Thursday, March 26, 2009
In the tradition of Brian Eno, John Cage (and Cale), Faust, Cluster, Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, Roger O’Donnell and heck, even yours truly, George Harrison’s 1969 solo sophomore effort “Electronic Sound” is one of the earliest excursions into the experimental deconstruction of popular music and the fleshing of found sounds. And it’s a darn fine album to boot. If Harrison ever wanted to shed an audience in his or any other era, this was the record to do it. Recorded entirely with a moog synthesizer, these two lengthy pieces are less songs than they are disconnected ideas of what music is made of, and since the idea of the solo balladeer has been in existence for centuries, even what music could be. Aside from a few schools of drone or discordant contemporary classical, there wasn’t much out there that really challenged the verse-chorus-verse mentality of western music in any genre. Even free-form jazz had a semblance of structure, a beginning and an end, a key you could fine notes to whistle in and instruments you could recognize. But here is found little more than a collection of colored noise and a few stray notes following each other to nowhere. You will not find a melody, a beat, a rhythm, a pattern or anything resembling any sort of structure, but you will find textures, atmospheres and an overall mood. And really, isn’t that what music is about, the conveyance of a particular feeling? Joy, despair, regret, get-down-and-party, these are all emotive platforms from which thousands of songs have been built, so who says that you have to have two verse-choruses, a solo and a repetitive outro to make it any more or less a song?
One of my more recent listens to this album, and you really have to listen for it to be anything more than background banter, was around 2am while feeding Fox a bottle. The emotional package I received at this time was something akin to fear and there were moments when I thought some of these snaking non-patterns were literally, even purposefully splitting open my brain like an apple. It was possibly the closest I’ve come to a musically enhanced acid trip without ever dropping and I can imagine that anyone under the influence would be in for quite a ride (from which they may conceivably never return).
The second and final release on Zapple Records (the other being John & Yoko’s “Unfinished Business No. 2: Life With the Lions”), fans at the time would, or at least should, have known that this record was not going to be “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Piggies” or even “Within You Without You.” It’s no wonder that it didn’t chart, but in a time when stretching the boundaries of the mind through art was all the rage, you’d have thought it would have been a bit more well received critically. But with hindsight critics have warmed up quite nicely, hailing Harrison as a pioneer far ahead of his time. And what’s exceptional about this album is how well it’s held up over the years, simply because it was created for no time, to fit no style or conception of music, but to simply exist as it, an account of what can be done and considered if you only get out of the box.
Here’s a snippet, a vid clip montage from mainly the Beatles era and various interviews, including an extended one with Ravi Shankar. Odd, but will give you an idea.