Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Interview in Argus

Expanding the musical horizon October 28, 2009

By Atiyyah Kahn

Righard Kapp and Ramon Galvan are two greatly underrated names on the local music scene.

While not at all similar in sound, they do pose a challenge to anyone comfortable with the idea of "easily digestible music".

Kapp has been playing in bands since high school. Best described as a perfectionist and a conceptualist, he is recognisable by playing a right-handed guitar upside down.

He co-ordinates the annual improvised music festival, On the Edge of Wrong. His earlier musical forays were in ambient guitar music, but he became interested in looping guitars, effects and noise. Once settled in Cape Town, Kapp joined The Buckfever Underground.

On his album Strung Like a Compound Eye, Kapp focuses on acoustic guitar compositions, with a cross-pollination of concepts with artists Ross Campbell, Marcel Van Heerden, Toast Coetzer and Lee Thompson. It is co-produced by producer-engineer Dirk Hugo, whom Kapp compliments: "He really pushed me on areas I needed to work on. He is able to understand abstract concepts and put them into a concrete form."

Galvan is the ex-keyboardist and vocalist for Blackmilk. On hearing his album Outer Tumbolia my reaction was not unlike stumbling upon a secret treasure, as I imagined him hiding in some lair making music in a room full of toys.

His MySpace page describes his music as "guitars trying to sound like kalimbas". Galvan is a self-taught guitarist and has been involved in music since school.

Blackmilk started in the '90s, after sharing a flat with members from Lithium. Galvan says: "I picked up the synthesiser and we made a lot of noise, then we went our separate ways."

The idea of a solo album came about in the early 2000s and Galvan says: "After Blackmilk, I thought about doing something less noisy; more intimate. I taught myself guitar and fiddled around with things like kalimbas and put together a body of work."

Galvan writes songs on guitar, but uses many other instruments - a chandelier, a whistle, a bulbul tarang, an auto-harp and a kraakdoos - to which he shrugs, saying: "Collecting weird instruments is part of my hobby."

Tumbolia refers to the "the land of dead hiccups and extinguished light bulbs". Galvan explains: "It's a reference to where dreams go to when you wake up. There is a sparseness to the album. Some of the songs are strung together with skeletons or ghosts of songs."

Both artists are signed to the Jaunted Haunts Press label, which is headed by Kapp, who also does the artwork for the albums. They spare me a bitch-session about the difficulties of being independent artists and are surprisingly positive about their songs not standing much of a chance of radio play.

Kapp comments: "Radio is a very specific kind of format. They wouldn't playlist it."

In their own ways, these two provide a challenge to the listener, something many musicians don't concern themselves with.

Kapp says: "I think the conversation about challenging music is yet to be started, as there are tons of musicians creating music like this."

Ultimately, it's about educating one's ears and Galvan and Kapp's albums are a good place to start.

Also 'Trying to Tell (Summer House)' sample stream available on

The former front man from avant SA rockers Black Milk channels Scott Walker's Drift on this delicate existential blend of arcane folk and bludgeoning menace. Off his debut solo album, 'Outer Tumbolia'.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Folk II

Folklore definitions vary from country to country, epoch to epoch, scholar to scholar. The American Standard Dictionary of Folklore and Mythology alone offer twenty-one of them. All of them concur that folklore is developed and transmitted by 'the people', but neither dictionaries or professors agree on a meaning of the term that would be the same everywhere, leading Arnold Van Gennep to remark: 'What's the good of worrying about where folklore begins and end when we don't even know what categorises it?' Out of his vast experience, the best the great Belgian folklorist could suggest is that the difficulty is lessened by the kind of intuition scientists acquire though practice, so that just as a numismatist can tell true coins from false from their rough and soapy feel, the folklore specialist may 'instinctively' tell the authentic folk creation from, say the vaudeville song sung in the same company. Fortunately, intuition is not all that is left to us. Still, if musical folklore is a science, experience shows that it is subject to sudden caprices and its delineation is very hard to fix. In 1954, after long discussion, the International Folk Music Council adopted this definition:

Folk music is a product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. the factors that shape the transmission are: (i) continuity, which links the present with the past; (ii) variation, which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.

The term can be applied to music that has evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by contemporary or art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of the community.

The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and the re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character.

Folk Song in England

A.L. Lloyd

Lawrence & Wishart Ltd 1967

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Keeping good company on the wire(less)

Playlisted on Pseu Braun's show on 16th Oct on WFMU with the likes of Atlas Sound, Robert Wyatt, Tickley Feather, Sun Araw, Mika Vainio, Dodos and the post This Heat, Flaming Tunes!

Playlist online

Update: Bob W's show played 'No Rest' on same day

WFMU-FM is a listener-supported, non-commercial radio station broadcasting at 91.1 Mhz FM in Jersey City, NJ, right across the Hudson from lower Manhattan. It is currently the longest running freeform radio station in the United States.

The station also broadcasts to the Hudson Valley and Lower Catskills in New York, Western New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania via its 90.1 signal at WMFU in Mount Hope, NY. The station maintains an extensive online presence at WFMU.ORG which includes live audio streaming in several formats, over 8 years of audio archives, podcasts and a popular blog.

Also made an appearance in-studio, some months back on The Unhappy Hour on Bush Radio 89.5 FM. Righard Kapp and me both. We chatted with Toast who was DJ-ing that night, performed live on-air with our acoustic guitars, played some tunes off our respective albums and played songs from our own favorite CD's. Righard played some Tortoise and Andre Van Rensburg and I played some Linda Perhacs and Francis Bebey, but more about him another time...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Folk I

What are we to understand by 'folk'? A whole nation, with or without minorities? A single class (the lower class)? A section of that class (country workers)? In those parts of Western Europe and America where class distinctions, thought real enough, are rather blurred, some people, specialists as well as amateurs, have taken 'folk' to mean the nation, all classes, upper, lower, urban, rural, regardless of social, historical or spiritual differences. This was the view of German romantics of the time of Goethe and Herder and with modifications it has gone in and out of fashion several times since (in America at the moment it is rather 'in'). It is a permissible view in the attenuated sense that we are all bearers of some sort of folklore, if only in the form of the dirty story, apparently an indestructible type of oral 'literature'. The trouble is, such a prospect extends too easily to a boundless panorama going beyond all reasonable definition, so that in the field of song for instance any piece that has passed widely into public circulation is identified as 'folk', especially if one can pretend it somehow expresses part of the essential character of the nation. Thus, Silcher and Heine's 'Die Lorelei' is exhibited as folk song, likewise 'The bonnie bank o' Loch Lomond' (words and tune by a Victorian aristocrat, Lady John Scott), Stephen Foster's 'Old folks at home', and more recently with even slenderer titles, Bob Dylan's 'Blowin' in the wind'. To say nothing of Pottier and Degeyter's 'Internationale'. By this time we are not far from the vague contours suggested by Louis Armstrong's dreary axiom: 'All music's folk music: leastways I never heard of no horse making it.'

Against this broad and hardly manageable 'popular' view of folk song as national song is set the restricted picture offered by several scientists of musical folklore who follow Bartók in considering the term 'folk song' to be synonymous with peasant song, and who maintain that no other part of the nation but working farmers and farm labourers are true shapers and bearers of traditional verse and melody.

It is worth considering how
Bartók came to this opinion for his conclusions are paralleled by those of Cecil Sharp, though Sharp's are by no means so firmly based. As a very young man Bartók was among those who thought that national music and folk music were one and the same. In 1896, while he was still in his teens, Hungary celebrated it millennium in a fever of nationalism that lasted for several years. Kodály has described the time. Everything was to be Hungarian not Austro-German: Hungarian words of command in the army, a Hungarian coat of arms on every post office, a Hungarian anthem to replace Haydn's Hapsburg hymn. he young Bartók wore Hungarian costume, then back in fashion, even on the concert platform. In his search for a Hungarian style of composition freed from German influence he was attracted to the verbunkos idiom of of the gypsy orchestras imagining, as Liszt had, that this was folk stuff; whereas in fact the repertory of the gypsy bands is principally made up of fanciful treatments of tunes composed from the mid-nineteenth century onward by educated amateurs of aristocratic or bourgeios birth; and though this kind of light popular air is often taken for Hungarian folk song, the real thing is vastly different, as Bartók discovered when he set off with his long-horned Edison recording machine to collect peasant songs in the Szekely-Hungarian villages of Transylvania

Folk Song in England

A.L. Lloyd

Lawrence & Wishart Ltd 1967

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Then and Now

This is a notion of Kirchner's to demonstrate an acoustical effect. A metal bar is suspended by a thick gut string held to the ears. The sound of the bar being struck by a metal rod should seem to the hearer like the tolling of a very large bell.

Plate 145 152 Plates from Bonanni's 18th Century "Gabinetto Armonic" Antique Musical Instruments and their Players 1964 Dover Publications N.Y.


"Once I found a stone that was brown, irregular and very smooth. It was heavy, and looked a bit melted. I remember showing it to a wise, old, bearded rock-hound pastor from Morristown, Minnesota. Reverend Zimmerman's house and life were filled to overflowing with interesting stuff he had collected in his lifetime. When he saw my brown stone, his bushy eyebrows twitched, He looked at me and said 'Son, this is a meteorite - a star' That stone became special to me and I carried it around to surprise all my friends. I was the boy with stardust in his pockets."

Reinhold Marxhausen grew up in the 1920's and 1930's, the son of a pastor and one of eight children in Vergas Minnesota. He played the musical saw, he played water-tuned bottles, and he found piano lessons boring. He carried stardust in his pocket.

After military service, followed by degrees in art and biology, Marxhausen took a teaching position at Concordia College in Seward Nebraska, where he remained until his retirement in 1990. It was in 1962 that he first began to work with sound objects. "It was a boring Saturday at the sculpture studio; no plans for the day," he recalls. "I found a door knob on the table and welded some wires on one end just for the fun of it. I placed the door knob to my ear and strummed the wire on the opposite end."


Since his discovery, Marx has made a wide variety of sound sculptural forms, and he has developed the door-knob idea in two main directions. One form consists of objects with exposed, external spines. some of the most successful have been his manual walkmans, (below) made like a pair of headphones, with spines sticking out from the metal ear pieces and sometimes rising from the over-the-head connecting piece. They make a stereo concert of lovely sounds, on a minuscule one person scale.

The other form is a small, chunky, metal object, fully enclosed, with no hint of what is inside. Sound comes from within when you shake or rock it, audible only when you hold it close to your ear. What is in there? Marx is not telling.

The objects are just pocket-sized and, recalling the meteor of his childhood, Marxhausen has given them the name Stardust. He makes them as plain in appearance as can be; they look like worn and dirty stones. There's a Marxhausen message in his having put so lovely a sound in such a homely thing.

Gravikords Whirlies and Pyrophones

Bart Hopkin

1996 Ellipsis Arts

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Galvan Trio Live at Obz Theatre 26/08/09

Click on images to enlarge

Photos: Alryn Culwick