contrabass overdub,
Maybe its just where we are that makes it a bit strange: a
subglacial echo chamber with walls made out of petrified barkthats
not a typical recording studio.
He was referring, of course, to Jeff McCullochs modern hi-tech recording
facility beneath the Wellesley Glacier in East Toronto. Once again, I
couldnt help but put things in perspective. Relatively speaking,
Mike, doing an album in such a setting is acually not that strange at
all. To wit: Claudine Longet recorded Sugar Me in the dungeon of
the Chateau de Langeais castle. Leonard Cohen recorded New Skin For
the Old Ceremony in the Aluminum Dome at Henry I. Kaisers Hawaiian
Village Complex (or was that Martin Denny and Hypnotique?). Eydie
Gorme, incredibly, recorded almost all of Cuatro Vidas in the hot
springs at Myvatn, Icelandshe had a whole latin band down there.
And Ornette Coleman, Andy Williams and Brian Eno have all recordedthough
not at the same time, I regret to sayin the Grotta Azzurra or Blue
Grotto of Capri. And did you know that beneath the Catskills
Okayenough of this! Samuel Andreyev had risen from his
chair at the mixing console and was waving his hands in the underground
air. You wanna know what makes this album odd? Ill tell you
what makes it odd. Its the only album in existence by someone who
dares to tell the truth about the world. I gave everything on this album
and I didnt pull any punches. What youre hearing are the sounds
of a man tearing open the envelope!
muttered a quizzical Ed Zych, sound editor extraordinaire, as he stared
at the multilayered waveforms on the screen of his Mac, I thought
we edited those out.
Well, there was no arguing with Mr. Andreyevs viewpoint, and it
was only fitting that he, the creator of this metabaroque song cycle,
should have the last word. Yet I must say that what lies behind the oddity
of his Elsewhere may really be something more obvious than anyone
had conjecured. To me, the simple fact is that nothing else sounds quite
like this music: from the brutally delightful opening riffs of Ladle
Days, performed with laudable fervour by the Bellini String Quartet
and bassist Mike Smith, to the mysterioso bass flute solo by Brian Taylor
on Lame Drops In; from the ethereal theremin phrases of Life
Story (courtesy of the mæstro) to the spectral yet hyperlucid
woodwind evocations of Phantom Bayslisten to Senya Trubashnik,
Becky Sajo, Carley Mellan and Graham Martin bring the scene to life; from
the crepuscular percussion of Song of Nightthats
Jamie Drake and his temple blocks in full exotica modeto the languid
dolour of Rob Carlis alto saxophone on International Chimney,
this music is distinct.
of course theres the voicea voice of luxuriant desolation
reverberating from an almond spirethe voice of Samuel Andreyev.
So I think the venerable old Marv Sandeye can rest comfortably in his
grave, knowing that his maxim still holds true: Beauty is Strange wherever
it be foundbut nowhere moreso than Elsewhere.
15 April 2002