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iconIederéén staat op de longlist. Maar als ULTRA de Pop Media Prijs 2012 wint, geeft de auteur het integrale geldbedrag aan 'n nog nader te bepalen jonge Nederlandse band, ULTRA in geest. Stemmen dus! Stemmen kan tot maandag 26 november 2012. Een stem voor ULTRA is een stem voor de muziek! (Het boek, dat is af. Maar de muziek, daar komt nooit een einde aan...)

One Big Sweep, from ULTRA-modern to post-experimental (i)

april 02, 2012.

[ podcast :: sbpc 48 ... s ]

After several months (3½, to be precise) of near to day-and-night writing, followed, with but little pause, by a couple of weeks of ceaseless checking of proofs, correcting editors' and editors' correctors' corrections, the corrections of corrected proofs and corrections of corrections of corrections, little beats the satisfaction of holding, smelling the bulky & large sized freshly printed results of these efforts; seeing the book pop up in library shop windows; and - last but not least - in the hands of readers, young and old, leafing through the book, in public transport and doctors' waiting rooms, with a broad, near to beatific, smile on their faces...

ultra gersande

Yes, in readers' hands is where this book belongs!

Though ULTRA - Rise and fall of the Ultra modernists (1978-1983) is a book about music (the particularly Dutch brand of 1980s post-punk experimental pop music), it also is a story of adventure, romance, and even one of decay. A documentary that reads (and is meant to be read) like a novel. A 'Bildungsroman', as one reader rightfully observed.

ULTRA was unleashed upon (the Dutch speaking parts of) our world on March 1st, as part of a totaalpakket ( * ) of Dutch paper works on 1980's counter-culture by Lebowski Publishers, along with a web site and immediately followed by a 5-day long series of quite dazzling ULTRA 2012 events in Brussels, Nijmegen, Eindhoven, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, meticulously orchestrated to coincide with the opening and first days of God Save the Queen, grand exhibition in the Utrecht Centraal Museum, with a corresponding theme: Dutch counterculture, punk and art in the early 1980s.

It was like, say, taking tiger mountain.
By strategy ;-) ...
And it was a mighty great experience, indeed.

The first half of this month of March wrapped up a seven month period, during much of which I lived and breathed this ULTRA. Day after day, night after night. I heard little but the Dutch post-punk pop that I was / had been writing about, with my hard drive & iTunes crammed with near to every Ultra related album and cassette that ever had been produced. Including the 24+ hours of live recordings of the wednesday evening Ultra concerts in Amsterdam that were at the heart of it all (and which, approximately, covered, the very same seven month period, 31 years ago). It were these live recordings, the corresponding compilation of the video recordings that were made of the concerts, and many, many hours of dictaphone and reel-to-reel recordings, that provided the bulk of the input and background that I used for the stories and descriptions in the book.

It is little wonder then, that after these seven months, I ended up being on the verge of an ULTRA burn-out. With a new spring approaching I had to recharge my batteries.

I needed a change of perspective.

First thing I did was replacing the ULTRA related image that all that time had provided the background for my laptop's desktop, by that of the cover of a 1977 notebook of Keith Haring's, a picture that made me laugh out loud (yóu guess why) when I first saw it, on the Keith Haring Tumblr site, where a page from Haring's journals is posted, each day of the Keith Haring: 1978-9182 show at the Brooklyn Museum from March 16 trough July 8, 2012. (That particularly image, though, apparently since has been removed from the Haring scanned journal pages Tumblr.)

keith haring desktop

I then copied the 40+ gigabytes of ULTRA mp3-files onto an external hard drive, emptied my iTunes playlists of all things ULTRA, wiped all ULTRA related files from my laptop's internal drive, rushed over to the great Monrakplengthai web site (which I had bookmarked already more than a year ago; at the time it was pointed out in one of ubuweb's tweets), and downloaded many hours of music from Thailand: ลูกทุ่ง (luk thung), ลูกกรุง (luk krung), หมอลำ (molam), regional folk styles & much more. Musics, styles and artists, of whose histories, contexts and backgrounds I (still) have but the slightest of ideas. Nothing I could remember ever having heard before, though over the past ten years some snippets may have popped up in my Found Tapes Exhibition.

ultra afkick

For almost two weeks in a stretch, I listened to nothing else. From early in the morning, until late in the evening I played these wonderfully 'strange' tracks performed by great, but - for me - hitherto unknown, artists like buppha saichon, phon phirom, khwanchit siprachan, phongsi woranut, monruedi phromchak, ruangthong thonglanthom, sabaithong phaophuri, sai sai mao, sotsi phromseksan, suthat phonsathit, thongcharoen dalao, monruedi phromchak, bunchuang denduang, phimchai phetphalanchai, wichainoi, khana kaeotalai... Over and over and over again.

It was incredibly re-freshing...

I started having early morning wake-up dreams again, two of which I still clearly recall.

• In the first one, I performed a long piece for grand piano and 10 (white) mice.
It was called Listen and Repeat.
The mice - you will have guessed - were set loose inside the piano, muizenwhich was prepared in such a way, that the little rodents were forced to grimple and crimple across the instrument's strings, and were not able to get underneath. (The piano and its strings, by the way, are one of the recurrent themes in the ULTRA book.) This one's cover had been replaced by a plexiglas box, of the same form and size as the piano's body, placed - bottom up - on top of it. Three camera's projected images of the performing mice on a large screen behind me on the stage. The score consisted in a series of very dense chords that were to be played soundlessly, and sustained with the instrument's sostenuto pedal for periods of time varying between 10 seconds and 3 minutes. Each of such a period then was followed by a period of the same duration, in which the pianist was asked to reproduce that what he or she had heard in the sostenuto period preceding it: 'Listen, and repeat'. The duration of each next sostenuto period was determined randomly. The piece was to end as soon as two successive sostenuto periods occurred in which no audible piano sounds were being produced by the mice.

This particular dream performance lasted for 57 minutes. It was a great success. At the end I got a standing ovation and - at least - two invitations to appear with my mice on national television. All ten of them were still alive and kicking. Especially the children in the audience loved the little musicians. Some kids came over to the piano, and there began to name the ones whose sounds they had particularly enjoyed. The names they gave them were a lot like those of the Thai musicians I had been listening to...

A French friend later told me that Serge Gainsbourg had done something similar. He meant to say that Gainsbourg had done something better: Serge had once put a parrot inside his piano. Ha, ha, ha! - A parrot...! Listen and repeat. Gainsbourg is pretty hard to beat...

• In the second dream I composed an ULTRA Easter One-Minute Opera for De Wereld Draait Door, a popular Dutch prime time television show. The opera had the King and Queen of ULTRA - Wally van Middendorp and Truus de Groot - as its protagonists, and perfectly fitted both ULTRA and the Easter Week's Death & Resurrection theme. One minute is a reasonable duration for an opera to memorize, and as in my dream it was even performed twice, in the morning after breakfast I sat down and jotted down all of the music and libretto that I remembered, which I then developed into a full-blown one minute score. For two singers, electric guitar, saxophone, Korg MS20 and crackle synthesizer. An amazing piece, I think, ready to go live.

For of course, in the end, that what really matters, is the music.

It was for music's sake that during past months' ULTRA craze the elusive and devious ookoi occasionally rose to great heights, where they shone as ultra-bright New Moons (Oude Leeuwen, Nieuwe Manen). We therefore proudly present, as this SoundBlog edition's podcast: Back to Nature, an exclusive New Moons recording of Hanns Eisler's Rückkehr zu Natur, sung by Cécile Zylberajch, more or less the way it also could be heard at the ULTRA book presentation in W139 in Amsterdam, on March 1st, 2012. (Curious, but New Moons' Vrokke Wakkels somehow has to relate to my current ongoing fascination for Thai music...)


More sonic impressions, video's, radio shows, interviews, all in one way or another covering the ULTRA 2012 events, can be found following links on the Pinterest Ultra board, that I use to comprehensively collect the most pertinent items among the extensive ULTRA web & press coverage.

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Some hands full of ULTRA sound snippets can also be found as part of my (somewhat 'secret') 2012 SoundBlog iPhone Audio diary. To the right of these paragraphs there are 8 of them, from top to bottom in chronological order (clicking an image will lead you to the corresponding entry in the SB Audio Diary):
* New Moons, with Cécile Zylberajch & Minny Foss, during the Red Light ULTRA Schrikkelshow we did for Red Light Radio, a web radio based in the Amsterdam Red Light District (February 29th).
* New Moons doing Interior's Bizarre Disco at the ULTRA book presentation in W139 on March 1st, followed by the presentation of the first copy of ULTRA, dedicated to Interior's Maarten Ploeg, to Ryu Tajiri.
* Short extract from a New Moons recording session, on March 5th in the Scheldestraat in Amsterdam. Cécile Zylberajch sings Vrokke Wakkels (from the ULTRA book, page 249).
* On 7 March I dedicated and gave the first Belgian copy of the ULTRA book to Frans Claus - between art & rock 'n' roll - during a francophonic trio-performance, with A Table's Jean-Jacques Duerinckx and young Parisian sound-wizard Anton Mobin, as part of an ULTRA event at the Ateliers Claus in Brussels. That evening the wicked Minny Pops premiered the suite-version of their seminal 1979 debut album: Drastic Measures, Drastic Movement. My sound bite caught them sound checking Monica.
* Back in the Netherlands, in Extrapool, Nijmegen, on March 8th, I downed several vicious green colored ULTRA cocktails while watching Wally Pops perform on stylophone in Wieman's rendition of the Pops' Dolphin's Spurt.
* The next day, March 9th ULTRA descended upon TAC in Eindhoven. This day's diary sound bite catches Wally and his all-female Pops sound checking Kojak. (There unfortunately seems to be neither picture nor audio recording made during the ten minutes or so that on March 10th I took the stage at WORM in Rotterdam together with one of these brave female pops, Nathalie Janssen, on guitar.)
* On Sunday 11th the Polar Twins (Dirk Polak and Mark Ritsema) played Mecano's Untitled during the opening of our cozy No Future underground exhibit in Galerie De Inkijk, inside the Amsterdam metro station Weesperplein. The picture is from that day's evening ULTRA event in Dansmakers, in the northern part of Amsterdam, where, during the one and only Dutch performance of the Drastic Measures, Drastic Movement suite, Wally Pops emptied an entire liter bottle of olive oil over himself.
* And finally (for this series), early the following morning March 12th, the New Moons did an electrifying ULTRA reading during Monday morning rush hour, in front of Galerie De Inkijk.

...

ultra trio Claus

...

Now streaming 24/7: RAUDIO :: ULTRA, without beginning, without end: an infinite stream of tracks, from rare to exclusive, that, over time, gradually will evolve from ULTRA-modern then to post-experimental now ...

...

[next: One big sweep, from ULTRA-modern to post-experimental (ii)]

notes __ ::
(*) vinyl2012boxBesides more books (like Leonor Jonkers' No Future Nu, about punk in the Netherlands from 1977 onwards, and Martijn Haas' Bibikov for President) the publisher's totaalpakket included a new, one-off, 2012 edition of Vinyl Magazine, the legendary 1980s Dutch 'modern music magazine', that back then came into existence in the wake of ULTRA. That is how, after some thirty years, I once again wrote a couple of articles for Vinyl magazine. One is about ULTRA; a second one about sound art, one of the 'alien music genres' that, according to Adam Harper, in his recent book 'Infinite Music, Imagining the Next Millenium of Human Music Making', in this post-experimental age are among the keys needed to access the 'infinite music of the future'. Apart from the 80 pages magazine, the Vinyl 2012 collectors' box contains several other interesting goodies. There's The Moon is Big, the vinyl (first) album by the Rotterdam band Rats on Rafts, one of many young Dutch bands inspired by 1980s international and Dutch post-punk, and extending, on their own terms, a certain style and way of doing pop music, that in Holland can be traced back to the days of that infamous ULTRA wave which - in full force - hit the low countries as long ago as 1981... The young Rats headlined (alongside the old Minny Pops, who performed parts of the Poste Restante album) the ULTRA 2012 prelude that took place on December 3rd last year in Roodkapje, Rotterdam, before joining the Pops on a short UK tour in January of this year.

ultra cd Also in the box, the CD version of the maybe most sought after among the memorabilia from the 1980s ULTRA-days, the Lebel Period ULTRA Oktopus Amsterdam C90 cassette, originally released in 1981, compiled by (then, Tox Modell's, and ever since Det Wiehl's) Mark Tegefoss, from the live recordings, made between September 24th, 1980 and February 18th, 1981, of the ULTRA concerts in Amsterdam.

Not in the box, but a separate release, is the CD-version of another period document, an LP from the - short - while that Vinyl, quasi independent from the magazine, also ran a record label: Vinyl Records.
dokument coverThe first (of two) releases on Vinyl Records was, very appropriately, called DOKUMENT, and - somewhat grandiosely (but such then was our state of mind) - subtitled Ten Highlights in the History of Popular Music 1981 > 1982. DOKUMENT contained a selection of tracks that appeared on the flexidiscs that came with each issue of Vinyl Magazine, tracks by Dutch ULTRA bands like Minioon, Tox Modell, Mekanik Kommando, Nasmak, Nexda, but also by British and other non-Dutch post-punk outfits, some better, some lesser known, like Eyless in Gaza, Cabaret Voltaire, Virgin Prunes, Schleimer K ... The CD version of the LP, called DOKUMENT+, contains all of the original LP, extended with ten additional tracks, thus doubling the number of 'popular highlights'.

gonzo The 108th (march/april 2012) issue of Gonzo (circus), a bimonthly Flemish/Dutch magazine dedicated to innovative music and culture, came with an ULTRA 2012 Special, including one more piece of my ULTRA writing, and an exclusive Young Lions Small World live at Ultra's in Oktopus mix/mash-up track on the issue's Mind the Gap CD. This Gonzo Ultra Special is one of the things I quite especially enjoyed. First of all because I think Gonzo (circus) Magazine is the contemporary Dutch Magazine on new music and culture that the early 1980s Vinyl could (or, some will say, should) have become. And second, it was at a party in De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam, held on the occasion of Gonzo's 20th anniversary and 100th issue, on January 5th 2011, that Oscar van Gelderen and I for the first time shortly talked (informally & still very, very vague) about publishing and writing an 'ULTRA' book. [ ^ ]

tags: audio diary 2012, post-punk, ultra, New Moons, Hanns Eisler, Cécile Zylberajch

# .419.

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