Archive for January, 2015

Batterie Deluxe

Posted: January 25, 2015 in fz related album review, zappa
Batterie Deluxe, Morgan Ågren, disc union, 2015

Batterie Deluxe, Morgan Ågren, disc union, 2015

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In memory of Luciano Mastracci aka Lucky Luciano
(L’Aquila 1948 – Stockholm 2014)

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Luciano Mastracci, september 2012

Luciano Mastracci, september 2012

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Discover, dig, go deep into it. Such acts of hearing/thinking come to my mind after a few listening sessions of Batterie Deluxe, incredibly enough, the first solo effort by Morgan Ågren, sensational drummer and passionate human. To get the inner substance of this album, one should read it as an “evidence of humanity” too, not only as a masterful piece of rhythmic creation by a fine musician and sound researcher.

The album is available in streaming at bandcamp.com as well as well as the liner notes, that are a first clue of how intimate the project is.

The same approach to the recent 2-hour documentary Conundrum: A Percussive Misadventure, a must see.

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You may get hooked, if you will, there’s another 3 hour and half: Conundrum: UNDONE (The Deleted Scenes).

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Back to the album, track 8 is entitled Lucky Luciano #2 and that is why more then ever this post could be – and sure it is – a strongly biased personal view. I knew Lucky Luciano in fact, as a long distance friend and as another passionate human. He was a folk singer from one of the coldest (little) cities of southern Europe (shattered in 2009 by a terrible earthquake), that found his way trough the northern lights of Scandinavia early in his life. I had a sad but at the same time lively evidence of his humanity during his last months between us, when we had some (Stockholm-Rome) skype conversations: he did not want to talk about his illness (now I know he knew very well), instead he wanted to talk life, music, people, as usual. Master Kurt Vonnegut helps: “We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different”. We also talked about his friend Morgan projects, and of the drummer idea of a piece of music entitled after him. He was truly happy of it, a warm happiness, the warmth of life.

Morgan Ågren’s Batterie Deluxe trailer

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Lucky Luciano #2 is the center piece of Battery Deluxe (and opens the video trailer above), and after a while I realized that it is life, times, struggle and end of a human being. The piece is strictly divided in two parts, a lively first 1:30 precedes a dark and heavy struggling section, with Morgan at building and destroying the rhythmic environment under a dramatic guitar solo by Jimmy Ågren, jet another Luciano’s friend. At the very end, the crying bass sound deteriorates and eventually stops.

The emotional gravitational field of this piece of music is a lot strong to me, but after a while I started to hear the rest of the album with the same approach. It took a little while tough, I needed to realize – convince myself, I mean – that all the power that Morgan knows how to deliver is brought down all around the album. When you start listening you may ask yourself where is all the force, sometimes apparently brute, that Morgan delivered for the Mats/Morgan Band (especially live) and for projects such as BLIXT (Cuneiform) or Box (Rune Grammofon).

Morgan Ågren chose to bring his instrument somewhat on the background of the music to concentrate to his rhythmic ideas and to every sonic details, somehow his inner self. In the liner notes he asks:

How much time is reasonable to spend filtering a bass drum sound? Fifteen minutes or maybe 10 hours all in total?

Right after the first minute of the album you know what is he talking about, and the more your audio source is a quality one, the more you realize it, beware of mp3s!

The result is in the mood of Shack Tati, the last Mats/Morgan Band effort, but much more intimate, with a lot of references to world music (India, Senegal, eastern Europe) and with a taste for jazz from hell.

Drums grooves are often light albeit complex, sometimes they have a “fake drum machine feel”, a few times the drums shortly go sort of solo (NH1, Alap Clav and F Files), and in one case you get a submerged drum solo near to the finale (deliberately far away in the mix of Elka Deep Phase). Morgan knows his drumming can be overwhelming and it seems he did not want the power of drums to dominate the music.

Grooves and loops are the substance of Batterie Deluxe and the Zappa maniac daydreams and wonders: what if Morgan could xenosynchronize some Frank unreleased solos into some new music created on purpose? ZFT think about it!

The album closes with a snippet from Rubber Sky from Shack Tati, hidden a few moments after the end of the last song. More or less the same used for the following video (mind the Zappa poster!):

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This song appeared also as Over the Rubber Sky in Välling & Fotogen, a 1998 orchestral album by Mats Öberg & G.U.B.B.. Mats is his lifetime friend and complement musician, I would say. Morgan uses this melody for the closing in a way that appears as an homage to Mats and to their companionship as Mats & Morgan.

As a final note, it is important to mention that Batterie Deluxe “features great guest spots by MATS ÖBERG, JIMMY ÅGREN, DEVIN TOWNSEND, FREDRIK THORDENDAL, NEYVELI RADHAKRISHNA, TINA AHLIN, MAMADOU SENE and SIMON STEENSLAND” (from the liner notes). The following YouTube video includes a collaboration with Devin Townsend, later to became F Files (mind the Zappa photo!).

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Batterie Deluxe, Morgan Ågren, disc union, 2015 (back cover)

Batterie Deluxe, Morgan Ågren, disc union, 2015 (back cover)

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for LUCKY LUCIANO !

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The Casher effects

Posted: January 18, 2015 in fz related interview, zappa, zappology
Ecco-Fonic flyer front

Ecco-Fonic flyer front

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Del Casher is a gifted guitarist and a proficient sound engineer who gave a unique and influential contribution to electronic guitar effects innovation between the end of the 50s and the end of the 60s. As a musician, but also as an engineer, now and in those years he is been working in Hollywood both for the music (Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, The Three Suns) and for the movies and TV industries (Vic Mizzy soundtracks, Elvis Presley, Gene Autry’s ‘Melody Ranch’ TV show).

Between September and October 1966 Casher (or Kacher, as he was known until the early sixties) played guitar for The Mothers of Invention too and, thanks the Zappa Vault archivists, a tasty nugget from that era recently emerged: Freak Chouflée, probably from an October 1966 live performance.

This blog contacted Del right away and he was so kind and willing to recall stories from the sixties and to share some historical audio documents that vividly show the sound innovations that he brought to music and his skills as a guitarist.

To proceed in a chronological order, a right beginning would be the Ecco-Fonic, the Electronic Echo Chamber engineered by Del Casher for Fender in 1959. He recalls:

I was an expert with recording techniques since I was 16 living in Indiana. I had my own radio show and was overdubbing guitars and speeding up tapes like Les Paul to get the upper range of the guitars. That was when I came up with the Ecco-Fonic echo idea.

Ecoo-Fonic flyer reverse

Ecoo-Fonic flyer reverse

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It was a portable variable-delay control that enabled the guitar player to operate live on the echo effect. Del shared two demonstration tracks produced for Fender (Caravan and Limehouse Blues):

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The Fender Electronic Echo Chamber record

The Fender Electronic Echo Chamber record

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Del remarks that:

The Fender echo was really the Ecco-Fonic, only in solid state than tubes, as a license deal. It was short lived because guitar players did not understand the record heads needed cleaning after many hours of use. But the Fender echo was my design with the rotating flywheel drum and the tape wrapped around to give stability for tape travel. Echo plex and others had flutter problems but the Ecco-Fonic was stable.

Frank Zappa would have been (and probably was) amazed!

Meanwhile, his career and collaborations was growing, consequently his schedule became busier every year (go to bio and articles sections at delcasher.com for more details). Later in 1966 Del Casher and Frank Zappa first met at Casher garage studio to record Space Boy.

Here it is, via YouTube:

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Del recalls that in 1966 Van Dyke Parks was playing keyboards for the Mothers of Invention and suggested Frank Zappa to contact him for a studio audio production with actress Florence Marly. At that time Zappa discussed with Parks about some technical issue to solve in his own studio, and the latter recommended his friend Del Casher for this session Zappa had to produce for Marly while she was involved in the film Queen of Blood (directed by Curtis Harrington). Whether it was intended for the soundtrack of such a movie is questionable (see the Space Boy IINK article for more details).

To complete the picture, it is worth to mention that a short promo film/music video was released in 1973 for Space Boy and can be seen annually at the Ohio Sci-Fi Marathon.

Del tells how they first produce the vocal and guitar tracks with a large use of his Ecco-Fonic that gave the needed spacey sound. Later Zappa asked to play and record a drums track to be overdubbed, Del arranged for it and remarks how the Zappa first take was already rhythmically precise and fit to the piece. Frank as a drummer was a surprise for Del!

Here started a two month collaboration that brought Del to play guitar with the Mothers at the Shrine, the Whiskey-a-go-go and at the University of Santa Barbara in 1966.

Freak Chouflée briefly documents such a collaboration and here is what Del reports about his contacts with Joe’s Garage concerning this and other recordings.

Joe’s Garage call me several times in the past, they were trying to identify whether it was me playing guitar with Frank on some recordings they played for me on the telephone. The reason I can identify my playing was that I used my Stratocaster for a few of these performances, than I took my Gretsch duo jet solid body guitar (it looks like a Les Paul guitar except it is all black) and converted to an electric twelve string. In fact I asked the technician who worked here in Hollywood for Barney Kessel to convert my duo jet that way. In that picture where you see me with Frank with my golf cap and my glasses, I’m playing my Gretsch duo jet twelve string at the Whiskey-a-go-go. The reason why I did that was I needed it for studio twelve string recordings with groups such as The Birds, but also by working with Frank I was inspired to try to find a new voice for the guitar. Because my twelve string sounded different than Frank’s guitar, so people could spot what I sounded like. I sounded terribly different because it was a twelve string, and I could play real fast on it. Moreover, I was considering all the guitar players on stage at that time, all sounded the same! So I was thinking how could I make the guitar have a voice of my own that would be different? That was when I started thinking about the wah-wah pedal, something that could change the frequency of the guitar, so that it made it special from all the guitar players.

In early 1967 Del Casher re-designed for VOX their Mid-Range Boost Switch as a foot pedal unit “that enabled a player to re-shape his guitar tone into wild, undreamed of new capabilities” (see Johnny Whiteside, “He put the ‘wah’ in rock ‘n’ roll“, Glendale News-Press, December 2, 2011)

And here is the Wah-Wah Pedal Demo Del produced for Vox. In his words:

My original record of the 1967 Vox wah wah pedal and the first to record with it at Universal Pictures for Vic Mizzy of Addams family music fame.

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Going back to his 1966 collaboration with Zappa, Casher also recalls:

A few months before Frank died I met him in an agent’s office. We talked about how much fun we had and he suggested to call him. He wanted to give me the video of the David Susskind Freak out show for ABC TV we did at TTG studios in Hollywood.
I thanked him but was working on a film and the next thing I knew he was gone!
It really was a shock.
I never got to see our performance. David Susskind was a very conservative man, he had this talk show where he would interview famous political figures and discuss the politics of the day. He was very eclectic, he covered a variety of topics in his tv shows, but it was all done in a very conservative way. When I heard that Frank Zappa was invited to show what freaking out looks like I WAS freaked out! So Frank arranged to us to go to TTG studios in Hollywood. Frank brought his rhythm section, probably his original rhythm section. Frank and I brought guitars and I think there was a percussion player with us. We went into a recording studio and started jamming, playing all kind of wild things, Frank had this smoke machine come up, so the studio was fill full of smoke and we were jamming and kept playing an playing, that was crazy and certainly different than what I would normally ever do. And it was a segment into the David Susskind TV show, the jam was broadcasted on ABC television.

 

Del is now working as usual in Hollywood and he is available to travel US and Europe to perform with his guitar, also to show how he conceived his effects to make the voice of his instrument sound better and unique, being his guitar sound research one of the most distinctive elements in his career.

Again thank you Del Casher for sharing your memories and historic audio documentation!

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