Monday, August 18, 2008

third ear band: alchemy



detail from "the path of life" by hieronymus bosch.
1485 - 1490. shutters to "the haywain triptych", oil on wood.



alchemical mines and the theory of distillation.

Cello, Performer [Slide Pipes]; Mel Davis
Oboe, Recorder; Paul Minns
Tabla, Drums, Wind Chimes; Glen Sweeney
Violin, Viola; Richard Coff
"Alchemists used the distillation chamber or "still" to duplicate what they thought was taking place underground in the mines where gold or gems form. The still was called the "womb" after the goddess."
Released in the same year they opened festivities for the Rolling Stones Free Concert at Hyde Park on 5th July 1969, Third Ear Band's debut proper - they previously recorded a session in 1968 for Ron Geesin which was released under the pseudonym of The National-Balkan Ensemble on one side of a Standard Music Library LP - comes across as experimental free-form for those intent on chasing after the Philosopher's Stone in the thick of an autumnal trip.

Fore-shadowing both "Elements" and their soundtrack to Roman Polanski's bloody "Macbeth" - which I was first treated to as a school kid, courtesy of the BBC (in the USA you got Sesame Street, in the UK we got Polanski) - the heavily improvised sound owes much to those venues like the UFO club in London where both Pink Floyd and members of Third Ear Band first fleshed out their skeletal tones. Alchemy is very much, then, a fitting subject for this peculiar ensemble's foray deep into the woods to practice an unusual collective chemistry, but it is not the transformation of base metals into gold they appear to be drawn to ; rather, it is a descent of sorts into the underworld, watched over by Pan, and the elemental change of self.



extract and symbol key from an alchemical text:
kenelm digby "
a choice collection of rare secrets" (1682)

See, what did I mention previously with regards to hippie shit and punks ? Any more of that and I'll be forced to change my name to Gandalf the Grey, or the hobbit with a habit at the very least. One just can't get the staff these days, but I do try to always wield a big stick.

Just be thankful I'm not intent on bludgeoning all and sundry into a coma with "A Farewell To Kings" or something equally preposterous. It could be a whole lot worse. For enhanced credibility, even veteran dj, John Peel gets in on the act with a Jews' Harp cameo on side two of this enjoyable romp through shaded celtic groves. Vintage Acid Folk.

THIRD EAR BAND: GHETTO RAGA from "Alchemy" (Harvest EMI) 1969 (UK) [LINK REMOVED, BY REQUEST]

5 comments:

ib said...

Emmett, should you happen to stumble onto this comment take note of the "Dog-days" reference in the symbol key from the alchemical text. It definitely seems to have been in common usage late 1600's...

Jon said...

"Dog Days" is an astrological reference. I forget the details. I went through a period of being fascinated with alchemy. It passed. I kept the books though. The pictures are really cool.

ib said...

Emmett had made a comment previously, regarding the lazy days of August:

"the hottest period of the year (reckoned in antiquity from the heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star).
• a period of inactivity or sluggishness : in August the baseball races are in the dog days."

You're right on the money with the atronomical root to the Dog Star, Jon. It just struck me as being oddly coincidental when I noticed it mentioned in the alchemical text.

I'm glad you like the pictures. I took a bit of trouble in tracking down the ones I used here, mainly because it piqued my curiosity the more I read. Amazingly involving shit.

Peewit said...

The Third Ear Band really have a bad press because they were on Harvest therefore anyone who hasn't heard them think that it the music is just prog rock navel gazing (with which there is nothing wrong (but that's another story!)) Sometimes they are a very hard listen in the same way that the Industrial bands of the eighties such as Current 93 and Whitehouse were. I love them

ib said...

Great observation, peewit.

I'm not familiar with Current 93 and Whitehouse, but based purely on the comparison you make I feel it is now my duty to check them out! I liked some of the early Industrial stuff; especially Throbbing Gristle. Some German stuff, too.

You are right that they can be a hard listen. Rewarding, too.